Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Happy 3rd Birthday Elisha!!!!

Happy Birthday Elisha!

This has been a big year for you, with lots of changes and firsts! This year you got potty trained. You moved from sleeping in a crib to sleeping in a big boy bed, on the bottom bunk, below Noah. You had your first trip to the ER after you fell down our front steps. You got 7 stitches in your chin and you were so brave and tough and didn't cry or whine at all while they put the stitches in, or a week later when the doctor took the stitches out. You went to the beach for the first time ever and LOVED playing in the sand. This year your oldest brother went to school and so you got more personalized time with me than ever before. And then your baby brother was born and you became a big brother yourself. You wanted to go to school too so when we started going to MOPS monthly I told you it was your school and you were so proud to go to "school" and carry your own bag in. We moved across the city this year into a new house and neighborhood. You have handled all of these changes so well.

This year you have developed such a sweet bond with your daddy. I love to see you two together. You two are special buddies and you probably prefer him to me most of the time.

Noah is your best friend. You two play together most of the time we are home, or out at parks. You two make up your own games (like "beating the people"-whatever that is) and imaginary worlds and have so much fun. Like most brothers you two bicker a lot also, but you two are usually pretty quick to apologize, forgive and move on. Each morning when Noah wakes up and comes out of your room (you tend to get up 30-60 minutes earlier than him) you cheer his name so happily and loudly. You love to see him and have him around. You do the same thing when he comes home from school.

You love Zeke so much. You love to give him hugs and kisses. You love to make him laugh. You are so excited to see him each morning and want to hold him. Whenever I burp him after nursing you want to help and you slap him on the back.

As of late, it seems that hitting is becoming your love language. You like to wrestle and be rough. You are brave and not intimidated by bigger kids. You often try to tackle, push or play rough with others. You learned this from all of the time you spend wrestling with your daddy and Noah, but now we need to solidify in you that there is a time and place for wrestling and not everyone likes to play like that.

Your daddy often says that you have the perfect personality because you are so laid back and easy going but not a pushover and you have no problem standing up for yourself. You are rough and tough yet still sensitive.

You love to help. You like carrying groceries in from the car. When you make a spill on your own initiative you will find a towel or napkin and clean it up. You like to help me cook, do laundry or help with projects I am working on. You are a doer.

I'd say that touch and time with are your love languages. Touch in that you like contact with others, whether it's rough housing or snuggling, touch seems to fill you. Your daddy and I laugh at how obvious it is the words of affirmation is not your love language. We tell you we love you and tell you great things we see in you and none of this seems to phase you very much.

You seem to be on the introverted side. You are happy to play by yourself for long periods of time, not needing or wanting constant interaction with others. Since your older brother is so extremely extroverted you get very little time to yourself though. He is constantly engaging you in some type of activity with him.

You are a pretty good eater. You eat almost all fruits and many veggies including broccoli, carrots, cucumbers and corn on the cob. You like chicken, cheese, turkey burgers and most snack foods. Your favorite dinners are mac and cheese, pizza and chicken nuggets.

Your favorite thing to do is probably to dig in the dirt with your diggers. You also love to go watch all the machines at work at "struction" sites. You like to color and do playdoh. You like to go for walks and play on playgrounds. You love to play with bubbles and sidewalk chalk. You like to do puzzles, play hide and go seek, read books and feed the ducks. Your favorite shows to watch are Bubble Guppies, Julius Jr. and Daniel Tiger.

You know the alphabet, colors, shapes and the names of all big trucks or construction equipment. You talk so well and formulate such good sentences. You still have a bit of a toddler lisp saying certain words and I love the way you say "dee-wish-ous" (delicious) and "gabaw" (grandma).

You were named after two prophets, Elisha and Samuel. We believe that you have a deep gift of wisdom. I believe that you are going to be a peace keeper. You are strong and steady and not easily swayed by emotions and I believe that you will bring that sense of steadiness everywhere you go. You bring so much joy and fun to our family and we all love you so very much!

Monday, May 23, 2016

Dinner Done by 9 am: The What

This is the third post in my Dinner Done by 9 am series. Click here to read the first post on The Why, or here to read the second post on The How regarding Dinner Done by 9 am.

Now that we've covered the reasons why I cook dinner by 9 am and the techniques that help me do this we'll cover some of my favorite make-ahead dinners and breakdown what steps I do in the morning and what I do just prior to meal time. (Click the link on the name of each dish to see the recipe.)

Fish Tacos with Cayenne Lime Sour Cream Sauce with Cilantro Lime Slaw and Refried Black Beans
-In the morning I make the sour cream sauce, shred the cabbage and chop the cilantro for the toppings, make the slaw, make the refried beans, refrigerate everything until the evening.
-Just before serving I season and cook the fish, re-heat the beans, set out the slaw, tortillas, sour cream sauce and all the toppings just before eating.

White Chicken Chili with cornbread
-In the morning I completely make the chili and cornbread, refrigerating the chili and leaving the cornbread at room temperature.
-Just before serving I reheat the chili (and cornbread, if desired) and set out any toppings.

-In the morning I fully assemble the lasagna without baking and then refrigerate.
-Just before serving I bake the lasagna as directed and serve with roasted veggies or a salad.

Build your own taco/ burrito/ taco salad bar with Slow Cooker Mexican Chicken, Cuban Black Beans, Homemade Salsa and Guacamole (easily serves people who are gluten free, vegan, or picky since everyone gets to assemble their own)
-In the morning I cook the beans, put the chicken in the slow cooker and make the salsa.
-Just before serving I shred the chicken, re-heat the beans, cook rice (if using), set out all the toppings and make the guacamole. (To make the guacamole I simply stir a few Tbsp of the salsa with 2-4 diced avocados adding a little salt and hot sauce if needed).

Curried Chicken Pasta Salad
-In the morning I completely assemble the pasta salad and refrigerate. Then I simply take this out of the fridge when it's time to serve.

Chicken Gyros with Tzatziki, Hummus and Tabouleh
-In the morning I marinate the chicken, make the tzatziki, chop whatever toppings I'm using, make the hummus, make the tabouleh and refrigerate everything.
-Just before serving I take everything out of the fridge and set it up and cook the chicken.

Korean Beef (gluten free)
-In the morning I completely make the beef in the morning, chop the green onions for topping and then refrigerate both.
-Just before serving I re-heat the beef, set out the onions and sriracha for topping and cook some rice.

Picadillo (gluten free)
-In the morning I completely make the picadillo, chop parsley or cilantro for garnish and refrigerate.
-Just before serving I re-heat the picadillo, set out the toppings and cook the rice.

Bolognese Sauce over pasta
-In the morning I completely make the sauce and refrigerate.
-Just before serving I reheat the sauce, cook the pasta and roast some veggies to serve with it.

Slow Cooker Indian Curry (gluten free, vegan)
-In the morning I throw all of the ingredients except the spinach in the slow cooker.
-Just before serving I stir in the spinach and cook rice to serve the curry over.

Slow Cooker Ratatouille (gluten free, vegan)
-In the morning I get everything set up in the slow cooker.
-Just before serving I set out parmesan cheese for topping and cook the pasta.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Dinner Done by 9 am: The How

This is the second post in my Dinner Done by 9 am series. To see the first post on the reasons why I cook dinner by 9 am click here.

I've already covered why I try to cook dinner by 9 am each day. In this post I'll cover more details on how I do this.

Not all dinners lend themselves well to being cooked in advance. Casseroles, soups, stews and salads tend to be dishes that can easily be prepared in advance without compromising quality. Things like seafood, seared/ grilled meats that are served warm and pasta are not usually reheated with as good of quality the second go around, but there is still a lot that can be done in advance when preparing dinners including these components.

The list below is a good breakdown of what cooking activities I do in the morning and what I save for the hour prior to meal time.

Things I do in advance;
-assemble salads, but don't dress them
-make salad dressing
-make all sauces (dipping sauce, sauce bases for pasta dishes...)
-marinate, wrap, stuff or chop meat
-wash and chop herbs and vegetables
-pre-cook vegetables (when applicable)
-fully assemble any casseroles (mac and cheese, lasagna, green bean casserole, breakfast casserole...)up to the point of baking, refrigerate and then bake immediately prior to serving
-fully cook all soups, chilis, stews and curries, refrigerate and then heat back up prior to serving
-make any dough or baked goods that are necessary
-throw everything in the slow cooker when using it
-fully prepare any cold salads/ pasta salad (like chicken salad, pasta salad, curried chicken pasta salad, sesame noodles..,)

Things I do directly before eating;
-reheat any soups, stews, curries etc.
-add fresh herbs into soups or stews
-dress salad
-cook any seared/ grilled/ roasted meats
-bake any casseroles
-roast veggies for side dishes
-cook and add pasta to soups or sauced pasta dishes
-cook rice when using

Stay tuned next Monday for the next post in this series with links to many of my favorite make-ahead dinners and tips on what I serve them with, what I do in advance, and what I save for the last minute. Don't forget to follow me on social media or subscribe to my blog to make sure you don't miss the next post.

Monday, May 9, 2016

Dinner Done By 9 am: The Why

I get a lot of questions and comments about my #dinnerdoneby9am that I've been using for a year so I decided to do a blog series about this concept and hopefully answer once and for all the many questions that have been asked. This first post in the series will be dedicated to explaining what #dinnerdoneby9am is, and the why behind it. I plan to do a couple more posts including more details on the how and my favorite dinner done by 9 am dinners. If you have any questions please comment on the posts and I will answer all the questions on the final post of the series.

The Why

Whatever the opposite of a procrastinator is, that is what I am. I like to do things WAY ahead of time. I start planning my friend's baby showers when they're still in the first trimester, sometimes even before they are pregnant. Why put off until tomorrow what you can do today is my mantra. I like to finish my work before I play. I like to get all of the errands, cleaning, cooking, bill paying, emailing etc. done first thing each day so that I know how much time I have to play and can be totally present while I am playing- not distracted by what I have to get done later. This helps me to be more present in those play moments enjoying the people around me. I also know from experience that in having small kids around there are always unexpected things that come up in my days. I know that 3-6 pm is the most challenging time of day with my kids. We have homework to get done and my kids are tired and cranky as bed time approaches. If I waited until the evening to get dinner done it would be a much more stressful process because there are so many people and things competing for my attention all at once. My kids are at their best, most rested and happy selves in the morning so they are more inclined to entertain themselves and need less intervention. One of my kids is also at school in the morning, so we have less people around the house all together. I am a morning person. I get up between 5 and 6 everyday ready to jump right into my day.

With this in mind, several years ago I started cooking dinner first thing in the morning. Not all meals lend themselves well to being prepared in advance but many do, especially soups, casseroles, pasta salads, curries, lasagnas, stews, chilis, even the sauce bases for warm pasta dishes can easily be prepared in advance. Anywhere from 4-7 dinners that I prepare each week are prepared ahead of time in the morning. Even dinners that can't be fully prepared ahead of time I will chop, marinate and prep for in the morning and just finish off the final cooking before we eat in the evening.

This is what works for me. You may be different. You may not be a morning person. You may be rushed to get out the door in the morning and not have extra time then (in which case if I were you I would do all of this preparing and prepping the prior evening to when I was going to eat each meal).

Stay tuned for my next post providing more details on the how and what behind #dinnerdoneby9am. If you don't want to miss the rest of the series of #dinnerdoneby9am posts follow me on social media and/ or sign up to follow my blog via email or a reader in the right column below.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Learning to put down the to do list

It all started a month ago at book club. We were discussing Year of Yes by Shonda Rhimes. One of the discussion questions I asked our book club ladies was; "What is your super power or special talent that makes you uniquely you?" Similar to a situation like this in the book, our room full of ladies had a hard time answering this about themselves. A few of us chimed in on gifts/ talents that we saw in others, but as a whole we had a hard time owning the goodness within ourselves. I thought long and hard about myself and the only thing I could come up with was #dinnerdoneby9am. (This is the hash tag I use to capture all of the dinners I am able to have prepared prior to 9 am). But I wasn't satisfied with that answer. I wanted to have an answer that was deeper and more meaningful.

A few days later I explained this scenaraio to Jeremy and asked for his thoughts, knowing he would have better insight than me. He explained to me that #dinnerdoneby9am is not my super power. That it is a product of my super powers. That my super power is who I am and how I was created, and that #dinnerdoneby9am is something I do. I started thinking about how I am a doer and how as a doer I (incorrectly) tend to assign worth and value to myself and others based on what we do. If asked to tell someone about myself or my day I would probably give you a long list of things that I do or did. I place high value on doing.

Fast forward two weeks. Jeremy and I were having a meeting for our ministry. Discussing what we had going on, where God was giving us favor, what doors He was opening up, and where we should invest our efforts currently. In this meeting we decided to cut two major projects that I had been putting a lot of time and energy into. These were big projects. Projects for me to do. Projects I was proud of. Over the course of the meeting we decided to put both of these projects on hold- maybe for now, maybe permanently. We realized that these projects were a result of striving, of us trying to make things happen ourselves rather than following the favor and open doors that God had given us. Everytime that we've tried to make things happen on our own it has always flopped. But when we simply follow the favor that God gives us He has dropped amazing opportunities in our laps. Opportunities that we weren't even aware of. Opportunities that were so much better than the things we had tried to do on our own. So this is how we've agreed to operate. Follow favor. In this meeting, once we decided to put these projects on hold I started sobbing. It was a deep painful sob. I don't think Jeremy or I really understood why I was so upset. In talking and processing it became clear that I was finding my value and worth in what I was doing and that when those things were put on hold I instantly felt inadequate. Not enough. Small. Unimportant. It was clear that I was finding my worth through what I did.

As I didn't fully get the lesson from those two interactions God continued to gently nudge me on this topic of doing. A few days later I sat down to spend some one-on-one time with Him. I started journaling some prayers to Him and found myself apologizing for various things that I hadn't been doing enough of lately. Not praying enough. Not reading my Bible enough. Not doing enough 'spiritual' things. And I realized that this doing mentality was seeping into my relationship with God also. I was like Martha, putting a higher value on all of the things I was doing for Him rather than just freely being with Him.

1 Corinthians 13 gives us a good warning about just how futile doing a bunch of stuff is if we're not doing it out of love. If we're doing stuff to earn or prove our worth then we aren't doing it freely out of love. We are then doing from striving, stress, pressure. If we do stuff to earn our worth we are undermining what Jesus did on the cross. We are inadvertently saying that what Jesus did was not enough. We are trying to work for what we have been freely given.

So in the midst of all these lessons I hear God speaking Psalm 46:10 "...Be still, and know that I am God" over and over again to my heart.

Be still and know. One translation says cease striving. Being still is not something that comes easily for me. My first instinct and reaction is always to do. To take a step. To do the next thing. But I hear God telling me in this season to stop. To wait. To be still. To know. To sit at His feet like Mary.

I thought I had learned this lesson and gotten over this doing mentality eight years ago when I had quit my job in the corporate world managing hundreds of people. I had given up the suits, the business cards and the title. I thought at that point in time I had learned the hard lesson of not identifying myself by what I do. That my value isn't a list of actions or accomplishments. But apparently there was still a remaining layer of this issue to work through lingering from years earlier. I may have no longer been finding my worth in my career, but I found other avenues of things I did and accomplished to find my value in.

In this season of my life, in which I am a stay-at-home mom first and foremost, if I define myself by what I do I will literally feel like a combination of a milk factory cow and a janitor because I nurse my baby, wipe little behinds and clean up messes all day long. I do thousands of seemingly mundane tasks that I have to do all over again the next day.  This means that if I don't learn the lesson of finding my identity in Christ rather than in what I do that I will be left feeling extremely underutilized.

I tend to measure my days by the number of items crossed off on my to do list. The problem with that is that the most meaningful moments of each day are not found on to do lists. The meaningful moments are found in relationship and connection. In kissing boo boos, reading books, conversations, hugs, snuggles, in being still and silent enough to hear God speak . This is the good stuff. When I'm caught up in do mode, racing to check off all of my tasks I tend to miss those moments. In do mode I don't notice the sounds of little feet running up and down my halls. The kind words of one brother to another. The "I wuve you momma, you're sweet" whispered to me by a toddler. The look in my husband's eyes when we all snuggle together on the couch at the end of the day. These are the moments that I don't want to miss.

No career, title, relationship, status, possession, accomplishment or accolade is meant to fulfill us or define us. We are not the sum of these things. These things will always leave us unsatisfied; searching, striving, comparing and performing for more.

The truth is that I am not defined by what I do. My value doesn't increase or decrease based on my actions or what I accomplish. My worth has been solidified by Christ's death on the cross. By what He says about me and who He created me to be. That I am created in His image. That I am a child of God. That I am loved. Whole. Chosen. God's special possession. Righteous. Forgiven. A new creation. Fearfully and wonderfully made.

The truth is that I am not the sum of what I do. I am the sum of what He did.

And all of that goes for you as well dear reader.

We are defined by the fact that God loved us so much that He became flesh. Came to earth. Died. Rose and defeated death so that we could be in right standing with Him. Fully restored. This is what He says we are worth. Whether we do another thing for Him or not, this has been decided.

So let's sit back and take a big deep breath together. Let's be still and know. And then once we really know deep in our hearts that we are enough, that we are worthy, that we are valued, loved and cherished just as we are, then we can do from a place of freedom. From a place of confidence in who God created us to be and who we are in Him; now, and eternally.