As kids get ready to go back to school in the next few weeks, I’d like to share this recipe for an extra-special homemade treat to boost your child’s health and send along some love during the school day. Even though my kids are homeschooled, they greatly enjoy taking a homemade snack along on a field trip or to a co-op class. Annabel Karmel is a cookbook author I’ve enjoyed for a while- she takes simple, healthy ingredients and prepares them in kid-friendly ways that are innovative but not too time consuming. Her cookbooks are full of cute pictures of bagels shaped as dragons, teddy bear chicken burgers, and faces on muffins.

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Promise not to judge this photo… It was taken early on in my food photography career, and I’ve since evolved beyond using flash!

Granola Bars

This granola bar recipe is one we’ve made a number of times, and is easily customizable to your family by varying the fruit or nuts you choose. I love that you can control the sugar and skip anything artificial that is typically added to processed snacks. Karmel is British and her ingredients are a bit different, so I use honey in place of the syrup.  If you happen to be gluten-free, make sure to use certified gluten-free oats and gluten-free rice cereal (oats themselves do not contain gluten, but are typically contaminated in processing unless special care is taken). You could take out a second mortgage to afford buying gluten-free snacks, so keep a little extra in your wallet by making them yourself. It’s not too labor intensive, and one of those fun recipes that begs to let the kids get involved. After it has cooled, I invert the pan onto the counter so it’s easier to work with, and cut them into individual bars or squares (a pizza cutter works great). Then I wrap them individually in foil or plastic wrap, and store in the freezer in a gallon-size Ziploc bag. As backpacks are getting packed for the day, it’s easy to toss one in frozen and know it’ll be ready by snack time.

Individual bars, ready for the freezer

Individual bars, ready for the freezer

If you have a favorite snack recipe, share your recipe below.  To find out what’s new in our kitchen, stop by, or become a fan on Facebook. Peruse past blogs and keep current with new blogs at Stephanie.hvparent.com.

Ways to Stay

If you have read any of my blogs this summer you know I have spent a lot of time finding adventures for me and the kids to enjoy. Well, this weekend I left them at home and celebrated my 40th birthday. Turning 40 wasn’t nearly as painful as I imagined. I still feel seventeen! I wish I had the time and resources to take a nice fantasy trip as I did with my 30th birthday, but I’m a mom now. My life is pretty low key compared to what it used to be. Instead I opted for an intimate gathering of friends at a local winery. We sipped on wine while chatting and watching the sunset. It was just lovely to be surrounded by good friends, good wine and a good vibe to usher in the next decade.

I had some really great friends to celebrate with. Some “old friends” and some new. At one point I thought it was a great mix of my past, present and future. My good friend “Di” stayed at my house. We met in college and have remained friends since. After celebrating at the winery we went home and poured another glass of wine and chatted until 3 a.m. I have not had a late night drinking conversation since. . . well, since I can’t remember when. I imagined being exhausted the next day and feeling completely useless. But, to my surprise I actually felt recharged and ready to face the day.

Staying home with kids can be lonely. The days can just run right into years and you wake up one day and realize everything around you has changed, but you’re still the same. You miss your friends and how easy it was to get together with them. I think moms, it is important that you take some time to connect with friends without  your kids around. We love those cutie pies, but in order to feel like we’ve nurtured some important piece of our hearts, we need to engage with our friends fully. I don’t know about you, but I enjoy finishing sentences. I never thought that would be one of the most exciting things I could do in a day, but it is!

So, here are some ways we can stay connected to our friends:

  1. Schedule a time to chat. I have literally set a phone reminder to call my friends at a mutual time we are both without kids. It can be difficult to find times that match, but when we can it is like stars and moons aligning! To be able to freely talk and express myself without interruption, or worry about minding the language for little ears, eases some of the tension in my day (or week).
  2. Write a letter. We barely have time for a phone call, so how will we have time to write a letter? A letter could be a simple quick card that says, “I’m thinking of you,” or a quick email to say how much you miss your friend. Even a quick text message to ask how their day is, or to follow up on the last conversation that was cut short goes a long way! These small gestures keep you connected to what is currently happening in each others lives.
  3. Skype. A phone call is great- but sometimes you have friends far off and just miss seeing them in person. You can’t Skype a hug, but you can definitely share a cup of coffee and fill each other in on life.
  4. Get away from the kids. Seriously, it’s OK to hire a sitter so you can have a date with friends. I know I often feel guilty leaving hubby behind because our time together is limited too. But, navigating friendships and deepening connections during a play date with kids screaming is just not going to happen. Go out for a meal, go for a hike or check out an art show at a museum. Find a kid free space where you can chat and connect and enjoy your conversation.

I know it is hard to find time for ourselves most days, let alone someone else outside our home. But, our friends are our village. They sustain us as we travel the lows in life and lift us up when we celebrate the highs. If nothing else making time for friends teaches our kids how to make time for their own friendships when they become tired, overworked parents.

The Whatever Mom is a full time wife and twin mama living on coffee and wine. She enjoys the pure rush of cleaning the potty between loads of laundry. It is her dream that moms everywhere accept and embrace the Whatever Mom philosophy which can be found here.

Some families prefer to find a luxury hotel and enjoy being pampered while on vacation. Well, my family likes to go camping. The difference is while others come home from vacation and think about all the luxury they’ll be missing, we come home grateful for all the luxuries we have. You know, luxuries like running water, indoor plumbing,  and electricity. So I thought I’d share 10 of our sanity savers we’ve learned over the years.

  1. Prepare The Car – We’ve learned the hard way after finding my whole family stranded by the side of the road to check out any car issues BEFORE hitting the road. Two years ago our water pump died on the drive to Lake George. Not the best start to our vacation. So this year we took the van to the shop to fix a pully that was failing so that we don’t find ourselves in the same situation and my husband is changing the break pads and making sure our oil and fluids are good before we go. Trust me, save your sanity and check out any potential problems before you pack up and hit the road.
    My amazing husband changing the break pads on our mini-van before we head out on our camping trip.

    My amazing husband changing the break pads on our mini-van before we head out on our camping trip.

     

  2. Prep Dinners In Advance – It’s always super helpful to prep meals at home where you have your full kitchen at your disposal. My husband likes to parboil chicken so grilling it takes less time. It’s also helpful to make some side dishes that only need reheating once you’re there. It makes meal time less of a hassle and you can get to the fun part – eating smores around the campfire.
    We had one full day of rain so we were glad we brought games like Yatzee and Uno to play. My son was especially stoked after he rolled Yatzee not once but twice in one game.

    We had one full day of rain so we were glad we brought games like Yahtzee and Uno to play. My son was especially stoked after he rolled Yahtzee not once but twice in one game.

     

  3. Bring Lo-Tech Toys – When electricity is scarce I can guarantee you that you will run out of batteries for electronic devices and it almost always rains at least once during your camping trip. My husband bought Uno and Yahtzee for us to enjoy during the inevitable down time caused by weather. It also gives us some quality bonding time as a family.
    They had a cardboard board box race. The kids ran the course making pit stops to have their windshield cleaned (they got squirted in the face with water), change their tires (their shoes had to be taken off and put back on and laces tied) and they had to refuel (chug a gatoraide) in between laps. It was so cute I'm stealing this idea for my daughter's birthday party this week.

    They had a cardboard board box race. The kids ran the course making pit stops to have their windshield cleaned (they got squirted in the face with water), change their tires (their shoes had to be taken off and put back on and laces tied) and they had to refuel (chug a Gatorade) in between laps. It was so cute I’m stealing this idea for my daughter’s birthday party.

     

  4. Check List? Check. – You can usually count on forgetting something during the extensive packing required for a camping trip. That’s why my husband and I find good checklists online that we use to remind us to pack those things we would probably forget on our own. We have a long-standing tradition of forgetting the can opener.
    After being forced to pay high prices for food near the campground last year, we came prepared with all our food this time around.

    After being forced to pay high prices for food near the campground last year, we came prepared with all our food this time around.

     

  5. Shop At Home – If you want to avoid the shock and awe of the prices at the grocery stores local to your campground then I suggest shopping at home before you go. Last year, my husband and I found ourselves shocked and out of luck when we HAD to buy groceries at the only grocery store in the vicinity of our campground at almost twice the price of our hometown stores. This time around we’ll be hitting our local stores so we can save money.
  6. Clean Up The House– I know what you’re thinking, why should I clean when we’re going to be gone anyway? Well for me, nothing sucks worse than coming home from a camping trip to a messy house where dishes have been sitting, laundry is in piles and the garbage has been stinking up the house. It requires more work, but just getting those things in order before you go will make it much more pleasant when you come home. After all, you’ll have enough new laundry to do and an entire vehicle to unpack and put away.
  7. Invest In A Camping Stove – As much as I hate to say it, grilling doesn’t work for everything. It’s even harder when an actual grill isn’t available and you have to cook everything on a grate over the campfire. Fire is temperamental so invest in a camping stove, especially for your side dishes and veggies. My husband and I bought a used one on Craigslist for $10 and it’s been so worth it. As mentioned above, you’ll probably have at least one day of rain so this way you can still cook without an issue.
  8. First Aid First – We usually remember toothbrushes, but not the band aids. Trust me, if you have kids you’ll want to put together a basic first aid kit. Don’t forget thermometers, band aids, antiseptic wipes, antibacterial cream, and children’s pain reliever. I usually pack allergy medicine and some melatonin for my husband and myself. I have difficulty falling asleep in a foreign place so melatonin is a lifesaver for me.

    Race

    We went during the campground’s PLC 500 race. Hannah’s car came in second place.

  9. Research Amenities and Kid’s Activities BEFORE You Book – When I look for a campground, the first thing I look for is lots of amenities for the kids. We went to Pine Cradle Lake Campground in PA again this year because of their awesome splash pad, pool and playgrounds. They also have a stocked lake and my kids love fishing with their Dad. Many times campgrounds also plan special theme weeks or events. We went during their PLC 500 race. So we bought stuff for the kids to make little cars. You’ll want to look into any themes as some campgrounds do things like Halloween weekends so you’ll want to pack costumes for your kids.
  10. Don’t Forget About Baby – Just like last year when I was at the end of my pregnancy we decided to go with a cabin for the extra comforts, especially since we have a toddler now. She’s up and walking and into ABSOLUTELY EVERYTHING. So there is more to think about when camping with a baby. For starters we had less room in the minivan and more stuff like her pack n play to bring so she had a bed of her own to sleep in. Then I needed to buy shoes as we were outside most of the time. There’s diapers, wipes, swim diapers, sippy cups, etc. to remember. Take a look around the house and especially the baby’s room for those little items that if you forgot them would be the end of a peaceful trip. The other day I forgot to grab the baby’s pacifier before we went to pick up the car from the shop and she cried the whole way there and most of the way back and that wasn’t nearly as far away as our campground.

    The thing is it’s a lot of work, but camping truly is a great family tradition of ours. It’s a time to unplug from the world, get back to nature and just focus on our family. There’s nothing I love better than sitting around a fire with my favorite people in the world, knowing that just for that short time we are all we need to have a great time.

Boscobel House

Boscobel House

An outdoor picnic presents a challenge, both to be creative and practical. There’s something inherently fun about packing up a meal and eating it later in a fun and outside location, and to me, part of that fun is in the uniqueness of the menu.  Every summer we enjoy an afternoon of Shakespeare set to the beautiful backdrop of the Boscobel mansion and the Hudson River, and bring along a meal to do it justice.  This year, I wanted to try something new, and searched online for ideas that were both simple and delicious.
Breathtaking Hudson River

Breathtaking Hudson River

Outdoor Picnicking

This chicken recipe looked perfect- with a coconut milk and peanut butter marinade, it was something a little different.  I modified it slightly- using coconut aminos instead of soy sauce, one less tablespoon of brown sugar in the marinade, and omitting both the curry powder and paste. The cooking instructions called for grilling, but it was a million degrees outside, so I decided to stir fry, tossing in mixed vegetables.  The recipe made enough sauce that I used a slotted spoon to remove the chicken before cooking, and reused the marinade to soak a pound of chicken thighs for my husband to barbecue later.  It could’ve gone well over rice, but given the nature of a picnic, I opted for corn on the cob.  Fruit salad rounded out the meal, and I was going to make a small batch of chocolate chip cookies, but a friend offered to bring along gluten-free cookies for the kids.  Perfect!  I wrapped the hot corn in towels and tucked them right into an insulated bag; the hot stir-fry into a glass container, wrapped well with towels; and the fruit in jar. Zipped everything off to the car with thermoses of cold water, and we were delighted to eat a simple, still-hot meal under a shady tree looking out at the Hudson River.
Picnic

A simple picnic for an afternoon out.

If you’re looking for an easy chicken recipe, I recommend this one.  If you’re looking for an afternoon of fun and culture, try the Hudson Valley Shakespeare company at Boscobel. Either way, you won’t be disappointed!
Shakespeare Tent
Share your favorite picnic recipes below.  To find out what’s new in our kitchen, stop by, or become a fan on Facebook. Peruse past blogs and keep current with new blogs at Stephanie.hvparent.com.

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I am so thrilled that we can officially cross Trevor Zoo off of our Summer Bucket List!! After hearing so many moms talk about taking their kids we decided to find out what all the buzz is about.

Trevor Zoo is located in Millbrook, NY. A fun fact about the zoo is it is actually part of a high school. We saw many of the students working the grounds today. But, we were more distracted by the giant, noisy wood chippers and tree trimming equipment being used. Sadly, so were many of the animals we came to see. Several of them stayed inside their little shelters and did not come out. Despite the distraction we had a pretty good time!

This little zoo is home to 180 animals and 80 different species. We did not know what to expect when we arrived, but were so thrilled to see Lemurs, a Tamerine, a Raven, Emu, Kangaroos, Otters, Cranes and several varieties of reptiles. Once you pay the admission ($5/per adult and $3/per child) you are free to roam six full acres of well maintained zoo life.

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I discovered immediately the secret to the charm of this little zoo. It isn’t the exotic animals. It isn’t getting to see Archer fish up close. It’s that you can take your oldest kid and your youngest kid and still have a great time. My 19 year old nephew came with us and had just as much fun seeing the red panda as my four year olds. It was heart warming for me to see them all having fun together. One other important detail I noticed is the walkways are all paved. You can push your stroller (or even a wheel chair)through with no problems!

This was a really fun and inexpensive outing for us. We will definitely go back! Next time I may stop off at one of the many farm stands along the way!

TIPS:

The parking lot is a short walk from the zoo. But, the path is clearly marked and leads you directly to the zoo gate.

Food is not allowed in the zoo. But, feel free to bring your lunch and tailgate in the parking lot.

Feeding times are posted outside of the lemur building (the first building you pass as you get to the main zoo area). If you gather during those times you will get to see staff feeding the animals and they share fun info about the animals.

If the kids get a little antsy from being in the stroller, there is a tiny park they can safely and easily stretch their legs in.

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Even though most of the area is shaded by trees don’t forget to bring your sunscreen!

Be sure to bring your camera! How often will you be this close to a baby kangaroo?

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Don’t forget to check out the Hudson Valley Parent field guide before heading to the Trevor Zoo! Find other insider tips on local family outings in this guide! Enjoy!

The Whatever Mom is a full time wife and twin mama living on coffee and wine. She enjoys the pure rush of cleaning the potty between loads of laundry. It is her dream that moms everywhere accept and embrace the Whatever Mom philosophy which can be found here.

Hannah

Before my children were born, I prayed that they would have my husband’s temperament. He’s so easy going that if you didn’t REALLY know him you might think that nothing gets to him. You remember your mother’s warning, “Just wait, you’ll have a child just like you one day.” Well despite my prayers, my first daughter is just like me. It frustrates me to my very core, but at the same time nobody knows better than me all those statements likely to hurt her feelings or fuel her anxiety and what she needs to hear when she’s doubting herself.

Last night, I had to stop the self-doubt from creeping in when she started to explain that her teenaged camp counselor told her that if she didn’t practice enough for the talent show she was going to make a fool out of herself in front of her parents. I told her that while teenagers might know how to have fun with kids, they don’t always know how to talk to them. It takes a parent to truly know how to talk to a child. I think it takes that kind of selfless parental love to understand a child, especially a sensitive one like Hannah. She thanked me for always knowing how to make her feel better. I silently thought, that’s because I am you sweetheart and I’ve already been down every path you’re embarking on. Years ago, I had to have a pep talk with her Kindergarten teacher before the start of school. “She’s super bright, but very sensitive,” I explained. She’s very hard on herself. So the following is what I would like the world to know about my sensitive child.

1. Address Her Specifically – If you wish to address one child who’s misbehaving, but choose the approach of making broad generalizations about consequences to the whole group this is not going to fly. My daughter can and will think you are in fact addressing her specifically unless you tell her you’re not. I have to remember not to do this myself at home. If it’s Jay who’s misbehaving I can’t make a general statement about poor behavior without making it clear I’m not talking to her. In an effort not to embarrass one child, you’re heaping unnecessary guilt and worry on a good kid. She takes it all personally and she genuinely wants to do well. I may see the DIVA, but I guarantee you that you adults of the world see only the STAR so be careful what you say.

2. Don’t Insinuate She Could EVER Disappoint Me – If I’m disappointed in anyone, it’s the way some people make my daughter needlessly worry she might let me down. Perhaps this camp counselor thought it would reflect badly on him if his campers messed up their routine for the talent show, but insinuating she could ever let me down is bogus. I love her crazy dancing. It’s not always pretty, but it reflects the beauty of her heart. She still dances like no one is watching and I want to keep it that way. There is NOTHING she could do that would make her a failure in my eyes.

Hannah is self-motivated. She always wants to do well in school, but being sensitive means I must constantly reassure her that she doesn't need to be perfect.

Hannah is self-motivated. She always wants to do well in school, but being sensitive means I must constantly reassure her that she doesn’t need to be perfect.

3. Show Her It’s Ok To Make Mistakes – This is the hardest thing for me to teach her. I am her after all. I know how hard she tries and I know how hard she is on herself when she makes mistakes. I’m so grateful to her Kindergarten teacher for reminding her that even he makes mistakes. She would take getting answers wrong so hard that she would burst into tears in class. I can relate. I don’t ever want her to feel like mistakes are anything other than a learning opportunity. Nobody can avoid making mistakes and some of the best successes in our lives only come after we make numerous mistakes along the way.

4. I DON’T Want You To Change Her – I don’t want you to “toughen her up” so she doesn’t get so upset by what you say. She’s a literal kid who takes what you say at face value. She has misinterpreted things I’ve said because I forget this fact. I want you to understand that she believes what you say so I would rather you take a second to think before you speak than try to stop her tears later. I’m a crier too. It’s the way we’re built; all heart and no armor. We do everything fully. There simply is no half way. It’s the thing I’ve hated and loved about myself my whole life.

The worst thing you can do is make her feel like it’s not normal to get upset, even if it’s just with herself. To clip those wings would also clip her deep passion for everything. To risk all means getting hurt, but there is no personal growth without those things. I have little philosophies I call Erinisms . Today’s was: “Perfection stunts your growth.” In other words, we grow because of our flaws and to change them means taking away who we are and what we stand to learn from them. I may never fully appreciate it in myself, but in my daughter I see the beauty of it. Her sensitive heart is something I NEVER want her to lose. We don’t love people for their lack of flaws, because they are who they are because of them.

So I’ll always have to tell my daughter not to worry. I’ll always have to remind her that doing her best is good enough. That’s the truly hard part about parenting a child exactly like you. I have to teach her what I’m still trying to teach myself. The only thing I NEED her to know is that being sensitive is NOT the curse it feels like sometimes. It’s what I love most about her.

There are as many banana bread recipes out there as there are, well, bananas.  We bake with bananas often, usually when enough overripe bananas are waiting in the freezer that they’re blocking the ice.  Although I have a go-to recipe, if  I see a new one that looks good, I try it to see how it comes out.  I’ve made a few this summer, which taste great but often don’t cook through to the bottom. Recently, a pile of bananas were waiting, and my kids asked if they could make the banana bread themselves. We returned to our standby recipe, and I had them double it.  We ate it for breakfast for the next few days before camp. Perfection!

Banana Bread

Banana Bread

Ingredients

2 c. gluten-free flour blend (We use Bob’s Red Mill 1 to 1)
½ t. xanthan gum (omit if your blend contains it)
1 t. baking soda
½ t. baking powder
1 t. cinnamon
½ t. nutmeg
½ t. salt
¼ c. unsweetened applesauce
¼. c. butter or dairy-free butter
¾ c. sugar (use ½ c. if your bananas are nice and ripe)
2 eggs
1 c. mashed bananas (about three bananas)

Directions

Preheat oven to 350 and grease a standard-sized loaf pan.

In a medium-sized bowl, whisk first seven ingredients together, and set aside. In a large bowl, mix applesauce, butter, and sugar until creamed. Add eggs, mixing well.  Blend in bananas. Add dry ingredients, mixing only until incorporated. Pour into loaf pan, bake for one hour, until golden brown on top. Test with toothpick to be sure it is cooked through, as banana bread can be very moist at the bottom. After 15 minutes, turn out onto wire rack to cool completely.

This recipe doubles well; we almost always do so.  It’s also great with a cup of blueberries added before baking. If using frozen blueberries, add 20 minutes to cooking. A few handfuls of chocolate chips tossed into the batter before baking is also a nice surprise!  Banana bread freezes well; don’t hesitate to slice the extra cooled loaf, wrap in foil, pop into a Ziploc bag,and freeze for busy school mornings.  Without any special tools or knives to use, it’s also a great recipe to make with the kids.  You’ll find they’ll be able to make it on their own in no time.

To find out what’s new in our kitchen, stop by, or become a fan on Facebook. Peruse past blogs and keep current with new blogs at Stephanie.hvparent.com.

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I don’t know about you, but I am so happy the fall air is settling into our August nights. After a recent hot spell it feels nice to walk outside without the deep sizzling pain of the hot sun. OK, that’s a little dramatic. But, it really was too hot for us to be outside most days. So, that meant we stayed inside and found things to do in the air conditioning. My girls requested we make cookies, but there was no way I was baking in the heat! So, we made Rice Crispy Treats instead! No oven and the kids can help? That’s a mom-win!

I hope you have all had a rice crispy treat before! If you haven’t you are missing out on a delightful goody! The simplicity of marshmallows and crispy cereal makes them a quick go-to dessert, or a fun addition to your next bake sale.

Earlier this summer I shared with you 4 Low Sugar Snack Time Swaps as I tried to cut down on the sugar in our diets. My mom guilt had me worried about the sugar content in these treats, so I thought I’d amp up the protein just a bit by adding almond butter. The result was nom-nom-nommy!

First, melt a stick of butter in a stock pot. Then add in 1 heaping tablespoon of almond butter. Whisk butters together until well blended.

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Next, add marshmallows and continue stirring until all marshmallows have melted into the butter mixture.

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Now, add your crisp rice cereal and stir until all ingredients are incorporated.

Grease a baking pan with your favorite cooking spray, or oil. (I use coconut oil, or butter).

Fill baking pan with the crispy cereal mixture. Use the back of a spoon to smooth into pan. Allow to cool entirely in pan before cutting. Flip the treats out onto a cutting board and cut into squares.

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That’s it. Seriously, you’re done.

The first time we made these I brought them as an after dinner dessert at a friends house. There wasn’t even a crumb left on the plate. I knew I had a keeper when my friend sent me a text message the next day asking for the recipe!

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*Tips: wet the back of the spoon before  you smooth mixture into the pan. It keeps the treats from sticking to the spoon.

The deeper the pan, the thicker the treats will be when cut. I used a 9×9 baking square pan to get the treats pictured above.

The Whatever Mom is a full time wife and twin mama living on coffee and wine. She enjoys the pure rush of cleaning the potty between loads of laundry. It is her dream that moms everywhere accept and embrace the Whatever Mom philosophy which can be found here

One Week Post-partum

There are two things you NEVER ask a woman – her age and her weight. Everyone knows this. Why? Because more than likely they are the things she’s most sensitve about. So I just want to start by saying that the following is MY story. It is in NO way an attempt to make any other woman feel sensitive or bad about her weight. There are certain posts that just flow out of my every day life and then there are those that just pull at me until I get them out. This is one of those that I have been avoiding for quite some time. The only TRUE gifts I have in this world are writing and being honest, but there is one lie I have been telling myself and other people for awhile now and I think it’s time to come clean. “Baby weight” is NOT the reason I reached my heaviest weight.

Do You Still Have A Baby In There?

Six months ago my son Jayden pokes me in the belly and says, “You have a squishy belly.” “I did just have a baby six months ago,” I tell him. “I think there is still one in there,” he replies. Kids don’t mean to say things to hurt their Mama’s feelings, but it’s like they can’t help but be brutally honest. The AMAZING blessing of my life is my family who loves me no matter what. My husband would NEVER make any reference to my weight even though I was stick thin when we met in college. The last time I intentially got in shape was for my wedding. Then the babies started taking over my body, each one carving their own stretch marks on my belly, and creating the pooch that just hangs around my mid section.

The “Baby Weight” Was Gone A Few Months Post-partum

I’m so thankful to have had had healthy pregnancies and my body rebounds pretty quickly from them. The photo above was taken just one week postpartum. Within a month or so of giving birth I usually lose 90 percent of the 20 to 30 pounds I typically acquire with pregnancy. I’m not saying that to brag. I’m only setting the scene for the biggest lie I’ve ever told myself – that my changing body when I found myself at my heaviest weight was because of pregnancy. The truth is I hit my heaviest weight BEFORE I even got pregnant with my third child.

It Was My Right Not To Care (Or So I Thought)

I’ve gained weight since my 30s for sure, but when I started staying home three years ago I REALLY stopped noticing. I didn’t have to squeeze into work clothes anymore. I didn’t have to wait till lunch time to eat. I really didn’t have to pay attention to myself at all or so I thought. I was content to live in yoga pants and t-shirts and spout that I didn’t care and it was my right. I WILL ALWAYS be a low maintenance girl, but that’s where the lie crept in. When I had to buy all new clothes in a larger size, I cared. When my wedding rings no longer fit, despite telling myself that I’m not a jewelry person and I don’t need a ring to prove I’m married, I cared.

Pregnancy Does Change You, But I Used It As An Excuse

Even when I signed up for the gym in June, they asked me about my goals and I offered up my trusty friend – to lose the “baby weight.” I was already at pre-pregnancy weight and was embarrassed it was still high. It’s been easy to feed the lie to myself and others. Most women and men understand what “baby weight” is. We understand that women’s bodies fundamentally change with pregnancy. So it’s been easy to tell others and myself that the reason I was at my heaviest was because of “baby weight.”

The Trusty Cliché

So why bother coming clean at all? I guess it’s because I’ve recently taken a good hard look myself and decided that getting healthier had to start with a clean slate. I had to stop lying to myself if I was going to take ownership of MY choices. Yes, MY choices. I ate without ever paying attention to anything – serving sizes, how much sugar was in something, how many times I was “cleaning my kids plates” for them because they are just so wasteful with food. I also started my quest to get healthy for the cliché reason of not wanting to become my mother. My mom had the biggest heart for others, but for herself she didn’t have much love. More than once I heard her call herself ugly. She was my first introduction to the lie. She used to tell me that my brother and I were the reason she was heavy. Mind you she didn’t put on most of her weight till I was near the end of my elementary school years. Then she started disappearing from photographs and if she did make an appearance she would shove me or my brother in front of her like human shields.

Two months ago I started tracking what I ate with loseit.com and going to Planet Fitness at night while the kids were sleeping and I've lost 14 pounds.

Two months ago I started tracking what I ate with loseit.com and going to Planet Fitness at night while the kids were sleeping and I’ve lost 15 pounds.

Screw Being A Size 2, I Don’t Want Type 2 Diabetes

That wasn’t the worst by far. That was watching her suffer from the HORRIBLE complications of the type 2 diabetes she developed. She called me at work one day and told me she woke up that morning and couldn’t see anything. She went to the eye doctor who sent her rushing to a regular doctor to test for a possible brain tumor. I was out of my mind and bawling. She regained partial vision in one eye though it was forever blurry. Then there were countless stints in hospitals for wounds on her legs and feet that refused to heal and infections so bad amputation was threatened. Ultimately her kidneys failed and she passed away a few years ago.

In It For The Long Haul

I tried to get her to stop drinking soda and eating fast food and sweets, but anything I said only made her mad at me. She was living under her own lie and she didn’t want me to mess with that. When I started tracking my food and exercise with loseit.com and working out several times a week at Planet Fitness it wasn’t because I want to be a size 2. I don’t aspire to be the weight I was in high school. I aspire to live long enough to play with my grandkids; to be able to see every curve of their cubby little baby faces.

So two months and 15 pounds ago I wouldn’t have dreamed of taking a selfie, but I’m ok with it now. I’m living the truth that nothing but hard work, discipline and wanting a healthier lifestyle for myself got me here. No gimmicks, just hard work and a little honesty.

It may still be summer, but August brings with it the reminder that the school year is soon to begin, and following that, Fall. There are some very sweet Fall moments… apple picking, the feel of pulling on a cozy sweater on a brisk day, the crunch of leaves under the blue sky. With it, though, comes busy evenings, shorter days, less sunshine and energy. I begin to plan for how I can make my life easier… bulk shopping and cooking, stockpiling the freezer with foods  I’ve made and frozen, and meal planning. I’ll share some ideas that help make the transition to that busy time of year easier for our family.

#1 The prep. Meal planning. What energizes your family? For us, it’s crockpot dishes, soups, savory meals, and easy-to-grab items like muffins, granola, turkey bacon. I keep a notebook of meals I’ve made, with notes on the source of the recipe, whether or not we liked it, what went well with it. When I get a free moment, I jot down ideas of what will work for the upcoming month, and often look back to remember what was helpful during certain times of year. This helps me compile a shopping list– I make sure I have ground turkey or chicken breasts in the freezer, any produce I’ll need for certain dishes, and replenish pantry staples. Looking over the sale circular before shopping is a great way to incorporate sale items into meal planning.

#2 Strategy. Take advantage of end-of-season produce. I shred and freeze extra zucchini so I can make quick bread all year long. Bag up blueberries, diced berries and peaches, even hunks of banana, to have ready to throw into muffins, oatmeal, and smoothies on busy mornings.

#3 Action. Once you begin turning on the oven again, start making extras. Double the meatloaf recipe and freeze one. Make three pounds of meatballs, eat one, and freeze two. Make extra taco filling, chili, soups. Once you’re measuring and mixing, messing up the kitchen, it’s very little extra work to set aside extras for another night. Same goes for breakfast foods. Waffles, pancakes, muffins, and granola can all be frozen and defrosted first thing in the morning as needed. Whenever I make turkey bacon, I bake extra trays of it, and freeze it in a Ziploc bag. My kids know it’s there and grab it when they need protein.

Once you develop a system that works for your family, you’ll be surprised to find out how easy it is to keep it going, and that you can always return to it after a lull. I recently stocked up on gluten-free flour, beans, and zucchini in anticipation of fall cooking. What tricks and tips have you found work for your family?

To find out what’s new in our kitchen, stop by, or become a fan on Facebook. Peruse past blogs and keep current with new blogs at Stephanie.hvparent.com.

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