5 October 2017
For the last three or so months, we’ve brought a meal to a family with a new baby every other week. And you know what? I feel incredibly lucky to say that! That means that we have people around us we care about. It also means we have a tangible way to live out our calling to love others as we’ve been loved.
In case others of you are in the same situation, I thought I’d share a few of the go-to meals we like to bring to families in transition (new parents, yes, but also friends who are ill, grieving, or struggling in some other way!). Or, if you’re just looking for new recipes to try for yourself, that’s great, too :) I always like to put together a complete meal, so I’ve included my tips for accompaniments below, too.
If you’re looking to go above and beyond, I have two recommendations: one, take care with your packaging. Put freshly-washed blueberries in a mason jar, wrap up your brownie slices in parchment paper, tie a bow around a bottle of lemonade. A friend did this for us when June was born and I thought she’d hung the moon. Second, consider including something in addition to the main meal, like a pan of cinnamon rolls or a bag of bagels for breakfast, or cut-up veggies and dip or cheese and crackers for a quick snack. Totally not required, but a fun way to love a little extra!
Finally, don’t be feeling bad if you wish you had more people to bring a meal to. This is still a new phenomenon for me. And to be fair, because I know how much it meant to have meals brought to us as new parents, I basically chase people down on the street to ask if I can make them food, so it’s not like we have a million best friends :)
Photo by Jenny Steffens Hobick
Lasagna | This is my absolute FAVORITE lasagna recipe (it is soooo good!), and I love making it for friends in the winter. If you’re looking for something similar and also yummy but a bit easier, try this one pot lasagna recipe. Pack with a green salad, vinaigrette, and garlic bread or a baguette.
Lemon Parmesan Penne with Grilled Chicken | This is one of my personal favorite recipes, so I love to make it for friends! It’s a lighter pasta dish that’s perfect for the warmer months, and it comes together easily (if I’m delivering it on a week day, I’ll often ask John to grill the chicken the night before). Pack with sparkling lemonade and brownies.
One Pan Orzo Italiano | We got this in the HelloFresh box we tried, and loved it so much we promptly made it for friends AND for ourselves the next week! One note: I found that a full box of orzo (not the 1 1/3 cups it calls for) was the right amount to absorb the four cups of liquid. Pack with sparkling lemonade and chocolate chip cookies.
Hot Chicken Salad | While I appreciated the friends who brought us healthier food after June was born, what I really craved was comfort food (maybe because she was born in the winter!). Our dear friends brought us this Paula Deen recipe, and it was soooo bad but soooo good :) Pack with crusty ciabatta rolls, green salad, and blueberries.
Black Bean Soup with Cumin and Jalapeno | This is an easy, economical recipe that’s great for vegetarians! It’s also easy to double, which makes putting dinner for my family and another family on the table on the same night more manageable. Pack with a baguette, a green or kale salad, and chocolate chip cookies.
Award-Winning Chili | For a cozy fall or winter meal, you can’t beat chili, and this is a good one. Pack with apple cider, guacamole, and Honeycrisp apples.
Easy Chicken Pot Pie | Alongside meatloaf, chicken pot pie is one of my absolute favorite comfort foods. This recipe takes a lot of shortcuts to make the prep easier, but it’s still yummy and satisfying. Pack with sparkling lemonade, fruit salad, and brownies.
Taco Soup | Cheap, easy to make, and delicious — that’s a winner for a sharable meal! This recipe is a top performer for my family, for guests, and for new parents alike. Pack with a green salad, cornbread, and cut-up strawberries.
Lightened Up Chicken Enchiladas | A friend brought this to us when June was born, and in addition to being yummy on the first night, it was great for leftovers! Pack with sparkling lemonade, tortilla chips, and Rice Krispees treats.
Any go-to sharable recipes you’d like to tell the group about? Or favorite meals to make when friends come over to your house for dinner? (I find so many good recipes that way!)
27 September 2017
First, friends, thank you for all of your kind words and stories about Jack. We are doing better than we were last week, and they mean more than you know.
Not to jump immediately to another difficult part of my life (ha), but as many of you know, my transition to college was rough, to say the least. Because of this, I will always have a soft spot for college freshmen, especially in that vulnerable first semester. It’s been awhile since I’ve known someone starting college, but when one of our sweet babysitters and family friends headed off to school in August, I knew I wanted to do something for her!
Having not been a student for awhile, I put a query out on Instagram for ideas, and y’all delivered! Yesterday, I sent off a huge box to Barbara (we got a little carried away in Target!), and I wanted to share what we included as well as the rest of your suggestions…
Here’s some of what we included:
— A white pumpkin (my Mom always used to send me seasonal decor for my dorm room!)
— Healthyish snacks like Annie’s mac and cheese, Justin’s nut butter snack packs, almonds, a P3 protein box, granola bars, and a honeycrisp apple (I wrapped it in bubble wrap!!)
— Encouragement postcards for sending to friends or pinning to a bulletin board
— Sweet treats like a “perfect size” cake mix, gum, mini Belgian waffles, and gummy bears
— Hot chocolate mix and chamomile tea bags
— A sheet mask, a great Essie nail polish, and lip balm
— A pretty notebook and a Write the Word volume (I chose renewal, since college is a new beginning!)
— Fuzzy socks for padding around the dorm hallways :)
— An issue of a favorite magazine
— Two of June’s crayon masterpieces!!
— A note from us
Other great suggestions:
— Craft supplies
— A Target or Starbucks gift card
— Anything from the Dollar Spot
— Cute office supplies, like pens, post-it notes, or paper clips (apparently these highlighters are popular these days!)
— Seasonal pajamas
— Homemade baked goods
— A list of favorite podcasts for walking around campus
— A door stop
— Anything that’s good to share – helpful for making friends! :)
— A travel mug or water bottle
— A wax warmer, since candles aren’t allowed
— Travel size hand sanitizer or lotion
Even though our box was indecently expensive to mail, picturing her opening it makes me so happy :)
What would you include, friends? Anything you remember receiving at school with particular fondness?
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21 August 2017
More than anything else, for John’s thirtieth birthday, I wanted to remind him of how loved and cherished he is, and how much his thirty years on earth have meant to the people around him. I don’t think men necessarily hear how wonderful they are as often as the ladies in their lives, even if it’s equally true, and so for this special occasion I wanted to make sure he got the message loud and clear.
John’s birthday is in mid-July, so in late May, I sent out an email to close friends and family asking them to send me back the following by mid-June, written in the format of a letter to John:
One thing I really admire about you:
A favorite memory we share and why it stands out in my mind:
Something to look forward to in your 30s:
I included both of our parents and all of our siblings, of course, as well other family members and friends from childhood, high school, college, and North Carolina. I also asked for input from our nieces and nephews via their parents, and “assisted” June and our cats with writing their own letters, too :) My letter concluded the book.
Most people responded right away, and the ones that didn’t came through after a quick follow-up email, so it really wasn’t difficult to assemble the messages. Photos weren’t too hard, either, since I had done a bunch of scanning and organizing of old photos for our wedding slideshow. What took the most time was laying the book out, but even that was done in a few nights’ time (while shielding my browser from John, of course!).
I chose an 8×8 book with a hard, matte photo cover and layflat pages from Shutterfly. With 13 additional pages and a 50% off coupon (they are ALWAYS running promos), the total came to about $45. The book is beautiful in person – I’m thrilled with how it turned out!
John loved it, too. I think he was actually quite taken aback by it. He is a deeply private, humble person, and I think the thought of all of those people writing something nice about him was a bit overwhelming – instead of reading all of the letters in one sitting, he paged through them slowly over a few days. Mission accomplished :)
Have you ever surprised someone with messages like this? I think it’s always a hit (and I would love to hear your creative ideas!)!
20 February 2017
How are you all feeling about your 2017 goals, if you made some? (My company actually declared last week “Cultivate What Matters Week” because February 15th is statistically the day that the majority of people give up on their yearly goals!) I am feeling pretty good overall. I’m particularly excited about one practice I’ve implemented to help with my second and third focal areas: loving my loved ones well and cultivating a rich life for my family.
If you’re curious about my planner, you can read more about it here!
It’s my monthly prep days! When I thought about what had stopped me in the past from doing kind and fun things for the people I love, it wasn’t a lack of money or time, it was a lack of preparation. This came up over and over again as I filled out my PowerSheets, and eventually led to my word of the year (preparation!).
Starting in January, I’ve designated one day a month my monthly prep day. They’re usually on the last Sunday of the month, and I’ve already put them on my calendar for the rest of the year. I’ve noticed a huge difference in just the two months I’ve tried them so far, and wanted to share! Here’s what I do:
— After June goes to bed, I sit down with a few supplies: my laptop, my planner, my perpetual birthday calendar, and my phone.
— First, I note any birthdays coming up in the next month. If I’m going to send a card, I write the card, address it, and put a stamp on it. If I’m going to get a gift, I decide what it’s going to be and order it (or make a plan to buy it). I also set individual reminders on my phone to call or send a text to each person on his or her birthday.
— Then, I look through my planner and note any upcoming holidays or events. Where appropriate, I decide how we’re going to celebrate, and then make a plan. For example, in February, we had the Super Bowl, the Walking Dead premiere (ha!), Valentine’s Day, the Oscars, my Favorite Things party, and my birthday. Right then and there, I decided what special game day food we were going to make for the Super Bowl, I made a note to buy a Valentine’s Day card for John, I decided what we were going to do for June’s teachers for Valentine’s Day, I made the invite for the Favorite Things party, and more. Not everything gets done that evening, but I try to at least make a plan for anything I can’t do right then.
— I run down some of our normal monthly happenings and consider whether we want to schedule anything for the month: dinner with friends? A date night? A trip to the Museum of Life & Science? Some other sort of adventure? If necessary, I reach out to friends, make a restaurant reservation, etc.
— If a babysitter is required for any event, I text our babysitter and try to get on her calendar.
— Finally, I try to think if there’s anyone that’s been on my heart — someone who’s been celebrating or hurting, or who I just haven’t connected with in a while. If applicable, I take some sort of action there!
All told, my monthly prep usually takes about two hours. I do NOT do it perfectly, it needs to be said. Even with all this forethought, I forget things, I leave things to the last minute, I say the wrong thing or don’t say anything at all when something should be said. But I’m trying! And instituting these prep days has helped me immensely.
The downside? Decision fatigue can set in big time, and John is not always on board to be peppered with questions about what we should do for this or that (which is fair enough, since I’m working on my timeline, not his!).
One final tip: If you see someone celebrating in a way you love and you want to try it yourself, write it down! I have a simple doc on my computer, split into months, where I write down cute or clever ideas I see. Just got a lot for Valentine’s Day 2018 from all the sweet things you guys posted last week :)
I’d love to hear: do you have any systems for thoughtfulness? Or are you just a naturally, spontaneously fun and celebratory person? :)