Henry will be joining our family soon, and I have been so anxious for this whole pregnancy about how having another baby is going to impact you. Lots of things are about to change for our family, and at your age, it can be hard to understand that. I’m so glad that I’ve had these last few days to spend with you before Henry’s born and soak up our time with you as my only little boy. You have the best sense of humor and the sweetest little grin, and your daddy and I live for those moments when you say, “I love you, Daddy” or “I love you, Mama.”
As we get close to Henry’s birth, I’ve been thinking back to when you were born. Your daddy and I were so nervous and clueless, but also so excited to meet you. The minute you were born, our hearts grew in ways we never could have imagined. You completely changed the way we looked at the world and what our priorities were. You took the love we already had for each other and multiplied it times infinity.
I didn’t get a little brother until I was eleven, but I can tell you that little brothers are the best and I know that you and Henry are going to be the best of friends. I hope you two are close and can’t wait to see you grow up together. You’re going to have a lot of responsibility with a little brother looking up to you all the time. I’m sure you’ll fuss and fight and sometimes you’ll wish he wasn’t constantly following you around and annoying you, but at the same time, he will be your closest ally and friend when you get backed into a corner and he’ll be a person you can always know has your back.
I know the next few months, when Henry is going to need so much of our time and attention, are going to be tough for you. It’s hard to go from being the center of attention to sharing it with someone else 24/7. It was hard for me at eleven, and you’re only two, so I know it will be tough sometimes. I hope you always know that even though you may not be the baby anymore, you’ll always be my baby. I promise that I’m still going to be there for you when you need a kiss to make things feel better, when you want to play, and when you need extra snuggles in the middle of the night.
You’re going to be the best big brother. I love you, Jackie.
This slightly sweet and savory chili is the perfect meal to enjoy during this cooler weather that has finally made its way to Alabama. The sweet potatoes give this chili a unique, slightly sweet flavor while the sausage and spices give it a nice kick. It balances out perfectly. It’s also quick and easy to make and cooks in one pot, which makes cleaning up after dinner easy (always a win in my book).
1 lb ground sausage
1 small yellow onion, diced
1 large sweet potato, peeled and diced into small cubes
2 cups chicken broth
1 can (4.5 ounce) diced green chilies
1 can pinto beans with liquid
1 can red kidney beans, drained and rinsed
1 tablespoon chili powder
1 tablespoon packed brown sugar
2 teaspoons cumin
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon onion powder
1 teaspoon garlic poeder
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
2 bay leaves
Add a little avocado or olive oil to a large stock pot and heat over medium heat.
Dice onion and sauté in oil until transparent.
Add ground sausage and cook until browned.
Add diced sweet potato and chicken broth.
Turn to high and bring mixture to a roiling boil. Boil for about 3 minutes, then reduce back down to medium heat.
Add beans, chilies, and spices. Stir well.
Reduce to simmer and cover.
Cook for 30 minutes.
Remove bay leaves before serving.
I like to serve this with my classic southern cornbread (click here for recipe).
Last weekend, my mom came over and we had a freezer cooking marathon to stock our freezer with meals for when Baby Henry gets here. In about 4 hours, we ended up with 14 casseroles stacked in our freezer that are ready to just be popped in the oven for an easy dinner during those early postpartum days when me cooking a meal is pretty much out of the question.
Here are the recipes we made (sorry there aren’t any photos of the actual food – we were in the zone while we were cooking and my kitchen was a total mess, so I didn’t photograph as we went):
Mamaw Hopper’s Squash Dressing
This is one of my Mamaw Hopper’s recipes. Using squash in the dressing makes it super moist and gives it a great, fresh flavor. You can use fresh or frozen squash – just make sure to drain it well and mash it up before adding it to the dressing mixture. We like to eat this as a side dish with grilled or baked chicken, but it is hearty enough to make it an entree on its own.
2 cups yellow squash (boiled until very tender, drained, and mashed)
2 cups cornbread crumbs (cornbread recipe below)
1/2 cup grated onion
1 can cream of chicken soup
salt, pepper, and poultry seasoning to taste
3/4 stick of butter, melted
Crumble cornbread into a large mixing bowl and moisten slightly with water.
Add mashed squash, grated onion, eggs, cream of chicken soup, and butter. Mix well.
Add spices to taste (I typically add about 2 teaspoons of salt, a teaspoon of black pepper, and a teaspoon of poultry seasoning). Mix well.
If mixture is too thick to pour, add a little more water until mixture pours easily into greased 9×13 casserole dish.
Bake at 350 degrees for 25 to 30 minutes, or until top is golden brown.
Mama’s Chicken Dressing
My mama’s chicken dressing is kind of famous in our family. It’s always her contribution to our family’s Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners, but we don’t just save this dish for holidays. Pretty much any time we have leftover cornbread, we’ll make a batch of dressing because our whole family loves it. I’ve shared this recipe before as part of my Open-Faced Turkey Sandwiches recipe. It’s simple, classic, and always comes out perfect.
1 large pone of cornbread, crumbled (cornbread recipe below)
1 sleeve saltine crackers, crumbled
1/2 white onion, diced
6 eggs, beaten
8 chicken thighs, boiled and shredded (I like white meat, so I will sometimes use half chicken thighs and half breasts) – make sure to season with salt while boiling the chicken!
About 4 cups of chicken broth (reserved from cooking chicken)
Salt, pepper, and poultry seasoning to taste
In a large mixing bowl, crumble a large pone of cornbread (about 4 cups total) and the saltine crackers.
Add the onions and stir until mixed well.
Lightly beat the eggs and add them to the bread mixture. Mix well.
Add in the shredded chicken, then slowly add in the hot chicken broth, stirring well after each addition of broth (if you dump it all in at once, you will end up with little pieces of scrambled eggs in your dressing, so make sure to temper the bread mixture as you’re adding the hot broth).
Continue adding broth until the mixture is pretty wet, like cornbread batter (You’ll probably need about 4 to 5 cups of broth).
Add salt, pepper, and poultry seasoning to taste. We usually start with about a tablespoon of each and then just taste and adjust as needed (the hot chicken broth cooks the eggs, so there’s no reason you can’t taste a little of the mixture before it’s baked).
Pour the batter into a buttered 9×13 deep baking dish (if your dish is shallow, you may need two baking dishes to hold the mixture).
Bake at 350 degrees for about 30 minutes, until the top is just lightly browned. (We like our dressing really moist, so we don’t brown it much.)
Chicken and Broccoli Casserole
I first found this recipe in Trisha Yearwood’s Georgia Cooking in an Oklahoma Kitchen cookbook (one of my favorites if you’re looking for a great Southern cookbook). I adapted the recipe a little since I don’t eat cheese – but if you’re a cheese lover like my husband, you’ll love her original recipe where the cheese is mixed into the chicken mixture and used as a topping for the casserole.
2 cups cooked white rice (make sure to add salt as it is cooking!)
1 pound boiled and drained broccoli florets, roughly chopped (make sure to add salt as it is cooking!)
2 cups shredded chicken breast
1 can cream of mushroom or cream of chicken soup (or the combined cream of chicken and mushroom, if you can find it)
8 ounces sour cream
2 heaping tablespoons of mayonnaise
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 cup shredded Colby Jack or cheddar cheese
1 sleeve butter crackers
1/4 stick butter, melted
Spread cooked white rice into the bottom of a 9×13 inch greased baking dish.
Roughly chop cooked broccoli florets and spread over rice (according to Jeff, the secret to making this casserole good is to make sure your broccoli is super tender, so I always make sure to boil it until it’s basically falling apart since that’s how he likes it. I don’t mind the broccoli having a bit of a bite to it, so I have used a bag of broccoli that can be steamed in the microwave for this step and it tasted just as good to me…go with your preferences here).
In a large mixing bowl, mix together the shredded chicken, soup, sour cream, mayo, lemon juice, salt, and pepper until well combined.
Spread chicken mixture over broccoli.
Since I don’t like cheese but Jeff loves it, I top half of the casserole with shredded cheese and half with crumbled butter crackers tossed with melted butter. If you and your family love cheese, feel free to skip the crackers and top the whole thing with shredded cheese.
Bake at 350 degrees for 35 to 40 minutes, until cheese is melted and edges are bubbly.
Poppyseed Chicken Casserole
I just kind of made up this recipe a few years ago after one of Jeff’s friends mentioned that his wife made a poppyseed chicken casserole for dinner and Jeff wanted me to make one. It’s a really simple and quick casserole to put together, and it’s always delicious.
2 cups cooked white rice
2 cups shredded chicken breast
1 can cream of chicken or cream of mushroom soup (either one works great, OR if you can find the cream of chicken and mushroom kind, that’s even better)
8 ounces sour cream
1 tablespoon mayonaise
1 tablespoon poppy seeds
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon lemon juice
2 sleeves butter crackers
1/2 stick of butter, melted
In a large mixing bowl, mix together the rice, shredded chicken, soup, sour cream, mayo, spices, and lemon juice.
Spread into a greased 9×13 casserole dish.
Crumble crackers into a mixing bowl and toss to coat with melted butter. Spread cracker crumbs over chicken mixture.
Bake at 350 degrees for 25 to 30 minutes, until crackers are golden brown and edges are bubbly.
Michelle’s Chicken Spaghetti
I got this recipe from my cousin, Michelle. She brought it to a church potluck and Jack absolutely loved it, so my mom and I asked her for the recipe and she was kind enough to share. This is always a crowd pleaser.
3 cups of shredded chicken breast
1/2 cup diced onion
1/2 cup diced bell pepper
1 can cream of chicken soup
1 can cream of mushroom soup
1 can Rotel tomatoes
32 ounces chicken broth
8 ounces of spaghetti
Cook spaghetti, peppers, and onion in chicken broth until spaghetti is tender. Do NOT drain.
Mix shredded chicken, soups, and tomatoes in a casserole dish, then add broth and noodles. Mix well.
Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes.
Remove from oven and cover with shredded cheddar cheese.
Place back in the oven until cheese is melted and bubbly.
Traditional Southern Cornbread
3 cups self-rising cornmeal (I prefer yellow, but white works just as well)
2 1/2 cups buttermilk
1/2 stick of butter
Spray a cast iron skillet with non-stick cooking spray and place butter in skillet. Put in oven as the oven preheats to 400 degrees.
While the pan and oven are heating, mix together the cornmeal, egg, and buttermilk in a large mixing bowl.
Once the pan is hot and butter is melted, pour the batter into the skillet.
Bake at 400 degrees for about 30 minutes, until top of bread is golden brown.
This recipe makes a large pone of cornbread. We used one pone to make the chicken dressing and most of a second pone to make the squash dressing.
When Jack was born, I shared a post about how I made a Daddy’s Hospital Survival Kit for Jeff. I originally found the idea on Pinterest and loved that it was a way to celebrate Jeff becoming a dad. So many things only focus on baby and mama during that time, but becoming a father is a huge deal and should be celebrated, too.
This time around, as I’m getting all our bags packed for the hospital (little man will be here in two weeks or less!), I made sure to pull out the tool box I used to make Jeff’s Survival Kit last time and fill it with goodies. He’ll be at the hospital just as long as I will (trying to sleep in a recliner because the pull out bed in the room is too short for him), and he deserves some treats and some comforts of home, too.
You can see what I packed for him last time here. It was a really neat thing to have last time because he had travel toiletries and snacks and we both used things out of his box multiple times during our hospital stay. Even our nurses and my doctor mentioned how neat it was when they saw it sitting on the counter in our room.
This time, Jeff’s kit contains the following items:
His favorite Starbucks Cold Brew with Cocoa and Honey
Gatorade Zero drinks
Beef jerky sticks
Individual flavored drink mix packets for his water
I’ve just got to get a card – or maybe make one – to stick in the bottom of the box and I’ll be done.
Last time, I kept this box of goodies a surprise, but this time Jeff knows I’ve been putting it together (he’s even snuck some of his goodies out early and I’ve had to go back to get more). Even though he knows about it this time, I think it does mean a lot to him to have something that’s his and for me to put in the effort to show him how much I appreciate his love and support. I really don’t know how I would have made it through labor without him last time. He was so encouraging and sweet and kept telling me how awesome I was doing even when I was just beyond exhausted and wanted to give up.
If you’re making a box like this, you might also want to include a roll of quarters for the vending machine or some cash for the hospital cafeteria (I don’t need to add this since Jeff works at the hospital and can use his ID to buy things at the vending machines and cafeteria, but it would be super helpful for someone who doesn’t have that option). I don’t know about your hospital, but ours only offers one meal to mom and dad, and the rest are for mom only (since she’s the actual patient), so having some money to get a meal, snacks, and drinks is always a good thing and lots of people forget to bring cash for the vending machines.
If you’re having a baby, this is a great way to make your husband feel special during the whole birth experience (because they really do get left out and don’t get much attention). Or, if you know someone who is having a baby soon and want to give them a really neat and meaningful gift, making a kit like this is a thoughtful way to show a new dad in your life that you care. You could even make a similar one for mom and dad to share so they have some little goodies to make their hospital stay more comfortable.
Now that this kit is all put together and my hospital bag is packed (I’ll share about what I packed in a separate post later this week), we’re just waiting for Henry to decide he’s ready to meet us face to face. I’m going to miss feeling his constant kicks and wiggles, but I also can’t wait to actually see his little face and hold him in my arms.
As we enter this season of Thanksgiving, I’m trying to make sure that we slow down and focus on the meaning of this season. Jack is still young to understand the concept of thankfulness, but we are working on learning about being thankful and also on learning that all of our blessings are gifts from God.
One thing we’re doing this month to work on celebrating thankfulness is this cute Thankfulness Turkey idea that I got from Susie at busytoddler.com. I love following her Instagram page for fun ideas to entertain Jack. When I saw this turkey idea, I thought it would be a really cute way to start talking to him about what it means to be thankful. He was super pumped about making his turkey and wanted to color all the feathers himself and add them all last night (I think you’re technically supposed to add one feather each day, but we just went ahead and added them all since he was so excited and we’ll fill them in with things we are thankful for as we go through the rest of the month).
You can check out this post for more of her fun Thanksgiving activities for kids.
I’m also trying to make spending time in God’s Word more of a priority, and that includes teaching it to Jack (I know he’s only two, but he is better at memorizing things than you’d think and I don’t think you can start them too young when it comes to memorizing God’s Word). We’re going to be focusing on verses about thankfulness this month. If you’d like to join in and learn with us, just print out my November Memory Verses Printable and work on committing one verse to memory each week. You can cut the cards apart and place them around your home (I’m planning to post one on the fridge and one on our bathroom mirror) to help you see the scripture over and over so you can commit it to memory.
I have a confession to make. I’ve always had mixed feelings about Halloween. When I was little, my mom always made me a costume and took me to a few family members’ houses to get candy, but that was about all we did to celebrate. We didn’t decorate the house or get into the spooky side of the holiday. I even remember having some in-depth discussions with my parents when I was about ten or eleven, asking them if it was okay for Christians to celebrate Halloween. I had recently learned the concept of being in the world, but not of the world (you can read a great article on that topic here), and I remember feeling like Halloween was very much “of the world” and something that just didn’t seem like a holiday we should be participating in. Now that I’m a mom, I enjoy the fun, kid-friendly parts of the holiday like cute costumes and trick-or-treating, but there are still things I’m not the biggest fan of, like the spooky decorations, gruesome movies, and scary costumes.
Lots of churches today use Halloween as a way to reach people in the community with fall festivals and fun activities for kids on or around Halloween night. I think that’s a great idea, and love participating in our church’s fall festival every year. We live way out in the country, so we don’t really have trick-or-treaters come to our house. We give out candy at our church’s trunk-or-treat event instead.
While the spooky side of Halloween might not be my favorite, I actually do enjoy the fun kid’s events that the holiday brings. The older I get, the more I realize that eleven-year-old me might have had the wrong idea about what it actually means to be in the world, but not of the world. I think sometimes, Christians use that phrase as an excuse to not go into the world and share God’s love with others, which is what we are called to do as believers. We are supposed to be set apart from the world, but we can’t hide in our houses and churches all the time and never interact with people. If we do that, how will they ever learn about Jesus?
I wanted to take some time this month to focus on how we can reach out to others and form those relationships and even use a holiday like Halloween to shine for Christ. I asked my friend, Lauren, who is a pastor’s wife in Southern California, to give me some insight on this from the point-of-view of someone in the ministry. Here’s what she had to say about making Halloween an outreach:
In the age of social media, drive-thrus, and Uber eats, our interaction with people is limited more than ever. We live in a “microwave” society. We want to get things done as quickly as possible. Some call it efficiency. However, sometimes in our haste to just get things done, we loose something along the way.
In my opinion, an area that this has greatly affected is our relationships. The art of neighboring is quickly becoming a thing of the past. All of these time saving processes have led us to actually spending less time face to face with those around us. We need to take time to slow down and intentionally get to know those around us.
This is definitely a work in process for me and my family. One of my favorite times to do this is on Halloween. Think about it, what other day of the year are you able to see families from all around your neighborhood out and about? And more than that, it is completely normal and expected to talk to them!
Our family has fully embraced this holiday over the past few years. We set up a table in our front yard and have deep fried Oreos, hot chocolate, bottled water, candy, and even a TV with a movie playing. A couple of years ago, the Dodgers were in game 7 of a playoff game on Halloween night. Since we live in Southern California, we decided to have the game playing that night. So many people stopped and watched a few minutes of the game that night while their kids grabbed some candy.
This holiday has given us the perfect opportunity to build relationships with people in our community. Sometimes, they are people who we already know but don’t see often. This gives us a chance to catch up with them. Other times, they are people we may have not seen since Halloween the previous year. But every year, we get a little more comfortable with them.
Why is building relationships so important? I believe with my whole heart that God has placed us in our house, neighborhood, and community for a purpose. There are people who don’t know Jesus as their Savior who can see our family shine our light for Him. Matthew 5:13-16 says “You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet. You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” We are called to constantly point people to Jesus. How can we do that if we don’t know the people God has put around us?
Being intentional with those around us doesn’t have to be an addition or burden to our schedule. We take something we are already doing (giving out candy on Halloween night) and intentionally think about how we can point others to Jesus while doing that!
I love Lauren’s take on how to make this holiday an outreach! How fun does it sound to make your home the gathering place for your community on Halloween night so you get an opportunity to actually talk to people and get to know them?
If you’re looking for more ideas on ways to give back to your community and serve others during this time of year, check out this post by Heather from My Life Well Loved. She’s one of my favorite bloggers to follow on Instagram and created a really cute printable packet with ideas for service projects and fun activities for kids to get involved in giving back.
Spending more time in God’s Word and committing Scripture to memory is something that I have felt really convicted about lately. I know Jack is young (he’s just two), but I don’t think it’s ever too early to start teaching our children about God and His Word.
In church yesterday, my pastor preached from Mark 10:13-16 about leading our children to Jesus. It was a great sermon, and I took tons of notes. One of his final statements really stood out to me, though. He said, “You are the single greatest determining factor of how your child will view spirituality.” He kept stressing the fact that how we act, what we say, and what we do is either leading our children to Christ or away from Him. That really convicted me, because I know that I need to be a better example for Jack (and Henry, soon) of what it means to be Christ-like. I need to spend more time in God’s Word and in prayer and live by God’s promises instead of by following my own emotions and feelings.
I thought a monthly memory verse challenge would be a fun way to bring some accountability for me and a way for us to share encouragement and learn God’s Word together.
As parents, it is our responsibility to lead our children to Christ. That means we have to know Him and His Word. Jeff and I are committed to leading our boys to Jesus and raising them to know who Christ is. Learning Scripture is just a small part of that lifestyle, but it’s an important way to help our kids learn about who God is.
If you would like to join me in learning a new Bible verse every week, then print out the free printable of the October Bible Verses below and use it to learn one verse each week. I’m going to commit to learning one of these verses each week and I’m going to try to teach Jack some of them (or parts of them, for the longer verses). Since it’s October, I decided to focus this month’s verses on what the Bible says about fear and trusting in God when we are afraid.
Yesterday, we took Jack to the Tuscaloosa Barnyard. It’s a petting farm with lots of activities, and during the month of October, they have a Pumpkin Patch. It was still super hot (I think it was about 98 degrees while we were there – when is fall actually going to get here?), but we had a fun morning and Jack loved all the animals.
Here are some pictures from our trip. If you’re local, I would definitely recommend this place! It cost $15 per person, which included a pumpkin for each of us and all the activities at the farm (like petting and feeding the animals, pony rides, a hay ride, and lots of games).
I came up with this recipe a few weeks ago when we were under a heat advisory because it felt like it was 115 degrees here. Despite the weather, I was in the mood for fall and was craving something sweet, so I cranked the AC, lit my fall scented candle, and pulled some random ingredients out of the pantry to bake something. I ended up with this pumpkin spice cake and was super happy with the final result. I took the leftovers (the whole cake except for the piece I ate to taste it) to school to share with my fellow teachers the next day and it got lots of thumbs up, so I decided it was good enough to share here. Now that it’s finally starting to feel like fall, I can’t wait to make this again!
1 box yellow cake mix (I prefer Duncan Hines brand because I think they make the most moist cakes, but you can use any cake mix you prefer)
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1 cup water
1 can pumpkin
2 tablespoons pumpkin pie spice
1 can sweetened condensed milk
2 cups pecans, chopped
1 tablespoon butter
1/4 cup sugar
Whipped cream or cool whip (optional)
In a large mixing bowl, whisk together cake mix, eggs, oil, and water until well combined.
Whisk pumpkin into cake batter a little at a time until mixed well.
Add 1 tablespoon of pumpkin pie spice to the batter and mix well.
Pour cake batter into a greased 9×13 baking dish and bake at 350 degrees for about 45 minutes (until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean).
Once cake is done, poke holes in the cake with a fork so the glaze can sink into the cake.
Mix together 1 tablespoon pumpkin pie spice and can of sweetened condensed milk and pour over the cake while it’s still warm.
Allow cake to cool completely.
While cake cools, chop up 2 cups of pecans.
Heat a skillet over medium high heat and melt 1 tablespoon of butter.
Add pecans to the melted butter, then sprinkle on sugar.
Cook until the pecans starts to get golden brown and sugar begins to form a crust on pecans.
I know I missed the first day of October, which is probably when I should have posted this, but…oh, well.
At this point in my pregnancy (about 6 weeks to go), everything takes way more energy than I think it will and takes way longer than it should, so I’m a few days late getting to writing this post.
I actually have lots of fun content planned out for this month, so I wanted to give you a little preview of what you can expect on the blog over the next few weeks! Of course, we are getting super close to baby Henry’s arrival, so I’ll be sharing lots of posts on preparing yourself and your home for baby. I’ve also got some fun Halloween ideas and lots of yummy pumpkin recipes to share with you this month. It’s going to be a busy month, but I’m looking forward to sharing all these fun ideas with you!
Our biggest goals for this month are to finish Jack and Henry’s bedroom makeover (we’re starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel!) and to get Jack sleeping in his own bed. Wish us lots of luck on that last one, because our child has a stubborn streak a mile wide (I have no idea where he got that trait) and we know it’s going to be rough. We never actually intended to be a family that does co-sleeping, and we don’t even remember how it started, but we have got to get him out of our bed before the new baby comes and we’re up and down with an infant all night. We need at least one kid to sleep all night, you know?
We’re also trying really hard to help Jack start adjusting to the idea of having a little brother. He’s basically just been in denial about Mama having a baby since we told him a few months ago (seriously, check out his face when our friend, who is a great photographer, asked him how he felt about mama and daddy having another baby in the picture below). We’ve finally gotten to the point where he will occasionally at least say “baby” or “Henry,” so I’m counting that as progress. We know it will be a big adjustment for him, so we’re trying our best to get him ready for it.
We’ve also got some fun things planned for this month, like our church’s annual fall festival and chili cook-off (I’m going to be making my pumpkin chili, which is a recipe I’ll be sharing later this month!). It should be a great few weeks!