Thursday, November 21, 2013

I've Been Holding Out...

Okay, I have a little secret...I've been holding out on you.  Last year I did not share my favorite fall recipe with you:  pumpkin bars.  These bars are so delicious you can't just stop with one.  We've made them in my family for years.  I won't hold out any longer!  Here's the recipe!

Pumpkin Bars

4 eggs
2 c. sugar
2 c. pumpkin (small can)
3/4 c. butter
2 c. flour
2 t. baking powder
1 t. baking soda
1/2 t. cinnamon

Cream sugar and margarine, add eggs and pumpkin and mix.  Add dry ingredients and mix well.  Pour into greased and floured jellyroll pan.  Bake for 25 minutes at 325 degrees.  Top with cream cheese frosting.  Enjoy!

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Creating Traditions, Making Memories

Wow, it's been awhile since I've been able to post!  Finding the time these days is a little challenging, but I'll pop in and out with some new recipes for the holidays and fun kid activities as well!  I have been working hard on getting my shopping done so that I can spend time making some fun memories with the kiddos during this most very busy and special time of year!  What can I say, it's my favorite time of year!

This really is the theme of today's post:  tradition and memories.  I find it hard to believe at times that my oldest son is approaching 7.  It seems like yesterday we were anxiously awaiting his arrival and now we're about to celebrate our seventh Christmas as a family.  Throughout that period of time we've added three more kids and will be celebrating what is likely to be our last "baby's first Christmas" this year.  (Ugh, that makes me teary just thinking about it!).  This will, however, only be the second year that we will wake up in our own home on that magical Christmas morning and the first time we've ever had "baby's first Christmas" in our own home as well.  When we lived in the suburbs of Chicago, we had our own little family Christmas before we took off on our rounds, but it was always before the big day and while it was very special, nothing can compare to what we experienced last year.    

Let's back up a bit.  I knew from a young age that I wanted to be a mother someday.  I grew up in a family of four and while it was fun, I always wanted at least one little brother or sister.  When that didn't happen, I began to dream of having a big family one day.  Well, fast-forward to that day:  here we are!  I always said I wanted to have five kids, but I think that four may just be the magic number for us.  I love my not-so-little family and one of the greatest gifts that I feel we, as parents, can give them is creating traditions that will lead to lasting memories.  I have many fond memories of my childhood traditions, and while a few still remain, most of them have gone to the wayside now that I am an adult.  Now it is our turn to create traditions for our family, some we may carry over from our childhood and others we may initiate ourselves.  For someone who is incredibly sentimental, these are the gifts I treasure and I put a lot of thought into them.  Let's be honest, my life pretty much revolves around my kids so this is really a big deal to me.    

Since we made the big move last year and are much closer to both of our families, we have been given the gift of being able to create our own Christmas Day traditions.  While my husband and I are regular church-goers and value our faith, I am ashamed to admit that for years we did not go to church on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day because we couldn't fit it into our schedule of Christmas celebrations we had to attend.  Last year we made it a priority to go and we went Christmas morning.  It was wonderful.  I want my children to realize that Christmas isn't all about Santa, but more importantly Jesus' birth and I feel like while we talked about it with them and read stories, we were missing the most important piece:  celebrating at church.  This year we may try to attend a Christmas Eve mass, but if not, we'll go Christmas morning.  

Each year we spend Christmas Eve and my grandmother's house.  Last year after the celebration, we put the kiddos in their Christmas pajamas for the ride home and tucked them into their own beds.  After days of counting down, they were so excited for Santa to come!  In years past, we had sent the kids a note from Santa letting them know that he was going to be making an early appearance because he knew we wouldn't be home.  The countdown was always a little bit off.  It was our tradition to celebrate our own family Christmas the Sunday before the 25th.  Some years it was nearly a week in advance and it just never felt like the real deal.  I began to feel like our kids thought that Christmas wasn't just a day, but a week-long event of receiving gifts.  This was something that didn't sit well with me.  While we still don't fit it all into one day, it is nice to be able to condense it a bit and have Santa appear when he's supposed to instead of expecting him multiple times.

All right.  Back to the topic at hand:  let's talk traditions!  Last week I asked parents what they do on Christmas Day.  Many of those that responded said that they spend the day at home with their kids and enjoy a relaxing day.  Some start off the day with fudge or pancakes with vanilla ice cream for breakfast (I want to be in those houses!) or incorporate traditions from other countries to celebrate the diversity of their families.  Some put stockings outside the kids' doors to slow them down and others give one gift on Christmas Eve (usually Christmas pajamas) to ease into it.  Everyone mentioned food, either breakfast or a special dinner that they eat, so clearly that is an important part of people's traditions.  Some families invite grandparents or relatives over, while others reserve the day just for their family.  I loved reading through these comments!  It was so interesting to learn how people spend the day and about different cultural traditions.

What will our day look like?  We'll be woken up early by the kids (I'm sure!), turn on some Christmas music and the fireplace, and start the day off by checking to see if Santa ate his cookies and drank his milk.  We're usually very generous, so if Santa didn't eat all of his cookies, the kids each get one to eat.  We also check outside to see if the reindeer ate their carrots.  We set out plenty of food because we want to make sure Santa finds our house!  When the kids go to bed their stockings are hung neatly on the fireplace mantle, but that sneaky Santa hides them throughout the main floor of our house for the kids to find.  Usually the kiddos try to find them right away, as they are so curious about their whereabouts!  Candy is not the only thing they will find inside.  We also include snacks we don't usually have, socks, or special treasures (cars, baseball cards, hair accessories, etc.)  Once we're through with that, we have the kids sit in front of the tree with the gifts and take some pictures.  Once that is complete it's time to open presents.  We take our time with this and only one person opens a gift at a time.  In years past, the kids have had no desire to tear through their gifts.  Instead they usually take the time to test it out, especially if it's a toy or book.  I love that we don't rush through it all.  We get to see everyone's reactions and they all get the "spotlight" for a bit.  We've even taken breaks from opening gifts (and no, they don't get a ton of presents!), because they wanted to stop and play.  It warms my heart that they appreciate what they get and the "one at a time rule" is a tradition that I love.  We'll have a nice breakfast of waffles, scrambled eggs, sausage and fruit and then pack our van to head south to gather with my husband's family. 

I truly can't describe how much it means to me, as a mother, to share these special moments with my children.  They are only young once and in a blink of an eye they'll be too big for Santa and we'll have to drag them out of bed instead of rising early with excitement.  I spend a lot of time preparing for the holidays and coming up with activities for our family to do throughout Advent to get into the holiday spirit and have fun because it is important to me.  I know that I cherish the memories of Christmas morning with my family growing up and I hope my kiddos will cherish the time we spent as a family on Christmas Day as well when they are grown and with their own families.  

Oh how I can't wait to cozy up around the fire and see my kids' faces light up with excitement.  These memories are priceless! 

The stockings were hung by the chimney with care...

The kids leave their wish list and cookies by the fireplace and Santa leaves a thank you!

Mandatory photo

Friday, November 8, 2013

What a Week!

Well, I would say this has been one of the most exciting weeks I've had in awhile!  For several months I have been hinting around that something big was in the works and a few days ago I finally revealed my big plan:  a preschool!  For quite some time now I've felt that our little town really needed this, so I have been working on plans to start a preschool.  I have spent a lot of time discussing this idea with my husband, family, and a few close friends.  I've prayed about it and tried to figure out if it's a good time to do this or not and all of the signs seem to be pointing to yes.  All except one:  I can't find a stinking location!  I'm working hard on that part of it and I know that if this is meant to be, I'll find one soon.

In addition to that, I finally signed up to be a consultant with Usborne Books and More.  This is another decision I've been mulling around for months and feel like now is the perfect time.  I love their books (we have a ton of them!) and I would love to be able to build my library for the preschool and to help our charity, From Cover to Cover.  There are many parts of my life that just naturally overlap, so I really couldn't find one good reason why this wouldn't be a good option for me and my family.

We have a lot to be thankful for these days!  It's my goal to spend the month of November really focusing on this with the kids.  They are trying so hard to just fast forward to Christmas, but I think it is so important to spend some time being grateful for what we have before we slip into the "I want, I want" phase.  In my last post, I shared how we showed our neighbors we were thankful for them.  Our next "group" we are thanking are the kids' teachers.  On Monday, my daughter made each of her teachers an adorable picture and gave them some Ghirardelli chocolates she picked out at the store.  Who doesn't love chocolate, right?!

Still with a Halloween flair!

Today for a fun activity, we made name turkeys.  All it took was a small paper plate, construction paper, and googley eyes.  The Princess had to figure out how many letters were in her name, pick her feathers, make a pattern, and write a letter on each feather.  She thought it was great fun and drew a cute face on it and some legs, too.  My little guy had to count the letters in his name, choose what color feathers he wanted, and then I helped him write the letters of his name.  We glued on some eyes and once they're dry they will make a cute addition to our "masterpiece wall!"  

The cute little turkey
What a week it's been for sure!  More good things to come!

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Understanding Peanut Allergies: This is Our Life

Today I am mentally and emotionally drained.  I have these days from time to time and the causes usually vary.  Today, though, I feel this way because of a familiar struggle:  our son's peanut allergy.  To those who are fortunate enough to not have to worry about this, you may not understand how taxing this is on a parent.  We all worry about our kids, it's human nature, but the anxiety, stress, and worry a parent of a child with a life-threatening food allergy experiences is at a whole other level.

I can attest to this, because I am a mother of four.  To my knowledge, three of my children do not suffer from life-threatening food allergies.  I worry about them, yes, but life is just so much easier when you aren't navigating what feels like a mine-field.  Play date, birthday party, school, church, restaurant, sporting events....the list goes on.  No problem.  Off you go, have a great time!  These events with our oldest son, not so much.  Do we have the Epipen?  The Benadryl?  The wipes?  Safe food?  What will be served?  Have we checked the menu?  Should we let him go?  What if...  This is just a small sample of what goes through my mind on a daily basis.  It's tiring.  It makes me feel sad, angry, anxious, stressed.  We do our best to internalize these feelings and not outwardly show our struggles with these situations.  Our son realizes the dangers of peanuts and his exposure to them, but we do our best to live a normal life while taking the necessary precautions to make it "safe" for him.  

We struggle.  It is hard for those who do not live this life to understand how complex it is.  For the most part we have encountered people willing to do what's best for our son; to keep him safe and minimize his exposure.  But don't be fooled.  We experience resistance, anger, and questioning.  I'm sure we are viewed as overcautious, overbearing, high-maintenance, and difficult at times.  We advocate, we fight, we educate some more.  I am always willing to answer questions, be the classroom mom, and look over whatever is in question to help try to make it easier on others.

It's not as simple as making sure that he avoids peanuts.  That's the easy part.  It's the foods and products that they're hidden in that's difficult.  It's reading labels, researching restaurants and calling them, sifting through Halloween candy, finding safe treats for holidays, having a stash of homemade cupcakes in the freezer for birthday parties.  It's assessing the situation when traveling, attending social events, school, and extracurricular activities.  All of these things have become habit for us.  We can't afford to be lenient and "let it slide" just this once.  Once is all it takes.

My son is so much more than his peanut allergy.  He is kind, creative, smart, athletic, caring, and passionate about all things sports.  He is a wonderful big brother and a loving son.  He loves to write sweet notes to me and is quick to thank us when we do something special for him.  Unfortunately, he just has to be super careful to avoid peanuts and other nuts.  While it greatly impacts our lives and causes a lot of stress and anxiety, I know that God only gives us what we can handle.  Most days I feel like part of me "handling" this is by being vocal and trying to help people understand the severity of life-threatening food allergies.

They are an inconvenience, no doubt about it, but isn't keeping a child safe worth the inconvenience?  Please keep this in mind when precautions are put into place in schools, on airplanes, and other public places.  Do not take offense to them.  No one is trying to deprive you or your child out of spite.  These precautions are put into place to try (important word being try, we know nothing is fool-proof) to keep a child from having an anaphylactic reaction.  Epi-pens are not guaranteed to work.  People die from severe food allergies.  Those stories are not made up.  Please find it in your heart to be kind and empathetic to the children and their families that live with this daily.  We would love to be able to eat whatever we want and go wherever we want without worry.

The reality?  People won't die from not eating a peanut butter sandwich or snacking on peanuts on a plane, but my son could.  It's really that simple.  It's the little things that make the greatest difference.  When you encounter a situation where precautions are put into place, please take the time to consider how you would feel if the shoe were on the other foot.  From all of us with family members who have food allergies, we thank you!


Saturday, November 2, 2013

Lessons of Giving Thanks

Now that Halloween is over, my kiddos would love to fast forward to Christmas.  Mom has other ideas, though!  We are going to spend some time reflecting on what we are thankful for this month and come up with some good deeds we can do for others.  I feel like we do a decent job of incorporating this into our everyday lives, but lately it seems that our kiddos are becoming so focused on their own wants that we need to shift the focus a bit.  I fully understand that kids are egocentric at times, but that doesn't mean that I won't do my best to teach them to think of others, too.  

To start of the month of giving thanks, I pulled out some books to read to the kids before bed.  Tonight my oldest guy snapped up Thank You, God and read it to me.  We haven't read it in such a long time and it used to be one of his favorites when he was a toddler.  Amazing how much he's changed since then!  Our collection is a bit small and I'd love to add some more books about giving thanks and doing good deeds.

Some reading material
Since it was a pretty quiet Saturday, I decided it would be fun to bake some treats for our neighbors.  Our kiddos always love to share things with their friends that live around us.  I made some caramel corn and pumpkin muffins and mini bread loaves.  (I tried a new recipe for the muffins and bread and think I like my old one better so I won't share that today!).  My older two assisted with making today's activity and the whole family delivered the goods this afternoon.  It was a fun way to spend some time together.  When I asked the older kids about our day at bedtime they both were able to explain why we made treats for our neighbors.  I am hoping that it is something they are proud of. 

We'll be sharing more of our activities as the month goes on so stay tuned!

Working hard creating our cards

The finished product

Mixing up those muffins!