But I only have X!

This post has been a long time in the making. Internet, if you only knew how many blog posts I compose in my head. It’s about half as many texts as I compose in my head (I am always thinking I’ve responded to texts, and then realizing at 2 am when I wake up to pee that I, indeed, haven’t actually responded). Well, it’s the same with blog posts. I think about them forever, but I feel that I can’t execute them perfectly because I’m, as per the usual, subsisting on protein powder, and iced coffee, and a few quiet moments when the toddlers were playing with Magnatiles and not fighting, and back rubs from my husband which hurt-so-good. It doesn’t leave a lot left in the tanks. So, I compose and compose in my head, dream of the technology that translates my thoughts into typed words, and then one day I find myself with a wide open swath of time, and napping seems like it won’t work (I’m looking at you middle seat on this Delta flight) and so I open my computer and try to get it down and out to you.

Can you relate?

Lately,  I have found myself fielding a lot of requests from friends that start with “I am thawing chicken breasts, what can I make for dinner? And, indeed, I even find myself facing that protein quandry on a weekly basis. While I’m sure it’s not an original idea, I decided to make a post about what you have in the freezer and how much time you have that day — and try to combine it with a list of pantry items. If you get these pantry items, you can, in theory, come to this post and type your ingredient into my matrix (bahaha, I can’t make matrices) and it will spit out your dinner idea. Shall we play?

Most dinner quandaries start with either:

  • I won’t have any time when we get home tonight to make dinner OR
  • I just got home and I need to make dinner
  • I need to make something from what we have in the fridge/pantry- no time or not enough patience in the world to schlep these children into the store

…..and while I realize there are a variety of Trader Joe’s entrees and pizza delivery places that can probably solve this problem for you, I tend to be a little old school, so here’s my round up of some of my very favorite quick recipes that can either be thrown in the crock pot/Instant Pot in the morning, or can be made quickly in the evening. If you aren’t banking proteins yet in your freezer like it’s about to be Chernobyl, I encourage you to get rid of some frozen waffles, and purchase some chicken thighs and pork tenderloin. Costco can help you. So can Aldi (weekly specials on chicken for three weeks running). Last, this is not the most vegetarian friendly post, so if you’re veg, you probably want to find another post to help you with the weeknight feeding your fam issues.

First, the pantry round up. In order to be able to execute on these recipes, stock your pantry with:

  • 2 cans of diced tomatoes with chiles (such as rotel)
  • 2 large cans of crushed tomatoes (these are large usually 28 oz)
  • 2 cans of black beans
  • 2 cans of chickpeas
  • 2 cans of tomato paste
  • 2 cans of chipotles in adobo
  • 2 cans of enchilada sauce
  • 1 jr of Better than Bouillon (chicken flavor)
  • 2 cans of pumpkin (like Libby’s)
  • 2 cans of white beans
  • 2 cans of canned green chiles
  • 1 can of corn
  • 2 jars of marinara sauce
  • 2 small jars of sliced black olives and whole kalamatas or your preferred olives
  • 2 cans of refried beans
  • Shelf stable gnocchi
  • Bagged green lentils (love the trader joes ones)
  • 90 second rice packets (such as Seeds of Change) in your desired flavor
  • Orzo pasta
  • Boxed Jiffy Cornbread mix

Next up, your freezer should be stocked with:

  • Chicken thighs (we love the perforated packs from Costco)
  • Chicken breasts (same)
  • 1 lb packages of ground beef and ground turkey (not breast)
  • Frozen deveined and peeled shrimp
  • Shredded cheddar and mozzarella cheese (did you know you can freeze cheese?)
  • Feta cheese
  • Corn tortillas
  • Frozen broccoli
  • Assorted frozen veggies*

And last, it really helps to keep some fresh produce* on hand, but if you are not doing so well in that department, you can always use and bulk up on more frozen. So, if you typically don’t keep carrots, celery, onion, tri-colored peppers, and garlic on hand (those are usually in my drawer), you can always get the frozen bags and stock them. Don’t hesitate to take a handful out of a frozen bag of produce, and stick the rest back in with a rubber band to use for another recipe. We do this a lot with corn and peas.


If you have 15-20 minutes in the morning, or at some point during the day, and you own an Instant Pot or crock pot:

  • Combine chicken thighs + lentils + better than bouillon + canned tomatoes (instead of fresh) + whichever aromatics you have on this list into Gina’s Chicken Lentil Soup. Double the chicken, and don’t fret the onion, garlic. I have omitted the onion, added chopped red peppers and carrots (about a cup of each) and have never been able to keep my family from eating every last drop of this amazing soup (which is so much more than the sum of its parts) and turns out more like a stew when you double the chicken.
  • Combine ground beef + chickpeas + black beans + canned tomatoes + canned tomato sauce + tomato paste + whatever aromatics you have on hand (peppers, garlic, onions) into my favorite and most requested chili of all time – Gina’s Two Bean Beef Chili – top with crushed tortilla chips, serve over seeds of change rice, sprinkle with shredded cheese, or bake some of your jiffy cornbread doctored with green chiles and frozen corn
  • Combine frozen ground turkey + canned pumpkin + canned green chiles + canned white beans into Gina’s Turkey Pumpkin Chili
  • Combine frozen ground beef + tomato sauce + chopped celery/onion/carrot + milk (optional IMO), wine (optional again IMO), and shelf stable gnocchi to make one of the most comforting and crowd pleasing dishes evverrrrrrr – Quickest Gnocchi Bolognese – recipe isn’t online yet, but you can half this recipe and then add the shelf stable gnocchi and cook the whole thing for 6 minutes.

If, you have 30 minutes or less to get dinner on the table:

  • Combine frozen shrimp (run them under water), frozen broccoli florets, fresh garlic and orzo in this quick shrimp scampi with broccoli pasta that comes together soo quickly using her genius method of cooking the broccoli with the orzo.
  • An all-time favorite one pot recipe for Chicken Orzo Tomatoes and Olives that uses frozen chicken thighs + orzo + canned tomatoes and olives + fresh spinach (if you have it) and feta cheese or another salty cheese if you have it

If you have time to prep protein (specifically shredded chicken) on Sunday or Monday, even more options open up to you for quick dinners. I make a batch of this chicken weekly. I use it throughout the week in salads for our lunches, and I use it when I need a quick dinner for us or the kids. It’s such a help to have this on hand and I find its easier to use than rotisserie chicken because its already “picked” and the quantity is much more than a rotisserie chicken. I double this recipe and make sure to save it with the liquid (so moist!). Sometimes, I freeze half if I have a line-up of meals that I feel good about. My favorite uses for this chicken are:

  • Enchilada Skillet: combining this chicken + canned black beans + canned enchilada sauce + sour cream (optional IMO) and frozen corn tortillas
  • Tostadas or tacos: combine this chicken + a can of refried beans + cheese and other fresh toppings – let your kids make their own burritos, tacos, or tostadas
  • Lettuce wraps: combine this chicken + fresh butter lettuce + your favorite flavor combos – you could use buffalo sauce/ranch dressing, peanut sauce and chopped peanuts or peppers, or even enchilada sauce or salsa and beans and cheese
  • Quick chicken soup – combine better than bouillon + shredded cooked chicken + frozen veggies (peas, carrots, corn) + orzo
  • Chicken Tamale Pie combine cooked chicken, cornbread mix, canned corn and canned enchilada sauce
  • Stuffed peppers: combine chicken with the seeds of change rice in a 1 to 1 ratio, add cheese, seasoning and stuff in bell peppers, bake for 15-20 in a 350 degree oven with a tablespoon of water in the bottom of the pan

If you have an hour to prep dinner but no time to go to the store:

  • Combine thawed chicken breasts + enchilada sauce + any fresh veggies you have and frozen cheese to make this favorite in our house – Enchilada Chicken Roll Ups – serve with seeds of change rice or salad if you have some that’s fresh
  • OR do her pizza roll ups using canned olives + tomato sauce + frozen mozzarella and any other items you have on hand (I keep turkey pepperoni on hand because it lasts forever)

And, that’s a wrap for now. I’m going to come back and add to this post when I can and if you have ideas, please ping them to me in the comments!

Happy weeknight cooking!

Instant Pot Sous Vide Egg Bites

Starbucks knows my heart. Right around when I was pretty much giving up breakfast carbs for life (which send me on a roller coaster all day filled with crashes, spikes and cravings), it came out with its Sous Vide Egg Bites. The anti-sandwich, they are the epitome of my perfect breakfast food.

Take all my money, Starbucks. Just take it. Over the last 18 months, I have fallen so deeply in love with these egg bites, that I would covet Starbucks gift cards and even forego coffee to afford them. The protein count, pop of flavor, the cute little carrying case. I love it all.

I needed to find a way to recreate these and started researching it over a year ago. It seems the secret/not-so-secret ingredient is cottage cheese. That gives them the protein boost and the creamy texture. The add-ins are infinitely adaptable. The method is indisputable, sous vide in the Instant Pot.

Through some trial and error and shamelessly stealing other people’s recipes, I have developed my own easy recipe for these that is going to carry me through this Fall until I burn out on them.

Essential equipment:

  • Vitamix – this thing is more than a blender people – you can try these without one, but I firmly believe that the Vitamix whips a lot of air into the eggs which ends up being the key to the light and fluffy texture
  • Instant Pot – I mean, can we even be internet friends if you don’t have one? I am the Instant Pot’s original hype girl.
  • Silicone Mold – this little flower-looking mold makes these mimic the texture of the Starbucks bites and fits perfectly into your Instant Pot



Add into your Vitamix: 8 eggs, 1 cup of full fat cottage cheese, and 1/2 cup of shredded cheese of your choice. I think you could omit the shredded cheese. Blend, gently turning it up to 10 and then to high, for 2-3 minutes, incorporating all of that good air.

Mix-ins: I have found that about 2 cups of raw spinach, 1/2 cup raw chopped peppers, and about 1 cup of chopped up turkey sausage or bacon are my favorites. I love that I don’t have to cook the mix-ins in advance.

Add them into the Vitamix and “pulse” the Vitamix- incorporating the mix-ins and pulverizing the spinach a bit.

Put two cups of water in your IP, and lower your trivet down into it (the one that came with it). Fill your mold. Seal the top with foil and put on Steam for 10 minutes.

You will need to do two batches- this made 14. I found it worked best to pop them out when they were warm vs. leaving them in the mold and putting the lid on.

I am very happy with these, my kids love them, too, and it makes enough to make it worth it for quick breakfasts.


Bullet Journaling 101


Raise your hand if you have some combination of a planner, a phone with notes x10, a digital calendar, a grocery list app, a meal planning notepad, a family calendar on the wall, and post-its in various spots around your house?

That was me a year ago. Everything was silo’d and organized, but there was no central spot for it. I was drawn to my iphone resources (calendar, notes) because my phone is always with me, but also feeling a draw to be on my screen less (especially around my kids), and feeling like all the tools I was using were disparate. I never felt like I had what I needed when I needed it. I would be reading a magazine, and it would have a meal plan idea, a new book I want to read, and a Netflix line up for Fall — and I wanted to record all of that information in addition to the great quote I heard on NPR while driving.

It was around then that I learned about Bullet Journaling through an Atomic Moms podcast interview with Ryder Carroll. The minimalist in me loved the idea of using any blank journal — who doesn’t have a drawer of them? And the wanting-to-be-more-mindful mama in me loved the mindfulness aspect of Bullet Journaling.

I have wanted to write about this for a long time, but it took me a long time to find my own groove, and I want to encourage you to find your own groove if you feel a draw toward this type of planning.

Reasons why I have grown to love BuJo:

  • I can curl up with my journal and my pen anywhere, anytime, and everything I need is at my fingertips; this includes when I am with my kids at the park or the pool, where I don’t want to be on my phone, but I do have a few minutes (or planning thoughts that need to be recorded)
  • It allows me to be creative with pens and lettering, which is something I feel drawn toward but in a more private sense (don’t love my lettering enough to do it as a side-hustle)
  • I no longer have decision fatigue- when I want to record a gift idea, a future event date, a meal plan idea, I know exactly where to go; I make a new page, index it and move on
  • I have a record of my life – I can look back at how my weeks looked, at my notes from a particularly great speaker I attended, at which meals I have made and loved in October, and at my summer planner
  • I have recognized the mindfulness aspect of carrying forward tasks, re-writing them, re-committing to them
  • I have a perfect view of my week every week that serves me (I got here via trial and error)
  • I didn’t need to spend any money or do anything extra to do this habit so it fits in line with my minimalism journey

The basics of bullet journaling are:

  • Buy or find a blank notebook and a pen you really like
  • Start out with an index – number your pages as such, add to your index anytime (e.g. Christmas Lists, Future Blog Post ideas, shows to watch on Netflix)
  • Figure out your best page layout – I did this through trial and error – I’ll show you where I started below and where I have ended up
  • Don’t get too bogged down in the beautiful symbols and watercolors of others who do #bujo – I let that make me feel bad for a while, but now I’m back just reveling in the simplicity and productivity of this habit
  • Change it up when it doesn’t work for you (for example, I used to record when I was going to work out in every day; I later realized, my workout is daily, and the time changes, and there is no point in writing it on my schedule)
  • Resist the urge to use other tools, but instead think about how you can use your BuJo to fit that same need
  • Check out resources below for help

My Bullet Journal


The format that I have found that works for me is a little different than what is initially recommended by Ryder. When I started, I was making a section for each day as the week went along – this is what Ryder suggests so you don’t take up too much space in the Journal – so the idea is that some days are short, and some days are long (with notes) so you shouldn’t draw it all out in advance. This worked for me for a bit, but I realized that I usually plan my whole week out on Sunday or Monday so I needed to see a full vision of the week to make it fit together – and I usually have enough space for notes since my life is not full of a lot of meetings (at this point).  In my original style, I used Ryder’s suggested bullets (circles for appointments, bullets for tasks and arrows for things you are carrying forward, an X to x through a completed task, and strike-through if it wasn’t being carried forward. My current style uses circles for appointments but allocates tasks broadly thoroughout the week. If you are using your BuJo for work and you have more notes, I could see why that style could work for you. We are all such unique creatures!

Original Style:



Current Style:

Every week I use an index card to draw these lines:


Then I fill in the dates and section headers:


In addition to drawing out the week in advance using a ruler, I also learned that I needed a spot for my “dinner plan” and a spot for overall to-dos. I am not at the point where I can assign my weekly to-dos to a certain day of the week, so when I did that, I was having to move my bullets forward a lot, vs. just having an overall vision of what I want to accomplish during the week which I look at throughout the week.


Last, I found that I like to look ahead and know what is coming down the pike. I added a section for upcoming that helps me look ahead without having to flip the page. And, because I had room, I added a spot for my shoppping list which I later assign to each store on my OurGroceries App.

Overall, 9 months into this habit, and I continue to learn about myself, my habits, intentions and planning style. If you have been thinking about doing this, I would encourage you to use a notebook you have hanging around and just get started! It is freeing to have everything in one place and has streamlined life planning, meal planning and weekly planning.

Do you BuJo? Let me know in the comments what layout works for you!


Toddler Snacks: Veggie Plate


Well that was a fun little break, wasn’t it? Y’all, I got somehow locked out of my blog and every time I went to bring it back to life it and write something, I became so technically bogged down that I just went to the freezer and ate a greek yogurt ice cream bar instead. Seriously people- have you tried these? They are 100 calories and feel so rich and indulgent, but aren’t. Get thee to your local market. I’ve tried all the brands. Even Aldi makes a mean mint chocolate chip.

In the meantime, I’ve written about a hundred little posts to you in my head, but none of them made it to you, so I have some catching up to do.

Hey, do your kids like to snack? Um, does wine come in boxes? Yes. and Yes. These are life truths.

My kids love to snack, but I’m one of those mean moms who doesn’t let them eat between meals. I want them ravenous at dinnertime and coming to the table ready to eat anything and everything I put in front of them. It works, and I harness this control and use it for good. Mwah-ha-ha.

Still, there are times kids are going to want snacks, and there are times when I crave a little something, too, while cooking, or anxiously waiting to hear the garage door open (is there a mom on this earth who doesn’t feel her shoulders relax when she hears that sound?) A friend shared this idea with me a long time ago, and I held onto it. I love it for two reasons: 1) It gives me a reason to say ‘yes’ to my kids and I’m trying to be more of a yes person in that improv-y kind of way, not in a permissive doormat way. So this allows me to say yes, you can have a snack! and 2) it gives me a glorious excuse to expose my kiddos to more of a fun variety of vegetables. If they eat them, GREAT. If they nibble or try something new, GREAT. If they just see something they haven’t seen before, that’s still a small win in my book. And whatever is leftover, I saute up in a big stir fry at the end of the week, or add to a weekend frittata. Who doesn’t love a frittata?!

Veggie Snack Tray How-To

  1. Shop for and buy novel, interesting vegetables – I love peppers of varying colors, carrots of varying colors, cucumbers, celery, corn, and zucchini. You could also try jicama, sugar snap peas, radishes, peas, lettuces, sweet potatoes, etc.
  2. Cut up the veggies in fun ways – I cut corn into little wagon wheels, I make zucchini into zoodles, and I cut cukes into all kinds of shapes. I love to present the veggies in a fun way. Be creative!
  3. Add a dip – I whip up a quick dip from greek yogurt – adding avocado, garlic salt and other items I have on hand. I mix it up. This is a fun recipe.
  4. Add to it throughout the week – replenish, add new things, add fruit if that’s your thing.  Keep it stashed in a large tupperware or ziplock when it’s not being served. I added homemade gummies to this tray- made with carrot juice and pomegranate juice- I thought they were repugnant but my kids seemed to love them.


I hope this idea works for you in some way  – take the small wins – they’re still wins!

I’m glad to be back, readers. Thanks for being understanding during my involuntary sabbatical. xo Sarah

Quiet Time (a work in progress)

Well, it’s been a minute hasn’t it. My kid turned four, we sent some thank you notes, and then we kind of went underground like the daffodil bulbs and we’re just now emerging. I’ve been wanting to write this post for a long time, but I wanted it to have a perfect bow on it.

Earlier this week I was sitting at my MOPS meeting and listening to the speaker of the day and I was introduced to the concept of the “Nobow” — it’s a gift, a story, or a life with “no bow” on it. There is no perfect ending to this story, but I wanted to share with you where our family is at with naps, and a few of the things we’ve found that work.

Right now, you might be pinned under a napping baby, or maybe you’re doing a big cook up in your kitchen and rocking out to Atomic Moms while your toddler is sacked out. Perhaps you have a stroller napper, or a swing napper, or a napper who only goes to sleep to the tunes of Motown and a heavy sway.  For a long time, you build your little world around naps. Everything revolves around naps, and in fact, friendships can make or break due to nap match-ups.

You can tell someone is not a parent if they just don’t understand the nap schedule. They will innocently send out an invite for a party at 2 pm when 97.2% of the under 4 population is napping. It’s amazing, they see days in long, stretching swaths. You see them in chunks. Before nap. After nap. Bam.

Some of you have already experienced the death. Some of you wear your black armbands like badges of courage. You’ve experienced true loss: the loss of the nap, but the advent of earlier bedtime, and the time in your evening that opens up to you like open road in Summer.

For those of you who are still approaching this stage, and want to make sure you’re ready, this post is for you.. Here are my totally Nobow unofficial quiet time tips.

  1. Be ready: Like a mic drop, it comes when you least expect it. You probably have a sense that it’s coming, but if your kid is still napping as they approach four, you better get ready quick. Have your plan. Map out what hours you are going to try to achieve “quiet time”, what spaces you are going to use in your house, and what your overall rules will be. Get your equipment in order.
  2. Equipment: Don’t go into battle without supplies. For us, the transition to quiet time has included three main items – an OK to wake clock – we have the Hatch rest, that I can program daily to turn green when quiet time is over, a CD player which can play quiet time CDs, and a door monkey for securing the door.
  3. Game plan:  Before Marilyn dropped her nap, I had thought about what I wanted quiet time to look like. I talked to moms about what works (shout out to Molly and her brilliant CD player idea with CDs from the library (we love the Magical Tree House series), and I had decided against the use of screen time. Screen time is for mama showers and mama meetings, but quiet time for us was going to be about quiet play, puzzles, creativity, and stories. Having a plan made me feel more prepared, and I was able to shop consignment for puzzles and some quiet time activities. Every kid is different but try to identify what your kid likes to do independently. I also chose things that she normally can’t play with if George is around (because he will destroy).
  4. Space plan: I had a hard time determining if Marilyn should be allowed to be anywhere in the house, or confined to her room. In the end, I decided that I needed some physical separation from her during quiet time, and that could only be achieved with a door. She can come out to use the potty, of course, and because #toddlers, she does pop out to ask for help or questions, but we go over the rules before quiet time and she understands that quiet time is for mama and her. I put George down to nap in a different room so that Marilyn can have full access to the toys in her room. When I am working my office, we do the reverse, and I’m behind the door and I let her have the run of the house. It helps that we have cameras downstairs so I can check in on her occasionally.
  5. Make it work: In the immortal words of Tim Gunn, make it work for you. Perhaps you want to use or approach quiet time differently. I struggled the most with accepting quiet time and not darkening the room , giving her the lovey, and hoping she would nap. Our quiet time is about 2 hours a day, and so far it’s working pretty well for us.

If you have any other tried and true strategies unique to your family for quiet time or this challenging transition, I would love to hear them. As your kid drops his nap, just remember, you may now get those few extra hours you were searching for at night, and those, I can say are pretty priceless.

Thanks for being patient with my pregant pause! More soon. xo




Kids’ Thank You Notes

For as long as I can remember, I have had an encyclopedic version of Emily Post’s Etiquette on my book shelf. It, along with Strunk & White, and my falling apart copy of The World According to Garp, are some of my mainstays. The version I have of Post allows you to tab quickly through sections devoted to invitations, entertaining, condolences, and weddings.

So, it should come as no surprise to you dear readers that I’m a real devotee of the Thank You note. Friends know me as the person who will write a thank you note for a thank you note. “Now you really shouldn’t have, but I’m so glad you did!” lives on hard in the South, as does the simple act of an acknowledgement.


How you will know that you and I have really made it as friends, is when we actually agree to stop sending each other Thank you notes. I reached that little moment with my friend Kaki in Alabama before we moved- when we had thank you’d each other’s thank yous about eleven times, and so we agreed we would put a thank you truce on things, save some trees. But we both still  know that in our minds’ eyes- thank yous are still flying.

Still, I am a woman of reason, and a woman of not infinite time and means (see: childcare, 9 scant hours per week). I recognize, and appreciate, the texted photo that says “we love this gift- we’re using it!” and I adore the Paperless Post thank you note because it tells me that you were able to write them and cross them off your list while watching the Bachelor. I have no judgement for the way and style in which you choose to acknowledge a gift or a kindness, I just ask so kindly that you do it eventually, and that you teach your children well.


All that being said, it is has been tough for me to accept the fact that I am now responsible for the gratitude-giving for 3 out of the 4, or let’s be honest, 4 out of the 4 members of my family (not actually completely true: my husband has the most delicious stationary and he writes a mean thank you note). I have struggled for years with how to appropriately give thanks and gratitude on behalf of my children and myself.

Well, this year, I came up with a solution and I really wanted to share it with you in the hopes it makes you as happy as it makes me. In my constant pursuit of the hobbies-that-don’t-require-scrolling, I have taken up hand lettering and watercolor. For a few dollars at Michael’s, I bought a watercolor paper book and a set of paints. I enjoy listening to my 1970s folk americana at night before Zac gets home (give me all the Joni Mitchell) and watercoloring, and Marilyn has taken to it, too, sharing a water cup with me and asking me to draw her favorite things.


Last month, she asked me to draw a unicorn, and then she painted it, and an idea was born. I would hand letter Thank You, and sign it from her, and commission some thank you notes with her original artwork. This was the first part of the aha moment. The second part came when I had done my research and selected Vistaprint as my vendor. They were simply the easiest by far, and most affordable, and allowed me the most options to customize my card type. I looked into others like Costco, Shutterfly, etc, but they didn’t fit the bill. Once I had selected Vistaprint, I realized I could also fill in the text. So, I sat down with Marilyn and asked her what she wanted to thank her adoring fans for- and she came forth with this little adorable novella of sorts that started out with, “turning four was the best day of my life.” I cleaned it up a bit, and clicked order.


Readers, dear readers, these customized little works of art come time capsules were 30 cards for $18.98 ($6.99 of which was shipping and handling) including the envelopes, and they arrived at my doorstep 5 days later. The next part of the fun of a four year old was that she spent an entire “Quiet Time” (more coming on that later) writing her letter “M” on each one, and then stuffing the envelopes, sealing them, and adding the stamp.

The project took us a few days to finish, but I’m really proud of the results. So far, everyone loves them, and I think her spirit really shines through. She is really proud of having contributed to the entire project, and I feel like it was actually one of those projects that I had more of an Adam Smith hand in, instead of a heavy “I did your Science Fair Project” kind of hand in.

I hope she never loses her sense of gratitude. And I hope you enjoy this little mom hack!


The Minimalist Birthday Party

When you first have a baby, you’re like omgggg I get to celebrate another human’s birthday. Along the way, you celebrate every single week, and month. They make stickers that you just slap on your kid to help with this task. It’s loads of fun. Then, when the first birthday of your firstborn arrives, it feels like a national holiday! You take the day off, you plan for months, there are photo shoots involved, Etsy printables, themes off the chain.

Then you have more kids, and you sleep a little less, and sticker a little less, and track a little less (what day is it?) and some seasons it starts to feel like every other month is someone else’s birthday. And it can get, well, fatiguing and let’s be honest, bank-breaking.  And man, not to mention the emotional labor, how about Birthday Party labor, mamas? Show me a man who has done anything to make his kid’s birthday magical and I’ll cook him dinner. (I’m sure they exist, but not in my house).

I love birthdays, I truly do. I am that mom who fills her kids room with balloons and makes ombre pancakes. But in light of life, and the fact that our birthdays will all keep trekking on for the 50 or so years, if we’re lucky, I needed a more sustainable, manageable solution that still feels magical.

Enter: the magical, minimal, at-home birthday party. Mamas, I’m here to take some stuff of your plate. There will be years when your kids don’t want a birthday party, don’t mention it,  and don’t care. This at home stash of stuff will fly for your husband, your mother-in-law and your 3 year old. You make it special and you make it yours, and you never have to spend money again. I have chosen a primary color scheme because it’s gender neutral, age neutral and works for everything and maximizes the use of these items. I keep everything in a birthday tub, so it’s easy to unpack the bday celebration and pack it righttttt backkkkk up.

The staples:

A birthday placemat: this is the one we have and we love it and it matches the color scheme.


A hand-painted birthday plate (or buy one!): I did a whole post on this over here, but this has been a staple in our house and I love that it’s handmade. If you aren’t feeling it, you can buy one. Try to make it gender neutral.



Birthday hats: the key here is that you buy them once, collect them, and reuse them. These hats have been worn 147 times. I’m only slightly exaggerating. I use them all the time for little kid things and adult things, I schlep them to restaurants, and parks, but you better believe I collect them back and re-use them. Yes, you can buy anything these days for $5, but should you?


Banner: this banner has also been used so many times. I recycle it and spell whatever I need. It holds up well, and comes with waxed string to insert and I can attest to the fact that it will hold up for you and spell everything you need to spell from Byeeeeeee, Bandi (Like I did for my Sister-in-law’s going away party) to Happy Fortieth (for my husband) and Lovefest (for Valentines Day).


Cake bunting and candles: I collect candles that I find at the Dollar Store, Target, and occasionally at other birthday parties when people are just going to toss them. I have a little ziplock I keep of candle selections and some toppers for cakes like this one from Target. This one is similar and I love it. Resist the urge to over personalize this stuff- stay primary colors/golds! You can pick up a cake from the grocery store and personalize it quite easily.

Number balloons: this is not an item that I would normally buy, but I had the giant 4 leftover from when my husband turned 40. I am in support of getting these because they can be reused and repaired together to form different numbers. Just be sure to carefully deflate them so you can re-inflate them for the next birthday. So, now I have a 4 which I will use again in a few years for the next kiddo.

Other than the decor, the rest of the at home birthday party should fit your style – we always make our kids’ favorite meal or breakfast and play the Happy Birthday mix on Spotify.

I hope that this helps you build up your at-home birthday closet and keeps decision-fatigue low for you, mama, as you encounter many more happy birthdays with your family. What are your tried and true minimalist at-home birthday closet items?  xo




These Clothes Aren’t My Friends Anymore

A trail of milk runs from her heart-shaped mouth, over her cheek and down the folds of her neck. She still has the pinkish tint, curled up feet and hands of a newborn. Her half-dressed mama and I are sunk deep into the couch, coffees in hand, chatting easily, the way you can with a good friend who comes from the same place of the world that you do. The Jehovah’s Witnesses were knocking on the door, but we ignore them;  we’ve found our little bit of heaven inside.

“And, I need to start losing weight.”

We are passing a newborn baby back and forth; one who hasn’t been in the world long enough to see a new month on the calendar, and her words hang between us. “No, I really do. And really soon.”

Oh, mama. I don’t have the words to tell her that she will get there eventually, but not today, sweet girl, and not fast, and it will be the hardest thing you’ve ever done aside from pushing that baby out. We pick up and carry the weight with such an effortless sense of purpose; shedding it is a whole different story.


It sucks and takes forever to feel like yourself physically, but at least you will know that this is totally normal.” I’ve received an email from a friend of a friend after having a sobbing breakdown during our monthly phone date. The email comes to try to rescue me from my self-hatred, and talk me back down from thoughts I’ve been having: maybe I’ll just starve myself; maybe I’ll only eat foods that start with the letter K; maybe I’ll start pumping more to burn more calories; maybe I’ll never be in a photograph again.  The breakdown comes on the heels of an incident in my closet. I am trying to find a green shirt to wear for St. Patrick’s Day. My daughter is 5 weeks old, and I end up stealing a Guinness t-shirt from my husband and trying to pawn it off as a tunic over white jeans. He comes into the closet and gives me a look that lets me know that my borrowed-giant-tee-come-tunic isn’t working, and I burst into fitful, hysterical tears because nothing, green-or-not, is working on my new body.

The email from the friend-of-a-friend convinces me that I should go shopping, ignore the sizes, and buy a few things that I feel great in so that I can leave the house. About a week later, I buy a “capsule” wardrobe at the Loft. This later becomes a hip new term for dressing yourself for a season in only 10-25 pieces of clothing. I live on my 10 items of clothing for an entire summer because my old clothes don’t just not-fit, they look like they belong to a different species.

During that summer, I live in my post-partum summer capsule wardrobe while we cross the country with our new baby. This is a season of life that I will later remember as the one where my thighs rubbed together nonstop under the punishing heat of Summer. At night, lying under scratchy bedspreads in hotels, I dream of burning the wardrobe when we get to our final destination. When we arrive in California, I’m reunited with our belongings after 3 months of travel. Standing in my new walk-in closet, hanging up my items of clothing on their hangers, I start to cry. There is no joy in being reunited with this wall of used-to-be. These clothes aren’t my friends anymore.


It’s 5:40 am. For two years, four months, and one week, I have been rising on my own terms to do the hard work of shedding. Shedding the pounds. Shedding the self-loathing. It’s unglamorous and painful. Sometimes, as I tiptoe through the house in the early hours, I can hear them stirring. My gift from the universe is when I come home and the house is still quiet. I should shower, make lunches, fold laundry, but instead, I pour myself a cup of hot coffee and drink it in peace, savoring the feeling of reclamation. Today my coffee cup says #iwokeuplikethis; no, I didn’t. This awakening was slow and steady and uncomfortable, and sometimes it moved so slowly, it was practically moving backwards, but move, it did.

I reclaimed my body, which had been heavily on loan to the two tiny humans, just sixteen months part, for the better part of my marriage. By reclaiming my body, I don’t mean that I woke up one day and realized that I had the body of my dreams. By reclaiming, I mean that I took back ownership and control, and in small ways, I saw change.


Last Saturday, I was on the circle of our street with the kids at dusk trying to kill time until dinner. We had tied a silver balloon from a birthday party to the back of my daughter’s tricycle. She flew around the circle faster and faster until it became untied – slipping away. We stood watching it fly away. First, it was close, and then very quickly it was high in the sky. We stood for what seemed like forever watching it get smaller and smaller in the sky. Every time we thought it was gone, we would squint and realize it was still there, even higher in the sky. Eventually, we stopped squinting.

That was how it went with my self-loathing. Even while my body changed, and I made new friends with mom jeans, fit and flare dresses and black v-necks, I could still hear my negative thoughts in my head. Over time, I would think they were totally gone, but I would realize that if I still squinted they were there, floating over my head, getting further and further away, but still out there.


“Let’s go on a walk, when you’re ready.” My urge is to hug her and say “you don’t need to worry about that for a long time, just worry about loving that sweet little baby.” But I see her. And I was her. And you’ve been her, or you’ve known her. Your kids will love you, no matter what. Your husband will want you, no matter what. Your friends have been there, so they understand, but you won’t love yourself again until you reclaim yourself. It would be easy to tell her to dismiss the thoughts, but instead, I say, make friends with them. They’ll be around for a while, so you may as well get comfortable. They’ll be over your shoulder, and later up in the sky, they’ll float far away, and the may ebb back toward you. They’ll sneak up on you when you least expect them. But, someday, in the not too distant future, on a beautiful day, you’ll look up in the sky, and all you’ll see are the clouds.



To My Beautiful Daughter, on her 4th Birthday

Dear Marilyn,

In three days, you will turn four years old. To be clear, you don’t understand the days yet. Every single day, you ask me what we’re doing after “nap” – you are like me, an anticipation junkie. You always want to know what you should be excited for next. Yes, it’s almost your birthday, but you keep asking me, mama, how many days until Summer?

Your growing up has been like watching someone pull away in a car. One moment, you’re standing leaning inside their rolled down window, and the next, the car is so small you can’t even see what color it is, and then it’s gone. Even as I write that, I recognize that one day you’ll actually pull away from me in a car, and I’ll look back on this moment as the closest we ever were to understanding each other.

When I was pregnant with you, I didn’t know how motherhood would transform me; rip me open, turn me inside out, and remake me anew. I thought we would be buddies at Target – you riding in the up front of the cart holding a sippy cup, and me pushing you along in stride and all of our days would feel as effortless as hanging out with a best girlfriend. I imagined we would be the kind of mother and daughter who would wear matching outfits, and I hoped we would have the uncomplicated relationship I always dreamt of with my own mother, but really only ever had with other people’s mothers.

Motherhood is actually more like a passionate love affair than a friendship, at least so far. Our relationship rides the ridge. I pull your face close to mine and kiss your lips a thousand times at night, and I hug you like you’re the last person on earth. I study the shape of your head. I smell your clothes, and run my finger over your initials and draw your name in my notebooks. I also yell, and scream and threaten and slam doors and brood. I am consumed with self-doubt. I need breaks from you. I need releases from you. I struggle to understand you. I feel so challenged and immensely tired because of you.

You. My beautiful daughter.

You love giving compliments – you realized early on that you can make someone’s day with your words- and you tell someone daily that you love their scarf, their jeans or the way they do their hair. I love how you see the beauty in my mundane blue jeans. Everyone should have you in their room when they get ready in the morning.

You have the resilience of a bouncy ball – I try to take things away that you love, as consequences when you misbehave, and you tell yourself, and me, so proudly, “that’s ok. I don’t need [that thing]. I had another plan anyway.” You say it so confidently and proudly, that I don’t know whether to be upset that I can’t get to you, or ridiculously proud at the way you bounce back from even the smallest disappointments.

You would run across a football field to embrace your brother. When you walk into a room, the first thing you do is look for him or call for him. You talk about marrying him. When we shop, which is rarely, you are totally focused on how to find him something wonderful. You run so hard and fast to him at the end of the preschool day, one would think it had been weeks since you last saw each other. You protect him hard. You advise him. You go to him to offer him comfort even when he’s sitting on the stairs in time out for hurting you. My most earnest prayer at night is that you will always feel this way about him.

You love helping. This age has been all about your helpfulness — you will fetch me things, help me organize and sort, and you help me cook every day. My life is so much easier with you by my side.

Marilyn, you have put on the same pink sparkly star dress every single day for almost a solid year. I bought it for you for your third birthday, and you come downstairs daily with it over your pajamas. You find it in the dark like you have dress radar. I hate the dress (although I started out loving it). Yes, you could do worse with some awful polyester Disney princess dress, but I buy you the sweetest clothes, and all you want to wear is this dress. I’m worried that you’ll want to wear it to college, but I admire how you know your true North. You know I disapprove, but you never doubt yourself. You know that dress makes you feel great, and so you go for it. Someday, someone will try to make you feel bad for your style, or your way, and I hope you can always remember how that dress made you feel, but more than that, how you chose that dress no matter what anyone thought about it.

You think your name is Marilyn Monroe. I blame myself. You have to listen to me make endless appointments for you, and you have internalized the “like Marilyn Monroe” part. You say, “my name is Marilyn Wallace Morford Marilyn Monroe” and some day I’ll have to break it to you that it’s not your actual name. In the meantime, your blonde bob looks like you had it set in the 60s at a salon, and you really do channel her effortless beauty and grace.

The pride I feel when I look at you is like a Care Bear Stare — like a ray that leaves my belly and shines on you, and I want the world to see how incredible you are. When I watch early videos of you now, I realize you have always had a clear voice, have always known who you were.

This is our last year together. In a little over a year, you’ll start Kindergarten, and our days in the Sun will be over. I know it will be great. It will be the first step in you becoming anything you want to be, but man I’m going to miss you. You have been by my side every single day for the last 1400 odd days. We have rarely spent more than a few days apart, and I’m not sure I’m ready for that to change. You set the rhythm for my life and you are the music (literally, you belt out songs constantly with the worst off-key voice but the most fierce confidence; you, too, don’t know the lyrics to anything and you get that from me).

I wish I had written you letters like this sooner, crystallizing these details in my memory, but the last four years have been something wild. I’m only now regaining the mental clarity and sanity to be able to write to you. I promise to do it more. I hope my writing will speak for me someday when I don’t have the words. When understanding comes harder for us.

Today, when I got home from the doctor’s office to pick you up for school you were sitting on the front steps of our house wearing unicorn tights, jelly shoes, the pink star dress, a pink fur jacket, a sequin bow headband, and holding a unicorn wand. You had a key around your neck on a chain. You waved at me and beamed. I looked at you, waiting for me on the porch, and thought- has there ever been a more confident, innocent soul?

Marilyn, here’s to four amazing years together. I can’t wait to see how a little girl in a pink star dress and unicorn tights changes the world. I’ll get to say I knew her way back when.




Feeding Toddlers: Toppings Bar

God, please don’t strike me down for saying this, but recently, I’ve been doing a little happy dance after every single meal at my house. After three agonizing years of meal struggles (and endless self-doubt) and battles to stay at the table, finish dinner, eat the same meal as the family, it feels like we’ve reached the promised land. Our kids are trying (and for the most part eating) every single thing we put in front of them, not complaining, and giving compliments.

I’d like to thank Janet Lansbury for the words, “when you leave the table, you’re telling me you’re done” and my friend Erica for sharing the words “if you don’t like it, you don’t have to eat it.” My own phrase, “if you try one bite and don’t like it, you can spit it out,” has also gotten us really far. But mostly, I credit my dogged determination to only make one meal per night, no matter what. Many children have gone to bed hungry, but we’ve reinforced what is important and tenable for us, and it has worked.

One of the ways I’ve gotten away with that, is what I’m going to coin a “toppings bar.” In How to Talk So Little Kids Will Listen, the authors suggest that you let a child put their own food on their plate – serve themselves. I tried this starting about a year ago, and it didn’t really work. I wanted it to work, but it didn’t – it resulted in my 3 year old destroying the dish of food with a serving spoon, spilling half of it on the table, putting a too large serving on her plate, and eating it at the same rate she would have if I had served her.

Still, I struggled to find a way to give my kids autonomy over their meals, both portions but also textures and flavors. Hence, the topping bar was born.

So, without ado, here are my top five meals that I serve “toppings bar” style. I hope you can incorporate these into your repertoire, and you have as much success as we have. I’ve learned a lot about my kids this way, and found it also allows us each to have a meal that fits our needs for the day.  I am sure there are tons of other ideas, and I think you can incorporate these tenets into almost every meal by leaving off a few things and letting your kids opt-in or out.

“Taco” Night

You make: salsa chicken. For me, that’s one jar of my favorite Aldi garlic salsa, and 3 lbs of chicken thighs, in the Instant Pot on high for 25 minutes. You can also do this in the slow cooker, or with breasts if you prefer. This is a favorite recipe if you like a spicier flavor profile.

Toppings: you provide some combination of whole wheat tortillas, tortilla chips, brown rice (the frozen trader joes kind), cauliflower rice (same, Trader Joes), shredded lettuce/slaw, chopped avocado, shredded cheese, sour cream, corn (frozen- microwaved for 30 seconds with a few tablespoons of water), chopped tomatoes, canned olives.

Note: this is one of our easiest dinners that we make when we are all getting back from swim lessons and it’s already dinner and we’re all exhausted. I prep the chicken during naptime and just open when it’s time, and I put all the other toppings on a platter earlier that day, so all I have to do is microwave the rice/corn and supper is ready.

Chili night

This is a tried and true way to feed a crowd; it’s my go-to.


You make: your favorite chili. For me, that’s the Skinnytaste Two Bean Chili in Fast and Slow, or this Smitten Kitchen favorite in which you literally just dump everything in the crockpot or IP and walk away.

Toppings: you provide some combination of tortilla chips, cornbread (always Jiffy, always doctored up with some white cheddar and frozen corn), chopped onion, chopped avocado, chopped cucumber, shredded cheese, sour cream, chopped tomatoes, chopped jalapeno, canned olives.

Oatmeal bar

This is a favorite for my kids during the winter months.


You make: steel cut oats in the Instant Pot. I just started using Melissa Clark’s method, where you toast 1 cup of steel cut oats in 1 tablespoon of butter and 1 tablespoon of maple syrup – toasting til fragrant. Add 3 1/4 cups of water and set for 11 minutes and natural release- I think they need about an hour to thicken up. Then you can portion them out or serve them.

Toppings: you provide some combination of chopped fresh fruit, dried fruit or raisins, toasted nuts, brown sugar, maple syrup and/or honey, cinnamon and/or cream or milk.

Greek night

You make: Trader Joe’s chicken schwarma which comes pre-marinated with a stellar blend of yogurt and spices. It’s sold right near the fresh meats.

Toppings: you provide some combination of garlic naan toasted and cut into triangles, chopped cucumbers, tomatoes, olives, marinated chickpeas (evoo, red wine vinegar, herbs and spices) or just rinsed ones from a can, feta cheese, hummus, and lettuce or slaw

Note: I love to eat mine as a huge salad, where my kids love to make pita sandwiches

Steak & Potato night


You make: grilled steaks or the super easy balsamic rosemary Steak Tips from Trader Joe’s and twice-baked potatoes, lightened up with greek yogurt.

Toppings: you provide some combination of cooked crumbled bacon, shredded cheese, chopped chives, sour cream, and salsa.

Note: I love this for a Friday night with kids

Pizza night


You make: your favorite dough- or my favorite, the pre-made Cali’Flour foods crusts.

Toppings: you provide whatever is in your fridge! We love Trader Joes meatballs which are easy to thaw, turkey pepperoni, fresh mozzarella, fresh arugula, olives, mushrooms, red peppers.

Last, my friend Amaree introduced me to this adorable idea years ago of serving snacks in an ice cube tray. I still pack snacks this way for the kids sometimes when I have a bunch of little random things.


Whatever works for you and your family, I hope you’ll enjoy these ideas and modify them and make them your own!

Happy eating with toddlers!