Fitting In



Fitting In


“Nobody usually sits with me on the bus.”

I hear the softly spoken words laced with so very much sadness, and my heart beats hard in my chest, pounding with indignation over the hurt feelings of this tender-spirited child.


Out loud, I say, “Well, that doesn’t matter, right? Your company is fantastic! If they don’t get to enjoy it, that’s their loss.”


“No one else does this the same way, Mom.”


I hear the frustration and self-criticism seep into the syllables and my pride rears up, ready to defend.


“That’s nothing for you to worry about– don’t ever try to hide your abilities just to make others more comfortable. Embrace theirs and always, always show kindness, but don’t hide who you are.


“He called me ugly.”


And my heart crashes to the floor. Never mind that, on all that is good and holy, I swear this child stops people in their tracks, not from being ugly but from being, well, visually appealing. Never mind that there is not even a sliver of a possibility that there is any truth to the statement, I feel simply broken that the words were ever uttered.


I say firmly, “Well, you are NOT. Not only are you bright and kind and fun, you are also lovely. There’s a reason people tell you that all the livelong day. If he can’t see that, work harder to make him see how strong and loving and determined you are.”




My children are happy kids.


They’re pretty well-liked, honestly. We haven’t had to deal with any devastating bullying or any of that.


But, sometimes, they feel left out. Ignored. Criticized. Not ENOUGH.


So I say the words. I wrap them up, hold them close, build them back up. Over and over, I remind them to rise up, ignore the naysayers, be encouraged.


And then I read a critical comment. 


Or open a carelessly construed email.


Or realize that I’ve been kept “out of the loop.”


I curl within myself, convinced I am less, convinced that I lack, convinced I’m not worthy.


Because, really…


I’m not sure we ever truly stop wanting to fit in.



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Maple Cabbage & Bacon



The name of this recipe will either intrigue or disgust you– I get that. Nonetheless, it is, far and away, one of my husband’s very favorite lunches. It is also a great way to get non-cabbage-lovers on board with eating the stuff.


Maple Cabbage & Bacon



Maple Cabbage & Bacon
Recipe type: Side Dish, Lunch
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 

Serves: 4-6

Cabbage wilted with onions, bacon, and a hint of maple syrup makes for a tasty side dish or affordable lunch.
  • ½ lb. bacon (uncooked), chopped
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 large head cabbage, shredded
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • ¼ cup maple syrup

  1. In very large skillet (or even a stockpot), cook chopped bacon over medium heat.
  2. When bacon is about halfway cooked, add chopped onion and cook until translucent.
  3. Working in batches– however much you can fit– add in shredded cabbage and stir frequently. It will wilt down and make room for more cabbage. Continue until all cabbage is wilted, about 5 – 10 minutes.
  4. Remove from heat.
  5. Season with black pepper.
  6. Pour maple syrup over cabbage and stir/toss to evenly coat.


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Menu Plan: Can’t wait ’til Friday!



It’s that time of week! The Tuesday menu plan is back again this week… :)


Happy April! Forget all that April Fool’s nonsense– I’ve never been a fan. Let’s just celebrate the first FULL month of Spring, shall we?


This week’s menu plan all looks pretty tasty to me, but, far in away, the meal I’m MOST looking forward to is Friday’s. Seriously. I. Cannot. Wait. Wanna know why? Well go check it out!


Here’s the whole plan for this week!


Breakfast– Cereal, Apples, Milk (for the littles, before 7:30AM Mass)

Brunch– Waffles, Pears, Milk (<– both my girls informed me that, “these waffles taste funny… kind of yucky… but I can eat it if I drink milk at the same time.” Gee, thanks, ladies.)

D– Sunday Supper at Bama & Papa’s– ribs, veggies, garlic bread, fruit, salad (a grilled chicken breast for me! I don’t like ribs. And my dad knows that and indulges me by tossing some chicken on the grill. :) )



B–Blueberry Bagels, Pears, Milk (<–I usually make our bagels, but I didn’t make those. Lenders did. I’m not ashamed to take a helping hand every now and again.)

Carnitas & Spanish Rice Soft Tacos

D–Carnitas & Spanish Rice Soft Tacos (I made a giant batch of these a couple weeks ago– this is the overflow I froze.)



B–Greek Yogurt, Blueberry Cream Muffins (What in the world? I’ve never shared that recipe? I need to get on that…)

D–Ravioli, Garlic Bread, Green Beans



B–Scr. Eggs, Blueberry Muffins, Bananas, Milk

D–Chicken Burritos & Steak Fajitas (I’ve got lots of peppers and onions to use up!)



B–Toast w/ PB, Bananas, Milk

D–Mac & Cheese, Broccoli


Friday: (NO MEAT)

B–Scr. Eggs, Cereal, Apples, Milk

D- I DON’T KNOW!!!! We’re going out to dinner this night. Just the two of us. My kids will be sleeping over at Bama & Papa’s house. To say I’m a little excited would be a vast understatement…



How to Make Perfect & Easy Hollandaise Sauce

B–Eggs Benedict

L–Leftovers, Salads

D–Stelline Soup, Breadsticks


And that’s the plan! Can I tell you what my very favorite thing has been lately? Cooking dinner while it’s still totally light outside!! I am SUCH a lover of light and it just thrills me to no end to have light lingering well into the evenings these days. I guess it’s nice that I was born on June 20th, eh? God gave me abundant light for my very first birthday gift! :)


What are you eating this week?

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“My Story… ” Monday: It’s all relative.






I’m going to wrap up this story today, and, to be honest, I’m a little nervous that you’re all expecting a big, dramatic ending.


Spoiler alert: there isn’t one.


My father-in-law was released from the hospital and they checked into the extended stay hotel for a couple of weeks. During that time, they spent a LOT of time over at our apartment, which was honestly pretty nice. We played a lot of cards and I spent a lot of time researching recipes that were good for someone who was both diabetic (a new diagnosis he had received) and dealing with triglycerides that were off the chart.


I cooked a lot of new things and shopped for ingredients that, at that point in my life, I had never even seen. The one that I remember very clearly is jicama. Don’t even ask me how I pronounced it at the time– ha! But I was young. A newlywed, yet. We’ll just say the whole thing was quite the learning experience.


Toward the end of their stay, my husband starting getting called in as a “floater” for the bank. In case you can’t tell by the name, a floater is someone who goes wherever they’re needed to fill in. Honestly, it would be a nightmare of a job for someone like me, because I don’t like having to drive new places. But, for him? It worked out.


As it turns out, the health revelations that were uncovered during their spontaneous visit to Virginia would later spiral into even more. I went from truly believing that my father-in-law while, yes, a few pounds overweight, was totally healthy, to finding out that all sorts of problems lurked under the surface.


This entire story took place in the Fall of 2002. Within two and a half more years, we would have an infant, move halfway across the country again, be expecting our second child, and lose his dad.


Of course, we didn’t know any of that back then.


We settled in to our work routines, made friends (really, that was– and always has been– my job ;) ), and fell in love with our little apartment. We were approaching our one year wedding anniversary and I was super excited. To celebrate that occasion, we went to see a Ravens game and then stayed in a super fancy-pants hotel in Baltimore.


When I tell people the story of our move to Virginia, they are usually staggered by how very much went wrong so very quickly. I mean– who expects to have so much go awry in the span of a week or two?


Honestly, it was a lot to handle at the time. Even though we had no children yet and really didn’t have a lot of the stresses that many people face, we were very young and still newly married. We optimistically and fearlessly moved thousands of miles from our families and didn’t flinch– but trouble found us and problems creeped in.


What all of this taught me, however, and at a relatively young age, is that problems truly are all relative. It’s amazing how you can lose your debit card and feel like that is a total crisis and be feeling overwhelmed and annoyed– and then you’re in a fender bender. And, all of a sudden, closing and reordering a card seems like small potatoes as you deal with all the hoopla of filing insurance and getting repairs done. Then, just as you feel like pulling your hair out over the car problem, you learn that a family member is seriously ill…


and it all pales.


This is how it is. For better or for worse, everything is relative. This is why some (admittedly annoying) people will always point out that, no matter how bad you have it, someone has it worse. It’s true. There’s no getting around it– it’s true.


But that doesn’t mean you don’t deserve to feel sad or frustrated or annoyed about your (smaller) problems. They’re real. Our car not being delivered? Legitimate problem. My husband not having the promised position? Pain in the rear. My car being messed up in a hit and run? Seriously, something to get irked about. But they became more insignificant when my father-in-law fell ill.


Still, I learned early on to never ever ever ask, “What more could go wrong?”


Because you’ll find out.



(This concludes the “move to VA” story! In cased you missed any of, all the preceding posts can be found here: **a special thanks to Jessie for pointing out my inadvertent omission last week**)


Part 1: Itchy Feet

Part 2: Looking Northward

Part 3: Picking a Town

Part 4: The Job “Search”

Part 5: Selling Our First Home (at 25)

Part 6: Sold!

Part 7: Virginia or bust!

Part 8: Car Trouble & a Surprise

Part 9: Waiting and Waiting

Part 10: Disconnected

Part 11: Wreath of Wrath


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Being Point



He knew he’d be called on to be point.


The thing about being an intermediate or advanced belt is that, not only do you need to work on learning all the more difficult stances and forms, you also have to retain mastery of all the basics.


This was a big grading for him. He was testing to go from the highest intermediate belt (green) to the lowest advanced belt (apprentice red.) Not only is red the last color before black, but it also brings with it the privilege of wearing red lapels on the dobok (uniform.) That might not sound like a big deal, but, when you consider that only white lapels are allowed for all the preceding belt levels– white, apprentice orange, orange, apprentice blue, blue, apprentice purple, purple, apprentice green, and green– it becomes more apparent why it’s a significant achievement.


Being Point


I expected him to work hard on mastering Form 8, the newest form he’d be asked to do. But, while he did run through that one a few times, he spent hours working on Form 4.


“Why Form 4?” I asked him. “Didn’t you have to show mastery of that one back when you were a blue belt?”


He nodded. “Yeah, but I think I might be called to be point on that one. Probably even point front.”


“Points” are the higher belt students who stand in the front and rear of the space. Their sole purpose is to serve as reference points for the lower belt students who are testing on those forms. The idea is that the higher belts should have these mastered and, so, those testing can rely on them should they get stuck or lost.


In theory, it’s a great concept. In practice, it’s far from perfect. Many times, the points haven’t practiced those lower forms for quite some time and wind up leading those watching them astray.


He crossed the room, leading with chops, turned 45 degrees, and continued.


“The thing is,” he said as he bowed at the end, “if I make a mistake on Form 8, I should be able to look to my points and get back on track. That’s the whole design, right? But, if I’m the point, I need to get it right. People are counting on me and I’m the one they’ll be looking to. The fact that I passed that test years ago doesn’t mean a thing for them– they need me to know what I’m doing now.”



The orange and apprentice blue belts were called forward.


Pyong Ahn Cho Don, Form 4,” the black belt called.


Pyong Ahn Cho Don, Form 4, yes sir!” they responded.


“A.– point front, please.”


“Yes, sir!” he answered, strong and clear.


He took his position at the front of the room. And the black belt started calling.


I watched my child perform that form flawlessly and with the utmost confidence. He never staggered, even when the point rear got hopelessly lost. I watched his peers look to him and re-find their way by following his sharp, clear moves.


When class was over, a black belt approached my (now apprentice red) little guy and said, “You did a fantastic job as point. You absolutely knew that form inside and out. Great work.”


A. bowed his head, put his hands behind his back, and gave a quick nod. Then he said, “People were counting on me. When people are watching you to try to stay on track, it’s even more important that you pay attention to what you’re doing…”


He started to walk away, then looked back over his shoulder, “I hope I remember that when I’m a dad.”



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Nailed it, indeed.

I was scrolling through Facebook and she noticed it.


“Aw!” she exclaimed.

I stopped to see what had caught her eye.

It turns out it was a funny little graphic– one of those shots comparing an image from Pinterest to the actual results someone got when attempting it. These are frequently pretty amusing and, often, come with the label “nailed it,” because, well, that’s funny.

Pinterest is its own world and, let’s face it, the images we find there are, by design, frequently pristine and perfect and out of most amateurs’ grasps.

But she had said “aw,” so I paused. I hovered on the image and let her take it all in. She pointed and said, “I like that!”

pinterest lamb

“Which one?” I asked, out of curiosity.

She looked again. Thought for a second. “Both of them.”

“But which do you like BETTER?” I pressed.

“Eenie meenie miney mo… ”

I laughed. “C’mon, Sweetie. Surely you like one better. It doesn’t matter; I’m just curious!”

She looked again.

And pointed to the bottom one.

“I like this one. Because it looks like a yummy cake someone worked hard to make. I’d love to eat that. Is that other one even food? I can’t tell.”

So I just want you to know, whoever made that bottom lamb cake…

You nailed it. You did.

You created a lovely, yummy-looking, recognizable lamb cake. Anyone looking at it can tell that you care. Anyone looking at it can see the love and effort that went into it.

Sometimes it just takes a four-year-old to remind us.

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How to Make Spaghetti Sauce from Tomato Paste

 How to Make Spaghetti Sauce from 1 Can of Tomato Paste

Spaghetti Sauce from One Can of Tomato Paste
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 

Serves: 4+

In a pinch, a delicious homemade spaghetti sauce can be pulled together from a single can of tomato paste and some pantry spices. While you might have a tried and true spaghetti sauce recipe, this is a good one to have up your sleeve “just in case”!
  • 1 can (6 oz.) tomato paste
  • 2 cups water
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon oregano
  • 1½ teaspoons basil
  • ½ teaspoon thyme
  • ½ teaspoon sugar (optional)
  • ¼ cup water + 1 tablespoon corn starch

  1. Combine tomato paste, 2 cups water, salt, onion powder, garlic powder, oregano, basil, and thyme in sauce pan. Bring to a low bubble, then reduce to a simmer. Allow to simmer for 20 minutes to an hour, depending on your timeline. The longer it simmers, the better-seasoned it will taste.
  2. Stir in sugar, if using. This is optional, but will result in a flavor closer to the jarred varieties.
  3. Combine ¼ cup water and corn starch in small bowl or cup. Add to sauce in pan and stir well. Allow to simmer a few more minutes until sauce thickens to desired consistency.


*This recipe can also be prepared in a slow cooker. Just cook on low and complete steps 2 & 3 after a few hours.

**Fresh onions and garlic would make this even better, but I deliberately used all things likely to be rolling around a pantry or cupboard.

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Menu Plan: Starchy!



It’s that time of week! The Tuesday menu plan is back again this week… :)


Hooray!!!!! It’s Spring! For real! Finally!!! (I’m just a LITTLE excited about this. ;) )


Somehow, I wound up making an incredibly starch heavy brunch on Sunday. Seriously. Check it out. Ridiculous!!! Nevertheless, it’s what I had on hand and, if you know anything about me, you probably know that I’m not one to go out and buy stuff just because I don’t have something. We make do. It’s all good. (But feel free to laugh at me– I laughed as I served it!)


Here’s the whole plan for this week!


Breakfast– Cereal, Apples, Milk (for the littles, before 7:30AM Mass)

Cinnamon Sugar Oven Pancake

Brunch– Cinnamon Sugar Oven Pancake, Fried Potatoes & Onions, Grapefruit, OJ

D– Shrimp Puttanesca



B–Scr. Eggs, Cereal, Strawberries, Milk

D–Broccoli & Chicken Stelline Soup (<– stelline = tiny star pasta, in case that’s unfamiliar to you)



B–Toast, Yogurt & Pineapple

D–Sausage, Mushroom, & Potato Skillets, Salad



B–Scr. Eggs, Cereal, Pineapple, Milk


D–Cheesy Beans & Rice (actually, Cheesy Chickpeas & Rice this week!)



Vanilla Blackberry Oven Pancake

B–Vanilla Blackberry Oven Pancake, Pineapple, Milk

D–Homemade Hamburger Helper, “cabbage roll”-style (I’m winging this!)


Friday: (NO MEAT)

B–Scr. Eggs, Cereal, Apples, Milk

D- Large Cheese Pizza, Medium Jalapeno & Onion Pizza



B–Bagel Sandwiches, Pears

L–Pizza Leftovers, Veggie Soup

D–Pasta & Meatballs, Salad


And that’s the plan! It’s the end of the month, and that often means “dregs” around here. But, truthfully, I’m pretty excited about all of those meals! I have to figure out when to fit in date night, though… we usually do it on Wednesday nights, but this Wednesday our son is grading for his apprentice red belt in karate. Exciting stuff!


What are you eating this week?

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“My Story… “: Wreath of Wrath





I remember getting home from work one October day and finding my husband and mother-in-law both gone. They had headed out car shopping since, at this point, it had become clear that his car was not going to be worth saving. I had my own vehicle back from repair by this point and I had “graduated” from teller school. They wound up hiring me on at the banking center where I’d been helping and I stepped right into the role of teller manager.


My husband still hadn’t been given a permanent position but, through some miraculous twist, the company allowed him to stay on the payroll, so we continued to pull in two incomes. I don’t even know exactly how that worked, but it was one less thing to worry about and I was very grateful.


Still, I was so stressed out. It was hard to have my mother-in-law staying with us, to be honest. I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way, certainly, but it was super challenging. I felt like I couldn’t do anything to make her happy or comfortable and that contributed to my long-time feelings of failure as a hostess. I was still a newlywed and I truly wanted her to like me– but she really didn’t. (I’m not being dramatic here– she later admitted to me that she hadn’t liked me.)


My father-in-law was still in the hospital, but he was due to be released the next day. I had asked around and found an extended-stay hotel just a mile from our apartment. My in-laws planned to stay in Virginia for an extra couple of weeks because the doctors wanted to see him before allowing him to travel back to Indiana.


Anyway, back to the story at hand. I got home from work and went to unlock my door. Hanging from it was one of the most hideous wreaths I thought I had ever seen. It was made of some twiggy material and had a raggedy-haired scarecrow perched in it along with some gourd-looking plastic things.


I froze.


I really wasn’t one for a bunch of seasonal decorations and tchotchkes. They didn’t make me particularly happy. Added to that, I would never, in a million years, have chosen a cutesy scarecrow wreath. Something with lush leaves? Maybe. Something with cranberries or some Indian corn? Yeah, perhaps. But not… a scarecrow.


I started to cry.


I know it’s such a little thing. I know it shouldn’t matter. I know I was being ungrateful when, clearly, my mother-in-law was trying to add some cheer to our little home…


But it was the straw that broke the camel’s back for me. That wreath* simply undid me.


I walked inside, kicked off my flats, and poured a glass of wine. I carried it out onto our little balcony and sat at the little table out there. And I started writing a letter to my best friend,


“Dear Mone,

Well, we’re in Virginia now! And absolutely NOTHING has gone as planned. It’s been pretty terrible, but, on the plus side, I feel like, if he and I can get through this, we can get through anything, right?… “


I obviously had NO idea what greater challenges we would be asked to face together, but I remember believing from the bottom of my heart that that must be as bad as it could get for a marriage.


Then I heard them come home.


So I wiped my tears, straightened my spine, and plastered a wide smile on my face.


It was something I was going to have to get used to.
The rest of this story can be found here:

Part 1: Itchy Feet

Part 2: Looking Northward

Part 3: Picking a Town

Part 4: The Job “Search”

Part 5: Selling Our First Home (at 25)

Part 6: Sold!

Part 7: Virginia or bust!

Part 8: Car Trouble & a Surprise

Part 9: Waiting and Waiting

Part 10: Disconnected


*Guess what? I still have that wreath. I put it on my door each and every September and leave it up through Thanksgiving. It holds a LOT of memories for me. :)

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A Week of Preschool Lunches



I post my menu plans around here pretty regularly. After a bit of a hiatus (mainly because I became convinced it was no longer “cool” to blog about your meals), I came back and figured I didn’t much care if I was cool or not.


For those plans, I include a breakfast, lunch, and dinner on the weekend days and breakfast and dinner for the weekdays. That’s all well and good and I have a good reason for it– for the most part, my two older kids and my husband take leftovers for their lunches at school and work, respectively.


Nonetheless, I’ve received a couple emails wondering, “What do you eat for lunch?” Well, as I said already, most of us are eating leftovers. I happen to eat a lot of salads, often incorporating leftovers. As for the preschooler? Well, I decided I’d just go ahead and show you.


So, for better or worse, here are six days’ worth of lunches that my four-year-old ate. She liked every one of them and did indeed finish all of them. (I used these partitioned dishes for this because it makes it easy to see everything, but, really, she’s not fussy about her foods touching.)


Day 1:

Preschool Lunch #1



Day 2:

Preschool Lunch #2




Day 3:

Preschool Lunch #4



Day 4:

Preschool Lunch #3


Day 5:

Preschool Lunch #5




Day 6:

Preschool Lunch #6



I showed these shots to a friend who has frequently remarked about my “good eaters” just to see what she thought. These were some of the things she pointed out:


1. “She eats a LOT of salads and apples.”


Yes. Yes, she does. There are two main reasons for that– first, she likes them both. Second, those items were very inexpensive at the store this past week. So there you go.



2. “You use odd proportions for your fruits and veggies versus starches.”


I guess I kind of do, compared to how most people eat. Fact is, my preschooler absolutely loves fruits and vegetables and I feel good giving them to her. Half a plate covered in peas? May not be typical. But that doesn’t make it bad, either.



3. “What’s all the white stuff?”


Ranch dressing. Proof that she’s a normal little kid. ;)



4. “Do you serve dessert?”


Yep. Most times. It’s usually something very small, like five to ten chocolate chips, but I do let her have something sweet after her meal. Do I think that’s necessary? Nah. Of course not. But I’m also not losing any sleep over it.



So that’s that!


The takeaway here? I don’t really know, exactly. Mainly I just wanted to answer the question since it had been asked. But I guess that, if I hoped you’d glean anything at all from this, it is simply that lunch needn’t be any kind of big deal. It shouldn’t require jumping through hoops or buying all sorts of specialty foods. Sometimes, simple is the best way to go.

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