Monday, June 23, 2014

Stuffed S'Mores Bars

We had some friends over yesterday to for a little "Go USA!" soccer party.  We are not big soccer fans, but it was a good excuse for a party and fun to watch.  Our original plan was to have a BBQ, but with a sketchy weather forecast, I switched it to a Mexican theme combined with some Americana-inspired food.  What is more American than chocolate chip cookies or s'mores?  Why not combine them?  That's what I did today:  stuffed S'mores bars.

I had only made this once before, so I was a little nervous they weren't going to turn out...but they did!  These are easier to make than the cookies, so if you're pressed for time, I'd try this route.  I would recommend spreading a layer of cookie dough on the bottom of your pan and letting both that and the rest of the dough chill.  It was much easier to work the dough for the top because it was not quite so sticky.  Enjoy!

Stuffed S'Mores Bars

2 stick unsalted butter, softened
1 c. sugar
3/4 c. brown sugar
2 eggs
1 T. vanilla
3 1/2 c. flour
1 t. baking soda
1 t. Kosher salt (do no substitute other types of salt; the coarseness makes it great!)
2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips
Graham crackers (break sheets in half)
3 Hershey chocolate bars (broken into chunks of three pieces)
Large marshmallows (cut in half with a wet, sharp knife)

Combine butter and sugars with a mixer until smooth and creamy.  Add eggs and vanilla.  Mix until well blended.  Add one cup of flour, soda, and salt.  Mix.  Continue mixing in flour one cup at a time until all 3 1/2 cups have been added.  (It makes very stiff dough!).  Mix in chocolate chips.  Layer bottom of a 9x9 pan with half of the dough and refrigerate.  Chill other half of dough.  Once chilled, layer a sheet of graham crackers throughout pan.  It does not completely cover it, so I broke sheets in half for the bottom row.  Place Hershey bars on top of each sheet. Add a marshmallow and top with another sheet of graham cracker.  Flatten balls of cookie dough and place on top of the graham crackers doing your best to cover entirely.  Bake at 350 for 30-35 minutes.  Serve warm.

Layer on bottom

All done!

A warm, gooey, delicious dessert!


Thursday, June 19, 2014

Saying "Yes!"

This past year I have begun to follow many Christian blogs and they have made a tremendous impact on my life.  Many of the bloggers I follow are also published authors and I have chosen to read many of their books.  I must say, I have felt truly inspired by many of them.  Today I finished Rhinestone Jesus by Kristen Welch.  Her blog, We are THAT family is very well written and I agree with her parenting philosophy, so I assumed I would enjoy reading her book.

Wow.  Did I ever.  She encompasses much of what I aspire to do in life:  be a good mother, live a faith-centered life, serve others where God sees fit, and to share my story.  I admire those who have been able to be successful and achieve their goals, while continuing to be a "normal" mother raising her family.  The book turned out to be the pep-talk I've been so desperately craving.

Lately I've lost steam.  I have my hands in a lot of pots, but I'm going to take the advice of the author and focus on my "one."  Rather than spreading myself too thin and giving a less-than-all effort, I am going to focus my service in an area I feel passionate about:  education and literacy. I am so thankful this is also a project my entire family can assist with and relate to as well.

The charity I co-founded just one year ago exceeded our expectations in our first year and we are looking forward to impacting even more children next year, but there is a lot of work to be done. We have received many blessings during the inaugural year of From Cover to Cover, but it has been a challenge to build this from the ground up with my partner and dear friend.  We have a solid vision, feel our mission is important, and have seen first-hand the impact the gift we provide these children has.  We know we can make a tremendous difference right here in our community. The hardest part is sharing our mission and convincing others how truly important this project is.

As with all non-profits, we rely on donations and volunteers to achieve our goals.  Fundraising, awareness activities, and coordinating events requires a lot of time and dedication.  We have received tremendous support, but we need to grow our supportive base and it is hard to do!  I know we just have to keep believing He will provide, but there are days when I feel like we have an impossible mountain to climb.  We will continue to move forward and I pray soon we will have more help to achieve our goals!  This is my "one."  This is my "yes!"

Are you feeling the pull towards something and afraid to say, "Yes!"  If you need a little inspiration, I highly recommend reading the book.  Maybe you just need a little nudge to take that first small step.  Whatever the case, now is the time!

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Our First Family Road Trip

This summer we took to the open highway on our first family road trip.  We headed to the east coast to relax on the beach for a week.  We were all super excited, but leading up to our departure my husband and I got a bit nervous about the 17 hour car ride (one way!) we were about to embark on.  We had high hopes for a successful trip so this can become our way of travel.  Buying plane tickets for our whole family is expensive, but I think hauling all of our stuff around an airport and keeping track of the kids is more painful!

The planning for our long ride began a few weeks before we left.  I found many great ideas I hoped would keep the kids occupied in the van online and came up with a few of my own, too.  I was excited to see what was a hit and prayed our kids would enjoy the trek across the U.S!

To help with the big countdown, I had the kids make a paper chain.  Each morning one of them got to take off a link.  They really enjoyed watching it get smaller and smaller!

Making a paper chain
I began collecting special items for each kiddo as our trip drew nearer.  Most were inexpensive gems found at the dollar spot at Target or books I purchased from my Usborne business or Scholastic.  I enjoyed packing them into surprise bags for each of the kids and prayed they would provide some much-needed entertainment on our long drive.  I found some awesome lap desks at Gordman's on clearance as well, so they each had their own little multi-purpose desk to work at.

Surprise Bag
Lap Desks With a Light
I also packed a backpack for each kiddo with some of their favorite books, coloring books, and a special folder or binder with age-appropriate activities.  I found many great printable pages for scavenger hunts, license plate games, and tic-tac-toe which I included in them.  For my oldest son, I printed out an outline of each state we were going to drive through and a map of the U.S. The goal was for him to color in each state as we passed through on the large map and then write about what each state looked like or any other tidbit of information he found interesting in the outlined states.  It didn't turn out quite as I had hoped, but it's the thought that counts, right?!

My youngest son loves cars.  Using a cookie sheet from The Dollar Tree, I created this road (and train track on the opposite side) so he could drive magnetic vehicles and trains as we were driving down the road.  It worked out pretty well!

His other favorite activity was my sticker book stash I purchased from Usborne.  He is three, and can have a difficult time sticking with anything for long, but these are a favorite.  Several times throughout the trip he pleaded for his "homework."  I truly cannot recommend these enough!

The Coveted Sticker Book!
When it was all said and done, our first family road trip was a huge success.  The kids were entertained, had fun with their activities, and were able to see the sights on our trek across the U.S.  We made sure to stop about every three hours and let them run around, stretch out, and just get some fresh air.  I packed a little sack with bubbles and whiffle balls to provide some fun during our stops.  We also traveled with a fully stocked cooler of drinks, snacks, and lunch or dinner items for a picnic to save money and time.  Additionally, I prepared a snack bag full of goodies I could easily access during the drive and some small baggies to put them in.  It worked out great! 

Lastly, I packed a small bin I kept behind my seat with the following items:
-a roll of toilet paper and paper towels
-a box of Kleenex
-gallon Ziploc bags (for car sickness)
-a few old rags
-a bag of batteries and little screwdrivers (for toys needed help!)
-an atlas

My goal was to be prepared for most anything that came our way unexpectedly.  This trip was pretty uneventful.  I am looking forward to more road trips in our future and using some of these ideas again!

Monday, June 16, 2014

Do You Know Your Neighbors? What Better Time than Now?

Last fall I was talking with some neighborhood friends about having a block party.  They suggested I take the lead and put one together and without hesitation I did.  I quickly had a great group of people to assist and we began planning.  The goal was to create a laid-back, casual event to give people living within our subdivision the opportunity to enjoy an afternoon/evening together with their neighbors.  It would not be anything over-the-top:  simplicity was the key.

We live in such a busy time many of us do not even know who lives a few doors down.  Isn't it a shame we may be missing out on some wonderful friendships for ourselves and our children because we're too busy to take the time to reach out and introduce ourselves to our neighbors? Some of us may feel intimidated or shy to say a simple "hello" or afraid of feeling uncomfortable. Whatever your reason, put it aside, make the first move, and get to know the people living around you!

I am thrilled we put this event together and encouraged many of my neighbors connected with others they had never met (our family included!).  The days of the Welcome Wagon, casseroles, and random rings of the doorbell seem to be gone, but we can swim against the tide.  Take a chance!  Perhaps you will be the answer to a stay-at-home mom's prayer for companionship or your child will find a lifelong friend just down the street.  You may be able to offer help to someone who is struggling, be a welcome friendly face to someone who is sad about what they have left behind, or able to provide a connection they have been searching for.  Whatever the outcome, sitting idly on the sidelines will certainly leave the door closed.

This is a great lesson for our children in hospitality and being a good neighbor and a simple one at that!  If you're still feeling hesitant, turn it into a family event:  bake something yummy and drop it off at the new neighbor's house.  In the end, you'll be glad you did!