Sunday, March 26

Alice Kay Tuft

I've struggled a bit putting Alice's birth into words. It did not go the way I had ideally mapped out and I've had a bit of a hard time coming to terms with that. Her delivery was very, very hard and one of the most spiritual and emotional experiences I've had in my life; it's a bit tricky finding words to describe the whole thing without making things sound too trivial or too personal. I even debated for a bit on whether or not I would write it down, but I know how helpful it is for me as I process the whole experience. Alice's labor was really just raw. I was drained in every aspect after she came but I have a renewed and deepened respect for the entire process, for which I'm grateful.

36 weeks came along and I started having more and more symptoms of preeclampsia. At my prenatal appointment for the week I brought up the symptoms and my midwives decided to have me tested for preeclampsia. I'm always a pretty tricky case with this because of my extremely low blood pressure, the most common symptom. The highest it's ever been is 120/80, and that was just this last week. Saturday afternoon I got a call from my midwife saying my urine test came back with pretty high levels of protein and that we'd need to have this baby asap. Preeclampsia is just not something you mess around with because you can go from being ok, to having seizures really quickly. They put me on bedrest for the weekend with instructions to start taking primrose oil immediately and a cotton bark tincture starting Monday night.

This entire pregnancy I was working to have the patience to go into labor by myself. In hindsight, I think I may have pushed myself too hard, too soon with Livvy's birth and it may have been a harder labor as a result. After Livvy's birth, I'd sworn to myself to just be patient the next time so I'd have the peace of mind of knowing my body and baby were truly ready. It was a big pill to swallow for me to realize that I didn't have that luxury this time, even though of course we wanted to make sure both Alice and I were safe. I went back and forth between being disappointed in my body and being grateful for the resources available to us to catch the issue early on. It honestly took me the entire weekend to come to terms with the situation and reframe my mentality.

Legally, I couldn't have a baby at a birth center until I hit full-term (37 weeks) which was Tuesday, March 21st. We were extremely grateful that I was able to wait until then as we still really wanted to deliver at the birth center and to labor without medication. We got ourselves scheduled to come in at 9am for the first round of induction methods and to establish a plan of action to get labor going.

Tuesday morning rolled in and Kyle and I went to the birth center. At the first check I was dilated to a 3 and 25% effaced. We decided to do a membrane strip as that had been really effective with Milo and fairly effective with Livvy. I had two strips done that morning and then we went home to see if contractions would start, with a follow-up appointment scheduled for 1:30. I was pretty crampy for an hour, but things really died down after that. I tried bouncing on my yoga ball, walking around, and going up and down stairs, without much effect. It looked like we'd definitely need another round of induction methods to get things going.

At the 1:30 appointment I was dilated to a 4, and still 25% effaced. We did another two membrane strips and I stretched to a 5 during that. With inductions, especially if you're not planning on using meds, there's a difficult balance between wanting to get things going quickly and making sure mom doesn't get too tired before it's time to labor. Since we were on the race against exhaustion, we also decided to start taking castor oil in hopes of speeding things up. A normal dosage of castor oil is 6 ounces, and we broke it up into 3 doses of 2 ounces, every 2 hours. I took my first dose at 2:30 and yes, it's as gross as everyone says. Castor oil has the viscosity of snot without much taste. Luckily my midwife had a diet coke ready for me to chase it down with ;)

We came home again and settled in keep the contractions going. My midwives said my body would need to catch up to the stretching they did so I might not have true contractions for a while yet. The first dose of castor oil tore through my system with a vengeance. It is an extremely strong laxative that agitates the digestive tract, fooling the uterus into going into labor. Things were definitely more crampy and uncomfortable, so I decided to lay down after my second dose of castor oil at 4:30pm in hopes of getting a nap in, just in case things starting progressing really fast. Around 5pm I noticed a change in the cramps and started timing them. They were getting more consistent and more intense -  about 5 minute apart, lasting 45 seconds; apparently the castor oil was effective. We were scheduled to call our midwives at 6:30 to check in and see how things were going. If nothing had progressed we would call it quits for the night so I could sleep and then we'd pick things up again in the morning.

The contractions stayed at that same frequency and very slowly got more intense. We called our midwives and they said to definitely take the last dose of castor oil and to call if things changed. I legit cried when they said that; the castor oil was so, so hard on my system. Conveniently, BYU had a volleyball game that night at 7 so we turned that on and I laid on the couch as things got more and more intense. I got to the point where I needed to moan through the contractions in order to get through them. I really, really wanted to hit transition before going to the birth center, but our midwife had let us know that she was about 40 minutes from the birth center, so it'd be better if we alerted her sooner rather than later. About 8 o'clock hit and I realized that if I didn't go soon, it'd be even harder to walk out of the house, so we called our midwife and got things ready to go. While Kyle, my mom, and Nicole got all of the gear packed, I laid on the couch watching the game, so shoutout to BYU for helping me pass the time!

We arrived at the birth center at 8:45 and I got checked to see where things were. I had dilated to a 6, but was now 75% effaced. I can't lie - I was pretty disappointed I wasn't further along. The midwives suggested that I try a few things to keep the contractions going. Kyle and I walked up and down the stairs, tried some spinning babies techniques, and then some abdominal lifts during contractions.

After a few hours of that, I started to get really, really tired. It'd been over 12 hours since our first round of induction, and I was very concerned I wasn't going to have the energy to keep going. I told my midwives I felt like I needed to rest if I was going to have a prayer of pushing out a baby still. They left Kyle and I alone (apart from checking on the baby's heart rate every 30 minutes) and I laid down on the bed to try and catch my breath. The contractions were very consistent and painful. There was a point soon after everyone left where I just broke down and cried. I was so frustrated that I needed to be induced and I knew this whole process was made harder because of the induction. Dealing with both the castor oil wreaking havoc on my system on top of the contractions was the most difficult thing I've ever done. I swung back and forth from nearly throwing up, to having to use the bathroom every 10 minutes, and both sensations intensified the contractions. It was at this point that I asked Kyle for a blessing. I was bone weary and at the utter end of my physical ability. We had the sweetest, most peaceful assurance come over us after the blessing, and I had the sense that somehow I would be able to do this.

For the next couple hours I laid on the bed, dealing with contractions coming in every 3 minutes, lasting over a minute. I kept munching on apples and drinking Propel to keep my energy levels up. Kyle held my hands and helped with my breathing through every single one of them. I'd start breathing heavy and he'd drop his food to hold my hand and coach me through it, even if that meant running back from the kitchen or out of the bathroom. My midwives nicknamed him Daddy Doula as he intuitively suggested exactly what they were about to suggest. The miracle of all of this is that I was able to actually sleep between each contraction. I still have no idea how I managed that. Eventually my midwives came in and asked if they could check me so we could determine if I needed to change positions to keep things progressing.

They checked me and I was dilated to a 9 and totally effaced! I was so happy I could've cried. I'd managed to rest AND my contractions had been effective! They asked if I wanted to do anything different, and I didn't. If it ain't broke, why fix it, ya know? Over the next 10-20 minutes, I started noticing some good pressure in my lower back. Then I started shaking pretty badly. I couldn't figure out what was going on. When my midwives came into check the baby's heart rate I asked why I was shaking so badly and what all the pressure in my back was about, they said I was probably in transition and probably feeling a little pushy. They checked the baby's station, and she was at a +1 (+4 is crowning). After hearing that, I geared up all my strength and decided it was time to push.

I asked to use the birthing stool, knowing that position would utilize gravity to help me push. The midwives set it up and Kyle led me to it. I sat on the stool and had Kyle kneel in front of me so he could keep helping me breathe through the contractions. At this point the contractions had lengthened, but they were so, so intense. I knew I was on the Baby Train. Mom came around my back and pressed her hands against my tailbone through each contraction. During the first 3 contractions on the stool, I simply let them wave over me and just breathed through them. Then Kyle reminded me that I needed to bear down during them. I had a moment where I thought, "Bear down? What..... is..... bearing down?". My brain immediately sifted through all the movements that would be the least painful for me, and then the distant muscle memory came to mind. I remembered what I needed to do.

Those last pushes before the baby comes are just indescribable. I doubt I'll ever have words for them. It's as powerful as the force behind moving mountains and utterly overwhelming that a human body, my body, houses that force. On the second push, someone said, "stop!" so I relaxed my muscles. Alice's umbilical cord was around her neck so they lifted it over. On the third push, at 2:16 AM, Kyle guided her out, and milliseconds later she was finally in my arms.

The next 20 minutes are a blur of hormones and bliss. I vaguely remember moving back to the bed. I know I laughed and cried. I will never forget looking at Alice's face for the first time. She knew me, and we had done it! It really felt like she had worked with my body throughout the whole process. Alice latched on to nurse immediately and perfectly, resting so calmly in my arms; it felt as if she recognized that she was exactly where she needed to be.

After an hour of examining her and coming down off the labor high, the midwives came into check all of our vitals. I had avoided tearing (yay!!); Alice weighed 7lbs, 7 oz, and was 19.5 inches long.

It seems trite to say, but I absolutely could not have labored without Kyle. There were times where I felt like I literally pulled strength from him when my body just didn't have anything left to give. This labor gave us a chance to truly work together in a way I didn't know was possible and once again solidified in my mind how much of a team we are.

Alice girl, we love you so much. Now that you're here, I would absolutely go through it all again knowing you're the reward waiting for our family. Thank you for joining us.

*** Big shoutout to Liz for taking all these pictures. I will treasure them forever. Also, big thanks to my mom and Nicole for their support and help during the whole thing. And a huge thank you to Kyle's parents for watching Milo and Livvy for us! It was a big relief to know they were in the best of hands.

Wednesday, March 1

3rd Pregnancy

The great thing about this 3rd pregnancy is the delicious sense of "chill" I have. It's not my first time, every bodily change isn't new or quite so painful as the first, and time goes by SO much faster when you're chasing two kids around. I had some personal mile markers during pregnancy that served as bright spots for me; I knew I'd start feeling functional again around 11-12 weeks. I didn't download any pregnancy apps until I thought about it somewhere after the halfway point. I was shocked when my midwife said it was now time to start coming in every two weeks at my 28 week appointment. My brain goes totally blank when I'm asked how far along I am. I just barely bought this baby a few things for the first time last week. I have very few questions during my prenatal exams. I know I hit my very "done" point around 34 weeks (yeah, that's this week!) but I also know that I will eventually have the baby just after I accept I'll be that weird girl on the news that's pregnant for 17 years.

It's just really wonderful to have some perspective on the whole thing. Instead of devoting my time to things I now know are more trivial (ie: nursery, stocked diaper bag, what I'm bringing to the birth center, worrying about fetal development constantly), I can focus on things that I know I'll need more (making sure my nursing gear is fully operational, stocking up on household basics, meal planning/prepping etc.). I'm devoting more time to the present than looking forward to the future. I'm trying my best to make sure I am spending time with the kids. I am more quick to forgive myself and let go of what I'm no longer physically capable of, which always seems to be my hardest challenge while pregnant. I don't use any mental energy to be guilty over taking a nap. It's been easier for me to recognize when a hard day is due to hormones and to tell Kyle, "I'm just having a sad day today". I know I feel worse about myself and my role as wife and mom if I don't accomplish something during the day, even it's as small as sweeping. I made the decision to nest at the beginning of the year and came up with 12 projects to complete, one a week until the due date. This probably has been my smartest pregnancy hack to alleviate boredom & stay busy, accomplish something necessary, while still being flexible enough for the very tired days that happen.

What's even nicer is the overall sense of perspective I have now. I was really worried how Milo would adjust when we brought home Livvy. I did a fair amount of research into handling the whole ordeal and of course, it didn't play out in the way I expected whatsoever. Milo gave her a massive hug at the first meeting and then was uninterested for the first 6 months of her life. I don't think we'll have the exact same reception when we bring home this baby, but I wouldn't be surprised if it was similar. In either case, I'm just not worried about it in quite the same way. I don't have that same feeling of making my kids grow up too fast, or doing them a disservice by bringing a new baby home. In many ways I've been able to focus on my family as a whole unit, knowing that the baby will fit herself into our lives seamlessly and beautifully.

It's relieving to know that a lot of the parenting decisions are no longer a matter of "what do we do about x" as it is a matter of "how do we implement x". And even more relieving to know that you don't really "parent" a new baby so much as just keep it alive for the first year haha. I told my mom recently that I'll mostly need her help with the other kids when she's here, because the newborn will be the easy one - a sentence I never dreamed would come out of my mouth when I was drowning in the overwhelming newness after I had Milo.

What has been the most special part of this whole pregnancy is the constant affirmations that Kyle and I have made the right decisions for our family. 3 under 3 is crazy, and there are days, after one too many timeouts, where I think to myself in horror, "what have we done?!", and every time I'm immediately reassured in some way that this is what we're supposed to be doing. It's been a massive blessing to realize how aware God is of me and my family and it's made me grateful for this pregnancy in a way I didn't know I could be.

34 weeks with Milo, Livvy, and Baby Tuft #3 (left to right)

Tuesday, January 24

The Kids Are Alright

Just a quick kid update since I'm realizing it's been a really long time since I did one of those:

Milo is 2 1/2 and finally putting together some sentences. Verbally he's progressing just fine as far as boys go, but man alive it's so hard sometimes when he can't communicate what he wants! We've been working really hard to help him identify his emotions. A few of our breakthrough moments were of him saying, "I'm sad" when he tripped, "help please!" and guiding me to the problem, and his first proper use of pronouns yelling, "I POOPED" as he walked down the stairs one morning. While he's not speaking a whole lot, his comprehension is just staggering. He's correctly counting things in his books, recognizes specific words in any context, and can follow multiple steps of instructions.

Milo is one of the most even tempered kids I've come across. He doesn't wear his emotions on his sleeve so he seems really stoic, but he's quick to smile and laugh when he wants too. His biggest tantrums come when we're transitioning activities and I think it's because he gets so laser-focused on the task at hand that it takes a lot of effort for him to pull away from it. That along with his lack of communication makes things very frustrating for him and us occasionally.

Physically, Milo is absolutely huge. Just a giant. Whenever I put him in a cart at Target I get weird looks from people because his feet dangle halfway down and it looks like I'm still making my 4-year-old sit in a cart. He's thinned out a lot the last few months. The 3T jeans I bought him in September and had to cuff 2 inches are close to being high waters on him. He's wearing size 10-11 shoes and is just shy of 40 lbs. We've had to move him up to 4T footie pj's since he was walking around with a perma-wedgie! With his size comes a lot of strength; at a playdate a few months ago he threw a tricycle it at some kid :/ We're working on helping him realize how strong he actually is so he doesn't accidently hurt other kids.

Milo's very favorite thing to do is read books. A few weeks ago I went in to check on him before going to bed and he had climbed out of his crib, grabbed most of his books, and was sitting on his chair reading them. We have no idea how long he'd been out of his crib (or that he even could climb out?) but we're just grateful that's all he did! He really loves Magic School Bus, veggies (particularly salad?), everything that has wheels, ring-around-the-rosie, his Etch-a-Sketch, and ordering things according to size, color, and type (no idea where he gets that from...). Milo's extremely curious and is already constantly asking, "what's that!" about everything. He needs a lot of alone time during the day to just sit and explore things. That's been one of the more unusual things for me to get used since I am NOT that way at all.

Milo is extremely wary of being unsteady on his feet. Sometimes I wonder if he's afraid of his own height! He does NOT like climbing things, going down slides, jumping, or being upside down. This tempers his curiosity with a healthy dose of wariness which I'm really thankful for because he could be getting into a LOT of stuff with how tall and strong he is! He also really dislikes thunder & lightning, messes of all kinds, and having to put his toys away.

Milo is very sweet to his sister for the most part. There are normal sibling squabbles, especially with Livvy following him around like a puppy and him needing more alone time, but Milo is more than happy to have someone to play with. We frequently hear him saying, "come on, Wivvy!" as they climb up the stairs to play, and he loves to surprise/scare her since she laughs so hard at it. Milo's also become a little protective of her which I never expected. At the playground the other day, a 4-year-old was pushing Livvy out of the way so he could go down the slide and Milo turned to him and yelled, "NO!!". The kid was shocked (it helps that Milo was taller than him), and then went back down the stairs. It was really cute until Milo turned and pushed Livvy down the slide. Apparently pushing her is a job reserved for him haha.

Livvy is 15 months old and started the new year off with a bang by walking and climbing like she's always known how to do it. We went to Reno to meet up with some friends and I swear the change of environment catapulted her into walking. That and attending nursery for the first time and seeing that everyone else was walking. If we thought Livvy was active before now, boy were we wrong. SHE DOES NOT STOP MOVING and she is fearless. She doesn't stop moving even in her sleep; she is the most restless sleeper I've ever seen and half the time I find her asleep sitting up! She doesn't have a long attention span and goes from activity to activity lightening fast. Before I even knew she could climb the stairs, she was up half of them before I could blink. While Milo stands at the tops of the slides, refusing to go down, Livvy pushes him aside and goes down head first. I used to have panic attacks over her accidently hurting herself, but when she falls, she just gets annoyed and bounces back up.

Livvy girl LOVES food. Just absolutely loves it. Her very favorites are mangoes, avocados, oatmeal, peas, and bananas. I honestly don't know if there's been a point where she was so full she was turning food away. She will always, always open her mouth if you offer her something which is impressive since she only has 4 teeth still. I'm really thankful for her appetite because she certainly needs it. At her most recent appointment she was measuring in the 96th percentile across the board. Our pediatrician commented that we make big, symmetrical children haha. Between her verbal and physical progress she's burning through calories like crazy!

Livvy shocked me to my core when one day she started saying "mama" at 11 months old. I just sat there looking at her really confused and she said it a few more times. Since then she also hasn't stopped talking. Soon we were hearing "daddy", then "Wivvy!" and we taught her how to say "please" by feeding her bits of cake. She repeats everything we're saying and loves when Milo talks to her in the backseat of the car. When she gets really hangry, she'll go through every word she knows knowing that one of them might at least trigger us into giving her some food.

What has surprised me the most with Livvy is just how easy it is to tell how she's feeling. For the most part she's extremely happy and lights up every time we come into the room which just makes our day. The flipside of that though is that she can throw colossal tantrums. At first we genuinely thought something was wrong every time she did this, but the tantrums grew suspect when they immediately stopped after picking her up ;) Livvy's emotions are much more of a roller coaster than Milo's, but luckily she's young enough that nothing upsets her too much for the time being. Livvy also seems to be very in-tune to others' emotions. Whenever I'm feeling sad, she'll race up to me and give me a micro-hug by putting her head on my legs. It's heartbreakingly adorable, even if it's short-lived ;)

Livvy absolutely adores Milo. Anything that he is doing is immediately the new, cool thing to do. Any toy he's playing with, anything he says, any book he's reading, Livvy insists on imitating him. Right now we're working on making sure she also learns how to spend time alone since she hasn't had much experience with that. The first few days/weeks of this were NOT fun, but she's gotten a lot better. She's just now starting to be interested in looking at books (as opposed to eating them), stacking blocks, and racing cars around, but mostly she just prefers to be moving; climbing on the couches and out of her highchair (!!), up and down the stairs, and racing around the living room.

We've been doing our best to prepare them both for our new baby. My hope is that they'll keep each other entertained and occupied a lot once this new baby comes. I think Livvy might "get" it a tiny bit more than Milo; either that or Milo just isn't interested at all. I'll ask Livvy where the baby is and she immediately pulls my shirt up and hugs my belly. I once got Milo to put his hands on my belly, but baby girl kicked his hand and he freaked OUT. Probably scarred him, poor kid. I was getting a little worried about how this transition would go, but then as we were in line to checkout at Costco, the gal in front of us had a new baby in a carseat in her cart. The baby started crying and both Milo and Livvy were riveted. Milo kept saying, "baby sad!" and both of them were looking at me with a lot of concern in their faces. For a full 5 minutes neither kids looked away from that crying baby and because I'm a pregnant hormonal mess, I was crying by the time I had to pay.

With Livvy walking now it's like a light switch went off and all the hard moments of having them 15 months apart is paying off. It was a lot of work in the beginning. I had to tell myself mentally that I actually had twins so that I wouldn't overestimate Milo's abilities; he seemed so much older once I had Livvy so I had to constantly remind myself of his age. The downside of having kids so close together are all the immediate needs the parents have to help them with. The lack of independence of multiple kids is exhausting and often overwhelming. Now that they're older and slightly more independent, all of that hard work is paying off. Neither kid has known what life is like without a sibling to have to share toys with, take turns, be gentle towards, and get along with. That doesn't mean that there aren't tantrums and unkindness ever, but I think we missed a lot of that adjustment stage. Milo and Livvy are the best of friends and I hope that continues throughout their lives.

All pictures taken by Chris Romney. Look him up on Instagram!

Thursday, January 5

Cooking When You're Type A

Last year I dedicated a lot of time to figure out how to cook. Not that I don't seriously mess up now or anything, but I finally determined how to meal plan and cook in a way that makes sense to me. I'm NOT the type of person who can look at what food we have and just whip something together. Or "eyeball" things, or understand the term, "until it looks right". That ability BLOWS me away. It used to make me sad that I can't do that but that sadness kept me from cooking so now I just have come to accept it and move on.

I don't think I'm the only one who isn't capable of kitchen sorcery so I write this in hopes of helping my fellow no-mag's. Consider this the Quickspell Guide for the kitchen.

If you're starting from literal ground zero, like me, then I highly recommend watching the show Good Eats with Alton Brown. It's on Netflix. Alton is like a combination of Bill Nye meets Mythbusters meets Julia Child. What we've loved about his show is that he goes into the science of why we cook things in a certain way but in a way that laymen (hi, that's me) can understand. I don't leave a show knowing how to make just one dish; I leave knowing how to make steak in all different types of applications. Alton is also super practical. He doesn't feel the need to use top of the line ingredients or equipment and has a special hatred for what he calls "uni-taskers". As someone with a small kitchen, I super appreciate this. Who really needs a crepe pan or grapefruit spoon??? I also recommend getting some America's Test Kitchen cookbooks. I've found these in checkout stands in grocery stores. They teach you techniques and applications instead of just "how to make a dish".

Armed with both Good Eats and ATK cookbooks wasn't enough. All last year we cultivated our kitchen to have basics. Once we figured those out, cooking at home became a cinch. Below is a list of the basics we utilize, then I go over my actual planning & shopping process.

What are "kitchen basics"? - I'm going to divide this up into 2 sections: kitchen gear and food
  1. Kitchen gear:
    • 12 inch frying pan - highly recommend this one
    • Dutch oven - I drool over these, but these ones work perfectly. These are perfect for recipes you start on the stove top, then transfer to the oven
    • Knife set - there's a lot of argument over knives but the most important thing is that they need to be and stay sharp!! I have this one and it works great. Surprisingly, Ikea has some really great ones for cheap
    • Cutting boards - your preference, but I'd steer clear from the acrylic kind cuz it really dulls your knives
    • Pasta pot - I couldn't even begin to tell you where mine is from, but it's just a generic pot I can boil water in
    • Wooden slotted spoon, spatula, ladle, etc. - your preference again but make sure it's on hand
    • Coffee grinder - just trust me on this one
    • Meat thermometer - got ours at Ikea
    • Most people probably have a lot more than these items in the kitchen (thank you, wedding gifts!) but these are the ones we use most commonly
  2. Food - These are items I've found I use in nearly every recipe. The first list are the items I've found that are actually worth buying in bulk from Costco. The other list are random staple items to have on hand (and yeah, a lot could also be bought at Costco).
    • Costco:
      • onions
      • chicken stock - in liquid form
        • chicken, beef, and vegetable boullion
      • diced tomatoes
      • tomato paste
      • milk
      • eggs
      • chicken breasts
      • bread
      • white beans
      • black beans
      • rotisserie chicken - one chicken gives me meat for two dinners, plus three, 32 oz containers of stock when I take the time to make it!
      • pasta
      • garlic; both the whole bulb and pre-minced
      • butter
      • olive oil
      • parmesan
      • sour cream
    • Random staples:
      • flour
      • sugar
      • rice
      • soy sauce
      • rice wine vinegar
      • diced green chilies
      • panko
      • baking soda
      • baking powder
      • cornstarch
      • kosher salt
      • dijon mustard
These are my very favorite cookbooks

  1. Planning:
    • There's really not many shortcuts for this but I've found a few helpful things to make the process smoother:
    1. When I get a new cookbook, I immediately sit down and bookmark all the recipes that speak to me.
    2. On our fridge I have a "to buy" list where I write down everything we're out of as soon as I notice it.
    3. About once every 10 days I take an hour in the morning and make my list. My grocery list is on a OneNote notebook so I can use my phone as my list while I'm in the store.
    4. I browse through all the marked pages in my cookbooks and my Pinterest board for anything that sounds good. I'm still very much in the exploration stage of our family meals, so I don't really have any "top 10" meals I make quite yet. I do however follow this general guide: 
      • 1 soup/sandwich/salad dinner
      • 2 chicken dishes
      • 2 beef dishes
      • 1 pork
      • 2 vegetarian
        • This gives me about 7-9 dinners total, which lasts 10ish days. We have a leftover night once a week, and eat out once a week, so occasionally I can make this stretch over a two week period
    • Nothing kills a grocery budget like not having a list. And going shopping hungry. Don't do either of those things.
    • To make my list, I first write down all of the items I've written on our fridge list. Usually these are random ingredients (ie: peanut butter, oatmeal, rice wine vinegar). Then I write down the produce items I typically use for breakfasts and lunches and veggies for dinner side dishes.
    • I go through each dinner recipe and write on my OneNote any ingredients for dishes I don't have. Typically this is mostly produce, herbs, and the occasional "special ingredient" (mostly some type of cheese if I'm being honest). This gets much easier the more familiar you become with your pantry and fridge.
    • In a second column I make sure to write down the meal I plan to make and where I found the recipe (ie: Six Sisters - pg. 12). 
    • I write down all the planned meals on a whiteboard that's in my kitchen. I used to assign the meal to the day of the week, but that was a little TOO restrictive for me. It's nice to look at the whiteboard in the morning and decide, "hey, chicken sounds good today" and know I have a chicken dinner option to choose from. I just made a habit of figuring out dinner by lunchtime so if anything needs defrosting, it has time to do that.
    • print off any Pinterest recipes I'm going to try, or any recipes I have paper copies of, and hang them up on the fridge.
    • Utah locals - if you haven't been to Harmon's before, I highly recommend it! They're a bit more expensive than WalMart or Macey's, but I've found the produce to be MUCH higher quality and it lasts longer (eg: I've never bought a bad avocado from there!)
    • The last thing I do before actually going into the store is organize my list by my typical route through the store. I've been going enough times through Harmons that I know the layout, and doing this last step has helped me a lot, even if it's borderline OCD haha.
  3. Side dishes:
    • I'm a HUGEEEE veggie lover and always have at least one veggie side at dinner. I've found that to make it more enjoyable, you can't always eat steamed veggies on the side, so I've really delved into making the veggie dish standout more. One of my favorites was shredding brussels sprouts and frying them in pan with garlic and butter, or roasted cauliflower with bacon fat and a little paprika. Just cuz you grew up hating it doesn't mean you hate all forms of it ;)
    • We're working on incorporating more fruit into our diets. It's still a little odd for me to have fruit at dinner (idk why), but it's easy enough to slice an apple or peel an orange.
    • Salads - when in doubt, have a salad. Having simple greens is better than not having any!
  4. Helpful Tips:
    • One of the hardest things for me in the beginning was figuring out the terminology. I had no idea what a roux was or a mirepoix, let alone why either was important. Watching Good Eats helped a LOT with that! I'm still working on learning different cutting techniques and terms
    • One of the quickest and cheapest ways to get a LOT of flavor in your meals is to GRIND YOUR OWN SPICES. Hence why I mentioned a coffee grinder as a kitchen gear basic. We primarily use ours for cumin (I'll never get pre-ground cumin again!), cinnamon, and occasionally nutmeg. It makes a WORLD of difference with very little effort. Additionally, it's worth every penny getting a pepper grinder instead of a pepper shaker for the same reasons.
    • Fresh herbs always amp up your dinner as well. I planted 3 basil plants and 2 parsley plants in my garden this summer, and while that was maybe too much, it definitely got the job done! I almost always have to get cilantro, parsley, basil, and chives during the winter months when my garden is dead.
    • Remember your personal preferences for things. I don't personally love eating raw peppers however I don't mind them in things, so when a recipe calls for red bell peppers, I just make sure I chop them small enough that I'll have to have other things on my fork.
    • Follow the recipe precisely until you know what you're doing. When you start customizing it to your family's taste, write down those changes or ideas cuz I guarantee you'll forget the next time you go to make it!
    • It is MUCH easier to add salt than to take salt away. Save seasoning for the last step.
    • USE YOUTUBE AND GOOGLE. I bought a whole salmon at Costco over the summer. Head, tail, scales, bones and all because it was $4/lb. I had no idea how to skin & debone a fish, but I YouTubed about 10 videos on the subject beforehand, then setup my laptop on the counter while I did it. It wasn't a pretty job, but I feel pretty good about it! If you don't know what translucent onions look like, YouTube it. If you aren't sure how to tie a specific knot around your meat, YouTube it. If you don't know how to chop an onion, YouTube it. Need a substitute for a spice? Google it. Don't know how long you should reduce alcohol down? Google it. You get the idea.
    • Remember!! The whole process gets much easier with practice. For example, we've realized we really love asian foods and in the beginning we had to keep buying a lot of ingredients for the various recipes. Now that my fridge is stocked with oyster, fish, and hoisin sauce, most of those recipes only require me to buy 2 or 3 things
  5. Budget:
    • I'd be remiss if I didn't at least mention a grocery budget at some point in this post. For our family of 4.5 (I eat a ton while pregnant and Kyle does too, especially when he's consistently working out), we spend on average about $450/month. About $300 of that is at Costco and the remaining is at Harmons.
    • There is definitely room here for cutting back when needed; we occasionally splurge on steaks from Costco, or get a nice new olive oil to try out. We like to experiment with foods and our budget gives us the room to do that, thankfully. Harmons does have a loyalty program card that I use every time. It gives me discounts and I earn points that go towards monthly events they host. I know a lot of grocery stores do something like this, so check into that option if you can!
    • One budget saving option is to look into buying meats at butcher shops or Zaycon foods. Over the summer we bought 50 lbs of chicken for $67. Zaycon carries really high quality meats, so while it's not necessarily the cheapest of cheap places to get it, for the quality and price, it really can't be beat. Same with buying from your local butcher, it may be slightly more expensive than the cheapest option, but the quality is unmatched.
I don't personally mind going to the store and buying the food. It's kinda therapeutic for me in some way, but only if I have a plan of action and a list. If I'm stuck wandering around or frantically trying to remember something we need, then it's not fun for anyone.

Anyway, I'm sure there are thousands of other tips and tricks other people have and can share, but I've found that this method has been really helpful for me as I slowly delve into this world!

Thursday, December 29

2016 in Review

I know 2016 has been a total bust for most everyone and yeah, there have been some really upsetting parts, but oddly this has been one of my best years ever. 2015 was my personal dumpster fire so there was no where for me to go but up!

2016 was the first year I actually nailed more than one New Year's Resolution. I attribute a lot of this to reading Better Than Before - Gretchen Rubin, which helped me identify smarter ways I personally can achieve success in making habits. I also made a conscious effort to make goals of varying degrees; some were big, some were small. Completing the small goals helped motivate me to keep going on the bigger ones.

Goals Completed:

  • Wear bright lipstick - I now unconsciously grab a bright lipstick to wear nearly 3 times a week. It was a small goal, but it forced me to be brave
  • Get a black leather jacket - Black Saturday (best time for shopping!) I scored the jacket of my dreams after trying on nearly 30 different kinds
  • Get ready everyday - Being a stay at home mom means it's really easy for me to stay in yoga pants all the time. I've noticed that I don't really ever feel ready to tackle the day when I'm in pj's, so this was an important goal for me. I defined getting ready as "no pj's, makeup, something done with my hair" and that worked great.
  • Cook more often at home - My specific goal was to only eat out once a week, and have leftovers for lunches and one dinner, meaning I'd only need to cook 5x a week. I didn't hit this every month, but we have saved over $2000 in eating out expenses so that's a big a win for me. Plus, dare I say I even enjoy it now that I'm more in the habit??? I think I've really nailed down how to cook if you're Type-A and it's been awesome.
  • Read something gospel related everyday - I'm probably most proud of this goal as it's one I truly did. Somedays it was a scripture verse, other days it was 3 conference talks. Either way it's been a huge blessing
  • Attend the temple twice a month - We owe Nicole a massive thank you for helping us achieve this goal. We didn't meet it in August with my being sick from the pregnancy, or this month (December is so busy!) but we've gone more regularly this year than any previous year and that's a huge accomplishment.
  • Read 3 books a month - Since I'm counting re-reads in this I can say I nailed this one. It's helped rekindle my love of reading and keep my mind occupied with more substance than social media usually offers me
  • Explore Utah - Once the summer months hit and Kyle became very busy with work, and I dealt with first trimester grossness, we tapered off on this goal a bit, but overall we hit nearly 70% of the places I had planned for us!
  • Start a garden - I really let it go once the first trimester hit, and we had a few learning curves to hurdle over, so this wasn't as successful as I wanted, but we still managed to get a few things to grow and ate a number of delicious salads from it
  • Get pregnant - .....Check
  • Visit all the parks in the Provo/Orem area - I got about halfway through them, which was about 30. Again, first trimester sickness stuff threw a monkey wrench in the plans, but half if better than none!
  • Outings with friends twice a month - I didn't hit this one perfectly; I get extremely nervous in new social situations so I really have to force myself to go. I did attend the Harry Potter Book Club events more frequently, and Liz, Jill, and I have a standing lunch date once a month that I've really enjoyed. Again, proud of what I did, but there's room for improvement.
  • Try new things - Probably my vaguest goal, but the overall idea for me was to lean into the discomfort of the newness. I tried aerial yoga (ouch) and went to a wreath making class, we did archery, I practiced a lot of new cooking methods (I made lobster!!), got over the hurdle of trekking two kids to places (it's so much easier to stay home!), went river rafting, got through 6 weeks of BBG before the miscarriage and morning sickness hit, and really nailed down my personal style.
  • Blog more frequently - check!
  • Notice the "aha" moments with my kids - When pregnant with Livvy and dealing with the post-partum/pregnancy depression, my therapist told me that one way I could keep myself from feeling like I was drowning in motherhood duties was to identify at least one "aha" moment with my kids. Any moment that I could think, "this part makes me happy", write it down and reflect on it like a talisman throughout the hard times. I haven't needed to do this for my own sanity so much this year (thankfully!!) but continuing the practice has helped me foster and recognize the gratitude I have for my kids.

Goals to continue:

  • Learn Spanish - I got to be about 40% fluent (or so Duolingo tells me) before I trailed off on practicing. My proudest moment was being able to read the entire short story on the back of the Chipotle bag! Definitely one to keep at.
  • Church attendance - Understanding that we had a new baby at the beginning of the year, making it all 3 hours of church has been a STRUGGLE this year. I'm trying to pinpoint ways that I can make this easier on us all
  • Learn how to do webpage design - Didn't even attempt that one tbh
  • Food storage - We didn't do too much with this, but now that I'm cooking more often I do feel more prepared and able to use the food we have in storage. So, half a win?
  • Save money - We didn't do as well as we'd hoped to do for various reasons, and I think nearly everyone wants to do better saving money than they currently are. The good news is that we already have some really concrete goals and plans of actions in place for next year, so I'm looking forward to our progress
  • Fitness - Kyle rocked this goal; he's been attending the gym at least 3 times a week since the middle of summer and has made some good gainz. Jessica has, uh, not done so well since getting pregnant so that's the next goal to work on.
  • FHE - We've been working on this goal more so the last few months now that Milo is a bit older and can participate. We really had to throw out our own experiences with this so we can better tailor it for our family's current needs and that's been helpful. Doing a simple FHE consistently (ours takes 10 minutes tops) is better than doing nothing since we can't do an extravagant one without massive tantrums!
  • Purge Closet - I think I've flushed out my personal style this year quite a bit which is great, but that does mean my closet has kinda taken a beating as a result of trial and error. So goal, not accomplished. However I'm already a bit ahead of January's purge; I started a separate IG account to sell some clothes (@jessicatuftscloset) and I've got a plan of action to tackle other untidy parts of the house.
As pleasing as it's been to complete a lot of goals, the best part has been that I genuinely feel proud of what I've accomplished. My biggest hurdle and blessing in life is my perfectionist nature. In 2016 I made huge strides in learning to not sweat the small mistakes I made - not letting perfect be the enemy of the good - and it's been wonderfully freeing. Even in the areas I didn't do as well as I'd wanted, I still feel proud of myself for what I accomplished and that feeling is more valuable to me than anything I completed.

In January I identified my word of the year as "Become" and I feel like I finally hit a point in my life where I gave myself the freedom to grow in nice ways. It's not that all the lessons I learned this year were easy, some were the hardest I've gone through yet, but my reaction to growth has changed a lot this year and it makes me happy to see what that has allowed me to become.

Here's to looking at 2017 and hoping it can be at least half as good as 2016 was for me. And maybe it'll cool it with all the celebrity deaths! ;)

Wednesday, December 28

Christmas 2016

I had a total blast this Christmas season! I decorated for it the Saturday after Thanksgiving and didn't listen or watch anything that wasn't Christmas related from that point on. Luckily my kids are young enough to not care about that so much ;)

This year we didn't travel nearly at all for the holidays which was fabulous. Last year we were running around everywhere with a 16 and 2 month old, in the cold, and the snow. Wasn't a total picnic, so not traveling was a welcome change.

On the 18th we hosted our "casual Christmas" with the Fife's and Romney's, played games, exchanged gifts, and ate wayyyy too much food. Chris made a BOMB video to commemorate the event. For the actual holiday we went to Kyle's parents for Christmas and all of his siblings were there for the first time in a LONG time. Waking up to a white Christmas a magical!

We had a great time playing games, visiting and just enjoying the spirit of Christmas. Participating in the #LIGHTtheWORLD challenge was a welcome addition for me this month and I truly feel like it gave me a moment each day to pause and reflect on the miracle of Christ's birth.


Thursday, December 22

5 Marriage Lessons

It's been 5 years since Kyle and I got married. Half a decade. 5 Christmases. I'm a little in shock by how fast it's gone by. Some days it feels like we're still newlyweds and other days it feels like this is all we've known. 5 years teaches you a lot, and while I'm by no means a marriage expert, I have learned a LOT since day one:
  1. Marriage can complete you. I was told that before I got married I should be "whole/complete" without a boy first. I understand the sentiment; I don't think you should be relying on a relationship to complete you or to make yourself feel worthy. However, I truly am not whole without Kyle. Marriage is the biggest team sport on the planet; playing the game of life without Kyle is like playing volleyball without a setter. It's possible but extremely difficult. I'd often feel annoyed by the fact that I really, truly miss Kyle when he's gone. It made me feel dependent and unfeminist even though I was still completely functional without him. It wasn't until I realized that these were valid feelings that I was able to stop being annoyed with them, on top of being lonely. I am justified in missing my spouse when he's gone or busy. He's the biggest part of my life and I don't need to be embarrassed by that.
  2. Marriage is a language. There simply are lessons that you learn being married that you cannot learn in any other situation. There's really no other way to say that. Just like there are phrases in Spanish or Italian that don't translate well in English, there are situations and problems that come up in a marriage that non-married people don't have a frame of reference for, and there's nothing wrong with that. I don't think any less of people for not knowing a foreign language and/or for not knowing the language of marriage. I just know they probably won't "get it" in the same way. The cool thing is that while marriage is a language, you and your spouse get to create your own dialect. Some marriage experiences are universal, but many experiences are extremely unique to your and your spouse.
  3. It is not about both of you giving the relationship 100% every time. Again, I totally get the idea; you should try your best to BE your best all the time. I just don't think percentages are really the best way to convey this idea. There are days, weeks, and even months where my absolute best is maybe 10% of my normal. There are times when I have to pick up Kyle's slack. Thinking about effort in terms of percentages clouds the fact that the spouse is genuinely trying. The idea of percentages can just give a reason to accumulate ammo to use in a fight; "I've been giving it my best effort but you haven't!". Percentages invites comparisons and competition. Happy marriages are built on communication, trust, and absolute charity. It's about simply saying, "I see that you're trying and that means the world to me", even if the result isn't perfect or what you wanted.
  4. You can go to bed angry. I am much more rational when I've been given space and time to think over the issue at hand. Sometimes this does mean going to bed on less than ideal terms. The first year or two of marriage I would force myself to stay up and "fight" so we could go to bed all happy at the same time, but I just kept getting more tired and more angry. My real point in this lesson is that you'll need to throw out all of the things you think you know about marriage and truly discuss what you and your spouse want and what works for you. For some, going to bed angry exacerbates the problem. Some people don't need to be kissed every time they come home from work. Some people don't need date night as often as others. It's all ok. There is not a golden couple out there who follows every "rule". The golden couples have spent long hours figuring out what truly works for them as a couple and as individuals.
  5. You can't hide. This was probably the most eye-opening and uncomfortable lesson for me. I just didn't realize exactly how intimate marriage was, because I didn't speak the language beforehand. Frankly, pre-marriage me only thought of intimacy in terms of sex, so I had a lot to learn! Being married means that you can't hide when you're upset with your spouse. They'll figure it out sooner or later and a discussion is inevitable. Being married means you can't hide the fact that you spend money when you're bored. Being married means you can't hide that you're incredibly insecure about your weight, the way your nose looks, the color of your hair, the car that you drive, or the state of your house. Being married means that all of the things that annoy you about yourself will be exposed. Being married means that you will be forced to be more vulnerable than you ever thought you needed or could be. And that's all extremely valuable. Marriage is the most important relationship in which you need to learn how to be vulnerable. Without that willingness to pull down your walls, growing together as a couple for the better is very difficult. To build a relationship that is implicitly trusting requires being implicitly vulnerable. There is nothing more freeing than knowing that despite Kyle's awareness of the depth and breadth of my weaknesses, he still loves and chooses me every day.
I love, love being married. More importantly, I love being married to Kyle. It's a decision that I genuinely feel grateful for every single day. Being married has changed me in ways that I'm barely able to describe, but I know it's for the better. 10/10, would recommend.

Happy Anniversary, hun. I get more excited about eternity with you every passing year.