Saturday, December 7, 2019

How We Thrive On One Income



Today I want to discuss a potentially taboo topic. Many people do not discuss finances. However, I have had many women interested in becoming a stay at home wife or mom ask how we live (and thrive) off of one budget. I did not grow up in a family where anyone I knew stayed at home and so I had to learn along the way. I have been a stay at home mom for almost two years now and am going to share my top tips and tricks for how we have made that work.

I want to note that these tips apply to families who share an income, rather than those who keep their finances separate. That is a personal decision that you and your partner need to make and I am not here to tell you what is right for your family. With that out of the way, let's talk about how we live a comfortable life on one income.

We limit going out to eat or drink. Before I was a homemaker my husband and I took an honest look at our spending habits. Turns out the number one thing we were spending our money on was eating out. Not even on date nights or nice experiences. Rather, we were eating fast food frequently. A burger here, an overpriced coffee there, and those things add up quickly! We started making it a habit to eat most of our meals at home or to make lunches to take with us to work. When I began to stay at home with the kids we continued that practice. It has saved us quite a bit of money each month, and when we go out to eat it feels like a treat! We tend to eat out while out of town on vacation, for date nights, or as an experience with our children or friends.

I shop for groceries at Aldi. I am a huge proponent of healthy and balanced eating. I used to believe that to do so I needed to buy expensive superfoods from Whole Foods. If you are able to do so, enjoy! It was not feasible for us. I enjoy Aldi because I can find groceries at some of the best prices and the quality is still great. If you prefer to eat grass fed beef or pasture raised eggs, guess what? They have those as well for far less. I approach grocery shopping each week by meal planning and "shopping" my pantry and refrigerator for any items we haven't used up. You can read more about how I meal plan here. I have also learned over time that balance and incorporating as many food groups as possible helps me to feel my best. I can find all of those items there.

Thrifting is key. Almost all items I buy come from Facebook marketplace, mom selling groups, or thrift stores. Our drinking glasses came from Goodwill, many toys and furniture came from marketplace. Once Upon a Child is a great place to find clothes, cribs, and other items for kids. I have enjoyed thrifting since I was young and I have developed that skill over the years. There is nothing more exciting to me than receiving a compliment on something and letting the person know I bought it at a steep discount! Oftentimes local thrift stores have seasonal decor, and some big chains such as Hobby Lobby have 50% off days. Keep track of deals in your area. I am not saying to buy anything just because it is cheap. You can find good quality items in these stores, have standards just as you would buying new.

I do not replace items until we have run out. Shopping isn't a hobby. That includes shampoo, make up, and clothes. I wear my clothes until I need to replace them. I wear makeup until I run out. I don't buy new items "just to try". I haven't made shopping a hobby. Rather I try to take up other hobbies that don't involve the "high" that comes from impractical purchases. Oftentimes I think people use shopping as a replacement for other things going on in their lives. For example when we first moved to Ohio and I didn't know anyone. I would go to stores to have social interaction. I know that sounds sad, but it is true! I joined clubs and other groups to fulfill that need instead.

Set aside money to treat yourself. The benefit of having a budget is that you know where your money is going. If you talk to your partner and both agree on setting aside $100 a month each to spend any way you want, then that provides you with opportunities to treat yourself and keeps you from feeling limited. Spend it on a coffee here and there, get a pedicure, buy yourself a new purse. Or don't! Save for a few months and then splurge. If this is possible for you, it is a good practice to feel less restricted.

Invest your money. If you are able to, you are never too young to begin investing your money. Do research into what makes the most sense for you and your family. Maxing out your 401K, having mutual funds, investing in rental properties are just some ideas. We try to spend less money now, and save for our future life. We talk about what we want life to look like after retirement and so we spend less today. Some investments can bring in a little extra income without a lot of work on your end.

Be creative with activities or hobbies. You don't always have to spend money to have fun! I like to cook dinner for friends and have them over rather than going out to eat. We sign up our children for free classes at our local library. Every week I like to look at the city calendar or on Facebook events for local festivals. They are often free and fun! This holiday season especially there are many activities for families to attend without having to spend any money.

DIY as much as possible. I make our own hand soap, kitchen sink scrubs, and other items. They take a little extra time to make, but they save us money in the long run.

Use reuseable items. We use microfiber cloths for most of our cleaning reserving paper towels for some jobs (such as cleaning the toilets). I have started using wool dryer balls rather than dryer sheets. I am in the process of changing over to cloth napkins. We only use disposable plates or cups when having large parties. This allows you to use the same items over and over rather than throwing paper items out.

Communicate with your partner. If you share a bank account with your partner, communicate about large purchases. "I am thinking of replacing our sofa, when do you think a good time for that would be?" I am not encouraging someone holding control over you. I am simply making a case for communication, accountability, and budgeting. Make these conversations a monthly practice. When we are at our best my husband and I like to set a monthly budget where we plan out how much we would like to spend on groceries, recreation, bills, etc. This is a time where we also chat about any large purchases we would like to make. We are equal partners in this decision making.

If you are considering staying at home and would like a "practice run" I have often encouraged people to live off of one budget for at least one month, even while both of you are working outside of the home. This will allow you to work out any kinks and discover what works for your family before taking the plunge. Remember: budgeting doesn't have to be restrictive. It is helping you see where your money is going, and determine where you would like to spend it. Saving money on groceries helps you save up for that vacation you've always wanted to take. Buying an item used can free up more finances for things you've always wanted to do or buy. Happy saving!

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Sustaining Friendships Through Seasons of Change





Faithful friends are a sturdy shelter:
    whoever finds one has found a treasure.

Faithful friends are beyond price;

    no amount can balance their worth.

Faithful friends are life-saving medicine;

    and those who fear the Lord will find them.

Those who fear the Lord direct their friendship aright,

    for as they are, so are their neighbors also.
Sirach 6:14-17

A couple of years ago a friend told me that she wasn't sure that we could be friends any more because we were in very different life stages. In fact she put it more bluntly than that: "if I met you now I am not sure we would be friends". Ouch. She was single and dating around, and I was married and in talks with my husband about trying for our first child. I was hurt and confused. I wasn't the type of person who cared about those type of things, even though I've always been aware of them. After all I met my husband when I was eighteen. We had been dating ever since, married young, and have been together for more than a decade. In all that time I still valued female friendships, still sought them out. I cannot seek all of my needs and support through my spouse. I don't expect him to do so either.

Maybe this is because I have been on the other end of things as well. I have felt friends slip away when Mr. Right comes along. I've noticed friends call or check in less and less after cross-country moves and job changes under the excuse of busyness. I know I have used that as an excuse as well - whether true or not! Which leads me to this question: how can we sustain friendships during life changes? 

There is an old adage that says, "people come into your life for a reason, a season, or a lifetime". I think we have all heard it and can admit that it's true. There will be people who come and go in our lives regardless, and that is okay. However, I still believe it is important to put work into friendships because they matter. Just as I put work into my marriage I also make time for those in my life who are important to me.

The most important thing we can do is communicate. I have struggled with this over the years, but have been putting forth more of an effort. While you do not need to talk with your friend every day or even every week it is still worthwhile to make time for one another. Set up a monthly Skype chat, meet up for brunch, or send a random text. It can be easy to fall into simply following one another on social media and interacting there, but it is not the same as a genuine conversation.

Communicate when you are busy, and understand if your friend truly is. When a big life change such as a move, marriage, or child enter the picture it does take time for adjustment. You or your friend are navigating new territory and it is not reasonable to continue on like before. Take some time to enjoy this new phase of life, or allow your friend to do the same. Celebrate that season with them! Send a card, offer to visit their new city, set up a meal train for a new mom, or even send a care package. All are small gestures that mean a lot.

Communicate when you are hurt. I am going to call myself out here. I held in a lot of hurt with a friend once during a season of change, and it led to me spilling all of it out at once on them. It wasn't pretty nor was it healthy. Guess what? They didn't take it well. If something is bothering you then let your friend know. Use "I" statements to prevent sounding accusatory. "I was hurt that I didn't hear from you after my grandmother passed away," for example. If they are a "friend for a lifetime" they will hopefully be able to come to a resolution with you. If both of you are unable to do so, maybe you were only friends for a season. You enjoyed that season, but have moved on. That friendship was beautiful, wish them luck, and enjoy the new season you are in.

Lastly, appreciate the ebb of flow of friendship. There are times when you may feel close to a friend and other times you may feel separated or distant. Relationships are ever changing and so it is only fair we extend grace and love to those friends during that change. Make time for those you love, but understand that relationships are a two-way street. If a friend is not serving you or putting in the work, then focus your energy elsewhere. After all a new friendship may form during that time. If you feel that someone has been placed on your heart and you haven't spoken to them in a while, reach out. Doing so may rekindle something.

Change tries friendships, but it does not have to be the end of them. When the tide is changing and it can all seem overwhelming, I am so happy I have women in my life I can depend on to be a sturdy shelter.

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

I Can't Afford Therapy, Now What?




One reason many people do not seek mental health counseling is they feel that it is outside of their budget. After all, sessions may be $100/hr if not more. So what are you to do? Here are a few options for non-emergency cases. If you are having thoughts about harming yourself or others please seek assistance immediately. Referrals can be made to affordable options.

Call your insurance. Something I would tell clients to do is to call their insurance for a list of in-network providers. Oftentimes insurance will either cover sessions completely, or offer a discounted rate (co-pay). You may need to read the fine print. See what providers are covered by your insurance if therapy is not specifically mentioned, such as a social worker or other provider. 

Schedule with a community behavioral health center. I worked with community behavioral health centers as a clinical social worker, and we had many low cost options for clients. Often Medicaid covered services, and we offered sliding fee scales for those in need of a discounted rate. Many cities have such centers and can be found online easily. If they are not accepting clients at this time ask for a referral to another agency. We had many agencies we worked with in the field and could make recommendations for people with specific needs. 

Attend support groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, or other groups in your community. These moderated support groups will help you connect with others who are going through something similar. Learn more about groups in your area by visiting NAMI or the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance as well as the links above. 

Meet with a spiritual adviser. While not a replacement for therapy, talking with a preacher, pastor, or priest may bring some comfort. Moreover many congregations have partnerships with community behavioral health centers and can make referrals. I worked with Catholic Charities, and we had a wonderful relationship with congregations throughout our diocese. 

Talk with your school counselor. Clinical work is certainly not their focus, but I have known school counselors to make referrals and help parents find treatment for their children. If you have a great relationship with your school counselor start there. 

Take a look at your budget. Consider your budget and see if you can move some things around, or if you can save elsewhere. Mental health affects all aspects of life and if you feel you need to see someone or continue already helpful services, then it may be beneficial to re-evaluate expenses. 

I personally caution against self-help books and websites only because information can be taken out of context or may not be written by a trained mental health professional. If you enjoy reading them and they seem to benefit you, great, but they are not the same as tailored treatment by a social worker, counselor, LMFT, or doctor. If you are unable to continue meeting with a professional ask them for any recommendations they may have for podcasts, websites, or literature about what you would like to work on. 

Thursday, September 26, 2019

Easy Pumpkin Chili




Even though it's about 90 degrees in Ohio, I find myself craving fall comfort food. Usually by September and throughout the winter I live off of soups, stews, and chilis. Back in 2013 when my friends put together a family cookbook for me this pumpkin chili recipe was included. The great thing about soups, stews and chilis are that they can be made on the stove top or in the slow cooker. If you have leftovers, they freeze well also! Win-win.

If you are like me and wishing for crisp weather, or in the throes of winter I hope that this recipe keeps you warm, cozy and full.

Easy Pumpkin Chili

Prep time: 15 minutes 
Difficulty: Easy
Cook time: 1 hour stove top/2-5 hours in slow cooker, based on setting

INGREDIENTS
  • 1.5 pound ground beef
  • 1/2 medium onion, diced
  • 1 (16 oz) can hot chili beans, undrained
  • 1 (12 oz) bottle chili sauce
  • 1 (10 3/4 oz) can condensed tomato soup, undiluted
  • 1 cup canned pumpkin
  • 2 tsp pumpkin pie spice
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp sugar
  • 1/2 tsp pepper
  • 1/2 tsp chili powder

METHOD - STOVE TOP
1. In a large Dutch oven cook beef and onion over medium heat until no longer pink, drain.
2. Stir in the remaining ingredients. Add water if desired to reduce thickness.
3. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover and simmer for 1 hour.

METHOD - SLOW COOKER
1. Cook beef and onion over medium heat until no longer pink, drain and add to slow cooker.
2. Stir in the remaining ingredients. Add water if desired to reduce thickness.
3. Cook on low 4-5 hours or high 2-3 hours.


While I am currently dairy free due to breastfeeding (more on that here), traditional toppings such as cheese and sour cream would be tasty with this dish. I eat it as is, but experiment with avocado, crackers, or chips. 

Thursday, September 19, 2019

What to Expect During Your First Therapy Appointment



Before staying at home with my kids, when I would tell people that I was a mental health therapist (and still plan to be when my kids go to school) their eyes would get wide. Soon after they would ask, "what's that like?" It amazes me how much fear and anxiety surrounds therapy appointments, which is ironic considering that is what we are there to help with! So let's ease any fear you may have and break down that first session.

First things first, you'll make a call. You will call a therapist or therapist office and most likely will leave a voicemail. We are often seeing clients and therefore we answer calls or schedule in between sessions, or have someone at the front desk do so. During that call you will give insurance information and you will give a brief summary of why you are coming in. This doesn't have to be a long story, you can keep it as simple as "a breakup", "depression", or even "life adjustment". The assessment (your first appointment) is where we dig into the presenting issue more so no pressure in going into too much detail over the phone. The initial call is also a time where you can ask questions and explain your preferences. Want to meet with a male therapist? Now is the time to make that clear! If the agency, private practice, or center can accommodate you they will do so. Lastly you will schedule your appointment. Sometimes there is a waiting list, and sometimes there is not based on your availability. If you need help immediately please hang up and call 911. Do not wait.

So it's your first appointment. Hooray! Oftentimes you will have intake paperwork that you will print, fill out at home and bring with you or you will complete the paperwork in the waiting area. This paperwork often collects the same information as any doctor office such as demographics, insurance information, etc. It should also include a sheet on HIPAA regulations as well as a financial policy. Take the time to read these! They contain information about your privacy, late fees, and medical records.

Next you will meet with your therapist. The first session is known as an assessment and based on the practice will be about one to two hours long. Your therapist will introduce themselves to you and then gather information about your "why". That is, why you are wanting to meet with someone. Questions may include:

- Why are you coming in?
- What is it that you are struggling with?
- What would you like to work on?
- Tell me about your family.
- What about your friends?
- Are you on any medication?
- As well as some symptom specific questions based on information you give.

That is, we will get to know you. Some therapists will take notes during this time, and some will not. Many agencies require collaborative documentation now, meaning a therapist will fill out an assessment form with you on a computer. I usually took notes during the assessment, but did not in regular therapy appointments.

Okay, see you next week! That's it! After an assessment I would tell clients to think about what they wanted things to look like by the end of therapy. I would ask them this because therapy does not last forever, and it would help us create their treatment plan together. A treatment plan is simply what goals you may have and what skills we will be helping you learn and implement along the way.

Remember: you do the work, a therapist is someone who is there to walk with you on this journey. That may sound cheesy, but it's true. While a therapist may teach you coping skills and help you implement them the real work starts when you walk out our doors.

Thursday, August 29, 2019

My Positive, Natural Birth Story



If you are interested in hearing all about my positive, natural birth story then I recorded a video here! I had too much to say for a blog post, so I thought I would sit down and have a chat.

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

3rd Trimester Recap: Symptoms & Birth Plan

38 weeks pregnant


By the time you are reading this, baby boy has already been born! I must have jinxed myself in my second trimester post when I said that this pregnancy was going by so quickly, because my third trimester has felt never ending. I went from feeling full of energy to sore, large, and fatigued. At the same time, I have loved feeling baby boy move around so frequently as a constant reminder that he is growing and doing well.

One thing about third trimester that I seemed to have forgotten was just how quickly my belly grows. I vividly remember about half way through thinking, "he is supposed to gain how much more weight?!". I couldn't imagine getting any bigger, even though I had already been through this before with my daughter. I am truly happy that my body was able to make room for him though.

Before I hop into my symptoms for the third trimester I want to preface by saying I have communicated all symptoms clearly to my health team (midwife/OBGYN, physical therapist) and taken their advice along the way. If you have any aches, pains, or concerns please contact your doctor right away. While I made this little corner of the internet to share my experiences I am not a health expert. Trust your intuition!

SYMPTOMS

Lower back pain - As I have mentioned previously, I have minor scoliosis and therefore I tend to have chronic back pain. Pregnancy tends to exacerbate this, and I knew that from my previous pregnancy. Luckily I was able to get prenatal massage from my physical therapist, and my midwife prescribed prenatal massage as well! 

Pelvic pain - This was also something I worked on with my physical therapist who specializes in the pelvic floor. The baby has been very low all third trimester and I often feel him low in my pelvis which has caused some aches and pains. We have been addressing it through gentle exercises, icing, and rest.

Itchy skin - With your skin stretching as far as it can comes itchy skin, and oh boy was my bump itchy! I have been using this belly butter to keep my skin moisturized. 

Stretch marks - Speaking of which, my stretch marks always seem to show up in third trimester. I fully expected them this time around because the same thing happened with my last pregnancy. Luckily mine fade after several months, but the truth of the matter is this: for some people, using belly balm religiously does nothing. There is a genetic component to them. I get stretch marks, and I've accepted this. Love the body you have! I have moments when I am self conscious about them, but my husband reminds me every time that they are evidence of what my body went through, and that brought our children into this world. 

Frequent urination - All this means is my baby is pushing on my bladder, and he likes to give it a swift kick every now and then as well. This has made sleep difficult, but it's not a big deal. 

Swelling - I actually did not have any swelling this pregnancy! In fact there was only one day so far in the third trimester where my ankles were swollen, and I had not stayed hydrated. My tip is to drink as much water as possible, because last pregnancy I barely fit into my shoes at this point. 

Cravings - All pregnancy I have been craving fruits and vegetables until third trimester. Third trimester is all about the carbs for me. I have been trying to make healthy decisions along the way while also allowing myself some grace. Luckily my weight gain has been right on track so I have been able to indulge! 



BIRTH PLAN

I recently went over my birth plan with my OBGYN and got approval. As I have discussed before it is my intention to have an intervention free/medication free labor and delivery if at all possible. I know that you cannot plan your childbirth and ultimately my goal is for my child to be safe. I used the Mama Natural visual birth plan template so that it could be concise and easy to glance over for any nurses. I highly suggest the template as it is easy to use and customize. 

If you would like more information on what I have been doing to prepare for natural childbirth you can see my blog post here

I went to 41+2 weeks with my daughter, so I highly anticipate going over with my son. Even so, the wait can be difficult! If you are counting down the days to Labor Day know I am rooting for you and wishing you the best of luck. 

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

DIY Liquid Hand Soap



A few months ago I wrote how this year I am transitioning from all conventional products to non-toxic ones. I called it my "non-toxic journey", and so far it has been a slow one. I have been using up products I have and testing out both store made and homemade alternatives. One of the easiest and most economical has been making my own hand soap. In fact the ingredients have lasted months and it takes minutes to make. The great news is, this "recipe" can be customized to be fragrance free or with the simple addition of essential oils it can smell however you want!

So what is the recipe? Here it goes.

INGREDIENTS
1/2 tsp sweet almond oil or jojoba oil (Amazon has them here and here!)
1/2 tsp vitamin E oil (optional)
1/3 c unscented Dr. Bronner's castile soap
2/3 c water, or however much it takes to fill your dispenser

That's it for the unscented version.
For scented I add:

10 drops Thieves essential oil
5-10 drops lemon essential oil

Thieves oil is an essential oil blend based on the story of four thieves around the 15th century when the bubonic plague was running rampant. Supposedly those thieves were robbing the bodies of those who had died from the plague and yet never became infected themselves. According to the myth, when the thieves were caught and tried the court offered them leniency in exchange for knowledge on how they remained uninfected. The secret recipe was known as "four thieves vinegar" and consisted of many of the ingredients found in Thieves essential oil.

While that is a fun story and all, what does research say? In 1997 there was a study conducted at Weber State University where Thieves oil was tested for its antibacterial properties. They diffused the blend of oils and saw that in 10 minutes there was an 82% reduction in M. luteus bioaerosols, 96% reduction in P. aeruginosa bioaerosols and 44% reduction in S. aureus bioaerosols. That is only after diffusing for 10 minutes! Interesting stuff, and makes Thieves oil a great addition to soap.

With all that being said though, Thieves and lemon oil smell like Autumn. So if you aren't into the "why" of why I chose those oils, just know they smell good together. The best part about making your own hand soap is you can make it smell however you would like! Experiment and find what scent you like.

PREPARATION
1. In a foaming soap dispenser combine castile soap, vitamin E oil (if using), and sweet almond oil.
2. If including essential oils, add to mixture.
3. Top with 2/3 c of water. Swirl to combine.

It is imperative to use a foaming soap dispenser in order to achieve the correct consistency. I have tried a non-foaming dispenser and it was too thin. The dispenser I use, which is pictured above, I ordered off of Amazon and can be found here.

That's it guys! Enjoy DIYing. If you are interested in purchasing Thieves or lemon essential oil through me, you can post a comment, DM me on Instagram (@LuibrandLand) or click here.


This post may contain affiliate links. Affiliate links come at no extra cost to you. These links allow me to share the products I authentically recommend (and use) and support Luibrand Land by receiving a small commission.

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

How I'm Prepping for Natural + Unmedicated Birth



Today I am going to be sharing everything I have been doing to prepare my body and my mind for unmedicated birth. I have two goals this pregnancy and that is to 1. go into labor naturally without being induced, and 2. to have as few medical interventions as possible. As a result I have been doing a lot of work these past six months, and want to round it all up on one place! Even if you plan on getting an epidural, many of these things may be helpful to you as labor is a physical feat either way.

I am meeting with a team who supports natural + intervention free birth. I was recommended an OBGYN known for that by a friend who happens to be a labor and delivery nurse, so I am in good hands. The team is conservative with decisions that will need to be made the day of, and I can trust that if they do need to move forward with interventions such as episiotomy, forceps, vacuums, or C-section that it was for the good of myself and the baby. Not only that, I trust them to communicate with me at all times about the need for those interventions. Having a team around me that I trust, that I am confident in, and that I know rarely perform those interventions has given me peace of mind this pregnancy. I am so grateful for the OBGYN, midwife, and nurses I have worked with so far.

I have been consuming a healthy diet. I have been trying to nourish myself and my baby through food and gentle nutrition. I have felt such a difference this pregnancy compared to my last just from intuitive eating and gentle exercise. I have more energy, feel less chronic pain, and overall my mood has been better. Of course I give in to cravings here and there as I believe in balance, but I find myself craving fruits and vegetables more often than not. I've gained less weight this pregnancy and am more fit.

I've started taking prenatal yoga during the third trimester. I cannot recommend this enough, especially if offered by the hospital or birthing center you will be delivering at. My class is taught by a labor and delivery nurse who has taught yoga for ten years. She has been such a valuable resource to me not only in helping me stay physically active, open, and limber but also in teaching me coping mechanisms and positions for labor. Labor and delivery is a marathon not a sprint, and I am happy to be training for it each week! I only wish that I had started sooner.

I have been meeting once a week with a pelvic floor physical therapist since the second trimester. Meeting with my physical therapist has been eye opening to not only how important the pelvic floor is during pregnancy, but after! If you are postpartum and peeing while you sneeze, then that is something that can be addressed by a pelvic floor physical therapist. We are taught as a society that is something that comes with the territory, but it doesn't have to be! She is helping me strengthen my pelvic floor in preparation for labor.

I've been reading Natural Childbirth the Bradley Way: Revised Edition by Susan McCutcheon. This is one of three popular childbirth methods, the others being Lamaze and Hypnobabies. I haven't completed the book as of 31 weeks, but have found the information in it and the exercises very helpful! There are classes offered with an instructor, but if I am being honest I haven't had the time. If you are interested in classes, you can find a local instructor here.

I started drinking red raspberry leaf tea at the start of my third trimester. Mama Natural has written a wonderful article all about the benefits of red raspberry leaf tea here. While most of the evidence I have found online and in person have been anecdotal, I am willing to try anything to make my contractions stronger and more productive! It tastes pretty nice, so no complaints.

I have been upping my mental and spiritual self care. The more you can calm your mind and your spirit during labor, the better! I have created a Pinterest board  with birth affirmations that I say out loud to myself. I have been spending more time outdoors and relaxing at night. I have let myself be still. I have tried to do some guided pregnancy meditations, and so far I haven't found one that I connect with. If you know of any great ones, send them my way! I have also been making more time for prayer and reflection.

I have been listening to, watching, and reading positive birth stories. It seems par for the course that when you are pregnant women feel the need to tell you negative birth stories. They aren't serving me right now, so I am focusing on positive ones! It has helped me remain confident, happy, and relaxed looking forward.

If you are currently pregnant and preparing for an intervention free birth, please let me know what you are doing! I am always open to new ideas.

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

7 Ways I Practice Self Care as a (Busy) Stay at Home Mom



There seems to be a misconception that stay at home moms spend the day leisurely, without worry, and with all the free time in the world. The truth is I have less time to myself than I ever had before. When I was working and child free I had an entire morning routine of sipping on my coffee, reading devotionals, and catching up with my coworkers before I settled into my work. At night I would go for a walk, meditate, and cook healthy meals. I was on top of my self care and when I faltered I was easily able to get back on track spiritually, mentally, and physically. Since becoming a stay at home mom I wake up to my job (taking care of my child's physical and emotional needs) after minimal sleep, spend all day and evening caring for someone other than myself, and then crawling into bed only to start over again the next day. You see when my child goes to bed, I get to take care of household duties I couldn't when she was awake, and it's nice to be there for your spouse too. It is easy then for me to go weeks without making time for myself, and when I do, it feels strange being on my own and not having anyone depend on me.

Since I worked as a therapist before taking time to stay at home, I know how important self care is. I've even written about it on this blog before. When I practice self care I am more patient, kind, and productive. However knowing and doing are completely different things. I have gotten caught up in the cycle of "I should schedule time for myself" or "I'd like to, tomorrow". Except tomorrow turns into the next day, or next week, or next month. Unfortunately, this leads to burn out and next thing you know, you haven't washed your hair in days and you're finding yourself having to take more and more deep breaths to keep from being snippy when asked a question.

So what's a mom to do? Micro self care. Think small, real small. I too roll my eyes when someone tells me to practice self care by getting a massage or a manicure. You don't have to schedule an hour for self care every day, you can implement a few minutes scattered throughout when you do find yourself with some down time. Here are some ways I like to do so.

1. Sleep. This is the self care I feel the most guilty about, but being in my third trimester has really forced me to slow down and take power naps more often. Your body needs to recharge, and chances are you are not getting enough. Take a 20 minute nap during your toddler's nap, and when you are done try to get some chores accomplished before they wake up. Have your partner (or support person) take the baby and feed them breakfast while you sleep in for 30 more minutes on the weekend. My husband does this for me often on Saturdays, and it has been a miracle for our marriage. Sometimes even being able to wake up, stretch, and browse on my phone for a few minutes before starting my day is a nice reprieve. Start with sleep.

2. Say no. It is easy to find yourself volunteering for things because technically, your schedule is more flexible than those who work office jobs. You know it "would be good" to get out and see that friend of yours. That doesn't mean you should. If you find yourself overwhelmed and irritable, say no. I know how difficult it can be to say no because of a fear of what others may think of you - what if they think I am rude? - but people say no all the time! There is nothing wrong with saying no and prioritizing yourself. Practice in the mirror if you need to, and avoid the temptation to make up excuses to justify your no.

3. Ask your partner for time alone. When my husband gets home or when our daughter goes to bed I ask for 15 minutes to myself to do whatever I want. Not all the time, but often. Believe it or not, he enjoys that time to himself as well! I close my eyes, watch TV, read a book, or write during that time and he does whatever he likes as well. When that time is up we regroup and I feel refreshed enough to ask him about his day.

4. Take advantage of the morning before your child wakes up. On mornings I get up, get ready, and get my day started before my daughter wakes I feel much more accomplished and happy. I am not the best at doing so, but it truly makes a difference when I do.

5. Multitask self care with child care. My daughter loves going to the park and being outdoors during the summer, and so do I. At least two to three times a week I take her for walks to get fresh air for us both, and to get some exercise in. I take her to things we will both enjoy, such as the zoo, museums, or the library. We attend an interactive class at the library once a week, and during that time I see other mom friends and catch up. I even sometimes get a book for myself. Time can be spent enriching your child and enriching yourself.

6. Say yes. Just as it is important to say no, I have also found it incredibly important to say yes to help when it is offered to me. I don't live near family, and so I don't have that kind of support available that many mothers have. I've had friends organically offer to watch my daughter for doctor appointments, occasional date nights, or even for me to run an errand. I used to feel embarrassed or like I was taking advantage of their kindness, but the truth is: I would do the same for them. We are all struggling, and we all need time to ourselves and with our spouses. If your friend, neighbor, or teammate are trustworthy adults who you know well then try to say yes more often.

7. Do not abandon your hygiene/beauty/skin routine, simplify it. One of my favorite parts of the day is my skin care routine, as simple as it is. I love having those 15 minutes of quiet and taking care of my body. I have altered my hair, skin and makeup routines to be much more simple and I feel more put together when I stick to them. Besides, you can still wear a face mask while folding laundry or doing dishes!

There are so many ways as mothers we can make time for ourselves, and they will look different for everyone. We all have different needs and interests. How do you practice self care as a busy mom?

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

2nd Trimester Recap: Symptoms, Cravings + Anatomy Scan



Hello 27 weeks! By the time you read this, I will be entering the third trimester. How is that even possible?! This pregnancy feels as if it is going so quickly, probably because I have been kept so busy these past few months. There is a reason everyone calls the second trimester the "honeymoon" phase of pregnancy...it is the BEST. Overall I have felt pretty great this pregnancy and things have been much easier on my body than the first pregnancy with my daughter. I did experience some symptoms worth sharing, though, in case you are experiencing the same or wondering if your symptoms are "normal".


SYMPTOMS

Sleep - I have always been a side sleeper, but often found myself wanting to sleep on my back due to hip pain. You can't comfortably do that with a baby growing in you, so I finally invested in a pregnancy pillow to make my sleep more comfortable. I went my entire first pregnancy without a great pillow and now that I have one, I don't know how I survived! It provides support so you can stay aligned, and that has helped me manage physical pain. I am having some difficulty relaxing at night due to baby being active at that time, so I have moved my night routine up a few hours.

Pain - I have minor scoliosis where my spine twists in two locations. It is not as major as many people deal with, but does cause alignment and structural issues. As a result I do get back pain with the added weight that comes with pregnancy. I also tend to get pelvic pain and so I have been seeing a physical therapist that specializes in the pelvic floor. Seeing a professional has been wonderful, and I cannot recommend it enough. If you are postpartum and experiencing a weak pelvic floor (aka peeing when you sneeze), know that can be addressed and contact your doctor for a referral!

Weight gain - I don't weigh myself very often because I am a big proponent of gentle nutrition and intuitive eating. I eat when I am hungry, stop when I am not, and try to make healthy choices along the way. So far I am right on track. It can be difficult not comparing yourself to other women, but know that everyone carries babies differently. We are all built differently! The number of children you have had also affects how you grow throughout pregnancy. Love the bump you have.

Movement - I started having quickening this trimester, which always feels like butterfly wings against my belly. I love this phase because it lets me know baby is growing and moving around. Over this trimester they have become stronger and more frequent. You can now even see movement by watching closely! It appears that our baby is as strong as their sister, who was super active in the womb and never stopped moving when she was born. I am going to have my hands full.

Queasy or sick? Only when I have gone too long without snacking on some protein. Otherwise I left any nausea in the first trimester. If only I could shake off the fatigue!

Braxton Hicks contractions - have officially started as of 27 weeks, especially when I am very active. If you find yourself experiencing them rest and stay hydrated! I have been viewing them as practice for the real thing and tend to rest, break out my pregnancy meditations, and do deep breathing. I personally find them uncomfortable, but not painful per say.

Cravings - As I mentioned in my 1st trimester recap I don't experience cravings like many women do during pregnancy. Rather, certain things taste better to me than usual and others taste worse. I still enjoy fruit the most and find myself wanting avocado toast with a fried egg on top for lunch more often than not. I wouldn't say that I need those items immediately like it is depicted in the media. I have been continuing to eat a lot of protein and as much produce as possible. Overall I am finding I am more active and eating much better this pregnancy, probably because I am chasing after and feeding a toddler. It takes too much energy to make unhealthy meals for myself and healthy ones for her!


ANATOMY SCAN

We personally choose to forgo any genetic testing due to being low risk, and the potential for false negatives/positives. (That is a very important decision you need to make for you and your family, so do what is right for you! My doctors have never been concerned when I decline.) Therefore, the anatomy scan is a Big Deal for us. It is when we get to see the baby, check on their development, and find out more about them. I am happy to report that our baby is completely healthy with no abnormalities, thank God! I am always so in awe at the ultrasound being able to see their limbs, movements, and organs. It makes me truly amazed at what my body can do and how incredible modern day technology is. With all that being said, we did find out gender and we are having a BOY!  I've had so many people inquire if I am excited to have a boy, so...

Cheesy story time: when my husband and I were dating and would discuss children, I would always dream of a little girl. I could see her, but no other children, and she always looked the same. However the day after I gave birth to my daughter I dreamed of a little boy playing with her. As a result I always tell people my children chose me a long time ago, but my husband likes to smile and roll his eyes at me. I was a blubbery, happy, tearful mess at the ultrasound when I found out I was going to be meeting him soon!


LOOKING FORWARD TO 3RD TRIMESTER

This may shock a lot of people, but I am looking forward to labor! I have been doing a lot of preparation mentally and physically, and I am so positive and excited about it. That is probably why I have been nesting so much lately, because I know my son will be here soon and I want to have everything in place when he does make an appearance.

If you are also pregnant at this time, I hope everything is going smoothly for you and will continue to pray for you and your growing families. 

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

How to Practice Catholic Mindfulness




Something that I have struggled with for many years is feeling “too busy” to work on my spiritual growth. I have difficulty managing my time and focusing my energy on prayer and reflection rather than my to do list. As a child my family encouraged educational achievements, for me to set goals and to work hard towards accomplishing them. I soon began to attach my worth to that busyness, and therefore I did not perceive stillness or rest as virtues. Rather, I associated them with being lazy.  You can imagine what my prayer life looked like. I entered it with a set agenda, I was concise, and I didn’t take time to rest or listen to what God may have to say to me. It wasn’t until I began to study and teach mindfulness as a mental health therapist that I had a shift in my mindset.

Simply put, mindfulness is focusing your attention completely on the present moment. Doing so will put you in a relaxed muscle body. It is intentionally letting go of the past and not worrying about the future for a short period of time. Mindfulness allows you to calm an anxious mind, to rest, and to enjoy what is occurring in the present moment. It is associated with meditation, but it can be a state of mind in every day tasks as well. It can be you taking the time to notice the breeze playing with your hair, listening to and enjoying the birds chirping, or breathing in the smell of your shampoo during your shower. I instructed clients to become an observer to thoughts, or allow them to float through their mind like a cloud rather than attaching to them. When trying to relax and be in the present moment, if they found themselves distracted I would tell them to turn their attention back to what they were currently doing: deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, or even prayer. If you suffer from any sort of stress - and let’s face it we all do - then mindfulness is a great practice to implement.

I was confused then when I met people who claimed you could not practice mindfulness and Catholicism at the same time. Isn’t that what meditative prayer is? Mindfulness allows you to calm your mind enough to appreciate and see what God is putting before you in any present moment. Being in a state of rest allows you to rest in Him and more importantly, listen to what God may be trying to tell you. When one comes with their own thoughts or list of requests, they aren't taking time to listen to God or to simply spend time with Him. I know that in my own life I tend to become hyper-focused on small details, on past hurts, or worries about the future. It is difficult to step back and be present, to appreciate the blessings God has given me. I am only able to do that when focusing on the present. 

Ways you can implement Catholic mindfulness include:

Making the everyday tasks of your job your vocation. Being intentional about listening to others you may encounter, the task in front of you, and the little moments of beauty found there transforms what may seem mundane into an offering to God. He has given you talents, he has put you in a position at this very moment to use them. Rather than thinking about your to do list or what you want for lunch, focus on the current task with all of your mind. In times you may feel overwhelmed call on the Holy Spirit to still your heart and mind. How else can the Spirit speak through you? He will always provide you the words needed at that time.

 Lectio divina is a great time to be present with the word! Again, focus on what is right in front of you - the words of God -  instead of what was happening before you began or will come after. This will deepen your prayer. In times when you feel your mind wandering, turn your attention back to the word. 

Praying the rosary. Listen to the words you are praying, feel the beads under your fingers, smell the incense if you are in church. I find when I am mindful during the rosary, I am able to be more intentional and focused on what I am saying.

Resting during Eucharistic adoration. Eucharistic adoration at its core is spending time with God. Just as you would appreciate someone being fully present to you, God calls us to be fully present with Him. While many go to adoration with specific tasks, I like to take that time to simply rest with Him. 

As an LISW, I have seen mindfulness change the lives of many. While there are some roots of meditation in Eastern spirituality, the overall concept can be adapted and applied to our own Catholic practices. Take the time to be present with God today.


Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Favorite Breakfast Meal Prep Recipes

As I mentioned last week, I will be sharing some of my favorite recipes for meal prep. This week I am sharing five of our go to breakfast recipes so you can start your day off with zero stress. I have tried to include recipes for everyone, or ones that can be easily modified for your own dietary restrictions. All pictures are by each blogger, and the recipe is linked in each description.

Hash Brown and Sausage Breakfast Casserole



Whole 30 compliant, dairy free and gluten free. I discovered this casserole by 40 Aprons when I had to go dairy free while nursing. It is creamy, hearty, and keeps well in the refrigerator. Oh, and did I mention it's super easy to make? This recipe is both husband and toddler approved, so it's a keeper.


Simple Banana Bread


If you have bananas that are going a little too ripe, this is the perfect recipe to use. With minimal ingredients and skill required it is a great on the go treat or addition to a larger meal. You can also modify it by adding anything you like! Nuts, chocolate chips, or berries.


Vegan Overnight Oats


If you're vegan, gluten or dairy free, then look no further than Oh She Glows overnight oats. Easily modified to be none of those things, this is a great "base recipe" and only takes a few minutes before bed each night to whip together. Overnight oats are wonderful during the summer, because they are cool and creamy. Sometimes I heat mine up in the morning, and it is still faster than cooking oats from scratch. 


Zucchini & Caramelized Onion Egg Muffins



These Tone It Up  egg muffins are quick and delicious! They keep for about 4 days in the fridge, and can be used for more than breakfast. If you need a quick high protein addition to a meal or snack, they are just as good as grabbing a hard boiled egg. I like eating mine with a little hot sauce.


DIY Starbucks Protein Bistro Box


Last week I told you that we always hard boil eggs as a part of meal prep each week, and these are a great use of those. In fact this "recipe" by No. 2 Pencil is great for those who like to portion out full meals for the entire week. I still approach these by loading them up the night before, but they are hands down my husband's favorite breakfast to take with him to work.  


What are some of your favorite meal prep recipes? 

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Meal Prep 101: Getting Started



Oh, meal prep. I cannot tell you how much it has changed not only my life, but our family life. Taking some time each week to plan out our meals and prepare items ahead of time obviously saves time but it also saves money, too! When my husband and I first started budgeting each month we noticed that most of our money was being spent on last minute "quick bites" aka unhealthy fast food. We have saved money by eating at home more often and we have been living healthier lives as well. Win-win! Meal prep can look different for everyone. I will break down different methods today and what has worked best for us.

Start with a clean refrigerator. Take some time to take inventory of what you have in the fridge and what you need to replenish. I like to do this on Fridays by taking everything out, wiping down the shelves with some DIY cleaner, and making my list as I go.

DIY Refrigerator Cleanser:
- 1 teaspoon of castile soap (I use Dr. Bronner's unscented)
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 4-6 cups of warm water
- 3-5 drops Lemon essential oil (optional) - I like to add this in for the scent, and because lemon oil is great for cleaning grime without a lot of harsh chemicals.
Mix all ingredients together and use a microfiber cleansing cloth, washcloth, or paper towel to clean off your shelves

Make a list of essentials you need to restock. For us this is fruit, milk, and eggs. What do you find yourself reaching for consistently? Assess your pantry items as well - what has gone out of date? What are you running low on?

Create a weekly menu. This is where we get into different thought processes. I have seen people come up with one meal idea, such as a salad and sides for lunch, and put together 7 containers of individual meals. You can find this all over Pinterest and Google. This is not feasible for our family because there are too many people and not enough space. Personally I would prefer to make a big batch of that meal and take some time at night to put it in the container needed for work the next day rather than dedicating that much room in my refrigerator for lunch alone. However, if you have the room then go for it! Break out all of those containers and create individual portions. It makes grab and go very easy and you can keep on track with portion control. On the other hand, we tend to make a menu/list of what we will be eating throughout the week and I make certain items ahead of time. I organize that list like so:


Monday
Tuesday
Wednesday
Thursday
Friday
Saturday
Sunday
Breakfast
Egg muffins, fruit
Egg muffins, fruit
Egg muffins, fruit
Deli boxes
Deli boxes
Leftover items
Scrambled eggs, toast, fruit
Lunch
Salad + protein
Salad + protein
Salad + protein
Sandwich, snacking vegetables
Tuna sandwich, snacking vegetables
Leftovers from dinner
Anything left in the fridge, thrown into a soup or salad!
Snacks
Protein muffins
Protein muffins
Protein muffins
Greek yogurt + berries + granola
Greek yogurt + berries + granola
Greek yogurt + berries + granola
Snack on protein muffins/balls, any vegetables left from the week
Dinner
Tray bake
Leftovers
Crock pot meal
Leftovers
Fish + vegetables + rice
Grill out
Leftovers


Keep in mind we have a toddler, so we also make a list of her favorite foods such as fruit, yogurt, hot dogs, etc. to have on hand. While we always offer her meals we eat in order to encourage her to try new things, she is definitely on a toddler diet and we have to play it by ear.

Certain meals may vary week by week (such as dinner) but certain things I meal prep each week without fail:

- hard boiled eggs, perfect as breakfast or a protein add-on to any meal
- chopped vegetables for easy snacking such as celery, sweet peppers, carrots, cucumber
- freeze bananas for smoothies
- wash and slice berries, our daughter's favorite
- a large salad for lunches or as a side for dinner - kale is a perfect base for this because it is hearty enough to marinate in dressing for several days without getting soggy

Do the main meal prep on Sunday, and refresh on Wednesday. Wednesday is the day I boil more eggs, run out for milk if we ran out, and freeze any bananas that look like they are getting too ripe. I may also replenish our lunch salad bowl. It is also a time where I may notice that we have more leftovers than anticipated, so I can make some menu items the following week, such as chicken breast. I will freeze any meat or bread that will not be needed after all so as to not go bad.

Soon I will be sharing my favorite/go-to recipes for meal prep! Have you tried meal prep? What has worked for you?