BAM Family

BAM Family

Thursday, October 8, 2015

I've MOVED!

I made a big step in my blogging "career": I purchased my own domain name! So exciting (and terrifying!)

Please keep following Bam at my new address: www.thebamblog.com 

Right now, I am working on a new challenge: Write31Days. Please check out my new series here: Benji's Story: Life, Love, and Learning Disabilities. 

Thank you for reading!!! 

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Meng Menu

I realized the other day that I hadn't posted a Meng Menu since APRIL!!! What??? I plan a menu every two weeks but I am terrible at blogging about them. So, I'm taking 3 minutes to post our menu this week. Enjoy! There probably won't be another Meng Menu post until...uh....December? (just kidding...)
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Sunday: Sausage, kale and potato soup, rolls
Monday: BBQ pork ribs, chips and dip, watermelon (Happy Labor Day!)
*Tuesday: Chicken cordon blue casserole, green beans
Wednesday: Roasted chicken breasts, mashed potatoes, broccoli w/cheese

Thursday: Breakfast burritos, fruit (Benji's favorite!)
Friday: Out to eat
*Saturday: Creamy garlic chicken, pasta, peas

Sunday: Lasagna, salad (company!)
Monday: Pulled pork sandwiches (left over from a 7lb roast I made 2 weeks ago!), tater tots, apples
Tuesday: Bean and beef burritos, salad
Wednesday: Hot dogs, chips, carrots (kid and husband favorite)
Thursday: Biscuits and gravy, fruit
Friday: Out to eat
Saturday: Potato soup, rolls

I saved $108 with Kroger savings and coupons today. That being said, I spend...ahem...$287 in total. I feel like either grocery prices are going up or my family is eating more. Probably both. 
The *days are new recipes I am trying this week! Thank you Pintrest. 

Thursday, September 3, 2015

When the Learning Gates are Closed: Searching for Answers

This is our story of discovering how to parent and educate our son in the best way possible. It is scary to write about this topic because it is intensely personal and it concerns my child, whom I always want to treat with respect. However, my goal in writing down our story is to give other families hope and direction. If you need hope and direction in your parenting journey, welcome. I share our story for you. 

You can read Part 1 of Benji's Story here.  
After I talked to the teacher at the Back to School night, I wavered between feeling unsettled and proud of myself for "doing the right thing." I DID do the right thing--I said something to the teacher. The ball was in her court. She would observe and make recommendations as the educational professional. I looked forward to hearing her thoughts at the Nine Week parent-teacher conference.


Nine weeks passed.
I left the conference feeling confused and irritated.
I had talked, shared my concerns, again....but I didn't feel heard.
I had asked questions...but didn't get clear answers.
I had requested her opinions about my son...but she never "got around" to sharing them.
She wanted to "wait and see."

I had thrown the ball. She was supposed to throw it back, right? But I realized after the meeting that she had not caught my concern. The ball was still in my hands.

I didn't want to wait. I needed to search for answers myself.

First I wanted to rule out any physical problems. We took Benji for an eye exam. He had a slight astigmatism but he didn't need glasses. I checked that off my to-list.

But what was the next step? I literally felt paralyzed. I needed answers but I didn't even know what questions to ask. Finally, on October 4, 2014, I wrote a facebook post in a private moms group I belonged to.

"Moms, my husband and I have been concerned about our son (now in 1st grade) for over a year that he may have a learning disability, such as dyslexia. I have spoken to teachers, etc. and we are monitoring but I am leaning toward trying to get him officially tested. Someone recommended Hutcherson Early Learning Center as a testing location but this resource seems like it is just for pre-school children. Can anyone offer some direction for me? I can't ignore the signs or my intuition on this." 

Information came pouring in. Some recommend this testing center or that service. Others shared their stories of how they went through special education testing. One mom gave me a link to the Virginia Special Education Guide. I clicked through but was so overwhelmed that the only thing I grasped from the handbook was that I needed write a formal letter to the school if I wanted them to conduct testing. 

I felt like the school was ignoring my son (this actually wasn't true, but it was how I felt last school year) since the teacher wasn't seeing what we were seeing. I needed another way to get answers before I wrote any formal letters. 

One mom said she had her son tested by a woman in town who was a "lay-expert" in dyslexia. She had traversed these waters with her two sons, both severely dyslexic, and now her sons were grown, in college, and successful! I got her information and wrote her a message on Facebook: 


Hello Ms. _____ I am sorry to contact you about a formal issue in such an informal way as facebook but your name was given to me by several mom friends about testing for dyslexia. I was wondering if you still do official testing for learning issues such as this.
My husband and I have been noticing issues with our son, Benji (1st grade) since last year such as: 

1. Inverting numbers/letters when writing
2. Sounding out words backwards or from the middle letter
3. Writing words backwards Writing words of a sentence completely out of order
4. Not being able to read common sight words, even after just seeing the word Etc.
Benji is at ________elementary school. I have spoken to teachers but have not gotten the information, ideas, or support about how to help him with these issues.
I would love to speak with you more, if you have the time. Thank you!


I wondered if I was crazy sending that message. I wondered if I was just making things up. I wondered if I was doing the right thing. But in the middle of all my self-doubt, I took the first step.

She contacted me within a few days and we set up a meeting for testing on October 20.

The testing was very interesting and actually fun for Benji. She had him read and write for her, as well as repeat strings of words, directions, and re-tell a story. He did balancing exercises, eye tracking, and threw a ball with his right and left hand, as well as other tests.  We spend almost two hours with her.

"So, do you think he is dyslexic?" I asked, as Benji played Angry Birds with one of her grown sons on his iPhone.

Her eyes and voice softened. "It isn't that simple. Dyslexia is actually difficult to diagnosis and I am only an expert on my own children. One of the formal marks of dyslexia is "being behind two grade levels in reading." Since he is only in first grade, it is difficult to know...or assign terms." 

Then she talked about Learning Gates. She used this term to describe how the brain responds to four different avenues of learning:  visual, auditory, writing, and spatial (how one's body moves in a given space).

Her initial assessment shocked me: "From the tests, it seems to me that most of his learning gates are partially, if not fully, closed."

"What does that mean?" I asked.

"It means that the right and left sides of the brain are not communicating with each other through wide open pathways. His pathways, or gates, are shut. When something is blocking that gate, learning cannot happen."

I nodded, taking it all in. It was like trying to swallow the ocean.

She wrote up an official report so I could share the results of her assessment with his teachers, etc.

We got the next 9 week report card: The results were not good. So many U's. (Unsuccessful). My heart was breaking for my little boy.

I scheduled another meeting with the teacher. Again, despite all my best communication efforts, I felt like we were not on the same page. She seemed nervous and intimidated. She didn't hold my my concerns with the weight that I held them. I felt the strange need to soothe her during our meeting, when in reality, I was one who needed to be reassured. I told her that I would email her a copy of the testing results.

I forgot to send the email. By now it was late autumn and I was very pregnant with our fourth son. The holidays pounced and consumed my time and thoughts. My belly grew larger and my due date crept closer. 

I tried to carve out the mental space to think about Benji. I unearthed the Virginia Special Education Guide and read about how to request formal evaluation: I needed to write a letter and give it to the administration. 
I read about my legal rights: After my formal request, the school was required, by law, to refer my request for evaluation to a special education team. 
The team was required to contact me within 3 days to let me know if they would evaluate my son. Once they decided to evaluate, we would be on a 60 day time line for the testing.

I decided to write a letter.

To be continued....

____________________________________________________
More Posts about our Journey


When Silence is Full of Words
It Means You need to be Strong and Brave: Telling my Son about his Learning Disabilities
Reading Sucks

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

I don't need to be Intimidated by what you're good at

Intimidate:
1. To overawe through the force of superior talent
2. To force someone into action by inducing fear
As I scrolled through my Facebook feed this morning, I felt that familiar sinking feeling. Pictures of First Day of School decorations and celebrations from the kitchens of friends far and near seemed to mock me.

I inwardly sighed. I'm no good at that stuff. I suck at decorating and celebrations. And I know I'd be a terrible homeschool mom...

In this Pintrest-Perfect, Post-it-to-Facebook world we live in, it is easy to feel like we don't measure up.
...Wow! She's training for a marathon? Does running after a toddler count as exercise?
...They are always doing such creative projects.  I never think of things like that.
...She always looks so nice. Maybe I should change my yoga pants. 

Of course, we all know that most people only present their best selves on social media, and it really is fun to see the amazing things our friends are doing.

But instead of feeling bad about all the things I am NOT doing or am NOT good at, I need to realize this truth: I don't need to be intimidated by what my friends are good at.

Just because someone else is good at her life doesn't mean that I'm bad at everything.

I mean, I am bad at a lot of things:

Keeping up with housework (and laundry...)
Doing my hair and make up (Can you say "2nd day hair messy bun"?)
Exercise (Sweat and I are not on good terms)
Feeding my pets (poor bird and guinea pig!)
Decorating cakes (seriously. They look like they were run over by a lawn mower by the time I am done)
Listening to my kids read (if ever there was an activity that needed the patience of a saint...)

But I'm good at lots of things too!

Sewing stuffed animals and gifts
Cooking meals my family and friends love
Answering emails quickly
Tickling fights
Sticking to an organized schedule
Doing research
Being a public school mom (I hope!)

And lots of other things too (which I can't think of...apparently "Thinking of things I am good at" is not one of things I am good at)!

You don't need to be afraid that you am not a good person/mother/human just because you are impressed with another person's unique gifts.

So keep sharing your First Day of School Pictures, mama, and your beautifully decorated cakes, and your amazing homeschool projects.

Instead of being intimidated, I am going to put my own insecurities aside and give you a cyber high five (or click "like"!) and celebrate the amazing gifts that make you you! 
  
Do other people's gifts intimidate you?
What are you good at? 

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

If you think something is wrong, trust your gut

This is our story of discovering how to parent and educate our son in the best way possible. It is scary to write about this topic because it is intensely personal and it concerns my child, whom I always want to treat with respect. However, my goal in writing down our story is to give other families hope and direction. If you need hope and direction in your parenting journey, welcome. I share our story for you. 

I remember conversations I had with my husband last summer, 2014.

"He's really struggling. I tried having him read to me today. It was miserable. He has to sound each word out, even if we just read it two seconds ago. Or he keeps starting with the middle sound or the end sound. He gets so angry."

"Is he still doing the reversals?"

"Yeah."

"I noticed that too, but when we were doing some number stuff last night."

"Do you think I should say something to his new teacher?"

"I don't know. Maybe."

I didn't really know what to do. I knew that lots of Kindergarten, and even 1st grade, students have trouble with reading and reversals at times. But I had that little niggling feeling.

And this time, I decided not to ignore it.

I say "this time" because I have had that feeling about my son in the past, a feeling that made me knit my brows and say "hmm...I wonder..." Other times I would throw up my hands in frustration and wonder which one of us was riding the crazy train (probably both).

 Even when Benji was two years old, my husband said, "There's just something...I don't know. That kid's unique."

We talked about how Benji lived in his own little world. We described him as "quirky," "zany," and "his own person." We joked with him: "Which planet are you on today, Benji?" And he would answer us--in great detail! Oh, his little sense of humor!

But I struggled to understand him.

I can't tell you how many times I've covertly googled "Autism symptoms," "Learning disabilities," and "Dyslexia." I've scrolled through dozens of lists, articles, stories  but have always come up short: "No. He doesn't fit that list...not quite. We fine. He's fine. Besides, if something was really wrong, someone will say something."

I mean, he was in day care and preschool off and on from age 2-4. Someone would say something if something was really wrong.

Right?

We chalked his struggles and behavior issues up to his age:
Well, he's only 3.
His teacher will say something if there is something going on.
LOTS of preschoolers act like that!
Well, he IS a boy! 
He's so young.
Lots of kindergarten students do that.

And suddenly, he was almost 7 and I was running out of excuses.
Yet...not one of his teachers or caregivers ever said anything to me.

And that meant nothing was wrong. Right?

I placed so much of my trust in other people's professional opinions that I stifled the growth of my "mother's intuition."

Sure, I had learned to trust intuition in the past--and it had been right. But my intuition had been about physical, medical problems.

This...this had no name. It was something I couldn't see, couldn't put my finger on. It changed, morphed, disappeared, and then violently resurfaced. Some days we were fine.

Other days, we were...not fine.

So I decided to stop ignoring my gut.

I sat down with Benji's first grade teacher at the Back to School night in early September and told her of some of our concerns. I asked her to keep an eye out for some issues we were seeing.

When our conversation was over, I was glad I talked to her...but I didn't feel any better.
Did she believe me?
Did she think I was being "that parent," the hovering, over-indulgent, coddling type?
Did she even take me seriously?
Would she see what we, as parents, saw?
Of course she would! She was a professional educator. As a professional, she would be able to tell us if something was wrong.

Right?

I didn't get any answers that night; in fact, taking my concerns out of my head and talking about them just added more questions and worries to the situation.

But, that night, something important happened: I stopped ignoring my gut, even if my intuituion was about something that I couldn't see, or quantify, or even describe very well.

Something was going on with my son, and I was going to discover what it was.

To be continued....
_____________________________________________________________

Are you ignoring or listening to your gut? 

Following your intuition often leaves you with more questions than answers. But if you think something is wrong with your child, trust yourself. You know your child better than anyone. No "professional" can ever know or love your child as well as you do.

Friday, August 7, 2015

When you can't do it all...ask for help

"I don't know how you do it."

I hear this phrase a lot--from my mom, mother-in-law, friends, colleagues--and inwardly cringe every time. I don't know how to answer this phrase. Is it a compliment? A warning of impending insanity?

Usually say, "Me neither."

I do a lot of things, but so do lots of women. And like lots of women, I usually keep all the balls I juggle in the air.

I have four children: school aged twins, a toddler, and baby, all of whom are constantly hungry
I have a house that never stays picked up, let alone clean
I work from home as an adjunct English professor and freelance editor
I have a husband whom I love dearly (oops! Can't forget about him!)
But this summer, stuff got real. Stuff hit the fan.
This summer, I felt like Life was holding a whip to my back, screaming at me: "DO IT, WOMAN! DO ALL THE THINGS! DO ALL THE THINGS AND BE AMAZING TOO!"

And this summer, I've to confront my Life, the task-master of my own creation, and whisper, "I can't."
So I've had to say four words that I have stubbornly, foolishly resisted-with-all-my-being to say in the past.

No
and
I need help 
This is how I WAHM (work at home mom)
In order to say "yes" to my basic Life responsibilities, I've had to be honest with myself and say, "My life is not working right now. I am stressed out of my mind. Something needs to change." So...

I gave up a volunteer position I loved.

I cut short a summer book club I started.

Because I have 55 students in my current 8 week term (a course load I used to handle with ease), I scheduled babysitters to watch the kids a few times a week so I can go to Panera and frantically grade papers for a few hours without distractions.

I enrolled my 2 year old in two-day preschool this fall.

I want to do it all. But I just can't.

And that's ok. Because none of us can do it all, all the time. Sometimes we have to ask for help.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Read with your child in 48 [Hard] steps!

For some kids, learning to read is not as easy as 1-2-3! It's more like climbing a very hard, tall, rocky, frustrating mountain.

Maybe you've climbed this mountain too.

The 48 Steps to reading with your (struggling) reader:

1. Call child. Tell him that it is time to read.
2. Call child again when he refuses to come.
3. Give yourself mental pep-talk (you can do this!!)
4. Let child choose book.
5. Child chooses book.
6. Child throws book after getting stuck on the third word.
7. Child chooses 2nd book. 
8. Child starts screaming at you after you tell him to "sound out" 7th word.

10. Tell child to calm down.
11. Child runs out of the room
12. Tell child to come back.
13. Child refuses.
14. You realize that child needs to "reset brain." Insist your child run around the house.
15. Child screams at you and refuses.
16. Suggest Jumping Jacks.
17. Repeat steps 14 and 15.

18. Take a break to nurse the baby.

19. Go find your child. Fight anxiety that your child has actually run away instead of running around the house.
20. Find child in the backyard. Breathe a sigh of relief.
21. Chat calmly with child about how he needs to work through his "brain funk" by moving his body.
22. Child decides to "move his body."
23. Give enthusiastic praise as child spins on swing, jumps on trampline in a a circle, and hangs from the top of the swingset like a monkey.
24. Child feels better.
25. Go back inside.
26. Child chooses 3rd book, one that he has read before.
27. Open book. Realize that there is an "Instructions for Early Readers" page.
28. Read page quickly to yourself and realize you have been doing everything "wrong" with your early reader.
29. Feel lots of guilt.

30. Child starts reading.
31. Resist urge to correct.
32. Resist urge to say "sound it out" every 2. 5 words.
33. Say GREAT JOB!!! every time you finish a page.
34. Give high fives!
35. Laugh with child at the funny parts.
36. Say "that's a bossy 'e'"
37. Say "sound it out."

38. Wait calmly and silently while child screams at you and then buries head in the couch.
39. Wait some more.
40. When child resurfaces, repeat steps 36-39 twice.
41. Say, "You're doing great!"
42. Say, "Only 2 more pages!"
43. Turn the page. Realize you lied.

44. Repeat steps 41-42.
45. Repeat steps 38-39.

46. Finish book.
47. Give high five!
48. Take five deep breaths and make yourself a cup of coffee.

Helping your struggling reader is no joke. Hang in there, mama. I'm right there with you.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

"It means you need to be strong and brave:" Telling my son about his learning disabilities

"MOOOOMMM!" He yelled. "STOP!"

"I'm sorry! Sound it out. h-h-h--"

"MooOOOM!" His voice took on an even angrier edge, his eyes flashing irritation.

"Benji, just read it. Sound it out. Start at the beginning."

"This! THIS!"

"It's not "this." There's no 'th.' Sound it out, Honey. "h-iiii--"

"GAHH! MOM!!! I don't WANT YOUR HELP!" He dropped to the floor and flung his arms around his knees, making himself into a ball, a position that is all too familiar to me.

I was losing my temper and trying not to. We had been at this for twenty minutes.
One Bible Verse: Twenty minutes.

"Stand up! Get off the floor! Let me help you--"

"I don't want your help!!!!"

"BENJI!!!!"

"No! NO NO NO!"

And we were fighting...again.

I knew I needed to calm down. We have deep ruts down this path, the path of fighting, struggling, pressing forward and falling down...deep down into relational brokenness, all over reading.

But it's more than reading troubles. We just learned some new names for it: Language Processing Learning Disability and Auditory Processing Disorder.

It affects so much of my son's daily life: listening; processing sounds, words, and their meanings; understanding requests and direction; remembering instructions; basic, daily communication; and the ever-dreaded reading.

And here we were again, in the same deep, frustrated, angry, miserable-mom-miserable-son, RUT.

"Let's breathe," I said. And we did.

He pretended he was a balloon, squeezing out all of his angry air.

I decided to take a step into unknown territory, to forge a new path.

"Look at me, buddy. I want to be a team. Can we be a team?"

"I'm only teams with super heroes!"

"Well, can we be a super hero reading team?"

Then I held him on my lap, my little-big bony boy and spoke quietly into his ears, so sensitive to noise that listening to music in church causes weekly meltdowns.

"Benji, you know how you have trouble listening, and understanding words sometimes? How it's hard to follow directions and read? Well, it's because you have something called Auditory Processing Disorder."

He turned to face me, curious.

"You know how you have pathways from your ears to your brain? Well, sometimes those pathways go...um..." I made a noise that sounded like a cross between static and clearing your throat, because he likes noises. "CHXXXTCH! and the message doesn't meet your brain in the way it came through your ear."

He stared at me, his head cocked to one side and said, "CHXXTCH!"

"That's right! So when the CHXXTCH! happens, it's hard to listen and follow directions. And it makes reading hard."

"I do not like to read."

"I know, baby, I know. How about I read it to you, and you just listen?" So I read his memory verse again. "How 'bout I read it one more time?"

"No, mom! I'll read it." He said enthusiastically. And he tried again, he tried so hard.

We stumbled to the last word. "Faithfulness." I prompted.

"Thankfulness."

"No, faith-ful-ness."

"Thankfulness"

"Th-th-th."

"F-f-f-f"

"FAITHFULNESS."

"THANKFULNESS."

And then I saw it, a rare glimpses into my son's world.

"Benji--do "faithfulness" and "thankfulness" sound like the same word?"

"Yeah." Duh.

"Ok, I see." I nodded, reveling in the clarity of this moment. "They really are different. Here, put your teeth on your lips: f-f-f."

He tried: "f-th-th-f. ffffffaaaiiinkfulness. faaaiiinthnnkkfullness."

He tried. He tried over and over: "Fainkfulness. Thaithfulness. Faithfulness! MOM! I DID IT!"

"You did it!

"Faithfulness! Fainkfulness!"

It didn't matter. He was smiling, his brow free from his debilitating frustration. We did a special fist-bump-high-five combo.

He read the verse one more time, halting, stopping-starting, mis-reading, mis-interpreting, pushing through the overwhelming CHXXXTCH in his brain. We finished together.

"One more time?" I asked.

"No."

I smiled. "Good job, B." I prompted him to look in my eyes, another task he struggles with.

"Listen, honey. I know this is hard." I hesitated. Should I go on? "You know, people learn in all different ways. And because your pathways get messed up sometimes, it can be hard for you. It's because...because of your learning--"

My brain said disabilities but my psyche recoiled. After a year of struggle, worry, testing, research, specialists, fighting, pushing, and so many, many tears, we finally got a name. We have a name for his struggles. But I just couldn't choke out the word.

"...because of your...uh learning challenges. But that's ok! Learning challenges just mean you need to be strong and brave."

"I'm super-strong and brave!" He showed me his muscles.

"I know you are, B. I know you are."

And I'm learning to be strong and brave too. 

Because this is just the beginning of our journey.  

_________________________________________________________ 

If you were wondering what this post was about, my story today is my first time writing about this topic.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

What's going on outside your window?

So much of my days are filled with this: 
 And this:
And this:
And this (which is so much more fun than the first three pictures!):
My life is lived tight within the walls of my little house--the cleaning, the cooking, the grading, the kids. Sometimes it is easy to get wrapped up in my own little world and forget that there is a lot going on outside the walls of my house. 

This past week, my sweet neighbor and friend Amanda reminded me of the need to look outside myself--just by a simple text. All she did was remember that I had an important event in my life, an event that I was worried about and one that was going to have a large impact on my family. But it was the remembering that was huge. I thanked her for the text the next day and she brushed it off as if it was nothing. 

"I was just going to bed and I stopped and thought, 'What is going on in the world outside my house that I should be remembering?'" 

She thought about me so she let me know. She took the time to think about the life outside her windows. Her text made me feel loved and cared about.

Her thoughtfulness really meant something to me and it challenged me to look outside the windows of my house, beyond the dishes, the messy living room, the endless emails, and the play-dough playtime. My life is FULL and BUSY and STRESSFUL at times. But while there is a lot going on inside my world, there is even more going on outside.

Who is getting cancer treatment?
Who just had a baby?
Who is homesick?
Who just had a breakup?
Who is struggling?
Who needs encouragement?

 It only took my friend a few seconds to send me a text but her simple act made a world of difference to me. It encouraged me on a day that I was struggling...and also encouraged me to look outside my world to see where I can be an encouragement to others--it only takes a minute to send a text, an email, a facebook message, or make a call.

What's going on outside your window?

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Happy 6 months, Eli!

Eli's 6 month birthday was actually 4 days ago...but as the 4th child in the family, it's just par for the course that this update is late, right?  (poor 4th child!!)

This little guy is a butterball of joy. He is my biggest baby yet--18 whopping pounds! That's 2 lbs more than Silas at 6 months...and...uh...Micah and Benji barely weighed more than that at TWO YEARS OLD! He is growing out of 6 month onesies and fits comfortably in 9 month clothes. It is crazy having such a big baby!
Little Man loves his milk! After our first rough month, I'm so glad that breastfeeding has been successful. We feed on demand...and he demands a lot! I love his thunder thighs! This kid has rolls!
We haven't started solids yet but we will in the coming weeks--all his older brothers started eating real food around 7 months or so.

Eli is on a 3 nap a day schedule (though not always at the same time or length every day). I moved him out of the rock sleeper a few weeks ago into a pack and play in my room. He still wakes up a lot at night (Yawn for mommy).
 Eli loves to be in the action! He is a squealer and grunter. He also loves to be tickled and talked to. Micah and Benji do a great job looking after Eli while I am in the shower or while I make dinner. Silas is such a good big brother too and loves to talk to "E-why" and nuzzle and "wrestle" with his baby brother.
 This is his new "trick"--Look, mama! I can sit up! He's still working on those ab muscles but he can sit up for a few minutes before falling or diving forward (we've had a few bonks before mama could catch him! Poor baby!).
He also loves to roll from his back to his belly but somehow has forgotten how to roll back so I have to "rescue" him a lot from this position. Aaron and I have witnessed him pushing up with his arms and also on his toes. Uh oh! Does this mean early crawling??? Slow down, baby!
Eli seems to be following in the footsteps of his older brothers: He loves this jumper! Some days, he jumps till he drops! He also loves to kick, either in his rocker chair (so he can make it rock), or in his bed (thunk! thunk! thunk! thunk!). In fact, I have bruises on my legs from Mr. Kicky-pants!

He also has started to play with toys, his current favorites being a set of plastic keys and a tiger that buzzes when he pulls a cord, or anything that he can put in his mouth and slobber over. He is my drooliest baby! I have to change his shirts on a regular basis because he drools so much. Nope, no teeth in sight!
He loves his mama the best, though he always wants his daddy to hold him and kiss his neck--lots of giggles! I tried and tried to get him to smile for this picture. He looks so serious but he really is a happy baby!

Everyone told me that after you have three kids, adding a fourth is a piece of cake. This hasn't exactly been true for me. I  feel like I am still trying to figure out my life as a mom of four, especially how to be a work-at-home mom of four! Most days I feel like I am being pulled in a million different directions every 5 minutes, especially since Micah and Benji are out of school for the summer too. Whew!

I would write more about our sweet baby but...he just woke up from his nap! Happy 6 months little boy!

Friday, June 19, 2015

You don't have to enjoy every minute to be a good mom

When my twins were babies, I was consistently bludgeoned with this advice by well-meaning people: "Enjoy every minute."

I hated this phrase...mostly because I was going through one of the most difficult experiences of my life. Just keeping up with the daily care of two infants was hard enough--and I was supposed to "enjoy every minute" too?

I felt like a failure.

 One of my favorite bloggers, Modern Mrs. Darcy, wrote an article the other day about marriage, called "What makes a relationship work?"

This line stuck out to me:
...I’ve been warned by older and wiser friends not to panic if we hit a rough patch—strong marriages have bad weeks, months, even years
We seem to accept the truth that "strong marriages have bad weeks, months, even years" so why does this truth seem harder to swallow when applied to parenthood?

 The thing is, our kids are people too, complete with little personalities, big attitudes, funny quirks, and loud opinions. And just like a strong marriage, our relationship with our kids requires work and daily maintenance.

In my seven+ years of parenting, I have come to realize that relationships with my children can and do go through difficult times that are frustrating, irritating, exhausting, even soul-crushing--trials of growth and times where I literally pull my hair out and think what-the-heck-am-I-doing?

There are so many times I have thought "I am a bad mom" or "I am not doing my best" when really, I was just going through one of these trials of growth. And growth is uncomfortable and painful and....not enjoyable.

The truth is, you don't have to enjoy every minute to be a good mom, despite the little old lady in the grocery store who sighs "it-goes-by-so-fast,"  and the "soak-up-every moment / enjoy every stage / be-the-perfect-parent-today-or-screw-your-kids-up-for-tomorrow" social pressures that we are inundated with on a daily basis.  

Parenting is hard because we are in relationship with tiny humans, and all good, lasting relationships have hard times. The key words there are "good" and "times," because there are good times too--seconds, moments, days, and years that are good, and should be soaked up and enjoyed.

Those are the times where we feel like good parents.

But the reality is, whether in marriage, or friendship, or parenting, or any relationship, feelings can be fleeting. It's the sticking through the hard times that spells commitment, the "I-will-do-my-best-no-matter-what-because-I-love-you" that is the true marker of a "good" mom.

Is motherhood enjoyable? I think the answer to that question depends on the mother and the moment you ask.

But if the litmus test of a "good mother" is how much we enjoy it, we will always be sentimentalizing the past or wishing ourselves in a less difficult parenting moment (naptime, anyone?).

We need to release the expectation of "enjoying motherhood" and focus on the reality of growing our relationships with our children, and all the good, bad, infuriatingly messy, ugly, and beautiful aspects that relationships with people bring to our lives.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

When Silence is full of words

I haven't blogged in a month. And it isn't because I haven't had anything to say. Actually, it's because I had too much to say...but I haven't had the the words to say it.

I still don't.

All I can say is this: I've been going through Something Hard, something that I want to talk about and write about but don't always have words for.

Writing has always been a way for me to process my thoughts, feelings life. And I've felt like I want to write about what's been gong on, but I can't. Not yet.

My husband has this theory that goes like this: People want to talk about what they want to talk about. Meaning, even if you didn't intend to have a certain conversation or say whatever you said, subconsciously, you wanted to say exactly what you said. 

He calls it "The Corner Theory," meaning you back yourself into the "corner" you want to talk about, either consciously or unconsciously (usually the latter).

This is why people tend to tell secrets to strangers, like the person sitting next to you on a cross-country flight.

Writing is a bit more conscious and deliberate. There is such vulnerability in "putting it all out there." Writing is big, black, bold...and, in a way, permanent. It's committing to the idea.

I have talked about the Something Hard with a lot of people, and that has helped me process some of the crazy and scary and unknown. But the words fall and float away as soon as they're said. Nothing sticks. Nothing's permanent.

But writing about it still scares me, because somehow, making the commitment, saying the words, makes it real, like honest-to-goodness THIS is my life. THIS is real. THIS is hard, damn it.

For me, writing is accepting the real.
It's brave. 
And I'm not brave, not yet.
 But maybe someday I will be. 

For now though, until I have the answers and words, the Something Hard still looms large. I am so full of words, but I don't know how to say them. 

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

When Holy Desire and Motherhood Colide: A story of how God answered my unspoken prayers

When I was a teenager, I dreamed of doing “something big” for God. I would write that book; I would travel the world; I would speak before thousands at seminars; I would become the mentor that would impart godly wisdom. I was ready to soar for God’s glory.

Fifteen years later, married with four young sons, I sometimes feel that I am grounded, both physically and spiritually.

My aspirations are much less grandiose (and self-glorifying) now, but my desire to serve the Lord is still deep. Yet I often feel frustrated that my heart wants to offer so much more than the reality of my life allows me to give. After all, husband, home, and children take up most of my daily effort and energy.


I know I'm not alone. As I listen to my friends and read in the blogging world, I know that many women feel as I do. While I recognize my God-given roles as a wife and the mother of four young boys, I still have the ache to do something more.

Shouldn't I just be content with the ministry of my family?  What do we do when our desires to serve God are harnessed by the responsibilities of domestic life and motherhood?

I often don't even know how to pray about this desire. So I don't.

But God knew it anyways.

Unexpectedly, my old college roommate contacted me: “Let’s get together for coffee! I have something that I want to talk to you about.

During Silas' naptime, we sat at my kitchen table and Sabrena told me about her MFA thesis, “The Lucky Ones” project: a set of three graphic novels, a la comic book style, to address human trafficking of American girls in the USA. The project, focused on education and prevention, was unique and inspiring. I was so excited for her.

But then, she asked me a surprising question.

“Would you consider being my writer for this project?”

I felt a shocking holiness in her question, almost like God was saying, "I see you. I know you can't go overseas, or travel the country, or work for a non-profit, or do midnight counseling sessions in jail cells...but this. You can do this. I know your heart. I haven't forgotten about you." 

That was two years ago. Since then, I have learned about the sobering, wretched reality of the human trafficking sex trade. I've written two stories for her project, and our team is hoping to do a third story in the future.
The Lucky Ones team: Me, Sabrena, and Mike (our illustrator)
It has been the most challenging project I have ever done. In fact, after writing two stories, I feel my psyche resisting, because plunging my mind and heart into this type of story telling once again is soul shocking, like jumping into the deep end of a freezing swimming pool and getting the wind knocked out of you as you struggle to keep your head above water.

During the research and writing process, my husband has shaken his head out of concern for me, saying, "I can tell you're researching again. You're in a dark place."

The project has been difficult, but it has also been Good. Sabrena is about to defend her thesis. "The Lucky Ones" is a beautiful, powerful project that I pray will bring education and prevention to many, many people.

I got to be a small part of "something big."

So what is the point of this story? I guess it's this: God has not forgotten you.

This opportunity opened my eyes to the unique and unexpected ways that God can fulfill my desires to serve him (Psalm 37:4), even when, in my life as a busy mom of young children, it seemed impossible.
As mothers, we often feel like our duty is to constantly meet the needs of others. There is holiness in this act of selflessness. Yet God cares about our needs as well.

He also cares about our desires.

 As Jen Pollock Michel writes in her book Teach us to Want, “we discover that our desires are given by God—not in the sense of granted, but more in the sense of confided.”

I'm becoming more brave in telling God my desires these days. But, in reality, he already knows them, and he wants to give me so many Good Gifts. 

In wrestling with my own frustration of balancing my personal wants and trusting God for his timing, I have quietly learned that God has not forgotten about my youthful desires to serve him. The first act of service is trust. As Michel writes, “Holy trust believes that whatever God chooses to give is enough.”

And God does give. The only thing left to do is say "yes" to these unexpected, surprising opportunities to serve, small as they may seem, in this season of limitations.

________________________________

Want to learn more about "The Lucky Ones" Project? Click here! 

Monday, April 27, 2015

Meng Menu


Sunday: Crispy pork chops, mashed potatoes, broccoli w/ cheese
Monday: Pulled pork, chips, apples
Tuesday: Chicken, Broccoli, and rice casserole
Wednesday: Fried catfish, potato wedges, salad
Thursday: Ham and cheese roll up, salad
Friday: Out to eat
Saturday: Sloppy joes, baked beans, carrots 

Sunday: Meatloaf, baked potatoes, green beans
Monday: Grilled pork chops, parmesan rice, peas
Tuesday: Pork fried rice w/ veggies, eggrolls
Wednesday: Turkey spinach meatballs, pasta and sauce, garlic rolls
Thursday: Pulled pork sandwiches, chips, apples
Friday: Out to eat
Saturday: Asian chicken thighs, rice, green beans

I feel like my life has been all out of whack for the past 2-3 weeks. We had spring break, then an unexpected week trip to Florida for a family funeral. We just got back last Tuesday evening and then my brother came to stay for the weekend. Whew! Busy and fun but I am ready for some sense of normalcy. 

Menu planning helps me return to "normal" (whatever that is!). As much mental effort and energy planning and shopping for two weeks takes, I am so relieved to have a plan in place for our dinner plans for the next two weeks. 

Monday, April 6, 2015

Planting Seeds

I am terrible at growing plants. I have killed every plant I have ever tried to nurture.

I mean, I KILLED A CACTUS, ya'll. True story.

I am a terrible plant mother. I am a better real mother. I mean, the jury is still out...but to date, all my kids are still alive. ;)
I think a lot about being a good mother, not just in the clothes/food/exercise/school/sleep departments but in raising my boys to be good men, men that love others and love God.

I want them to know God and follow Jesus when they're ready. So I take them to church, and we fold our hands before meals, and talk about how Jesus lived and loved, died and rose again.

Most of the time, I feel like they aren't listening, like somehow my "preaching," and praying, and showing The Way isn't reaching their hearts.

But I keep trying.

Like for Easter this year, I decided to try Something New. I had high hopes for Something New, like the Something New would result in this special moment in my sons' spiritual education and relationship with God.

This is how it went:

Our church put together a contemplative walk for Easter Week. A couple from our church invited families to walk the trails in their woods marked with 14 stops, each with a chair for sitting, thinking, praying, and reading selected scripture from the last hours of Christ, ending with his death and burial. The story, of course, would be finished on Easter Sunday. Our pastor put together booklets with the scripture and invited people to come walk the trail.

Since my boys really are not huge fans of sitting still (or traditional church stuff), I though, "Wow! This could be great! It is really active. We can read the Bible! This is gonna be good."

So on Good Friday, I loaded up all 4 of my little guys in the car: two 7 year olds, a 2 year old and a 3 month old.

The boys were ready to RUN! The pastor greeted us when we got there and tried to explain the walk  as I squished the baby into the front carrier, kept one hand on Silas, and kept telling Micah and Benji to WAIT FOR ME! THANKS FOR THE PAMPHLET! K' BYE!

And we were off!

We made our first stop. The boys fought over who would sit in the chair while I quickly scanned the scripture passage (wow! This is really long...ok! Paraphrase! Paraphrase!) Whoops! Ok, we're off to stop #2!

And speaking of #2....before we were even 10 minutes in the woods, I hear this phrase from my 7 year old:

"Mom. I gotta go."
"Honey! Pee or poop?" Please be pee...!
"Poop."

Gah! NOOO! This is the child who coined the frantic phrase "IT'S COMING CLOSER!!!"

I thought we were going to have to squat by a tree while other church members passed us by, contemplating their Good Friday in silent prayer. Don't mind us! Just a little pooping going on here! But...a miracle happened.

"Don't worry. I can hold it."

After asking "Are you sure?" six times, we continued our walk.

Or run, I should say. The boys were going FAST. We kept catching and passing people on the trail.  "Ok, boys." I reminded them. "People are thinking about Jesus and praying. Let's....ok! Listen! Let's BE QUIET!!!"

We got to stop 6....and it started to rain. Oh....great.
It was just sprinkling. BUT I was alone in the woods with four children and we had 8 stops left to go.

"Uhh...I think we should go back, boys. It's rain--"

"No, Mom! No! It's ok! Let's go!

So we went. I kept going, the rain-spattered scripture pamphlet in one hand, and a yellow race car and snack cup full of goldfish--compliments of Silas--in the other hand.

Despite the rain, it was a beautiful day and a beautiful walk.
There was a stream.
There were trees.
There were rocks.
There were big splashes.
There was dirt.
And sticks.
And sword fighting....all while I struggled to read them Bible verses about how Jesus prayed in the garden, was kissed and betrayed, then beaten and mocked, taken to the cross.

"Listen." I urged. "Let's listen!"


It started to rain a bit harder. The boys found a big rock and threw it in a mud puddle. SPLESCH! It made a great noise.

This is hopeless. They aren't hearing anything I'm saying.

Silas kept falling down. Eli was slobbering all over the wrap because he wanted to nurse.

The boys kept running. "Woo hoo! This is the best day EVER!"

I was struggling to keep up. Why did I wear skinny jeans and nude flats for a walk in the woods? What is wrong with me?!

It was really raining now. Silas was crying because he fell down...again.

"Ok, boys. Ok. Alright...here. Last stop! 'And they...um..they laid him in a tomb.' That's like a cave where they put people when they die. A man named Joseph gave the tomb to Jesus...ok...and we're off again!"

We made it back to the car. The pastor asked, "How was it?"

I laughed a little bit. "Well, it was a little--DON'T GET MUD ON THE SEATS--it was a little crazy. I am not sure how much they heard. But they seemed to enjoy it."

He smiled. "Well, you're planting seeds."

And I smiled back and nodded. And then I dashed to put all those little boys in the car because it was REALLY raining by this time.

Planting seeds. There must be a reason Jesus used that metaphor in his parables. Planting is dirty work, and pretty boring. There's a lot of waiting, and hoping, and wondering if anything is going to come up.

There is nothing super-spiritual about the act of planting a seed.  Just poke a hole, push the seed in, cover it up, brush the dirt off on your skinny jeans, and hope for the best.

I turned on the windshield wipers and backed out of the drive way. I glanced at the clock: we walked for almost an hour.

"That was awesome, Mom!"
"Yeah. This is my favorite day."

I decided to gamble a question: "Do you guys remember anything we talked about while we walked?"

"Uh...about how Jesus died on the cross?"
"Yes! That's right! Anything else?"
"Yeah, he healed that guy's ear that got cut off with the sword! Right?"
"Yes! Right!"
"And he wore a crown of sticks on his head."
"Thorns...!"
"Yeah, thorns. And then he went in the cave. And then he rose from the dead!"
"Anything else?"
"Uh...no. That's all."

I smiled. That's all.

It wasn't some big spiritual breakthrough or deep conversations or special prayers or warm fuzzies. There was dirt and rocks, sticks and slow-down, crying and falling, yellow cars and goldfish, shushing and slobbering, poop-scares and rain. There was so much...Human.

And that's what He came for.

That's all.

Planting seeds...it's enough.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

I'm 100% Mom and 100% Wife--And it has to be that way

This past week, the internet exploded with two more articles in the "Mommy Wars," this time targeting women's roles in the modern American family.

This was the first article: "I'm 99% Mother and 1% Wife--And it has to be that way" in which the author, a tired mother, states why she will always put her kids above her husband (to the detriment of her marriage).

This response hit the web a few days later: "I'm 49% Mother and 51% Wife--And it has to be that way." This article was from a Christian woman who argued that in order for a family to be happy and healthy, a wife must make her husband a priority over her children, if only by 2%.

Here's my two cents:

If we are going to pursue happy, healthy, and godly relationships in our families, we need to be 100% mom and 100% wife.

Because...they are two different roles.

Being a good wife doesn't mean that I ignore my children for the sake of my husband.

Nor does being a good mom mean that I forget that I am married to a man I respect and love.
Photo by S. Carter Studios
They are two different roles, each requiring different time commitments and energy focuses.

Aaron and I talked about this issue in the car yesterday as we drove for 2.5 blissful hours--blissful because all 4 boys were strapped in their car seats and no one was crying or screaming for food (thank you, DVD player).

My husband is a math guy (it's true: he as two math degrees) and he "did the math" on the  mother/wife debate.

Aaron: Let's say you get 8 hours of sleep at night--
Me: bahahahahaha!
Aaron: I was being hypothetical. But let's just say...Then you have about 10 hours of "mothering" before I get home from work at 5. We have about 2-3 hours of co-parenting before the kids go to bed and maybe 2 hours before we both conk out for the night. 

Yeah...you're pretty much 100% mom. 

Me: Do you feel neglected as a husband? 
Aaron: Not at all. 

Of course, adding up the numbers to determine value and worth of my family roles is pretty silly.  Plus, by that criteria, the kids win and I am a sucky wife. But just because I spend more time and energy with the kids doesn't mean I don't "put my husband first."
Photo by S. Carter Studios

My relationship with Aaron is a huge priority to me, which is how I am interpreting "putting my husband first" (Otherwise, I really don't know what this phase means).

The 99/1 and the 51/49 relationship arguments pit motherhood and wifehood against each other, as if being a "good mother" means I can only toss 1% to my husband, or being a "good wife" means that I must  somehow carve out 51% of....something to my husband.

I believe this creates needless anxiety for many women: Oh no...am I prioritizing the kids before my husband? Am I more "mom" than "wife"?

It doesn't have to be either/or, 99/1, or even 49/51.

The roles of "wife" and "mother" don't need to be at war with each other.
We can be 100% mothers and 100% wives.  

Or maybe, instead of focusing on percentages and numbers, we should just focus on being the best moms and wives we can possibly be in our unique family situations.

 A few more thoughts:
~Other than the false 51/49 bifurcation, I agree with pretty much everything Ashleigh said in her article. Cultivating a strong marriage relationship is foundational for a strong family.

~I think the 99/1 mentality often results from a woman feeling like her husband is an overgrown "child" who is a burden to take care of. A healthy marriage is a partnership of equals, with mutual respect between spouses.

~Consider how silly this discussion sounds when the gender roles are reversed:
I'm 99% father and 1% husband--And it has to be that way (???)
or
I'm 51% husband and 49% father--And it has to be that way (???)
100% dad and 100% husband--And it has to be that way

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Happy 3 months, Eli!

Three Months Today!
Elijah Jefferson Meng is THREE MONTHS OLD today! Happy 3 months, baby!
Here he is in all his 7lbs 10 oz glory. We've come a long way since December 23. 
The first month after he was born was very difficult. In fact, Aaron and I kept talking about how his first month reminded us of Micah and Benji's first month. In reality, the twins first month was nothing like their little brother's but the overwhelming, emotional difficulty felt the same. 
Eli had a tongue tie that went undiagnosed for a month. Looking back, it was so frustrating (to use a mild word) because I asked the lactation consultant in the hospital if he was tongue tied, 2 LCs that we saw in the first 2 weeks after his birth, and a pediatrician. They all said NO, he doesn't have a tongue tie. The thing was, he didn't have a traditional tongue tie, but a posterior tongue that was difficult to diagnose. 
But he had all the symptoms, the worst of which were excruciating, toe-curling pain while nursing (which ultimately led to cracked and bleeding nipples), terrible gas pains for Eli, screaming after every feed, wanting to nurse constantly, reflux, and screaming, screaming screaming. 
There was much crying for me and for my poor baby boy.  
Eli was the first baby we bought formula for. I was seriously considering giving up nursing. I felt like a failure every time we gave him a bottle. We supplemented every day for about 2-3 weeks.  Finally, after doing hours and hours of research, I pushed aside all those "No's" and demanded an appointment with an ENT. I KNEW he had a tongue tie. At four weeks, we had the appointment and guess what? He had a posterior tongue tie. 
Mama knows best.
Eli had his tongue clipped (more tears for him and me) on a Thursday and by Monday, nursing was 75% better. It continued to improve even more over the next month. 
No more screaming after nursing. No more massive spit-ups after every feed. No more pain for me. 
It got better
But that first month was ROUGH and LONG. 

But now we are at 3 months and time is flying by. 
Eli is a CHUNK: 15lbs. 
I can't believe it. After having twin preemie babies, I am constantly amazed that I have such a delightfully fat baby.
Eli loves his family, especially Aaron. He loves, loves, loves his Daddy! They "talk" together every night. Aaron has the magic touch that can get Eli to sleep almost every night.
Eli is very vocal and animated. He loves to smile, be tickled, and kissed on his delicious, fat cheeks!
He has an delightful little laugh.
All his brothers adore him. Silas and Eli are beginning to be best buddies. Silas is such a good big brother; he always tries to comfort "E-I" when his baby brother is crying. This morning, when Eli was crying (as I was trying to suck his nose out with that horrible torture device), I heard Silas saying, "E-I! E-I! It's ok!" over the baby monitor. Sweet, sweet brothers.

We love you precious baby! Happy 3 months little guy. We look forward to many more happy days with you in the future.



Thursday, March 12, 2015

How to Start Planning a Weekly Dinner Menu

Dinnertime can be the worst, right? The kids are clawing at your leg, begging for goldfish, your husband is asking "what's for dinner?", and you are stressed out of your mind, wondering what you can throw together with half a box of spaghetti, a block of cream cheese, and some broccoli that is headed south. Pizza...? Wait, we did that last night...Sigh. 
I hate not having a plan for dinner so I try to make Menu Planning a regular part of my life. It doesn't completely reduce the "Witching Hour" woes, but I have discovered 6 ways that Menu Planning makes my life easier.

1. Menu planning makes dinnertime less stressful. At our house, the 1-2 hours before dinner are a low point in my day. Everyone is hungry and sleepy and I tend to get crabby (coffee, anyone?). Having a plan for dinner helps me have a happier evening with my family.

2. Menu planning reduces trips to the grocery store. I hate going to the grocery store every two days (or every day...) to pick up something that I forgot. It wastes so much time; plus shopping with kids? No thanks. By planning a weekly menu, I usually have everything on hand to make dinner (let's face it...I forget something on my list each week!).

3. Menu planning helps me save money. The weeks when I "wing it" at the store, I always spend too much money. Instead of buying groceries that I know we are out of, and mentally counting up dinners in my head (Monday: chicken, Tuesday: hamburger, Wednesday: pork chops...), when I grocery shop from my menu, it helps me stay on budget and avoid impulse spending or the inevitable daily trip to the store because I forgot something.

4. Menu planning helps me be healthier. I like to cook healthy meals for my family. When I menu plan, I am more likely to serve vegetables, fruits, and leans meats for dinner.

5. Menu planning reduces eating out. Oh, this is the downfall of me and my husband. "You wanna grab McDonalds while we're out?" "Sure." And the kids are happy because...happy meal, right? But while the kids may be happy, our budget isn't. When I know I have planned for pork loin, potatoes and green beans that evening, it is a lot easier to say no to the draw of the drive-through.

6. Menu planning helps me get creative in the kitchen. It is easy to get into a dinner rut, eating the same things over again over again. When I plan a weekly menu, I am more likely to try a new recipe, instead of relying on the ol' standbys. Pintrest is my best friend.

So, maybe you want to try your hand at weekly menu planning but don't know where to start.
Here are 6 simple steps to help you reap the benefits listed above!


Step One: Look at your week. Menu planning isn't just about food; it's about making your life easier. Soccer practice on Wednesday night? Crockpot meal.
Potluck at church on Sunday? Great! Cookies it is!
I like to plan simple meals, like sandwiches, on busy nights. In our family, we also plan to eat out every Friday night. Planning our restaurant eating allows us to indulge in the luxury of eating out without feeling guilty... and it gives me a break from cooking too. Win, Win.

I always menu plan on Sunday, but the key is to pick a day to plan and shop that helps you feel the most prepared to tackle the week ahead--maybe Saturday or Monday is the best day for you! 

Step Two: Look in your pantry. Or freezer. Take stock of what you already have on hand (tons of pasta? Spaghetti night this week!) before you plan your meals.

Step Three: What's on sale? Perusing ads, paper on online, is a major way to save money because you can plan your menu around what's on sale. For example, if chicken breasts are 99c a pound, I will plan 3 meals with chicken: Hellman's Chicken, Chicken Broccoli Alfredo, and Creamy Chicken Noodle Soup. I go to kroger.com each week before I shop.

Step Four: Click or Clip Coupons. This is another way you can save money. Since I am a frequent Kroger customer, the store often sends me coupons in the mail. I can also load coupons to my Kroger Card from their website. Using coupons to save money is up to you. Sometimes I use a lot of coupons, other times only a few. I want coupons to save me money as well as time so I am not one to scour the internet for obscure coupon deals. Make your coupons work for you!

Step Five: Plan Your Meals. This step often feels like the hardest one, especially if you are just starting to cook on a regular basis.  Here are some tips to help plan a successful menu:

Start small: If cooking for the whole week feels overwhelming, plan for 3-4 meals (and work up to 6 or 7!) and get pizza or take out on the other nights. The key is to have a PLAN!
Utilize cooking resources: Pintrest is a great resource. I also like allrecipes.com--it's like an online cookbook. For simple, easy meals that use convenient ingredients, try kraftrecipes.com. Or, dig into a paper cookbook, or ask your mom or grandma for family recipes!
Plan a theme night: Make Tuesday sandwich night each week or eat "Brinner" (breakfast for dinner) each Saturday. Themes can help you fill in the blank spots on your menu more easily.
Keep your families tastes in mind: Maybe your kids love pasta so plan a regular spaghetti dinner. (Then sneak some extra veggies into the jar of sauce). There is nothing better than hearing your kids say "Yes! This is my favorite dinner."(rather than, "YUCK! Why do you always make food I hate?")
Try something new: Maybe you've always wanted to learn how to make potstickers, or lasagna, or...whatever! Plan a new meal into your menu. Trying new recipes keeps cooking fun.

Step Six: Go Shopping. Once you plan your meals, make your grocery list and go shopping (don't forget to list items for breakfast, lunch, and snacks!). I like to go to Kroger on Sunday afternoons so I can shop sans kids.

Once your shopping is done, pat yourself on the back, breathe a sigh of relief, and put your weekly menu on the fridge. That way you can simply point when you hear that daily question, "What's for dinner?"

Share your favorite menu planning tips below!

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