Friday, August 31, 2012

It's Never Too Early to Think About Christmas (Especially Toys!)

I consider myself a "smart" shopper.  I research products like a mad woman, shop around for the best deal (even if that means returning something to save a few bucks), and use any coupons/rebates that I can find.  My kids are getting a little older and are starting to have specific requests for presents, but if they're junk, I usually try to sway them into an alternative product that won't fall apart in a few days.  This, however, takes a lot of time.  I am not a last-minute shopper and September is a perfect month to start my quest for Christmas gifts.  In addition to my gift purchases for the kiddos, I do my best to put a lot of thought into gifts for grandparents, niece and nephews, etc.  I'm not big into giving someone something just for the sake of it.  I may take a stab at a few DIY gifts this year.  I better get moving on those!

Today I'd like to share with you a few of our favorite toys in case you are beginning your search for good gift ideas.  I plan to do a few segments on this topic.  One of the first gifts we bought our oldest son was the Fisher Price Laugh and Learn House.  Several moms in my original mom's playgroup had this and it was a hit with all of the kids.  Even as they've grown older, they still use it for make-believe.  A few other toys for the younger crowd have been big hits, too.  In both of our younger two's beds you will find the Glow Seahorse and Scout or Violet.  I also found this Tobbles toy last year that is awesome!  

For a toddler, we have found these great new toys in the past year.  The Wheely Bug and Rody the Horse.  They are great for gross motor skills and good for some laughs!  We also have really enjoyed the Fisher Price house and the Weebles Tree House.

Our daughter was just beginning her love of princesses last year and received this Melissa and Doug castle from Santa.  It has been very durable and provided many hours of fun!  I purchased a little set of Disney princesses similar to these to go with it.

For the kids who love to role play, Melissa and Doug make great dress up outfits that are very durable.  We have the police officer, chef, pirate, doctor, and train engineer and have been pleased with them all.  We also have the cookie and cupcake set that is a great addition to a play kitchen.

If you have a young video game lover, we purchased this Nickelodeon Fit game for the Wii a few years ago and the kids really enjoy it.  Our kids also love to play board games and classics like Candyland and Chutes and Ladders top their list.    

Whew, I think that's quite a bit of stuff for one post!  I'll put on my thinking cap and add some more great gifts another day.  We have some awesome books, music, and puzzles, too, and I'll share ideas for those categories!  Happy weekend!  


Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Another Year in the Books

Yesterday I celebrated my 33rd birthday.  To be honest, I have a difficult time remembering how old I am, as I brought our youngest home son on my birthday and given the excitement of the day, it seems to be the "forgotten" birthday.  Therefore, I am always a year behind!  After some quick addition, though, I remembered how old I was turning.

For some time now, I have wanted to take some time to record the last decade of my life.  After all, the past ten years have been pretty monumental.  There are times when I can't believe that it has been ten years since I graduated college and began my career, but when I look at all that has transpired over those ten years it amazes me.

I take a lot of time to record and document important milestones, "kidisms," and events in my kids' lives, but I rarely take the time to reflect on and document what is going on in mine.  I used to write in a personal journal frequently in my college years and a few years after, but once I got married and started having kids, I let that go.  When we were moving I came across those journals and spent a lot time reading them and I wish that I had more of my thoughts from the past seven years recorded.

I am going to make the effort now to compile all of that time into one document.  I know that someday I will enjoy looking back on my first decade in the "real world" and someday my kids will probably enjoy reading it, too.  I'm sure it will be comical for them, as times change quickly and we all know how fast things become outdated.  I've recently seen some pictures of our college days on Facebook and it makes me laugh to see how "outdated" the people look.  Who would have thought?  I think I often feel like the look we had was timeless, but it is definitely not!

Have you taken the time to record your life at all?  I think it will be fun, for the most part, to relive the past ten years.  I may get a little sad remembering the days of 'ole, but I know that I will love having these special years recorded for a trip down memory lane in the future.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Crocking Monday!

It seems that most people are in the full swing of school, so what better way to start out a busy week than with another crockpot recipe.  I found this Swiss Steak recipe on when I was on my quest to find some new recipes.  While my picky kiddos didn't quite enjoy it, my husband and I sure did!  It's a nice hearty, healthy meal.  I hope you enjoy it as well!

Crockpot Swiss Steak
1/4 c. all-purpose flour
salt and pepper to taste
1 1/2 lbs. round steak, cut into small pieces
3 T. vegetable oil
3 stalks celery, chopped
1 onion, chopped
3 carrots, shredded
2 (14.5 oz) cans diced tomatoes with juice
1 T. Worcestershire Sauce
2 T. brown sugar

1.  In a shallow bowl, mix the flour, salt, and pepper.  Lightly coat the found steak pieces in the flour mixture.
2.  Heat the oil in a skillet over medium heat, and saute the celery, onion, and carrots about five minutes or until tender.  Remove from heat, and set aside.  Mix in the round steak pieces, and cook until lightly browned.
3.  Place vegetables and meat in crockpot.  Mix in the tomatoes with juice, Worcestershire sauce, and brown sugar.
4.  Cover and cook on low8-10 hours until meat is very tender.

Serve with mashed potatoes.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

"Souper" Sunday

Sunday is a great day to make soup, especially as fall draws near.  Great lunch leftovers and more often than not, they're quite healthy!  Today I'd like to share with you a hearty, Vegetable Beef Barley soup that is one of our favorites!

Vegetable Beef Barley Soup

V-8 Hot and Spicy (6 cups)
2 cups water
1/3 cup onion
1 T. salt
1/2 t. pepper
1/4. t. chili powder
2 bay leaves
2 pkgs. vegetables for soup (frozen)
1/2 c. barley
Package beef stew meat (cut up into smaller pieces)

Brown beef until brown on the outside, but still a bit pink on the inside.  Combine all ingredients in large pot and simmer for one hour.  Serve with warm bread

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

So You're Child's Class is Peanut/Nut Free? Snack and Treats that are Safe

As you know, our oldest son has a severe peanut and tree nut allergy.  We have to be very careful what food we offer him and have to read every label.  For those of you that need some help with "safe" snack selections for your children in school, I thought I'd put together a list for you to refer to.  DISCLAIMER:  PLEASE double-check the label, as there are times when they may have an error on a manufacturing line that causes them to put a warning on that label.  These are some phrases you are looking for to indicate that the food is NOT safe:  "Processed or manufactured in a facility that uses peanuts/tree nuts, may contain peanuts/tree nuts, or shared equipment."  There are a few companies out there that will say "Peanut Free Facility."  One of the worst brands for nut safety is Wal-Mart's generic brand Great Value.

By no means do I feel that I can "guarantee" this list, but we read the labels and tend to trust what they say.  By law, a company must put on the label if it contains one of the top eight allergens, but it is voluntary to put on "may contains" or "processed in a facility."  Many companies will add this information, though, if there is a possible danger.  Handling allergies is a tricky thing to do!    

"Safe" Snack List:

Sunmaid Raisins
Keebler Bug Bites graham crackers
Keebler Scooby-Doo Cinnamon graham cracker sticks
Kellogg’s Multi-Grain All-Bran Crackers
Nabisco Honey, Cinnamon, and Chocolate Teddy Grahams
Nabisco Original Wheat Thins
Rold Gold classic style pretzel sticks
Graham Crackers (Nabisco, Honey Maid)
Fresh fruit (oranges, apple slices, grapes, strawberries, bananas, etc)
Fresh vegetables
Motts, Musselmans Applesauce
Ritz Crackers
Nutri Grain Cereal Bars – strawberry or apple cinnamon
General Mills Whole Grain or Regular Cheerios
Unsweetened fruit cups
Sliced cheese or string cheese *WALMART GENERIC BRAND IS NOT SAFE*
Keebler Original Crackers or Townhouse Original or Wheat Crackers
Sunshine Cheeze-its or Nabiso Cheese Nips
Pepperidge Farm Goldfish
Pirate Booty
Betty Crocker or Kelloggs Fruit Snacks
Carrots/celery and dip
Thomas Mini bagels
General Mills Cinnamon Toast Crunch Cereal, Golden Grahams, Lucky Charms
Kelloggs Fruit Loops and Apple Jacks
Nabisco Vanilla Wafers
Betty Crocker Vanilla, Chocolate, or Rainbow Chip Frosing
Kellogg’s Frosted Strawberry Pop-Tarts or Cinnamon Pop-Tarts
Kraft jet-puffed marshmallows
Nabisco Oreo Double Stuffed Cookies
Jell-O cups or Pudding Cups
Hunts Pudding Cups
Kellogg Rice Krispie Treats
Special K bars, strawberry
Nabisco Barnum and Bailey Animal Crackers
Nabisco Chips Ahoy or Chewy Chips Ahoy
World Gourmet Veggie Straws or Chips

If you're looking for "safe" candy treats, these are my "go-to" choices:

All Tootsie products 
Regular Hershey Milk Chocolate Kisses (though double-check around the holidays due to the special candies)
Hershey Chocolate Chips (NOT White Chocolate)
Dum Dums Lollipops
Laffy Taffy

Keeping my little guy safe takes time, effort, and being incredibly thorough!  

Monday, August 20, 2012

Crocking Monday

My blog continues to be neglected and it makes me a bit sad.  It is for a good reason, though.  I'm spending hours and hours researching about how to advocate for my child and ensure that he will be safe while attending school.  This has no longer become just about us.  We are educating doctors on the law and will be taking this information to the school district next.  Mama's on another mission.  This will benefit many in the end!

Today is Monday, so that means sharing another crockpot recipe.  Given that football season will be upon us soon, I thought I'd share a recipe for BBQ Pulled Pork.  I have a few different recipes, but this was my original that has been a staple for our family birthday parties since we had our oldest guy's first party.

BBQ Pulled Pork

Pork Shoulder Roast (I use 4-5 lbs)
2 18 oz. bottles of BBQ sauce (I use Sweet Baby Ray's Hickory Brown Sugar)
2 Tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 teaspoons brown sugar
1 medium onion, chopped (option, I do not use)

Cut as much fat as possible from roast.  Place the pork roast, lemon juice, brown sugar, and BBQ sauce in the crockpot and cook on low for 10-12 hours.  Take out of crockpot and shred.  Spoon liquid over top of pork until desired "sauciness" is achieved.  Serve with extra BBQ sauce.

This goes wonderfully with baked beans!    

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Prepping for Preschool

We have been working hard this summer preparing the princess for preschool.  I think it is important to expose her to as many types of preschool activities that I can so that she can build some confidence.  She is definitely much more dramatic than our older son and tends to frustrate easily, so I thought giving her a "leg up" might be a good idea.

What are some good "preschool prep" activities?  First, we have spent a lot of time being as independent as possible in the bathroom.  Pulling down and up her own clothes, wiping, flushing, and washing her hands.  These are all things we have been working hard on over the past month.  I have found that teaching a girl to be independent in the bathroom is a little more time consuming than a boy! When she is successful, she is very proud of herself and proclaims her "big girl" status.

We have also spent a lot of time working on fine motor skills.  While many girls love to color for hours, she is more of the "hurry up and finish" type.  I pulled out my back-to-school folder from teaching and found a nice big school bus for the kids to color.  The little guy went to town!  With my older two, I put a little more emphasis on coloring within the lines.  Both were up to the challenge and ended up competing against each other.  

Working on their school bus

We also did some activities to practice her name.  I shared the sticker names with you before, which is great for name recognition and learning the letters in their name.  This time, though, I gave her a paper that I had written her name on in dots so that she could trace them.  She loved this activity and begged for me to give her more names to trace.

Working hard tracing her name

I thought it was important to expose her to glue and scissors as well.  We did several activities this summer using both glue sticks and bottled glue.  She really loved to participate in those activities, but did not really care for the stickiness on her hands!  I also let her explore with scissors by cutting play dough and scrap construction paper.  She had seen her brother use scissors many times before and was excited to be joining in on the fun.

We have been working on listening, following directions, and handling conflict as appropriately as a three-year-old can.  She gets a lot of practice with this being sandwiched between two brothers. We have ventured out to storytime several times this summer and have been working on sitting through the stories, sitting on her bottom with her legs crossed, and participating in the craft activities with as little help from me as possible.  

She is more than ready to head off to school.  Every day she asks if it's her turn to go, but we still have another week.  I love that she is so excited and I look forward to watching her grow throughout this next year.  It's finally her turn to be a big kid!

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

The First Day of School

We've made it to the first day of school.  This has been a long, emotionally draining week as we have run into some difficulty with the school district's policies on peanut allergies, but we are working on it.  That post is for another day!

Today I'd like to share a fun back-to-school snack I did with the kiddos.  We got out some graham crackers, Golden Grahams, Oreos, and yellow frosting and created a school bus.  It's so easy, but the kids loved it.  I let them all spread their own frosting on, so that was a big treat!  Here's the process!

We sang "The Wheels on the Bus" to go along with our activity.  A yummy treat!

Here's my little guy on his first day of school!  Each year I plan to take his photo with a sign like this to keep track of the years!

Monday, August 13, 2012

Crocking Monday

This is the big week.  My little guy starts kindergarten on Wednesday.  He is excited, I am nervous and sad, but in the end it will be an exciting adventure for all of us.  I am trying to say this with positivity and excitement.  Inside, though, I'm just not feeling it!

A new school year brings about some chaos, though.  Don't let dinner add to your stress.  Here is a very simple, delicious Italian Beef recipe.  It makes a lot of meat, so you can easily throw some in the freezer to pull out for a later meal.  This has been a big hit at birthday parties and our moving help a few months back loved it!

Crockpot Italian Beef

Sirloin tip roast
1 packet Italian dressing seasoning
1 box beef broth

Combine all of the ingredients in the crockpot, making sure to cover meat with liquid and cook on low for 10-12 hours.  Remove meat from crockpot and shred in a 9x13 pan, removing fat.  Once shredded, pour some of the liquid from crockpot into the pan making sure there is plenty of juice.  Serve on Italian Beef rolls (yes, they make these!) with sliced Provolone cheese and peppers if desired.

Friday, August 10, 2012

A Little Fun With...Cookie Cutters!

One year, I asked for a large set of Wilton cookie cutters for our oldest son.  By large, I mean a set of 100.  They run about $15 and can be used for so many more things than just cutting out cookies!  We have had a lot of fun with our set of cookie cutters, as there is a large variety of shapes to fit any mood or "favorite" theme of the week.  I have also baked my fair share of cut-out cookies for birthday parties using this set.  It is a great buy in my eyes!

This morning we decided to have a little fun with out breakfast.  I made my "special" cinnamon toast and found a shape that I thought each kid would think was fun on this cloudy morning.  I chose a train for the little guy, a butterfly for the princess, and a stegosaurus for my oldest guy.  Of course they loved it and started their day off with a little treat.  This is also a great way to spice up a sandwich or grilled cheese.

Cutting out shapes in play dough is also one of their favorite activities.  I like to pull out the shapes by theme, especially for holidays, and let the kids go to work.  This set also includes the alphabet, so they could cut out the letters in their name and put them in order.  While the store-bought play dough is great, I think this really works best with homemade, as there is more to work with.

Another way to use those cookie cutters is to get out some paper plates, put some paint on them, and let the kids dip the cutters in the paint and make a collage on some heavy paper.  This is a great fine motor activity and an easy way for the kids to paint without making a huge mess.  You could take this activity one step further and have them choose two or three shapes, depending on their age, and have them create a pattern.  You can also give them the letters in their name and have them paint it on paper.

When it comes time for the holidays, you can use the cookie cutters make gifts for grandparents and teachers.  Make some applesauce ornament dough and let the kiddos choose which shape they'd like to make.  An easy and inexpensive gift that they will take great pride in!

These are just a few ways you can utilize a simple set of cookie cutters.  I have also used them for creating behavior and sleep charts by tracing a favorite shape, like a train, and having them put a sticker inside.  The list goes on and on!

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Back-to-School Preparation

Summer is winding down for our kiddos and we have been working on prepping for the beginning of the school year.  This is my first year with two kids attending school, so I've had a little more work to do to get ready.  We have tackled the school supply and clothes shopping, now we are just preparing the kids for what's to come.

This week we pulled out all of our school books.  I had several of these from when I taught years ago and the kids have eaten them up this year.  I think it's important to spend some time talking about what they can expect once they go to school and what will be expected of them.  Reading these books opens up the dialogue and we often find ourselves answering some very good questions put into their minds by the stories.  A few of our favorite back-to-school books are Franklin's First School Day by Paulette Bourgeois and Tucker's Best School Day by Susan Winget.  

We also like to read books that address some of the emotions they may be feeling.  The Kissing Hand by Audrey Penn helps kids with the blues about missing Mommy.  One of our new favorites Pete the Cat:  Rocking in My School Shoes by Eric Litwin can help with the school jitters, while Fox Makes Friends by Eric Relf is a great story about making friends.

Now that we have a child going into elementary school, I would like to start a back-to-school tradition. I think I am going to type out a little blurb that includes the following:  favorite food, color, activity, and tv show, as well as what they want to be when they grow up.  I will leave space at the bottom to include their first day photo.  These will be small enough to store and when they graduate I can put all of the pages together and give it to them as a gift.  It will be a fun little keepsake!

I have a few more items on my list that I need to address before next week:  lunchbox ideas and "training" everybody to get through their morning routine by the time we need to leave.  I will be working hard on those items over the next few days and hope to have success by the time school rolls around on Wednesday.  I think coming up with lunch ideas will be the trickiest, but I am sure I will find many great ideas on the worldwide web!

Stay tuned for some more posts focusing on back-to-school topics.  I have a few fun projects and snacks up my sleeve to get everybody in the spirit!

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Party On!

It's late, I'm pooped, but I'm waiting for my kids to fall asleep after a fun-filled day celebrating my mom's birthday.  The kids had so much fun preparing for the "party" and are now sugar-filled, overtired little beasts.  Perhaps they'll sleep in tomorrow.  (This was said with sarcasm...I know better!).

One of the great things about being so close to family is the ability to host gatherings for life's little celebrations.  Thus far we've hosted a Father's Day bbq, the big family birthday party, and now my mom's birthday dinner.  These are moments that can easily be taken for granted, but living far away has made me appreciate them so much more.  No advanced planning required!  This is great!

My kids each made Grandma a homemade card.  I love to do this with each of them and record their narrative about what they've drawn.  It is fun to see how they've grown, too.  Their people have more features, there's more "drawing" than a few scribbles, and now we even have an inventive speller on our hands.  The grandparents love these cards so much more than a store bought card.  I'm pretty sure my mom is keeping them all!  

We made some cupcakes to enjoy after dinner and all of the grandkids sang "Happy Birthday" to Grandma.  Our little guy had been practicing all day and by the time it was showtime he had his version down:  "Happy Birthday to Grandma, Happy Birthday to Grandma, Happy Birthday to Grandma, Happy Birthday to Grandma."  So adorable (and I'm pretty sure he told her "Happy Birthday" at least fifty times today).  My mom loved it!  

We just did a little bbq for dinner.  I ask everyone to bring whatever they want to grill and we provide the sides.  Tonight I made baked beans, cheesy hash brown casserole, and a mandarin orange salad.  My husband laughs at the idea that this is a salad, but as a non-lettuce lover it's a salad in my book!  I'm sure many of you will agree with him as well, but if you're looking for a sweet side, this is it.  My niece could not get enough of it and begged for the recipe to take home.  This is best if you make it shortly before your event.

Mandarin Orange Cookie Salad

1 cup buttermilk (not the mix)
3 oz. package instant vanilla pudding
8 oz. Cool Whip
15 oz. can mandarin oranges, drained
2 sections Fudge Stripe Cookies

Combine buttermilk and pudding.  Whisk until smooth.  Fold in Cool Whip, drained mandarin oranges, and one section of the cookies.  Top with the rest of the cookies.  

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

A Small-Town Girl With Big Dreams

I grew up in a small town and by small, I mean on a farm outside of a town with a population of around 200.  My husband describes it to those who don't know the town as a place with a bar and a church.  It's pretty close to accurate!  I had a wonderful childhood, but always felt like there was a little more to see in the world than where my roots were.  I'm telling you, I've always been a dreamer!

After college, I took off on an adventure to the big city of Houston, Texas.  I packed up my belongings in a small trailer and drove 16 hours with my parents to a town where I knew no one to take a teaching position I had accepted just a week before.  Looking back I applaud that girl who followed her heart and took off after her dreams.  At the time it didn't seem frightening in the least, but ten years later I can see why my parents were quite nervous about leaving their daughter behind.  It was definitely a wonderful decision and I had a very enjoyable and successful beginning to my teaching career.  As an extra bonus, I met a wonderful group of friends that were also Iowa transplants.  We were all teachers and quickly became inseparable.  Those were some of the best years of my life.  It really paid off to follow my dream and heart and I am so grateful for the experiences that I had.

Long story short, I swore that I would never return to my roots.  I wanted to live near a big city and be in on the action.  We were livening in the suburbs of Chicago when we had our first child and all of that quickly changed.  He wasn't even six months old and we decided that we were ready to return to Iowa.  Unfortunately, it was just not in the cards at the time, as the housing market was on the cusp of crashing.  It took four years, but persistence paid off and we made it back to Iowa and moved to a small town no less.  No we did not move back to a farm nor to my hometown, but we're relatively close.  I've come full-circle!

Some of you may wonder why we were drawn back to this lifestyle?  First and foremost:  family.  Both my husband and I grew up living quite close to our grandparents and we wanted this for our kids as well.  I look forward to the special times my kids will get to spend with their grandparents now that we are so close.  Already they have each had a turn spending one-on-one time with my parents overnight and been thrilled to be able to have that time alone with them.

One of the most appealing aspects of small-town living is the sense of community.  Most people gravitate to this style of living with the intention of laying down their roots and settling in for the long haul.  That is definitely what we plan to do.  I hope that this is our forever home where our kids grow up and further on down the road return with their kids.  To me, it is important to be an active member in the community.  My dad had his hands wet in many activities both when I was growing up and long after I had flown the coop.  My mom was also very active and visible and spent 20 years serving the community in the school system.  It's in my blood to get out there and get my hands dirty in our new little town.

As I mentioned a few posts before, I was working on a few ideas and they just happen to be ways to get involved in the community.  Our town is growing and full of young families with kids.  While I desire to be at home with my kids, there is a big part of me that misses teaching and interacting with young children and their parents.  After some serious brainstorming and praying for guidance, I decided to approach the local recreation board about offering early childhood classes for kids not yet in kindergarten.  For years I have wanted to teach a music class for this age group and it is finally going to happen.  In addition, I plan to teach a little "toddler academy" focusing on a theme each week and incorporating a story, craft, and play time.  I could not be more thrilled that they were receptive to this idea and the best part is I get to take the kids along!

I have a few months to prepare for this new adventure and I am looking forward to using the creative side of my brain to come up with some fun activities for these classes.  I feel like this is just the beginning of what is to come, as I have an even bigger plan for down the road.  It will take some time and research, but I hope that sometime in the next few years my dream will become a reality.  It never hurts to dream big!  You just never know what may happen!

Monday, August 6, 2012

Crocking Monday

It's Crocking Monday!!  Today I'd like to share a recipe with you from a small cookbook we have called Slow Cooker Suppers For the Cookingly Challenged.  My mom actually gave this cookbook to my husband before we were married, though I don't think it was really put into use until we had sealed the deal!  Today's recipe is Chicken Breasts in Wine Sauce.  Warning:  this smells delicious while it's cooking and makes my stomach growl all day!

Chicken Breasts in Wine Sauce

6 chicken breasts, bone in (though I usually use boneless)
1 medium onion, sliced (I omit)
1 7 oz. can mushroom stems/pieces drained (fresh is better!)

Mix the following three ingredients:
1 can cream of mushroom soup
1/2 cup sherry wine or white wine (I use white)
2 tsp. Italian herb seasoning

1 8 oz. carton sour cream (I have substituted plain Greek yogurt with great success)

Place ingredients in slow cooker in order listed above, stopping with the soup mixture.  Don't put sour cream (or yogurt) into pot at this time.  (If you use fresh mushrooms, you may want to add them in the last hour of cooking).

Cook six hours on low or three hours on high.  Remove chicken pieces to serving platter.  Add sour cream to slow cooker and mix well, but don't cook any longer.

Serve the wine sauce over chicken and serve over rice or mashed potatoes.  (We have also used egg noodles, as it is like a chicken stroganoff).

Sunday, August 5, 2012

A Twist on Tacos

It was a great weekend to plan some fun activities with the kids, as we had no plans at all!  We opted for some "active" activities that are hard for one person to tackle alone with the three kiddos.  Yesterday we took the kids to our local YMCA for some swimming time.  They enjoyed it and slept quite well.  Note to self:  good idea to wear them out!  Today we hit a park at our school and played a family game of baseball.  The kids thought it was pretty funny to see Mommy hitting the ball!  We also worked on our climbing muscles.  They should sleep well tonight, too.

Today is a perfect summer day for grilling.  Tonight we are having a delicious grilled chicken taco recipe for dinner that one of our dear friends made for one of our family dinners before we moved.  For some reason Mexican food is a big hit in our household for most of the crew, so we seem to incorporate it into our menu at least once a week.  Tonight we're moving away from the spiciness and trying something more sweet and refreshing.  The recipe is from Taste of Home and is delicious!

Summertime Chicken Tacos

1/3 c. olive oil
1/4 c. lime juice
4 garlic gloves minced
1 t. minced parsley or 1 t. dried parsley flakes
1 t. ground cumin (we omit)
1 t. dried oregano
1/2 t. salt, optional
1/4 t. ground pepper
4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
6 flour tortillas (8 inches) or taco shells warmed
Toppings of your choice

In a large, resealable plastic bag combine first 8 ingredients; add chicken.  Seal bag and and turn to coat.  Refrigerate 8 hours or overnight, turning occasionally.

Drain and discard marinade.  Moisten a paper towel with cooking oil; using long-handled tongs, lightly coat the grill rack.  Grill chicken, uncovered, medium heat for 5-7 minutes on each side or until a thermometer reads 170 degrees.  Cut into thin strips; serve in tortilla or taco shells with desired toppings.  Serves 6.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Sometimes You Need A Little Pick-Me-Up

This week I have admittedly taken a little break from my normal routine.  Planning, preparing, and hosting the family gathering last weekend emptied my tank and I needed a full week to try to replenish my energy!  I feel like we've let one of our last few weeks of summer slip by, but I was just too wiped out to do much and so were the kids.  I took them on a field trip on Monday to see the John Deere Pavilion, but other than that we were homebodies watching the Olympics and playing some new sports we've seen on tv.  I'm glad my kids have great imaginations, because they've filled those hours to the fullest!

This week I took the time to read a few books.  Today I'd like to share a little review on a book that would be great for any mother to read.  It's called You're Already Amazing: Embracing Who You Are, Becoming All God Created You to Be by Holley Gerth.  I found the title on Amazon when it was brought up in the "You may also like this" section under a book title I had already read.  It sounded interesting and I'm glad I picked it up!

We all know that being a parent is an overwhelming, never-ending job.  I know I always feel like I could be doing a better job, giving my kids more, providing more experiences for them, etc.  Most days I feel like I am just not doing enough.  I analyze situations that I didn't handle the way I would like, brainstorm ways to "fix" some of the problems we have with our kids, and make endless lists of activities I would like to do with them.  The problem is, there is just not enough time in the day to everything I'd like to do.

Perhaps, I need to cut myself some slack.  At least that's what the author of this book is suggesting.  One of the reasons I enjoyed this book is because it helps you take a step back and look at who you are.  Each chapter helps you to identify your strengths and encourages you to build upon them.  She helps you see in what ways you can put your strengths to work to make yourself feel happy, useful, and direct you to activities that you will succeed in.  Perhaps those areas in your life that you have viewed as weaknesses for so long really aren't.  It is just not how your mind is wired.  It's okay!  (Sigh of relief).

I know I always have a desire to do more, both for my family and myself.  I have endless to-do lists and set goals for myself that I work to achieve.  While I like to visually see my goals and cross them off the list, I don't always achieve what I had hoped and it can be a little disappointing.  Here is an idea from the book that I like, though:  the "Do What You Can Plan."  Here's a great example:  I'd like to exercise at least four times a week, but it just doesn't always work out.  Instead of beating myself up about it, the author suggests just doing what I can.  If I can only fit in a few push-ups and crunches a day, then so be it.  At least I've done something.  Of course this can be applied to many areas in my life.  I think it's a great idea!  

To me, though, the most important chapter was about taking care of yourself.  I know that I don't take nearly enough time for myself.  It's something that I've been trying to work on for awhile.  In fact, you can find it listed under a personal goal in My Happiness Project journal.  I've read this in various magazines and books and no matter how hard I try, I always sell "my time" short.  I have come to realize that I need to make this a priority.  Somehow I need to schedule in some kid-free time either alone, with friends, or my husband.  In the end it will make me a better mother, wife, and person in general.  Everybody needs some time to re-energize themselves.  We don't have to feel selfish or ashamed about it.  It is just a simple truth.

If you're looking for a book to help you understand a little bit more about yourself and your tendencies, then this is a good read.  This book is focused on leading a life that God has planned for you, so there are many biblical references.  The author helps the audience relate these verses to everyday life and offers some suggestions on how we can use our strengths to enrich our families and community.  

After reading this book, I feel like I'm on the right path in my life journey.  It was easy for me to find where my personal tendencies lie in each section and it came as no surprise in most cases.  I enjoy being a leader, working with many people, and am full of ideas that I enjoy putting to use to help others.  Now that we are settling into our community, I am working hard to find ways to put these skills to work.  Just this week, I acted on a few ideas.  If they come to fruition, I will share them with you.  

We have to remember:  life is a journey, not a destination.  There are always new adventures waiting around the corner and we just have to figure out our paths to achieve His plan.  Regardless of how we feel we are doing at the moment, it's okay:  we're still amazing in God's eyes! 


Wednesday, August 1, 2012

It's August...That's Means the Dreaded "K" Word

It always seems that summer starts off slow and before I know it July is gone.  Well, that is the case again this year!  This year, though, August means a few new things to our family:  the princess will begin her preschool days and our oldest will begin what has come to be the dreaded "K" word for me.  Kindergarten.  All day.  Five days a week.  Where did the time go?

Let's start with the princess.  She is heading off to her first year of preschool and could not be happier.  After all, she has waited two years for it to be her turn to head to school.  This is a pleasant change for me.  Sending our oldest off to preschool was hard for me to do.  No longer would he be protected by mom, but sent out in a world that may or may not be so kind to him.  Luckily, it was the former, and he had a wonderful preschool experience filled with great teachers and friends.  Though he was unsure and shy for a great deal of those days, he blossomed into a little boy who no longer faded into the crowd.  You could often find him being the leader of some imaginative game.  

This experience has given me much more confidence in sending our daughter off to school.  Her personality is different than his, however.  While he was shy and reserved, she is an outgoing, excited, social little girl.  I've seen some times where she stands off a little shyly, but I think she'll do great.  She cannot wait to go make new friends and take her turn at school.  While our oldest rarely bucks the rule system, little miss spunky may get into a little mischief while off at preschool.  In the least, she'll keep everyone on their toes.  Time will tell!    

Now onto the "K" word.  There are several reasons why I am dreading the first day of kindergarten.  From a mother's standpoint, it seems unthinkable that my first-born is ready for this transition.  Those first years seem to go by slowly but then in a blink of an eye it's time for school.  How is that possible?  He is more than ready to head off to school (I think!), but am I ready to let him go?  What will I do all day without my chatty little baseball fanatic around to educate me on his latest baseball game and keep track of all the trouble his siblings are getting into?  What will my little ones think when their big brother is gone all day?  

Another reason I am dragging my feet about kindergarten is the stigma that surrounds school these days.  It seems like everywhere you turn, you hear about kids being bullied, tormented, and treated poorly.  I think most parents would agree that you naturally fear your child will become a target of someone that is not so kind.  This seems to start early and I pray that my sweet little boy will not be picked on.  He is such a kind, polite, friendly little guy that I hope he is able to stick up for himself if any nastiness comes his way.  It is just so sad that we have to worry about these things, especially at the young age of five.  

Of course his food allergy is a concern.  I know that the school will do all that they can to ensure that he is safe while he is in their care, but it will be hard to not be around to check everything and protect him from any possible harm.  Like I mentioned before, I am worried about him being isolated because of it or being picked on because he's different.  I think worry may become my middle name!

Maybe to some of you, this sounds a little over-the-top.  For me, though, it's the first step in letting go.  He's primarily been at home with me for nearly 5 1/2 years and it has been comforting knowing that I could watch over my kids and keep them safe.  I will admit that I am hyper-sensitive when it comes to my children and it will break my heart that first day he comes home to tell me about being left out or someone being unkind.  When my kids hurt, I hurt.  It's just how I am.  I know that it's great practice for the real world.  I have had my fair share of let-downs, heartbreak, and hurt feelings.  Perhaps some of those experiences I had growing up have made me more sensitive about what's to come. 

 In a perfect world, my little guy would be liked by all, treated with kindness and fairness all of the time, and succeed at everything he puts his mind to.  In reality, I know this is not the case.  It will be a learning experience for us all.  He will pave the way for the rest of our brood and I'm sure teach us all a few lessons along the way.  I'm not sure who will be more nervous that first day of school, me or him.  Either way, I will make sure that I send him off with a reassuring smile and hug while saving those tears for the ride home!  

Only two weeks until the adventures begin!

The Three Amigos...