Why I Meal Plan

Cooking.  Meal planning.  Trying new recipes. Sharing a meal around the table.  These things are life giving for me.  A hobby more than a necessity.  While some find it a chore, I can genuinely say I enjoy it. Grocery shopping however is a different story….but quite a necessary task.

I’m a planner by nature and so it’s only natural that I plan out our family’s meals.  I don’t remember exactly when it started.  When I was single I definitely wasn’t meal planning – more or less just throwing together lots of stir fry with whatever I had in the house. Around the time I got engaged, Pinterest was really beginning to take off.  Now I’m not much of a recipe follower, but I love browsing Pinterest and scouring through cookbooks for inspiration.

Friends who know I’m a faithful meal planner often ask me what I’m making for dinner that night and request tips for getting started with meal planning.  I’m always more than happy to share. For me meal planning does so much more than just gratifying my planning nature.  There are some real, practical reasons that meal planning can enhance your life (I know that sounded dramatic, but I am serious!).

  1. It helps us save time and stress.
  2. It helps us save money.
  3. It helps us eat healthier.
  4. It helps us waste less.

If this resonates with you, check out my weekly meal plans.  You’ll generally find meals that are healthy, frugal, varied and family friendly.  I’d love to see your meal plans as well!  Share them in the comments.

Life with Toddlers: The Fast Food Play Area

We knew it was inevitable. And this Monday, the inevitable happened. Until this past Monday we’ve kept Charlotte blissfully oblivious to the play areas at fast food restaurants. Now truth be told, we don’t eat much fast food so I suppose it really isn’t that impressive that Charlotte has been so sheltered her whole life.

I’m not sure why I wanted to keep her from these play areas. I’m not really a germaphobe mom. Maybe it relates back to when I was a kid – a young child climbed into the hamburger at our local McDonald’s Play Place and got too scared to come back down. Don’t worry – I saved the day and climbed up there to help the child down. Maybe I wanted to protect Charlotte from the trauma that child faced of being stuck in the hamburger forever. Anyway…

After our weekly walk around the Rose Bowl we were sitting at Chick Fil A enjoying our free soup (thanks to the Chick Fil A calendar cards) – chicken noodle for Than and Charlotte, chicken tortilla for me. We were happily enjoying our soup and making sure dear Charlotte didn’t scald her tongue out of excitement to eat all the noodles out of her soup, when suddenly she looked up and gleefully shouted “Car!!!”

It was at this moment I knew things would never be the same. The yummy noodles, the straw, the water with ice (a current favorite thing) – they were all forgotten. She had eyes only for the car in the play place.

We’re obviously rookies here. Seasoned parents would know that you ALWAYS sit your child facing the opposite direction of the play area. It’s too late for us, but perhaps that little tidbit of wisdom will help someone else.

There was no possible way we were saying no to her adorable excitement, so off Charlotte and Daddy went for her first fast food play area experience as I finished up my soup.

When I was done I entered the play area to find Charlotte happily climbing up the stairs to the tunnels that lead to the slide and that car up in the sky. She thought she was big stuff – playing with the big kids and all.

I think the big kids were enjoying her just as much as she enjoyed them. She followed them around and gave them a cute little smile as she toddled her way cautiously around. This was all new territory for her. As time went on they coaxed her to be brave and finally she crawled her way through the enclosed tunnels to the car she so desperately wanted to play in.

She was having the time of her life – until it was time to go. While the big kids were great at coaxing her into the car, they weren’t quite so successful at coaxing her out. Not for lack of trying (seriously parents, make friends with the bigger kids – they are super helpful) but Charlotte was determined to stay in that car.

There was only one option. I folded my 5’11” frame practically in half and started my way up the play equipment. I figured if I just went part of the way up there I might be able to coax her over to me and we could descend the stairs together. Oh no. She was not budging. It meant I had to brave the tunnels. Let’s just say that those tunnels are NOT intended for tall adults (or adults at all for that matter). Miraculously I didn’t get stuck and I made it far enough to pull her out. Yes, I had to pull her. She can be a determined little one!

Of course as I (awkwardly) start making my way down a whole swarm of kids starts making their way up – unsure what to do with this adult with her legs all twisted trying to go the “wrong way” as everyone else was coming up the stairs.

Pretty sure I broke a little bit of a sweat by the time all was said and done. But we survived. Charlotte had a blast (and wore herself out in time for bedtime). And of course she went around and gave each person in there a hug on her way out. That’s our sweet Charlotte.

Charlotte at Chick Fil A

Hello 2017!

There’s just something about the start of a new year…

A crisp new journal with empty pages just waiting to be filled.

Endless possibilities.

Fresh starts.

New habits.

Optimistic resolutions.

Longing for more of some things and less of others.

The excitement of the unknown.

In this new year I’m hoping to do more writing so watch this space for updates, stories of our adventures, parenting, cooking and who knows what else!

3 Thanksgiving Eve’s Ago

It was Thanksgiving Eve, 2011.

Just a little over a month had passed since eHarmony matched me and this guy Than who lived in Grand Rapids. Pages upon pages of emails had been exchanged, as well as numerous Skype dates and Google chats and the day was finally here. I was about to meet my future husband face to face. (I’d say little did I know I was about to meet my future husband, but that’s not true. I was pretty sure even before we met face to face.)  And he was about to meet my family the very next day for Thanksgiving. He’s a brave one!

On his journey to Chicago we texted back and forth until we both needed to conserve what battery was left on our phones. I arrived at Union Station, anxiously awaiting the arrival of the Greyhound bus. The anticipation was building and building when I got a text that said “Where are you?” That’s when panic set in. Than was at the Greyhound station and I was at Union Station with no clue where the Greyhound station in Chicago was!

Our panic was short-lived as Than found out he only had the temporarily get off the bus at the Greyound station (later we discovered that it’s about 2 blocks from Union Station) and could re-board for the last stop at Union Station. A few (seemingly long) minutes later, there he was. It wasn’t like we were meeting for the first time but more like everything was as it should be.

We ventured to the El to begin the trek back out to the suburbs.  On the way home we made a stop at Meijer for some cereal (sugary cereal did NOT exist in my house until Than was in the picture!). Cereal and a movie was our plan for the evening. Cereal before bed has been a tradition in Than’s world and is often a part of our lives now and so it was special that he wanted to share that with me as part of our evening.

The next morning we left at the crack of dawn to get to Indiana for Thanksgiving lunch. I had warned my family not to whisper about him because he’s an expert lip reader and I’m happy to report they were on their best behavior. We didn’t have a homemade Thanksgiving dinner that year – we had plans to eat at a local hotel.  The food was nothing to write home about but the company was great and that was (and is) far more important.

Here we are, three years later on Thanksgiving Eve.  Over two wonderful years of marriage, a sweet baby girl on the way and tonight we will celebrate with a bowl of Lucky Charms – thankful for that night 3 years ago!

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Happy Anniversary to us!

This past weekend we celebrated 2 years of marriage! It’s hard to believe that it’s been 2 years already, yet at the same time it feels like forever ago that we were engaged…or dating…or single! I think that’s probably a good sign. I love this quote below about marriage – not sure where it came from but I like the perspective!

To marry is to choose:
Closeness over Distance
Companionship over Detachment
Relationship over Isolation
Love over Apathy
Life over Death.

We were able to go away for the weekend (thanks to a good deal found on Groupon Getaways or Living Social) and spend a couple of nights in Palm Springs. It might seem crazy to go to the desert in the middle of summer but we had a great time! The 114 degree temps had dropped and honestly I think it might have been cooler in Palm Springs than it has been in Pasadena. We enjoyed the resort’s pool, tried out some local restaurants (I think we had the best Chicago-style pizza I’ve ever had outside of Chicago!), wandered around the shops and overall had a really relaxing time.

Than is super busy with his PhD program and doing research for a professor. He has 2 weeks of all-day intensive classes later this month with lots of assignments to do and books to read in between. Let’s just say those stacks of books that would appear around finals week during the masters program have nothing on the stacks of books that have now invaded our living room!

I’ve recently joined the leadership team for our Sunday School class at church. I’m going to be coordinating service projects for our class and I am very excited about that. We’re going to be starting with serving the Sunday Community meal – surprise surprise!

May

In spite of my best efforts, it seems like a monthly blog post is about all I can actually produce. But I’m always hopeful that the next month will be better! Memorial Day is over and to me, that marks the official start of summer. Yes, we’ve already had triple digit temps and I am aware that summer officially doesn’t begin for another 3 weeks or so, but there’s something about Memorial Day that puts me in summer mode!

We’ve had a very eventful month.  At the end of April we traveled to Chicago for Than to take a CCDA  (Christian Community Development Association) immersion course. I tagged along to go into the office for a day, see friends, family and also to attend a wedding (talk about great timing!).  It’s always nice to be back in Chicago, followed by a weekend in Indiana with my parents.

The next weekend we moved to a new apartment just a few blocks away from where we were before. It’s newer, cleaner, bigger, quieter… We are thankful and loving our new place (photos to come later).

The following weekend I found myself back on an airplane, returning to Chicago to attend the funeral of a co-worker and friend. It was one of the most difficult funerals I’ve ever attended. Death as a way of putting life in perspective – especially what really matters.  When it comes down to it, people remember the little things a lot more than the big things.  As Maya Angelou said, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”   In the midst of the pain of tragedy and many questions, we can rejoice at the impact Rebecca had on so many lives and the hope we have of heaven.

We spent the long weekend relaxing, decorating and doing a bit of shopping for the new place. Our favorite finds include an amazing globe on clearance at Pier 1, as well as chairs and a table for our patio from Ikea.

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Lest I leave the impression that all we care about are the weekends (seeing that’s all I’ve talked about so far), our week days continue on with more of the same.  Than is finishing up his last quarter of Master’s level pre-requisites before his PhD program begins in August and continuing with his job at the church.  He also gets up at the crack of dawn to play basketball on Tuesday mornings. I am loving the fact that we have a 2nd bedroom to be used as an office, though I also like to “office” on our porch (with our new chairs from Ikea) overlooking the pool! I’ve been doing Zumba once a week at the gym instead of my normal elliptical workout (ok, I still do the elliptical MOST of the week).  I’m not the most coordinated person, but moving around at a fast pace for an hour is a good workout whether you’re doing the moves correctly or not!

And that’s been our month! We’re looking forward to some guests and travel this summer, and hopefully some free time to try out our pool!

Our long-awaited trip is over.  We’re home safe and sound from a fabulous trip to New Zealand! In the two weeks we were gone we saw an incredible amount of God’s beautiful creation, met and celebrated Christmas with people from all around the world, got a good dose of adventure, and made some memories that will last a lifetime!

Remember how I said that I was NOT going to New Zealand because of anything LOTR or Hobbit related?  Well…that didn’t work out so well for me! Our trip began with a LOTR/Hobbit themed safety video.  I’m not even kidding.  Check it out.  Even I was amused the first time…not so much by our last flight!

We started in Queenstown with a gondola ride to the top of a mountain overlooking beautiful mountains and lakes then started the drive to Lake Wanaka. Along the way we stopped for a “walk”.  Running only on red eye flight of sleep, Than and I were eager to get out of the bus for some fresh air and move around. A walk sounded lovely.  And on our first day in New Zealand we learned a VERY valuable lesson.  When they tell you about a “walk”, what they really mean is a hike up a very steep hill/mountain. Little did we know this was just the beginning of a serious workout for our legs over the next two weeks!  My mom was right when she told us we should do some hiking in preparation for our trip.  We didn’t listen. I thought 30 minutes a day on the elliptical or treadmill would cut it. I was wrong.  The view of the lake district from the top was absolutely beautiful and totally worth it.

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We set up camp by Lake Wanaka then headed out the next day to Glacier country!  The heli-hike up Fox Glacier was incredible! Definitely one of the highlights of our trip. Our guide told us we had the best weather that they’d had in 2 weeks to explore the glacier.  They outfitted us with really thick socks, sturdy boots and some instructions, then we were flown to the glacier.  I felt like I was on the Bachelorette (they always are going cool places in helicopters on that show!).  Ok actually Than and I were squished into the helicopter with a few other people. Not quite the romance you see on the Bachelorette, but very cool nonetheless! We landed on the glacier and were outfitted with crampons and walking poles. Our guide Tom led the way with the ice axe, creating a path and steps as we hiked around exploring the glacier and beautiful ice caves and arches for the next three hours. Making our way through the ice arches was a bit treacherous at times.  Because the sunlight never hits inside the arches it’s very difficult to get your crampons to grip the rock hard ice.  Than took a bit of a tumble one of the arches (with both of our cameras in hand – fortunately the cameras and Than were fine). He took quite a slide down a part of the glacier creating a bit of commotion, though just resulting in a few bumps/bruises and a story to tell.  I may or may not have been more freaked out by this than him…!

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We continued making our way up the west coast of the South Island seeing everything from rainforest, beaches, waterfalls, sheep, beautiful aqua pools of water, swinging bridges, misty mountains, more sheep and the pancake rocks. And yes, we did plenty of “walks”.  One of our favorite stops on the trip was Abel Tasman National Park.  We spend our morning kayaking on the Tasman Sea and our afternoon sailing.  The water is an incredible color of blue and aqua and green.  While kayaking we saw lots of seals – including two male seals who were fighting come right up under our friend’s kayak – scary! We thought for sure they were going over! In the afternoon we saw a little blue penguin – it was so cute! We really hoped to see a penguin while in New Zealand but it didn’t seem very likely based on where we were going and so we were thrilled to see the little guy!

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From there we took the Interislander ferry from the South Island up to the North Island.  We spent Christmas Eve in Wellington and Christmas morning at the home of a family from our tour group.  They very kindly invited us over for Christmas breakfast! From there we traveled up to Taupo and spent Christmas evening swimming in the hot pools and having a BBQ (common way of celebrating Christmas in New Zealand). We traveled up to Auckland via the gloworm caves at Waitamo and spent a couple of days exploring the city before flying back home to spend New Years with family and going to the Rose Parade!

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Our bodies are tired and still have lingering sand fly bites, scrapes and bruises. Our minds and hearts are full of freshly made memories and the joy of new experiences. There’s a world to explore and we were blessed to be able to wander around New Zealand for a couple of weeks, to soak in things that are new and different and most importantly to allow those experiences to shape us and stretch us more and more into who God has made us to be.

“Not all those who wander are lost.”
― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring

Story and Glory

Thursday nights are one of the best nights of the week. It’s when my Fuller Wives small group meets. What an amazing group of women! We start out each year by sharing our testimonies.

Last night I had the opportunity to share my story. I love sharing my story because it forces me to take the time to remember. It’s an opportunity to remember what God has done. To remember His faithfulness. His goodness. His guidance. His provision. His grace.

I don’t know about you, but I am so quick to forget. And when I forget it leaves room for all sorts of things (like fear, anxiety, criticism, etc.) to creep into my life and make themselves comfortable. Far more comfortable than I would like these things to ever be in my life!

Whenever I am sharing my story, there are 5 questions I like to ask myself:

  1. Is this story I am sharing more about my actions or God’s actions in my life?
  2. Will the listener know more about me or more about God by the end?
  3. Have I been faithful to what God wants me to share? (This includes everything from whether or not I was prayerful about sharing, to a willingness to be open/vulnerable to integrating scripture!
  4. What’s the main message my listeners will be left with as a result of sharing my story?
  5. How does the way I am communicating my story reflect God’s bigger story?

It doesn’t matter if you feel like your story is powerful or compelling.  It’s not about us anyway. We serve a powerful God who has done something in your life and your story exists to bring Him glory and to reflect more of Him to the world around us.

Thank you God for the unique stories you have given each of us and the diverse ways that these stories show us more about You!

Birthday Celebrations!

We’ve kicked October off with lots of celebration!!  On October 4, Ru entered a new decade.  That’s right, it was the big 3-0 birthday, with Than’s 29th the very next day.  I love birthdays – it’s fun to have something to celebrate and I’m always reminded around my birthday how important celebration is.  I want to make a more intentional effort in the coming year to do more celebrating – big and small things alike, there is so much worth celebrating!

Our birthday weekend was filled with special treats, presents, a fancy dinner in Malibu overlooking the ocean, shopping, and the Star Trek movie (Than’s choice).  In celebration of his special day I even stayed awake for the whole thing!  We alternate who plans the celebrations each year.  He did the planning this year and I was beyond spoiled!

The next week I spent a few days down in Orange County at the Exponential West conference promoting Alpha.  It’s always fun to be out and about, away from my desk.  Christian conferences are always a reminder of what a small world it is.  At this conference I ran into one of the worship leaders from my church in Chicago, a whole team of people from my current church and a fellow Cedarville grad!

Somewhere in the midst of all that I came down with a really bad cold.  Normally a cold is not exactly blog worthy material, but this was the first time either of us had been really sick since getting married.  Than took very good care of me while I was sick and now nearly 2 weeks, 1 pack of antibiotics, 3 boxes of kleenex, 3 varieties of cough drops and some bright blue cough syrup later, I just have a lingering cough at nighttime.

This past week my mom and aunt have been in town.  We visited with other family in the area, went whale watching in San Diego, put them to work at the Sunday Community Meal, visited the Getty Villa, had fish ‘n chips on the beach, and sent them off to explore LA while we worked during the days.  It’s been fun having visitors all week – and added bonus, they like to do our dishes!  Ok maybe they don’t like to do them, but I’m telling you a cup or bowl can’t sit by the sink very long without one of them wandering into the kitchen and making sure they’re done!

Tonight we’ll finish out our week with a Bach concert downtown and then tomorrow we’ll send them back to the chilly weather of Indiana.

 

September Happenings

Another month has come and gone and the first week of the Fall quarter is over for Than.  September was full of some milestones in our little family.

  • We had our one year anniversary of living in California.  In some ways I can’t believe it’s been a year, but at the same time so much has happened in the past year!
  • Ru finished her TESOL certification – yay!  Now to move overseas and put it to use!  Or not. It’s just a great thing to have in my back pocket should it come in handy sometime in the future.  I have no immediate plans to put it to use, but I sure am glad to be done.  Working behind a computer all  day, the last thing I feel like doing in the evening is an online class with more time behind the computer.
  • Than took his GRE in preparation for for applying for the PhD program this year, which went very well.
  • Than has been asked to TA a class this Fall – very exciting!  He’s TA’ing with a professor who is very influential in his field.  This professor is one of the key reasons Than wanted to come to Fuller and it’s been amazing to watch new opportunities unfold in the year we’ve been here for Than to get to know him and learn from him.
  • And not nearly, as exciting, but still noteworthy… Our neighbor who’s music would make our floor shake has moved out – yay!  I can work in peace again without blasting my worship music to counteract the rap music!

Here’s to year 2 in California!  And hopefully more regular blog updates from us… But we’ll see how that goes!