Word of the Year:2017

This year is the first year I’m trying a word of the year, and so I wanted to spend a while making sure that the word I chose was the right word for me and my family. I thought about choosing something like “rest” or “refresh,” but those words didn’t seem quite right.

Last year was a rough year, for many reasons. And in my conversations with Dustin, I kept coming back to the idea that I just wanted this year to be better. I want this year to be better. And so we continued to talk about what we meant when we said we wanted our year to be better. We wanted to take better care of our finances, our relationship, our bodies. We wanted to nourish our minds, declutter our house, and be a force for good in the world. And I was having trouble coming up with a word that summarized all the things we wanted to make better in our lives, homes, and hearts. And then I realized I was inadvertently repeating my word of the year. This year, my word is “better.”

During one of our conversations, Dustin told me that the key for our family was to not try to improve everything all at once. That would be doomed to failure, because inevitably we would miss a few things one day, and then slump back into our old habits. So every month, I’ll be focusing on a few habits every month, trying to slowly build them into our routine. This month, I’m recommitting to our budget (I know. You’re shocked), trying to read for just ten minutes every day, and drinking a glass of water first thing every morning. I’ve written down a few things for next month, but I think the best way to stay focused on these goals is to look at them a few days before the next month starts, and look at where our family is, to see what changes need to be made right then.

I think breaking this into small, bite-sized pieces I’ll more likely to succeed than if I simply said, “I’m gonna work out more and do better” on January 1st. I’m also really glad I wrote down an action plan for the months to come.

A few of the things I know Dustin and I are going to be working on is consistently working out, reorganizing and decluttering our home, spending less time on our devices and more time doing things that we love, and recommiting to prayer/journaling/meditation (we each have done a combination of these things, and would like to find a way to do all of them more consistently). 

And how has it worked so far? With the month more than halfway over, and me committing to drinking water, reading, and budgeting, I’ve

-read two books (and half of another one!) which is already one more book than I completed in the whole of 2016. I can’t wait to see my grand total for this year. 

-I’m drinking a glass of water every morning, which has helped my energy level considerably and made me a less crabby person. 

-I’ve started using a new app to help track our finances. I’ll be sharing that with you on Friday, provided I can figure out how to take screenshots of it without giving away our personal finance information.

But beyond those things, because I’ve started focusing on doing better, I’ve also:

– Practiced piano consistently (and put on a concert in my living room!)

– Written something every day, because I’ve had more energy and haven’t needed to nap when the kids go down.

– Decluttered various cabinets and drawers in my house, and made a plan to continue these efforts throughout the year.

– Woken up earlier than I have since my youngest was born, so that I can journal and drink that water and pray before the kids get up.

And while I haven’t been as consistent with those habits, those aren’t the ones I’m really focusing on this month, so I don’t beat myself up if I sleep in a little later or don’t get to declutter anything one day. Those are just a few things I know I will want to add in consistently as the year goes on. 

So my word of the year for 2017 is “better,” and I am looking forward to seeing what “better” looks like a year from now. Did you pick a word this year? I’d love to hear what you picked, and how your implementing it as the year goes on. I’ll do occasional updates as 2017 goes on, to stay focused.

P.S: The photos used in this post were taken by the fabulous Tif Holmes, who came to our house over the summer and shot these. I love them all, and really loved working with Tif (she’s taken some of my favorite pictures of my family). To book a session with her, visit her website. She’s wonderful. 🙂


Cheap Meals for When Times are Tight

Sometimes, it’s because you’ve been hit with an unexpected expense. Sometimes, it’s a month after Christmas and you got caught up in the “and one more thing” of the season. Other times, you’re putting your budget on lockdown so you can pay off debt, go out of town, or buy a mixer. Whatever you’re some time is, here’s a list of cheap meals for when times are tight. Because you can only have cuppa noodles so many times.

  • Veggie and Marinara Pasta- Pasta is super filling, and by using vegetables instead of meat in your sauce, you keep costs down while still being super nutritious. My favorite veggies for adding into pasta? Carrot, onion, mushroom, broccoli, and zucchini. Bummed about lack of protein here? Add some beans. Want to stretch it even further? Add a handful of oatmeal to the veggies while you’re sautĂ©ing them. It’s tasty, filling, makes a ton of food (love those leftovers!) and completely customizable to what’s on sale that week. You could also add eggplant, bell peppers, cauliflower, dark leafy greens… the options are just a sales page away. 
  • Baked Potato Bar- I love doing this for a cheap easy meal. Baked potatoes are filling, and they’re a completely blank canvas so you can add whatever you want to it. One of my favorite flavor combinations to add to a baked potato? Cooked chicken, green chilies, mozzarella, and sour cream. But you can also do chili, roasted veggies, some of that leftover marinara and veggies from your pasta. You can even add a tiny bit of meat to this, so your pickier palates are satisfied. The bulk of the potato will have you not even missing the meat.
  • Breakfast for Dinner- Pancakes, french toast, eggs, waffles, a small side of sausage or bacon (or not) and you’ve got enough food for an army. I like picking either pancakes or toast or waffles, but sometimes we go two out of three (Meatloaf tells me that ain’t bad)
  • Egg ANYTHING- Speaking of breakfast, egg as a cheap healthy protein are an excellent idea. Beyond scrambled and omelette, we’ve done, fried egg sandwiches, quiche, and fried rice (with extra egg and veggies instead of adding meat). Pinterest has tons of great recipes using egg as the main protein… we just haven’t tried them all yet! 
  • Beans and Rice- You knew this was going to be on the list, right? I like to make a ton of the stuff using a really basic recipe, and then one night add some sausage, the next night add some taco seasoning, another night cover it in cilantro and melty cheese, and then make burritos out of whatever is left. Beans and rice are so versitile, and there’s a recipe from almost every part of the globe… and all of them are inexpensive and delicious. Use more than one type of bean, white or brown rice, long or short grain, and then play with the spices and flavors. You could probably have beans and rice for dinner every night one week and never get tired of it. In fact… I think we just might try that this month. *wink* 
  • Soup– Soup is as close to magical as I think I’ll ever get. Take a bunch of cheap ingredients, some spices and some time, and then boom, a delicious healthy meal that can stretch out for a long time. Want it to be more filling? Add noodles. Soup is a great way to use up those veggies you bought earlier in the month that you were totally definitely going to eat, but then forgot about. I don’t know if I’ve found a veggie I don’t like in soup. And if you’re really feeling fancy, add a sandwich next to it. Boom. Speaking of…
  • Sandwiches- I can’t begin to tell you how many times I forget that the sandwich exists. Then, one day I remember and for a little while that’s all I want to eat. From nut butter and jelly, to tuna, to ham and cheese, there’s a sandwich for all tastes, and all budgets. You can grill them, or not. Dip them in something, or not. Eat them plain or dress them up. The sandwich is a fabulous budget meal and I forget about them 90% of the time I’m in the kitchen. Sorry, sandwiches. I don’t deserve you.

What are your favorite budget meals. I have so many more, but felt like I’d already waxed poetic about sandwiches long enough, and no one wants to listen to me talk about my love of weird cuts of meat, right? Probably not. But if YOU want to talk about your love of weird cuts of meat, do so in the comments! I love having a large arsenal of inexpensive meals for the family, and I’m sure you will, too.


5 Sneaky Ways Your Grocery Budget is Wasted 

It’s 2017, and lots of people are focusing on eating better and budgeting stuff, so I thought I’d share a few ways where you might be wasting your grocery budget, and will be sharing posts about food and budgeting for most of January. Yay!

I love grocery shopping. Even when I have to take the kids out and it’s freezing or raining or a quarter past nap time, grocery day is my favorite day of the week. I get dressed in real clothes (mostly), put my makeup on, grab my list and a beverage, and then wander the aisles grabbing what we need (and hopefully nothing else!). For our family of four, our grocery budget is about $350. It used to be $300 when there were three of us, but we increased it by $50 when Melody started eating solids. And we eat really well (if I do say so myself). But $350 means we have to do lots of meal planning. I wrote a little about this over a year ago, how we use less meat and more fruits and veggies to keep costs down, how we meal plan, and how we use apps and coupons to save on those few processed items we need. 

But a year later, I’ve found a few more easy ways to keep from wasting my grocery money, and thought I’d share them here with anyone else who feels like they’re eating their paycheck every week. 

Buy the chicken when it’s on sale, and save money on soup all year long.

1) You’re buying the same things every week. I would argue that if you’ve never done meal planning at all, this works for a while. Having a limited menu of food you know you like is a good start. But as the seasons change, what goes on sale changes, too. Sweet potatoes at my favorite grocery store were $.25 a pound recently. That’s a *huge* difference from their regular price of just over a dollar a pound. Over the summer, blueberries and strawberries were a dollar a carton. Now their easily $4-5 a carton, and they’re not even very good berries! And I’ve noticed the best prices for chicken happen at my grocery store in the summer, and beef is much cheaper this time of year (as is turkey). By adjusting your menu to take advantage of the seasonal foods that are steeply discounted helps your budget considerably, and gets you out of your food comfort zone. Many of our new favorite recipes were discovered this year because we saw there was a huge discount on seasonal foods. If you have to have these out of season items, buy extra when they’re in season, and use your freezer (I wasn’t going to mention my freezer because I know I club you over the head with how much I love it all the time but here we are. My freezer is my friend.)

2) You’re buying too much food. This is my biggest problem. I love to serve side dishes. I love trying new foods. Dustin has had friends come over a few evenings this month, and every time they come by I decide to make food after food after food. Part of it is I’m a nervous wreck around people, and making food for them makes me more comfortable. The other part is that I’m ALWAYS like this. But I know that I could easily nix two dishes from my menu every evening, and we’d still be plenty fed. I also will occasionally overestimate how much food my family is capable of eating, so I will occasionally buy broccoli and then run out of time to use it. Whoops. Making sure you’re meal planning for your own family and not a large army is a good way to cut costs. Also making sure you keep your meals simple is smart, too. Simple can still be delicious.

3) You’re not measuring out your ingredients. I know, I know. Ree doesn’t like to measure things out and most TV chefs eyeball their ingredients. But they also waste a ton of food making cooking shows, and no one is actually going to eat the meal she’s haphazardly throwing ingredients into. Can you eyeball a tsp of salt? Can you? What about a cup of cheese? Be honest, you added more cheese didn’t you? Me too. And if it was just cheese it probably wouldn’t be a big deal. But if you’re eyeballing all your ingredients, and adding extra of each ingredient, it probably costs you as much as $1-3 per meal. We have a digital scale and lots of measuring cups, and as much as Ree and I agree on washing fewer dishes being a good thing, she is a wealthy cattle farmer’s wife. 

Another bulk item that disappears too quickly at our house… which is why we stopped buying them.

4) You buy in bulk. Surprise! You thought that bulk buying was a good thing, right? And it can be! We love our Costco dearly, and sometimes go in there just to look around (wide aisles, places for both kids to sit in the cart, free food samples!). But buying things in bulk can sometimes trick you into using more. I have to be really careful when we buy chocolate chips and peanut butter in bulk, because when you have a bunch of something, it’s easy to use more than you usually would. If you buy three pounds of cheese (at our house, at least) you will go through that three pounds of cheese just as fast as you go through the one pound block you buy at the store, because that extra two pounds goes into your cheesy dishes (you can never have too much cheese, right?) or (I mean, at least at our house) it becomes snack cheese. Snack cheese that we don’t even need to eat. It’s just there, so it gets eaten. If you have a ton of extra food in your house, you will eat it. 

5) When was the last time you used marjoram? Look, I’m all for trying new recipes. We try new foods all the time at our house. But we learned very quickly that buying special spices every time we wanted to make a new recipe made our food cost skyrocket. Same with fancy cheese, weird shaped pasta, specialty ingredients (like sun-dried tomato pesto), or any other ingredient that you don’t use in more than one recipe. My rule of thumb when picking out new recipes for us to try is that they can only include two ingredients that we don’t normally keep in our house. And then we have to find other recipes that use those ingredients. Don’t buy food you aren’t going to eat. 

No one needs this many pumpkins… right?

So, are you guilty of any of these things? I am or have been guilty of all of them at some point. I’m so excited to be blogging again. I’m excited for a new year, I have big plans for the next twelve months, and I can’t wait to see how they unfold.

What are your big plans for this year? Tell me about them in the comments. 

photo by:

Fortnight Friday #9

We lit a fire for the first time this weekend, finally putting our enormous pile of firewood to work. I’m so happy Dustin spent some time cutting all that firewood from the dead wood in our tree out front. It smells like barbecue and lights up beautifully. It was fun watching the girls watch the fire, and I was happy for the weather to finally be cold enough to warrant snuggling up and listening to the wood crackle. 

We also got caught up on our Disney movies, by watching Finding Dory. It was so cute! I loved Hank. That crazy septapus was easily my favorite part of the movie. If you haven’t seen it yet, I highly recommend you do so. And we saw it just in time, because Moana came out last week. I know we won’t go see it soon, but I am loving the soundtrack already. Lin-Manuel Miranda makes my heart so happy, and I can’t wait to sing these songs as much as Hamilton… well, okay. Not quite that much. But more than Frozen. 🙂

I spent a lot of time Thanksgiving week trying to get my house cleaned up (and cleared out) enough for our Christmas decorations. We had one room in particular that took ALL week, and then some. Whoops! Maybe cleaning it out for the entirety of this past week will be the motivation I need to stay on top of it this next year. Then again, next year I will have two toddlers so I’m keeping an open mind. But a gal can dream, right?

Holly did this weird thing where every morning she woke up grumpy and tired, threw up, and then about an hour later was revving her motor like nothing happened. It was probably just drainage, but it reminded me to make sure I have my Ultimate Sick-Day kit finished up, and soon! 

Then we did Thanksgiving… three Thanksgiving’s, as a matter of fact. We had so much fun (and were so exhausted) that I only took one picture. But I also took this fabulous video of the kids when I was attempting to take a picture of their adorable Thanksgiving outfits, and learned that taking pictures of TWO little people who are mobile is way harder than when only one of them could get up and go. To see the video, make sure to go follow my Instagram account. 

I wrote a few posts this week, but I was especially nervous to share this one about my daughter and her love of marriage, and the example I hope my husband and I are setting for her. 

I know this next month is going to be terribly hectic, and I feel so lucky that Dustin and I have started switching off an evening once a week so that we can each have some time to do the things we want to do. I spend time at a coffee shop writing, and Dustin spends time with a few of his friends. I am nervous about finding time to do this next month (I know for a fact that some of our typical evenings we use are booked up with other important activities), but I know we’re both committed to making it happen. It has been good for our marriage for us to carve out some time for both of us. And I think it’s good for the kiddos to spend more one-on-one time with their daddy.

And we did finally decorate for Christmas. I’m in the camp that wants to decorate for Christmas starting November first, but Dustin is very firmly in the “after Thanksgiving” camp, and I love him, so we wait. But now we’ve got our tree and all our Christmas doodads up, and I am very happy. Actually, I’m writing beside our lit up tree in my favorite cozy chair. The room I’m sitting in is still pretty disastrous, but the tree is beautiful, the chair is cozy, and the kids are napping. Melody recent went from two naps to one nap a day, and I thought that would make things harder, but it’s been much better for all of us. We all have a consistent down time, and even if Holly doesn’t nap during that time, I can tell the quiet is appreiciated. Or… at least the decompression time is appreciated. We’re still working on the “quiet” part. 🙂

Melody drew her first picture on Tuesday, and while I still had to remind her that crayons aren’t for eating, she drew a lovely scribbled page, and enjoyed the encouragement and praise given to her by her big sister when she did it right. Holly really loves being a big sister, and I’m glad they have each other. We’ve also been watching the Rockettes Christmas show and “the Haynes sisters” (White Christmas) because Holly loves to sing and dance along. I love this time of year, and seeing them fall in love with the magic of Christmas makes it even better.


The Botched Pumpkin Brittle

I spent four days hulling pumpkin seeds. Four. Days. The pumpkins were free, and even though my husband hates the texture of pumpkin seeds, I told myself that hulling them would be easy, and that they would be so tasty it would be worth it.

I don’t like carving pumpkins. I don’t like the feeling of slimy pumpkin brain, I don’t like the way it dyes my fingers orange for a few days. Carving pumpkins, unlike pie pumpkins, are really stringy when you roast them, and they make your pumpkin pie feel gritty in your mouth. But I was in it for the seeds, and I was on a mission: to make pumpkin seeds that Dustin would like.

Dustin is not a picky person. There are very few things he dislikes when it comes to food flavors, but he has a few food textures he would rather avoid, and the tree-bark outside pumpkin seeds is on that list.

So I hulled pumpkin seeds, for at least an hour a day. For four days. Because I had a plan. 

I was going to make Alton Brown’s delightful looking pumpkin brittle. The recipe called for pepitas, or hulled pumpkin seeds, and I was so excited when I finally had enough seeds to make the brittle. I roasted them in the oven, used Alton’s spice mixture (but scaled back on the cayenne, for the sake of the children), and even got out our kitchen scale to precisely measure the sugar and water. I got our candy thermometer, was really careful to avoid crystallization, read the directions four times, and felt like I’d executed the recipe perfectly. When it reached the right temperature, I mixed the seeds I’d spent four long days preparing into the molten sugar water and poured it onto my prepared baking sheet.

Where it continued to sit like a river of lava for hours. Not even freezing it overnight hardened it. Something had gone terribly wrong.

But here’s the deal: I am *stubborn,* I had spent four days hulling these ridiculous seeds, and I was not about to let a little thing like a sugar syrup bath make these seeds inedible. I was not going to throw four days of sore fingertips go to waste. I was going to make pumpkin seeds delicious, y’all.

So I strained the extra sugar syrup off as best I could, spread them back out on my baking sheet, and roasted them five minutes at a time at 350 degrees until they felt hard to the touch.
And they are delicious. Maybe better than the brittle would have been (although, who really knows?). And I was really proud of how far I’d come in the kitchen. When Dustin and I first got married, I knew how to make spaghetti, chicken spaghetti, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, and oatmeal cookies. And it made me feel really proud, because:

  • Three years ago, me even attempting to make brittle would have been laughable.
  • Two years ago, botching a recipe this badly would have sent me into a tailspin of tears.
  • Last year, I would have just thrown the whole tray out. 

But this year, I was able to make something great out of a hot mess. I learned that I’m more stubborn that I knew, that I know more about cooking than I believed I did, and that I don’t accept failure as easily as I used to. Thanks, Alton.

Oh, and you know what else I learned? Next time just pay the couple dollars extra for the pre-hulled pumpkin seeds.