Hitting the Jackpot {A Giveaway!}

February 26, 2015

I love having candles around the house. However, since Liam arrived and he has considered it his life's mission to undo anything decor-related in our house, most of our candles are hidden on shelves behind frames or in boxes. Chris often tells me that we should get more candles, and I remind him that we have about 16 hidden. It's just a game of find-the-candle-if-you-want-it.

I was recently sent a Jackpot Candle to try out, so for an entire week, I had the candle lit in our house in many different spots. As soon as Liam would find it, I moved it to a new spot. The candle graced every surface of our house.

The smell is amazing. As soon as you walk in, the smell of toddler and dog disappears and my house smells clean and refreshing. I love it. And it makes me miss all those other candles I've had to hide.

One unique feature of the Jackpot Candle is that there is a fun piece of jewelry hidden inside. I'm an earring girl, so I picked one out that had earrings hidden beneath the wax (wrapped in a plastic bag and foil, of course). After burning it for just a few hours, the jewelry started peeking through.

I just realized there is a PRETZEL in the above picture. Further proof that Liam was here.

I took it into the kitchen and dug out the foil packet with a spoon. There's the pretzel.

I quickly opened it up to see what I had received! The packet of jewelry comes with a code to enter online - some jewelry can be worth up to $5,000!

I ended up with these cute studs valued at $16, but I was actually in need of some new "diamond" studs, so there you go.

And now we can keep enjoying the candle...until Liam finds it.

Do you want a Jackpot Candle of your own? Just leave a comment telling me about your favorite piece of jewelry. I will pick a winner next Friday, March 6!

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The Business of Marriage

February 20, 2015

We celebrated Valentine's Day with an early dinner on Sunday night - just the two of us. Once you have a child, dinner alone as just adults is one of the most rejuvenating experiences. All you have to think about is your own meal and eating at your own pace and minding your own silverware without concern of impatient screams and knives getting into the wrong hands and spilled drinks. Like I said, it's rejuvenating. 

On actual Valentine's Day, Chris had to work, so it was just me and my other main man for the day. We had a lunch date at Chick-fil-a and an afternoon trip to the library and park, which are all direct ways to his little heart. 

After we picked Chris up that evening, we ate a quick dinner and I promptly headed out the door to go grocery shopping at 9 p.m. Because the idea of going to the grocery store by myself when the rest of the world was preoccupied with their plans and the chance at using a regular cart as opposed to the ones with a plastic car attached was also a huge deciding factor in my late night spree. I walked up and down every aisle just because I could.

I am seriously considering doing our grocery shopping every Saturday night because my life has come to that level of excitement.

But back to dinner. We left Liam with his always-willing grandmother and grabbed dinner at 6 p.m. because, truthfully, I wanted to piggy-back on the happy hour prices. We sat side-by-side, shared an appetizer, ate our meals, and then continued to sit for 45 minutes to just talk.

And here's the thing. When you're married with children and jobs and a hectic schedule that leaves you going in different directions all the time, sometimes it's good to just sit and talk. No kids. No silverware flying off the table. No place to be next. 

It's the business of marriage, this time set aside. It's the talking about the mortgage and the plan of where we want to be next. It's the talk of money and how much and what to do with it and future promises of more. It's the talk of what's going on in your heart and who has hurt you and where the sting is still fresh. It's talking about all things that come together to run the biggest business we got: us.

Because when it all comes down to it, if we run in different directions, we will never meet. And isn't marriage really about meeting? Meeting during the messes, the fights, the 2 a.m. wake-ups, the tears, the joys, the burnt dinners, the never-ending list of projects, the life changes.

If we focus on meeting, there will always be a reason to meet. There will always be a yearning to meet.

So on Sunday night, we met. And we talked. And our silverware stayed on the table.

And I hope we can do it again soon.

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Meal Planning for the Busy Mom: Freezer Meals

February 18, 2015

Ah, freezer meals. As in, dinner-is-already-done meals.

I recently started integrating freezer meals into our weekly rotation because first, it makes the 5 o'clock hour a thousand times less hectic, and second, it truly saves on groceries throughout the week. 

The other weekend, a friend met me at my house during Liam's nap time (except he refused to nap that day, so we had a wild Sioux chef running around). We had made a master plan ahead of time as far as what meals to cook and what groceries we needed. This was a trial run and I am happy to say we already have round two on the calendar.

We made six recipes this round which was enough for us to each take home 15 meals. By planning on integrating two freezer meals a week, that will last us two months!

Chicken Broccoli Rice Casserole (2 meals)
Oven Baked Chicken Fajitas (2 meals)
Lasagna Roll-Ups (5 meals)
Tex-Mex Chicken Casserole (2 meals)
Cilantro Lime Chicken (2 meals)
Sweet and Spicy BBQ Chicken (2 meals)

Here is our grocery list for the meals (click to enlarge, save and print!):

While conquering our first freezer meal afternoon, we came across a few helpful tips:

Plan ahead. We started planning this out about three weeks in advance so that we could spread out the grocery expense and start collecting the items needed. This helped us watch for sales. For example, natural chicken went on sale for $1.97 a pound which was a great savings for eight pounds of chicken. 

Come prepared. Before meeting, we both pre-cooked the rice and some of the chicken so that it was easy to throw into the recipes as needed.

Share. For the most part, we shared oils and spices since we didn't need a ton and it was easier than each dragging out our own.

Use the same bowl and spoon. Clean up was a breeze partly because we just used the same mixing bowls and spoons, and rinse them out in between recipes.

Set all ingredients out. We use my kitchen table to set out all of ingredients and then grabbed what we needed for each recipe as we went along.

Label. I pre-printed labels for the recipes that included the name and cooking instructions. We slapped these on the bags and tins ahead of time so that we don't have to dig out the recipe again when it's time to cook the meal.

{Not pictured: Lasagna Roll-ups}

Overall, the process took us just about two hours and clean-up was a breeze. We simply started on a recipe, did it together (even throwing in spices in the other's dish), and when it was done, we moved on to the next one. 

Bon Apetit!

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Meal Planning for the Busy Mom: Grocery Shopping

February 16, 2015

Grocery shopping is sometimes the thorn in my side when it comes to the weekend because first, it's a non-negotiable expense, and second, it's usually accompanied by a restless toddler. If I can get in and out efficiently, under budget, and with a happy kid, I consider it a success.

After I find meals for the week and plan out our dinner schedule, I make my list.

I first break the list down into categories based on aisle location so it's easy to shop from: Home Goods/Toiletries, Drinks, Snacks/Cereal, Baking Goods/Bakery, Dry Goods, Frozen, Dairy/Cheese, Meat/Deli, Produce. 

I then write down all our weekly needs that aren't tied to a recipe. This includes items such as bananas (we seriously go through 3 bunches a week), drinking water, and milk.

Next, I go through each recipe and add everything needed for each meal. While doing this, I
 double-check what I already have on hand in the fridge or pantry. 

Finally, I check the ads and match them with any coupons I have to stock up on any great deals that will save me time and money on future trips.

By going in with a meal plan and a list, I spend way less than what I would if I went in unprepared. And I can make it as fast as possible for a toddler who is over it after the first ten minutes.

Bon Apetit!

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Meal Planning for the Busy Mom: Planning Meals

February 13, 2015

Planning out the meals for the week can be a little tricky. There are a few things I do to make it seamless.

First, I consider our schedule for the week. Chris is home by 5 during the week, but on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, we leave to pick him up from work at 7 and don't get home until 8. On these nights, I try to have something cooked that can stay warm (in the crockpot) or that can easily be reheated.

I typically have a couple evening events for my job each month, so that mixes things up, too. On the nights I work, I typically schedule leftovers. 

I also schedule leftovers at least once a week anyway just to allow for a break (and a hefty dose of grace) and so that food doesn't go to waste.

Then, I see what we have on hand. I'm a big grocery sale shopper, so I will typically buy meats or side items when they go on sale as opposed to when I actually need them. I'll look in our freezer and see if there is anything I can throw into the rotation before I plan out the meals. This saves us money in the long run.

I also check the weekly sales. I tend to plan meals around meat or veggies that are on sale for that week. For example, asparagus is usually $4.99 a pound. Last week, it was on sale for 97 cents! Needless to say, we had asparagus a few times.

Next, I plug in meals I know we love. We have about 10 meals or so that are a tried-and-true fixture in our dinner rotation. I try not to have the same thing in a two- to three-week period. It's not science, but it helps mix things up a bit.

Then, I plug in new meal ideas. I usually cook one to two new recipes a week to add in some excitement to this boring process and to try to find new tried-and-true recipes to add to our usual rotation. Read more about finding meals.

Lastly, I write it out. Throughout the week, I'll throw meal ideas into my planner, and then transfer them to our chalkboard wall on the weekend. It's a great visual reminder for me as I am prepping dinner and it keeps Chris from having to ask, "What's for dinner?" (He's been known to do this as early as 7:30 a.m.) If I'm really on top of it, I might even have meals planned out weeks in advance.

Bon apetit!

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