Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Crockpot Beef Stroganoff

Finding yourself short on time and needing an easy dinner recipe?  I've got a new one we tried last night and loved!  I typically make beef stroganoff on the stove, but this recipe was similar with a few extras that made it a hit with both the adults and (almost) all of the kids!

Crockpot Beef Stroganoff
Source:  Campbell's Soup

2 cans cream of mushroom soup
1/4 cup water
2 T. Worcestershire sauce
1 package sliced white mushrooms
3 medium onions, coarsely chopped (I omitted)
3 cloves garlic, minced (I used 1 1/2 t. garlic from jar)
1/2 t. black pepper
2 pounds boneless beef round steak, sliced into thin chunks
1 cup sour cream
12 ounces medium egg noodles, cooked and drained

Stir the first 7 ingredients together in the crockpot.  Add meat and make sure it is coated.  Cook on low for 8-9 hours or until beef is fork-tender.  Stir in the sour cream while mixture is still in the crockpot.  Serve over noodles.

  

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

These Are a Few of My Favorite Things

Let the magical month of December begin.  With it comes shopping for the perfect gift, baking our favorite Christmas cookies, special activities with the kids, and listening to our beloved Christmas CD's.  Some parts of the holiday season, at least for me, are a little more stressful.  Staying within a budget (I really try...really), trying to not to stress about the cute ideas I had but didn't have time to complete, and making a Christmas list for myself.

If you're struggling with your list, too, I thought I'd share a few of my favorite things with you.  Think Oprah-except not nearly as extravagant and for a busy mom with very little time for herself!  To make it easy, I've divided it up into sections.

Kitchen Must-Haves

-A Griddle.  I got this last year and it has made my breakfast for dinner meals so much easier!
-A Ninja.  We love smoothies and this little machine is awesome.  Also works for chopping veggies!
-Airbake cookie sheets WITH parchment paper.  I've had a lot of luck baking with these forever!

Things to Wear

-I am in love with these fleece tops (I wear a pretty standard mom uniform!).  They run a bit small.
-I also love these jackets.  Practical and wear well.
-I love the Nike Flex running shoes.  When I was running (it's been awhile), they were my go-to shoe.
-I like my North Face jacket a lot.  It sheds, but it's warm!

Things to Read

This section is easy.  I love to read and could go on forever!  I'll spare you and just put a few.

-The Best Yes by Lysa Terkeurst
-Daring Greatly by Brene Brown
-Rhinestone Jesus by Kristen Welch
-You're Made for a God-Sized Dream by Holley Gerth
-Notes from a Blue Bike by Tsh Oxenreider
-Any book by Kristin Hannah, Sarah Jio, Jane Green, Emily Giffin, and Jodi Picoult

Miscellaneous
-I have enjoyed keeping journals for my kids over the years.  Admittedly, my eldest son's journal is much better than the others, but each kid has a book full of treasures.
-I love my small planner to jot appointments and other engagements down in.  Small and compact.
-If all else fails, ask for chocolate.

Best of luck with your lists!  Each year I find it more difficult to come up with anything.  My request this year?  Money for the travel fund.  Happy list-making!

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

The Best Gift

There is a Care Bears commercial on television that drives me absolutely bonkers!  Their catchy little slogan?  "How could you choose just one?  When you've got more bears you've got more fun."  This commercial runs nearly every half an hour on Nickelodeon Junior, which happens to be the favorite channel in our house.  Each time it comes on I cringe and I just want to turn it off.  The message they are conveying to my young impressionable children is certainly not what my husband and I try to instill in them.

Our goal this year is to simplify and reduce the amount of "stuff" our children receive.  While the marketing campaigns geared towards our children are trying to relay a completely different message, we are working hard to encourage them to choose a few things to put on their lists.  Over the course of the past few weeks, I've encouraged them to choose their top three.  While they typically change, there are a few items that seem to come up more often than others.  In years past, we may have been inclined to purchase those most coveted items, but this year we are purchasing some and passing on the other ideas to grandparents.  It is our hope this will decrease the amount of gifts they receive and instead of being overwhelmed with too many new things, they'll be able to enjoy what they really wanted the most.

In my heart, I think this is the best gift we can give our children.  To teach them that more is not better.  To teach them to really think about their needs and wants and narrow their wants down to what they truly desire the most.  This may be a lot to ask of children so young, but the sooner we can teach this lesson the better.  We live in a society of excess.  Our social influences are encouraging us to want more.  To not settle for just one.  To have the best even if we have a perfectly functioning item that's simply not the latest model.  Never being satisfied is not a pleasant way to live.

When will we decide this enough?  When will our society, as a whole, be content with what we have instead of always desiring more?  Never?  Perhaps, but we are going to do our best to teach our children to appreciate what they have.  To be grateful for what they receive and not disappointed because they didn't get everything they may have wanted.  To realize there are children who have little to nothing and they are blessed in so very many ways.

To encourage this way of thinking, our children need to be given age-appropriate opportunities to serve.  They need to experience the gratifying feeling of giving.  Our charity, From Cover to Cover, is doing a month-long book drive to reach a goal of 500 new books for children in need.  This week my kids were asked to choose some books they thought other children may enjoy.  When I first asked them to share what books they thought we should purchase, they were pretty adamant I should be purchasing books for them.  We had a small discussion about the amount of books in our home and how some children have none.  I could tell they were mulling this over in their heads and soon they were sharing some wonderful ideas.  We purchased several books and they seemed very proud and pleased with their decisions.  It is a simple act of service, one they can relate to, that will continue to shape them into children with servant hearts.    

I may be a little behind the times, but I've recently seen this little quote on several sites about Christmas for our children.  I love it and wanted to share it with you.  Not only is this great for our children, but it would also be awesome for a child in need.  What a great family service project!  I think it would be wonderful to encourage our children to purchase one of the wants off of their own Christmas list to be donated to Toys for Tots.  While it may be hard for them to do, it would be a powerful experience to donate something they want themselves.  

Perhaps the best gift we will give our children this Christmas won't actually be a material possession. It might be the wonderful feelings that come from doing good for others or the lifelong lesson that less really is more.    



     

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Stepping Up

Today I had a meeting with our pilot school, Monroe Elementary, to discuss our Family Literacy Night event coming up in November.  This project for our charity, From Cover to Cover, has become my fifth baby.  I truly cannot tell you how important it is for our communities to realize how much these kids need us.  Not just the Monroe students.  The children at-risk in communities nationwide.  I have found my purpose.  Raising awareness about the striking correlation between literacy and poverty and doing something about it.

Proficient literacy skills are a one-way ticket out of the generational poverty many of these children come from.  It may seem like a daunting task, but it is quite possible to help some of these kids break free.  This is why we have expanded our project to include sponsored literacy nights.  It is why, each day, we spend time working to raise funds, gather volunteers, and make important community connections to spread the word about this huge need that lies right in our own neighborhoods.

What do these children need?  Books.  They need home libraries.  How can you further develop your reading skills if you have nothing to read at home?  Having fewer than 25 printed materials at home is considered living below the poverty level.  This is the biggest area I feel so many of us take for granted.  Our children are abundantly blessed.  Most of us have at least 25 books lying on a table or a book shelf in our living rooms.  Combine that with those found in bedrooms, play rooms, and diaper bags and I am sure most of us are well into the hundreds.  Could you imagine not having a single book for your child to read?  It is a shame, yet a reality for so many.

What do these families need?  They need to be empowered.  If a parent cannot read themselves, that does not mean they cannot help their child to become a better reader.  We are going to work with all of the parents and guardians that come to our events and teach them strategies they can use, regardless of ability, while reading with their children.  We are going to share the importance of reading together each night and walk them through how to ask questions and utilize pictures to further develop the skills of their child.

What do these schools need?  They need volunteers.  More specifically, volunteer readers.  There are many mentoring programs that do not require a significant amount of your time, yet they can make a huge difference in the life of a child.  The more these children are surrounded by people encouraging them to read and reading with them, the more confidence they will build and, in turn, their desire to read will increase.  They also need books.  Quality, engaging, interesting books.  We want kids to look at their classroom libraries and be excited about reading.  Old, worn, outdated books just don't illicit the same amount of excitement as new(er), colorful, eye-catching books.

I challenge all of you to find a local school in your community and help them fulfill one of these needs.  If you live in the QC, I encourage you to join us in our mission.  When I drove away from the school today and passed the lines at the shelters and soup kitchens, it really hit me how important our efforts truly are.  We know we aren't going to save the world, but if we can change the world for a handful of kids, we have made a difference.  You can make a difference, too.  The question is, will you step forward and try?


Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Letting Go

"Busy."  This seems to be the word most of us use to describe our lives.  As a society we seem to wear our busyness with pride, but have we paused a moment to really examine what is truly making us so "busy?"  Are these busy lives we are creating for ourselves and our families truly something to be proud of?  We complain about how we don't have any time for homework, how we don't have time to cook and have a family meal, how we don't have time to...the list goes on.   Our kids attend school all day, we pick them up and begin the evening rush, putting the very things we complain about not having time for on the back-burner.  

As parents, we have been entrusted with the responsibility of shaping the next generation.  Impressionable eyes are watching us.  Little ears are listening.  These children are looking to us for guidance and it is our job to lead by example.  What are we teaching our children by being so busy we don't have time to eat as a family?  How are we teaching them to value education and be responsible when their homework is finished as they're running out the door because we were running from activity to activity the night before?  How are we teaching them to be grateful for their blessings and serve others in their community when we are too busy to volunteer ourselves?  The hard truth? We're not.

The buzz on the street is we're raising an entitled generation of kids.  While it's hard to hear, can many of you disagree?  We have succumbed to the idea that our kids' happiness is measured by all of the "stuff" we provide for them.  Activities, play dates, material items, the latest and greatest technology...ugh, the list goes on and on.  They get what they want and then they ask for more.  They are searching for a feeling of satisfaction that will never come because there will always be something better behind the next door.  Oh, America, what are we doing?

It is time to take a step back and truly evaluate our lives.  If you are too busy for homework, family dinners, and nightly reading then perhaps it is time to make a change.  Our children are depending on us to set limits and create a home environment that isn't so busy.  Sure, it may be hard to say no to whatever it is they are "dying" to do next, but in the end, after the tears have dried and the tantrum has ceased, how refreshing will it feel to not be so overwhelmed and, you got it, busy?  Let go of the guilt.  There is no disservice in saying no.  In time your children will thank you.  

I have always found that serving others leaves me feeling much more satisfied than any material item ever could.  This is the feeling I want my children to experience:  to realize that it is so much more fulfilling to give than to receive.  It is my hope that by example I am teaching them to make time for others, to realize life isn't always about them.  I want them to understand that as a family we are not too busy to serve.

My eyes have been opened in the past year.  While there are many, many people so willing to give of their time and talents, there are so many more who are simply too busy.  So many programs rely on volunteers to fulfill their mission and sadly those programs will cease to exist if no one steps up.  Everyone has been blessed with talent.  It would be a shame to not use this gift to help others, be it your school community, local homeless shelter, youth program, you name it.  You never how your contribution, whether big or small, may change the course of someone else's life. There is an opportunity awaiting everyone.  Let's all band together, get a little less busy, and teach our children well.  Make an impression that will last and not be lost on those little eyes and ears.

We all given the same amount of time each week.  It is up to us what we do with it.




       
 


Thursday, September 4, 2014

Overwhelmed

There's this song on K-Love by Big Daddy Weave called "Overwhelmed."  My interpretation (take it for what it's worth) is someone being overwhelmed by God's love, beauty, and grace.  This song runs through my brain morning, noon, and night and I can't help but feel I'm being spoken to.  Lately my life has been so terribly busy, I am left feeling overwhelmed.  Obviously this is not the true interpretation of the song, but when "I'm overwhelmed, I'm overwhelmed by you" runs through your head on repeat, perhaps it's time to listen!

I may have bitten off more than I can chew.  When I committed to our fall PTA fundraiser I had no idea how much time it would involve.  Add in several upcoming engagements for From Cover to Cover, grant writing, and, oh, taking care of my family and house, I am left feeling incredibly overwhelmed by day's end.  It is so hard to unwind and turn off my brain.  I am overwhelmed.

I have had little time to engage in hobbies I love and find relaxing.  Reading, writing, and baking have taken a back seat to donation requests, typing up informational sheets, and writing long, tedious grants.  My screen time is ridiculous right now and I am counting down the days where I can sit back with a good book and relax!  Coincidentally, I have a book on the way called The Best Yes: Making Wise Decision in the Midst of Endless Demands.  The irony is not lost upon me...trust me.

Are you overwhelmed?  How do we get ourselves in these predicaments people?!


Monday, August 25, 2014

4 Years

Today my little guy turned four.  We had the best two days celebrating this strong-willed little boy.  He had so much fun and pretty much had a permanent smile on his face the entire time.  We heard polite "thank you's," witnessed some sweet moments of sharing his new toys, and best of all, listened to his excitement and stories about his birthday.

It is hard to believe that four years have passed since we welcomed him into our family.  After a brief hospital stay, we brought home this tiny little boy and started our life as a family of five.  While we have had many moments of joy and happiness, we have also had many of despair.  For weeks our sweet little boy cried and cried in pain.  Eventually we found dairy to be the culprit and things began to look up.  We (who are we kidding here, I) spent night after night up with this little boy who did not want to sleep.  Exhausted did not even put a dent in how I felt caring for three little kiddos.  We endured 18 ear infections between him and his sister before both had tubes put in.  Life was hard and all of this happened before he was even ten months old!

We also witnessed three kiddos become the best of friends.  We've seen them grow and watch out for each other.  They spend their fair share fighting as siblings do, but for the most part, they get along great.  There is never a dull moment.  We've also seen sweet gestures of kindness.  Today our oldest daughter gave her partner in crime three gifts:  a picture she colored especially for him, a bookmark, and a quarter from her money jar.  She wrapped them carefully in one of her blankets and brought it upstairs to give her brother.  Precious.

My oldest son does his best to not rock the boat.  Our little guy is going through a phase where he wants to be first to do everything.  He also doesn't like to lose.  His older brother, with the sweetest of intentions, does what he can to please him.  He is smart.  He doesn't want to listen to the temper tantrum that will ensue if his little brother feels put out!

I will be the first to admit there have been many times I was sure we were drowning.  These four years have been hard.  Sleep is a luxury and we have had few nights in the past four years where we have slept uninterrupted.  Our little pack outnumbers us and at times their antics get the best of us.  They are just kids having fun, but they can be a force to be reckoned with.  Who knew words like butt, banana, and burp could elicit such laughter and craziness from these little people?

Four years ago our lives changed dramatically.  Through the ups and the downs one thing has remained:  these kids are my everything.  I look at them and thank God I have been blessed with four beautiful, healthy children who are the best of friends.  I know these years will not be easy, but in the blink of an eye they will be gone.

Happiest of birthdays to our sweet little guy.  Your zest for life and energy are abundant.  You give the best hugs and kisses and your smile shines through your eyes.  I love you, sweet boy, and hope the next four years don't go quite so quickly!