Wednesday, February 4, 2015

My Secret Double Life: A Glimpse into the WIC Experience

Many probably don't know this about us, but we accepted government assistance in the form of WIC and ARkids insurance while Michael was in PT school.  We were grateful for the grocery help, and even more grateful for the help with prescriptions, doctor bills, hospital bills, sleep clinic bills, etc.  Having our 2 kids in daycare would have pretty much wiped out my small private school teaching salary, so the decision for me to stay at home while we lived on student loans was pretty clear cut.  The student loans, however, were limited, and we hesitantly admitted that government help was something that we needed to accept in the short term.  It made us feel better knowing that we would be paying back into that system soon after.

Those WIC shopping trips were some of the most humiliating experiences I have had in my life.  It was a painstaking experience to sift through the shelves to find the specific ounces, brands, and products specified as approved on those checks.  In order to redeem the checks for things like milk that we needed, we also had to accept the other items listed even though we already had an abundance of Cheerios and beans. On more than one occasion, after I had spent a long time going through the lists to make sure I had everything on the checks, I would arrive at the milk or bread aisles only to find that they didn't have the approved brand of bread or the quart size of milk.  That one loaf or one quart would mean that they couldn't process ANY of the order, so I would leave my cart and go home in tears.  

I learned quickly not to go with the kids.  I learned quickly to check out the milk and the bread first.  I learned quickly to have the pamphlets handy so that I could defend my food choices to unfamiliar cashiers.  I learned quickly to go during times that I would be less likely to run into former teaching colleagues or fellow church members.

I have seen plenty of scoffing on Facebook about people using food stamps to pay for their Pop Tarts while they check their iPhones at the register.  You'd better believe that I left my iPhone (a birthday gift from my parents) in the car on my WIC shopping trips.  I refused to put anything else in that cart that wasn't on the checks because I didn't want to be judged.  Instead, I did 2 separate shopping trips each week:  one for WIC items and one for the other items.  I learned to dress down and go to stores like Cash Savers where the cashiers were often struggling moms who were on WIC too.  I really felt like I was leading a double life at times!  

One of the most exhilarating feelings once Michael graduated was to be able to go shopping and buy WHATEVER I WANTED TO BUY!  The funny thing is, I bought pretty much the same things (minus a couple of boxes of Cheerios and a few bags of beans).  But before we are too far removed from those days, I wanted to record it here.  I know there are people who abuse the system.  But I pray that we can all look past our judgement to see the lives of the people in front of us.  Yes, our systems need reforming.  But I pray that our scoffing can instead be turned into vision to see people who are in need, and the compassion to do something about it.      

Monday, December 1, 2014

Bountiful Baskets

I have been so excited that we are now living in an area that offers Bountiful Baskets!  There is so little information out there on the internet that I wanted to share about the process.  First of all, what is Bountiful Baskets?  It is a food co-op where volunteers help with the organization and distribution of the produce and other items so that the price is significantly lower for all participants.  Although these sites are not very common in most states yet, anyone can start one in his or her community!  If we ever move to an area that doesn't offer it, I plan to start up a site.  That is how much I have come to love this experience!  For those who are curious, I wanted to walk you through the process! (Sorry for the picture quality!  I didn't think I could handle my camera with the basket and the kids.)

On the Monday and Tuesday before, participants sign up for their baskets.  Regular baskets are available for $15 and organic baskets for $25.  You can also add on some other wonderful items.

 Then, on Saturday morning, you show up at your location to pick up your produce.  Our site is at an elementary school.  Volunteers show up a little early to sort everything into individual baskets (1 small laundry basket for fruits and 1 for veggies).  Each person sacks their items up when the site leader calls his or her name.

Here is what came in our first basket:  Some sort of greens, avocados, beets, zucchini, cucumbers, onions, and persimmons (which should have been in the fruit basket), blackberries, red pears, apple pears, bananas, and a galia melon.  All for $15!  This is the exciting part to me…you don't know what you are going to get until you show up to pick it up!  It is a great way to branch out and try new things (I never would have tried beets or persimmons!).  

You had better believe that we ate ALL of the blackberries the minute we got them in the car! So good!

Since I had never worked with some of these items before, I did a little Pinterest Perusing and came up with some fun (and simple)

recipes.  Here are a few of the dishes we had from our basket through the week:

The persimmons got frozen and made into smoothies.  A little milk and pumpkin spice with these made a delicious breakfast that we all enjoyed!


The kids "helped" sautee the greens and enjoyed trying them.  They were "dewicious" according to Thatcher.  :-)

Homemade pickles out of the cucumbers.  No canning for me at this stage of life.  Ain't Nobody Got Time for That.  But these turned out pretty good!  A little Mandolin Magic.  White vinegar, salt, sugar, pickling spice.  No measuring ever.  That's how I roll.  

Here is what ended up happening with the beets (which I was assured at the site is not a basket frequenter).  I made beet chips, or as I like to call them, Peppermint Chips (may have been a little under-ripe?  But I loved this effect!).  I didn't get a picture of them after they came out of the oven because they were gone too quickly, but everyone thought they looked and tasted like bacon when they were through roasting in the oven.  This was another job for the mandolin slicer.  Some Olive oil spray and sea salt made them perfect.  I wouldn't mind if there were beets in the basket every week!

We also have gotten organic bread both times we have gotten a basket.  Organic Multigrain was offered the first week and Organic Honey Wheat the next.  Organic bread for only 2.50 a loaf!  It comes in 5-loaf packs but freezes well to last throughout the month (or week if you go through bread as fast as our family does!)

There are lots of other items offered as add-ons.  So far, I've seen offers of tortillas, granola, vanilla beans, cooking herbs and spices, olive oil, pizza crusts, english muffins, pretzel buns, pounds of apples, oranges, blackberries, lemons, nuts, beans, and many other items.  Here is a glimpse of the stew pack and lunch box pack that we got for $8.50 and $10.50. 

Fresh herbs, garlic, celery, carrots, kale, and potatoes ready to be made into a delicious stew!

Carrots and several kinds of apples, and pears, ready for snacking and sending with lunches!

Here is what came in our last basket:

I can't express how fun and budget-friendly this experience has been for our family.  I wish every city could have a site, and there is no reason why each city can't have a site as long as there are people there wanting to make it work!

Friday, September 26, 2014

Striving...To Surviving…To Thriving

Many people say that the first year of any new job is always the most challenging. This was certainly true for me the first year I taught English. A colleague told me that my second year of teaching would be light-years easier, and that by the third year I would have settled into a comfortable, familiar rhythm. She was right!Here I am now at the beginning of my fourth year of being a stay-at-home mom. The first year was unbelievably difficult, to the point that many days I would sit paralyzed in a fog of overwhelm. I certainly have had my fair share of sleep deprivation and depression to contribute to that, but finding some natural supplements have helped to lift me out of the fog enough to be able to get some systems and a game plan in place for making life with "3 kids ages 3 and under" more manageable. 

I have read countless books and blogs on housekeeping, parenting, goal setting, etc. and have tried implementing many of the suggestions and techniques presented in them. I have talked with moms who walked in my shoes and survived, listened to family members offer their ideas, and even sat through one life-altering counseling session during which I was so broken and emotional that I could hardly muster the composure to speak.

I have gathered and gleaned, and I have finally had a breakthrough that has made life with toddlers SO much easier. There are so many mamas in my shoes that I wanted to share this nugget of information, in the hope that it might help someone else. Are you ready for it? Here is what I have learned…


Hours of organization was destroyed in 30 seconds when they broke past the childproof lock 

Woohoo!  There, I said it!  It is such a freeing revelation! It is NOT possible to keep a straight house all the time. It is NOT possible to keep the laundry caught up all the time. It is NOT possible to cook an organic meal (or let's be honest…to cook ANYTHING) every day. It is not possible for us all to look presentable every day. It's just not.

Order and predictability are not aspects of life that fall under the realm of toddlerdom. So, why am I striving? Constantly working against their nature?

So many times I have thought to myself, "But SHE can do it. She has it figured out, so why can't I?" Well, maybe all of her kids sleep through the night or take naps in the day. Maybe her kids haven't figured out how to get around the childproof locks. I don't know what her situation is, but whatever it is, it is different from mine, and, therefore, I cannot compare myself to her.

And so I have finally decided to give myself permission. I give myself permission to serve the kids Sonic corn dogs in the car if all of the dishes are dirty.  I give myself permission to leave the house without makeup on. I give myself permission to hold a sleeping baby instead of folding another load of laundry.  

 I want them to look back and remember a mom who truly enjoyed this season of their lives. I want to go play in the sprinkler with them, even if it means another load of laundry. I want to do fun crafts with them, even if it means more mess on the kitchen table.  I want to decorate for the holidays, even if the decorations won't survive the season. It is time to soak up the magic of their childhood, or I will miss out.

Have I found a rhythm for the housework now that I have been doing this for three years?  No. But there will always be another mess to clean tomorrow, so I won't let it stifle me today.  I choose to live in harmony with their sweet little spirits. No more striving!  

Monday, February 3, 2014

Stair-step Babies: An Exposé

My greatest dream, for as long as I can remember, was to have babies.  Lots of babies.  “Stair-step” babies.  I saw the closeness of my mom and her 4 siblings, the end product of the years my grandmother had invested into raising her troupe.  I watched as several of my aunts had strings of babies.  I loved seeing tots with tousled heads running around and giggling joyfully.  I watched those babies play together, grow up together, and become each others’ best friends and support systems. 

I couldn’t wait for the day that I would stay home to raise my own little posse.  I envisioned a rocking chair by the window where I would rock cuddly, sweet-smelling babes, singing to them and reading classic picture books.  I was excited about dressing them up and taking pictures of them whenever I wanted.  I looked forward to reliving my own childhood as I introduced them to Disney movies and family traditions.  I pictured the holidays: lots of chubby hands forming an assembly line to dye eggs or decorate Christmas cookies.  I dreamed of later years when they would play on the same sports teams and be in the youth group together, sharing experiences such as proms and eventually college.

I am now living my dream.  Yet, somehow, in the midst of thinking about my stair-step babies, it never occurred to me that along with lots of beautiful times and wonderful experiences, the challenges would also be multiplied. I never thought about how helpless I would feel while nursing one baby, to look up to see another falling off of the kitchen counter.  I never realized how hard it would be to get out of the house with so many little ones, and that days would pass with my only adult interaction being with the Sonic carhop or Chick-fil-a drive-thru worker.  I wouldn’t have believed that my best conversation all day could be over the phone with a Customer Service rep (I’ll never forget you, Katy Albanese!), or that trash day might be the highlight of the week. I didn’t know that a simple trip to the store would be the equivalent of my own personal Gettysburg, ending in defeat as I limped out with my toe fractured from one of the cans that had been rocketed out of the shopping cart.

 I never pictured myself hiding in my closet, wiping away tears and eating chocolate, steeling myself to jump back into the front lines of battle.  I didn’t know until I experienced it that a crying baby invokes a “fight or flight” response, and that after an entire day of the babies taking turns crying, the muscles all over my body would ache from the tension. 

I didn’t have any clue that the rocking chair in which I longed to sit with my babies would become a place of great lament as I would spend hour upon hour trying to compel a munchkin to sleep who was content to pat my face and blow raspberries.  

And oh, the vomit.  So much vomit.  In carseats.  On the carpet.  Underneath the mattresses and reaching to the far corners of the earth.

I never envisioned that being showered in poop and spit up would be the norm, or that taking a real shower would become my greatest luxury.  My aunts always looked so beautiful and well-put together at family gatherings; I never realized that the norm for me would be a zombie-like greaseball with dark circles under my eyes, sporting the same pair of pajamas for 48 hours in a row.

I now know that the same little dimpled hands that are so sweet learning to “pat the holy Bible” can empty the contents of a dresser faster than a viper strike, and then while you are cleaning that up, can empty an entire tube of Desitin and finger paint it all over the suede furniture.

I had no idea that the little halflings could be so unbelievably destructive.  The mutilated remains of beautiful picture books and baby dolls are constantly scattered throughout the house.  Large framed pictures have been knocked off of the walls and the resulting spears of glass wielded gleefully until it slices their little hands.  Rolls of toilet paper unrolled and mixed into sinks of water until the pasty mush runs over onto the floor.  They can topple the Christmas tree at exactly the right angle to smash every single breakable ornament, including the tree topper.  And don't even ask me how a 2-year-old can manage to SHATTER the toilet bowl.

I never thought about what I would do if they took off in two (or more) different directions while on an outing.  The panic of not being able to catch the baby until he is on the next street is not easily forgotten.  I didn’t expect them to use their sibling teamwork in order to get around the baby proofing and escape out the front door.  At night.  During a thunderstorm.  

I have arrived.  This is my dream.  But I am learning to seriously lower my expectations: expectations for myself as a mom and homemaker, expectations for outings, expectations for instating family traditions.  In the end, I think Thomas Paine said it best (adapted for the stay at home mom):

THESE are the times that try moms' souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their families; but she that stands by it now, deserves the love and thanks of Babe and Husband. Toddlers, like hell, are not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is dearness only that gives every thing its value.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Hunter's Second Birthday Party! Disney Princess-palooza

With Michael in school right now, we don't have money for many "extras," but when it comes to birthdays and holidays, I have a hard time reigning myself in.  Luckily, I found several amazing deals on food and decorations, and I utilized what we already had around the house to make Hunter's birthday party special.

We already had the Disney princess barbies and books.  They made for great table centerpieces!

Huge balloon I found on eBay for a great deal

Castle centerpiece and hanging decorations were another eBay steal

Thank you to my parents for having Mr. Pockets the balloon guy come.  He was such a huge hit!

Amazing cake made by my friend from church

Gift explosion

Another huge hit and the most surprising gift.  Thanks again to my parents.  :-)  

27 members of our family were able to make it

She was tired for much of the party but warmed up just in time for cake, gifts, and puppies.  :-)

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Hunter's first birthday

**I started this draft a year ago and am now going to finish it and post it:

I cannot believe it has already been a year since our precious Hunter graced our lives.  I was so nervous on the way to the hospital, not knowing what to expect.  My breeze of a pregnancy should have let me know what was in the future: a fast and easy labor followed by the most perfect little girl.

Michael and I watched her playing the other day and tried to imagine what our lives would revolve around if we didn't have her.  She seems to bring more meaning and joy to anything we do.  This first year with her has been a whirlwind.  She has surprised us with her reddish hair and spunky personality.  She has impressed us with her strength (holding up her head from day 1...climbing the stairs at 7 months) and amused us with her sneakiness (getting the TV remote no matter where we hide it...watching all day for the bathroom door to be open for her perfect opportunity to get to the toilet...quietly opening cabinets so she can get to the pans before we realize it.)

**I had just become a stay-at-home-mom when I started planning Hunter's first birthday party.  I was so excited to make it the most special party ever!  We had friends at church who were in the hospital at the same time as us having their precious son.  He was born the day after Hunter, and at the time of their first birthdays, he had been battling brain cancer for several months and had been given just a few weeks left to live.  Out of respect for him and his parents, we decided to make Hunter's party a small family party.  I have not posted any of the pictures from her first birthday yet.  Our friends' son passed away on July 31, just a few weeks after they turned one, and it never seemed appropriate to me to put pictures where they might come across them.  However, with Hunter's second birthday tomorrow, I wanted to look back and remember her at this fun milestone.

"Cake pops" (oreos and cream cheese) that I made to go along with the orange and pink theme

 Tutu that I made from a Pinterest tutorial :-)

Sweet birthday girl in her dollar tree crown.  She picked it out herself.  :-)

 Party favors:  Bubble wands, rock candy, and pixie stix

 Pink and orange juices with paper umbrellas

 Precious shirt by my friend Ashley of Pumpkin Butter Kids

Homemade birthday banner courtesy of Pinterest

The spread.  These cakes from Cutie Cakes cost waaay less than if I had made them (and they look much better too). :-)

Hahaha I love her face here!  I know that sick, low-blood-sugar feeling oh too well.

There will not be a birthday of Hunter's that goes by without us thinking about sweet Scout and wishing he were running around right alongside Hunter.  We cherish every day and every milestone with our precious girl.  It is hard to believe that another year has passed so quickly, and that she is out of that baby stage.  I miss those days, but it is such a blessing to see her growing into the person that she will become.  We love you sweet girl!