Confessions of a Stay-At-Home Mom

January 21, 2015

10 Meals to Bring to New Parents

In the past 3 months, I've been amidst a great baby boom. Not my own, of course (heaven help me!). But, rather, many of my friends have made the great transition to being parents. I love getting to visit these new first-time parents, snuggling new little babies (that I can give back when I am finished) and bringing these families a respite in the form of a meal.

When Chica was born, I didn't realize bringing new parents meals was a thing. I was among the first of my friends to have a baby, so I was new to the game. But all the people in my life who had gone on the Parenting Journey before me knew what was up and came prepared to hold a baby and provide me a meal. I loved it. I was so overwhelmed by embarking on this new life that I could barely remember my name let alone throwing together dinner. I appreciated that having meals on hand (in the fridge and the freezer) took one burden off of my shoulders so I could focus on my new little one.

Now that I'm several years into this parenting thing, I know the drill when my friends head to the hospital ready to give birth. I go to the grocery store, grab necessary ingredients, and prep a meal (or three) for them.

Some important things to consider when preparing a meal for a new family:

Make it Fridge AND Freezer Friendly

Sometimes new parents get (happily) inundated with meals. So it's helpful if the meals received can be thrown in a freezer. Otherwise, we leave the bewildered new parents with the task of scarfing 3 meals in the course of 24 hours. Making sure a meal is freezer-friendly allows for the option to eat immediately or freeze for later use.

Keep it Simple

This is especially important for moms who are breastfeeding. Many of us know the frustration of gobbling up a delicious meal only to find that it does not agree with your baby a few hours later. When preparing a meal for new moms, consider leaving out common gas-inducing foods, such as cruciferous vegetables (like broccoli), beans, garlic or overly spicy foods. Basic, simple recipes are often the safest bet for new moms and babies alike!

Check Ahead for Allergies or Aversions

There is nothing worse than giving a meal to someone only to find they cannot eat it!  Check with the family first to see if there are any food allergies to avoid (peanuts, milk, etc) or aversions that would keep them from enjoying your meal. Some moms are quickly put on elimination diets when breastfeeding to address feeding issues, so make sure they are still able to eat lactose (milk, cheese, etc).

Think Outside the Box

I also try to shake things up when bringing a meal. An easy go-to recipe for bringing a meal is baked ziti (my recipe is listed below!). WHICH I LOVE. But when everyone opts to bring it for you, you'll be eating ziti for days. Even an Italian girl like me has her limits! Thinking outside the box and looking for new and exciting freezer meals to bring can help break any meal monotony a new family may be experiencing.

Create a Schedule

If you are close enough with the new parents, offer to make a meal schedule for them. Websites like Take Them A Meal help you create an online calendar that people can sign up for. It even allows all the volunteers to see what others are bringing so there aren't any doubles. Create them a calendar then send it to their friends and family to sign up with!

Accounting for the above, here are 10 fantastic meals you can bring to a new family (also great for anyone who is dealing with illness or grief). All of these have been tested by me and/or my Freezer Meal Club:

Pepper Steak | Six Cents

Baked Ziti | Confessions of a Stay-at-Home Mom

Pizza Casserole | How I Pinch a Penny

Homemade Chicken Soup with Dumplings | Pandora's Deals

Cheeseburger Casserole | Skinnytaste

Sweet & Savory Apple Pie Pork Chops | Confessions of a SAHM

Lasagna Roll Ups | Cooking Classy

Chicken Parmesan Casserole | Thriving Home

Crockpot Brown Sugar Balsamic Glazed Pork | Laura's Sweet Spot

Slow Cooker Beef and Barley Stew Happy Money Saver

I'd love to hear what your favorite meals are to bring to new parents! Leave a comment and tell me all about it!

(And a special thanks for all of the bloggers for permission to use their fantastic links!)

January 9, 2015

You Can Play Oregon Trail For Free. But No One Ever Makes It To Oregon.

I had a dream.

That one day, I would take my covered wagon across the American frontier. In a covered wagon with modest provisions, I would brave the wild unknown and conquer the trail blazed by many settlers before me. I hoped against hope that amidst snake bites, river fordings, poor hunting skills and cholera, I, too, would see the bright lights of a little place called Oregon.

A dream that was truly a crock of poop.

Like many kids who grew up in the 80's and 90's, I was delighted by this week's TIME article announcing that MS DOS games were available to play online. For FREE. Games I thought were only the stuff of my memories (and locked away forever on the Commodore PC from my childhood). Games such as Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (of which I could never get past the library), Stunts, Donkey Kong, Frogger,  Deluxe Ski Jump, this one called Sex Vixens from Space (which I never played but find humorously [uncomfortably?] phallic), and, of course, the mother of all MS DOS: The Oregon Trail.

What kid who lived any stretch of the 90's didn't play this game? I'm pretty sure it was mandated in schools. There was something exciting about harkening back to the days of our country's beginnings, imagining the life of frontier families. As a kid, having ownership of decisions that truly meant the difference between life and death was weighty, but we welcomed it. When you are young, you have no say. No power. Not so in Oregon Trail. Here, I had the opportunity to negotiate trades, make calls on how intense our pace was, ration our food and decide whether or not to ford that great river or take the ferry. 


I could hunt stuff. 

 I don't know how much our floppy disk of Oregon Trail cost back in 1990, but I'd imagine it was a chunk of change compared to the no-cost version on Archive.Org. So once I read the (first few sentences of) the article, I hopped over and started the journey west. I was ready to conquer the Oregon Trail.

And I immediately remembered how much I detested this game

Sure, making decisions was fun at the time. But as an adult you realize the control you think you have is actually an illusion. The Oregon Trail commands control. ALWAYS. You think you're calling the shots? Well think again, Lewes and Clark. Oh, you're adjusting your pace and rations because you think it'll be better for your caravan? You know nothing, Annie Oakley.

The Oregon Trail will pwn you.

Seeing the game through adult eyes, I quickly realized I was set up for failure among the first few screens of the game. I am asked what profession I would like to be as I begin the game. Looking over my options (banker, carpenter, farmer), I pick farmer. I feel I am choosing wisely because farmers are industrious when working with the land, which I thought might come in handy on the trail.

(Oh yeah, I'm going to play the crap out of this trail).

This was my first mistake.

Because you learn that a farmer's modest budget for the journey is $400. Four hundred dollars to buy all the supplies needed to survive the harsh, cold realities of the frontier. I later learned that the banker has an account four times as big. That's right. The big wig banker gets $1600. But I bet when push comes to shove, said banker will be a big sissy about getting his pin-striped suit wet while fording the dang river.

With money in hand, I am set to begin my dealings with Matt, the owner of the General Store. In case you didn't know, Matt is a capitalist bastard who wants nothing more than to see you die a horrible death in the wastelands of unsettled America. Matt finds this funny and revels in the unsuspecting chumps he sends completely unprepared into the wilderness.

How do I know this? Because Matt, who is set up as a mentor of sorts and is supposed to guide you in attaining the right provisions for the journey, screws you from the beginning. He's the general store owner. What's not to trust? So of course you take his advice and buy the "necessary" 3 yoke of oxen (at $40 a pop!) and 200 pounds of food per person (at $0.20 a pound) for your 5 person team.  Oh look, you've already spent $320 of your $400 budget. And you still haven't purchased clothes, ammunition or spare parts.

Somehow I think Matt is getting the better end of the deal here.

After purchasing enough clothes for 1.5 of us and enough ammunition to possibly take down a pair of squirrels, we set off for the Great Yonder. We keep our pace steady and our rations filling. We don't want to start off on a bad foot, now do we?

The first leg of the journey is uneventful, and I make the wise decision to caulk the wagon and float once we reach the first river instead of fording it, due to the 5 feet of depth. This proves wise, and we make it across no worse for the ware. 

It's about this time I realize the game's complete and utter power over my journey. Like some greek god deciding my fate, with a few hand swishes and points of a triton, I am doomed.

At our first trading post, I attempt to make a trade due to the fact that we don't have enough clothes or spare parts to continue. I am given only one option: Townsman Robert will gladly trade you 25 bullets for a spare axel. 

But I don't have an axel.

And I don't need bullets.

So we move on.

Bill, who proves to be our weakest link on the frontier, immediately comes down with the measles (which I assume came from someone who chose not to vaccinate at the last trading post). Our health goes from good to fair, but he eventually recovers...

...only to break his leg. Despite the fact that we haven't stopped moving since our last post. So unless he was unwisely walking around the covered wagon without his seatbelt, I find it a bit suspect.

To improve our caravan's health, I do what any good wagon leader would do with no money or trading capabilities: I hunt. After figuring out the awkward keyboard controls, I manage to take out 2 bison and an elk with minimal bullets. Pride wells up in my soul until I am told on the next screen that despite coming away with 972 pounds of meat, I can only carry 100 back to the wagon.

What the hell, OT? 

Why do you allow me upwards of 60 seconds to robotically move up down left right, shoot my white bullets and take down all of the mighty beasts of the wild if only to make me leave them as wasted carcasses for the hunger vultures above. 

It's humiliating, Oregon Trail.

And I think you like our suffering.

We come across another river and find it is only 3 feet at it's deepest. Perfect. Let's ford this bad boy. They say that a shark can attack in less than one foot of water. Well I have found that even in a robust covered wagon, you can be bested in water lower than waist-height. We barely make it across and informed that we lost a valuable amount of supplies.


Another wheel breaks right around the time we arrive at our next trading post, Laramie. Here, Emmanuel will happily trade us 2 sets of clothes for an axel. 

Which we don't have. 


For the sake of our sanity and survival, we take a much-needed 2 week rest at Laramie. You'd be surprised how fresh air, eating and recuperating does so little for my fledgling team. I need to get out of the cabin to clear my mind, so I take a hunt. This time, I take down 3 bison, 2 elk, as well as a rabbit and a squirrel. Of the 1,113 pounds of food I acquire, my weakened body can only carry, you guessed it!, 100 pounds back.

Forget this. Let's hit the road.

We don't get far before we are devastated by a wagon fire. A wagon fire. How does this even happen? I doubt we have matches and at this point we're not even stopping to pee. In this fire, we lost all but a handful of bullets. 


Aren't bullets forged in fire?!

(Oh the humanity!)

My family is starving, Bill just got bit by snake and we broke yet another wheel on our way to paradise. As another wave of cholera sweeps our team members, I come to this important and harsh realization:

No one makes it to Oregon.

Oregon is a fairytale. A pipe dream. A tall tale for innocent minds. We know Matt fares just fine. I'm sure the townsfolk at Laramie are having a big ol' laugh over our demise. And perhaps there are a few of you skillful players who know just the right combination of choices that get you, in some way shape or form, to this place called Oregon.

But you don't actually arrive. Not really. You may be there in body, riding a half-burned wagon with wood rotted from fording and the only remaining family member-turned-zombie on the brink of death from dysentery.

But your soul?

Oh no, friends.

Your soul was stolen the moment you chose "1" to take the trail. 

So, let this be a word to the wise:

Sure, you can absolutely play The Oregon Trail for free

But know that no one, not ever, truly makes it to Oregon.

January 6, 2015

The Winter Doldrums

For as long as I can remember, January through March has been my least favorite time of year. As a kid, it was the bleak season of going back to school after the hype of holidays and standing in the frigid temperatures each morning at the bus stop. 

I guess I have various idiosynchrasies for every season. I live for Autumn. It's my favorite. I love the cooler weather, the preparations for holidays, the new school year, everything. Bring on soup! Bring on the celebratory festivities! Bring on sweaters and boots! The moment August ends, I embrace the ushering in of Fall.

Summer and I have a more tenuous relationship, due to a string of frustrating circumstances we encountered over the course of several summers. As a teacher's wife, summer is a time where there are no paychecks and the obliteration of normal routine (which is a huge struggle for me). We've spent a few summers in financial hardship, encountering various unexpected bills and counting the days until paychecks started again. I also dislike heat and sweating in general. So I usually welcome summer with a good bit of caution.

Winter, though, is a strange bird. I actually like winter. I love snow (don't hate me), I like the crisp nights and I prefer being cold to being hot. I find the season cozy, marked by warm blankets and pot roasts cooking in the oven. But as the years have gone on, I find myself getting anxious as the end of December comes.

Perhaps it's a Pavlovian thing, harkening back to the days as a kid when Winter Break would end and we'd have to face going back to school. I still experience a small letdown as the holidays end. I still love the timespan of October 31 through December 31. So when it's over, it's a little blah. Perhaps it's being a parent and agonizing over the germiest season of the year. 

Perhaps as a 30-something woman, I dislike being cooped up with no where to go. We also say how important it is for kids to get outdoor time (which doesn't happen in winter). But I think adults need it to. We need the sunshine, we need the fresh air. We just don't get it in winter.

I've been thinking recently that perhaps I struggle with facing a new year and all of it's uncertainties. I'm learning more and more how I don't function well when I am out of control. The anxiety of not knowing what a new year brings (financially, in victories, in difficulties) is not my favorite. I just like knowing. Surprises? Not my thing.

All that to say, I get kind of rammy as January arrives. It's not Seasonal Affective Disorder, because I don't get depressed (but if you do struggle with SAD, please don't hesitate to talk to someone or get help!) . Most of the time it's just business as usual and I'm fine. I find that it helps to give myself things to look forward to: GNO's, new episodes of my favorite TV shows, day trips, making initial plans for summer vacation and, yes, even getting excited for snow storms (if this season gives us any). it helps to have these things to get excited about, after coming off of a season where every week there was some fun holiday or party or special trip. 

I also keep running. This is something that was new to me last year - winter running. Most people stop running when the cold weather sets in. But I welcome it. I love running in the winter. Remember how I dislike sweating and being hot? Winter is perfect for people like me. At some point even on the coldest runs, you'll warm up. At no point during summer runs do you start to cool down. Running gets my endorphins going and will improve my mood even on the worst days.

So, I'm working on it. I have a strategy to lift my mood during these Winter Doldrums. I'll make sure to enjoy girls night's out, snuggling under blankets with my kids, reading good books, going on long runs, tracking every potential snow storm and revel in small signs of spring.

What about you? Do you struggle with winter? 
How do you work on not getting down during the winter doldrums?

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