Tuesday, July 22, 2014

1000 Miles

A couple of weeks ago Micah and I got the crazy idea to do a road trip with our nine month old baby. It actually happened on accident. We had planned to take a weekend trip to Las Vegas at the end of June to visit my grandma, Zianne's namesake. A couple days before we were scheduled to leave Micah remembered that he had Thursday, July 3rd off from work the following week, giving him a lovely, long four day holiday weekend. We began brainstorming how we could spend our extended 4th of July weekend and soon the word "California" was bouncing around our conversation, which is always our #1 destination if we need a quick getaway. For Micah, California means surfing and for me it means time with girlfriends, and we both like to go there as often as we can. But then it seemed silly to drive all the way to Las Vegas one weekend and then all the way to Cali the next. It didn't seem worth it in time or gas until we thought, "What if we just made it one big trip?" And so we did.

Micah was able to work a half day on Wednesday, so that afternoon we headed across the desert to my grandma's house in Vegas. My dad was also visiting her at the time, so it was a fun little family gathering. The next day we took off to California and stayed with dear friends in Rancho Cucamonga for two nights, which included our 4th of July festivities. On Saturday, we all trekked out to the beach at San Clemente for the whole day, where another one of my girlfriends was able to meet up with us for lunch and sunbathing. That evening we headed down south and stayed the night in San Diego with friends, where we were greeted with homemade fish tacos upon arrival. On the way down the coast, we stopped at a few state parks to scope out camping spots on the beach. Micah is scheming a little yearly beach camping tradition in coming years and I'm fully on board.

Zianne did great on the whole trip. It was fun to bring her to visit friends and family, and it was her first time experiencing the ocean. She is such a flexible little traveler and actually did better in the car as the trip went on. Her few whines were easily appeased with Ritz crackers, although her formerly clean car seat will never be the same...

Before we left on this trip, we did the math and discovered our total journey would clock in just over 1,000 miles. We questioned our sanity for a second and then decided to go for it. As we drove that flat, sandy stretch of desert highway on our way back from San Diego on Sunday afternoon, we had smiles on our faces. As we chatted about  our whirlwind five day adventure, we decided it was totally fun and absolutely worth it. Best thousand miles I've traveled in a long time.

Monday, July 21, 2014

In the kitchen: Chicken dip

My first year of marriage, I was like a mad housewife trying out new recipes left and right. I like to cook, but I think I went overboard making these huge, hearty dinners most nights of the week. Eventually, Micah had to tell me to calm down in the kitchen a bit, because I was a) spending too much time there considering it was my first year of grad school and there was a lot on my plate {pun intended} and b) causing him to gain a few pounds with all my cheesy casseroles.

On one of these fanatic cooking nights, I was trying a new crock pot meal in which you slow cook chicken all day and serve it over rice or pasta for dinner. It's technically considered a chicken stroganoff. I came home from school to my perfectly cooked chicken making our whole apartment smell delicious, but in true Jen fashion, I had crammed too much into my day and didn't have enough time to cook the noodles before our community group meeting that evening. Micah came home from work and it was time to go. I stood there helpless and frustrated. The chicken smelled so good, but the meal was not complete. I wanted to cook the pasta and take it to go, even if it meant we were late, but Micah vetoed that idea. Instead, he said he would use tortillas chips we already had in our pantry and dip them into the chicken concoction for his dinner. I was horrified. I had cooked this amazing-smelling new recipe and now he was going to dip chips into it instead of eating it as it was supposed to be served. I think a few tears were shed, and I refused to eat chips for dinner. He took a big pile of the chicken dip and chips to go and I stubbornly decided I would eat mine with pasta a few hours later when we returned home.

When we arrived at community group, I stole a few bites of his dip to discover that it was, indeed, as delicious as it smelled, and that it also made a fantastic dip. Let's just say we've made this recipe so many times since that tearful newlywed night, and we've never once eaten it with pasta or rice. Micah was right all along, and I will forever humbly dip my chips into the chicken dip.

What you need:
2-3 large chicken breasts
1/8 cup butter
One packet dry Italian dressing mix
One can Cream of Chicken soup
1 package cream cheese (8 oz.)

What you do:
  • Put chicken and butter in crock pot. Sprinkle Italian dressing over top. 
  • Cook on low for approximately 5 hours on low or 3 hours on high. (Add an hour if chicken is frozen.)
  • About a half hour before serving, use two forks to shred all the chicken while it remains in crock pot. Add Cream of Chicken Soup and cream cheese, stirring until it's completely mixed in. Lower crock pot to "warm" setting or even turn it off, and let mixture heat throughout, approximately 20-30 minutes. 
  • Serve as a dip with tortillas chips.

This makes a great appetizer for a party, but we usually just inhale it as a meal. Micah had a friend over for dinner last week on short notice, and I was a little embarrassed that I was only serving chicken dip, but it had been in the crock pot all afternoon, so a menu change was not an option. I'm pleased to say Micah's guy friend went back for seconds and thirds. This dip is just that good.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Saturday Snippets

I am way more beta-parent than I ever expected...

Why modern parenting is in crisis...

A really depressing {yet hopeful} read on the damaging effects of the porn industry...

Our unrealistic views on death...

I want an office in a shed...

In praise of the quiet time...

Some interesting thoughts on teaching teens about modesty...

I like the idea of saying no until you feel called to a true yes...

On letting an adopted preschooler nurse {and breaking down our narrow worldview}...

I used a couple of these free nursery printables in Zianne's room...

Six counterproductive ways to study the Bible...

I'm all for making up a new word...

I liked this post on doing good works...

How to create bright and sharp iPhone photos...

Thursday, July 17, 2014

July Goals

I know July is now halfway over and I'm just now getting around to posting my monthly goals. This doesn't mean I haven't been working on my goals... it just means I never got a chance to publish them. I am sharing them now in hopes that public accountability helps me finish off the list in the next few weeks.

Exchange Bebe Pod {warranty}. Done! Zianne has graduated to a high chair and we have a brand new Bebe Pod in the garage waiting to be pulled out of the box for Baby #2 someday in the future. I cannot recommend this chair enough {much better than the Bumbo!} and Prince Lionheart has great customer service!

Rollover 401K. Ugh... still not done. I feel like this task will haunt me forever!

Study ten hours a week. Yes. This has gone fairly well. Although I should probably spend even more time reading for my exams, I've fallen into a rhythm that feels healthy and sustainable for Zianne and me.

Print large family photo. Done... and my two large frames are actually hanging on the wall!

Read two books... Bam! I finished Gone Girl and Eleanor and Park, and I'm now back on track with my one book per month goal.

Write one note of encouragement... Check!


Open a savings account for Zianne...

Rollover 401K... Come on, Jen, you can do it!

Start HSA wellness activities... We get money added to our HSA account if I do certain activities such as fill out a health questionnaire and do a wellness coaching phone call. Busy work that's worth it.

Finish fall syllabus... My syllabus for my fall classes is due in mid-August but what if I worked ahead for once and finished it this month?

Print photos for Zianne's baby book... I am so far behind on this and I would like to have the book finished for her 1st birthday which is only about two months away!

Get watch batteries fixed... I am a watch girl. I have about five watches that I love. They are the perfect mix of practical and pretty for someone who doesn't like to wear many accessories. However, last summer and fall when I was hugely pregnant and then working from home in my postpartum state, I went months without wearing my watches. When I started working on campus again this spring, I realized that the batteries on almost all my watches had died. I want them functioning again before classes start next month. {Some of my favorite watches... 1 // 2 // 3 // 4}

Write one note of encouragement...

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Dear Zianne {nine months}

Dear Zianne,

You officially have a favorite book. Your dad reads to you about Gerald the Giraffe almost every night before you go to bed. You sit there quietly and turn the pages as you hold the giraffe stuffed animal your Dada won for you at a work event. Sometimes you get excited and hit the pages as he reads or sometimes you thoughtfully point to objects on the page. Your favorite is the picture of the moon up in the night sky.

And here is the moral of the story... we can all dance when we find a song we love. Gerald, with his long, awkward giraffe legs, is not a good dancer. He gets all tripped up when he tries to sway to the music. The other animals, who hold a huge dance each year, make fun of Gerald for his lack of dancing skills. He walks away from the party feeling sad and dejected until a cricket whispers some advice to him, "Sometimes when you're different, you just need a different song..." Upon hearing this, Gerald begins hearing the sounds all around him, the swaying branches and the singing insects, and his body begins to sway to the rhythm. Soon his dancing becomes so extraordinary and beautiful {he is a giraffe leaping through the sky after all} that the other animals have gathered around in awe. Gerald ends the book by saying, "We all can dance when we find music that we love..."

I've been thinking lately how motherhood is like dancing. Different moves on different days. Different songs. Sometimes fast, sometimes slow. Sometimes it's a literal dance, especially when your dad gets home from work and we all dance around the living room to "Rockin' Robin" to celebrate being home together as a family in the evening. Sometimes it's fast-paced like a jig as I dart around the house trying to be a mom and a homemaker and a student all at the same time. My steps are quick as I switch the laundry to the dryer, drop a handful of Cheerios on your highchair tray, and unload the dishwasher before you eat them all and get bored, all while eyeing the stack of books across the room that are waiting to be studied. And sometimes the dance is slow, like when you wake from teething pain in the middle of the night and I gently rock you back to sleep or when we sit on the floor in the afternoons and I build towers out of blocks for you to knock over again and again and again.

Sometimes the dance is so tiring that I go to bed exhausted like I just finished competing in an Olympic sport. Sometimes the dance is so slow and joyful that I go to bed fulfilled and reflecting on the blessing of parenthood. And most of the time the dance feels like a freestyle event. I don't have it choreographed in advance and there is no time to rehearse. I just sense the music of the day and I take the steps that feel right. At times this method feels a bit chaotic. Part of me wishes I could practice a little bit before going on stage, but we all know motherhood doesn't work like that. Thankfully I've found that even when I make it up as I go, in the end, the dance is really beautiful.

Love always,

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