The Year in Review: 2016

I’m squeaking in the last few moments of 2016, but I wanted to look back. This year I was able to be a little more active on the blog with 20 posts from June-December. Dead air for the nine months before that, though. Sorry.

So there were a lot of things that unfortunately haven’t been written about – Hannah’s kindergarten year, our trip to Disney with Brett’s family, lots of recipes, etc. – but I’ve enjoyed getting back in a bit of a writing routine. The increase in posting was prompted by my application to join the Kansas City Mom’s Blog contributor team. I remembered how much I enjoy writing and the value of documenting our little life stuff.


In my 20 posts of 2016, I hit an all-time personal high after my post about what I buy at Aldi made its way around Facebook and I got close to 800 views in one day. Most of my new posts get about 40 (thank you, friends and family, for reading!!!), so that’s a significant difference! My second top post of the year was something I’d shared with my MOPS group during October for pregnancy loss awareness month. I talked about my faith maturing after our miscarriage and how I had to let go of my plans.

By the way, I was indeed added as a monthly contributor for the Kansas City Mom’s Blog, so you can check out some of my posts over there like The Bins and Experience Gifts in the Kansas City Area.

So I hope to be more faithful in blogging in 2017 by documenting more life things and having the guts to hit publish on some deeper thoughts that have been rattling around for a while. Cheers to 2017 – my 35th year of life, my 13th year of marriage, hopefully several dozen more posts published, and a new baby to add even more adventures along the way.



Trader Joe’s Favorites – What’s Always on My List

I heard the praises of Trader Joe’s long before I set foot in one. First, the blogosphere was proclaiming its wonders. Then one opened in Kansas City, so my mom was getting in on the goodness and reporting back. Finally, it came to Austin.

As a regular Trader Joe’s shopper for several years now, I’ve established my list of regular items. Though we have one relatively close here in Kansas, it does not carry wine. (yay Kansas) So once a month I make the trek to the Kansas City, Missouri location for my standard stock-up.

My usual grocery shopping routine is Aldi weekly, Costco monthly, Trader Joe’s monthly, and another grocery store for occasional holes in between. They all have different items I prefer, so my list at each is tried-and-true favorites.

Here’s what’s always on my list at Trader Joe’s:

Cereal and flour

We go through a lot of cereal at our house, so if the girls are with me I let them pick a fun box in addition to our regulars. My mom also stocks up at cereal at TJ’s because they have Barbara’s brand at the best price (interestingly one of the few non-Trader Joe’s brands on the shelves).

I always get the White Whole Wheat Flour because it’s the best price I can find around here ($2.99).

Seasonal items, salsas, and sauces

The seasonal items are HOT and come in limited quantities, so I stock up when I spot them. Their pumpkin items in fall are my very favorite (mucho boxes of Pumpkin Pancake Mix), but the Peppermint Jo-Jo’s rate highly.

The Organic Tomatillo and Roasted Yellow Chili Salsa is our family favorite. It’s got great flavor and a little heat – but all the girls eat it! The green Hatch Valley Salsa is quite tasty as well. I normally grab a couple jars of each. I also like the size of the jar of Traditional Marinara Sauce.

(not pictured: organic chocolate syrup)

Great to have on hand

These are items I don’t necessarily have on the meal plan, but I know I’m going to use them. Frozen Microwaveable Brown Rice is super convenient. Frozen waffles are always great on standby. And my girls think edamame is so fun. The chicken sausage comes in a ton of flavors and is easy to grill or sauté or put with pasta… tons of possibilities.

Frozen convenience foods

Though I like to make a lot from scratch, I have some favorite frozen convenience items. These are great for a quick meal and much cheaper and healthier than fast food. My kids like all of these, so they’re a nice easy dinner when needed. Violet even requested the Orange Chicken as her birthday meal when I said she could pick anything.


Cheap wine. Nuf said. Okay, I’ll say more. The “two-buck Chuck” is famous (Charles Shaw, actually $2.99) and we like a couple varieties. But usually I stick with some good options in the $4-$5 range. And cheap beer – not bad in a can for $3.49 for a six-pack.

Brett likes their selection of coffee, so that’s usually on our list. Many organic and fair trade options.

Not food

Sorry to all my Mary Kay and Rodan+Fields friends, Trader Joe has taken over my skincare. Weird, right? But after trying multiple brands, I’m happier with my skin than I have been in years, and it’s a great price. So I go with what works.

(not pictures: fresh flowers starting at $3.99!!)

What I DON’T usually buy – overlaps of other stores. I don’t usually buy much produce at TJ’s because I can get better sale prices elsewhere, and I don’t think their quality is a significant difference. Same with meat and regular cheese (though they have good fancy cheeses). There have even been a few items that I have bought and not liked such as the french fried onions and chicken stock.

So my cart is a mix of everyday essentials and fun favorites.

What are your favorite Trader Joe’s items? 


Not Award-Winning Chili

chili-bowl-wordsAnyone else get tired of browsing Pinterest and coming across so many versions of “Award-Winning Chili” and “Best Chili Ever”? Let me make it easy for you. Just make this one. I entered it in a chili competition, and it did not win. But want to know what? People really liked it. Really liked it.

Fall is the perfect time for a hearty bowl of protein and veggies. And beer. Yep, all of that is in here. Top with Fritos and cheese.

Not Award-Winning Chili

  • 2 lbs. ground beef, browned
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 2 bell peppers, diced
  • 3 cloves garlic, diced or pressed
  • 1 large (28 oz) can crushed tomatoes
  • 1 large (30 oz) can pinto beans
  • 2 chipotles in adobo, chopped
  • 1/2 can pumpkin purée
  • 1 can/bottle (12 oz) beer
  • 2 Tbs chili powder
  • 1 Tbs cumin
  • 1 tsp smoked paprika
  • 1 Tbs kosher salt

Combine in large slow cooker and cook on Low for 8-10 hours.

The Summer Bucket List is Done

Yes, I said done. Not completed. There are some boxes left, but no one seems to care. It’s November, so I need to wrap this up.

Highlights since my last update:


We tackled the giant 24″ pizza from local Original Pizza. We decided not to take on the project alone and called in my sister and her family – polished it off! Even though the slices were so big they didn’t fit on the plates. :)

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Hannah got free Royals tickets as her Perfect Attendance Award, so we got to go to a game. Too bad they didn’t play as well this year, but it’s still a fun experience. Hannah polished off a giant hot dog, and Brett and I shared super nachos out of a helmet. Side note: big thumbs up for our new ear protection. Hannah can be sound-sensitive, so these really help. They also hopefully blocked out the foul-mouthed drunk people behind us.


Since we included big and little summer adventures, root beer floats were checked off. Yum!

So we didn’t make it to Union Station, mini golf, or the marble factory, but that just gives us a head start on next summer’s list!

Pregnancy, Loss, and Faith: The Joke of Family Planning and the Lie I’d Believed

About three years ago, I went to party and was chatting with some new acquaintances. As moms, of course, the topic quickly turned to our kids. When I told one lady that I had two girls who were three years apart, she said, “You planned that so well. Good for you!”

I laughed in her face. I know that was NOT the godly response, but I couldn’t help it.

Planned? Ha. Almost nothing about our first two went according to our plan. Our first was an adoption with a majorly unexpected twist that ended up basically the opposite of our plan. Then when we decided to grow our family, we had a miscarriage. Nope, that wasn’t in the plan, either. Then instead of getting pregnant again quickly, we had a long wait.

I could tell you a lot of things about that time… the dumb things people said to me, the feeling that everyone in the world was pregnant except me, the awesome friends who cried and prayed with me… but there was my heart.

For the first time in my faith journey, I looked at my life, my plans, and then looked at God and said, “This isn’t fair.”

It wasn’t fair because I’d been a good girl. I grew up in church, I followed the rules, I didn’t have sex before marriage, I was in Bible study, I was doing all the things right.

But God wasn’t holding up His end of the deal, right? It wasn’t fair.

Unconsciously, I’d fallen for the lie of the prosperity gospel. The idea that if you’re good enough and pray enough and try really hard, God will shower you with all the good things.

But it’s a lie. Nowhere in the Bible does it paint life like that. John 16 says: In the world you WILL have trouble. James 1 says: WHEN you encounter trials. It’s not a conditional situation dependent on your behavior, it’s reality.

The world, even the “Christian” world spreads these lies, though. Think about the memes you see everywhere. “If you just let go of it, God will make it happen.” “Pray often enough, try hard enough, have more faith, dream big enough… and God will bless you.” And by bless you, of course that means give you whatever you want. That sounds fair to me, I like fair.

But life isn’t fair. Miscarriage isn’t fair. Infertility isn’t fair. Cancer isn’t fair.

But God is good. How? Through the troubles He warned us would come, He provides peace and hope, and He put us in community to remind us we are not alone in hard things.

So what am I trying to say? This: Family planning is a joke.

You might laugh and say, “Yeah, she’s pregnant with her fourth kid. Obviously she thinks family planning is a joke.”

No, this is not about birth control and family size and whatever. What I mean is MY family planning was a joke. I realized I had fallen for the lie that the success or failure of pregnancy reflected the success or failure of my faith. Without knowing it, I’d written up a contract where I did a pretty good job at following His rules, and then He made my plans work out.

But it’s so different. Because of grace.

Him giving me a baby does not depend on what rules I follow or how much I pray or how good I try to be.

And Him giving me salvation does not depend on what rules I follow or how much I pray or how good I try to be. His work on the cross, not my work or good intentions.

And that gave me a peace. It didn’t take away the ache or the grief or the longing. I am still heartbroken over our miscarriage even though it was five years ago. It was hard to wait. It was hard to accept that my plan doesn’t prevail. But I learned life isn’t a tally sheet of my goods and bads. Instead there’s hope. Even in loss, even when my plan fails, there is hope in Christ.

(This was originally shared with my MOPS group to recognize October as Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness month)


What Spice Mom am I?

 It started as I was reading a Facebook post. Someone described a super spiritual crafty activity she was accomplishing with her small child. The following comments were things like “I’m going to do that, too!” and “That sounds so great, I’m totally interested!”

I really wanted to add, “Yeah, me too!” But I stopped. The chances of that activity ever getting completed in my house are truly very small. I had a little pity party moment of how I’m so busy with three kids now, I just can’t do things like these moms of one or two.

Then I was honest with myself.

Those things aren’t ME. I don’t hate Jesus or hate crafts or hate spending time with my kids, I just don’t get around to it. I didn’t do those things even when I had one kid. If there’s something crafty in our house, it was probably done with one of the grandmas or was from their Kiwi Crates.

So if I’m not Crafty Spice, what am I? Crafty Spice seems to be the ideal these days. That or Healthy Spice. Posting things like “Look at my kindergartner and the Valentines she crocheted out of recycled sweaters!” or “Here we are at the Farmer’s Market again – these kids just can’t get enough organic parsnips!” or maybe “My two-yr-old can spell all the books of the Bible with Cheerios!”

I don’t want to spend my time searching Pinterest for the next activity to turn my kids into geniuses. Some people love that, and that’s awesome. Just like some people love running for extensive lengths of time; I do not. These things are not bad, they are just not what I like to do.

What do I like to do? What do the girls want to do with me?

So I decided. I’m SitOutsideWhileMyKidsPlay Spice.