BAM Family

BAM Family

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Symbols of Hope: Remembering Loved Ones at Christmas time

"Here, I made you something," my husband handed me an object one night before dinner.

It was a few weeks after my miscarriage.

"Do you know what it is?" He asked eagerly.

I smiled, confused but pleased by his gift. My husband is not typically crafty person. Nor a gift-giving person.

"Uh...key chain?"

"Well, yes." He rolled his eyes. "But look at this pattern. Do you recognize it?"
I shook my head.

I watched, bemused, as my husband dashed through the house and found a plastic pirate doll.

"Look!" he pointed. "It's Izzy! See the pattern on her bandana?"
 And then I did see and...Oh. 

 I made the connection and my eyes filled with tears.

You see, our 7 year old son named the baby we lost, Izzy, after the pirate from one of his favorite Disney shows. Before the miscarriage, I rolled my eyes at the name, chuckling and shaking my head, thinking, "I would never name my baby Izzy."

But that was the only name the baby got.

I clutched the keychain in one hand and gripped my husband's hands with the other...callused hand with strong, square fingers, hands that held me when I wept for the loss of our child, hands that wove a pink and white key chain.

"I made this for you so that you can always have Izzy with you."

My husband, like many men, didn't have many words when we went through this time of grief. He felt and grieved in his own way, a way that was different from my way.

But he made a key chain for me, in memory of our child.

It was a symbol of loss, of acknowledgment, of remembering.
Christmas is usually a time of hope and happiness for most families. But it can also be a time of grief as we remember loved ones who are no longer with us.

We bought an ornament for our tree this year--a plastic pirate doll: Izzy.

I was hesitant at first.

"It's really expensive." I told my husband as my mouse hovered over the BUY icon.

"It's doesn't matter." He told me. "Get it."

So I did. And Izzy came in the mail in a little white box and we hung her on our tree.

It's been almost a year since I found out I was pregnant: it was December 14. And instead of cradling a 4 month old baby (boy? girl?), I am hanging an ornament on our tree.

It is sobering....but, by the grace of God, not sad.

And I do not use that phrase lightly. His grace has carried me, buffered me, pushed me, grown agonizing ways in the past year. 

This has been one of the hardest years of my life, but it has been one of soul-wrenching growth as well, growth that has been fostered by faith and has led to hope.
"And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance;  and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope;  and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our heart" (Romans 5:3-5).
I've carried my key chain this year, just as I've carried Izzy in my heart.
We put an ornament on our tree, not as a symbol of loss, but as a symbol of Hope.

Because His hope has not disappointed us.  His love will continue to carry us through every season.

How do you remember your departed loved ones at Christmas?
How do you seek hope, even in time of intense grief?

You can read more about our miscarriage journey here: 

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Meng Menu + What I'm stocking in my freezer for baby-go-time

Sunday: Chicken-Bacon-broccoli alfredo
Monday: Pork shoulder roast w/bbq sauce, twice baked potatoes, corn
Tuesday: Sausage and kale soup, rolls
Wednesday:  Chicken, broccoli and rice casserole
Thursday: Dijon pork chops, roasted red potatoes, green beans
Friday: Out to eat
Saturday: Sloppy joes, chips, carrots

Sunday: Spaghetti and meatballs, bread, salad
Monday: Chicken and rice w/ dijon gravy, green beans
Tuesday: Pulled pork sandwiches, chips, carrots
Wednesday: Asian marinated chicken thighs, rice, broccoli
Thursday: Pork loin, stuffing, peas
Friday: Out to eat
Saturday: Spinach-sausage lasagna roll ups, salad, bread 

So, I took my 36 week belly grocery shopping today. I also took one of my 7 year old boys and it was a good thing too because he was a great helper as his mama huffed and puffed up the aisles of Kroger. I seriously was looking for a bench to rest because I was so tired. "So tired" actually doesn't even describe how tired I was. 
 Anyways, it is over. I am alive. I spent $268 which is awesome considering that I am going to double everything that is highlighted above for a freezer meal. 

I am due December 25 and I have been doubling recipes and stocking up on freezer meals for the past 2 weeks or so. I have 5 meals frozen so far. By the end of these two weeks hopefully my freezer will boast of these meals for my family: 

Chili (add rolls)
Cheeseburger Soup (add rolls)
Shepherd's pie
Chicken Pot Pie
Lasagna (add salad)
Asian marinated chicken thighs (add rice and microwave a veggie)
Chicken-Bacon-broccoli Alfredo (I am going to freeze cooked chicken and bacon and pair with a bag of frozen broccoli for a quick just-cook-the-pasta-pour-in-a-jar-of-sauce meal)
Chicken, rice, broccoli casserole
Pulled pork for sandwiches (add chips, apples/carrots. I bought a 7 pound roast today so hopefully we will get 4ish meals out of this roast. 
Spinach-sausage lasagna roll ups (add salad)
Twice baked potatoes (easy side dishes)

So, that's about 10 dinners that I will (hopefully) have in my freezer. We also have friends who have offered to make us dinners, which is great as I really want to take it easy for about a month after baby is born.

I also bought stuff to make (and freeze) breakfast burritos for quick breakfasts for the twins for busy school mornings. And homemade bread....and muffins. 

I am insane.

Nesting is exhausting.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Say "Congratulations!"--it's the Christian thing to do.

When I was 13 years old, my mom took my older sister and me to a meeting for a para-church organization that did puppet ministry. We were introduced to the leader and a few of the other teens.

One introduction shocked me, mostly because of my mother's reaction.

"And this is Stephanie," the leader said, gesturing to a pretty blond girl. "She's 16 and she's pregnant."

"Oh, congratulations!" My mom exclaimed.

There were a few other details shared about the pregnancy, though I can't remember if the girl was going to parent her baby or place the baby in an adoptive family. Either way, she was 16. She was pregnant.

And my mom told her "Congratulations."

To my 13 year old self, this was really, not weird. Wrong. How could my mom congratulate this girl?
She was a teenager.
She was pregnant.
Everything in my narrow, black and white mindset judged this girl for being pregnant when she should NOT HAVE BEEN PREGNANT. 

It wasn't until this week that this event crossed my mind again and I realized the amazing example my mother gave me when I was 13 years old.

You see, my mother is pro-life. She told that girl "Congratulations" because she was pregnant...and she was choosing life.
LIFE is something to affirm and uphold. LIFE is given by God, no matter the circumstances.
Even though I didn't understand the example she was showing me at the time, I am so grateful for and inspired by my mom's reaction to this unexpected pregnancy announcement.

Mostly because I have been disheartened and down-right confused by the negative comments and tone I have received on my 3rd and 4th pregnancies (I am pregnant with my 4th baby right now):

"Are you pregnant AGAIN!? How many is that now?
"Another baby? Oh no!!"
"You're having another boy? I am so sorry!"
"Do you know how that happens? Oh, honey. I need to take you out to coffee and we need to have a little chat..."

Whenever I get these comments, I smile and say proudly,
"Yes, I am! 4!"
"No, we're happy...really!"
"I'm excited to have another boy...yes, really!"
(And yes, we know. We like it a lot).

The odd thing is I feel like I am trying to convince these people to be happy that I am having another baby. (?!?!?!?)

I was struck by the similarities in judgment voiced by the author of this article, published earlier this week.  In "Your Mother is Destroying the Earth," the author describes her constant need to justify her existence as the 5th daughter in her family, citing that it is the WACO (Warriors against Child Overpopulation) feminist leftists that give her the most grief, stating:
Content to bear their own children, they avidly seek to restrict childbearing for other women whom they apparently deem less worthy of free choice.
The thing is, none of the people who said these things to me would probably ever classify themselves as a feminist, leftists WACOs...because all of these comments have come from Christian women.
Our Pregnancy Announcement for Silas, our 3rd son
 One of the foundational elements of a Christian worldview declares this truth: Humans are made in the image of God.

And because of this truth, a Christian worldview declares life to be precious, worth saving, worth dying for, worth celebrating.

 While the comments directed at my 3rd and 4th children gave me a chuckle (and an inner "seriously?" moment), good anecdotes for facebook, and food for thought, these comments also made me mad. But more than feeling self-righteous anger,  I am deeply saddened that this attitude toward pregnancy and new life pervades our culture, even in the Church.

And even at times in me.

My 13-year-old judgmental attitude lasted well into my adulthood. I know that it has taken, even 4 pregnancies, including my miscarriage, to break the "pattern of this world" and begin to be "transformed" and "renewed" in my mind (Romans 12:2).

I've rolled my eyes when family and friends announced their 3th, 5th...8th pregnancies.
I've thought, "Good grief! Honeymoon baby? They didn't waste any time "getting busy" did they?
I've dismissed the grief of miscarriage as something that "would never happen to me" instead of extending real comfort to these women during a devastating time.

Until this year.

God has been transforming my mind to truly understand what it means to value life, family, pregnancy, and babies.

Every pregnancy is a miracle (Psalm 139:13-16).
Every baby is a gift from God (Psalm 127:3).
And every baby, no matter if it is the first, third, sixth, tenth, or more, should be accepted as a miracle and gift.

Without judgment, without eye-rolling, rude comments, or snide remarks. Just celebration.

Just "Congratulations."

Saturday, November 1, 2014

I didn't post our Halloween pictures to Facebook...and why it's ok.

I didn't post our Halloween pictures to Facebook, like so many of my friends.

As I scrolled through my newsfeed last night and this morning, I smiled as I saw all the princesses, monsters, and adorable family-themed costumes. And I felt a twinge of guilt.

I wish I had posted pictures so people could see that the Meng's had a great Halloween too! (And so I could enjoy the "so cute!" comments and "likes" for my adorable boys).

The things is, I couldn't post pictures because...I didn't take any. I know, #momfail.

The thing is, my camera had dead batteries
And I forgot to charge the batteries
and my phone takes crappy pictures
And...[insert excuse here]

That twinge of guilt led to so many mental excuses for why I didn't fulfill my "mom duty" and record Micah and Benji's 7 year old and Silas 2 year old Halloween.

But...even though I had a #momfail, we had a GREAT NIGHT!

My best friend, Candace, came in from DC just to go trick-or-treating with the boys. What a surprise! We were able to continue our tradition of taking the boys together around our neighborhood.
The boys' birthday in early October They've enjoyed playing in the costumes for the last month.
Micah and Benji had a great time in their Ninja Turtle and Batman costumes and got lots of compliments from our neighbors (and lots of candy too!). 

Silas, however, in typical two year old fashion, refused to wear the costume he was so excited about  weeks ago.
Last night: "BAWWWW! I hate this! Take it off! Take it off." So...I did.
I wish I could have taken pictures of the boys with their Aunt Candace, the costumes, Silas chillin' in the stroller, and the "stash" of candy. Or even how we went out to eat at Friday's afterwards and had good food and great conversation.

I could have filled a whole blog post or facebook album full of pictures. But the batteries were dead.

I couldn't take pictures and post them to facebook, something I love to do. 

But I realized, it was okay. We still had a great night. We made memories, despite the lack of pictures. 

I realized that taking pictures doesn't validate an experience or make it more special. It was special because it happened, not because I took pictures or posted to social-media.

It was special because we enjoyed each others' company. In Micah's words, "Mom, that was the best night ever!"
No pics last night but these were the smiles they had on their faces.
I realized that a picture isn't always worth 1000 words: sometimes the memory of the night
is enough to make it special.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Happy 2nd Birthday, Silas!

I can't believe my baby boy is TWO!! Wow, the years fly by.
My handsome little man
Silas is our little sunshine. He is such a happy boy and loves to make people laugh by performing, imitating people, and being silly.
My silly squwinchy picture face!
Just tonight at dinner he did all three:
Dancing to Pandora music (complete with head-wagging, squwinched up eyes, and mouth wide open!)
Imitating Daddy after a big burp (lovely. Also, one of his favorite things to imitate)
Pulling his bib half way up over his face and pretending it was a "mask"
Probably my most recent picture of him. He is going to be a dragon for Halloween.
That's our Silas!

I actually was a terrible mom on his birthday. We didn't even do cake and candles! (I KNOW! TERRIBLE MOM!!!) His birthday was on a Friday and I was at the tail-end of two frantic weeks of work and volunteering. I was wiped out.

In a perfect world, I would have made him Shepherd's Pie (one of his favorite meals) and chocolate cupcakes with vanilla icing. And we would have eaten dinner as a family and sang to him and taken pictures while he blew out his 2 candles.

But, instead, I was laid out on the couch in all my 7 month pregnancy glory, nursing aching hips and back, waiting for my husband to get home from an out-of-town golf tournament at 7:30pm. I ordered pizza and let the boys watch "The Swiss Family Robinson." (odd...I feel a strange kinship with the mother in that movie). And the batteries in my camera died so no pictures....:(

Wait! I had ONE redeeming moment: I made Silas a puppy for his birthday and he LOVES it.
He named it "Puppy!" and it has become his new essential sleeping partner, along with his "Cat-Cat" and "Ki-Ki" (Blankie). So, win for mommy! (I think I am still -100 though).

So, who is Silas Edward Meng at 2 years old? Here are some of his favorite things:

Food: Scrambled eggs, sausage (or SAUSAGE!!! as he calls it) banana (which he call "la-lan-na"), fruit/veggie pouches, cheese sticks, Lucky Charms cereal (aka. he eats the marshmallows out of the 1/4 cup I give him), chocolate milk (he will specifically ask for chocolate (a tsp of Ovalteen), peanut butter and jelly, and POTATOES! He is a good eater (most days)
I love chocolate...chocolate milk, chocolate chips, chocolate Popsicles...
Shows: Signing Time and SuperWHY (which he calls "Boy-Boy." Go figure). Also, when we watch Netflix on our Wii, he has to hold a Wii remote himself. Typical male--has to have his own remote.

Favorite toys: "Cat-Cat" (his stuffed kitty), and anything that looks like or can be made into a gun. The child can make his own guns out of lego blocks. Seriously. Make it stop!! :o

Favorite books: The Foot Book, Brown Bear, Brown Bear, and In my Little Blue Bed. Silas loves to read!!

Special things about Silas: He is SUPER observant. He will run and tell us if anything is "off" in his world: the oven timer is beeping? Quick! The microwave display is flashing? OH NO! Fix it!!  Daddy shaved his beard? He will mention it 7 times a day for 2 weeks.
I LOVE to help mommy cook! I sit on the counter every day while she is making dinner. I am very good at letting her know that the timer is going off NOW.
He also will bring me or Aaron our shoes when it is time to go (or he wants to go). He is great about finding a matching pair and will bring them to us wherever we are in the house.

He will also tell us right away if he made a "mess! mess!," whether he spilled cereal or paper clips, or colored on his arms or the wall with marker. Thankfully, he is usually a good sport about cleaning up too (usually).
See the "mess! mess!" I made with mommy's mascara?
Recent New Words: Saying "Wha-?" when we call him.  
Saying "'mere! 'mere!" when he wants someone to come look at something (come here!)
Saying "Shiiiny" in a really funny (and slightly creepy) voice when he finds something sparky or shiny that he loves.
He is saying new things every week! This age is so much fun.
I love playing outside!!
Of course, with a 2 year old, there are the obvious not-so-fun things too. He throws a typical amount of fits for a toddler over the usual things:
My granola bar broke. Woe is me!
I asked for milk and you gave me milk. WAHHH!
I do not want to come. I will run away.
I want to eat all the things 10 minutes before dinner is ready--banana? cracker? chocolate? fruit snack? Please? no? Bahhhhhhh!
Mommy must hold me standing up. It is not the same when she sits. STAND UP, woman!
Brothers want to watch their movie and not Signing Time even though I have watched Signing Time all day long.
Chocolate cupcake eating. Did I mention that I like chocolate? 
You know, the typical things. Thankfully, he has a sweet disposition and takes discipline to heart very quickly (a quick time-out in his bed and he is all "sowwy" and hugs) so that is really nice.

We all pretty much adore this little guy. He is loved 1000% every day by his mommy, daddy, and  big brothers.
I love Micah! He always makes me laugh!
We love you Silas!
Next year, I PROMISE to make you cupcakes, ok? xoxo little man!

Sunday, October 19, 2014

"Nod to Cincinnati Chili"

When I was growing up, one of my favorite dinners was "Three-Way Chili" otherwise known as "Cincinnati Chili."

Did you know that Cincinnati Ohio has their OWN chili? They even have restaurants dedicated to this chili, called "Skyline Chili." I wish I could recommend that you go eat at one of these little diners the next time you are in Ohio but...from my experience, nothing beats homemade "Three-Way/ Cincinnati/ Skyline" Chili.

The reason is is called "Three-Way" is that you eat this chili on top of spaghetti and topped with cheese (Three components). There is also Four-Way (add beans) and Five-Way (add raw, diced onions). But the Arpke family always loved "Three-Way" the best. 

My dad makes the best Three-Way ever. In fact, I used to say that I wanted to eat this chili at my wedding. Considering my nick-name was "Slop-Slop" while growing up, it is a good thing that I chose NOT to eat this in my wedding dress when I got married.

The thing is, my current Meng family doesn't LIKE "Three-Way." It was too spicy for them and the spaghetti was just weird to my husband (Psh, husband!).  

 So this recipe is a "Nod"to Cincinnati Chili. There are a few secret spices that make me think of my dad's chili but otherwise, it is just an absolutely delicious (non-spicy!) meat, beans, and tomato chili.

Or, as I have been told at a potluck I took this chili to: "This is the best chili I have ever eaten!"


 So here it is: My "Nod to Cincinnati Chili"

1 large or 2 medium onions, diced
1 lb ground beef
1 lb sausage (breakfast? Sage? spicy Italian? your choice!)
3-4 cloves of garlic (minced) (or a heaping tablespoon from a jar of minced garlic) 
3 cans kidney beans, drained and rinsed
2 cans petite diced tomatoes, not drained
2 (8 oz) cans of tomato sauce
1 (6 oz) can tomato paste
5 cups water

Spices: (here's where it gets special)
Magic Spices (not pictured: Brown Sugar).

3 TB Chili powder
3 TB brown sugar
2 tsp unsweetened cocoa power*
1 tsp cinnamon*
1 tsp ground cumin 
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp seasoning salt
1-2 bay leaves

See those stars above? It's the cinnamon and cocoa powder that give this chili the Cincinnati kick! If you want to make this chili with a packet of Chili seasoning from the store, go ahead! But don't forget the cinnamon and cocoa powder (and a bit of brown sugar!)

Make it! (start early in the afternoon so your chili can simmer away for a few hours)

Brown meat and onions in a large skillet over medium/high heat (or you can use your soup pot. I just find that it is easier to cook the meat in skillet). Drain fat and dump into a large soup pot. Key word: large.

Over medium heat, add the garlic and cook until fragrant. Add beans, tomato products, and water. Stir.

Add spices in a small bowl and mix until combined. Or just dump them in the pot. I just like the step of stirring all the spices together and then pouring such a delightful mixture into the pot.

This is where the magic happens. Your chili will turn from a tomato-red to a deep, dark, delicious, chili red. The cocoa powder is the key here to such a rich, dark color.

Bring your chili to a boil and then reduce to a simmer. Cock a lid over the chili, allowing a vent and simmer that baby for 2-4 hours, stirring occasionally. Your chili should get nice and thick. Before serving taste and adjust salt if needed.
My chili is simmering away on the stove. See that deep color? Mmm!
(I have made this in a crock pot too (cook meat and onions first, then dump everything in) but it doesn't get as thick as simmering it on the stove. Still yummy though!).

Enjoy the way your house smells all afternoon as you breathe in the heavenly scents.

Serve your chili plain or, the way I like it:  topped with sour cream, shredded cheddar-jack cheese, and a handful of fritos.


Sunday, October 5, 2014

Meng Menu: Recipe for Chicken, Broccoli, and Rice casserole

Sunday: Homemade pizza night, salad,
Monday: Chili, rolls
Tuesday: Sausage and Kale pasta
Wednesday: Egg muffins, hashbrowns, fruit salad
Thursday: Helman’s chicken, Parmesan rice, green beans
Friday: Out to eat
Saturday: Chicken, rice and broccoli casserole (See recipe below!)

Sunday: Potato soup
Monday: London Broil, baked potatoes, green beans
Tuesday: Pork loin, stuffing, peas
Wednesday: Spaghetti, salad
Thursday: Sausage, kale and potato soup, rolls
Friday: Out to eat
Saturday: Fried rice w/ peas, carrots, and pork

Chicken, Broccoli, and Rice Casserole is a real crowd-pleaser. My family loves it; I've made it for company (very comfort-food-esque), and it is my go-to for taking a meal to friends who have had surgery, are going through sickness, had a new baby, etc.

I hope you try it and enjoy!

Chicken, Broccoli, and Rice Casserole

2-3 cups of cooked chicken, cubed or shredded (depending on how many people you are serving)
2-3 cups cooked rice (2 cups, serves 6-8. 3 cups 8-10)
1 can cream of chicken soup
1/3-1/2 cup sour cream
onion power
garlic powder
Smoked paprika (if you have it!)
Two cups lightly steamed broccoli florets (I used a bag of frozen, steamed in the microwave, or cut up a head of broccoli and steam it in the microwave for about 3-4 min).
1-2 cups favorite shredded cheese (cheddar, Colby jack, etc).

In a greased 9x13 casserole dish, layer rice, chicken, and broccoli.
Mix soup, 1 and ½ cans of milk, sour cream, and seasonings to taste. Whisk until combined and pour over rice/chicken/broccoli.
Using a spatula, make “pockets” in the rice mixture all over to let the soup mix get down to the bottom. Top with cheese.
Bake at 400 for 20-30 min until bubbly and cheese starts to brown.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Meng Menu: Two week plan!

Monday: Pulled pork (crock pot) sandwiches, chips, apple slices
Wednesday: Fish (?), parmesan rice, peas
Friday (Aaron's b-day): Sloppy joes, roasted red potatoes, green bean casserole
Saturday: Out to eat

Sunday: Homemade pizza night, salad (Company)
Monday: Broiled Asian chicken thighs, rice, green beans
Tuesday: Hot dogs, chips, carrot and celery sticks
Wednesday: Pulled pork sliders for pot luck
Thursday: Chicken Parmesan w/ pasta and salad
Friday: Out to eat
Saturday: Biscuits and Gravy, fruit smoothies

YEA! Grocery shopping is done for another two weeks! And darn it! I forgot the kale so I'm going to have to go back on Thursday. I also need to buy fish for Wednesday; I am going to try a new fish market that I have been wanting to shop at for months. I hope I can find a good deal on salmon! 

But overall, a good week, budget wise: Total = $254 which included diapers, conditioner, body wash, foil, plastic wrap, and disposable bowls, plates, and cups for our Sunday Supper nights. 

Nope, not bad at all! 

Thursday, September 18, 2014

The Lost Art of the RSVP: Why is it so hard to click "not attending"?

I kinda chewed out some of my former students on Facebook today.

Ok, maybe "chewed out" is a little harsh. But I gave them a short life lesson about the need for RSVPing to an invitation. I felt kind of guilty afterwards but this is an issue that has been bothering me for a a few years or so...

This is what I wrote after I sent a Facebook invitation for our weekly Sunday Supper meal:

Ok, ya'll. I'm going to go a little "teacher-mode" on you here. If you are coming, please click, "coming."  If you are not coming, click "Decline." It is NOT rude to say you are NOT coming. It is polite.

Any personal invitation you receive should get a response from you! Don't be a flaky "millennial"! (yes, I just went there. Sorry...)

Ok, I am done. :) I hope to see many of you on Sunday night. We have been having a great time in the past weeks.

The "flaky millennial" was probably a low blow. I am cringing a little bit now. BUT! But...

Seriously, RSVPing for events is a lost art in our culture, be it a problem of the millennial generation or not. 

Almost 100 years ago, Emily Post, Miss Manners herself, wrote that anyone who received an invitation with RSVP (French for Répondez s'il vous plaît, literally "Reply if it pleases you") was obligated to respond (thank you, wikipedia). 

Today, we invite 4 times as many people than can actually fit in our dining rooms because we know that 3/4 of them won't even respond. 

I host a lot of events: weekly dinner parties, a book club this past summer, play dates, the occasional product party...and the lack of RSVPing is seen in every age group. 

Why is this? I try to think of my own motives for not responding to invitations because I know I am guilty of this too. 

Like most people, invitations flood my inbox and pop up on my Facebook newsfeed all the time: baby showers, Pampered Chef parties, Arbonne parties, birthday parties, JamBerry nail events, City block parties, etc. 

Sometimes I know the person has invited every single person on his or her friend list. I usually ignore these, especially if, say, the Pampered Chef party held in Kansas. 

But other times, when the invitation is from a personal friend, the decision to RSVP is a bit more complicated: 

What day is the 4th?
Will I even have the car that day? (We only have one car)
What time is the event? Ug. I'm so tired in the evenings.
Not another mom entrepreneur party!

When my thoughts lean toward the negative or "that's not my thing," it feels like the easiest thing to do is ignore the invitation. After all, they won't miss me! They invited 65 people to that party!

But...then the old truism of "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you" starts pricking my conscience. I want people to respond to my events "yes" or "no" (I really despise the "maybe" option in Facebook but it is better than nothing!) so I needed to start practicing what I preach and actually RSVP "no," even if it feels uncomfortable. 

And, when I look at the event from my vantage point as the hostess, I realized a few things about the dreaded "no."

A "no" is not rude or mean, nor does it tell the hostess that you don't like her! It just means that you aren't coming to the shower...or dinner...or play date. 

A "no" is just a firm commitment not to attend, instead of the vague "none of the above" option which leaves the hostess wondering if people actually got the invitation in the first place (they did).
A "no" is actually polite because it allows the hostess to plan the event, food, and other guests accordingly. 

So, I've really tried to make an effort to RSVP "no" when I can't or don't want to attend an event (no one has to know the reason! A cheerful "Thanks for the invite! I hope you all have a great time" is a nice way to decline). 

Ultimately, I've come to realize that actively responding to personal invitations, be it paper (wedding invitations, anyone?) email, or Facebook, is one way that I can love my neighbor as myself. 

If the person hosting the event is taking the time to plan the party, dinner, girls-night-out, play date, or wedding, and invite me to be a part of it, then the most loving thing to do is to RSVP instead of ignore the invitation, even if the response is the uncomfortable "no." 

What do you think
Why don't we RSVP anymore? 
Is this a new issue? 
A generational problem? 
A "we are too busy" problem? 
A "waiting to see if I get a better invitaiton on that day" problem?
I am genuinely perplexed by this issue! 

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Meng Menu: Two weeks plan!

Sunday: Chicken, broccoli, and rice casserole, salad, chocolate cake
Tuesday: Pork chop casserole, peas
Wednesday: Fish (going to shop Wed at a local fish market!), parmesan rice, green beans
Thursday: Chicken broccoli alfredo
Friday: Out to eat
Saturday: Sliders, chips, fruit 

Sunday: Spaghetti and meatballs, bread, salad
Monday: Flat iron steak, baked potatoes, green beans
Tuesday: Turkey meatballs, rice w/ gravy, corn
Wednesday: Pan fried pork chops, mashed potatoes, green beans
Thursday: Bacon, eggs, toast, fruit
Friday: Out to eat
Saturday: Sloppy joes, chips, peas

I always hold my breath a little bit when I hand my Kroger card to the attendant to be swiped at check out. Today, before the swipe, my total was around $360. Yikes!  But after that magical little swipe, $76 rolled off the final tally, bringing the final total to around $280ish (or 140/week). Whew. I bought a lot of groceries today but my total also included: 
Head and shoulders shampoo
Freezer bags
Drier sheets
Toilet paper
Disposable baking dishes (making dinner for a friend later this week)
Plastic forks (hosting dinner tonight)
Diapers for Silas

I was glad to take advantage of Kroger's "buy 5 save $5" deal on 26 items; plus, I saved on other Kroger deals and coupons.

So overall...not bad. Not bad at all.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Remembering Izzy: "Pledged to God"

 August 24 would have been my due date.
I have been holding off writing this post. It was in my heart...I wanted to write it...but I kept pushing it away, kind of like I've been pushing the reality of my miscarriage away lately.

Because sometimes, I just want to forget, because it is still painful. Even though we lost the baby so early. Even though my belly is now swelled with new life, eagerly awaiting his birth day in December. Even though...

But there is no forgetting the memory of a child-that-would-have-been. And when I connect my miscarriage to the memory of the baby I lost (why do I try to mentally separate it? Does it make it easier somehow?), I don't ever want to forget, despite the pain.

So, August 24 came...and went. By now, even if I was over a week "late," like I was with Silas, I would have given birth to the baby by now, the baby Micah named "Izzy."

In the first few weeks after my miscarriage ended, I read Heaven is for Real. A chapter that really stuck out to me was when the little boy (who, for those of you who don't know the premise of the book, went to heaven when he was in surgery and nearly died) met his little sister who was lost to miscarriage. The parents hadn't even told the little boy that they were expecting a baby. Imagine their surprise when he told his mom and dad that he "met his sister!"

In wonder they asked him, "What was her name?"
"She didn't have one," he told them. "No one has named her yet."

For some reason, after reading this section, a sudden urgency came over me. I threw aside the book and rushed to my computer, hastily googling "meaning of names + Izzy."

I am a big believer in the meanings of names. For our children, we carefully chose one or both of their names with the meaning in mind.

I didn't chose the name "Izzy" for the baby we lost; my 6 year old son did, named after one of his favorite characters from the show "Jake and the Neverland Pirates." But the name stuck.

And unlike the baby in Heaven is For Real, our baby did have a name, a name that made her (girl or boy, who knows?) even more real to us.

A host of baby naming websites popped up on my screen. I click on one and typed in "Izzy," my heart nervously pounding as the information loaded.

"Izzy, diminutive of Isabella: Pledged to God"

I stared at the screen, slowly breathing in and out, feeling the wonder of the moment.
I felt peaceful, like I had known this all along. 
I felt humble, I had just been given a rare gift. 

I would have never chosen this name for my baby, but somehow, by God's grace (and by Micah's love for a pink-clad pirate-girl), my son did.

Pledged to God. 

I believe that my little one, the baby due just over a week ago, is in heaven with God, her Father. 

And it hurts because right now, this very minute, I want to be holding this baby in my arms, kissing soft downy hair, tracing perfect, tiny features, and breathing in that wonderful newborn scent. I want to be thanking God that my baby is here, with me, safe, healthy, and whole. 

But instead, I must thank Him for other things:

For the gift of new life in my still-growing baby, Eli, 23 weeks strong
For the gift of each of my children, present with me or with Him
For the gift of a name that I would not have chosen, but somehow comforts me on this side of heaven. 

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Meng Menu: Two weeks of dinners

Sunday: Roasted pork loin, roasted red potatoes, salad, apple pie
Monday: Cheeseburger soup, rolls
Tuesday: Hot dogs, chips, apples
Wednesday: Spaghetti, salad
Thursday: Helman’s chicken, rice, green beans
Friday: Out to eat
Saturday: Breakfast burritos, fruit 

Sunday: Lasagna, bread, salad
Monday: Sloppy joes, potato wedges, carrot sticks
Tuesday: Chicken parm, angel hair pasta w/ sauce, salad
Wednesday: Church potluck
Thursday: Turkey burgers sliders, chips, fruit
Friday: Out to eat
Saturday: Pork loin, rice, peas

Whew! School started last week for me and this week for my kids so menu planning is more important than ever for keeping our evenings running smoothly. I spent $268 this week, which is a bit more than normal but I am also hosting dinner at my house each Sunday for college students, so I am preparing meals for about 10 people each week (including my family).
Our yummy Sunday dinner!
Planning delicious, budget conscious meals for company can be challenging but this past Sunday went really well and I think the dinner turned out great! 

I was able to get a 5+ pound pork loin on sale + coupon for $10. In total for the whole meal, I was able to feed 10 people a company dinner for around $20. Not bad! 

I am looking forward to lasagna next Sunday night--my mom's recipe. A classic indeed!

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

The question that annoys me the most as a twin mom

When I was in high school, I was a leader for a preschool church group. One year, we had adorable, blond-headed, mischievous twin boys join the group. They usually dressed alike so it was really hard to tell them apart.

Their mom even told me a story once about how a babysitter had deliberately changed them into non-matching clothes so she could tell them apart. Those little hooligans when to the bathroom (they were 4 years old!) and switched shirts! haha! Classic.

I could never tell those boys apart either.

I tell this story because I know what it is like to see a pair of twins, scratch my head, and wonder, "Which one is which?"

However, now that I have identical twins myself, this question drives me crazy.

When my boys were babies, toddlers, and even preschoolers, I didn't mind being asked "Which one is which?" My boys couldn't answer this question for themselves and I was happy to set people straight in the identical twin confusion.
Yeah…this one even stumps me. One of the rare times I dressed them alike as babies. 
My twins are almost 7 years old. They still look alike. So, why does this question bother me so much?

Because people ask me "Which one is which?" right in front of my boys.

My go-to answer has become "Ask them. They would be happy to tell you their names" as I sigh inwardly.
Micah likes to wear his hair long. Benji? The shorter the better!
You are probably clucking your tongue right now thinking, "Brittany, they are TWINS! You shouldn't get irritated."

And I really try not to. But if you think about it, most people would not approach a mother of two boys,  who were typical siblings who were playing two feet from her, and ask "Which one is which?" This question always just pinches me a little bit because, in some way, it strips my boys of their personal identity.

I want each of my sons to be known and recognized for being himself, not for being one half of a whole. After all, Micah and Benji have different interests, likes, dislikes, personalities…even their voices are different. They aren't even the same height or weight! (Micah is taller and heavier).

As identical twins, this is a battle that my boys will have to engage in their whole lives. It doesn't really bother them a whole lot now so I guess I am "fighting" for them at the moment. But I know the time will come when they will realize that people constantly can't remember their names…maybe perhaps because they see Micah and Benji as two parts of a whole, not as individuals.

So, what's the solution? For me, I need to continue practicing patience and graciousness and teach these virtues to my children as well.

For others, what do you do when you really cannot tell a pair of twins apart, like those two little boys in my preschool church group?

I would love it if people, children or adults, came up to Micah or Benji and said, "I can't remember your name. Could you please remind me?"

This question is personal and sensitive. And it would make the heart of this twin mom glow, because you would be recognizing my son for the unique person that he is.

PS. For those of you know my boys, another tip for telling them apart is that Micah has a cowlick and Benji doesn't. In fact, Micah will even point it out to you himself! :)
See that swirl of hair on Micah's forehead? That's his special feature!

Thursday, August 14, 2014

I'm going to have FOUR sons OR How I fought against gender disappointment

I'm not gonna lie, folks. I had a major freak-out the morning of my 20 week ultrasound. You see, I have three sons. Three adorable boys. Three very energetic boys. I have THREE boys. 
I mean, seriously. How cute are these boys?
And everyone in my family was convinced that I was pregnant with a girl. My 6 year old son named the baby "Frederica." Cute, right? (terrible, terrible name. But what can you do?)

Up until that morning, I was peaceful and serene. 
Peaceful me at 20 weeks.
Whatever will be, will be. Que Sera, Sera or whatever. 

Of course, I had taken all the online quizzes: Boy or girl? FIND OUT NOW! (Results = girl, every time).
The Chinese Gender Predictor Chart? GIRL. 

And seriously, I already have three boys. The odds had to be in our favor, right? 

So, back to my freak-out. Peaceful and serene until the morning of. Cue my toddler losing my wedding ring and then 2 hours of frantic cleaning. We didn't find it. And cleaning is the never-fail-to-put-mommy-in-a-bad-mood solution.  I yelled at all the boys, fed them lunch, and SENT THEM TO BED. 

Then I sat down on the couch to think (never a good idea, right?)

I just know the baby is a boy. Another boy. What am I going to do with FOUR wild boys? 

What if Micah and Benji are beyond upset that the baby isn't a girl?     

My family has 7 grandsons and one granddaughter. They want a girl so badly! How can I carry their disappointment...not to mention my own? 

Because the truth is, I really did want a girl. But I did NOT want to experience the intense "gender disappointment" I did when I found out Silas was a boy. It was not pretty, friends. There was crying, and lots of feeling sorry for myself. SORRY for myself that I was having a healthy baby BOY. I cringe at my immaturity. However, my feelings of dissappointment were real. 

And I didn't WANT to feel disappointed this time.

The clock was ticking down. It was an hour till we had to leave for the ultrasound. I got in the shower and started to pray. I don't even know what I prayed. Only God knew. 

Then a question entered my mind: Why do you want a 4th child? 
Because this baby was planned, longed for...especially after our miscarriage. 
And the answer came to my heart: I want to give Silas a sibling that is close to his age. 

Silas is five years younger than his twin brothers. I didn't want him to feel lonely growing up. So, we planned for a fouth, wanted a fourth.

And as the water streamed down over my face, I realized that I wanted a brother for Silas.  
A daughter? I wanted a daughter for me.  
But if the baby was a boy...what utter joy that would be for my little Silas. 
A little brother. 
A wrestling buddy.
A tag-a-long. 
A bunk-bed partner.
A best friend. 

And then I was ok. I knew this wisdom was from God, who gave this baby to our family, who chose this baby to be Silas' younger sibling. 

And I just knew. I knew even before I saw that little wiggle-waggle on the screen. 
Baby Boy Meng
So, here's how the boys reacted. 

Ultrasound tech: "It's a boy!"
Micah: "Oh, nuts!!!!"
Tech: (aside to me, laughing) "Literally!"
Benji: "But....I thought it was a GIRL!!!"

Both boys admitted later that they were a little sad that we were not going to have a baby sister. I told them I was a little sad too. But is ok to be sad. We can be excited too. 

So I am going to have FOUR SONS. And honestly, at times this truth strikes fear and trepidation into my poor little female heart.  And then I just laugh and laugh. Four sons.    
Elijah (Eli) Jefferson Meng
Our little Elijah Jefferson is going to join our family in December. I can't wait to meet my son. I can't wait for his brothers to meet him.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Meng Menu

Sunday: Grilled skirt steak, baked potatoes, green beans
Tuesday: Roast beef sandwiches, chips, fruit
Thursday: Potstickers, fried rice w/ veggies
Friday: Out to eat

Saturday: Out to eat (softball tournament)

Sunday: Asian marinated chicken thighs, rice, green beans
Monday: Sloppy joes, potato wedges, carrot sticks
Tuesday: Chicken, rice and broccoli casserole
Thursday: Chicken meatballs, mashed potatoes, broccoli
Friday: Out to eat
Saturday: Waffles, sausage, fruit

Whew. I am glad to have grocery shopping over with. Sometimes it seems like such a mental and physical hurdle. But I am prepped and planned for two weeks, which will take us up to the start of school for the twins, August 25. Total today was $247 or $123 per week. Not bad. 

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