Stock Your Freezer: Meals for Busy Moms!

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Let’s talk busy weeknights. Since becoming a mama, I value easy, weeknight meals that are pre-prepped and even semi- homemade! And the best way to get dinner on the table quickly is a freezer, crock-pot meal. For me, the easiest way to do this is to choose a variety of meats and ingredients that can be used in several meals.

Recently, we visited Adam’s cousins who are preparing for their first baby in February! I asked what I could do to help her get ready, and we came up with the freezer meal idea. We went shopping together  and after 2.5 hours in the kitchen, we had more than ten meals prepped in the freezer! And get this- we only spent $85. Please note: we used two very large chicken breasts per recipe, which is more than enough for 2 people in the household. Adjust for your own family size!

I’m going to share links to all of my favorite meals below, and here are 6 tips to help with your freezer meal planning!

  • Freezer Meals should be Comforting: I don’t like to make “healthy” freezer meals. Everything I make is warm your insides kind of meal from the crockpot. The more you look forward to the meal, the more you’ll actually use what’s in the freezer.
  • Outsource anything you can: Whether this is chopped, frozen onions, or having your husband chop the meat while you assemble, use all the help you can get!
  • Semi-homemade is the way to go for me: I used pre-made spaghetti sauce, frozen meatballs and cream of chicken soup. If you don’t like these ingredients, you can make your own versions easily!
  • Leave the veggies on the side: I don’t put veggies in my freezer meals because many of them will get too soggy in the crockpot; I suggest adding them toward the end of the cooking, instead.
  • Shop the sales or use a wholesale club (BJs, Costco or Sams) for your meats! On this shopping trip, we scored reduced chicken breasts for $8.61, and it made four meals!
  • Re-stock as you go! Adam’s cousin Kira had a great idea to replace the freezer meals they used: every time she went to the store, she’d buy ingredients to pop one more freezer meal in the deep freeze, and always have something available for a quick meal!

BONUS TIP: Label all of your bags first with the name of the meal, any directions you’ll need to cook it, and the date. Freezer meals are usually good for up to 6 months!

THE PROCESS: I started by getting my meatball dishes out of the way first, because they only needed to be added in with sauce, labeled and laid flat to freeze. Next was the ribs- toss those bad boys in the bag with your bottle of BBQ sauce and you’re done. Beef stroganoff is next, and you’ve got four freezer meals down already!

If you have someone helping you, get them started on browning the ground beef and sausage for the  burritos while you assemble the other dishes.

Then, I went with the chicken dishes because they also just needed to be put into the freezer bags with their respective sauces. The most time you’re going to spend is on your ground beef, enchiladas and beef dishes.

Here are all of my favorite, (semi-homemade) freezer meals: perfect for a cold, wintry day, or a busy weeknight when you’ve got a million other things to do and don’t have time to fret over dinner!

  1. Meatballs & Pasta Sauce– or you can just use a jar of your favorite spaghetti sauce!
  2. Sweet and Sour Meatballs – frozen meatballs + Kikkoman sweet & sour sauce & chopped garlic
  3. Country ribs (ribs purchased for $7 at Aldi) – ribs + BBQ Sauce
  4. Beef stroganoff (stew meat purchased for $6 at Aldi)
  5. Cream cheese ranch chicken
  6. Teriyaki Chicken
  7. Salsa Chicken
  8. Lemon Garlic Chicken
  9. Taco Bake
  10.  Beef enchiladas– I used ground beef instead of shredded! (this made 2 pans)
  11.  Sausage egg and cheese burritos
  12. Baked Ziti

The main takeaway to freezer meals is: HAVE FUN! Cook what you like to eat, and cook smarter, not harder. Don’t get carried away with fancy recipes, which will add time and money to your budget. Just keep them simple and enjoy a warm meal at the end of the day!

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The War: Light

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This is the third blog post in a 5 part series called, The War. I invite you to read, empathize, understand, and share my story with others: new moms, especially. I am not ashamed of what you are about to read, but the stigma of post partum depression is very real and polarizing. Start the discussion with others. Join it if someone shares theirs with you. You are not alone.

Part One: Breaking Point
Part Two: Darkness

I can’t say that the sun shone for me in full force that first day I started feeling better. In fact, I was wary of it because of how dark I felt just twenty four hours before. About two weeks after beginning my medication, I started to get my mojo back. I was being creative and laughing at the nuances of life again. All of these things that I had forgotten were a part of my soul were starting to emerge again. Color returned to my face and people commented that I looked better. Happy, even.

During my time off, I had tried to be gentle with myself. I rested when I felt tired, and I went on walks with Lo around the neighborhood, and I ate what I wanted, and I took every single appointment with a therapist I could book. Because I needed accountability and reassurance. I needed to be told that I was going to be able to handle life again, even when I didn’t believe it to be true.

I asked for help from friends. I indulged in retail therapy. I cuddled my fat dog in bed, for lazy afternoon naps. I gave my mind a much-needed break. And what I found from this time was that I hadn’t been ready to go back to work at 9 weeks postpartum. I relished the time with Baby Lo now, 5 months old, smiling and laughing and cooing “mama”, napping on my chest, smiling at me with her beautiful blue eyes. She was much more therapy to my soul than anything else I encountered. She got me through it.

And for weeks of soulful rest and carb-eating and sunshine and fresh air, I started to feel incrementally better. I had energy! I could take on the day when I woke up in the morning. I looked forward to going back to work.  I could make logical plans without feeling utterly exhausted or overwhelmed; I believed that I could complete everything that I set out to do. I didn’t dread the night anymore. When Lo cried, I felt calm, rational and I could hold her and comfort her and tell her that it would be okay- because for the first time since she was born, I didn’t want to join her in crying hysterics.

And I shared my story. I told everyone who asked- friends, family and people on Facebook. I wasn’t looking for pity- I was looking for camaraderie. I knew I couldn’t have been the only one going through it: and I was right! So many people messaged me and commented and told me that they, too had dealt with perinatal mood disorders- anxiety, depression. Many had stories so close to mine- and they even said that they were afraid to talk about it out loud, just like me! I found a tribe of people, who I didn’t even know, who wrapped their arms around me in my time of need- who, in some ways, know my struggles better than my friends and family. Thank you, MLPC, for being there for me when I shared my story with you. Listening to your stories and hearing your words of encouragement helped me more than you’d ever know- and encouraged me to write this blog entry with such candor.

I still have days where the darkness seeps in, and I have to be kind to myself on those days. I have to know that not every day is going to be like it was before I became a mama; I’m not the person that I was before. And hopefully, someday I’ll be able to be better than I ever was.

The War: Breaking Point

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A month ago, I wrote about my battle with post-partum anxiety in The Battle. When I let those words pour out of me and into the public but safe space, I felt freed. For a couple of weeks, I felt I had conquered this anxiety problem and it would merely be remembered as a footnote in my post partum recovery. But I was wrong. Because just a few weeks later, I would hit rock bottom in way that I never knew I could.

This is the first blog post in a 5 part series called, The War. I invite you to read, empathize, understand, and share my story with others: new moms, especially. I am not ashamed of what you are about to read, but the stigma of post partum depression is very real and polarizing. Start the discussion with others. Join it if someone shares theirs with you. You are not alone.

 

Lo was an easy sleeper: she started sleeping through the night at 3 weeks old, and it scared me so much that I called the pediatrician and said, “There’s something wrong with my baby, she slept all night!” The doctor chuckled and told me to enjoy it: it would be short lived. Well, she was partly right- we enjoyed peaceful sleeping up until week 13, when she started waking every half hour to nurse, or just to be held. Sleep deprivation slowly crept into my body and brain, into my relationship with others, with her.

Working full time and being a mom wore on me, but I suffered silently as it eroded my attitude and mood. I was breastfeeding and pumping four times a day at work. I was exhausted, irritable with people, very blue. I’d rush home to see Lo at the end of the day, just feeling so tired but excited to cuddle and kiss her. She was my only bright spot on those days.

But I dreaded the night. I started becoming more anxious in the evenings, chewing my fingernails, even pulling out my hair, anxious ticks that I couldn’t control or stop. I went in to see my doctor who had been managing my care. She told me that she’d done all she could do and she was concerned that this was deeper than just a surface mood disorder. She hesitated to say Post Partum Depression, but we both knew it had gravitated there.

I took mental health days from work to try to get out of the funk. I took the baby to daycare and came home to sleep- I didn’t want to get out of bed. I When I returned, I felt like a zombie and I couldn’t concentrate on my work. My boss called- and the truth came rushing out of me. I told her about all of it, how I was doing fine, until now. But at that point, I was just sad and anxious- I still had a grip- at least, that’s what I told myself. It’s just the baby blues! But it had been four months. But I was crying in my car on my lunch break. My grip was slipping.

I stopped pumping, I rarely ate. I was spiraling fast. I made all of the calls I could- to post partum specialists and counselors and clinics and psychiatrists- and if they did take my insurance, they were booking over two months out. I lost it- I was crying constantly. My brain was swarming with so much anxiety, I knew I was reaching my breaking point and I needed help fast- but who could I turn to now? Medical appointments book at a glacial pace- and even though it was early November, I took the first appointment- December 12- in between sobs as I learned on the steering wheel of my car.

When your mind is under so much stress, everything seems to be painful- simple brain functions such as memory are impaired- I couldn’t tell you what I ate yesterday or what I worked on. I couldn’t answer Adam’s simple questions about the dishes or the laundry- I couldn’t function. My boss and I discussed options and she urged me to take some time off of work to get better. It wasn’t like me to feel this way, and she recognized the need for self care at that moment.

It was at this point that I decided I needed to be surrounded by family, but I wasn’t ready to splurge $700 on plane tickets back to Missouri. Then my sister called. “I’ve been through this too, you know. Not nearly as bad as you, but I can relate to what you’re feeling,” she said. “Come home, let us take care of you for a week or so. Then you can get your head on straight and go back refreshed.” Those were the words I needed to hear. No one had offered to take care of ME before! I was always taking care of everyone else!

Somehow, someone pulled enough strings to get me an emergency appointment with a new doctor. I bought two tickets to Kansas City, with a new prescription in hand, and I boarded a plane back home. I had high hopes for rest and relaxation surrounded by family.

I wish I would have known things were going to get worse before they were going to get better.

Throwback: Tonic Clonic

This post originally appeared on our previous seizure blog, http://www.weseizetheday.blogspot.com in August 2013. This was the first grand mal seizure that I had witnessed, just weeks before our wedding. 

I haven’t updated this blog in awhile because there wasn’t much to report. Adam was relatively seizure free, with a few episodes here and there, averaging about 2-3 per month. We visited with his neurologist in July and I discussed putting him on an anti-anxiety pill to stay asleep at night, since his seizures are often triggered by dreams. Adam and I enjoyed five days of fun and sun of our “pre honeymoon” in Florida and returned Friday, August 2.

Then, August 5 happened. 

Adam and I had enjoyed a nice evening at home. I made chicken, we spent some time catching up on the DVR shows we’d missed, and I went to bed around 10. Adam followed around 12. About an hour later, he started having a seizure. I woke up and got the cold packs that we use, made sure he was comfortable and noticed the time on the clock. 1:12 AM.

He asked me to talk him through it and I did, picturing a bright blue sky and helping him breathe. I was standing next to him when his body went rigid. He was headfirst into his pillow and then, I could see the movement escape him. “Adam?” I said, shaking him slightly. “ADAM!” I started yelling at him, shaking his shoulders. He was dead weight to me in my arms. I turned his head/body over when, to my horror, I saw that there was a bright path of blood leading out of his mouth. My own blood went cold. This wasn’t right. He wasn’t responsive. I rolled him on his side, and could tell that he was breathing, which I knew was the only good sign.

I grabbed my phone and frantically dialed 911 at 1:29 AM. I was already in hysterics when the dispatcher answered. “I need an ambulance! My fiance had a seizure and now he’s unconscious!”The dispatcher tried in vain to calm me down. She asked if he was diabetic. Had he had a stroke, she asked. Is he breathing? Yes. Address. Name. Spell your name. What’s his name? How old is he? Does he have a brain tumor? No, not that i know of.

It seemed like forever. “What’s taking so long? We’re just down the street! Please, send someone now!” As I waited, watching helplessly as his seizure progressed, his body pale, still not answering my calling his name.

It occurred to me, now, that I could be losing him.  His brain could have short-circuited, he could have more brain damage, and these damn paramedics aren’t even here yet! This all-encompassing panic swept my body. What would I do without him?

The paramedics arrived and I told him that he had seizures, but nothing like this. They acted like I was crazy. One actually said, “It’s rare that he could be conscious during a seizure.” They kept saying this was normal. I said through tears, “This is not normal for him.”

Within about 10-15 minutes, he was coming to, but he could not speak. He looked so very confused- I couldn’t help but think something was seriously wrong. He groaned, couldn’t form answers to the questions they were asking. Soon, they had him on the stretcher and took him by ambulance to the emergency room. I was to follow once I found his ID and insurance card. I was in such a panic- who was awake at 2 in the morning? Who could come sit with me? What was happening to him, and what could be happening to his brain right now? 

I got lost on the way to the hospital in my crazed state. We live one mile away from the hospital. When I arrived, he was in an ER room, hooked up to cords and IVs and breathing tubes. He was coherent, but looked a little confused at me.

The doctor and nurses were sympathetic but seemed to have no cause for alarm. This shocked me. I have been through hundreds of seizures with Adam and this has never happened. Later, I would find out that yes, he has had less than 5 of these seizures, ever- the last one being in 2009. (This would have been nice to know, babe!)

The ER doctor ordered bloodwork and the nurse cleaned the blood from his face as I sat next to him biting back tears. He reached up and wiped them away, saying simply, “It’s okay.” That’s his favorite phrase- whether I am worried about money, the wedding, work, or him. It’s always okay.

Bloodwork returned normal and we were sent home around 4:30 am with the diagnosis of secondary generalized seizure, or a grand mal seizure. He slept until 11 that morning, but I didn’t sleep at all. I kept reaching over and checking his heart, feeling his chest rise and fall. I needed that comfort.

Following up with his neurologist today, he was concerned with this seizure and chose to put Adam on a medication that is better for seizures. He said, “Unfortunately, it doesnt come in a generic.” Well, how much could it be, I wondered. He gave us a prescription card to keep the cost down, but when Adam returned with his pills, he told me that they were FIVE HUNDRED DOLLARS A BOTTLE.

Now, usually, I’m the strong one (or atleast I think so). I figure it out- no matter what comes our way. But I have cried so many tears this week. I am so mentally and emotionally exhausted. I cant shake the horrible flashbacks of Adam, limp and pale, nonresponsive. It terrifies me to think this could happen again.

So when he emerged with those pills, I freaking lost it. We can’t afford $500 per bottle monthly, considering this will be Pill #6 & #7 that he takes daily. He’s also, unfortunately, on the only insurance that will accept this pre-existing condition, which costs $600 per month.

But what do I do? I would give anything for Adam to never go through that again. But healthcare shouldn’t be something that you have to bargain for!  I am exploring every option available to us, but right now, those are all limited.

I love Adam unconditionally and always have, but this was the most terrifying experiences of my life. Feeling that you could lose the one person that perfectly “gets” you, the one person that you’ve pledged to spend the rest of your life with, is absolutely the most numbing notion. It freezes me with fear, so I am trying to stay positive.

This situation has reminded me that we don’t know how long we have in this life. It makes me rethink those nights I stay late at work. The Adam dates/appointments I’ve had to cancel or reschedule. No more. Work is work and home is home. Everything can wait til tomorrow. Except for him. He’s the single most important person in my life, and he always will be. The bond was have is so deep, something I dont see in other relationships. It’s a one-of-a-kind love. We lean on each other, support, adore each other. The love we have is not replaceable, so I will do everything in my power to fight, arrange, and keep him healthy, happy, and alive. At any cost. 

Epilepsy: A Love Story

img_0383Before Lo was born, I was very wary of telling anyone that Adam had epilepsy. When I did divulge this information, I often received unsolicited advice, worried looks and surprise. Many voiced concerns that Adam caring for her alone would be dangerous. I’d be lying if I didn’t also have my moments of worry or anxiety with Adam caring for our child- just like any first time parent, you are unsure, your hands a little wobbly around this tiny creature, worried you will drop or break or smush them.

Even Adam voiced concerns, right before she was born, that he wasn’t up for the physical and mental challenge of caring for a newborn all day. His sleep schedule would be disrupted, likely to trigger seizures. But I know my husband better than anyone else in the world, and I know his limitations. I can see it in his eyes before he feels it; I can predict what trajectory his seizures will take and I know how to stop them in their tracks before they progress.

When they laid Lo in Adam’s arms that first day in the hospital, I held my breath. I knew that the excitement, insecurity and fear was bubbling right under his skin. I didn’t want him to overthink it. But I looked at them together, as he gazed into her sweet eyes, and his entire body was calm. He was a natural.

As the days progressed, I continued to watch for signs that Adam was becoming overwhelmed- but his body remained steadfast, holding her delicately, changing diapers, swaying her when she fought sleep. He was more in control of his body than I’ve ever seen him- because his mind knew that this was more important than anything he’d ever done before.

Before I went back to work, Adam and I had a serious conversation about his limitations. I know the stress of caring for a newborn five days a week; it’s slightly maddening. We made the decision to put Lo in daycare a few days a week, so that Adam could focus on other home duties, and rest. On his “days off”, he fills her bottles, packs her bag and he walks her to school in the morning and picks her up in the evening. When I return home, they’re playing, laughing and listening to music together.

Adam isn’t perfect with Lo, as many first time fathers aren’t. His array of seizure medication makes it difficult for him to hear behind his mind’s “white noise” sometimes, and process a little slower than others. He often doesn’t see Lo’s cues when she’s hungry or tired, and that leads to some crying fits- but we’re working on it.

Epilepsy will always be a part of our life, but it isn’t his WHOLE life anymore. His good days far outweigh the bad, and he’s found a purpose in his daily routine- to care for and shape this awesome little human.

And while I have always admired Adam for being a strong, amazing man, with scars and stories and heartbreak in his back pocket, I have grown to love him so much more when I see him with our daughter. Epilepsy doesn’t win here, love does.

The Battle

I’m writing this for all the mothers who will come after me, and for all of the mothers that came before me and felt too ashamed to speak up. For fear that it might make them look less capable, crazy, or less of the amazing mother that they are.

I am the mother of a beautiful, intelligent, perfect, three month old baby girl. I am also the wife of a wonderful, caring, kind husband who has epilepsy. I am also a working mom, a breastfeeding mom, and oftentimes, it feels that the entire world rests on my shoulders.

Since having my baby girl three months ago, I have struggled with the upheaval that has become my life. I have all of this energy running through my veins, but I have no motivation to get up. I cry at the drop of a hat, I have panic attacks. The only thing that brings me joy is my baby girl. But there are moments- when she is inconsolable, crying in my ear, that I feel that the world is closing in around me. My breath quickens, I feel sick and sad, I cry with her.

Once I was holding her in the kitchen, singing Baby Beluga to calm her, tears streaming down my face. Adam appeared behind me and took her from my arms, and I buckled over and cried. Why am I feeling this way? How can I fix it? How can I function as the wife, employee, and mother I need to be?

The day I first reached out for help- eight weeks post partum- I was met with odd resistance when I explained my panicky moments. My OB wouldn’t prescribe anything and referred me to a primary care doctor, which I didn’t have since moving here a year ago- I frantically called every doctor, psychiatrist and womens health center I could find, hyperventilating in my car while my baby slept soundly in her seat- tears streaming down my face. “Help me, please. I need to talk to someone.” Each one said the same thing: “We can’t get you in for three weeks.” It was only when I said the words out loud that I knew I couldn’t hold inside any longer, “I can’t make it three weeks. I need someone today.” That I was taken seriously.

When I began to share my story, mothers flocked to me and shared their own post-partum struggles. “It’s normal,” they said. “I went through it too.” In fact, nearly 85% of new moms experience some sort of post partum mood disorder, but we don’t talk about it! We don’t know what to say to each other to help each other out, because it makes us seem less of a “put together” person- someone who is struggling emotionally when they have everything in the world to live for- how selfish can you be, so worried about nothing!

When you’re in the hormonal bubble, it’s hard to see outside the walls of it. It’s hard to explain it to your mom, or your best friend, or your partner. Some days, you just exist. Some days you stare at your computer and do your work and keep your head down, feigning a smile when a co-worker asks how you’re doing. At the end of the day, you race home to see your baby- the only thing that brings you joy. And for a few hours, everything is okay.

We need to erase the stigma that comes with post-partum mood disorders. You’re not alone; I’m not alone. The transition back to work is hard, the transition into motherhood is hard- but so incredibly worth it. I’m a work in progress. I’m a career woman chasing my dreams- while juggling a marriage, a household, my mental health- and my new, perfect, baby girl.