Sunday, September 29, 2013

Happy Birthday - in Heaven!

Today is your birthday.  It has been 3 years since you were stillborn.  I still miss you.

Do they celebrate birthdays in Heaven? Do years have significance in eternity? I am a little envious of my daughter who has gone there before me - to be in the presence of God! To have a heavenly body without pain (considering how sick and in pain I've been lately)! While I'm certain you're in Heaven, Sweet Girl, I don't know what that looks like for sure. Yet.

What I AM certain of - down here, we're celebrating.  A life is a life, no matter how short-lived.  In this house you are part of our family.  While you are not in our family photos or sitting with us on game night, you are very much present in our memories and hearts.

So today we are celebrating the day you were born.  And although it was also the day you died, we choose to be happy - to be grateful for the time we did have with you and the impact you made on our lives and hearts.  I can be assured that my daughter is in Heaven and being cared for well - which inspires me to be a better parent to those children I have here on earth.

There are times when I still miss you.  I grieve because you are dead and I do not get to see you grow older.  It is your 3rd birthday - if you were here you would be a toddler, such a fun stage! Would you be twirling around in tutus playing ballerina princess, or would you instead don a cardboard shield and pretend you were Captain America? I don't get to know these things, as you were made for His glory alone.

I see you everywhere, Sweet Baby Girl.  You're playing on the slide at the park with other little girls. You're in the sparkly pink boots in the shoe aisle at Target.  You're playing with the Dora castle at the kids consignment sale.  I know it's not you, but it could've been.

All children belong to God; we are merely entrusted to train them up in the way they should go. Knowing this enables me to surrender them to Him daily, and ask for strength, patience, wisdom, that He would equip me to parent. You have a far better Father in Heaven than I am a mother on earth.  I am an epic failure most days and am grateful to know you are well cared for.

The pain is different now, less raw and fresh, but it still exists.  But now, 3 years later, I am fully able to celebrate your life without being bitter over your death.  I know I will see you again, and until then we will continue to love you - dear daughter and sister.  I wonder when I get to Heaven, will you know me? With open arms will you welcome me and call me Mother?

Now when I think of you I feel joy, not sadness, not despair, not anger or resentment.  You were mine for a little while.  You will be mine always.  Your purpose in creation has already been completed - and you are in the glorious House of The Lord.  Fly High Baby Girl.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Pregnancy, Delivery, and Parenting After Infant Loss

Being pregnant after a loss is different.  I've lost my innocence and naivity - that happy place that assumes all pregnancies end with a healthy baby in your arms.  While I had miscarried before, it was always early on.  I was heartbroken each time, for sure, but had only a few weeks to bond with the baby before it was gone. I used to think if I made it past 8 weeks I was in the safe zone.

I am not invalidating the pain that comes with miscarriage AT ALL, because it is real and great.  In fact, I consider my ectopic pregnancy to be one of the hardest trials I ever encountered - to arrive at the hospital in great pain, already in love with the child inside, only to awake without a baby - or a fallopian tube.  But for our family, losing Bentlee in the 2nd trimester really was our most tragic moment.

Thanks to my hyperemesis I threw up so much I needed to go to the hospital's Infusion Center every day for IV fluid nutrition.  My veins would blow and sometimes I would get poked 7 or 8 times in one day.  I was miserably sick but thrilled to be expecting another miracle! The whole family really bonded with Baby Bentlee (whom we found out was a girl at only 13 weeks thanks to weekly ultrasounds).

Dan was off of work due to back surgery and would drop me off at the hospital and then take the kids (at the time they were 9, 6, and 1 1/2) to the park where they would feed the ducks.  The kids really stepped up to help with household duties and caring for Dean, who was just a toddler, and getting their schoolwork done.  We loved this baby.  Life revolved around her.

Finding out she had died was devastating, to say the least.  I was numb for months - I felt emotions (in fact, at any given time I could be happy, sad, angry, tired, grateful, and bitter at the exact same moment) but I hardly functioned.  Delivering a baby I knew was dead is more difficult than anything I had ever encountered. Even the physical pain of delivery was greater than any other.

It took a long time to move past the "I need to be pregnant again, NOW!" stage.  I found that once I surrendered Bentlee, and all my other children, to God, I began to heal.  We were going to trust Him and see what He had in store for our family.

Finding out, almost 2 years after my daughter died, that I was pregnant again actually came as a shock.  We believed God had told us we were done and that I was to have surgery for my endometriosis pain (hysterectomy).  With severe endometrial tissue build up, an erratic and unpredictable cycle, and only one tube, the doctor said we were very unlikely to have more children.

So there we were again - hyperemesis, severe enough to require IV nutrition (although, praise The Lord, not daily, only a few times a week), daily injections of blood thinners (they believe Bentlee died from a blood clot and it is why I've miscarried 8 times now), weekly doctor appointments, weekly shots to prevent preterm labor, crazy tons of throwing up, and limited activity.  I was placed on modified bedrest pretty early on, 16 weeks I think.  So my hubby bought me a wheelchair - that way I could still go to my Bible Study or shop for Christmas gifts.

This pregnancy was different than any before.  I was afraid to feel joy. Afraid my happiness would end in despair at any moment.  I kept thinking if I didn't let myself love the baby, didn't bond with it, I wouldn't hurt so much when it died.  So there was no planning - nursery colors or clothes or baby registries.  I didn't head to the garage and dig through our baby gear and take stock of what we had till the 8th month!

At 6 weeks I found out we were blessed with twins! And that I had a subchorionic hematoma - bleeding in the placenta.  This is normally not a big concern, however I was on bedrest 5 months with Dean, our 3rd child, and he almost died, due to this.  The hematoma was large enough to make a hole in the placenta and threaten the baby's life. So I was rightfully fearful.

The hematoma went away and resolved itself around 8 weeks, the same time we found out one of the babies did not have a heartbeat.  By 11 weeks along, the 2nd baby was gone - Vanishing Twin Syndrome they call it.  Was this is, God, my heartbreak this time?  Would everything be okay from here, or was this an indication of more pain to come?

We did the only thing we could do - trust in The Lord.  Every minute of every day I clung to Him and begged for strength.  I drew near to God and asked Him to ease my anxiety.  There were many trips to MAC triage - preterm labor, fears the baby was not moving, paranoia - especially on Bentlee's birthday! The fear/worry/anxiety is all-consuming, I remember telling my husband many times "This isn't worth it.  No baby is worth this emotional turmoil." (I was wrong of course, I see that now.)

Despite my plan to the contrary, I fell madly in love with this child.  My son. My Baby Brucie. With each kick and ultrasound I bonded more and more.  I do not love this child MORE than my other children, but I do love him differently somehow.  There is unexplainable hope and healing in this little life, which I have come to realize is more precious and more fragile than I ever knew.

The rest of the family loved him as well.  Dan was stoic and protective, as fathers are, and the girls would pray for him and draw him pictures and sing to my belly.  This child was a bona fide family member already.

I expected a preemie, like all my others, so it was not surprising to be in labor at 30 weeks.  It was painful to be given a shot and some meds and sent home every time.  I kept thinking "But babies only die IN me, not out!!"  My other children, despite being born early and having some health challenges, were alive.  I didn't trust my body.  I really struggled to trust God.  He knew this and graciously met me where I was at.

So many people were praying for the safety of Baby Bruce - how encouraging to see The Body at work! Could it be possible, Lord, that You intend for us to have a happy ending?! I know that God can be glorified in ANY and ALL outcomes, so I was fearful we would lose Bruce as well.  I mean, if it was God's plan with Bentlee, could it be so with Bruce as well? I knew He would carry me through any outcome, so I found peace in that.

Despite being sent home from the hospital 11 times in 3 weeks (yes, I was in labor, contracting and slowly dilating) we barely made it there on time after my water broke!! I made it to almost 38 weeks! Just 2 hours after my water broke, and only 90 minutes after arriving at the hospital, and less than an hour after my mom and sisters got there, Bruce made his debut!

God was in every detail and protected us both.  I remember begging for an epidural, despite being on Heparin and having a blood clotting disorder.  Bruce was born before the bloodwork was back from the lab.  It went so fast I never had time to get the okay from the anesthesiologist for an epidural.  I believe God was protecting us, as I have had complications with that in the past.

For the first time ever I had a newborn baby on my chest.  I snuggled him and nursed him and just kept him close.  This was my 5th delivery yet the FIRST time the baby was healthy and not whisked off to the NICU.  In fact we did not even weigh him or clean him off for a few hours.  I cried.  9 months worth of tears. 2 and a half years worth really.

"Delight in The Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart."  Psalms 37:4
This gift really WAS the desire of my heart! Oh, how I am blessed! I love this child! Again, not more than the others, just differently.  With a new appreciation and a great healing - letting go of such intense grief.

I cannot describe the bond I have with Bruce, but it is so special.  He's a momma's boy - no other child preferred or needed me the way he does.  I cherish this - it's as if he knows how much his mom needed him to be alive.  He is NOT a replacement for Bentlee (actually, I was very happy he was a different gender than her) but I do believe he's a gift from above, as all children are, to heal and bond our family.

The grief of losing a child (or 9 in my case) never goes away, but it can be overpowered by a different emotion - love, gratitude, being blessed.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

The Very Hungry Caterpillar Party!

So I'm on the board for Richfield/Bloomington Parent Advisory Council - a really awesome group of people that organize and run these fun events for kids.  It's like the PTA for Early Childhood.  I'm in my 7th year on the council - I just keep having babies and renewing my contract! (If you're in Bloomington (or nearby) and have kiddos birth to kinder, check out our Facebook page for info.)

We meet once a month and have a theme for each meeting.  Our theme this year is "children's storybooks." Our first meeting was The Very Hungry Caterpillar -- because I went Pinterest crazy and really wanted to try some of the fun ideas I found!  Some are my original ideas and some (like that adorable balloon caterpillar) are not.

Unlike the out-of-this-world amazing decorations I found on Pinterest (and some of those crazy awesome cakes - wow!) mine are clearly cheap and homemade.  But that is exactly why I share them with you - because it's doable.  You can totally replicate this without going insane!

I think I'll go with this theme for Bruce's first birthday! He crawls like a caterpillar/worm and loves books.  This is Dean's fave, so Bruce has had it read to him a hundred times!

The girls helped me make egg carton caterpillars and butterflies.  Dean used his colored pasta and helped me glue pasta rings on cardstock for this butterfly.  I thought the coloring was perfect, so we made one.  

I made 4 chocolate cake signs (I got to use my laminator!!) (I found the printables from this website) and stuck them in bowls of wrapped chocolate candies.  I searched long and hard for the chewy Sprees but I KNEW they would be a hit! I love that they fit the color scheme and I am totally eating the leftovers right now!  The other candy is chewy Sweet-Tarts. 

 Here's our food:
strawberries (I meant to poke holes but forgot to bring the skewer with)
an apple to hold the sign (hole poked through) in a bowl of apple chips and dried apples
sliced pears, with one kept whole to hold the sign (hole poked)
sliced oranges
sliced watermelon (with the hole - slice into triangles to match the story)
cheese slices (several kinds, but Swiss of course!)
summer sausage
mini cupcakes (with the food sign in one of them)
chocolate candy
lollipops (some shaped as ice cream - to take the place of an ice cream cone) stuck in styrofoam
chewy Sprees

Seriously, how cute are these suckers?! And they can be lollipops AND the ice cream cone the caterpillar ate through!!

The tables didn't turn out as fabulous as I had hoped. They have a paper butterfly, clear glass of candy, a green leaf cut from construction paper with 5 holes punched in them (needed to fold in half and punch half a hole - couldn't reach the center of the paper otherwise), a bowl of chocolates with a food label, and an egg-carton caterpillar my daughters made.

I wanted to have colored tablecloths and hang the butterflies from the ceiling and use nice bowls, not plastic cups.  Here's the deal.  My 7 month old had surgery at 6 am.  I was up since 2:30 denying him the breastmilk he wanted and consoling him while he screamed at me.  I simply didn't have time to manage all the details.  I don't think anyone cared! :)

I used green play-doh to stand up the signs.  They were made from printables that I laminated and cut, and taped a craft stick to.  Since I didn't have plums or pickles, for example (I have some homemade pickles the girls and I made, but I wasn't sure I got the recipe right, so I left them at home) I used the extra signs to decorate the tables.

So my super talented, hard working friend Heather (our President this year) made this super adorable construction paper caterpillar! I love it! She had each PAC member write the last name of the family on a large circle (caterpillar's head) and each family member and kids ages on smaller circles.  When we get them all taped up there will be a bunch of caterpillars adding flair to the room and showing the names of our families.

And check out these adorable hats handmade by Eden Isabella Boutique!!

Friday, September 20, 2013

Sunday Night Prep - TONS of recipes and time-saving meal ideas!

Our weeks are busy. Like really, really busy -- as I'm sure many other families are! I have many food limitations, my baby has severe food allergies, and my kiddos have some trigger foods that I must avoid. I feed a large crowd - many nights are 10-12 people.

In an attempt to please all, eat a bit healthier and save some sanity this week, my daughters and I prepped meals today. Breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks, as pre-prepped as possible, for 2 weeks.
  Scroll down for recipes.

We made:

-dairy-free banana nut muffins for me (muffins go in freezer and I remove a couple the night before to defrost for morning)
-blueberry muffins (from a box) for everyone else
-dairy-free waffles w/ wheat flour from scratch, bagged and frozen -- simply toast just like Eggos
-breakfast burritos for freezer (see below)
-hard boiled eggs (save 4 for tuna sandwiches)
-sliced cantaloupe
-Oatmeal (I make a double batch and eat 2 days in a row)

-bagel pizzas (they beg for this daily, so I have ingredients for about 3 times in 2 weeks)
-turkey - bacon wraps or sandwiches - I slather on guacamole instead of mayo but the kids will have none of that!
-freezer chicken burritos (see below)
-Homemade Alphabetties (Spaghettios type pasta)
-tuna sandwiches (not your plain jane average tuna sandwich! - see below)
-english muffins with peanut butter
-grilled cheese and tomato soup (Sunday after church)

-slice apples, shake in baggie of lemon juice - these last several days - dip in peanut butter for added protein!
-baby carrots and hummus (or pita chips, my daughter will actually eat those)
-homemade pico de gallo, apple salsa, and tortilla chips
-cucumbers, peeled and sliced in tupperware and sprinkled w/ salt
-string cheese (for kids)
-bananas and oranges, I cut up the oranges and put in snack baggies to grab on the go
-cooked zuchinni and summer squash, sliced and put in single serve containers
-popcorn, air popped, in ziploc bags
-yogurt and homemade applesauce pouches

Dinners (recipes below) 
[I cook all the chicken in a crockpot while we're at church, and brown all the meat, season, and freeze right after purchasing it in bulk from Costco. We have a family of six so I brown beef, season (plain,garlic, taco), and freeze in sections just over a pound, so there is a bit more meat.  I often double recipes but I'm using 1 and 1/3 lbs beef instead of 2, so it ends up saving us money. ]

-Chicken Croissants w/ mashed potatoes and veggies
-Porcupine Meatballs w/ leftover mashed potatoes
-Chicken Cream Cheese Casserole
-Tator Tot Crockpot Casserole
-Hot Tuna Sandwiches and fruit
-Tortilla soup in crockpot with chips and cornbread (make the cornbread on Sunday)
-Mini Meatloaves with cornbread muffins, potatoes, veggies
-Spaghetti sauce w/ garlic-seasoned beef and rotini noodles
-Hot dogs and baked beans
-Lasagna Casserole
-Chicken Enchiladas, corn, guacamole (you can make this from avocados used in Tortilla Soup and freeze), and Spanish rice
-French Toast, hashbrowns, bacon, and fried eggs (Sunday night splurge)
-Beef Stroganoff over egg noodles and jello, of course
-Of course, a leftover night - we waste not in this house!

I will add pictures eventually - the kids usually eat the food before I can ever get a good photo.

Freezer Breakfast Burritos
10 eggs
1 cup milk
1/3 cup chunky salsa (we use Pace)
1/2 cup diced ham
1/2 cup crumbled cooked bacon
1 cup cooked italian sausage
shredded cheddar or colby jack cheese
large burrito-size flour tortillas

Scramble the eggs and milk, add salsa.  Divide in half and stir ham and bacon into one half of the eggs and sausage into the other.  Now you have TWO flavors! :)
Microwave tortillas for 30 seconds to make it easier to work with/fold.
Add egg/meat mixture to tortilla, top with cheese, roll up.  Put in freezer ziploc bags and freeze. Microwave times vary but for ours it takes about 60-90 seconds to heat up a frozen burrito, 2 1/2 mns for 2.  This made 12 burritos for us.

Freezer Chicken Burritos
Very similar to the recipe for my chicken enchiladas, but no sauce and we wrap and freeze.

3 cups cooked, shredded chicken
taco seasoning
chunky salsa (Pace is perfect)
2 cans pinto beans, drained and rinsed
2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
large flour tortillas

Microwave tortillas for 30 seconds so they fold/wrap better.  Season the chicken with taco seasoning and salsa - I can't tell you how much I used, I always just taste it to check.  Fill each tortilla with chicken, beans, and cheese.  Fold up tight and place in ziploc freezer bags.  Microwave times vary but for our microwave, it is 90 seconds.  SO much better than store bought frozen burritos.

Not-Your-Average-Tuna Sandwiches:
Drain 2 cans of tuna
Stir in Miracle Whip to preferred consistency
I add about a Tablespoon of sweet relish
Finely dice a crisp (I like red) apple - I use Gala, Honeycrisp, Cortland, Baja, or Haralson
Stir together, slather on toasted wheat bread, top with a slice or 2 of bacon.

Chicken Croissants:
Credit for this recipe goes to my sister in law Rachel, who made these amazing, totally addictive stuffed crossiants for us a few years back.

3 packages Pillsbury crescent rolls (do NOT use store brand for this recipe!)
2 8-oz packages cream cheese, softened
Pinch Lemon pepper seasoning (I can't tell you how much I use, just a taste/estimate game)
2lbs chicken, cooked and shredded
Half Stick (1/4 cup) butter, melted
1 cups seasoned croutons, crushed
2 cans cream of chicken soup
2 cups water
2 chicken bullion cubes (I actually use a large scoop of Better Than Bullion base)

(I triple this recipe since I feed about 11 people for most dinners)

Mix warm chicken with lemon pepper and then add cream cheese.  The warmth of the meat will help the cheese soften and mix evenly. The 3 ingredients may also be warmed on the stovetop on low.  Wrap a large spoonful in each crescent roll, place on baking sheet, as shown above.

Spread some melted butter on each roll with a pastry brush and sprinkle on crushed croutons. Bake at 350 for about 16-20 minutes until browned.

Make a chicken gravy using the Cream of Chicken soup, bullion base, and water.  Whisk together over medium heat.  
Serve with mashed potatoes and steamed mixed veggies.  Make sure to make extra potatoes for the meatballs tomorrow!

[The kids devoured the food before I could take a photo of the cooked food/end results]

Porcupine Meatballs
2 lbs beef
1 cup instant rice (must be instant/minute rice - either brown or white is fine)
3 cans tomato soup
3 cans water
2 Tbs Worcestershire sauce
1 cup brown sugar (we like it sweet, not tomatoey tasting, use less sugar if you like)
dash of pepper
mashed potatoes (leftover from yesterday's chicken)

Mix beef and rice together and form small meatballs - it cooks faster if you make them smaller.  Stir together remaining ingredients (except potatoes) and pour sauce over meatballs.  Bake at 400 for 40-60 minutes.  Cut open a meatball to determine doneness.  Serve with mashed potatoes.

This recipe comes from my grandparents and is hands down our family favorite!! Just trust me and give it a try!  Also - I tripled the recipe and put half in ziploc bags and freeze flat.  There is just enough leftover for a lunch for me, as this is a DAIRY FREE recipe, yay! Gluten free as well.

Chicken Cream Cheese Casserole
This entire meal was prepped on Sunday night, covered, and stuck in the spare fridge to bake later. It made 2 pans - we cooked them both and my husband brought leftovers to work, but this freezes really well so you have another meal for next month!

1 box pasta, cooked (we used penne)
8 oz cream cheese, softened
2 fresh garlic cloves (or powder if you prefer)
1/2 tsp lemon pepper seasoning
3 cups cooked chicken (from the stuff I cooked and shredded earlier)
1 cup frozen peas (or a whole can)
1 cup Mozzarella & Parmesan mix shredded cheese
1 cup shredded mozzarella

Stir together warm chicken with the cream cheese, so it softens and mixes well.  Add the seasoning and the cup of moz/parm cheese mix.  Stir in cooked pasta (you'll need a big bowl or an ice cream bucket -- or use less pasta for one dish).  Stir in peas (totally optional, I've omitted them and served veggies on the side too).  Spread into baking pans (we needed 2 but a bit less noodles and chicken would make just one 9x13 pan).  Top with remaining mozzarella cheese.

Bake 350 for 30 minutes - longer if frozen first.  Serve with garlic bread or rolls (b/c we all need more carbs).

Tator Tot Crockpot Casserole
Bag frozen tator tots
4 cups shredded cheddar cheese
Can cream of chicken soup
Can of milk
Pinch of pepper to taste
1 lb browned ground beef (here's where I use the meat I prepped on Sunday, and it's over a pound)
16 oz bag frozen mixed veggies

Stir soup, pepper, and milk in crockpot, add veggies and meat, stir.  Top with tator tots and cheese. Cook on low for 3-4 hours.  It's that simple.  My kids are happy. So am I, because my 12 year old tossed all the ingredients in this morning and all I did was wash the crockpot after!

 Dairy free version - trust me they taste SOOO much better than they look!!
One with cheese

Hot Tuna Sandwiches
Not only are these staples from my childhood cheap, easy, and delicious, they are a great use for hamburger buns with freezer burn.  No need to toss out! I've used hot dog buns too.

8 hamburger buns (we used 10, since that is how many we had in the freezer)
3 5-oz cans of tuna, drained
Mayo (we use Miracle Whip) to whatever consistency you prefer
4 hard boiled eggs, diced (I made a bunch for breakfasts on Sunday, remember?)
Sliced Velveeta cheese (for each person who wants cheese)
Sliced green olives (I'm the only one who mixes these in, the kids don't like it)

Stir together tuna, mayo, and eggs.  Add green olives if you like them (I think it is the cherry on top, personally - the best part!).  Slather on buns.  Top with Velveeta cheese, if desired.  Wrap sandwiches in aluminum foil and label (if made differently than another).

350 for 15 minutes.  These make great leftovers/bring to work lunches.  Just be smart and remove the foil before microwaving!  Can be dairy-free (check your mayo label).

Chicken Tortilla Soup
I know this soup doesn't look that appetizing, compared to those fabulous photos on Pinterest, but go with me on this one.  It is SO darn good!!  Dairy-free, Gluten-free!
                                                                                   2 frozen boneless-skinless chicken breasts (you     can use chicken cooked on Sunday, but I prefer to cook the chicken IN the soup, as it adds flavor)
Can of Rotel diced tomatoes with cilantro and lime -- I think this specific brand and flavor of tomatoes adds a lot of flavor to the soup, so don't go generic here
4 cups water
4 chicken bullion cubes/Better Than Bullion base
1 can of corn, drained (or half a bag of frozen corn)
1 can pinto beans, drained and rinsed
2 cans black beans, drained and rinsed
1 lime
Cilantro as desired (I often have fresh cilantro frozen into ice cubes to toss in, this time I used dried instead and it was still great)
1 diced avocado for topping

Add all ingredients to crockpot.  Cook on high 3-4 hours or low 5-6.  Basically, until chicken is done and can be shredded.  Shred chicken right in pot and stir.  Cut lime in half and squeeze juice from both halves into soup.

Serve with tortilla chips, shredded cheese, or sour cream, if desired (no longer dairy free of course). I like to add half a diced avocado.

Spaghetti Sauce with meat
I can't give you a sauce recipe better than the many out there.  I defrost the ground beef I made last Sunday, the one with fresh garlic added to it. Italian sausage is ever better but it costs more, so I went with hamburger meat.  Add to sauce.  I make enough to have leftovers, since I cannot eat most of the meals I make for my family. (Dairy free)

We use veggie rotini a lot because it is more filling.  The rest of the family enjoyed french bread sliced and topped with butter, garlic powder, and mozzarella cheese.  I was jealous.

Chicken Enchiladas
The recipe below makes about 6 enchiladas - we triple this for our family.

3 boneless skinless chicken breasts
Taco seasoning
Lime juice
Pace Picante Salsa
1 lb shredded cheddar (or Mexican blend) cheese (more or less depending on your preference)
1 can pinto beans, drained and rinsed
1 can mild red enchilada sauce (when making meals for others it is safest to go mild and let them spice it up)
6 flour tortillas - fajita size (taco size are too small to stuff it all in and corn ones will break apart - however if the meal is for a gluten free family, go ahead and use corn - and check the seasoning for gluten too)

I prefer to cook up my chicken in the crockpot - high for 3 hours - because it shreds nicely and I can attend to other tasks. Stir in seasoning, lime juice, and salsa.  I buy a large taco seasoning from Costco so I can't really tell you the measurement, usually I taste test.  Just a hint of lime! Add a small amount of water if it is too dry and the seasoning isn't fully mixed in.

This chicken can be used for so many dishes -or chicken tacos.  Make a large batch and freeze while you're at it! Add onions if they are your thing.  My kids won't eat them.

Add a spoonful of pinto beans to tortilla, spread some chicken on and top with cheese.  Roll up. Repeat.

Top with enchilada sauce and more cheese.  Cover with foil and label - Cook 350 degrees for 25 minutes. 
To complete the meal I make Spanish Rice (the tupperware container on the right) and toss in a small guacamole and sour cream, a bag of frozen corn (we make our corn with butter and pepper - delish!), and cookies.  I was lazy/busy today so I included store-bought cookies in this meal.

Lasagna Casserole
This is SO yummy! And so simple!

1 lb ground sausage - seasoned with garlic
Box rotini noodles (or any other pasta you fancy)
16 oz cottage cheese
2 cups mozzarella cheese, shredded
1/2 cup shredded parmesan cheese
16 oz spaghetti sauce (I've used both homemade and Prego - depending on how busy I am- both work well)

Make a sauce - or open a can - and add seasoned cooked sausage. Combine the cheeses and pasta, spoon into baking dish.  Cover with sauce.  Bake 350 for 20 minutes.

Best-ever Crockpot Beef Stroganoff
[No part of this meal was pre-prepped, but it takes just a few minutes to toss in the slow-cooker in the morning.]
2 lbs stew steak, already cut up
can cream of chicken soup
1 packet beefy onion soup mix (I use a store brand)
1 cup water
1 beef bullion cube
1 Tbs Worcestershire sauce
4 oz cream cheese, softened
3/4 cup sour cream
egg noodles, cooked

Add soup, water, soup mix, Worc sauce, and bullion cube to slow-cooker, stir.  Add meat and cook on low 6-7 hours for nice, tender meat.  10 minutes before serving turn crockpot to low.  Add cream cheese and sour cream.  After 10 minutes, stir.  Serve over egg noodles.  My kids love this dish with steamed broccoli (they dip it in the sauce)!

Best-Ever Mini Meatloaf
This is one of my proudest concoctions because even meatloaf haters have told me they love it! We are big on saving money here, so a meal made with 3 lbs of (93% lean) beef is a splurge. If we're gonna eat it, it better be good!

As with pretty much everything I make, it certainly doesn't LOOK pretty. So you'll have to judge with your mouth, not your eyes.

3 lbs lean ground beef (it's up to you how lean but since I can't brown it and drain the grease, I like to go as lean as I can afford)
1 box Stove Top Stuffing - chicken flavor
2 eggs
3 cups ketchup
1/3 cup brown sugar
2 Tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
3 Tbs chia seeds (optional - I am really into chia seeds at the moment)

Mix beef, eggs, chia seeds, and stuffing together in large bowl and shape into large meatballs.  We prefer mini meatloaves over a loaf-pan size because it cooks quickly and evenly, no additional sauce is needed, and the kids always love kid-sized foods!

To make the sauce, stir together the ketchup, brown sugar, and Worcestershire sauce until fully blended.  Top each meatloaf generously.

Bake at 400 for 30 minutes.  We serve ours with mashed potatoes and steamed mixed veggies.

Did I mention the best part?  I can actually EAT this.  Although I am dairy-free I can have small amounts of egg, so this is one of the few meals I can eat WITH the family! :)

Uncooked with sauce on top prior to baking.