mother

Journey to Gratitude: Day 9

One year ago, I said “goodbye” to my mother for the last time. Sometime around 9pm, she finally let go and slipped away into heaven, where she was greeted by my baby girl, Bristol, as well as my Aunt Lynne, my dad, and others who had passed before her. This day is especially bittersweet, because it is also the eve of Bella’s second birthday. So exactly a year before my mom passed, I was preparing to give birth to my baby girls at just 28 weeks into pregnancy. This date is a tough one, as it is now marked with two major events.

So what on earth could I be grateful for on a day like today. Well, as I sat at home today with my head swarming with memories, a beautiful bouquet of flowers showed up at my door. I opened the card to find a sweet message from my work family. So today, I am thankful for such a wonderful job and an awesome, caring team. What a sweet gesture on such an otherwise sad day! It reminded me that I am not alone, and that I have folks who not only care about me, but remembered that this was a special day. I am blessed to be a part of Chick-fil-A Bristol!

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A Mother’s Memory

To meet me now, you would never know that I have just been through one of the toughest years of my life.  I have a beautiful, healthy 8-month-old daughter, an amazing husband and life partner, a nice house, a great dog, and – as of last week – a great job.  No, to meet me now, you would think I have the perfect life.  And I do…..now.  But just six months ago today, we had to say goodbye to our baby girl.

I may never know why we had to go through all that we did.  Why are there so many babies born to families that don’t want them?  Why are healthy babies born to ladies who smoke or drink – or worse?  Why did my body reject my precious babies when I did everything right?  I don’t know.  I may never know.  But I am thankful that we got to have 9 weeks with our precious baby – enough time to make memories to last a lifetime.  In fact, when choosing the words for her headstone, we wanted to capture that sentiment.  After reading countless phrases, we finally found the perfect one:

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Bristol touched so many people in her short time.  Her story is one that will be remembered and told for years to come.  She was so tough and so brave.  I have no doubt that she would have been sassy and spunky just like her sister.  The Lord surely got “the best” when He called her back home.  This poem gave us great comfort when we were grieving:

God saw you getting tired and a cure was not to be,
So He put His arms around you and whispered, “Come to me”.
With tearful eyes we watched you and saw you pass away,
And although we love you dearly we could not make you stay.
A golden heart stopped beating, hardworking hands at rest,
God broke our hearts to prove to us He only takes the best.
—-Unknown

The other poem that spoke to us during that time:

When God calls little children to dwell with Him above,
We mortals sometimes question the wisdom of His love.
For no heartache compares with the death of one small child,
Who does so much to make our world seem wonderful and mild.
Perhaps God tires of calling the aged to His fold,
So He picks a rosebud before it can grow old.
God knows how much we need them and so He takes but a few,
To make the land of Heaven more beautiful to view.
Believing this is difficult, still somehow we must try.
The saddest word mankind knows will always be “Goodbye”.
So when a child departs, we who are left behind,
Must realize God loves children.
Angels are hard to find.
—-Unknown

Finally, for those unable to make Bristol’s memorial service, I wanted to share the letter I wrote for her:

letter to Bristol

We are so very lucky to have such an amazing angel watching over us!  We miss you, baby girl!

HOW TO: Stretch Your Groceries and Plan Family Meals

I don’t claim to be an expert who has “the” answers, as I recognize that there are many people out there with lots of great ideas.  Just check Pinterest to see all the crafty moms out there with beautifully decorated homes who still find time to make ornate food that looks like it should be on display somewhere versus being eaten by their families.  I am not that mom/wife.  Our baby’s room is a hodgepodge of themes, wall hangings, and furniture – all of them very practical, but not worthy of being posted on Pinterest.  The food I prepare tastes good (or so I am told), but is not Top Chef worthy, nor am I crafty enough to make cute displays that look like little animals or my daughter’s favorite Bubble Guppy.

What I can offer, however, is practicality and frugality.  My forte is organization that makes sense in a world that is busy.  I don’t have the time or energy to comb over coupons or sale ads for hours on end, nor am I crafty enough to make cute charts that look like that belong in a teacher’s elementary school classroom.  My husband and I are pretty simple people.  What I bring to you are tips from our simple, frugal life that I hope you will find helpful.

Today, I bring you tips on stretching your dollars in your family meals.  I do “big” grocery shopping twice per month, with some smaller trips in between to get fresh produce or other small items that may pop up.  We do have a monthly allotment budgeted for our grocery items, and I work very hard to stick to that.  If I happen to have coupons (and remember to take them), I will use them, but most of the time I do NOT have coupons.  If you have time and enjoy sifting through coupons, more power to you – extra savings, woohoo!  My version of couponing is checking my local grocer’s ad for the meat and produce specials and planning my meals around those.  I then get my other goods – boxed items, household goods, etc – from WalMart or Sam’s Club.  I know the average prices of my regular items, and I watch for them to be on sale.  When they are on a good special, I stock up.

Here are some of my little tricks for stretching our groceries:

1.  Based on the meat specials at the grocery store, make a list of what meals you will make with those meats.
I list out first which meats I will buy, and then think of what I can do with those meats.  For example, this week I may plan to get a roast, cubed steak, chicken breasts, ground beef, and pork chops.  From there, I may decide to do a roast with potatoes and carrots, cubed steak with mashed potatoes, chicken casserole with the chicken breasts, sloppy joes with tater tots with the ground beef, and BBQ baked pork chops with some veggies.

2.  Complete the grocery list with sides, other needed ingredients, snacks, and lunch and breakfast items.
It should be noted here that I keep a running grocery list on my fridge, where I list items that are running low (or in some cases, have run out) as I discover them.  I HATE to run completely out of anything, so I usually add it to my list when it gets low.  If it is an item that goes quickly, I add it when it gets about halfway used, but if it’s an item that goes more slowly, I wait until there is maybe a quarter of it left.  So when I get ready to do my grocery shopping, I already have a list started.  I add the meats on special, then the sides to go with those, and then any special ingredients I may need (e.g. cream of chicken soup, BBQ sauce, tortillas, etc).  I finish off my list with snacks, lunch items (e.g. lunch meat, cheese, bread, Hot Pockets, soups, salad stuff, etc), and breakfast items (we eat cereal or oatmeal most mornings during the week, but I prepare a big breakfast on the weekends).  The most important takeaway here is that EVERYTHING goes on the list.  Sure, there may be an item or two that you forgot about and remember it when you get to the store, but otherwise stick to the list.  NO IMPULSE PURCHASES.
SIDE NOTE:  Plan for the unexpected.  Have 2 or 3 meal options that are easy but flexible for those “just in case” nights.  One of our go-to meals is tuna salad with mac and cheese.  It’s quick and easy, but also keeps on the shelf, so we pull it out if we need something fast, or if other meals have run out.  It’s also a good go-to if you have a night where you maybe have plans to go out the next night, and therefore will not be eating leftovers (you can make just enough for that night’s dinner, or eat any leftover tuna for the next day’s lunch).

3.  Learn to love leftovers.
I love to cook, but I don’t love to cook everyday.  Our rules for meals are as follows: each meal lasts for two dinners, and after two days, you may then – and only then – eat those leftovers for a lunch.  When planning my meals, I keep this in mind, so I buy enough ingredients to make a large meal to last two days.  Sometimes that means doubling or even tripling a recipe.  It also means observing portion control (which will also be good for your waistline).  I always remember my mom saying things like, “It’s a shame that I spend all this time in the kitchen for everyone to eat and be done in 20 minutes”.  I guess I don’t feel it has to be that way.  If you really enjoy a meal, why not enjoy it two or three times?  To me, it makes it more worth my effort to be able to enjoy a meal for longer than 20 minutes.  It also gives me two or three nights a week where I don’t have to stress about cooking – winning!  Extra bonus: it’s typically cheaper to make a larger batch of one meal than to make two separate meals.

4.  Make a meals list, and cross them off as you make/use them.     015
Once home from the store, I make a list of all the meals I’ve acquired.  I don’t like to assign them to specific days.  I know some people do meal assignments for the week or even the month, and that’s cool.  I just personally prefer to have more flexibility in my choices.  Sometimes things come up and I need a quicker meal.  Other times I feel like being a gourmet chef and spending a couple of hours in the kitchen.  I like options.  So I make a list of what all I have – just go down and say “#1 – Roast with potatoes & carrots, #2 – Sloppy joes with tater tots” and so on.  At the bottom, I make another small list of all of the sides I have on hand – corn, broccoli, salad stuff, mixed vegetables, etc.  Again, I like options, so this allows me to see what all I have – at a glance, and without digging through the freezer – and I can just pick which sides/veggies I want to have with each meal.  I buy a variety of veggies when I do my grocery shopping – both fresh and frozen – and I try to have at least one vegetable with each meal, sometimes two.
RULE OF THUMB – When choosing which meal to make, choose the ones with fresher ingredients FIRST, so that you don’t get stuck with produce and such that is going bad.  Once you have worked through all the ones requiring fresh produce/ingredients, you can move onto your frozen or boxed options.

Using the tips above, I am usually able to make our groceries last for about 2-2 1/2 weeks.  Again, I may have to make a weekly quick run to refresh produce or grab an ingredient I forgot, but the bulk of our groceries lasts from major trip to major trip.  Not only does it save time not having to go to the store all the time, but it saves money because I am sticking to a plan versus making impulse purchases.

What tips/tricks have you found to help make your groceries stretch?

A Mother’s Challenge: Fourth Time’s a Charm!

So…as you probably noticed, I fell off the wagon.  For those struggling to get started, you should know that I had three starts and fails before I FINALLY began to stick with it.  I tried to start with the Les Mills Combat program (from Beachbody) at the beginning of May – lasted about a week.  Tried to get it going again in mid-May – failed again.  Made my own program with a calendar and everything in June – fell off after about 2 weeks.  Then we got married and went on vacation, and, well, you know how that goes (can we say “pig out”).

FINALLY, my husband (that’s still so weird to say) and I got serious around July 10.  We had a weigh-in, and we posted our respective weights on the calendar that we keep on the fridge.  It took a couple of days to really get in gear, but I’d say what really helped was using an app on my phone to track our food intake and exercise.  Though I know that tracking is what has given me success before, I think I was reluctant because I wasn’t sure how to figure in breastfeeding (well, pumping, in my case), and I didn’t want my supply to suffer.  But after two months of failing to stick to a plan, I decided to bite the bullet and start tracking.  (I should also mention here that Bella turned 6 months old on July 10, and due to finally sleeping through the night as of July 1, she was down to only 5 feedings a day.  I was pumping almost twice what she needed in a day, so I was freezing 6-12 ounces per day.  Additionally, I had a deep freezer full of milk should my supply suffer, so I became less concerned about supply issues.)  Just in case, through research I found out how, indeed, to add in breastfeeding to allow for more calories each day.

For the first couple of weeks, I ran in the mornings before Blaine went to work, so that he could be at home with Bella.  Getting my body used to counting calories was rough, as I had been just eating whenever I got hungry all through my pregnancy and had probably even increased how much I was eating as I was nursing and pumping.  But I was down to pumping only 4 times a day (and has decreased to 3 times a day within the past couple of weeks or so, soon to be down to only two times per day), so I probably didn’t need as many calories as I once did.  Tracking food, exercise, and pumping via MyFitnessPal helped tremendously in staying on track.  It was also helpful that Blaine was tracking his food and exercise, as well.  It’s always easier with a buddy!

In the past couple of weeks or so, I changed up my routine a little.  Instead of leaving Bella at home while I went running, I started taking Bella and Paisley (our Shih Tzu) with me on a power walk for 45-60 minutes.  Once back from the power walk, I started doing about 15-20 minutes of strength training exercises: squats, arms with dumbbells, crunches, etc.  I have noticed the biggest difference in weight loss, energy, and controlling my appetite since changing up my routine.  I have now lost a total of 4.5 lbs since July 10, and about a half inch each from my waist, hips, and thighs!

Here are pics of my progress thus far.  The changes are subtle, but overall I can that I’ve gone from having “rolls” to just being a little flabby.  The biggest noticeable difference is that my stomach is finally shrinking – yay!

May 2013 vs August 2013

For those still struggling out there, just don’t give up.  Just because you pooped out once doesn’t mean you’ll poop out every time.  Sometimes it just takes some practice before you really get serious.    😉

PREVIEW: Bristol Baby

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What a difference a year makes!

On August 3rd last year, Blaine and I discovered that I was pregnant.  Little did we know what all was in store for us over the coming months – twins, pre-eclampsia, NICU – what a year!

I have always enjoyed writing, and it has always been a dream of mine to write a book.  At one point when I was young – maybe around 4th grade or so – I actually aspired to be an author when I grew up.  Almost thirty years later, I am finally trying to make that happen.  I am currently working on writing our story.  I thought it fitting to share with you the very rough draft of the start of Chapter 1, given that it is about how we found out I was pregnant and today is the one year anniversary.

Because we were so secretive for the first 15 weeks (well, and I didn’t even find out until I was about 5 or 6 weeks along), many of you may not even know the whole story about how we found out.  I hope you enjoy our story…

Click here to read the exerpt: Chapter 1 – Finding Out

A Mother’s Challenge: Rear in Gear, Day 16

Well…..I promised you “real”.

I was better with cardio this week – got out for a walk with the dog and stroller (we are quite a sight) 4 times.  But I was TERRIBLE at keeping up with my Challenge exercises – only did them twice.  As a result, I’ve not seen any change in my measurements and have actually gained 2 pounds.  *sad face*

I have been very diligent about continuing to eat healthy, however, and though it may just be my imagination, I swear my body looks tighter – even if my measurements say otherwise.  I also feel stronger.  Sure, those 20 pushups still kick my tail, but my joints don’t hurt as bad and I don’t feel like I’m auditioning for a Rice Crispies commercial every time I move.  memorial day family pic

So here’s where we’re at:
Today is a rest day, but since I’ve rested quite a bit this past week, I’m going to try to do my Challenge exercises today.  And since Coach is home today, I can probably either get out for a family walk around the neighborhood, or possibly even go for a solo run (which is desperately needed).  I have completed through Day 10 on my Challenge exercises, so I will pick up with Day 11.  I have been tracking which days I complete, so that when I do miss days, I can jump back in where I left off.

I know many people would get to the point where I am and would say, “Oh well.  I’m so off track that I’ll just skip out on the rest of the month and start over next month.”  NOOOOOO, I say!  Just keep track as I have and jump back in when you get motivated (or well, or find that free time) again.  Time doesn’t matter.  Just DO IT.  No one is keeping track but you.  All that matters is that you are trying, that you are moving, and that you are working towards being healthy again.  Need a little more of a pep talk?  Read my article, “Just ‘Start'”.

Here’s to another week!

A Mother’s Challenge: Rear in Gear, Day 9

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Any progress is good progress I suppose, so we’ll take it.

As of yesterday, I had some small changes in the following measurements:
WAIST – 31.5″ (down 1/2″)
HIPS – 40.75″ (down 1/4″)
CHEST – 35″ (UP 1″! ) – haha!  Thanks Mommy Milk!
*Weight did not change*

My body has always followed a certain progression in both gaining and losing weight.  When I gain, it begins in hips and thighs, then arms and other areas, and lastly my tummy.  When I lose, it’s pretty much in reverse, so I have to lose the tummy before my body will let go of fat from other areas.  I have to keep reminding myself of this fact as I trudge onward, because I am, indeed, seeing progress in my waistline.

I have thus far done pretty well with keeping up with Challenge exercises, but have been TERRIBLE at doing any cardio.  Note to self: get on that!

Anyone else still with me on the Rear in Gear Challenge?  How are YOU doing?

A Mother’s Challenge: Rear in Gear, Day 7

black for exercise

At the close of the first week, I have to say it’s been a roller coaster.  Some days I was gung-ho, full of energy, and ready to take on the world.  Other days I struggled just to get my Challenge exercises done, let alone anything else.  I have managed to keep up with the Challenge exercises, but I have only done cardio a couple of times – and that was just walking or some calisthenics.

Squats and crunches are getting easier.  My 30-second plank today was surprising OK.  Push-ups can suck it!  Even breaking them down into 2 sets of 9, I was STRUGGLING by 6, 7, 8, and 9 of the second set.  AND I wasn’t even doing a full, true push-up – I was on my knees! Clearly I’ve got some work to do on my upper body strength.  I don’t suppose it could be this extra 20 pounds I’m carrying around!

Tomorrow is weigh-in and measurement check.  I have to say I’ve cheated a little already on both (I have no patience to wait), and there has been one area of progress.  I suppose ANY progress is good at this point, so we’ll take it.  The rest of you will have to wait until I do the “official” check and post tomorrow.

In the meantime, I know some people are dying over these squats.  My legs have admittedly always been my strongest muscle group, and I mean by a long shot.  Squats haven’t gotten to me yet (notice I said YET – let’s talk again when I’m doing 100+ per day), but I have also been changing it up, doing some different types each day, and breaking them down into smaller sets.

I made a video of suggested variations to help all of you out there:

How are you guys doing at the close of Week One?

A Mother’s Challenge: Rear in Gear, Day 5

Life happens, and before you know it, several days pass.  Already on Day Five – how did that happen?!

Day Two went well – a little tough on the squats, but still went well enough that I felt the need to do some extra arm exercises afterwards.  Day Three, my brother and his girlfriend came to visit, so I had to find time to squeeze in my exercises.  Additionally, the extra time on the planks and (sadly) the extra two pushups began to get tough.  Lord help me – if 12 pushups are hard, how in the h-e-double hockey sticks am I going to 50 by the end of the month?!?!

Remember when I said this would be real?  So, on Day Three, I totally pigged out on two hot dogs, a hamburger, and cake and ice cream that night.  I also had the first beer that I’ve had since the end of last July – yes, almost a year ago!  Day Four – didn’t even do it.  We stayed up too late the night before, all slept in that morning, and then I decided to entertain my guests…..and go out to eat…..and sit on my butt. So today – Day Five – is supposed to be a rest day, but since I inadvertently (or quite intentionally, LOL) made yesterday a rest day, I will be doing my Day Four exercises today.  Additionally, I need to make up a day of cardio, so I really need to do two doses of cardio someday this week.  Will it be today?  Who knows.  I live nap-to-nap with little Bella, so it just depends on if we are having a good napping day or a poor napping day to whether or not I get things done.  (And then I decided to take some time to actually get on my computer and hash out this post, so there goes some time I could have been using for exercise………)

I also need to get to the store.  I am running out food – not only my healthy options, but really any options at all!  So there’s that.

This is the real life of a mom.  I know you other moms out there get it – I just have to say it out loud to remind myself sometimes, hahaha!  And at the end of the day, I get to look at this precious face:

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In case you are just tuning in, you can download the June Challenge here: June 2013 Rear in Gear Challenge

A Mother’s Strength

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I am amazed at how many people have said to me that I have shown great strength throughout this process, as if I have done something remarkable.  I don’t feel particularly strong or remarkable.  I feel angry, sad, confused – but not strong or extraordinary in any way.  I have only done what I feel any mother should do: love my children to the best of my ability.

Looking back to even a few years ago, I was never sure if I really wanted children – partly our of selfishness for enjoying my no-strings-attached single life, and partly because I was in my thirties and unsure if I was ever going to be able to find a partner with which to settle down.  I suppose there was also a part of me that was secretly terrified of what toll a pregnancy would take on my body given that I have a heart condition.  How silly that all seems to me now that I have produced two beautiful girls!  I cannot imagine life without them now, as they and their Daddy have completed my life in a way that I never could have dreamed.

Even given our loss of Bristol, I am thankful that we had the chance to love her, if even for a short time.  She was the embodiment of strength, as she endured countless tests, x-rays, blood transfusions, needles, drugs – more than even most adults endure in an entire lifetime – and yet, she never gave up her fight.  I think we counted that she ultimately had 11 blood transfusions in her 9 short weeks of life, and doctors and nurses were constantly amazed by her high tolerance for medications, requiring as much as 2-3 times the strength of doses usually needed by a baby of her age and size.  SHE was strong.  SHE was remarkable.  BRISTOL was extraordinary.

By comparison, I was/am quite weak and average.

I guess people expect me to be overwhelmed by grief and sadness to a point to where I can’t even get out of bed.  Or maybe they expect me to cry uncontrollably all the time.  But I guess I can’t comprehend being that person when I still have so much to live for.  I have Bella, a beautiful miracle who relies on me for sustenance.  I have Blaine, who provides a love that gives me strength to keep going.  And I have friends and family that show a support that shows me there are angels here on earth to watch over me when times get rough.

No, I am not strong.  All I have done is to do my best to give my daughters the best chance at life, and in many ways I feel that I have even failed.  I failed to carry them anywhere close to full term, putting them in all sorts of danger.  And I failed to help Bristol grow a decent pair of lungs, which ultimately cost her her life.  What I did manage to do is visit them everyday – though only for a few hours – and supply them with my milk.  That is all.  How is that so remarkable?  Women everyday all over the world love their children and supply them with milk – that’s just called being a mother.

No, I am not strong or remarkable or extraordinary.  I’m just your average mother providing love to my children.

When people would talk about me being strong, I was always reminded of this song:

Twila Paris – The Warrior Is A Child – A Heart That Knows You Album Version