Monday, July 11, 2016

Meal Planning for Dummies

First of all, I know you're no dummy. So don't be offended by that title. I will say this, when I first became a wife, I was kind of a dummy. I know I know, it's not nice to call names, but I promise you I didn't know much about the kitchen. Once, when Justin and I were dating, I wanted to surprise him with dinner. This was after he gave me a key to his house so obviously things were getting all kinds of serious. I decided to go over early and have a meal ready for him when he got home from work. It wasn't until I got there and stood in his kitchen that I realized I didn't know what the heck I was doing. So I got a pot out and called my best friend and asked her to walk me through how to make spaghetti, from the boiling the water step.

I wish I was kidding.

Fast forward almost five years and being a wife is my favorite thing. Seriously. The cooking, the looking after the house, the making sure things run smoothly around here, MY FAVORITE. I work really hard to make sure our home is clean and smelling good at all times because I want Justin to feel as relaxed as possible when he comes through the door from a stressful day at work. Being a wife is seriously the best thing I've ever been. I love this "job" and wouldn't want to be single ever again, not for one second!

So one of my favorite things to do to help our household run smoothly is to meal plan. I know meal planning is a hit or miss with people. Some do it, some don't. Here's why we do it and why it works.

1. Saves money. When I wasn't meal planning I would go to the grocery store and be immediately set up for failure. I would throw anything and everything into the cart and walk out spending way too much money and chances are, I probably forgot a thing or two while I was at it.

2. Healthier. When you don't have meals planned out and you get home after a long day at work or with the kids and it's dinner time you are more likely to grab a pizza, stop through a drive-thru, etc. So not only does meal planning save money, it ensures that you stick to your plan (who wants to waste fresh foods? NOT ME) and avoid those drive-thrus.

3. Less stress. Whether I'm being a stay at home mom to Hudson or just getting home from my internship, once 5:30 rolls around all of the stress of "what's for dinner" is gone because I just open my notebook and make whatever is on the calendar that day.

4. Easy. No more scurrying around for last minute recipes or hoping you have just one more frozen pizza to get you by. Meal planning is the best thing I could have done to keep my household running smoothly and efficiently. And I love to cook. So it's a win win. Seriously. Once 5pm rolls around, I get so excited to get out my knives and cutting boards and cook up something yummy for my family.

Are you convinced yet? Now let me walk you through how I meal plan each month.

I meal plan for two weeks at a time because I use peapod's delivery service. Basically it's an online grocery store. I pay about $100 a year for this service. And it's worth every penny. Here's what the screen looks like.

Usually on a Sunday night I'll get in bed with my laptop and notebook, put on my favorite Netflix show and get to planning. I find a lot of family favorites from my Pinterest board and some from a recipe book my mom gave me. I write out the days of the week in a two week span and just fill in our favorite meals. After I write in each meal I will look into the recipe and find out what ingredients I need to purchase and write those in my grocery list. Here is a two week example from last week's meal rotation:

Monday: Skinny Buffalo Chicken Stuffed Sweet Potatoes
Tuesday:Pizza Margherita Grilled Cheese
Wednesday: Chicken Salad in Pita Pockets
Thursday: Zucchini Lasagna Boats
Friday: Fajita Chicken Kabobs with Mexican Street Corn
Saturday:Peach Basil Mozzarella Flatbread
Sunday: Leftovers
Monday: Chicken Bacon Mac & Cheese
Tuesday: Fish Tacos
Wednesday: Smashburgers (Pioneer woman recipe)
Thursday: Salsbury Steak,  mashed potatoes & collard greens
Friday: Date night
Saturday: Bacon and avocado grilled cheese
Sunday: Leftovers

I budget about $300 a month for groceries. This trip was a little more expensive than planned because I used a ton of fresh ingredients. But the next two week trip was a lot less because I restocked our pantry so it all evened out. Whatever is left from the grocery budget that doesn't get used goes right into savings. For breakfast we usually do cereal or fruit. Sometimes I will bake something the night before but breakfast isn't a huge fuss for us. Justin get's lunch out since he is busy with work and meetings and I usually eat leftovers or a salad. So the only big meal planning I do is for our dinners.

Once I get my list together I pop over to the Peapod website and add all of the ingredients and foods I need for the two week period. Grocery shopping takes 15 minutes now and I will never go back to the old way of grocery shopping again. (until we move out of MA and have no online option to which I will then say, god help us all).

Meal planning is easy and call me crazy, but fun! It does take a little bit of time to get the meals planned out, but once you get the hang of rotating meals (and being flexible to change your days up a little if you see that your produce needs to be used for specific meal before it goes bad) you'll be a pro! Sometimes I will make a mistake by planning three nights of chicken meals in a row, and if that happens I'll just swap a day to even it all out.

So what do you think? Want to give meal planning a try?

Thursday, June 30, 2016

While We Wait-How to Share Empathy for Those Who are Hurting

Today I hit a low. I found out that our foster care process has been delayed and that we won't be getting any little ones until August. Originally it was the end of June. Then the beginning of July. Now, August. I feel an overwhelming sense of sadness. I can't explain it, but my heart truly aches.

I mean, only because I'm an extremely transparent person, I'm sharing this picture I sent to my husband after having a meltdown. I jumped into the little teepee we have in our nursery and I sobbed. Like the ugly cry kind of sob. I had snot coming out of my nose. I was crying so hard by the end of it, I was doing those quick hiccuppy breaths you only do when someone dies. MY HEART HURT. Why? Because I'm weary in the waiting. So freaking weary. I'm ready. To be a mom. To share my heart. To share this awesome life with a kiddo that is so deserving of it. I want this so bad.

It was then that I thought it would be a good idea to turn to social media for support. And I was met with a LOT of sympathy, but very little empathy. And while I read through those comments tears filled my eyes, but they were mostly tears of frustration.

Don't get me wrong. I appreciate the thought. I promise I'm not a jerk. I really am appreciative. Seriously, I felt the love and I thank you for it all. But I feel like the whole world could really use a lesson on empathy.

Sympathy says, I MUST FIX THIS FOR MY FRIEND. Empathy says, I have no idea what to say right now, but here I am, standing with you, hurting alongside you, and rooting for you.

Sympathy says, Hang in there, all of this waiting will be worth it. Empathy says, It's ok to be mad. In fact, I'm going to be mad right beside you.

Sympathy says, Everything happens for a reason, it will all work out. Empathy says, Nothing I could say or do could ever make this better and I am so sorry your heart is hurting.

Sympathy says, It's all in God's timing, it will be ok! Empathy says, I'm 1,000 miles away, but I'm crying right next to you. You will never be alone in this.

Sympathy says, I know what you are going through because I've been there. Empathy says, My experiences are not yours, but I hope you know that when you hurt, I hurt. You are not alone.

When you sympathize with someone, its an immediate need to try to fix it. With words, with actions, with whatever you can to make it better. Sympathy is easy. It seems like the right thing to do.

Empathy is hurting along side of that friend. It is putting your thoughts and feelings and advice aside and offering a hug. It's standing next to them and blatantly admitting that you have NO IDEA what to say but that you are right here and you aren't going anywhere.

Do you see what I'm saying? I feel like it's our human need to try to fix as much as we can, but friends, there are some things in life that just can't be fixed.

The next time you are met with a friend who is suffering through infertility, miscarriage, the loss of a loved one, etc try this: I'm hurting right along side of you. I don't know what to say, but I'm standing with you. I'm rooting for you. I love you.

I promise you, this is enough.

(Thank you, to all of the kind words sent my way. I hope you know that I appreciate them all and that this post wasn't meant to be hurtful, but rather informative about the great big difference between sympathy and empathy. I am so grateful for all of your love and prayers sent our way)

By the way, I took a screenshot of the most beautiful response I received today from a sweet friend who literally stood with her arms outstretched to feel my pain, THIS IS EMPATHY. Thank you, Nancy.


Monday, May 16, 2016

Nursery Reveal-Our Foster Story

Guess what?! We're having a baby! Well, not really having one, and it might not be a baby. Wait, what? What I meant to say is, WE ARE OFFICIALLY FOSTER PARENTS! We got our license this week and after our homestudy we will be able to welcome a little one into our home and hearts!

Oh man you guys, we've done a lot of fun projects in the past and I wasn't sure anything could top the kitchen renovation, but this one totally does. We don't have everything we need yet, to be honest its all been a bit overwhelming. We have no idea what babies need and they don't make registries for foster parents. :p But we have been having a complete blast secretly putting together a nursery and I'm so excited to share it here. I am so proud of this space. Like, SO PROUD. I just want to go around showing complete strangers pictures of this room. I may have already done it once, at Cheesecake Factory. But that's another story for another day. :p

 I kind of threw the budget out the window here because how many times do you get to decorate a nursery in your life? Of course, I approved it through the boss man first. He actually loved helping me pick out things for the nursery and it was a time in our life I will never forget!

Before I show you all of the glorious photos, I'm sure you're wondering how the heck we came to such a decision to be foster parents. If you're interested, stick around to read our story, if not, keep on scrolling to see the cutest gender neutral nursery ever! Seriously. I don't mean to toot my own horn, but TOOT TOOT. It's just so dang cute.

I remember it was February of 2015 and Justin and I were at Taco Bell. (Yeah I said it. We were on a TB kick for like a year during home renovations) I remember this because we had just put an offer on our house and we were so nervously waiting to hear back. We sat in a booth and planned all of the things we would do to this house and if we would be bringing a baby into the mix here. I told Justin I wasn't sure if I was ready to bring little Allen babies into the world yet for various reasons, but did open up about fostering. I spent several years in the foster care system as a little girl and I know first hand how corrupt it can be. For some reason the wrong people just seem to slip through the cracks. I've always felt a burden to foster, but I never wanted to pressure Justin into it. I shared my heart with him and I asked for him to ask God to give him that burden too, if he wanted it.

We agreed that financially we would be able to provide a stable home for a kiddo, and man oh man do we have so much love to give. And with those spare bedrooms, it seemed like the perfect time to consider fostering. I always felt that if we had children of our own that burden may get forgotten about. It was just a small conversation and for the next several months we didn't really talk about it as we leapt into our home renovation. We were busy and barely had time for each other, let alone a child!

Months passed and our little house really started turning into a home. As the projects began to slow down life started to get back to normal. We went to church one Sunday and it happened to be a church service geared just for the kiddos. I cannot begin to tell you what happened to me as I watched so many kids fill the altar of our church, tears streaming down their little faces, asking Jesus to live in their hearts. I just stood in God's presence and cried. And then I cried some more. And then on the ride home, a little bit more.

And I remembered the hundreds of thousands of kiddos sitting in the foster care system right now and the fact that we have these spare rooms in our house that aren't even being used. I thought about the warm bed we sleep in every night. The fridge that is always full of groceries. The closet full of clothes.

And I instantly felt so guilty. 

The foster homes I grew up in were not warm, they were not welcoming. My brother and I were even used as "servants" for one family during a respite stop. If we didn't clean, we didn't eat. We ate whatever was left from the real family dinner. We were not allowed to eat with the rest of the family. The only nice home we did end up in, the older boys in the house molested me and swore if I ever told nobody would ever believe me. We went from home to home to home and by the time we made it to our last stop, we felt unloved. We were so young, but so broken. I wouldn't wish this on my worst enemy.

My heart has more love to give. My home has spare bedrooms that needs filled. My dog has more kisses to hand out. :p We want all the babies! Well, at least one at a time. ;) I asked Justin on that ride home from church how he felt and he told me to send in the application. And here we are. We have requested any child from newborn to 18 months. Now we wait for that call. And whenever that may happen we will be ready. Our hearts, our home, our family will be ready.

And every baby deserves a nursery, right? I wanted this room to be simple, but elegant. Gender neutral, but not dull. Bright but cozy. Honestly this is so much more than a pretty nursery to me. I know the time I spent face down in that carpet praying for this child I don't even know yet. So many days rocking in that glider worrying about a baby I have never laid eyes on. This room has seen and heard and felt so many emotions, to me it says "you are home" even if just for a little while. More important to me than the perfect crib or the adorable wallpaper that they probably wont appreciate as much as I do, is that the child who comes into our home might feel peace.

Finally, I'm done blabbing, the nursery: (Detailed sources with links listed below)

Dear Baby,

We don't know each other yet, but we already love you. I've worn holes in the knees of my jeans asking Jesus to protect you as you make this difficult transition.  When we didn't feel brave enough for this job, we asked for courage. When we didn't feel good enough, we asked for confidence. When we fall short, (and I know we will) we'll ask for grace. Whether you are with us for a few days, a few months, or forever-above all else we want you to know love. This may not be easy, but I really believe it will be worth it. For the both of us. When you need us we will be right here, waiting for you.


Your Foster Momma

Crib: Restoration Hardware Baby & Child (We got the conversion kit, too- just in case!)
Gold Ottoman: Homegoods
Teepee: Land of Nod
Dresser/Changing Table: Ikea (I worked my heart out trying to stain it to match the crib perfectly. I'm so excited with how it turned out!
Light Fixture: World Market
Wallpaper: Chasing Paper
Adventure Wooden Sign: House of Belonging 
Gallery Frames: IKEA
Lamp: Target
Drawer Hardware: Homegoods

Monday, February 22, 2016

Pantry Organization

I want you guys to know something: I'm crazy. Oh, you already knew that? Well I mean in a specific way, I'm crazy about clutter. Ask Justin. If something sits around for too long and doesn't find a specific home, it will end up in the trash. This could mean anything. Bills, letters, lamps, whatever. And then sometimes I'll make a donation run and four months will go by and I'm all, I really wish I wouldn't have donated that item because I really need it right now...

I'm not saying my home is Martha Stewart perfect, but as for the clutter the motto in our house is, if it doesn't have a home, it's going in the trash/donation pile. Justin knows when I pile things up on the counter and stick a sticky note with his name on it I mean business. Some folks are ok with stuff stacked on top of the fridge or wherever, but not this chick.

With that being said, my pantry was trying to kill me recently. This picture I'm about to show you are what nightmares are made of.


I mean I really can't deal with this. Not even a little. 

When we moved into our house we didn't have a pantry at all. (New England houses are weird like that) Before I had too much time to cry and complain and throw a BF, as one does, it was Justin to the rescue. He took advantage of the space under the stairs and built some shelves for me. That man rocks my world! :p I would never have found enough room for everything in our kitchen cabinets so this was amazing to me. Now that I cook almost every day, it started getting obnoxious to find certain spices and ingredients. I vowed after the first of the year to organize this space so I could find everything easier and so everything had a home. Mission accomplished! I love this pantry now. If you've been wanting to organize something but have yet to tackle it: JUST DO IT! I hope you read that in your best Shia LaBeouf voice. ;) (If you don't know what I'm talking about, do yourself a favor and google it. You can thank me later)

Here are the afters:

 Nothing too fancy, but it totally works for us. I originally planned to use a fun wallpaper behind the shelves but I was not very frugal with this project, so I called it quits. I think I got to the point of crazy/no return, I didn't care how much money I spent, I just wanted an organized space. I've seen some bloggers wrap cardboard boxes with fun paper and call it a day, but I wasn't feeling it. I wanted a space that I really loved and just decided to go for it. Although I will say this, the organization products were all found at homegoods and they were a heck of a lot cheaper than buying from Target, so I did save a little from there. You can usually count on me to be cheap frugal with projects but in this situation I would have really had to compromise quality (and pretty looks!). This might sound like the worst advice ever, but sometimes you just have to go for it. Spend the extra money and get what you love instead of spending a little and hating it down the road. I've learned over and over in the last year that you really do get what you pay for.

The whole project cost around $250
Paint-Already had
Crates and baskets-Homegoods/Marshalls/TjMaxx
Organization canisters/popup containers-Homegoods/Marshalls/TjMaxx
Labels for crates and baskets-Target dollar spot
Spice holder-Homegoods/Marshalls/TjMaxx
Glass spice (currently on sale!)
(Target has some glass spice jars in the dollar spot currently for $3, you can't beat that!)

This was a labor of love and going in to find what I need to cook with is a breeze. I could barely move after sitting on the ground for two hours with a funnel switching out the spices. My body keeps trying to remind me that I'm not 19 anymore but I'm ignoring it:p

Just for fun here's another before and after before I have to dash off to start dinner:

I'm going to start inviting neighbors in just so I can show off my pantry. Oh yeah, the kitchen is pretty, but have you seen my pantry? Yeah the builtins are ok, but look at this pantry! :p

I hope you all have a great week! Spring is coming!!! Xoxo

Monday, February 15, 2016

How to Become an Author-Kind Of

So Valentine's Day has come and gone and I want to share an actual conversation Justin and I had this year about it:

Last week sometime I mentioned to Justin that I had gotten his gift and I couldn't wait to give it to him. He then said that flowers and candy were a must but he never knew what to get for a gift on Valentines Day. Here's how the conversation went:

J: What am I supposed to get you for Valentine's Day?
B: Nothing really. It's not Christmas. Just something small and thoughtful. No big deal. 
J: Small and thoughtful.....

So do you guys want to know what he got me?

I nearly died. I laughed and told him I would have 100% been fine with flowers and chocolates but man he totally went the extra mile. He knew I ordered a sample of the Kate Spade perfume and loved it so much, he snuck out to get it for me. I was so surprised. It was so sweet. Small (literally, it was a tiny bag) and thoughtful. Oh and funny side note- one year Justin bought me these fancy chocolates and I thanked him but told him I only liked the cheap chocolates (I literally said that) so he could save his money. LOL My mom used to buy us these tiny heart shaped boxes and have them waiting for us at our place at the table every Valentine's Day and for some reason I just love them. They are about the cheapest chocolates out there, filled with fake strawberry and orange cream, but my favorite. Ever since Justin makes sure to get me only Elmer's Chocolate for Valentines Day. :p

For Justin's gift I had a book made from love books and it turned out perfect.

Now who wants to read a story together? Don't worry, it's not mushy gushy. You'll survive. I'll share some of my favorite pages:

 There are a lot more pages, but I didn't want this post to get unbearably long. And besides that, I want Justin to have some all to himself. I feel like I usually overshare on this blog and on social media, and although he never complains the man deserves his privacy. :p

One funny thing about the last page-my favorite inside joke I'll let you guys in on. Justin's middle name is Nathaniel, but when he switched his license over to MA they printed it Nathanie. Now I call him that all the time. The best part is that the name is making its way around and all of his bills are being sent to him as Justin Nathanie Allen. I CANT HANDLE HOW FUNNY IT IS!!!!

I really love this book. It was a blast to make. You can add as many pages as you want and print it as a hard or soft cover book. It would make the best gift for even the toughest to buy for. I'm definitely keeping it bookmarked!

Our Valentine's Day was really special. It started off with a great worship service which reminded me of one of Justin's favorite best qualities, the fact that he is a man of God. We came home and exchanged gifts, napped, and went to dinner. We talked and laughed and I thought about how lucky I was to be married to my best friend.

I hope your Valentine's Day was just as special!


To order your own book, click this link: click here!