Friday, November 30, 2012

It's Friday!

What an exhausting, long week after that fun-filled, too much food-filled one last week.  This next month will be incredibly busy and filled with a lot of fun activities, so I am hoping to get some energy back!  In all of my pregnancies, I have had anemia and am beginning to think it's effects are setting in once again.  Perhaps if I go out and get those really awesome (sarcastic tone) iron pills, I'll get some pep back in my step again.  It's worth a shot!

Tonight we had a fun evening:  pizza, Charlie Brown Christmas, and ice cream.  The kids enjoyed a special treat and tomorrow they will wake to find their first Advent sack.  Since we have decided to make Saturday evenings a fun night for the kids with a movie and child-friendly dinner, our first sack includes The Polar Express dvd that we like to pull out this time of year.  We'll pair that with some hot dogs wrapped in crescent rolls with cheese, some apple slices, and veggies, and all will be good to go.  Easy for this mama and a big hit with the kiddos.  

I can't believe that tomorrow is already December.  Christmas will be upon us before we know it and then time to start prepping for Baby #4.  Time sure does fly and the kiddos are excited about being able to countdown these last twenty-five days until Christmas.  We will be spending a lot of time talking about the meaning of Christmas and that it is important to give and not just receive.  We have many wonderful books about Jesus' birth and will make sure to read one of them each night in addition to their other Christmas picks.  Some of our books for our family service project arrived today and I look forward to showing them the big pile once they all arrive.  I think we ended up with around 60!  Awesome!  

Hope you all have a wonderful weekend!


Thursday, November 29, 2012

My Life Is a 3-Ring Circus

These days I feel like I'm living in a 3-ring circus.  To say that things around the house have been challenging may be an understatement.  I currently have children at three difficult ages:  2, 3, and 5.  I'll explain a little bit why I feel this way and then when I'm done I'll share one of my favorite Christmas cookie recipes.  Ending things on a sweet note is always good!

Nothing seems to be going well around the house right now.  The little guy has decided that he is the most independent person in the household.  He insists on doing everything himself and unfortunately there is a big difference between wanting to do something and being capable of doing something.  I'm all for him putting his shoes on by himself, but most of them are too tricky and when I try to help all hell breaks loose.  He can't go around in Crocs all winter...too bad.  In addition, he wants to dress himself, open the door, get his own food, etc.  He is constantly throwing temper tantrums when we run to the store or I put him in his carseat.  It just never ends and it's getting exhausting!  Now we've added the ability to crawl out of the crib, open his bedroom door, and even dismantle the child-proof lock we have over the door handle to get out of his room.  What a circus!

The Princess has decided to boycott naps...again.  I don't think she's really ready for this, because by 4:00 in the afternoon the meltdowns begin.  Come bedtime she is a hyper-maniac and always the drama queen about this or that.  Our evening dinners have become not-so-enjoyable due to the tiredness from her and her older brother and I'm about ready to serve food at 4:30.  If she would sleep all night and go straight to bed, I may be okay with her dropping the nap, but it's just not the case.  To add to it, she's become quite the sassy-pants who pretends to not hear 75% of what I say.  Ugh...

Then there's the oldest guy.  I was just not ready for the personality changes that have come with kindergarten.  Prior to going to school he was such a sweet boy and almost always listened to us.  He rarely talked back or shot me dirty looks, but boy has that changed.  I'm not fond of these new behaviors and am trying to find a way to work through it.  It makes me very sad and I just want the sweet boy back that I had a few months ago.  

Really, this is all very tiring and deflating most days.  Mama needs a break (and kids to cooperate during nap time so that I can at least have an hour of peace during the day to recharge for the rest of the day).  I know that this, too, shall pass, but the daily challenges seem about unbearable some days, especially when I've been woken up at night by at least one of the kiddos.  Sometimes I just have days where I want to drop them off somewhere, take a nap, and go shopping without a care in the world.  I know this isn't motherhood, but a girl can dream.  This isn't meant to be a woe is me kind of post:  just a place to vent and I'm sure I'm in good company in feeling this way.  At least you know you're not alone!

As promised, I'll share one of my favorite Christmas cookie recipes:  Snickerdoodles.  I have some in my freezer right now and I'm about ready to dive right in!  Who needs lunch when you've got cookies?


1 c. butter
1 1/2 c. sugar
2 eggs
2 3/4 c. flour
2 t. cream of tartar
1 t. soda
dash salt

2 T. sugar (red and green is festive!)
2 t. cinnamon

Cream butter and sugar.  Beat in eggs.  Combine flour, cream or tartar, soda, and salt.  Add and mix.  Chill dough.  Roll in balls the size of a walnut.  Roll in cinnamon/sugar mixture.  Place 2 inches apart on ungreased cookie sheet (I use parchment paper to have less mess).  Bake for 8-10 minutes at 400 degrees.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Christmas Series Part 2: Advent Activities

For the past several years, many moms in one of my mom's groups have done an advent calendar and different activities for each day.  To date, we have never done more than open a window on the calendar or move the candy cane on our snowman.  I thought I'd take the plunge and get creative this year.  I do not have a cute calendar to use, but found an idea on Pinterest to make bags for each day and put a surprise in each one.  I may cheat and reuse my bags and my tags won't be nearly as cute, but the kids will still love it I'm sure!

This is the list of surprises I have decided to include in their bags this year.  We'll see how it goes and I may tweak it next year!  I think it sounds like a lot of fun and I hope the kids enjoy it!

Advent Bags

1.    Watch the Polar Express
2.    Make cut-out cookies
3.    Wreath craft
4.    Candy
5.    Write letter to Santa
6.    St. Nicholas Day:  Christmas shirts and coloring books
7.    Christmas CD (Laurie Berkner) and go look at lights
8.    Watch Charlie Brown Christmas and have popcorn
9.    Cut down Christmas Tree and Food Basket Donation
     10.   Christmas book and read by the fire
     11.   Make a Santa puppet
     12.   Make and send cards to those on the church list
     13.  Candy
     14.  Pizza and hot chocolate
     15.  Make cinnamon ornaments and Snowman movie
     16.  Toys for Tots drop-off
     17.  Christmas stickers
     18.  Christmas shape grilled cheese and tomato soup dinner
     19.  Make grandparent gifts    
     20.  Picnic by the tree  
     21.  Read Christmas stories by the fire with flashlight
     22.  Decorate gingerbread cookies 
     23. Christmas at Grandma and Grandpa’s house
     24. Gingerbread pancakes and Christmas at Grandma   
     25. Christmas at home!!

Monday, November 26, 2012

Comfort Food Monday

We made it through our Monday.  Back to school for my oldest guy and by 6:00 we were all beat!  Once the initial bedtime whines were handled, everyone drifted off quickly.  I think I'm shortly behind them.  Nothing like crawling into bed on this cold night with a good book and hopefully getting a good night's sleep!  I hope I don't have any late-night visitors, but I won't be holding my breath.  

Today, as you know, was Cyber Monday, but this year I didn't purchase much since I've already done so much of my online shopping already.  I did take the opportunity to use my Kohl's cash to purchase toys for Toys for Tots.  I spent about an hour stewing over what to buy and finally decided on four:  the Laugh and Learn picnic basket (we love!), Polly Pockets Just Horsing Around set, Melissa and Doug car transporter, and a Fisher Price magical tea set.  Hopefully they will help make some little one's Christmas a little bit brighter.  One of my favorite parts of Christmas is buying gifts for those in need.  We're going to take that a step further this year and give a donation as a gift for a few people.  I'll comment on that in a post down the road.  

Since it's Monday, I wanted to share an easy recipe with you.  I'm out of crockpot recipes again, so I thought I'd share one of my favorite childhood casseroles that definitely fits in the "comfort food" category:  Tator Tot!  This was a staple in our home growing up and I'm trying to get my kids on board with it!  It is still one of my favorites.

Tator Tot Casserole

1 lb. ground beef
1 can Golden Mushroom soup
1 can french style green beans
1 can mushrooms (or saute fresh)
Tator Tots
Shredded Colby Jack cheese

Brown ground beef and drain.  In a bowl, mix ground beef, green beans, mushrooms, and soup.  Pour into casserole dish.  Top with tator tots and cheese, making sure to cover the top.  Bake at 350 degrees for  30-35 minutes.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

'Tis the Season! Ideas for Kid Crafts Part 1

We can officially kick-off the holiday season!  Woo-hoo!  We are slowly decorating the inside of our house.  I am finding a home for everything in our new place and I am looking forward to adding some new touches to our Christmas decor.  My husband worked outside on the lights today and we discovered we need some more of those, too!  The kids are itching to get a tree, but we are going to hold off on that for a few weeks.  We plan to cut one down this year and I want it to last until Christmas!

I have been making lists of fun activities I'd like to do with the kids.  I am going to shoot for three craft projects a week and have plenty of coloring pages, mazes, and dot-to-dots available as well.  They are so excited about this time of year and it will be fun to do all of these projects now that they are a little bit older.  I thought I'd share a few ideas I have for this week and once we get them made, I'll post them on Pinterest and link to it from here.  For some reason, I cannot get photos to post correctly anymore and it's a bit frustrating!

I think this week we'll keep our projects fairly simple.  I plan to have the kids color a santa and glue cotton balls on for a beard.  We are also going to make Rudolph.  I found this idea on Pinterest, but plan to use a toilet paper tube and glue our pieces on it.  We are going to round out the week making felt ornaments for the felt Christmas tree I am going to make.  I hope the kids will have fun decorating it with their homemade ornaments.  I may even get crazy and pull out the glitter! 

All of these projects are simple and inexpensive.  I know the kids will love to start decorating the house with "their decorations."  I'm already planning next week's activities and can't wait to share my ideas with them.  I have nearly completed my Christmas shopping and am excited that I should be able to reach my goal of baking, crafting, and doing other fun Christmas activities with the kids instead of scrambling to get all of the items on my list.  Should be a very fun month!!  



Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Dessert...the Most Important Part of a Thanksgiving Meal!

Today I am making desserts for our Thanksgiving feast tomorrow.  I am bringing pumpkin bars and a cherry cheesecake to my in-laws.  Thought I'd share my cheesecake recipe.  It's always a favorite (and, ssh, so easy!).  Hope everyone has a wonderful Thanksgiving!

Cherry Cheesecake (No Bake)

Graham cracker crust
8 oz. cream cheese, softened
1/3 c. sugar
2 t. vanilla
8 oz. Cool Whip
Can of cherry pie filling (or other desired topping)

Beat softened cream cheese with a mixer and gradually add in sugar until well mixed.  Add vanilla and beat until smooth and mixed in.  Fold in Cool Whip.  Spoon into pie crust and refrigerate until firm.  Spoon cherries on top.  Enjoy!

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Thanksgiving Food...Yum!!

Short posts this week, as I'm busy getting ready for the holidays!  I just wanted to share a few recipes with you that would make a great addition to your Thanksgiving feast!  One of my favorite sides growing up was cheese corn (or some call it scalloped corn).  The only time I ever make it is for a holiday meal and my mouth is watering just writing about it!

Cheese Corn

1 can creamed corn
2 T. sugar
2 T. flour
1/4 t. salt
1/2 c. diced Velveeta cheese
2 beaten eggs

Mix in order given.  Bake in greased casserole uncovered at 350 degrees for one hour.

*This is easily doubled or tripled!

It seemed that my mom always had frozen fruit salad in our freezer growing up.  It's a yummy sweet side dish that is usually loved by adults and children alike!  You can make these ahead of time and pull them out when needed.

Frozen Fruit Salad

8 oz. cream cheese
3/4 c. sugar
Small or large can crushed pineapple, drained
10 oz. strawberries and juice
8 oz. Cool-Whip

Beat cream cheese and sugar.  Add drained pineapple and strawberries.  Fold in Cool Whip.  Put in cupcake wrappers or pan and freeze.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Crocking Monday Returns!

For this week, Crocking Monday returns.  I tried a new crockpot recipe the other day and thought I'd share it with you.  My husband declared it a keeper and I agreed!

Crockpot Scalloped Potatoes and Ham

3 lbs. potatoes, peeled and sliced (sliced medium thickness)
1 cup chopped onion
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
3 cups cooked diced ham
1 can cream of mushroom soup
1/2 cup water

Combine potatoes, onion, cheese, and ham in crockpot.  Mix water and soup together in a bowl and pour over top of potato mixture.  Cover and cook on high for 4 hours, or until potatoes are tender.  Gently stir before serving.  

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Busy Week? Make-ahead Dinner Option

With Thanksgiving approaching, I'm sure the week will be busy for many of you.  I am looking forward to seeing our little Thumper tomorrow, as we have our twenty week ultrasound.  We are going to take our two older kiddos along so they can "see" the baby.  We haven't told them yet, but I think they'll be excited!  I'm also kicking off some holiday baking this weekend, both to freeze and to take to Thanksgiving.  I love this time of year!

In case you are short on time this week, I wanted to share a delicious chicken casserole recipe with you that can be made ahead of time and popped in the oven an hour before dinner.  I received this as a Mommy Meal when we had our daughter and it's been a keeper!

Cheesy Chicken and Noodle Casserole

2-3 cups cooked chicken (I usually use two chicken breasts and make that enough)
2 c. grated cheddar cheese
1 can cream of mushroom soup
1 can cream of chicken soup
8 oz. package uncooked macaroni rings (I buy Barilla Cellentani)
1 tsp. chopped onion (I omit)
2 c. milk
1/2 t. salt
*add peas and/or mushrooms if your family likes them!

Mix all ingredients together and put in a 9x13 pan; refrigerate at least 6 hours; bake at 350 degrees for 1 hour.  Enjoy!

Friday, November 16, 2012

Christmas Series Part 3: The Gift of Reading

As you may have figured out by now, I love to read.  One of my "Happiness Project" goals this year, was to read at least 50 books.  I haven't counted how many books I've read to this point, but if I haven't reached my goal yet, I'm darn close!  While I love to read fiction books, this year I have stepped out of my normal reading comfort zone to include several non-fiction books.  I have enjoyed reading these very much and as the year has gone on I have been developing a big personal project that I hope to begin to tackle after the holidays (yes, even with another baby one the way!).

Reading is a wonderful activity for any age and this year we are giving the gift of reading to everyone on our list.  We put a lot of thought into the books we purchased and I hope that the recipients love them.  I think that books are a wonderful gift for children and I know our young ones love to receive them.  In our house, the philosophy is "you can never have enough books."  While I do not purchase many books for myself, we do add to our children's collection just about every month.  I love Scholastic book orders and stock up throughout the school year.  For my personal reading, I utilize the public library and the kiddos enjoy checking books out from there as well.  I have yet to upgrade to an E-reader, though I seriously considered it a few months ago.  Maybe that will happen next year, but for now I'm happy holding a real book!

Each year we participate in the Giving Tree from our church and I always make sure to include a book with each gift.  There are many alarming statistics out there about children from low-income households and their access to books.  It saddens me that there are many kids who have never had their own book and believe it or not, have never seen a book before entering kindergarten.  In this country, there is simply no excuse for this.  We have participated in many book drives in the past and love to donate books to charity.  

This year, I'd like to take it a step further during this holiday season, and make it a family project to see how many books we can provide for those in need.  This is where we need your help!  I have set up a donation button through Paypal and will take whatever money is donated, plus some of our own, to purchase books for those in need.  It can take as little as a dollar to buy a book and I think it would be amazing for our children to see what we could do.  I have coined our project "For the Love of Reading" and would like to collect donations between now and November 27th to ensure that I can get the books ordered and delivered with time to spare.

I am working with a friend to extend this effort further, but that will take some time.  For now, I'd love your help in making some child's holiday a little brighter.  Stay tuned for updates on this project!  I told you I was a stay-at-home mom with big ideas and I think this effort could make a big difference in communities!    

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Christmas Series Part 2: Cultivating Creativity

It's that time of the year when the kids are making their wish lists for Christmas and we find ourselves busy shopping for them and coming up with ideas for others.  As my kids get older (and we have more of them!), I have found that there are only so many toys we can really have.  Most of the time they think something looks like fun, but play with it very little a month or two down the road.  While we do our best to fulfill as many of those wish list items as our budget can handle, I like to add to it as well.

As I've mentioned before, I love to provide props and materials for the kids to use their imaginations.  This can be dress-up, imaginative play schemes, or art projects.  (As I sit here typing, my oldest son is dressed as a Bulls player playing a basketball game downstairs, the Princess is a ballerina dancing so beautifully, and the little guy is Snow White complete with Minnie Mouse ears!).  Today I thought I'd touch on these areas, list our favorites, and give you some ideas for creating a space to spark those imaginations!

We have quite the dress-up collection.  For a few years, we asked for Melissa and Doug dress-up costumes for my oldest son's birthday and Christmas.  They have held up beautifully and all of the kids can enjoy them.  We have no gender stereotypes in this house!  We have the police officer, train conductor, pirate, chef, and train conductor all of which have had plenty of use.  Once our little Princess came along, we bought some of the Disney princess dresses and some heels and crowns to accessorize.  Clearance Halloween costumes are always great to add to the collection inexpensively.  Given that our oldest son is a sports fanatic, we also have various athletic team jerseys, uniforms, and helmets so he can elaborate on his ideas.

A kitchen and props are a must-have in my opinion.  We bought a simple plastic kitchen set when our oldest was almost two.  That year we also received a small table with a few chairs, some dishes, and basic play food sets.  Over the years, we have acquired the Melissa and Doug cupcake and cookie sets, some vegetables that velcro together to be "cut," a breakfast, pizza, ice cream, and picnic set, as well as a cute mixer that has batteries, cash register, and microwave.  We have plenty of utensils and I have added a waitress apron and some paper scraps for writing down orders.  A grocery cart is a great way to turn your kitchen into a grocery store and you can add some cleaning supplies (a broom, duster, vacuum, and handhold broom) to allow for some housekeeping.

I also think it's important to have a building area and vehicles so the kids can make a city.  A basic set of wooden blocks are great and if you have the space the cardboard blocks are awesome, too.  You can find inexpensive car rugs that they can drive their vehicles on.  We also have a train set, wooden buildings, and a little car town that have given us hours of entertainment.  Provide some Matchbox cars, some construction vehicles, and trains and your kids can go to town, literally!

Last year our daughter's big gift was the Melissa and Doug wooden castle.  It is very durable and we bought some Disney princesses, furniture, and horses to go along with it.  Having a house and/or farm set also brings out their imaginations.  We just have the basic Fisher Price house and farm that provide enough of a setting for them to create their own scenarios.  Keep a bin of people and animals nearby to make it simple for them to engage in these activities.

Finally, creating an arts and crafts center is a must and these things make inexpensive gifts!  Now that we have more space, our newest project is to create a larger space for them to work.  We plan to buy a kids rectangular table and some chairs so they can spread out and have fun.  Stocking your area is the fun part!  You'll want to provide some basics:  crayons, washable markers, watercolor paints, glue sticks, child-safe scissors (yes, let them work with these!), construction and drawing paper, coloring books, watercolor painting books, and play dough and tools for creating like cookie cutters, rollers, and plastic knives.

There are endless supplies you can add to the basics.  If you have space, an easel is great not only for painting, but for drawing as well.  Pick up some brushes and washable paint, add a smock or old shirt and let them have some fun!  A craft center can have an endless supply of materials for projects.  Here are some of my favorite things to have on hand:  google eyes, tissue paper, pipe cleaners, paper bags, paper plates, cotton balls, poms, foam shapes or plain foam, stencils, popsicle sticks, feathers, felt, magazines, construction paper scraps, stickers, contact paper, and if you dare, glitter (or glitter glue).  I also have a glue gun, scissors with different edges, and velcro on hand just in case.  If you have a little space, you can keep some items like toilet paper or paper towel tubes, kleenex boxes, and paper shred on hand, too, for creating.

To organize your supplies, purchase a some plastic shoe boxes with lids to put those items in that you don't want accessible to the kiddos.  You may need a deeper one with a lid to store paint and play dough.  You can find a cabinet that closes with a shelf inside to store many of your supplies.  If your kids are young or you don't want them in there, you can put a child-proof lock on it to keep them out!  In our new space, I plan to have many supplies readily accessible.  I would like to buy plastic letter trays to put construction and drawing paper in.  We have our markers in an old oatmeal container that we cut down and decorated and frosting containers make great crayon holders.  I would like to add a shelf to store the play dough, paints, and craft supplies so that everything is in one place, but I can regulate the use of those messier materials.  I also plan to paint a 2X4 and add some clothes pins to hang their masterpieces or you can hang some string and use clothespins to showcase their work as well.

These activities are a lifesaver during those cold winter months when we spend a lot of time indoors.  You can find many ideas for simple craft activities online, but let your kids take the lead sometime by setting out some materials and let them go to work!                

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Bringing the Restaurant Home

Yesterday my husband and I celebrated our 7th Anniversary.  We took Sunday "off" and headed to the western suburbs of Chicago, like we had planned, to celebrate.  We had a great day shopping (which he actually did enjoy a bit), had a wonderful lunch, many treats along the way, and a lot of time to actually talk.  It was wonderful and it seems like when we get that time alone, we talk about goals for ourselves and our family.  It's very refreshing and we definitely need to do it more often!

Since we had our celebration on Sunday, we didn't do anything special yesterday.  Instead, I made a nice dinner that was a copycat recipe of Olive Garden's Alfredo sauce.  I haven't made it in years, but it was a hit with the whole family.  I am definitely going to add it into our recipe collection to be used more often.  It definitely does not rank high on the health meter, but it was yummy and kid-friendly, so that's what counts!

I got this recipe from a website that I found ten years ago.  They have a lot of recipes that taste very similar to some of your favorite restaurant dishes.  It is called  Check it out!

Olive Garden Alfredo Sauce

1 stick butter
1 pint heavy cream
3/4 c. parmesan cheese (I use the grated in the shakable container and it worked fine)
1 t. garlic powder

Put the butter and heavy cream in a pan and simmer until the butter is melted and mixed well with the heavy cream.  Add parmesan cheese and garlic powder.  Simmer for 15-20 minutes, stirring often.  If it is not thick enough for your liking, you can add a few tablespoons of cream cheese to thicken it up.  I have never used it, though.  Serve it with a side of breadsticks baked, topped with butter and garlic powder, and it's just like you're at the restaurant.  Enjoy!  

Friday, November 9, 2012

Managing our Time

Time is something there is simply not enough of.  There are kids that need to be fed, played with, taught, and cared for.  Menus need to be planned, groceries purchased, and meals cooked.  The house needs to be cleaned, de-cluttered, and organized.  Clothes need to be bought, cleaned, and put away.  The list goes on and on.  Notice just in that brief list, there are two people not mentioned:  me or my husband.

I've talked many times before about the need to carve out some time for myself.  Other than the hour I take during nap time to do whatever I want, I still struggle to make time for myself at night or on the weekends.  Earlier this week I shared a book with you that I enjoyed and in that book there were a few areas the author mentioned that would help us keep true to ourselves:  play and creativity.  As a parent, I think these may be areas in our life that get neglected.  Our "play" tends to be outside of the home and sometimes it is hard to make time to do the things we love.  Using our creativity also takes time, but much of this can be done at home, so in reality making a conscious effort to tune into our inner creativity may not be that hard to do.

I have decided to make a few goals for myself in these areas.  Using my creativity is going to be the easier of the two given the time of the year.  I love to bake, so I suppose it could be considered my play, as well as using my creativity.  Given the holidays are approaching, I am looking forward to testing out some new cookie and dessert recipes to share this season, as well as some DIY gifts.  I've also found a few cute ideas for some projects for the kids that will tap into that creative side.  Now to just gather all of my supplies and get to work!

One area in my life that I feel is truly neglected is spending time with my husband outside of the house without the kids.  My goal for us is quite simple: to get out more often.  A few weeks ago my parents came to watch the kids so we could go to a movie.  This weekend, my mother-in-law is coming so that we can escape to the far west suburbs of Chicago for a day to celebrate our anniversary.  I'm not sure what we will do with four hours of driving time that will give us the opportunity to talk without interruptions!  We also plan to shop (no, not his favorite activity, but one of mine!) for Christmas gifts and most!  We are going to a few of our favorite restaurants and I'm sure we'll find time to grab a treat or two.  I think this sounds like a wonderful day of play!  I hope that we can come up with a plan to find time for more time away together.

While there may never be enough hours in the day, I think it's important to prioritize what we do spend our time doing.  For me, it seems that my kids come first.  They take up the most time and there are many activities I will push aside (like cleaning!) if they need me.  While my kids are important, I think I need to remember that so are my husband and I.  With number four coming in about five months, it seems like we don't have a whole lot of time to put "us" near the top or at the top of the priority list.  I guess it's something we just need to do.  Hopefully our parents are up for helping us accomplish that!


Thursday, November 8, 2012

Christmas Series Part 1: Cutting Back on the Excess

In a society that has put an emphasis on "more, more more", Christmas seems to be no exception.  Sometimes I think we feel like we need to spend much more than necessary and the stores have made that easy for us by creating a longer shopping season.  If you go into some stores, you will find Christmas decorations on the shelves in July.  In fact, if you wait until closer to Christmas, you're likely to find it is all picked over and many items are gone.  Halloween has barely come and all of the stores are gearing up for the holidays.  Don't get me wrong.  I love shopping early and getting a deal, but there are times that I miss the day after Thanksgiving being the beginning of the season.  I used to fall into the trap of shopping early and having all of my gifts, but making last minute additions because I found a deal I just couldn't pass up.  Not this year!  

I tend to put a lot of thought into gift-giving for not only our children, but others as well.  I take the time to shop around for the best deal, mostly online, and this year we will be adding some DIY gifts as well.  It is fun to let the kids make a gift for their grandparents and I can't wait to get to work on those.  This year we have vowed to not carry any Christmas debt into the New Year.  We'll be paying as we go and looking forward to a non-existent credit card bill in January!   

Each year it feels that our kids receive more and more gifts (especially toys!) for Christmas.  While it's awesome that they have a lot to open, eventually many of the toys are forgotten and in reality it is kind of a waste.  I don't want our kids to have the expectation that they will receive an abundance of gifts every year, not only because circumstances could change, but because I don't want our children to become greedy and want for what they really don't need.  I think it makes receiving the items that they really want all that more special.

Obviously we are not the only people who buy gifts for our children.  Grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins all buy for them as well.  This year my mom and I have discussed cutting back on gifts many times.  My kids are young, so they will surely not miss a few gifts under the tree!  My husband and I have set a smaller budget for the kids this year and I am thrilled with what gifts we decided to purchase for the kids.  We decided to buy a few of their "wish list" gifts and also buy books from Scholastic and clothes on sale that they will need.  Mrs. Claus is an excellent sewer!   

Our older two had a few specifics they requested from Santa.  The Princess loves animals and has requested My Little Ponies, Zsu Zsu Pets, a DoodleBear and a Giraffe Dreamlite.  Many of these items are pretty inexpensive and I decided to split it up among us, my brother, and my husband's dad.  Some moms in one of my mom's groups recommended Calico Critters for little girls, so I looked into those and thought they would be perfect for my animal-loving girl.  Grandma is going to take care of that and it will be a surprise gift that I think will receive rave reviews!

My older son was even easier!  When I asked him what he wanted, he asked for a Notre Dame jersey, a Bears helmet, and a new microphone (he got one last year but it broke thanks to little brother).  He followed that up with "Santa can choose the rest!"  I thought this was awesome.  When I prodded him if he wanted any toys, he responded "No, I'm good!"  We decided to get the helmet and the microphone, while passing on the Notre Dame jersey to my mother-in-law, as they are big fans of Notre Dame.  He later requested a Notre Dame jacket, so I passed that along to my father-in-law.  In the past, I would have been more likely to pick it all up myself, but not anymore.  Spread the ideas around so we aren't just asking for gifts for to fill everyone's lists.  There are also a few items that he's mentioned along the way that he's forgotten about that my mom will get.  A black Derrick Rose jersey is one of those things and he will love it when he opens that.

The little guy is into drumming, so I found a small little drum set made by Vtech.  I am hoping he enjoys it as much as banging on my nice mixing bowls!  He's also into construction vehicles, so he is getting a cool excavator from us and a bulldozer from my mother-in-law.  When I am at a loss for him, I tend to suggest money to put in his college savings fund.  He's young and will appreciate his bank account someday!  

We also like to do a family gift.  Last year we gave the kids an inexpensive boom box.  Each kiddo received a CD that they would like and the older two got some books that came with CD's.  They are wonderful for rest time or just when they need a quiet break.  They have spent hours dancing to music and our radio has held up for the year!  Hopefully we'll be adding to the music collection, as I've suggested some new CD's to others.  This year we are planning to buy them the Nickelodeon Dance Wii game.  They all love to dance and it is supposed to be easy enough to follow along to.  Last year they received the Nickelodeon Fit Wii game and have loved it.  We aren't really into video games much, but something to get them moving on a cold or rainy day is always a bonus! 

When others ask what our kids want, I usually supply a list of books, puzzles, and appropriate clothing sizes making sure to note their current likes and favorite characters.  They are practical gifts that will get a lot of use.  Reading books is a favorite activity in our home, so we can never have enough!  I try to suggest books that reflect their current interests and are popular favorites among other families we know.  

I am a big believer in our kiddos using their creativity and imaginations.  Arts and crafts are very popular in our home, so we have suggested buying supplies to restock our cabinet.  They will provide hours of entertainment and definitely get used up.  This year I picked up a Halloween costume on clearance for each kid to add to our dress-up bins and it was a very inexpensive gift that will be fun and last awhile.  Anything to tap into those minds and pull out their own creativity! 

There are times when I feel like we try so hard to give our children so much of what they want, but is it really what's best for them?  If we take a step back and reel that in a bit, I think our children would be so much more grateful for what they do have.  Perhaps they will be upset, throw a tantrum, or pout, but it's a great life lesson.  You don't always get what you want, but in many cases less truly is more.  


Wednesday, November 7, 2012

The Quest To Do it All, Be Perfect, and Please Others...Why This May Not Be a Good Thing!

As a mother, I strive to provide my children with a well-balanced life.  I want to be involved in their education, provide them with opportunities to pursue their interests, teach them about gratitude, kindness, and the importance of helping others, provide healthy, home-cooked meals, take them on fun adventures, and much, much more.  Multiply this times three (soon to be four!) and it seems like quite the tall task.  While it brings me great joy, it can be hard to keep up with and downright exhausting!  I know that I'm not perfect by any means, but I do the best I can.   Do you find yourself in the same boat?

I just finished a great book I would recommend to all mothers (and others, too!).  It is called The Gift of Imperfection:  Let Go of Who You Think You're Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are by Brene Brown.  It is a refreshing look at how our society has evolved to put so much pressure and emphasis on pleasing others, money equating to success, and being involved in everything to seem worthy enough, that we've lost who we are as individuals:  our authentic selves.  I love that the author breaks life down into simpler terms and made me take a look at how I can work to achieve my authentic self.  Fear of being rejected, gossiped about, or misunderstood abounds, but hiding behind what you truly believe just isn't the way to go.   

From a parenting perspective, this book has given me the inspiration to dance, play, and be silly with my kids more often.  It's given me the courage to continue to advocate for my son and do what's right for him.  It's given me reassurance that our decision to limit our children's extracurricular activities is okay.  It reiterated how we don't want to give our children the impression that they need to be perfect or the best, but simply try their best and accept that mistakes will happen.  

From a personal perspective, I have realized that pursuing my dreams is important.  This may seem like an obvious statement, but it's easy to get derailed.  It's okay to take time for yourself, to take the time to tap into my creative side, to foster a hobby or two, and cut myself some slack when things don't go exactly how I had planned.  I feel more free, like some of the burden of keeping up has been taken away.  I know, it's just a book, but a thought-provoking one at that.  

Do you ever find yourself keeping an opinion to yourself because you're afraid how you will be viewed?  Do you go to a job each day that brings you no joy?  Do you find yourself overextending yourself because you're afraid of the repercussions of saying no?  Then read this book!  I loved the simplicity of the writing.  It's easy to understand and relate to and may make you reevaluate some parts of your life.  It's well-written with valid points and simple ways to dig deep inside of yourself and make some changes for the better.  In a time where people seem angry and unhappy so often, perhaps a book like this could make a positive change, if even for a few. 

I'm not going to lie, I'm on a non-fiction kick about happiness, making life simpler, getting rid of excess, and finding your true path in life.  It's not that I am unhappy with my life at all, but when I'm done reading them I feel uplifted and up to challenging myself to make some changes.  They won't be drastic (at least not at first!), but may lead to a feeling that I am worthy.  I am okay the way I am, flaws and all.  I may realize that just because I haven't accomplished my entire "to-do" list that day, I gave it my best and that's okay.  I plan to address this book again soon.  This is just a little synopsis of what I got out of it!

I will leave you with a few of my favorite quotes from the book:

"No matter what gets done or how much is left undone, I am enough."

"What's the greater risk?  Letting go of what people think or letting go of how I feel, what I believe, and who I am?"  

Happy Wednesday everyone!  

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Taking it Easy This Week...For Dinner!

This time change has really done a number on our family.  My youngest has been starting the day very early the past few days.  Today was 5:00, which is much better than the 3:30 wake-up call yesterday.  I am hoping that by the end of the week I'll at least get to see a six on the clock at wake-up time. The joys of parenting!

Today is election day and I can happily say I voted by mail.  What a wonderful way to cast your vote:  no lines, no kids to keep in check, and I could research the candidates as I went along.  I think it will be my "go-to" way to vote for awhile!  I hope that people exercise their right to vote this election.  While the candidate you chose may not win, at least you got to voice your opinion.  I think that is the most important thing.  People are quick to complain, but if you didn't vote, in my eyes you've lost that privilege! 

This week I have planned a simple, low-budget menu.  While that may sound boring, I think it is just what the doctor ordered!  I seem to equate low-budget with easy to make.  I incorporated some meat from the freezer and added in a few of the kids' favorites to create a menu that "should" please even the little people this week.  Here's a quick rundown of our menu:

Monday:  Crockpot parmesan encrusted boneless pork loin roast and baked potatoes
Tuesday:  Tacos
Wednesday:  Baked Mostaccioli
Thursday:  Pancakes and Scrambled Eggs
Friday:  Homemade Pizza
Saturday:  Homemade Fettucini Alfredo

This menu is light on meat, but to compensate for that I use Barilla Pasta Plus to add some protein and Omega-3's.  Target's Market Pantry brand has begun to make some types of this pasta as well, which has cut down on costs a bit.

Today I'd like to share our simple go-to recipe for baked mostaccioli.  You can make this with or without meat.  It is quick, easy, and my kids devour it!

Baked Mostaccioli

3/4 to full box of Penne pasta
Jar of Prego spaghetti sauce (if I use a whole box of noodles, I buy the size up from the small jar)
Mozzarella cheese
Ground beef/turkey (optional)

Cook pasta per directions on box; drain.  In a bowl, mix pasta and spaghetti sauce (and cooked meat, if using).  You want to make sure it is very saucy!  Pour into a greased casserole dish and top with shredded mozzarella cheese.  Bake at 350 degrees for 25-30 minutes, making sure it is heated through.

Friday, November 2, 2012

A Time to Give Thanks

Thanksgiving is traditionally the day we stop to take time to give thanks for our blessings.  While this is great, why not extend it?  This month I plan to take time each day to think about a part of my life that I am thankful for.  I'm thinking for the New Year, maybe I'll challenge myself to recording something daily.  I feel that I have been very blessed, so this really should not be a problem.  It may make me stop to think about the things that I take for granted and really be grateful for what we have.

I feel like we do a good job encouraging our children to acknowledge their blessings on a daily basis.  Each night, our children say prayers and then thank God for whatever comes to mind that day.  I always love to hear what they have to say each night.  Kids are pretty remarkable, as you just never know what is going to come out of their mouths!

This weekend we are having an early celebration with my immediate family.  It is our year to spend Thanksgiving with my husband's side of the family, so I was thrilled that my mom offered to host an early celebration this year.  This is the first year we've easily been able to do this since we are now so much closer to them.  Sunday will be a great day of church, rest, and sharing a meal with my family.  I am planning to bring green bean casserole and a "kid-friendly" dessert to share.  If I had more time tomorrow, I'd do something fun and creative for dessert, but I am quite busy and think I will bring either chocolate chip bars or brownies and ice cream.  My guess is that either will go over well with the kiddos.

With that being said, I thought I would share my favorite recipe for what I call chocolate chip bars.  I think the actual recipe calls them mini chip blondies.  Either way, they are delicious, and when baking it's best to error on the side of undercooked than over!

Chocolate Chip Bars
(Hershey's Mini Chip Blondies)

2 c. all-purpose flour
1 t. baking powder
1/4 t. salt
1 1/2 c. packed light brown sugar
2 T. milk
2 c. Hershey's semi-sweet mini chocolate chips
1/4 t. baking soda
3/4 c. butter, softened (I always bake with unsalted butter)
2 eggs
1 t. vanilla extract

Stir together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.  Beat butter and brown sugar in large bowl until light and fluffy.  Add eggs, milk, and vanilla; beat well.  Gradually add flour mixture.  Stir in chocolate chips.  Bake in greased 9X13 pan at 350 degrees.  Bake 30-35 minutes or until lightly browned.  Cool in pan on wire rack.  Cut into bars.