A Not About Baby Post

Here’s something refreshing: a post not entirely dedicated to our new little sunshine, bundle- of-joy, sweetheart, booger boy, Michael Ryan (who is doing spectacularly, I might add).

2014 is going to be a redemption year. Late 2012 and 2013 were sprinkled with a long list of quite expensive expenses: a new roof, an ill advised koi pond project (it is pretty cool, but…), ten days in Europe, our third visit to Dry Tortugas National Park, and birthing our first baby and paying for my healthcare out of pocket. All of this minus about seven hundred dollars was paid for in full with cash,  which I commend us for, no matter how unnecessary the spending might have been in the first place. But, as you can imagine, all this checkbook action has left us depleted, to say the least. Redemption of our original plan to live within our means, nay, below our means, is sorely needed.

It is high time to get back on track.

We are about to get super serious about paying off our mortgage. This house is perfect for one baby and might be manageable with two. A third child would send us into chaos on the home front. The fact that we will need to either build here or buy something else is clear.

I will be using this blog for its original purpose again soon, I promise, as we start this serious journey of debt destruction.

Creatively titled series coming soon.

 

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What You Really Need to Keep a Baby Alive

I’m still working on our birth story. The writer in me wants it to perfectly portray the truly amazing experience that was our son’s birth and so it has been a slow process ripe with revisions. Long story short, we had a lengthy, unmediated home birth and I’d do it again in a heartbeat.

Michael Ryan will be six weeks old on Sunday and I finally feel like I’m physically recovering from the most strenuous thing I’ve ever done and mentally recovering from the postpartum fog. We’ve got the sweetest little babe in the world whose only newborn issue is a little projectile spit up and an aversion to me consuming dairy in even the most minuscule amounts.

Although we tried to keep our baby preparations simple and really didn’t purchase much of anything ourselves, we still managed to accumulate as bunch of baby stuff that’s been not so useful. If a bundle of joy is in your near future, here are five things you really need (assuming that you’ll be breastfeeding, cause you ought to… I’ll  jump on that soapbox in another post):

1. A Boppy Pillow (or another brand horseshoe-shaped nursing pillow)- I didn’t successfully latch MR without the use of this thing for almost a month.  Newborns are floppy. New moms are exhausted. This invention prevents head flopping and tired arms. After a few days practice, you’ll be able to nurse hands-free with the support of this pillow, facilitating the application of a little mascara or the enjoyment of a plate of spaghetti.  Baby can also easily doze in you lap between feedings. The Boppy is also great for grandmas, grandpas, and little cousins who aren’t accustomed to the strain of supporting an infant.

2. Nipple shield: I was committed to breastfeeding 100% and had prepared myself for every imaginable problem. Nevertheless, nursing my child has been ten times more difficult than twenty-one hours of natural labor. It just so happened that a friend popped one of these lifesavers into her shower gift. Lactation consultants and the like usually don’t recommend nipple shields for a variety of reasons. So far, mine has relieved me of horrific engorgement on day three and protected a cracked nipple for almost a month while it healed. MR had no issues going back to nipple au naturale and my supply didn’t suffer. It’s nice to know that if I’m terribly sore for some reason, I can always pop it back on for instant relief. Do your own research, but this thing provided a ray of hope during my darkest breastfeeding days. Nursing with a shield is better than giving up and not nursing at all, no matter what the experts say.

3.  Sleepers with snaps from neck to toe- Putting a newborn’s head through a neck hole is traumatizing for them and the nervous new mama or daddy who just changed the diaper that exploded all over his or her last outfit. Newborn gowns seemed like the smartest option and so I asked everyone for them and collected about twenty. They’re the most annoying garments imaginable and will wind up around baby’s chest in an instant.

4. An assortment of nipple butters/ creams/ salves- Up until a week or so ago, I had only used lanolin. I found a tube of lanolin-free nipple butter in my shower stash and oh my goodness, it is heaven. I should have branched out sooner. Lanolin is great for protecting cracks, but other problems will creep up on you, too. Even six weeks in. Get all the nipple ointments you can find and use them all until you find one that helps.

5. A rocking chair- No need for a custom designed glider upholstered in special ordered fabric. Beg for your grandmother’s tried and true rocker like I did or get an inexpensive but sturdy one from Cracker Barrel. The combination of back-and-forth motion and a little boob is a baby tranquilizer.

These five things alone will get you through the first six weeks of motherhood without tripping over brightly colored playmats, fighting with the buttons on tiny baby blue jeans, having reoccurring dreams that you nipple is falling off, or going broke.

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Summertime Instagram-O-Rama

My last Instagram-o-rama post was on April 17th. If I wait another two months until the next, there’s a good chance it’ll be dominated by baby shower photos and shots of baby toes, lips, and eyelashes. Fair warning.

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A family photo for the Fourth of July

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And another showing how large our boy is getting.

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Since my thesis is on hiatus, I’ve been working a little. Hoping this here six year old Toshiba lasts just a little longer.

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Twenty weeks at Dry Tortugas on the left.  Thirty weeks on the right.

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Precious, sleepy Geoff

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Not a great deal of concern about energy conservation at this point. Seventy-two during the day and sixty-nine at night with all fans on helicopter speed.

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Lovely rainbow beans that have done marvelously. I’ve frozen around twenty quarts.

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First batch of homemade dill pickles.

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Fresh-baked zucchini bread for snacking and freezing. For this batch I used mostly molasses instead of sugar and it was wonderful.

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The garden goodness I experience every day.

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Sweet bird house my dad got me for my birthday that looks like a miniature version of our house.

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I’m 24!

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Every pregnant woman should purchase an exercise ball as soon as she gets a pink plus sign. 

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On my last trip to Chattanooga for a prenatal appointment, I stopped at a rest area and ill-advisedly got a Cherry Coke. Subconsciously, I knew I shouldn’t be drinking it and dropped the entire can all over myself and my car.

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Summertime toes that, so far, haven’t become swollen.

New Food Strategy

Food is a very important aspect of my life right now. Not only because I’m hungry pretty much all of the time, but also because my food-related responsibilities are about to increase significantly. As we approach the expansion of our family, I recognize that this time marks the beginning of several decades of planning, shopping, and cooking for who knows how many people. It is paramount that I get into a routine that works for us nutritionally as well as financially while there are still just two mouths for me to feed. If I’ve learned anything over the past few of years of marriage, it is that food is the area of our lives I have most control over and, in turn, has the most influence on our health and our budget. Frankly, we allot almost as much (and often more) on food each month as we do on our mortgage. And I’m the one who spends all that money.

Lately, even with all my weekly meal planning, I’ve been spending around $100.00 at the grocery store each Thursday and an additional $30.00-$40.00 during the week on Cody’s ice cream cravings (seriously, it’s never my idea!), snacks, and eating out. That’s simply way too much. It also recently occurred to me that I’m about to be shopping with an infant. Less trips to the grocery store might be a good thing.

So, I talked to Cody and we decided to re-arrange our June and July budgets to allow for an extra-large grocery shopping trip last week. My goal was to shop for three weeks. I literally spent an entire day planning our menu, looking through sale ads, searching Pinterest for frugal recipe ideas, etc. Sadly, I’m so meticulous about my grocery shopping that I’ve memorized the prices of most of my staple items, so I was able to estimate how much I would spend at each store. I went to Aldi and, unfortunately, WalMart (their prices combined with their price match policy lured me in). I actually spent around $40.00 less than I alloted. Twenty-one days of planned breakfasts, lunches, suppers, and snacks for $260.00.

I plan on spending around $20.00 a week on milk, lettuce, and fruit. Not a huge savings once it’s all averaged out, but anything helps and it’s saving me a day of shopping each week. Hopefully, I’ll become more adept at shopping this way and will eventually be able to spend even less. In any case, it’s nice to know I’ve got plenty of butter in the freezer and a bowl full of Clif Bars and Craisens to munch on.

Between my birthday last Friday, Father’s Day over the weekend, and a basket of food brought over by my neighbor yesterday, I’ve saved several meals. We’re also getting a good bit of veggies from our garden now, so I’m relying on that for sides and supplements to our main courses. I’m hoping to stretch what I bought until July 11th.

Butchering Day

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It was a Little House on the Prairie kind of day around here yesterday. I even donned an apron. Between bean picking and chicken butchering, we felt like quite the homesteaders.

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Cody invited his friend Matt, who arrived with a hatchet, to come and “help.” They re-strung my clothes line up on the hill next to the chicken pen and made tiny nooses out of hot pink string on which to hang the birds after they lost their heads.

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Meanwhile, I set-up our butchering station far, far away from the action. I asked Cody to put up our canopy over the table. That turned out to be a good idea because it rained most of the afternoon. This is what I guessed I would need to clean chickens, having never done it before:

  • gallon and quart sized Zip-loc bags
  • dish towels and rags
  • a candy thermometer to test the temperature of the scalding pots
  • a couple of large pots
  • gloves
  • a bucket of cold water
  • a water hose
  • assorted knives

This is what one actually needs to butcher chickens:

  • very, very, very sharp knives

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We started out using a propane-fueled burner to heat the scalding water. It was quickly apparent that we were almost out of propane so I fired-up the grill with our homemade charcoal and placed the other metal pot there to heat. The grill heated the water quicker and was virtually free, so we will go with that method next time.

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The preparations for be-heading took a little longer than I expected. While I was waiting, I froze two quarts of beautiful beans I picked from our garden yesterday morning. See the lovely purple ones? I was sorely disappointed to find that they turn a normal green when blanched. Oh, well.

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Back outside, a steady stream of headless, bloodless chickens were making their way down the hill. My mom showed up right around this time (out of curiosity or concern, I’m not too sure). I figured this was a memorable day and asked her to snap a couple of pictures of me.

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Michael Ryan showed up pretty well in this one (I’m getting huge, by the way). Twenty-seven weeks is about the maximum for chicken butchering. Any bigger and I don’t think I would have had the stamina or emotional stability to handle all this. Also, having my belly squished up against a table for several hours was quite uncomfortable. Notice the pile behind me there.

My 83-year-old neighbor thought we were having a fish fry and came over to visit. She didn’t seem too disappointed in the lack of hushpuppies and promptly picked-up a bird and started plucking. About an hour later I finally talked her into going home with chicken blood on her white slip-on tennis shoes. She said it had been 64 years since she had butchered a chicken but did it quicker than any of us. We were very thankful for the instruction.

Here are some things that we learned during our first attempt at being chicken farmers:

  • Order the genetically modified chicks and hope the fresh air and sunshine cancels out any adverse affects of their mutations. These buggers were too skinny and ate too much.
  • If the water is too hot or if you leave the chicken in it more than about 30 seconds, the skin comes off with the feathers and you’ll have a slightly pre-cooked bird.
  • It is almost impossible not to puncture an internal organ of some kind while getting the guts out. Just squirt it off really good with the water hose.
  • Chickens stink real bad. I had all intentions of doing most of the work after they were killed, but found that my pregnancy-induced hound dog nose just couldn’t handle the gutting process.
  • June is not the most opportune time to stand outside all afternoon in a swarm of chicken-loving flies.
  • The old-fashioned concept of skipping out to the chicken coop on Sunday morning to snatch a hen for dinner isn’t a bad one. 15 at once was a little much.

We ended up with 15 whole chickens in the freezer about 3 1/2 hours after the first swing of the ax. Not too bad. Really, the experience was almost exactly what I expected it to be. Not too sad, but also not too fun. It’ll take me a day or two to eat grocery store chicken again. Probably a month to get up the courage to cook one of ours.

So, here’s the big question. Will we be doing this again? Absolutely. We learned a whole lot on this first go-around. I am sure that our next attempt will be much more productive and much less expensive (I’m going to guess each bird weighed close to 2 pounds and cost us about $30. That’s not economical, I don’t care how organic or humane their time on earth). We will be going with Cornish Crosses or Cornish Rocks next time, not these puny White Leghorns. Supposedly, they mature in only eight short weeks. We will also wait until the weather is very warm before ordering our chicks so that they can stay outside and not require so much TLC during the first few weeks. We’re also brainstorming ideas on how to reduce the cost of feeding them (being more intentional about collecting kitchen scraps, planting corn/sunflowers/ squash specifically for the chickens, trying sprouted barley fodder).

Overall, the McNuggets provided us with a really great learning experience and a little good food.

Food: 5/30- 6/6

protein

Since this is a post about food, I thought I’d share a little about the role food has had in my pregnancy so far. One of the many reasons I love midwifery care has been the importance my midwife places on nutrition. I haven’t had any complications so far (knock on wood) and, although I’ve started to slow down a little now that it is regularly in the 90s here in Alabama, my energy level and general feeling of well-being have been fantastic.

My midwife, Carolyn, suggests (requires, requests, urges, etc.) that I consume between 80 and 100 grams of protein per day. That’s alot, y’all. A whole lot. Some days I just can’t get it down. Other days, I surpass 100 and eat a spoonful of natural peanut butter just for fun.

A diet high in protein but low in carbs and sugars has been linked to drastically lower rates of preeclampsia and toxemia. That’s reason enough to eat a little meat at each meal. In addition, when you’re eating as much protein as I am, there’s little room for drive-thru chili cheese fries a la Kim Kardashian or bags of Doritos. Of course I indulge, I’m pregnant! But I’ve found that what I really crave are the foods my body needs to grow this child inside me. Never in my life have I drank glasses of (whole) milk but without at least one or two a day I feel malnourished. At twenty-five weeks, I’ve gained 11-ish pounds. I’ve had no swelling, no body aches, very few headaches, no nausea since about 12 weeks, no blood pressure issues, no kidney infections or UTIs,  precious little heartburn, and one very active baby.

My meal plans don’t quite give you a good idea about what I actually eat everyday because I’m eating four or five mini-meals instead of the three listed (these are primarily for Cody). For example, I usually have a glass of milk or orange juice and maybe half of a bacon, egg, and cheese on whole wheat sandwich thins when Cody eats breakfast at 6:30 a.m. I usually sneak back in bed after he leaves until 9:30 a.m. or so and eat again when I wake back up. Milk or juice, ice water, maybe some fruit, and the other half of my first breakfast are the usual second breakfast. I’ll have a snack sometime around 11:00 a.m., often involving peanut butter or Greek yogurt (14 grams of protein in a Chobani!). I’ve been eating lunch a little later in the day now and it usually involves a steamed vegetable of some sort and fruit or maybe leftovers from the night before. I’ll eat another protein-rich snack mid-afternoon, often something cheesy. Supper is whatever is listed on my menu plan and is often a last-ditch effort to rack up on my protein for the day. If I haven’t done very well, I’ll eat another protein rich snack or “dessert” after supper. Maybe a banana with peanut butter, fruit, a yogurt, or a glass of milk with an ice-cold red apple. Cookies and milk are another favorite. The few times indigestion has hit have been after I’ve eaten junk or bread late in the evening, so I try not to eat too much after 8:00 p.m.

Who knows how my body will handle this last and, from what I hear, hardest trimester. Nevertheless, a focus on protein, fresh produce, whole fat dairy, and a small daily dose of whole grains has really paid off for me so far. I feel like my body is getting everything it needs to grow my child and build up my strength for labor and a long and abundant breastfeeding relationship. I strongly encourage anyone who is preparing to conceive or who is pregnant to think carefully about your diet. Not for the purpose of gaining the perfect 20 pounds so that the baby weight melts away quickly, but because it is one thing that you have the most control over during pregnancy that yields the greatest and most remarkable results when attended to carefully and purposefully. Instead of focusing on not eating that whole package of Oreos that you just can’t get out of your mind (I’ve been there), focus on stuffing in all the good stuff that you haven’t included in your meals that day. More often than not, I am thinking about what I haven’t yet eaten on a given day than regretting what I have.

Just a little hormonal rant. I’m off to eat a plate of roast beef. Here’s our frugal-midwife’sfeeissoondue-Ineedtobuyclothdiapers-ohmygoodness-he’llbeherebeforeweknowit-meal plan for next week. Notice the protein 🙂

Thursday
Breakfast-eggs and orange slices, green smoothies
Lunch- tuna salad with lettuce, apple, Greek yogurt
Supper- steakfingers in coconut oil with turnip greens and corn on the cob

Friday
Breakfast-bacon, egg, and cheese breakfast sandwich on whole wheat thins
Lunch-leftovers with salad, boiled eggs, grapes, bananas
Supper-pinto beans, ham, fried corn bread, fried zucchini

Saturday
Breakfast-bacon and eggs
Lunch-family reunion (make double batch of banana pudding and fruit pizza)
Supper-grilled Dale’s chicken with baked potatoes and salad

Sunday
Breakfast-sausage, egg, and cheese breakfast sandwiches on whole wheat thins
Lunch-Ranch chicken salad with carrots, lettuce, chips
Supper- Paleo chicken fried “rice” with veggies (use leftover chicken)

Monday
Breakfast- cheesy eggs with fruit
Lunch- leftovers, oranges, grapes
Supper- whole wheat spaghetti with meat sauce

Tuesday
Breakfast- bacon and eggs
Lunch- tuna salad with peanut butter and honey sandwiches on whole wheat thins
Supper- fried pork chops in coconut oil, honey mustard roasted red potatoes, green beans

Wednesday
Breakfast- bacon and eggs
Lunch- leftovers
Supper- homemade chicken nuggets in coconut oil with English peas and potatoes

Thursday
Breakfast- bacon and eggs with fruit
Lunch- leftover chicken on salad with boiled eggs

Garden Update

Our first genuine attempt at a full-scale vegetable garden has been up and going for almost a month now. We planted almost everything the week before we left for our last trip and returned to tiny bean sprouts and a few new leaves on our tomato plants. We’ve had uncharacteristically cool end of April/ early May weather here in Alabama. Last week we had at least five days of rain and temps dropping into the upper thirties at night. Luckily, it seems that we’re finally over our “blackberry winter.” Clear blue skies and warm afternoons are causing everything to perk up.

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We’ve got eleven tomato plants. I’ve been (slowly) working on getting them staked before they get too big to avoid damaging their root systems. Tomato cages at Lowe’s are $5.00 a pop, so I decided to opt for homemade versions instead. A little Pinterest whimsy, don’t you think?

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I keep picking up cheap four packs of pepper plants. I finally ran out of room in the garden and now several yellow bells now have a home in my flower bed. This is a cayenne that’s doing incredibly well. It bloomed several days ago so we should see tiny peppers in a few more days. Red, green, and yellow bell, jalapeno, and sweet and hot banana are all represented. I cook with colored bell peppers several times per week and they’re often quite expensive. I’m hoping to slice and blanch the extras and freeze them in small zip-lock bags to be used during the winter.

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I actually created two separate areas for tomatoes and peppers. These have yet to be staked and are quite a bit smaller. I’m pretty sure they are Better Boy hybrids. Also, I’ve read several places lately that marigolds are an excellent addition to tomato patches because they repel certain pests. I interspersed them between all my plants. In any case, they bring a little color.

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We have eight hills of summer squash and zucchini, all of which have two plants besides one. They seem to be right on track and will be getting big and jungle-ly soon. By the way, the white power is Sevin dust. I’m researching organic gardening methods, but for the time being, I’d rather not have everything nibbled down to stubs. In my limited experience, tender baby leaves are most susceptible to gnawing jaws.

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Our cucumbers haven’t done so well. I planted three hills of Picklebush and none of them came up. They’ve since been replanted with this variety that sprouted in about a week. Hopefully they will catch up soon. I’ve been craving ice-cold cucumber with salt and pepper lately.

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Here’s my pride and joy. We planted four different varieties of bush beans, only one of which totally failed and had to be replanted (it’s also possible that I forgot to actually put seed in the row after the fertilizer). This row in particular did very well. I’ve had to thin it a couple of times. Another row is sporting unusual purple stalks with green leaves. We should have fresh green beans by mid-June, if not a little earlier. I have a feeling that the first couple of pickings will be eaten up pretty quickly. We hope to get at least three pickings from each row. After they’re spent, we’ll rip them up and re-plant another batch that will mature in late August or early September and be used primarily for freezing. Bending and squatting to pick beans should be great for my birthing muscles, right? Our late summer garden plans also include: small pumpkins in June, re-planting one row of summer squash, and re-planting the other row of summer squash with a winter squash variety to store for chicken treats in cold weather.

Not pictured is the back third of the garden that became a stream during our week of rain. Cody actually had to shovel a few small ditches and that were super helpful in draining the puddles (ponds) that had accumulated. I don’t anticipate this being a problem again this season but next year we will have to reconsider what we plant there. We had four rows of corn that were basically washed away. They’ve since been replanted and will hopefully do so-so in their moist home. The okra we planted several weeks ago made it through the flood, but it is a little thin. Okra plants get huge, so maybe that’ll be ok. Also, about half of my sunflowers are six inches tall. I replanted the thin spots in hopes of having a complete wall of blooms in a few months. Cody was dying to plant a few watermelons.  We have six hills. They’re sure to take over the entire back yard in a month or so.

Garden life without a tiller has been hard work. After the initial plowing and cultivating, we’ve only borrowed my parents’ tiller once to run through the rows for aeration and weed control. I try to hoe a row or two every day. We bought a Friskar’s manual cultivator for $25.00 at Lowe’s this past weekend to help out between tilling, too. It’s a little easier for me to manage than a hoe and is great for breaking up hard ground around the tomatoes and peppers. Hopefully we will be able to save up a little money this fall and invest in a used or clearanced tiller before next spring (however, a fall and winter garden are still very much in the plans). I have a feeling it’ll be significantly larger next year if everything keeps going well.

We both enjoy spending an hour or two before dark in the backyard digging in the dirt. Geoffrey and the cats love rolling in the dust and more than a few bean plants have been crushed because of their horseplay.

I cannot wait to bring in a big basket of veggies and fresh eggs every day.

Food 4/11- 4/18

Honestly, things are tight around here. A vacation (sans vacation days) and baby-related expenses are quickly approaching and I’m doing all I can to keep from dipping into savings. Frugal shopping and cheap meals, even if they aren’t quite as Paleo and protein-packed as I want, is helping squeeze whatever I can from our grocery budget. $73.00 out of $100.00 this week left a little for chicken feed (they’re really putting it down now) and fertilizer for our garden planting this weekend.

Thursday

Supper- at Tricia’s

Friday

Breakfast- bacon and eggs

Lunch- tuna salad on sandwich thins

Supper- homemade chicken nuggets with baked potatoes and baked beans

Saturday

Breakfast- blueberry muffins

Lunch- salad with boiled eggs and leftover nuggets

Supper- fried pork chops with broccoli and cauliflower, canned corn

Sunday

Breakfast- blueberry muffins (if there are any left over) or homemade biscuits with honey

Lunch- grilled Dale’s chicken fingers with green beans

Supper- pinto beans with ham, corn bread

Monday

Breakfast- bacon and eggs

Lunch- leftover beans, cornbread, and chicken

Supper- bbq baked chicken with mashed potatoes and English peas

Tuesday

Breakfast- omelette with ham and cheese

Lunch- leftovers

Supper- spaghetti with whole wheat noodles, meat sauce, and parmesan

Wednesday

Breakfast- bacon and eggs

Lunch- leftover spaghetti

Supper- something with hamburger meat

Snacks

homemade oatmeal raisin cookies

fruit

Greek yogurt

applesauce