Fruit Pizza, That Doesn't Make You Miss Chocolate

Wednesday, June 29, 2016


My name is Monica, and I'm a chocoholic.

This attribute runs in my veins.  Every member of my immediate family would choose a chocolate dessert over any other dessert or treat.  You can keep your skittles, sour candies, and the likes.  In fact, if I have something for dessert that doesn't have chocolate in it (say, strawberry pie), I still feel like I need to have "second dessert" and have a little chocolate to follow.  (I guess we might have some hobbit blood in there too._

So when I tell you that this fruit pizza is one of my most favorite desserts of all time, you better believe it's worth it. And you better make it as soon as possible, while that summer fruit is ripe for the picking.


Fruit Pizza
Adapted from Our Best Bites, one of the only real cookbooks I actually regularly use (not sponsored!).

Note: take care to under-bake rather than over-bake the cookie-crust.  You want the edges to just begin showing signs of getting golden.  It will bake more in the pan as it cools down.  Also, I bake this on a large pizza pan, but you could always use a cookie sheet and cut the pieces into squares instead.

Crust:
1 cup real butter, room temperature (no substitutes)
1 cup sugar
1 egg
1 tsp almond extract
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
Zest of 1 orange, or 2 lemons

Creamy Topping:
1 (8-ouce) package of cream cheese (light is fine)
1-2 Tb of juice of one orange or lemon
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 cup heavy cream 
1/2 cup powdered sugar

Fruit Topping:
4 cups of sliced fruit of your choice

For the crust: Cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add egg and extract.  Sift flour, baking powder, and salt in a separate bowl. Gradually add to butter mixture until almost mixed.  Add citrus zest and carefully finish mixing in the flour.

Spray a round 14-incch or larger pizza pan with nonstick cooking spray.  Using your hands (thats what I do) or a rolling pin, spread the dough toward the edges of the pan.  You can add a decorative finish or keep it straight.  Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.

Bake crust in a preheated oven (350 degrees F.) Bake crust for 18-25 minutes.  (See notes not he crust above.)  Allow to cool completely.

Creamy Topping: When crust is almost cool, combine cream cheese, citrus juice, and brown sugar and mix until light and fluffy.  In a separate bowl, whip cream and powdered sugar until medium peaks form.  Fold whipped cream into cream cheese mixture until there are no streaks.  Spread topping over cooled crust.

Arrange fruit topping as desired--you'll think you're doing it wrong, but the more you add, the prettier it looks!  Don't get too hung up about making it the perfect arrangement.  

Refrigerate pizza until ready to serve, and then cut into wedges or squares.


Dear Beach Body

Tuesday, June 28, 2016


Dear Beach Body,

Since I was a tween, I've been through all the five stages of grief over you: denial, anger (so much anger), bargaining, depression (that one went too far), and finally--at long last--acceptance.

Now, that acceptance is still a conscious choice I have to make every dang day.  It's an acceptance that comes and goes. In fact, right before and after the above photo was snapped by one lovely friend and cheered on by several others, I was about a hot-second away from either crying or throwing up.  I just couldn't decide on which reaction:)  But then I put on my big-girl panties, made you stand tall, and smiled.


I want to tell you something about yourself:

You've got two arms that rock babies, carry heavy children, and lift weights, too.
You've got two legs that have run thousands of miles and are held on to several times a day by little hands.
You've got breasts that have exclusively nursed babies for three years.
You've got a tummy that has stretched and pulled to the size of a beach ball, thrice.
You've got hips that have widened to help those babies grow.
You've got a butt that, while flat, is strong enough to allow you to do all the exercise you love.

But beyond all that, you've got a head with a brain inside.  One that can think for itself, one that can decide that this body is OK just the way it is.  A brain that can choose to believe that this body can be beautiful to the husband it loves, the babies it grew, and the soul that resides inside of it.

And that last part is the most important.

Beach Body, you are just fine.

Love,

Monica

-----

If you want to join the movement of re-thinking what it means to be "swimsuit" ready, check out the hashtag #redefineswimsuitready on Instagram.  Better yet, be extra brave and take a picture of you in your swimsuit and post it--like me--before you analyze it to death.  You're beautiful!

Updated to add, link to blog post where the founder of the movement explains more!

"Mom's Day"

Monday, June 27, 2016


I had only one request for my 30th birthday this year: a "Mom's Day."

Basically, this entailed me taking an entire day off from my job as a stay-at-home mom.  My husband is incredibly supportive, but he works fairly long hours.  This past year was a little difficult for me because Brad got a new job a month before our third child was born.  He had to work quite a lot and for months and months, I was riding solo with three kids 4 years old and younger, daily raking in 13+ straight hours on my own.

Even when you love, love your kids and are so grateful to be home with them, that amount of time is sure to drive anyone a little batty. I guess I'm a light-weight!

Luckily, Brad's work has been getting better and coincidentally, I've been getting a little more sane and less likely to fly off the handle with my kids.  But the days can still be a bit long, and being the extroverted-introvert that I am, I was craving some alone time.

So that's what I got: I left home at 7:30 AM and returned around 6:30 PM.


Here's what I did during "Mom's Day:"

1) Worked out as loong as I wanted.  And since I'm still recovering from an achilles injury, this basically entailed me walking on a treadmill for forever and watching HGTV, since we don't have cable at home. I threw in a few squats and crunches for good measure.

[Intermittent return to home to shower, get ready, nurse the baby, and have Brad drop me off to the BART station.]

2) Read my book on the train into San Francisco.  I don't know why, but this was especially lovely.

3) Wandered around Nordstrom's.  I ate a ridiculously expensive salad and cookie from the foodcourt while reading.  (Book is Committed, by the way.)

4) Made my first ever in-store purchase at Madewell: two summer t-shirts and a pair of jeans.  And all off of clearance because I'm still a cheapskate.  

5) Went to the newly re-opened SFMOMA.  I stayed for almost 3 hours.  Chuck Close, you will always have my heart.


6) Made my first ever in-store purchase at Anthropologie.  I bought two blouses (also off of clearance), one of which I'm returning this week.  Lesson learned: things often look prettier in an expensive store's dressing room mirror than in your home mirror.  

7) Stopped by Sephora and received help choosing a concealer to officially cover my very-tired, oh-so-very-tired mom eyes. All my Target attempts were not working.  And this was also my first-ever purchase from Sephora.  (Clearly, I was enjoying myself.)

8) Read my book all the way home on the train.  (Again, lovely!)

9) Walked home and arrived to a clean house, dinner set on the table, and happy kids.  (Isn't my husband great?)


I logged 24,000 steps from all that beautiful walking. I'm planning on returning the favor for Brad for his birthday, and he doesn't have a say about that.  

I said this on Instagram: it wasn't cheap, but it was cheaper than an insane asylum, because that's where I was headed! Taking that day off realllllllly helped me mentally feel re-energized.  Plus, I missed my family like crazy! So, my goal was met.  I had my alone time, Brad bonded more with the kids, and we all loved and appreciated each other more by the end of the day.  

This might become my birthday thing from now on.  I highly recommend it!

Do Something: Mt Diablo and Round-Up

Friday, June 24, 2016

Hi friends!

I wanted to share the latest thing I have done for "Do Something," which you can read more about here.  Essentially, it's a mini-movement where we do something that scares us, however big or small.

I really enjoy running, but an achilles injury sidelined me over 8 weeks ago.  (I blame chasing down my runaway daughter at the zoo...  Mom injury!)  I'm trying to be really smart (in other words, slow) about taking my time getting back into running, so I upped my strength training and have been sticking to walking, elliptical, and my bike for cardio.

Cycling is so fun for me--it's like cheating exercise--and it's much easier on my body.  But unlike running, I can't easily bike with my kids (the oldest two fight the whole time in the trailer, and the baby is too little to come along).  So cycling is left to an occasional weekend when Brad can watch the kids.  That's all to say, I'm definitely a newbie to this sport and haven't really pushed myself.

One of the things on my bucket list was to go on a challenging bike ride with a friend.  That opportunity came up the weekend before my birthday, when a good friend invited me and another girlfriend to join her on her ascent up Mt. Diablo, the highest "peak" where we currently live.  I said "yes" before I could think too much about it.

I was still pretty nervous the night before and wondering what on earth I had been thinking to sign up for this. Most people don't make it all the way to the top their first time, so we didn't plan on doing the whole thing. But once we got to a certain point on our climb, we decided to go slowly and rest as often as we felt like--and we made it to the top!!!  I know climbing 3,849 feet might not be much for some people, but it was definitely a lot for me, especially on my first official bike-climb.
I sent this to Brad once I got to the top.

Did I mention it was super windy?  As in so windy, I fell off my bike multiple times?

Despite that, I loved it so, so much though that I'm thinking of switching my marathon goal out for a century instead; especially because my body is kind of falling apart due to the stress of running.  And thank you to Brad who watched the kids alllll morning with nary a complaint so I could conquer my fear of my first mountain climb!


Now, it's Round-up time!  Here is what some of my friends have been doing to conquer their fears: One friend is leaving her town and job, and going back to school for a second career--so much courage!  Another started tackling a huge reno (kitchen!) all on her own, and she's pregnant, too.

Finally, my friend Katie did something really awesome!  She has a bum ankle that typically keeps her away from strenuous exercise, but she decided to go on a camping trip to Yosemite anyway with her husband and two young kids. They made it all the way to the top of Vernal falls and she logged over 41,000 steps with little to no pain on her ankle.  Way to go, Katie!

Are you interested in sharing something you've done that "scared" you, however big or small?  Please message me at packerprogress@gmail.com so I can include it in my next round-up.

Can't wait to hear from you!

Sweet and Sour Meatballs with Grilled Squash

Thursday, June 23, 2016

I am a big fan of Our Best Bites.  Surprisingly, I almost never visit their actual site and instead use their recipes from two of their cookbooks I was gifted by my mother-in-law (this one and this one).  In an age where I get most of my recipes from online, you can be confident in the caliber of these books and their recipes. They have delicious everything, from entrees to desserts.  (I promise, this isn't sponsored.)


I really love the meatballs from their first cook book, and adapted it here to include the option of subbing in almond flour instead of breadcrumbs, because that's what I had on hand.  So I guess that makes this officially gluten-free, if you sub cornstarch for the flour in the sauce!

Meatballs are surprisingly easy to make.  The worst part about them, for me, is having to use my hands to mix them properly since I am still a bit squeamish about raw meat.  But mama's gotta do what mama's got to do! These meatballs really are top-notch, a whole-family pleaser, and I've made them at least a dozen times the past few years. (You can find the meatball recipe at the bottom of this post.)

To pair with the meatballs and brown rice, I grilled some simple veggies while the meatballs were finishing off in the oven.  Grilled zucchini and squash just spells "summer" to me, and it's super easy to make.


You slice your squash into medium-thin pieces (probably 1/4 inch wide), and layer them on a plate.  I lightly spray each layer with some olive oil (I literally put olive oil in a small spray bottle you can get at any grocery store) and sprinkle with salt, pepper, and a little dried basil.  Then I layer some more on top and repeat the olive oil and spices.  Place the slices oil-side down on the girl, preheated to medium high heat.  Let them cook for 4-5 minutes, and while cooking spray the side that is facing you and sprinkle with more salt and pepper.  After turning each piece over (careful!  It's easy to let them slip through to the BBQ), cook the other side for another 4-5 minutes.

I used the leftovers for lunch for a few days, heating some squash and brown rice with a sprinkle or bleu cheese.  SO GOOD!

Here's a final look, and the recipe for the meatballs!


Sweet and Sour Meatballs
Adapted from Our Best Bites.

1 lb extra-lean ground beef
2 TB dehydrated onion (I used real diced onion from my freezer, but you can also just do some onion powder in a pinch)
1/4 tsp pepper
1 tsp kosher salt
1 egg, beaten
1/4 cup bread crumbs, or almond flour

SAUCE
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
3 TB flour (or cornstarch!)
1 1/2 cups water or pineapple juice
1/4 cup white vinegar
3 TB soy sauce

In a medium bowl, combine meatball ingredients.  Gently mix with hands, but don't over mix.  Shape into 1-inch balls (can use a cookie scoop to aide the process), and place on baking sheet lined with aluminum foil, sprayed with cooking spray.  Place under broiler for 5-7 minutes until the meatballs begin to brown. Turn oven down to 350 degrees.

In a large saucepan, whisk together the sauce ingredients and bring to a boil.  Take off heat to slightly cool.  Add meatballs to a casserole dish, and pour sauce over.  Place back in oven and cook for an additional 20 minutes, or until the sauce is boiling.

(Slow cooker option! After broiling meatballs, place in slow cooker and pour sauce over.  Cook on low for 4-5 hours).

Serve wth rice--we like brown, short-grain rice from Costco!  And don't forget your veggies!

Here Lies Monica, She Had an Amazing Body

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

I've come to the important conclusion that no one will care what my body looks like when I die.

Let's face it, if we are lucky enough to die from old age, all of us will have saggy skin, loads of wrinkles, flat bottoms, low boobs, receding hairlines, and scraggly beards--yes, the last three descriptions apply to both men and women, equally.

And, heaven forbid, if I die before old age, I am 100% certain that it will not say on my tombstone, "Here lies Monica. She had an amazing body."  Because when it really, really comes down to it, that is not what people care about.


Social media will tell you otherwise.  It seems like every other picture on my feed features a girl with her progress shots (even though her "before" picture looks like most people's goal-weights), talking about her vomit-inducing workout, or sharing her "clean eating."  Moms constantly share their "post-baby" diets and workouts, slaving towards achieving those six-packs that wash all evidence away that their bodies achieved the miracle of growing another human and pushing that human out.

Even outside my phone/computer, I hear it all day and every day.  We women especially are so quick to see our flaws, so eager to point out what we hate about ourselves, and so interested in the latest sugar-free, dairy-free, grain-free, happiness-free diet we need to be doing to get our "body back."

We all give ourselves over to chatter about "cheat days" and beach-body workouts as if they are the minimum of acceptable in the pursuit of health and happiness.

What is that?  What are we doing to ourselves?


Listen, I love striving for a healthy body like any one out there.  I want to be strong.  I want to fit into my clothes.  I love the way my body feels when I am regularly working out and eating well.  I credit running to making me a better, more sane woman.  And I truly love learning about health and nutrition, and eating the weirdest of vegetables.

I also often feel disgusted by the deflated-beach ball tummy I now sport and conflicted about the sugar I regularly eat.

But I hate, hate, hate the message we constantly receive--and encourage--that our bodies, our diet, our workouts must be 100% firm, clean, and challenging in order for us to be officially deemed as "healthy."


Here's a picture of me ten years ago.

Do I look emaciated?  Do I look depressed?  Do I look obsessed?

The answer to all of those is "No, not really." But I assure you, I was too thin for my natural body-type, I was severely depressed, and I was 100% obsessed.  But that obsession was founded in the pursuit of being "healthy."

No one ever questioned my strict food choices.  No one ever brought up that they were worried about me.  No one ever, ever, ever encouraged more flexibility in both my diet and exercise.

Because I had "it."  I was what women and men aspire to be--I was eating clean, working out super hard, and doing it all for the betterment of my "health."  Nothing to be alarmed about, right?

I just looked like I had good self-control.

Even I was initially too embarrassed to receive treatment for my eating disorders because I thought I didn't look anorexic enough to deserve help, even though my mental psyche was in absolute shambles and I felt anything but in control of my mind and my life.

I never received more compliments on my physical appearance than at this time.


It's taken me a decade of recovery to get to where I am now, which I can sum up as, "I'm still messed up, but fighting!"


I worry.  I worry because SO many men and women around me seem to be playing with that fire which badly burned me.  They start out with good intentions.  They want to improve their physical health.  They want more balance in their lives.  They want to feel better in their clothes.

"I'm an all-or-nothing person," they say.  "I can't have sugar around me at all," they declare.  "I have no self-control."  "I am addicted to chocolate."  "I feel so much better when I take away x, y, and z from my diet."

Living a life with heavy restrictions--however first well-intentioned--is like the cyclone that keeps swirling, pulling you in with the steady force of its gravity, sucking you down, harder and harder until food is more emotion and trigger-laden than when you started, and in response you axe another food group and increase your workout by another half hour.  And again, and again.

I feel like the soothsayer standing on the edges of that cyclone.  My own person still being whipped around by the cyclone's pull, my own psyche constantly being tugged at and lured by the big, beautiful storm.  But I stand gripping the ground as firmly as I can, struggling to hold up my sign, "Be careful!  Danger is ahead."  And my second sign, "You are enough!"

I'm going to clench onto the fenceposts Twister-style if I have to, in order to resist that pull.


Because here is the thing I learned from living in the eye of that storm and clawing my way out of it: If you do not love and accept yourself for how you are in this very moment, if you do not decide that you are "enough," chubby tummy and all, you will never, EVER think you are worthy of self-acceptance and love even if you've achieved 30 days of "clean eating," or P90X-ed your stomach into washboard abs.  The storm will tell you to do more and more until you will be like me ten years ago, thin and suicidal.  And people will give you lots of compliments.


My message here is not, "Abandon all health!" nor is it, "More donuts, less apples!"

It's this: Take care of yourself.  Eat that carrot.  Go on that run.  Resist an all-day diet of cookies and chocolate.  But also be brave enough to be balanced about your pursuit of health, and to eat a dessert guilt-free, and not just because it's your "cheat day," but because you love yourself enough to know that a cupcake is not inherently evil, and neither are you.


And remember, when you die what matters more than your beautiful body was that you were a good, kind, dependable person whose eyes were more fixated on the world around you than on the mirror in front of you.

Mommy Style Monday: A Day at the Park

Monday, June 20, 2016


I think every mom learns what her go-to's are that keep her and her kids sane.  Going to local parks is one of those things for our little family.

It started when Bella was a baby and we lived in a tiny apartment with no yard.  Several parks were within walking distance, so off my colicky baby and I would go to swing her cries away.  Then RG came along and I quickly found that being out in nature was not just a sure-fire way to make him happier, but also an excellent way to burn off his seemingly endless supply of energy.

With our third in tow now, going to parks has been our saving grace the past year as I learn how to parent three small kids with very different--and often conflicting--personalities.  If we stay inside all day, it's 100% likely there will be far more tears, fighting, and frustrations.  Mommy will probably have a tantrum herself by the end of the day.  So, while it's a lot to pack for our park visits and at times stressful to keep tabs on who is where at all times, it's so very worth the effort.  My kids even get along and play together once we're at the park--it's a bit magical!

And to be honest, going to a park is much, much easier (and cleaner!) for me than planning a craft or playing a game at home.  Also, it's enough of an adventure to make up for not going on an even grander, more stressful adventure far from home.

All this is to say, we've got this park business down!

Similar Shirt (Gap), Similar Skirt (LOFT), Similar Skirt (Ann Taylor), Shoes (New Balance)
Here's what I typically wear to parks these days: a stretchy skirt (because it's getting hot where I live), a loose shirt (because I will never have a six pack), and some great sneakers (because I hate having bark under my heels if I wear sandals).


Some other mommies are also sharing what they wear for a day at the park, and they're really cute! Go take a look if you'd like some ideas for your next adventures with kids, park or no park:

Kiana at Glitter & Donuts
Madeline at CaseyLand
Jen at Jam Tart Boutique
Kelsi at Lovestrong
Samantha at The Samantha Show
Jessica at Mason Jars and Lemon Bars

And if you'd like to sign up to participate in the series as well, check out Madeline and Kiana's blogs for details.

PS: I have lived in these sneakers since purchasing them a year ago, which made all my anxiety over spending money on them worth it. I don't think you'll regret it.

Crazy-Good Cowboy Caviar

Thursday, June 16, 2016

My Freshman year, one of our roommates started to make this amazing chip dip.  It had all the good stuff: avocado, beans, corn, tomatoes, lime, and cilantro.  We got to the point where we were making it at least every Friday night and devouring it with lime-flavored tortilla chips while watching Hillary Duff in every chick flick available. 

This fact is also a good indicator of how much socializing we did outside of our dorm: not much.  No regrets!

That was 12 years ago I've been fiddling with my version of it all the while.  I've searched around for recipes to try out, but always come back to my dorm-roots.  Similar recipes often come up as "Cowboy Caviar," but it's also been called "Shrapnel Dip," or "Fresh Summer Salad."  Whatever name you attach to it, this really is one of my very favorite summer dishes.  I only recently started making it with a light vinaigrette instead of just lime, and I like it even more.

You can use is as a side dish for a Mexican feast, bring it to your next BBQ (it'll be a hit!), serve it on the side with scrambled eggs, top it on a salad, or do what I did my first trimester with RG--eat it for three meals a day with a huge bowl of tortilla chips.

Do yourself a favor and make it with fresh corn.  Otherwise, use a good canned corn if you can't spare the 15 minutes it takes to prepare fresh corn.  And I'll try not to judge you for that massive error in judgment...


Crazy-Good Cowboy Caviar
Salad:
2 Ears of corn on the cob, shucked, and steamed (10 minutes in a pot with a little water at the bottom)
   (Can substitute with one can of quality corn)
2-3 Ripe avocados
2-3 Roma tomatoes, seeded and diced
1/2 white or red onion, finely diced
1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
1 can pinto beans, drained and rinsed
1/2 bunch of cilantro, minced
1 lime

Cut the corn off the cob into a big bowl. Assemble all the ingredients, except the lime, on top of the corn.  Do not mix!  Make the following vinaigrette.

Vinaigrette:
1/4 cup Olive Oil
2 Tbs Vinegar (white vinegar is best, but you can substitute with other kinds)
Citrus from one lime
Juice from 2 limes
1/4 tsp Chili Powder
1/2 tsp Paprika
1/2 tsp Cumin
1/2 tsp Garlic Powder
1 tsp Salt
1/4 tsp Pepper

Wisk ingredients in a small bowl.

Poor Vinaigrette over assembled salad.  Gently fold the salad so everything is covered, but not mushy.  Taste test and add more salt and extra lime, if desired.  When done, squeeze the remaining 1/2 to full lime over the top of the salad, and cover the bowl. (This is so the avocado stays vibrant looking!)  Serve immediately or refrigerate until it's time to eat.

Get ready to be the hit at your next BBQ!

What I Have Learned in My 30 Years

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Hey, hey! I am officially 30 years old today.  It feels only mildly depressing!

I'd like to share some things I've learned in my three decades on this planet.

This is more directed to 18 year old Monica.  She was fresh out of high school, where the world was her oyster.  That girl was equal parts brave and scared. She had a lot of hard lessons to learn and a lot of wonderful ones too.


So to you, 18-year old Monica, I tell you the following things you will have learned by your 30th birthday:


1) Life is better with dessert.
2) You are an extroverted-introvert.  (Yes, that's a real thing.)  It's OK to need people just as much as you need space.
3) You feel closest to God when you are in nature or listening to music.  Embrace that.
4) It might be take a few more late nights and a bit lower grades, but make some memories your Freshman year and actually allow yourself to have fun with your roommates.
5) Sometimes (OK, a lot of times), it really stinks being a woman.
6) You will get over him.  I promise.
7) Eating disorders and all the other mental ailments they bring will nearly break you.  But they won't.  So don't you quit!
8) Spend more money on your study abroad.  And for goodness sake, eat way more food.
9) 99% of politicians are corrupt.  It's OK to be a moderate independent and never know who the heck you’re voting for.
10) Being a teacher is MUCH, much harder than you ever imagined it to be while growing up.
11) You will give natural childbirth.  Twice.  And you will have an epidural, once.  Both are good.
12) Self-doubt is your greatest demon.  
13) Becoming a runner will be the best thing you can do for your sanity.
14) Important life decisions will always be right around the corner.  
15) Marry your best friend and you'll skip the dramatic early newlywed years so many experience.
16) You ARE a feminist.  That is not a dirty word.
17) Your parents and siblings will always, always be there for you. You are so lucky! (Even if your husband is their favorite.)
18) Open your mouth.  Sure, say hard things when it's needed.  But, more importantly, you must share your struggles so you can help others through theirs.  That is true humanity.  Suffering silently will help no one, especially yourself.
19) Never underestimate the joy that a good show-binge will provide.
20) Let go of anger, even when it’s justified.  Otherwise, it will corrode your happiness.
21) Forget all the stressful times of your life: bad breakups, crazy-long papers and finals, 80 hour work-weeks your first year of teaching, and the roller-coaster emotions that being a woman entails--the most stressful year of your life will be the year after giving birth to your third child.  Let me remind you, you will be a stay-at-home mom.
22) That being said, nothing will give you greater joy than loving your children fiercely and the breath-taking love they give back.
23) You actually are the "creative type."  Seriously.
24) Choosing your faith will help you make a lot of peace with a lot of things.
25) You will be right to wait a long time before getting a smart phone.  And when you do, do a better job of not letting it interfere with being present. Also related, comparison is the thief of joy.
26) Being brave is scary.  Being yourself is scary too.  But trying to be both will make you feel freer and happier than you have in a long while.
27) You will always struggle with feeling left out.  Just remind yourself that most of the time, people are not doing so intentionally.  And even more importantly, that you are guilty of it yourself.
28) Harry Potter will always be there for you.
29) It'll be soul-searchingly-difficult, but you will never, ever regret choosing to stay home with your young children.  That doesn't mean you can't still have goals and dreams outside of motherhood.  Seeking fulfillment for yourself will make you a far better mother.
30) Life is unfair.  That’s the point!  Instead, look for how life is unfair in the best of ways for you, how you have so, so many blessings a large majority of the world only dreams of. Be more grateful, and less fearful.

18-year old Monica, last thing: you are far from perfect and you are still trying to figure things out, but I am proud of you.

WOT: Simple Summer Plans, So You Don't Go Crazy

Friday, June 10, 2016

Although Bella was only in preschool three mornings a week this past year, knowing that I would soon have five days a week with all three children 24/7 made me feel a bit worried...

I usually am a planner, but I'm either a PLAN EVERY SINGLE SECOND type of planner or a LET'S JUST WING IT type of procrastinated planner.  I've decided to work on being somewhere in the middle, and that's where today's Working On Things post comes in. 

This definitely isn't a pin-worthy post, but it most definitely is a post for the realistic mother out there who is too busy to make fancy calendars and organize every minute, but still wants to create some semblance of a plan for the summer so she and her children don't hate each other or go bananas.

I had wanted to create a plan for the summer, but any thoughts on the matter only led to feeling overwhelmed because, in my usual way, I thought my plans would have to be fairly ornate, beautiful, and complicated.  But then I got a helpful nudge from a newish Instagram account I've been following, called Thriving Motherhood.  She shared this post, where she showed how she began to organize her summer plans.  She simply showed a list of themes and the week they were assigned, with the plan to later decide on outings based on those themes.

When I saw that, I thought, "I can do that!"  Instead of feeling depressed and that I was a no-good mother, her post made me think that I just needed to Keep It Simple, Stupid and not search Pinterest for ideas.

Based off that, I wrote down a quick list of potential themes that I'd like to do with my kids, involving both their interests and ones that I would like them to learn about.  Brad contributed some themes as well, via text! (Need ideas? I started with: Art, Weather, Manners, Animals, Marine Animals, Trains, Healthy Food, Exercise, Family, etc.)

From there, I printed off three months of my apple calendar, and started assigning themes to each week based off our summer plans.  For example, I put "Mountains" on the week we are going to do lots of hiking on vacation with my family.  After that, I added some potential field trips that relate to the weekly themes.

Then at the top of my first month, I wrote down a general schedule we'll have for each day of the week.  I'd like to include a little homeschooling each day (I'm talking like 15 minutes per kid), mini-lessons on the week's theme, or even crafts a few days a week.  We also really, really have to get out of the house--hence, field trips!  I assigned accordingly, but you know--sometimes you just have to throw everything out the window!  It's all flexible.  But having that goal in mind will push me out of my PJs and reaching for our plans instead.

I also added two post-it notes for the big kids' special chores.  I've assigned a little symbol to each chore, so once they've done those special chores, we'll draw that symbol on the day of the week they completed it.  At the end of the week, they'll get a quarter for each one done.

Finally, I thought that each weekend, I'll take 10 or so minutes to look a bit on pinterest to find a craft or a little preschool lesson that goes with the upcoming week's topic.  Again, the plan is to keep things simple where that's concerned.  I feel that the best thing I can do for my kids learning right now is to read to them as much as possible, so most days that's what our little "homeschooling" will be.  I'm also going to assign that week a character trait that I think we need to work on.  (In that first picture, you can see I added "Sharing" under that week's theme.)

We just finished our first week, and while we didn't make it to the museum I was planning on (life got in the way, AKA I drove my car into our garage door...), we still read a lot of books, made some water color paintings, and learned about weather!  The "lessons" were brought to us by searching "Weather AND kids" on youtube, so obviously it was well planned out ;)

I'm hoping to go to the library this weekend to get books specifically for our next week's theme, "Manners."   Our field trips involve going to places where we can practice our polished manners (such as talking to a cashier and looking at them in the eye, saying please and thank you, etc.) and having a "nice" family dinner where they can use their improved table manners.


Reading back through this post, it might seem more complicated that it really is--but I promise, this initial planning took me about 10 minutes while eating lunch.  If you haven't made your plans yet, go for it!  And just copy mine!


If you have already made your own version of this, what are your plans?  Any tips?

What's For Dinner: Strawberry Salad with Warm, Homemade Croutons

Tuesday, June 7, 2016


First off, you need warm, soft, homemade croutons in your life.  Seriously.

I get two loaves of ciabatta bread almost every time I'm at Costco (I get the Semifreddi brand, and they come in packs of two).  My kids snack on torn-off pieces while we circle the store, and that frees me from fighting over strangers at the sample tables.  (I actually am not in the least tempted by the samples, probably because I hate greedy, impolite people...)


That night or the next, I'll make these croutons and we'll eat it as part of a salad, filled with all sorts of goodness I usually have on hand, also thanks to Costco: think rotisserie chicken, lettuce blend, fruit, nuts, bleu cheese, avocados, craisins, hardboiled eggs, deli meat, etc.

On this particular night, we stuck with a strawberry salad.  I used a simple poppyseed dressing recipe and it was very good.  Otherwise, we just use whatever dressings we already have on hand.

It really is an easy, healthy, and taaaaaasty meal.  My kids usually gobble it up.  This is another one of those little-of-this, little-of-that recipe, so alter it as you will!  (I don't usually even use measuring tools, but included that option for you here to at least start with.)

The biggest key about the croutons is to take them out just as they're barely starting to toast and harden up.  They are best when they are on the softer side.  Think, pillowy croutons!  Whatever I have leftover (and it makes a lot), I freeze in big ziplock bags and then make into a breakfast casserole (recipe coming soon).


Poppyseed Dressing:
alternated from here
Note: (I don't use vegetable oil here, but you can.  Just keep in mind it hardens in the fridge, but a few seconds in the microwave cures that)

1 cup olive oil
1 TB sugar
1/2 cup White Vinegar
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp onion powder
1 TB poppy seeds

Combine ingredients into small bowl and whisk well.


Warm Homemade Croutons
Note: I make these in 1-2 loaf increments, so double the recipe as needed.

1 Loaf french or ciabatta bread
1/2 tsp of salt
1 tsp basil/oregano/parsley (whatever you have on hand!)
1/2 tsp of garlic powder
1-2 TB olive oil

Preheat oven to 350 degrees, F.

Slice bread into normal pieces, sandwich-style.  Cut those slices up into about four-six smaller parts.  Place in large bowl.  Add remaining dry ingredients.  Drizzle in olive oil and toss.  Add a little more oil, if the bread seems dry and the spices are not sticking to the bread.  Spread out on a cookie sheet.  Bake for 10-15 minutes.  Take out when the croutons are just starting to toast and harden.  WE love them fairly soft and pillowy, but you can also cook them 5-10 minutes longer if you want yours to be crunchy.  They're great that way too!  Freeze leftovers to use for a breakfast casserole.

Mommy Style Monday: Diaper Bag Essentials

Monday, June 6, 2016

Dress: Harper and Bay; Jesus Sandals: TJ Maxx; Diaper Bag: Amazon; Pained Face: Me

First, major props to ALL the fashion bloggers out there!  Posing for photos was about a million times more awkward and painful than I imagined.  I almost cried, you guys... Also, none of this post is sponsored but most of the links are affiliate (I have yet to earn a cent though, so don't you worry!).


Today, I'm participating in a blog series called Mommy Style Monday, created by these two wonderful ladies: Madeline and Kiana.

We are grouping up with some other bloggers to share our diaper bag essentials.  Check the bottom of the post for more blogs to look through, if you'd like!

I've been through a number of diaper bags in the almost-five years that I've been a mother.  I started with a Petunia Picklebottom bag until all the zippers broke, then I went through three cheap Target backpacks (those zippers broke too), and for the past year I've used a hardcore Ogio backpack.  Yes, I have looked like I am constantly going backpacking, but I'm (clearly) so hard on my bags and my three kids need me to schlep a lot of stuff--it has really worked well.



But in February, I wanted a bag that wasn't so hefty.  (With my Ogio backpack, I have literally taken people out when I turn around in the aisle at the grocery store!)  So, while I still use my bigger backpack on days where we're going on adventures, I use this Skip Hop bag for my day-to-day essentials. The outside is wipeable and it looks as good as the day I bought it.  (Remember, no body is paying me to say this!)

My kids are at three stages: almost-5, barely-3, and 10 months old.  They each require different necessities, but some overlap.  I learned early on to hold on to those free make up bags I get with my Clinique Bonus Time purchases, and I use them to keep things separate in my bags, each devoted to a different purpose.  (This also makes switching things out easier when I need to use my big bag instead.)

With that in mind, here are my diaper bag essentials--the things I always, always have ready to go:

1) First Aid: band-aides, Neosporin
2) Baby Toys: I like to switch these out every few weeks so they don't lose their appeal.
3) Snacks: usually some crackers, dried fruit, and reusable pouches with applesauce.
4) Nursing Cover or Lightweight Blanket
5) Emergency Treats: little M&Ms, Mentos, and small containers of chocolate chips have saved me more than once.
6) Sunblock and Hand Lotion
7) Keys on a Clip: because I always lose mine if I don't clip it to the same spot every time I get out of the car. (Can't take credit for this one--idea from Janssen!)
8) My Lip Balm and Kleenexes
9) Water Bottles: I am always thirsty and so are my kids.
10) Anti-bacterial Spray and Pouch with Wipes/Diapers: My friend sews these beautiful pouches and little bags (her latest are ,water resistant!).  She gave me one of her early prototypes and I use it religiously.  I love her fabric pairings!  (Again, I wasn't asked to post that!)
11) Wallet and Checkbook: And my phone goes there too...

So there's that!  Want to see what other moms have as their essentials?  Head to the following blogs:

Madeline at Casey Land
Kahana at A Beautiful Life
Monica it It's All About
Chelsea at Tessa Marie
Lauren at The Andrew Life
Adriana at Nanys2pesos

What do you always have to have in your bag?  I must be missing something!

PS: I always have a washable wet bag in my car with extra clothes and underwear for each of my kids.  And I'm always glad I do when they have unfortunate accidents at Target or fall in mud puddles at the zoo.

Do Something: Round-up and Highlighting Claudia!

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Since my original post, Do Something that Scares You, it's been fun to see my friends challenge themselves to do just that.  I'm not saying they were inspired by that post (although a few told me they were, which really made me happy!), but I'm definitely more in tune to noticing when people face some fears head on and go for it.  Because of them, I have been more motivated to try little-to-large things that make me nervous.

 I have friends who have:
* Started an Etsy shop
* Signed up for an 8K race
* Ran a half-marathon in the heat
* Called health insurance to duke out a claim
* Started painting their own kitchen cabinets
* Had very difficult conversations with loved ones
* Started a baking Instagram account

Today, I want to honor one of my dear college friends, Claudia.  Since starting my blog, Claudia and I have been writing back and forth and it's been so wonderful to reconnect! Recently, she shared with me how she went about doing her own "Do Something."
Sorry, Claudia--I had to include the biggest size of the photo because you are SO hardcore!!!
Claudia and her husband each did a Spartan race--he the first day, and her the second.  Not only do these races involve miles of running, but they also include "obstacles."  Some of these obstacles involve carrying really, really heavy things (see above).  For Claudia, that's especially difficult because she's so small-framed.  She had to work hard to train for her race, which is another feat considering she has two very young kids to boot.  To top it all off, she did this race entirely on her own--meaning, no one running alongside her to give her a boost when needed.  (For a first-time racer, that is very impressive!)

In Claudia's words, this is how it went:

"After my husband did his race and seeing how beat he was I began to worry I wouldnt be able to finish my race the next day. Even my husband was worried about me being able to do some of the "lifting" obstacles. I spent the night and race morning nervous and stressed out! 11am rolled around and there I was at the starting line, alone (without a running buddy), but off I went with my hubby and kids cheering me on. My husbands only adivce was " just enjoy it and take your time, you're only competing against the course!" So that's what I did and it made a world of difference. Once I got through the 1st obstacle (long row of monkey bars) I knew I could do this! Soon after came the sand bag carry up a long steep hill. It was killer! The 20lb sandbag was no problem, it was the hill, but once I made it to the top the view was amazing! Mile after mile, obstacle after obstacle I kept going, enjoying the course, the amazing views, the helpful encouraging people. Not going to lie it was a tough course (even the pros said it!) 5.6 miles & 24 obstacles and at the end I felt great! (Besides smacking my knee on a big log near the end) I was happy and all smiles! I did something I didn't think I could do and completed all weight obstacles on my own! At the end of the day I was sore and my calves were very tight, but I was on a happy high! (Those endorphins work wonders!) I totally want to do another one and actually try to "compete". I seriously felt like I could anything after doing that race on my own."

All this came after Claudia told me that she struggled finding a way to workout with her little kids.  Two months later, and she did this.  Claudia, I don't think I could even have done the monkey bars on that course!

Claudia also told me that she has signed up for two more of these Spartan races.  Superwoman!


I feel so grateful for people like Claudia who show bravery, smile while they face their challenge, and come away from it all with a sense of empowerment they wouldn't have otherwise had.

I'd love to highlight what you are doing here on my blog (anonymously or not!), or even have guest posts for those who would like to write in more detail (no need to have your own blog).  Remember, you can always share what you've been trying with me at packerprogress@gmail.com so I can include you in these Round-ups.

Things I Want to Remember, Round 4

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

On Mother's Day, we snapped some quick photos of our kids.  For a few years, our church used to give moms a picture of each child on Mother's Day, and I wanted that tradition to continue; I SO love seeing their pictures lined up on the side of my fridge and admire how different they look every single year.  So, here are some things I want to remember about each of my kids when I look at those photos!  (PS: I'm testing out some new pseudonyms for them...  I know, I'm making this complicated!)

 Bella
* It only took 9 months of swim lessons, but this girl finally got under water on her own free will. And true to form, once Bella decided it was time, she embraced it fully.  She kept dunking herself over and over, and wanted to swim farther from the edge each time.  In one day, Bella went from asking for a break from lessons to saying she wanted them every day.  I'm really proud that she could push herself, as that's something we are always working on with her--facing her fears, head-on.  (Even if that's her brother...)
* Bella is really, really into drawing, coloring, and writing letters.  While her brothers nap, she has me print off princess pictures to color, or asks me to draw different things (mostly jewels!), and we have been sending those pictures off in letters she dictates to cousins and friends.  But lately, she's been drawing her own creations and is becoming a passionate little artist.


RG
* Our little man might be a touch mischievous and strong-willed, but one of the things I love about him most is that he is so, so social.  He plays so easily with kids and is pretty good at including others.  I love seeing his personality shine through and we are trying to cultivate this love-of-others to  include his siblings too.  I know his heart, and it is a good, good one.
* We've been listening to audio books in the car (thanks, Janssen!), but I have had it with the kids' favorite book that we all have memorized, Curious George.  So instead, we are listening to Lamb of God, a BEAUTIFUL album about the final days, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  RG has been asking a lot of questions along the way, but my favorite was, "Is Jesus the bad guy?"  I respond, "No, Judas."  RG, "Jesus?" Me, "No, Judas is the bad guy."  RG, "Jesus?"  I had to laugh at that.


Bean
* I learned today that like his older brother, Bean has a sensitive tummy with motion sickness.  We drove a long while to get to the zoo today, and just as we pulled into the parking lot, Bean threw up all over himself.  Poor guy!  We spent 20 minutes in the parking lot just cleaning him up and letting him get some air (while the other kids cried about not going in to the zoo), and then drove straight home.
* He is crawling all over the house and already in to everything.  It's bittersweet!
* Bean is the best sport.  He really does deal with a lot.  He has to go where we go, all day long.  He has siblings who adore him, but will not leave him alone.  And his mother is often distracted.  I love Bean so, so much and am so wrapped up in the joy he has brought into our home.  He is a mama's boy, through and through.
 
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