Monday, August 31, 2015

Would you rather have a sexy wife or a clean house?

This is not my house. Not even close.
We have officially entered a new phase of parenting: school. Though Dash is only in TK we've already been to our first PTA meeting and have been wrangled into helping out at the school with various events and fundraisers. Knox has also started preschool and has his own list of activities that require parent involvement. Don't get me wrong; I am really excited for this phase. Both our schools are full of amazing staff and parents and I look forward to being a part of this new community. But all this change means we need to shift our lives a little to make room for all these new adventures and that takes some finesse.

At the same time, I've found myself back in another phase I'm quite familiar with: The baby weight battle. I've set some realistic goals (about 10-15 lbs in 6 months) and I dangled the motivational carrot (permission to purchase a smoking hot dress to wear to a wedding we are going to in the spring and maybe some new clothes to wear on our vacation) and I've carved out some time for exercise.

There's only one problem.

Between school events and obligations, family time, blogging, and exercising, I have zero time to keep up on my house. This week I had three days where I only had one child for three consecutive hours and I did not have time to do any housekeeping except for dishes. No laundry. No vacuuming. Forget about dusting. One day was dedicated to errands, another day I walked our rather neglected dog and worked on the blog and today I took a long exercise-y walk with a friend. When I realized my entire week was gone and I had nothing to show for it, I messaged Mr. Sir:

Would you rather have a sexy wife or a clean house?

And with the entire internet as my witness, this is what he said:

LOL, but seriously...a sexy wife.

And there you have it folks. Please don't judge me for the state of my house the next time you drop by. Because according to my husband of almost 8 years, this lady right here *points thumbs at self* is more important than a Pinterest - perfect house. And though I haven't had time to talk to my husband in detail about his answer to my question, I can tell you that he doesn't want a sexy wife because he needs some arm candy. (I mean, we have three kids under 5; we don't go anywhere on a Friday night except to bed.)

He wants a sexy wife because I'm happier when I'm exercising. I sleep better when in taking care of myself. I'm more confident when I feel sexy. I have more energy when I give myself permission to do something for me. Of course, there are other fringe benefits for him but mostly, I'm the glue that holds this place together. When mama's happy, everyone is happy. Investing in me is an investment in everyone in our family. Who cares what our house looks like if the people who are in it are rays of happy sunshine? Ok, let's be honest. I care what my house looks like, but letting loose on the reins a little while we find our new groove won't hurt. 

So happy Monday, friends. Cheers to starting a new week with a fresh perspective. And a messy, but happy house. 

Monday, August 24, 2015

How do you do it?

Last week, Dash's new teacher asked me a question I hear all the time: How do you do it?

I never quite know how to answer because, well it's complicated. Usually, in these scenarios someone is looking at me like I've got motherhood all figured out. As if my life is a smooth running, well-oiled machine. Sometimes I want to bask in all my supposed put-togetherness, but that couldn't be further from the truth. And frankly, I'm in the business of being honest with myself and others. The truth? I'm a mother -- a human being with strengths and flaws.

We've become a society that has difficulty embracing our emotions and imperfections. I don't think people expect a real, honest and raw answer. And yet, I feel compelled to give them one that reflects the many facets of motherhood. The good, the bad and the ugly. I never want someone to feel insecure in the face of my seemingly Pinterest-perfect brilliance. At the same time, I don't want want to sound like a walking train-wreck. I'm neither and yet I'm both. What I want to say is:

  • I'm doing the best that I can and some days that's still not good enough. 
  • I'm so proud of myself for making it out the door on time without yelling. 
  • My house is in complete shambles, but the kids are clean, dressed and we had time to take first day pictures. Lord knows if I'll ever have time to share them in the next 10 years, but we took them! 
  • I'm exhausted. I cannot consume enough coffee to lift the fog because I'm breastfeeding and I'm only supposed to have two cups of coffee a day. I make the coffee twice as strong so I get more bang for my buck (even though I know that defeats the purpose, but it soothes my conscience because in theory I'm still only having two cups) and yet I'm still tired. 
  • I don't have it all together. Some days we stay in our pajamas until noon.
  • I bribe my children with stickers and ice cream to do tasks basic to their survival. Like eating. Preferably in a manner which does not resemble hogs at the feed trough. 
  • I take it one day, one coffee, one peanut butter and jelly sandwich at a time. 
  • It's like a roller coaster: there's fear and excitement, ups and downs, and sometimes barf. 
  • I can go from champion and hero to utter failure in under 30 seconds.
  • I have marvelous people in my life who love and support me.
  • I feel like I have to do a lot of this on my own. 
  • I am pretty kick-ass, aren't I?
  • In the words of Woody Harrelson you've got to "nut up or shut up." I'm not entirely sure what this means, but I usually mutter it to myself right before I have to clean something up that should involve wearing a hazmat suit. 
So in answer to your question of how do I do it? I don't know. It's complicated. But mostly, I get out of bed and put one foot in front of the other, just like everyone else.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Creamy Mac and Cheese

You may have noticed I have a lackluster dedication to fitness, but let me assure you my obsession with Mac and Cheese is far more committed. I have tried many, many recipes but this is the one that all members of my family love. It's creamy. It's easy on the guilt. It's quick. And with a few veggies or some chicken sausage you can take it to a whole new level. 
Mac and Cheese with Bacon,
Mushroom and Swiss Chicken Sausage

10 ounce large elbow macaroni
1 tsp garlic powder
2 cups chicken stock (or chicken boullion), divided
1/2 cup milk
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
4 ounces cream cheese
1/2 teaspoon salt (or to taste. You may not need it if you use bouillon)
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1-2 cups extra-sharp cheddar cheese, shredded

1. Cook pasta according to package directions, omitting salt and fat; drain. Set aside.
2. In large skillet, stir in 1 cup stock and garlic powder; bring to a boil. Cook 1 minute.
3. Combine remaining 1 cups stock, milk, and flour; stir with a whisk until flour dissolves. Add milk mixture to garlic mixture, stirring with a whisk. Bring to a boil; cook 5-10 minutes or until mixture begins to thicken. **Stir frequently. Do not over cook or your sauce will have a grainy texture. **
4. Reduce to simmer; add cream cheese, whisking until smooth; add cheddar stirring until smooth. Stir in salt and pepper. (If needed)
5. Stir in pasta.

We eat some variation of this recipe close to once a week. Here's how I keep it interesting:

Top with roasted butternut squash or sweet potatoes. 
Saute some carrots, broccoli, and green beans. Stir in just before serving for instant pasta primavera.
Add chicken sausage. We love Aidells Bacon, Mushroom and Swiss. 
Swap out the pasta with some Spinach tortellini. (Hidden veggies!)
Swap out the pasta for gnocchi and the flour with corn starch for a gluten-free version.
Bake some mild Italian sausage in the oven and throw it on top. (seriously oven baked sausage is the easiest, mess free way to make sausage. Pop it in the oven on 400 for about 20-30 minutes turning once. That's it!)

And there you have it! A family favorite, six different ways. You can almost eat it every day of the week. 

Adapted from Cooking Light

This recipe received two stars from my family.
*Plate-Licking Good
For more about my rating system, head over to the Eats page.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Six Ways to Sneak in your Exercise

The exercising zen-master guru pictured is not me. Not even close. 

When I have a few minutes free from my kiddos, the last thing I want to do is hit the gym. Though I know I feel better when I do, I feel like exercise is a chore and I enjoy it about as much as I enjoy scrubbing my toilets. So I've devised a way to sneak my exercise in during the day while I'm home with the kids.

1. Dance Party. I love music and my kids love to shake their groove thing. So a few times a week, we put on some good dancing music. For maximum calorie burn try these moves: Risky Business Sock Slide, high jumps, any move that includes picking your kids up and swinging them around.

2. Clean & Chase. This is exactly what it sounds like. Chase your children around the house and tickle them if you catch them. While you are at it, pick up a few toys from the living room and toss them in the kids' room. Pick up all the dirty socks and toss them in the washer. You'll have a cleaner house, tired children and an awesome workout by the time you are done.  

3. Vacuum & Mop. It needs to be done anyway and if you do the whole house, you'll probably break a sweat by the time you finish.

4. Take an after dinner walk. We have a dog, so we always have a good excuse to take a walk. In the summer we like to walk after dinner; it can be a great motivator to get the kids to finish their dinner and it's a good way to expend the last of their energy before bedtime. For me, dinner tends to be the heaviest meal of the day and I'm less likely to spiral into a food coma if I get moving. Sometimes the boys ride their bikes which means I have to hustle to keep up with them. I'm also usually carrying Buttercup in the carrier or pushing her in the stroller. 

5. Piggy back rides. What kid doesn't love to ride their own personal beast of burden? Saddle up (or Daddle up if you prefer) and after a few circles around the house you'll be sweating.

6. Go to the Park. I took all three kids to park last week and pushed the boys on the swing while carrying my daughter in the Ergo until my arms ached. Killer workout and tired kids who played at the park all day? Talk about win win.

If I can squeeze a few of these calorie burners in each day, I feel better, accomplish more and I can watch TV with Mr. Sir before bed guilt-free.

How about you? Do you have your own sneaky exercise routine? I could use your inspiration!

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Keep it together. It's almost back to school

I had big dreams about how this summer was going to be magical. I was looking forward to less hustle and bustle, more time in our jammies and focusing on fun. In reality, our summer was three hardcore weeks of potty training, two weeks of a cold with ear infections, and some spring cleaning. (I'm only a few months behind...) Sure, we went to the beach and the park, ate ice cream and stayed up late, and I hope those are the things my kids remember. But when I look back on the last month, I mostly see a big, HOT MESS.

The good news is the school year is approaching and with it comes an opportunity for a fresh start. I'm not as optimistic about the school year as I was about the summer. I have two kids in different schools on opposite ends of town. Let's be realistic; it ain't gonna be easy. All my ducks need to be in a row to make this work and that starts with me. So I'm getting organized with Keep.

I'm probably the last person in the world to start using this app because I'm elbow deep in diapers and preschool, but in case there is anyone out there who is as disconnected to the real world as I am, here's a rundown of what you can do with Keep.

- Make check lists with clickable check boxes. When you check an item it floats down to the bottom of your list so you aren't scrolling to see what is left on your 33 item long Costco list.
- Make notes with reminders. You can even add a reminder to your checklists!
- Color coordinate your notes and checklists.
- Create, view and edit your lists and notes on all your devices.

I know; you're thinking, I have an app that can do that. Wait for it. This is feature that made me swoon:
My Keep. Notes with a picture
are shared with Mr. Sir

- Share your checklists and notes with others. All collaborators can view and edit in real time. You can choose which notes you want to share and with whom.

Can your app do that? 

Maybe this seems like no big deal to you, but in my household Mr. Sir & I spend about half of our conversations with each other communicating about the logistics of our life. This is the perfect way for us to keep track of all of those little details. Here are some examples of how Keep is keeping us organized.

Back to school shopping. We made a list of clothes, school supplies, and other miscellaneous items that needed to be purchased at several different stores. As things get checked off the list, we can both see what else is needed.

Appointments. Though we already have a shared calendar to track appointments, anytime our kids have an upcoming well visit, we usually make a list of items we want to discuss with the pediatrician. With Keep we can make our list and whoever ends up doing doctor duty has the most updated version. And then I won't forget to ask about the latest philosophy on introducing strawberries and peanut butter.

Things you can't remember because children are sucking your brain cells. Speaking of introducing new foods, we are also using Keep to track of what new foods Buttercup is trying. On the third kid, it is hard to remember how many days since you introduced something new and if there were any side effects. Honestly, it's hard to remember what day it is.

Groceries. By keeping a running list of items we need from the store, Mr. Sir can swing by and pick up a few essentials on his way home from work. And if I think of something else while he's on the train, it's not too late to add it to the list. It's also a great way to keep tabs on your grocery budget.

Packing for a trip. Keep track of what you need to pack. Or better yet, save your list from your last trip to use again. No point in reinventing the wheel when you are probably going to pack the same special blankets, night lights and lovies.

With three kids, a dog, a household to run, an imaginary blogging job with a slacker boss, my brain can't keep track of all the balls I'm juggling. Now I'm Keeping it together. ;)

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
This post is NOT sponsored by Google; I've just got an unhealthy addiction to all things Google and a commitment to finding order in my chaos.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Everything is Futile

I have always been a pull-yourself-up-by-the-bootstraps kind of girl. When things get tough, I do my best to rise to the challenge. But being eternally optimistic is exceptionally hard when life keeps pelting you in the head with lemons. Sometimes all you can do is embrace this moment and wallow in your self pity for a little bit before you move on.

This last week has been especially trying; we've been on (self-inflicted) house arrest as Knox has been attempting to master the potty. Buttercup started teething and is in the middle of a "I can roll over in my sleep and it is freaking me out!" sleep regression. And to top it off, our whole family has been hit with a summer cold which has turned Dash into a helpless puddle of tears. He gets emotional and borderline dramatic when he is sick (which is an unfortunate quality passed down from his mother.) All of this has made me feel like I've been trapped in a madhouse and instead of making lemonade with all these lemons, I just want to let them pile up and bury me. Because, it doesn't matter what I do; EVERYTHING is futile.

If I clean up the toys, another toynado will strike.
If I feed my children, they'll just get hungry again.
If I do the dishes, we'll make more. (See section on feeding children.)
If I take a shower and put clean clothes on, the baby will spit up on me.
If I bathe the baby and put clean clothes on her, she'll spit up on those too.
If I vacuum, the dog will roll in the brown straw we affectionately call "grass" in the backyard and track it all over the house.
If I make the bed, I'm just going to get back in it later. Sooner rather than later, I hope.
If I finish ALL the laundry, we'll fill an entire basket by the end of the day.
If I break up a fight, there will be another.
If I kindly explain there are better ways to solve our problems, I'll still end up yelling because no one was listening the first time.

I know, I know. This is too shall pass. It's hard and it is absolutely worth doing. While all that is true, I'm tired of trying to do things instead of actually doing things. For once I'd like to be able to check something off my list and feel the joy of accomplishment. But I suppose that is a small part of why I'm here. When I hit the publish button on this post, I will have completed something measurable that cannot be undone.

So thanks for being here to read and commiserate. Thanks for being the reason I can put a single check mark on my to do list. I imagine I'm not the only one waiting for this stage to pass. Tomorrow, when all of this is getting you down, I'll make you some lemonade with all these lemons.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

A Sanctuary Bought for a Song

When my husband and I first moved in together we had absolutely no furniture. Not even a bed. After we moved into our apartment, we took our U-Haul over to Ikea and picked up the cheapest bed and couch we possibly could. That night, we came home and assembled Ikea furniture until midnight just so we’d have a place to rest our weary bones after moving all day. Almost eight years, another apartment, two babies and a fixer upper house later, we were still sleeping on our full size Ikea bed. That’s right people. I said FULL SIZE bed. We’ve wanted to upgrade for a while, but that costs money and I can think of a hundred things I’d like to drop a wad of cash on other than a bed. (Do you know how many bottles of wine you can get for that kind of money? I digress…)

As fate would have it, my parents decided to upgrade their bed and offered to give us (and deliver!) their old Tempur-Pedic California King. How could I refuse an offer to have my bed and drink my wine too? In anticipation of our exciting new bed (and by new, I mean 10 year old hand-me-down, but those Tempur-Pedics are good for a lifetime, right?) I started shopping for bedding. Though I might not want to spend a truckload of money on actual bed, I love buying linens. I love a reason to browse the Pottery Barn website even if I’ll never buy anything because their prices make me cry. I could wander through Target looking at home goods for hours because it’s my happy place. I browsed to my little heart’s content until found a duvet from Overstock that made me swoon.
I wanted something that was bright and colorful. (Read, hides stains well.)
I wanted something that incorporated the crazy green dresser we bought off craigslist and painted when we still had time for labors of love that weren’t our children.
And I wanted some new colors, because as much as I love that green dresser, I’m ready for something new and I needed a palette that would match the old me AND inspire the new me.
Green bedroom dresser @alisamalisa @meredithspidel
This set was everything I wanted until I saw the price. $99.00 for a duvet, shams (that will never get used because we hate taking them on and off) and three throw pillows. Don’t get me wrong, I like pretty pillows, but I’m a practical girl. I don’t even make my bed half of the time because I’m just going to get right back in it. Preferably sooner rather than later. The bottom line was that I wasn’t willing to cough up almost $100 for just a duvet, even if it made me swoon.
So I shopped on. I shopped all of my favorite places online and in store, dragging my boys through every linen shop in town. Even my beloved Target didn’t have anything that satisfied both the dreamer and the penny pincher. Becoming desperate, I started looking into sewing my own duvet, but when all was said and done it was still going to cost me around $60. At one point, I seriously considered turning a shower curtain into a duvet because I thought it might be more cost efficient!
And then I stumbled on this at Wal-Mart.
Walmart Duvet Cover Set @alisamalisa @meredithspidel
Yep. That is EXACTLY the same duvet set I found on Overstock for almost $40 less. It’s a good thing I took a screenshot of this price, because Wal-Mart has recently increased the price to $109! Since I could barely make a duvet for that price, I ordered it. And then I promptly spent all my savings on some king size pillows.
Duvet Set @alisamalisa @meredithspidel
Did you notice the absurd number of pillows on my bed after I mentioned how unnecessary decorative pillows are? I may have purchased NINE pillows this week. And by may I mean I totally did. Don’t judge. In the end I was pretty satisfied with the overall cost of my makeover, including the pillow binge. Here’s the breakdown:
Duvet Set: $66 (One duvet, two king shams and three throw pillows)
Pillows: $52 (Four king size and two standard)
Sheets: $57 (I picked up two sets of 300 thread count sheets, one from Anna’s Linens ($32) and another from Bed, Bath and Beyond ($25)on super clearance with a 20% off coupon. )
Total cost for my bedding makeover: $175
Could I have gotten a better deal? Probably. Could I be happier? Nope. I read once that your master bedroom should be a sanctuary, an oasis if you will. A place where you can escape your children and pretend like you still have an adult life. Though I wouldn’t go so far as to say that it feels like an oasis in here, I can say that it feels as if grown-ups live here and not just a bunch of monkeys who like to jump on the bed.

This post originally appeared at Mom of the Year. For a less serious look at the world of parenting, meet Meredith.

Monday, August 3, 2015

Self Checkout: It's over.

Dear Self Checkout,
I have so many things I want to say to you. Let's start with, it's not me, it's you. You, with your ever so tempting short lines and false promises of a quick and easy checkout. Each time you lure me in with your flashing green light, I swoop in and am utterly disappointed.

You have baggage issues.
You tell me to place my items in the bagging area, then immediately start shouting unauthorized item in the bagging area. I panic and scan for this unauthorized item that you speak of only to find my monstrous diaper bag has brushed against you. Before I can even scan another item, you start nagging again. This time my son's pinky finger grazed the bag stand.You could clearly see I had three kids when you invited me over, beckoning with your flashing light, so don't try to pretend my kids aren't welcome.

You're rigid and jealous.
I reach for my grapes and realize they don't have a bar code or a sticker to properly identify them; I know this will anger you because you are such a stickler for the rules. Loosen up. Have a little fun once in a while. Grapes are delicious and you make it so hard to buy them. Are you jealous? Because I have been hanging out with those grapes since before you even moved to this neighborhood?
I search in vain for the correct classification (green, non-organic, seedless) until I finally call for assistance. Your attendant rolls her eyes at me as she swipes her card and manually enters my item. I knew this was a mistake. The regret fills my empty shopping bags.

You're needy.
I struggle through the next few items as the chaos of the three children left unattended behind me begins to bubble over. You demand my total and undivided attention during the entire rendezvous. You ask for so much commitment and give so little in return.

You whine; I wine.
As I near the bottom of my bottom of my shopping basket, I pick up the cheap wine I have selected to pair with my mac and cheese and I know that it's over. Your "no alcohol" sign was obscured by the cheerful Happy Birthday balloons that the kids are now pleading for. The sassy attendant returns, this time with double eye rolls, but has mercy on me when the baby coos at her. I'm near tears as I clutch my shopping bags and retreat from the store.

I swear this time it's really over. I'm never coming back. I won't suffer your injustices anymore. Next time, I'll wait as long as necessary for the checker. His smile is nicer anyway and he always offers to help me to my car like a true gentleman.