Monday, September 5, 2016

Cheesy broccoli chicken soup

I am so excited for fall to almost be here. I love everything it brings: cooler weather, football, sweaters, and almost-most-importantly SOUP! 

Cheesy Broccoli Chicken Soup

1 large chicken breast (2 if they're small)
Butter for sautéing the chicken
Salt and pepper
Diced carrots
1 c chicken broth
Garlic powder, onion powder, and seasoned salt

Season the chicken with salt and pepper and brown it in the butter over a medium-high skillet. 
Remove chicken and finish cooking in the oven while you make the rest of the soup. 
In the same pan you used for the chicken, add carrots, chicken broth, and other seasonings. This can be over seasoned because you'll add it to the soup later on. Allow carrots to cook until soft while you make the rest of the soup. 

3 tbs butter
1/4 c flour
3 c chicken broth
2 c half and half
Seasonings to taste
A "handful" of shredded Colby jack cheese (I never measure cheese or seasonings)
Carrots in the broth 
2 cups (ish) Frozen broccoli
Chicken breasts from part one, shredded

Cook broccoli according to package directions and set aside. 
Melt the butter in a large pot. Add flour and combine. Allow to cook for a few minutes until slightly golden. Add chicken broth a little at a time and whisk well. Bring to boil to thicken. Reduce heat.  Add carrots and broth. Add half and half. Allow to simmer to thicken, but stir frequently so it doesn't burn. Add cheese, broccoli, and chicken. Season to taste. Add chicken broth as needed if it gets too thick. 

Thursday, July 28, 2016

#GOMO: our new motto

How in the world is it my last week of summer vacation!?!? One week from today, I will be back at work. It feels like school just ended, and we are already gearing up to start a new year.

My husband and I were determined that this summer was not going to be a summer of sitting around. Our daughter is three, which is the PERFECT age in my opinion.  She is able to go with us and do more things and actually enjoy herself, letting all of us have a more fun experience.

I'm sure many of you have heard of the term FOMO: fear of missing out.  It became so widespread that it can now be found in the dictionary as a real word! FOMO is usually brought about by seeing or hearing about all the fun stuff other people are doing through social media. Now, our family had not been on a vacation since 2013! We went to Florida and stayed with family when our Sweet P was around three months old. There wasn't a whole lot we could do with an infant. Talk about some serious FOMO. This summer, however, was to be our summer of GOMO: going out more often. And boy, did we! Well, I actually kicked things off by myself...

The day school let out, I got in my car and drove the two hours to my best friend and former college roommate's apartment. We try to have a girls' weekend once a year with just us. No hubby or baby allowed! We got dressed up and went out on the town. We checked out new restaurants, new food, and new local musicians.  We wasted enough time in college being lazy (and broke) and hanging out around the dorm. GOMO with this girl allows us to catch up and try new experiences... And take fun pictures so we can look back when we are old and wrinkly and remember how gorgeous we used to be ;)

In June, it was time for GOMO with my family. My husband is a band director, so his summer is always cut short by band camps. June is really our time to be together as a family. Like I said before, our daughter is three-years-old now.  She is spunky and energetic... I couldn't bare to keep her stuck in the house. We finally booked our first REAL vacation as a family and set off for the BEACH!

I promise she was more excited than she looks! The whole week leading up to the trip, she kept asking about going to the beach.  And do you know what she was most excited to do? Play in the sand. Go swimming in the "big pool." Hunt for hermit crabs.  All EXPERIENCES. So often, we get caught up in material things.  We are constantly bombarded with commercials advertising the next "can't-live-without" item. But really, what I can't imagine living without is the memory of seeing my daughter's face the first time she saw the beach. I can't imagine living without stories to tell of our experiences. I can't imagine living without GOMO!

 That break was just what we needed to reconnect as a family and unplug from media and technology. We focused on spending real, quality time together... Not just in the same room watching Netflix or something. We went out! We experienced life together. And it was the best money I've ever spent.

In July, we knew we wanted to go somewhere to watch fireworks.  Last year, we went to a local church's fireworks show, and it was nice, but this summer is about GOMO! So, oh, did we go! We googled the best fireworks show in the area, which is of course Thunder on the Mountain at Vulcan Park.

There are websites you can use to find events near you, too, like Eventbrite. Going to their website, you can see popular featured events in your area, and even create your own event as well. You can also type in the kind of event you are looking for, add in your location, and you'll get a list of everything that's happening. For example, I just looked up "music" in my town and found out that there is a free night of the best gospel music Birmingham has to offer coming up in just a couple weeks! I can even reserve my ticket right from the Eventbrite website! No more FOMO for me, thank you very much!

So even though summer is ending, and I am dreading the early mornings and long days that are fast approaching, I am looking back on this summer without feeling like I wasted my days and let summer pass us by. It was our summer of GOMO, and I loved every second of it!

Monday, July 18, 2016

How to Dress Your Child on a Zero Dollar Budget

With school preparing to start back much more quickly than I'd like, I've found myself being bombarded with back-to-school ads.  My daughter is starting "actual" preschool this fall.  She was in a K2/Mother's Day Out class last year and loved it, but there's something that is tugging at my heart about her official start of preschool. Oh, how I wish I could make time slow down, but it keeps going, and she keeps growing, and my heart overflows at how blessed I am to be her mommy.

But speaking of her growing...

I have always been shocked by the large price tags that accompany the tiniest clothing. Typically, kids grow about a size each year.  That's a lot of clothes to buy and then have to replace so quickly. I can't justify paying so much for something she may only wear for a season. I know I'm not the only one.  But I also know that I do not want to sacrifice dressing her in cute clothes. Not to toot my own horn, but I think my daughter is pretty much the most adorable thing in the world. I love dressing her up just as much as she loves to wear pretty things. It's a win-win. And I think I've found the winning-est combination of ways to make sure that she looks stylish without breaking the bank... Or really spending any money at all.

So here are my four ways to dress your child on a ZERO DOLLAR budget.

1. Hand-me-downs

We are blessed to attend a wonderful church filled with families with young children.  We have made some of our best friends through attending our church, and Parker loves going to Sunday School with "the boys and girls," as she calls them.   In the three year old group, she is the only girl. Many of our friends have daughters who are a few years older.  And many more have daughters a few years older than that. These girls have been passing clothes back and forth for years. Now Parker has gotten added to the list. There are some other outfits that have been passed along from some other friends, too.

All of these were handed down from friends. The black and white outfit was one of my favorites when she was little bitty. The blue dress is one she wore at our church's Easter egg hunt. The Christmas dress came from a secretary at school. She bought it for her granddaughter, but it was too small.  She passed it along to Parker brand new!
We always make sure to take extra care of hand-me-downs. That's how they last so long, and they may be passed along again one day!
2. Homemade clothing

I will let you in on a secret: I cannot sew.  I cannot knit. I cannot crochet.

Okay, so maybe it's not that much of a secret.  However, I am surrounded by amazingly talented women who can do all of these things! Let's start with sewing.

My mother-in-law is a skilled seamstress and quilter. Like, super skilled. And she loves to use her talents for her family.  My sister-in-law and I both have quilts in the works that she is making for us, and they are so beautiful! She also has made Parker some outfits.

She made Parker's first Halloween costume for us. She was the cutest Dorothy ever! She also put aside her feelings and made an Alabama dress for this Alabama mama! I tell you, you know your Auburn-fan mother-in-law likes you when she is willing to make a dress in the fabric of her arch nemesis!

I also said I cannot knit, but my grandmother has been knitting since before I can remember.  She made so many clothes for me (which we will get to in a minute), and she has made so many for her first great-grandchild, too!

Both of these knitted outfits came from my grandmother. The red dress she wore at her first Thanksgiving, and the white one kept her warm during her first snowfall. 
 The third skill I lack, crocheting, is made up for by my awesome sister-in-law, Jessica. Aunt Jessica makes some of the most beautiful things.  And she does it without a pattern! If she sees it, chances are she can make it. Like this outfit:

She made the hat, the cowl, and the skirt.  The skirt has a "draw string" waist with a ribbon, so Parker can wear it year after year. I saw the hat and cowl on Pinterest and sent her pictures of them. They are even more beautiful than the originals!
Handmade clothes are a great way to dress your child, and I think the clothes mean more because every time I see them, I think of the women who made them.

3.  Raid your old clothes

Remember when I said my grandmother had made tons of clothes for me when I was little? I wasn't kidding. And I have a mother who saved them all and kept them in great condition. Check at your parents' house.  I'm sure they saved some of your baby things, too.

The picture on the top is me, and Parker is on the bottom. My grandmother made the dress, hat, and jacket. I can actually remember this dress from when I was little, and seeing it on my daughter makes me smile.

Believe it or not, my grandmother also made this coat and cap for me.  It's knitted with wool, lined on the inside with pink satin, and has a velvet collar. You can't find quality like this in a store, ESPECIALLY on a budget. Raiding my old clothes has produced some of my favorite outfits for Parker to wear. It's nice, too, because my mom and grandmother remember me wearing them, and now they see them on my daughter. Generations of use!
4. Consignment
Oh, I do love consignment.  I have found some amazing deals at our local consignment store, Taylor Bug's.  Brands like Matilda Jane, Mud Pie, Baby Gap, etc. Basically clothes I could otherwise not afford.  You can find name brand clothing for cents on the dollar! CENTS, people! Tiffany is the owner, and she is such a sweetie! Her prices are so fair, and she only accepts high-quality, well-taken-care-of clothing.  I never have to worry about holes or stains. She's worried about it for me. My favorite part of consignment is store credit. I started consigning when Parker started outgrowing her baby clothes that we had gotten as baby shower gifts. I kept the super special ones, but we don't have enough room to store everything. I took them to Taylor Bug's, and she sold them for me. I receive 40% of sales as either cash or store credit. I always take the store credit. And then I wait for her end of season sales where I can get clothes marked up to 90% off! Here's what I do. I take Parker's clothes that she's outgrown at the start of the season (Fall clothes in July, and Spring clothes usually in January). I wait for the clothes to sell. For every $100 in sales, I get $40 in store credit. I use that store credit to buy more clothes for the next season when they go on sale. And a new thing she just started is rewards points. For every dollar spent, I earn a point. Once I reach 150 points, I earn $5 in store credit. The best part is that I am earning points every time I spend my store credit! I can get an entire season's wardrobe without spending any real money. And, my word, the clothes I can get are amazing!


Every single outfit came from the same consignment store, and I didn't pay a dime for any of them out of pocket- just store credit. Easter dresses, boutique clothing... all of it essentially FREE.  Best part is, the ones she outgrew went back to be resold for more store credit. It's a never-ending circle of new clothes for zero dollars!

I won't say I don't ever spend money on her clothes.  But when I do, I do not feel guilty about it. Some outfits are worth the splurge, and I can afford to splurge every now and then if I'm smart about the way I shop all the other times.

Did I miss anything? What are some ways you save money shopping for your kids? Let me know in the comments! Thanks for reading!


Friday, March 18, 2016

Ants in the Pantry... And why I'm thankful for them

Wednesday night, I opened my pantry, and I saw one.  An ant.  A little, tiny sugar ant.  But where there is one, there is bound to be more. I followed it, knowing it would lead me to its friends.  They were crawling all over a forgotten bottle of maple syrup in the back of the pantry.  And so, I began the arduous task of inspecting every box and bottle of food in the pantry for an ant invasion.  With food spread out all over the floor and kitchen table, I looked back in the pantry and noted that the only foods I had skipped checking- the ones I didn't even bother with- were my mother-in-law's canned goods.

Over the summer, my in-laws canned jellies and peppers and salsas and other fruits and veggies.  Preserving foods by canning makes them last just about forever because they don't go bad and nothing- not even a little sugar ant- can get inside. I knew I didn't need to check them for ants because there was no way they could have gotten inside.

Instantly, I was struck by a Bible verse from my women's Bible study from the night before:

Psalm 119:107
...Preserve my life, Lord, according to Your Word.

The fruits and vegetables from my mother-in-law's garden have lasted much longer preserved than they would have had they been left sitting out alone.  They have been kept from going bad, from spoiling, and from rotting. They have been kept from growing mold and needing to be thrown out. They have been protected from the ants that have invaded their surroundings.

Isn't that just what God does for us? He preserves us so we can withstand anything that comes our way.  Without being preserved, those fruits and vegetables would be long gone by now, having succumbed to their environment, just as we would have without God's preservation of our lives. The "good" is kept pure and safe and the "bad" is kept from invading- simply through the preservation that comes when we open our Bibles and receive His Word.

We all have "ants" that set out with the intent to invade: negativity, stress, distractions, anger, unhappiness, sadness... The list goes on.  But isn't it a blessing to know that if we are preserved by God, those ants have nowhere to go?  We are protected.  I'm not saying they won't try to get in; I'm saying they won't be able to.  If we are rooted in God's Word, we have the protection we need to withstand the enemy's invasion. That protection comes from being immersed in the Bible- turning to God for strength to endure.

It's a strange feeling- to be thankful for ants- but I am grateful for the reminder of God's love for me that they provided.

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Goat cheese stuffed chicken breasts

Welcome back to my blog! I have been seriously neglectful of it, but in my defense, I've had a lot going on. How about GRAD SCHOOL!!! I applied last fall and I am currently taking my first two classes! Woo hoo! And also... *yawn*

I'm always tired. Which is why I haven't been blogging recently. But this recipe was so good, I wanted to write it down quickly so I didn't forget it. 

It was inspired by one my husband found online, but as always, I changed a few things. 

Ingredients (for two servings)
2 chicken breasts
2 oz goat cheese
1.5 tbs butter
Juice from 1/2 lemon
Garlic powder, onion powder, parsley, salt, and pepper (to taste)
Flour (coconut or almond if you're going low carb)

Preheat oven to 350. 
Combine seasonings, cheese, lemon juice, and butter. 
Cut a slit into each chicken breast, starting on the thickest end (like you're making a pocket... Because that's exactly what you're doing. 
Stuff half of the cheese mixture into each chicken breast. 
Coat the chicken in flour, then egg, then flour again. 
Brown the chicken in oil over medium-high heat for three minutes on each side. 
Place chicken in the oven to finish cooking (around 8-10 minutes). 

I also made a lemon pepper cream sauce to top the chicken. It was the perfect addition! I don't have a real recipe for this. I just mixed it until I liked the taste, but I will try my best to write one out. 

First, I made a roux with butter and flour. Next, I added some whole milk and the juice of one lemon. It got a little too thick, so I added some more milk. Then I added garlic powder, salt, black pepper, and a dash of red pepper. I kept adding seasoning until I liked the taste. That's the beauty of cooking. It's personal. 

We ate dinner together at the kitchen table, which is one of my New Years resolutions. It's so important to eat together as a family. 

So here's hoping I keep up with the blog! I really do enjoy it, and I need something that's just for me amidst everything else I'm doing. And if other's enjoy it as well? The more the merrier :)

Sunday, November 15, 2015

A hobby turns a profit

Last year, I started painting some pieces of reclaimed wood I came across. I sold a few pieces, but really got out of it fairly quickly. Until a couple months ago. 

On a whim, I shared a photo of a painting I had done last fall. 

I'm getting ready to start grad school in January. Did you realize how expensive it is to even apply?? Between ordering transcripts, paying for tests, and paying for the application itself, my already tight budget was feeling the squeeze. I shared this photo as a "feeler"... "Would anyone be interested in ordering some paintings to help me cover the application costs?"

Yes. Yes, they would. 

What started as one order turned into a few more... And then a few more... And then even more. 

Since September, I have been blessed with a steady stream of painting orders. They have helped cover all of my application costs, unexpected bills, doctor visits, and more. 

I am thrilled with how busy I've been and so thankful for the opportunity to use my gifts. 

Today, the mother of one of my husband's former students called me to say that she'd come across SEVERAL discarded kitchen cabinet doors. For free. And she was giving them to me!

Look at that pile of treasure just waiting to be discovered! I have some great ideas for these. Chalkboards, coat or key rack, etc. I was so excited to get started!

They'd been kept in a shed for a while, so they had some dry mold growing on them. 

I sprayed them with a bleach mixture to kill and remove the mold. It already looked better just from the wash, and I loved the chippy texture, so I didn't do anything else to the cabinet itself. 

This piece was perfect for one word, two at the most. I knew what word I wanted for my kitchen: "gather."

I free handed the word in pencil to make sure I had the size right. Then I went over it in black acrylic. 

It's the perfect statement for my kitchen. The kitchen is truly the heart of my home where my family gathers together. We cook, we eat, we clean, we talk. 

We gather. 

I have several more doors available, but this one is all mine!

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Honey Lime Fish Tacos with Mexican Cream

Who doesn't love Taco Tuesday? Personally, I look forward to it every week.  It doesn't have to be the same taco every time.  That's the beauty of it.  Pretty much, if you can put it in a tortilla, it can be a taco.

My favorites are fish tacos, especially for summer.  They are lighter than regular tacos, and on a hot, summer day, they can be quite refreshing.  Especially when paired with a cool, creamy sauce.

For these tacos, I used tilapia, lime, and honey.  It was really simple and really tasty.

Four tilapia fillets
One lime
1-2 tbsp honey
salt and pepper

Set your oven to broil.  While the oven is heating, salt and pepper both sides of the fish.  Place on a baking sheet and top with half the lime juice and half the honey.  Broil for 5 minutes.  Flip the fish over, and top with the remaining lime juice and honey.  Broil for 5 more minutes until the fish is white and opaque.

For the sauce, I mixed one tbsp cilantro paste with 1/2 c sour cream. It was paired perfectly with the lime in the fish.  I chopped some cucumbers, put them in the taco with the fish, and topped the whole thing with the Mexican cream.  To add some extra spice, I sprinkled on some red pepper flakes.

To make this meal low carb, I used a low carb tortilla.  However, the only ones I could find were soft.  To make them crunchy, I baked them in a 350 degree oven like this...

That way, they baked into the perfect shell shape. Just check on them periodically to make sure they are starting to crisp.  I haven't timed it myself; I just go by feel.

I hope you enjoy making these for your next Taco Tuesday!