Choose Your Words Wisely

Choose Your Words Wisely

As I picked up the class catalog for planning my oldest’s HS Freshman schedule, it instantly took me back to high school.  Those awkward, stress-free, fun days.  It just reminded me of how unsure of myself I was at that time in my life.  High school is stressful enough, let alone trying to find yourself amidst the hundreds of others trying to find themselves as well.  I’m not gonna lie, I had a small panic attack thinking about my son possibly experiencing the same thing!    

As I was reliving those high school days, I think what hit home the most was how influential several teachers were to me and how UN-influential a few were.  At that moment, I focused more on the ones who crushed my dreams, rather than the ones who encouraged them.  Why?  Because I don’t want my own kids to be discouraged!  One teacher in particular that was discouraging to me, was my art teacher, Mrs. M. (The initial has been changed to keep her anonymity.)  

{Back story:  My entire life, I’ve always loved to draw.  To make crafts.  To color.  Really, to do anything that involved art supplies.  I’m slightly OCD when it comes to my art supplies.  You know how some people collect figurines?  I collect art supplies.  A big honkin’ box of Crayola crayons is like my version of a Hummel or a Fabergé egg.}

Mrs. M, my high school art teacher, was (in my head) the epitome of cool.  She was a free spirit.  Hippy-esque, if you will.  She was everything that I wasn’t.  What was I?  I was a perky, run-of-the-mill cheerleader with really big hair.  I’m sure I was a walking stereotype to her, and because of that, I feel she unfairly judged me.  (disclaimer: this is purely my opinion)

She was not a fan of mine.  She critiqued my work to death.  I know I was not her most talented student, but it’s not like I was drawing stick figures, either!  She told me I was afraid of color and that I wasn’t applying myself.  She seemed to come up with everything she could to devastate me.  The last & final blow was when she told me “You need to re-do this, this is trash.  Y’know what, don’t bother.  You have no business being in this class.”  (to this day, those words still ring loudly in my ears)  So, because I had like, ZERO self-confidence, I let her win.  I enrolled in Graphic Design the next semester.  Lo & behold, I was told that I had great talent & should really think about pursuing this as a career.  Wait.  What?!  This new teacher had faith in me, and encouraged me.  Really?!  My work did nothing but improve.  Isn’t it amazing what a little encouragement and kind words can do?

I’m not saying that if Mrs. M. would’ve given me encouraging words that my work would’ve improved enough to her standards, but she didn’t care enough to try.  Why?  I’ve always wondered.  All of these years, I’ve sort of stewed over this, but I guess it’s because I’m now looking at it from a parental point of view.  Would I ever do something like that to my kids or want my kids’ teachers or other adults in their lives to do that to them?  HELL NO!  But as a student, you’re taught to respect your teachers.  How could I say anything to her when she held my grade in her hands?  I was a weenie!  {Disclaimer:  I don’t want any of my teacher friends to think I’m in any way bashing all teachers – I’m not!  In all my years of schooling, I’ve only had 2 teachers who have really discouraged me… one in HS, and one in college… and I rolled over & let both of them win – a decision I regret fully to this day.}

So, flash-forward 20-something years… my entire life, I had always wanted a really nice camera.  I had a point & shoot, and while it took decent pictures, I wasn’t seeing the pictures that I saw in my head.  The point & shoot brought everything into focus, but what I really wanted was just to bring certain things into focus.  And for that, I needed a lens.  

I took a leap of faith by taking pictures for one of my best friends & her family.  Long story short, a small photography career was born.  I bought the nice camera (learned how it worked – man, those things can be confusing!), and started seeing those pictures I’d always seen in my head.  I’m not a professional.  I’m self-taught, and am always learning new things.  My style has evolved over the past couple of years, and I imagine it will continue to do so in the years to come.  New techniques & styles are always being discovered, right?  I digress.  I have fun taking pictures & I love meeting new people.  I love capturing moments that may otherwise go unnoticed.  

I have to say that while I can see everything in color, much like everyone else, my favorite photos are black & white.  Why?  It’s simple.  They tell more of a story.  They’re real.  Sometimes they’re harsh & unflattering, and sometimes they’re soft & beautiful.  But they’re always real.  

All of these years, Mrs. M’s voice has been in the back of my mind, making me doubt myself.  Making me think that I didn’t have any talent.  But you know what?  I’ve discovered that while maybe I’m not the mural-painting artiste that she is, I’m an artist in my own field.  And afraid of color?  I’m not.  I just like to be real.  And sometimes being real means being exposed in a harsh light… not a tutti-frutti color wheel where things can be hidden.  I don’t think I need to paint something in a vivid color to prove my self-worth.

So to Mrs. M, I only have these words of advice… choose your words wisely.  While you crushed my dreams of ever thinking I had talent in your eyes (and honestly, how many other students dreams did you crush??), you pushed me to do something I never thought I’d do.  To be an artist.  And you know what?  I do have talent.  And you know what else?  It doesn’t have to be in color.  But thank you, Mrs. M, for making me doubt myself all of these years.  It is a wonderful feeling when my clients tell me that I’ve captured their sons/daughters/families in their true form.  Those moments captured in time tell a beautiful story.  Real stories.  Their stories.

Clearly, I still have issues with Mrs. M’s discouraging words, and this helped to get it out.  But I’m looking ahead to what my kids will experience in high school, and I have to pray that they will hear encouraging words, and not discouraging words.  It also reminds me, that as a parent, my children hear my words & these words (at least the ones they actually hear & not the ones that sound like Charlie Brown’s teacher) will stay with them for their entire lives.  Same goes for my friends and family.  It’s hard to take back those words that fall out of our mouths without chewing on them for a while.  And clearly, people will always remember “those” words.  I just keep going back to the saying that my parents tried to pound into my head while I was growing up (and of course, I’m sure I rolled my eyes & scoffed)…  “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.”  So this reminder goes to me as well… choose your words wisely.  Make sure they’re kind.  Make sure they’re encouraging.  Make sure that if you say them, make them have meaning.  I’m not going to lie & say I’ve never said mean things, or that things haven’t come out the way I had intended… but over the past couple of years & events in my life that have taken place, I have taken a great amount of time to taste the words that are rolling around on my tongue.  I’m doing my best to keep the “not nice” thoughts to myself. 

The moral to this gouge your eyes out long post is this: encourage, don’t discourage; build up, don’t tear down.  It reaps WAY bigger benefits, and y’know what?  It’s physically impossible to be down when you’re seeing someone else smile!  


Meal Plan for the week of Feb. 18-22, 2013

UKM#1 here…

This is a pretty low-key meal week.   None of the meals require much time to either assemble ahead of time, or the day of.  I’m using 2 of the packages of ground beef that I browned last week, so that saves me a lot of time!

**Notes:  All of my meals are for a family of 4, please tweak the recipes as necessary to accommodate your family.  Also, anytime I use pasta, I try to use a mix of regular & whole grain when I can.

Recipes available for download: Meals for Feb. 18-22-pdf


Baked Ziti

Green Beans


Cincinnati Chili (aka: Skyline Chili®)



Make-Your-Own Chef Salads


Sloppy Joe’s

Steamed Broccoli

Mac ‘n Cheese?


No cooking for me because of the Cub Scout Blue & Gold Banquet!  Woo Hoo!!




Out to eat!


Have a great week, friends!

Cooking Ahead / Meal Planning 101

Does dinnertime roll around & you panic because you have no idea what you’re fixing?  Have you heard about cooking ahead & you’re not sure what it is or what it entails?  Not sure where to start with planning your meals?  Seems a little overwhelming, right?  Fear not, friends!  Seriously, if I can tackle this, you can too.

I started doing this because I was famous for waiting until the last minute to decide what I was making for dinner.  I’d go to the grocery store each week, wandering around, buying random things, only to realize, I didn’t have what I needed to make certain things.  I didn’t have a plan.  I was just buying random things, hoping that I’d be inspired to make something.  Turns out, I wasn’t and therefore, we went out to eat a lot more than we should’ve!  My youngest would ask each morning at breakfast “what’s for dinner?”, and my normal response was “I don’t know“.  By planning out meals, it alleviates stress for me.  I know what I’m cooking & when, it saves us moolah, and my youngest no longer has to ask me what’s for dinner – he can now look at the fridge & either delight in that it’s something he loves, or grumble because yes, I’m making him eat asparagus.

There are so many ways to do this, but what has worked for my family is this…

  1. Print out a blank calendar for each month of the year (templates can be found online:  Free Calendar Template , or on MS Publisher), or use an extra calendar that you have laying around.
  2. On the calendar, write in kids’ sports events, appointments, meetings, or any event that would affect mealtime/preparing meals, etc… (this helps me determine what meals to have on what night)
  3. Get your family involved!  Make a list of all of your family “favorites”, your standard “go-to” meals.  This helps you determine easy meals -v- meals that take more time to prepare.  Open up those dusty cookbooks, surf Pinterest… look for new things to try to break up any rut you may be in meal-wise!
  4. Of the above lists, are there meats that you use a lot of?  Say, chicken or ground beef?  Could you benefit from cooking ahead?
  5. If you answered “yes” to #4, then do it!  When you’re baking chicken/browning burger for one meal, why not do it for 2 or 3?  This is such a time-saver!!
  6. When I look ahead at my meals, if I know I’ll be using chicken for several meals, or meals that will use burger, I buy up extra of those meats, and cook them all at once.  How?  I throw chicken breasts in the crock pot with chicken broth, and when finished, they can either stay whole, or it can be shredded.  When I buy extra burger, I usually buy the big 5-lb tube, and brown it all at once with chopped onion & garlic.  I usually don’t salt it.  Why?  If I heat it up later for say, tacos, I season it with taco seasoning.  Then the meat doesn’t end up too salty.
  7.   Take stock of what is already in your pantry/freezer/cabinets/fridge.  Sometimes this helps me plan meals — if you use what you already have, think of the $$ you’re saving at the grocery store!
  8. If you get a newspaper, comb the grocery ads.  If there’s a great deal on veggies that you eat a lot (and can be frozen), stock up, and portion out for future meals.  Your freezer will be your friend!
  9. If you’re willing to take some extra time, cooking ahead is a great time-saver for the future.  Sounds like an oxymoron, doesn’t it?  Take time on one day to save it on another?  I guess it’s a trade-off.  But if you’re like me, sometimes at dinnertime (or as I like to refer to it, “The Witching Hour”, it’s crazy… and anything I can do to make the process faster & less complicated, the better!  Knowing that there’s a pound of ground beef already browned in the freezer, and all I have to do is heat it up, boil some pasta, throw some marinara over it, and make a salad?  That’s easy!
  10. When making out your meal plan, write each recipe down with the meal… this makes your grocery shopping easier so you can see exactly what & how much of it you’ll need.  I saw a version of this on Pinterest, but made my own (very simple) template:  Meal Planner Template – pdf
  11. If you know your family will only eat certain things (and trying new things is out of the question), when you make one meal, why not make 2, and put one in the freezer for the next week?  If you’re going to make the mess, make it once & be done with it!  Actually, this is a good idea even if your family isn’t picky!

Okay, I know that list was long (sorry, it’s just a brain dump for me!), but really, the things on the list are just basic things to think about.  Meal planning doesn’t work for everyone, and it’s hard to stay focused some weeks.  I’m not going to lie & say that each week is perfectly planned out.  Of course, there are those surprise evening meetings, kids getting sick, or just the fact that you’re too damned tired to cook, and going out to eat is not only necessary, it’s MANDATORY!  😉  Life happens.  But, the more I try to plan things out, the less stressed I am and the more money we save.

Meal Plan for the week of Feb. 11-15, 2013

J here!

Just a precursor… I do not plan meals for the weekends.  Why?  Well, due to kid sports, family events, and/or random spontaneity, dinnertime is usually the first thing to go on a schedule.  That being said, leftovers are a key player during the weekend, and we usually go out to eat at least once a week… and, we tend to do it on the weekends.  

I tend to range from one extreme to the other as far as my meals.  Some take a lot of effort, some take none.  My hubs is gone at least 2 evenings each week, so therefore, I don’t go “all out” on meals when it’s just the kids & I.  Sorry kids, it’s not that mommy doesn’t love you… but I also realize you’d be just as happy with PB&J when daddy is gone!  

I do a lot of cooking ahead, so I don’t spend a ton of time each day in the kitchen, because really, who has time for that?!  So, some of these items below are already hanging out in my freezer.  

We eat a lot of chicken, so I tend to cook chicken each Monday in my crockpot.  It can either be kept whole (breasts), or it can be shredded.  Either way, I portion it out, and put it in freezer bags.  Easy peasy!


Tilapia with Orzo Salad

What you’ll need for the Tilapia:

Tilapia fillets

Extra-Virgin Olive Oil

2 cloves garlic, minced

1-2 tomatoes, chopped

1/8 cup White cooking wine

3 dashes lemon juice



 *If your fish fillets are frozen, be sure to thaw them.

*In a large frying pan on medium heat, go around the pan twice with Extra-Virgin Olive Oil.

*Add in garlic.

*Put your fillets on top of the garlic.  Season with salt/pepper.

*Add in cooking wine.

*Add in lemon juice.

*Add in tomatoes.

*Cook fillets until they are turn white in color.  

What you’ll need for the Orzo Salad:

1 bag/box Orzo

4 cloves garlic, minced

3-4 Tbsp. Extra-Virgin Olive Oil

1 lemon, juiced

1 bunch asparagus, chopped into 1” pieces

1-2 tomatoes, chopped (you can substitute cherry tomatoes, if you like)



*In a large pot, bring water to a boil & cook orzo according to the directions on the package.  The last few minutes when orzo is cooking, blanch the asparagus in the water along with the orzo.  (this will save you dirtying another pot!)

*Drain orzo/asparagus, and put into a large bowl.  (I use my largest stainless steel mixing bowl!)  Add in tomatoes.

*In a smaller bowl, combine lemon juice, garlic, olive oil, salt & pepper (to taste), and whisk together until blended. [You will want this to be a bit saltier than usual — it will be spread out amongst a lot of pasta.]

*Pour lemon juice/olive oil mixture over the pasta/asparagus/tomatoes.  Mix well.

*This salad can be served warm OR cold.  It’s yummy!!


Pizza on Garlic Bread & Salad

What you’ll need for the Pizza:

1-2 long loaves of Garlic Bread (depending upon the size of your family)

Marinara Sauce

Shredded Mozzarella Cheese

*Any other pizza toppings you enjoy (Pepperoni, mushrooms, sausage…)

*Preheat oven to what the package of Garlic Bread calls for.

*Assemble your “pizza” on each half of the garlic bread.  Once done, cook according to the package.  Instant pizza!  

What you’ll need for the Salad:

1 bag of salad mix (or head of shredded lettuce)

veggies of your choice



What you’ll need for the Carnitas: /Tacos:




Tomatoes, chopped (or, salsa)


1 can refried beans

1 can green enchilada sauce

2.5 lb pork shoulder blade roast, lean, all fat removed (I had a 6 lb. roast, and just doubled this recipe, so I’d have some to put in the freezer!)

6 cloves garlic, cut into sliver


dry adobo seasoning (I used Goya)

garlic powder

3/4 cup 99% fat free chicken broth

2-3 chipotle peppers in adobo sauce (to taste)

2 bay leaves


(I might suggest that you prepare the meat the day before your meal… it takes a while to cook in the crockpot.  However, it can be done on the stovetop as well — still takes a bit though)

Season pork with salt and pepper. In a medium sauté pan on medium-high heat, brown pork on all sides for about 10 minutes. Remove from heat and allow to cool.

Using a sharp knife, insert blade into pork, cutting small holes and insert garlic slivers. Season pork generously with cumin, adobo and garlic powder all over.

Pour chicken broth in the crockpot, add bay leaves and chipotle peppers. Place pork in crock pot and cover. Cook low for 8 hours. After 8 hours, shred pork using two forks and combine well with the juices that accumulated at the bottom. Remove bay leaves and adjust salt and cumin (you will probably need to add more). Let it cook another 15-30 minutes.

*For Guacamole:

4 avocados

garlic salt

lime juice

*Mash 4 avocados in a bowl

*Add garlic salt, to taste

*Add 3-4 dashes of lime juice

*Mix together

*To make a bean mixture, heat the can of refried beans & green enchilada sauce together.

*To assemble carnitas/tacos, in a tortilla, put some of the bean mixture, meat, lettuce, tomato, cilantro, guacamole… however you like!


Jenni’s “Wicked Good Clam Chowdah”

 What you’ll need for the “chowdah”:

4 cans minced clams

6 strips bacon, chopped

1/2 cup chopped onion

2 cups clam liquor (liquid in the can) + 1-2 cups water

2 cups diced potatoes

1 tsp salt

dash of pepper

2 cups milk

2 cups half & half

*instant potatoes (if you wish to thicken soup afterwards)


Chicken Spaghetti

What you’ll need for the Chicken Spaghetti:

2 cups cooked chicken, shredded

3 cups cooked spaghetti (I just used the whole box)

4 oz. Velveeta, melted

1 can Cream of Chicken soup

1 can Tomatoes & Green Chilies

1/2 tsp garlic powder


Obviously some of these recipes may not work for your family, so feel free to substitute whatever you like.  

I started meal planning because my youngest constantly asks “what’s for dinner???“, and I usually have no idea.  This way, he can look at the calendar on the fridge and either jump for joy or sulk because it’s something he doesn’t like.  ha!  

Have a great week, my friends!