No Recipe? No Problem

I’m a planner. I like to know what is going to happen, when it’s going to happen, and how much it’s going to cost. Which is funny because I am totally easygoing when it comes to things that don’t ultimately affect the family budget. It’s not all that rare when the two combine and I find myself with a vague plan. This week I had a wrote down an idea for a dinner entree, but had no specific recipe to follow. These are the moments when I get to be creative in the kitchen. It’s super fun and a lot of times the finished product will go into the menu rotation. That is, when I can recall what it is I did.

I had it in mind to make something with gnocchi, garbanzo beans, and kale. I LOVE gnocchi. The texture of this odd-looking little dumpling is a little chewy and is a great addition to savory dishes. The garbanzos were there for protein and the kale was my nutrient rich leafy green for the evening. I also used a few pantry items like a jar of marinara sauce, vegetable stock, some garlic, and olive oil. Altogether, I was able to create a delicious vegetarian dinner for $5 that filled our family of four.

Here’s what I used:

4 TB olive oil, divided

2 cloves or 1 heaping teaspoon minced garlic

5 oz. chopped kale

1/3 cup water

15 oz. can of garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed

17.6 oz. package of gnocchi

3/4 cup vegetable stock

24 oz. jar of marinara sauce

Here’s what I did:

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Heat 2 TB of olive oil in a large sauté pan. Add garlic and stir for about a minute. Add kale
and water. Toss to coat. Sauté for a couple minutes and then toss in the garbanzo beans. Cover and cook for about 5 minutes, stirring frequently.

 

 

 

thumb_IMG_4863_1024While your kale is cooking, heat the remaining 2 TB of olive oil in a skillet. Add gnocchi and brown until golden. Stir in the vegetable stock. Reduce heat and simmer until all of the liquid is absorbed into the gnocchi.

 

 

 

 

Back to the kale pan…Once your kale is nice and tender, add the marinara sauce.

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This sauce is delicious and only costs $1!

Stir to combine and simmer.

When the gnocchi is moist and has absorbed all of the vegetable stock, add it to the sauce mixture. Stir to combine. Voila!

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Ok, I never claimed anything about this dish being pretty, but it sure was good!

Do you ever improvise with ingredients? Share your chef’s tale in the comments below!

 

 

Don’t Lose Your Spirit, Little One

My littlest started kindergarten a couple weeks ago. I was able to hold it together as my pintsized free-spirit skipped off to class in her pink princess cowgirl boots. I was a proud mom, delighted that my girl was confident enough to enthusiastically begin the school-year. It was such a happy and exciting moment for us. In the back of my mind I was thinking, “I hope she never loses that.” I hope she never loses that confidence or her enthusiasm for new experiences.

My daughter is fearless. Okay, maybe not fearless, but if there aren’t any spiders in the room, she is fearless. She has rarely ever been afraid to try something new. She will taste funny-looking foods. She will jump as high as she can on a trampoline. She will cover herself head to toe with dirt and delight in it. She will scale the side of a mountain on all fours through the tricky part of a trail. She does all of this in a way that encourages whoever is with her to be just as bold.

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Not only is she fearless, but she is strong. An eight mile hike ain’t got nothin’ on my petite beast. My husband and I used to refer to her as “Hank the Tank” because she’s so tough. If she falls, she gets right back up. If she doesn’t get something right the first time, she’ll try again. If she’s not sure about why you’re asking her to do something, she will question you. If I’m being honest, sometimes that seems like more of a curse, but trust me. It’s a blessing.

She is so compassionate too. She is always considerate of others and their feelings. She is a friend to everyone. She forgives and doesn’t hold grudges. She’s an amazing, bright sparkle of hope for a world that is growing dull and bitter.

I pray that God will guard her heart as she gets older and starts to realize how cruel people can be. I hope she never has to hear the whispers of other girls talking about her instead of to her. I hope that she never questions how beautiful she is. I hope she never values the opinion of someone else so much that it makes her deny who she is. I pray that she won’t be broken to then be remolded into an empty shell, void of the dreams and extraordinary imagination that she carries with her now.

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I think no matter how big she gets I will always see her as a bare-footed, crazy-haired blur of movement. I’ll think of her sloppy kisses and her irresistible cuddles that I know won’t always be offered. I have big hopes for this tiny soul. I hope I can encourage her, protect her, and comfort her. I hope I can build her up when she feels like others are trying to tear her down. I hope she will command respect and be respectful to others. I hope she will speak her mind. I hope she will take risks. I hope she will love. I hope she will soar.

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Rainy Days Don’t Get Me Down

It has been a rainy few days for us here in Colorado Springs. I don’t mind the rain at all. I find the soft, rhythmic pitter-patter and the low rumbling of thunder soothing. I know. I’m a total weirdo. Maybe it’s because for the majority of the year Colorado is exceedingly sunny, but I actually like when the sun hides behind the clouds. This time of year the gray sky accentuates all of the green grassy foothills, the bluish-purple mountains, the bright, fiery orange and yellow wildflowers, and the freshly capped snow-white mountain tops. The landscape’s luscious colors make me feel like I’m in a fairy tale.

The gloomy skies  can make a lot of people melancholy, but I know there are also people who share my love for rainy days. For me, rainy days relate to rest and relaxing forms of recreation. I am very partial to cozying up on the couch with a thick blanket, a book, and a cup a joe or shamelessly indulging in a Netflix binge. IMG_4822The dog really loves it too.
I love joining my kids to put together a puzzle while munching on popcorn or staring out the window to watch a raindrop race. Or who can forget the all-time favorite rainy day activity, NAPPING! Haha, just kidding. I do have kids after all.

Stormy evenings tend to stir the baker in me. I mean, sweet treats go hand in hand with that cozy blanket set up I was just talking about, right? Baking is the one area that I rarely do any kind of advanced planning for. I do this on purpose. I don’t like to have a ton of sweets on hand because I have a pretty uncontrollable sweet-tooth. If I know something is there, it is very hard for me to restrain myself. My youngest child has the same problem. So, I simply don’t keep sweets readily available all that often. However, when the mood strikes I will rummage through the pantry and see what I can whip up.

This has turned out to be a pretty effective strategy for limiting how many sugary treats we’re consuming and also for how much money I spend on sweet indulgences.  Since I use what we already have on hand, I’m not letting what’s in the pantry go to waste. I’m also not regularly spending money on specialty ingredients. I have no qualms about intentionally buying special ingredients when I need to, but if I’m simply satisfying my own craving for something sweet, I don’t feel that it’s essential.

Using what I have on hand not only supplements the savings, but it also encourages me to be creative. I get a little excited when I can take to Pinterest with the purpose of finding a new recipe to try. Sometimes I’ll even skip the search completely and just throw things together, toss it in the oven, cross my fingers and hope for the best. It usually turns out really well. Usually.

Another personal benefit to baking on a chilly, drizzly day is that the oven warms up the house and makes it smell amazing! A toasty home combined with the euphoric scent of freshly baked goodies? Yes, please! The comfort food, delicious smells, and extra snuggle time with my family, fur-baby included, make those otherwise glum days something really sweet. Those rainy days definitely don’t get me down.

What are your favorite ways to spend a rainy day without spending any money? Leave a comment to share your ideas or send a recipe!

 

 

 

Meatless Isn’t Just for Monday Anymore

At the beginning of summer I think I was actually drooling in anticipation of grilled steaks, chicken breast, pork chops and kabobs. When the weather got warmer I eagerly asked my hubby to pick up a new tank of propane. For the first few weeks of grilling season we gorged ourselves on fajitas, rib-eyes, and speared sausages with summer squash. It didn’t last long. Soon after grilling season began, it started raining everyday right around the time I was needing to cook dinner. Thus, my grill may as well have been gone. Le sigh.

One of the first nights that we got rained out, I made a vegetable stir-fry for dinner. It was fantastic! unnamedRed cabbage, bok choy, carrots, tofu, and soba noodles all tossed together in a teriyaki sauce. Not only did it taste great, but my husband and I both noticed how much more satisfied we felt after eating that type of meal. I also noticed how much my digestive system appreciated it.

Now don’t get me wrong. It wasn’t like we were only eating a slab of meat each night. I am very determined to make sure every meal is well balanced with vegetables, grains, and protein. It’s not like this was the first vegetarian meal I had ever made either. Previously, I would typically plan at least 1-2 meatless meals per week. I think what made the stir-fry stand out was that we had been overdoing it with the meat, and my body responded with relief when I finally fed it a bowl full of plant-based bliss.

It was enough to get me thinking. When I also considered how much the price of meat had gone up just over the last year it sparked a conversation. Hubby and I talked about it and we decided that neither of us would be opposed to trying out a mostly vegetarian diet for a while. We agreed that seafood was still ok. So I guess that’s technically “Pescetarian,” but we also agreed that we wouldn’t refuse meat if it was served at a gathering, or if meat was the only available option while eating out. That’s why I say “mostly” vegetarian.

It’s been about 2 months now since we’ve made this change. I have to say that I do not miss the meat at all! We have had the occasional pepperoni on a pizza here and there, but our weeknight dinners and homemade lunches have all been meatless. The kids are enjoying it too! They have been cleaning their plates and asking for more. Perhaps a little TMI for you, but we’ve all been less gassy. I’ve even been able to lose at least 3 pounds in that short amount of time just from eliminating meat. It’s definitely been a positive change for our family.

I’ve really stayed away from buying pre-made meat substitutes. Instead I’ve opted for various types of beans, lentils, eggs, cheese, and tofu. Go easy on the tofu though…too much soy can mess with your hormones. I’ll direct you here so I don’t go off topic. I’ve also been surprised to learn how much protein is already in a lot of the grains and veggies we love. They key is planning. It has helped tremendously to keep me on track and to make sure our family is getting the right nutrition. When I sit down and make a menu plan I can see each ingredient that will go into a particular meal which allows me to determine if I need to supplement it with anything.

Our bellies and our bank account have been much happier with the switch. So far we have saved about $100 on our monthly grocery bill! I’m sure as the weather starts to get colder we’ll be craving comfort foods like chicken ‘n dumplings and beef stew. I’ll probably work those family favorites into our menu in moderation, but I know I will continue to plan meatless meals for most dinners going forward.

3 Easy Ways to Get Fit For Next to Nothing

First of all, when I talk about getting fit my focus is not merely losing weight. That’s not to say that losing weight is a bad goal. In fact, the things I do to stay fit have helped me to do just that, but to me, being fit is so much more. When I think of being fit, I don’t only imagine my body pre-the fun house mirror image that having two kids has turned it into. In my opinion, to be fit is to be strong, to have endurance and to build mental fortitude. It is to boost energy levels, mood, and metabolism. Being fit encompasses my entire well-being. So with that, please know this post is not going to tell you how to drop 5 pounds with a snap of your fingers.

I wanted to write about what I do to stay fit because I made excuses for years before I finally took action and started being productive in this area of my life. I mean, I blamed the kids, my work schedule, our lack of money, my lack of energy, my own insecurities. It’s hard to push yourself past all of that and decide to make a change for the better. Below  is a list of what I (a full-time working wife and mom on a budget) have been able to keep up with despite all of life’s obstacles. So here goes…

1. Go for a run.

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Gasp! What? Why would I say such a hurtful thing? But seriously, running has transformed my body. Plus it is free! You do not need a fancy gym membership. You can brave the elements and run outside! When you dare to run in different types of weather, running becomes a mental challenge as well as a physical feat. Getting home after a run in the snow makes you feel like you just conquered the world! Extra bonus…you get a dose of vitamin D and fresh air. Gotta love that!

Additionally, running does not require the latest threads from Athleta or any expensive equipment. You don’t need fancy workout clothes to run. T-shirts and sweatpants will do the trick. We all probably already own a pair of sneakers to start out in. If you can afford it, it really is worth investing in a good pair of running shoes. I will say, that if you do pop for new shoes, make a special trip to a running store and have an associate help you pick the best shoes for you specifically. Your hips and knees will thank you and you’ll be supporting a local business.

Back to the point. What I love about running is that you can see and feel improvement in a very short amount of time. Listen to your body, but be willing to push yourself. A great way to start is to try the walk/run method. I highly recommend starting out this way so you don’t injure yourself. You will find that you can increase your running endurance and give yourself time to correct your form and breathing when you take turns walking and running. Contrary to popular belief, running is not about how fast you are. If you are running as a way to take healthy steps in your life, your time should not matter one bit. What matters is that you get out there and experience personal improvement. I am slow, slow, slow, but over time I have been able to walk less, run more, run longer and run farther. I’ve lost a few pounds and gained some muscle. It’s easy to stay motivated because I can feel the change.

2. Practice Yoga.

yoga-1146277_640I got really lucky and found a Groupon for a local yoga studio. I was able to purchase a punch card good for 20 classes for only $38.00! So maybe that was a once-in-a-lifetime steal, but I do know that other yoga studios frequently have drastically discounted options available through Groupon. Also, there is another local studio that offers classes on a donation basis. They have a suggested donation of $10 per class, but no one will bat an eye if you can’t give the full suggestion. In the warmer weather months there are also classes that are offered outside at local parks.

If you’re not quite comfortable with the idea of practicing yoga in the same room as other people, or if you can’t afford studio classes, you’re in luck. You can borrow yoga DVDs from your library or even watch videos on the internet. There are so many free resources online that can explain everything you need to know to expand your personal practice at home.

I really enjoy yoga. I find it calming and relaxing, yet still challenging. I love the idea of using my own body’s weight and resistance to build strength. You will find that you can improve your coordination, circulation, and flexibility with regular practice. Yoga is low-impact so you can work and stretch your muscles without intense pain after your workout. Just drink lots of water! I really like how in tune I feel with my body after a good yoga session . It makes me feel centered and usually leaves me eager to practice again.

3. Dance.IMG_3340

I love dancing. Until recently, I did this completely for free too. There’s nothing quite like turning on your favorite tunes and just shakin’ it. You’ll burn calories, boost endorphins, and have fun! It’s really a blast when you get your kids or husband into it too so you can’t use them an an excuse not to do it. If you’re looking for something more structured but still free, there are dozens of YouTube channels ready to teach you any kind of dance you can imagine. You can learn proper technique or new choreography, whatever suits you!

I know that some dance studios offer promotions through Groupon as well. If it’s in your budget, this is a great way to try out a class at a studio to see if it’s a good fit. Often times studios can give discounts on tuition if you decide to continue classes once the promotion ends. You can also ask if your studio gives discounted or free classes if you have multiple family members enrolled. Our studio is amazing and will allow a third family member to dance for free after you pay tuition for the first two. This was how I was recently able to finally take a dance class myself. It was already it in the budget for my son and daughter to take classes and now I get to take one too. Mom win!

So there you have it! Those are the three things I have been able to do to stay fit that don’t break the bank. I hope I’ve inspired some of you to try something outside your comfort zone. Really though, choose something you enjoy so you’ll stay motivated. Getting fit and staying fit is all about finding what works for you.

Be a Friend, Not a Frenemy

Do you ever feel like there are people in your life who might be bringing you down more than lifting you up? The term for these people is “frenemy.” You know… the people who act like your friend in person but every time you’re around them you just pick up on some really negative energy. You can never call them out on it either because they’re always perfectly nice to your face. They haven’t actually given you a basis not to trust them, but for whatever reason you just have a gut feeling that they are not interested in truly being a friend to you. I mean, making friends as an adult is hard enough. No one needs or wants it to be one-sided.

Maybe I’m just paranoid. Or maybe I’m just honest. While I can’t go so far as to say that I’ve purposely neglected to be a friend to someone who may have valued my companionship, I will say that I know there are a few relationships that I let dwindle rather than fueled. Part of that is different schedules, uncommon interests, or simply oblivion. Often times, though, it seems pretty mutual.

So how do we get past this as adults? How do we dive deeper? How do we stop hurting others intentionally or not? How do we stop getting hurt?

1. Support the people in your life. This is probably the easiest thing we are all capable of doing. If you’re lucky enough to see your friends often, ask what’s happening in their lives. If you see someone struggling, ask if you can help in any way. For friends who we don’t get to see in person, it takes all of five seconds to shoot an encouraging text. Social media has made it easier than ever to keep in touch. If all else fails, you can simply “react” to the posts in your feeds, or leave a brief comment.

2. Be real. Be honest. Be open. Pretty self explanatory but I’ll go a little further. There’s a difference between being polite and being fake. Don’t lead people on if you have no intention of investing in that friendship. You will only hurt them more in the long run. Alternatively, if a friend does something that upsets you, tell them so you can both work through it. I don’t know about you, but I can’t read minds. I would much rather face a potential bit of conflict than let some silent resentment build up until it completely destroys a friendship. When you are honest with your friends, you’re showing them that you value them. You allow them to be honest with you in return. You build a foundation of trust that will ultimately strengthen your relationship.

3. Make time. This one is hard. We all have way too much going on. I get it. Everyone has a full plate all of the time. This is by far the biggest challenge I face in my friendships. I try to invite friends to do things that we all need to do anyway. If you can meet a friend during a lunch break, do it. If you can invite a friend over for dinner, do it. If you can break away for coffee, do it. If you want to do something special and know it takes a lot of advanced notice for an evening out, plan it.

Ladies Night

 

A few weeks ago a group of us gals got together for an evening hike. I planned it well in advance so everyone who wanted to come could make necessary arrangements. It was awesome!

Spending time with friends is important and it’s fun when you finally get to do it!

4. Show your gratitude. We all know how unpredictable life can be. Tell your friends how much they mean to you. Let them know that you value their friendship. Share the love.

Some say that friendship is in all the little things. It’s a little thing to show support, to be honest, to make time and to show gratitude, but those little things fill our lives and our hearts. Those little things become the big things over time.

Feels Like Fall

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It’s that magical time of year when there’s a chill in the morning air. Pikes Peak already got its first dusting of snow. The aspens in my yard are starting to yellow. The sun tucks itself in for the night a little earlier each day. Soon we’ll enjoy pumpkin flavored EVERYTHING accompanied by the sweet aromas of cinnamon and nutmeg. We’ll bust out the comfy boots and cozy sweaters. I’ll be putting the crockpot to use in as many ways possible.

It’s also the time of year that the kids have just returned to school. That means new, unfamiliar germs are invading our home with even more vigor than the spiders who try to do the same when harvest season hits. I am the germs’ latest victim. I’m not quite sure what I’m fighting, but whatever it is hates my stomach. That said, I stayed home from work yesterday and today so my body can rest and recover from having the life force drained out of it.

I don’t know about you, but when I am home for too long and don’t have the energy to do anything, I tend to analyze my life. I think about work, my family, my faith, all of the to-dos around the house, you name it! As I evaluate each aspect of my life I realize that I really have nothing to complain about. Honestly though, I still have moods and feelings of inadequacy. I have desires for more whether it be more time with my husband and kids, more strength in my friendships or faith, more money (hey, I’m being honest here). I think most people have ambitions that haven’t come to fruition just yet. I can’t be the only one.
So, in this brief time that I have been home, feeling kinda blah and thinking about all this, I’ve realized what is missing the most in my life right now more than anything else is a release for my creative energy. I’ve always been a bohemian at heart. I love to dance. I love to sing. I love to write. I’m weird and quirky, and I love people even if I don’t always want to be around them. I’m a free-spirit who has become tethered down by practicality and responsibility. It’s not a bad thing at all. I’m a mom, and a wife, and a hard-worker. Sacrifices come with the territory.
As we welcome the fall, I’m entering my own season in life where I need to reclaim my creativity. I need to express who I actually am. I need to allow myself to feel my way through my emotions instead of burying them underneath a facade that tells everyone else I’ve got it all figured out. I need to be vulnerable. I need to be passionate. I need to laugh and cry. I need to fall down and get back up again. I need to make mistakes. I need to learn and I need to grow. I need to take chances and I need to challenge myself.
So, how am I going to do it? Well, I recently started taking a contemporary dance class. I am LOVING it so far! I probably look like a complete goof trying to get my body to do what it used to do over a decade and two kids ago, but it is absolutely exhilarating. The other thing I would like to recommit myself to is my writing. My husband always jokes that I don’t talk all that much, but I have so many ideas swirling around in my head. Writing is my outlet and the easiest way for me to write consistently is to blog. Get ready folks! I’ve got a lot to share.