Tuesday Things: Good Stuff

So Abram basically owned this weekend.  A soccer game (no pictures), a baseball game, the birthday party of some friends (no pictures), a lost tooth and his First Communion where I didn’t take enough pictures because 1- he was over it and 2- I was feeling flustered by the parents of 46 kids all trying to take pictures at the exact same time and needed to get out of there. Thankfully, the service itself was less hectic. It was wonderful watching my son take part in Holy Communion for the first time and his whispered thoughts when we got back to the pew (“Mom, I just drank alcohol!!! The body was waaaaay better.”) made me smile.

In other news, I have no news. Zero.

I haven’t been watching much in the way of television.

I haven’t been knitting much.

I still haven’t gotten buttons for Violet’s sweater (I’ve resigned myself to the fact that by the time I get them she’ll be too big for it.)

I have been reading, but mostly Warriors books because that’s pretty much all Violet reads right now and I wanted to see what the fuss was all about (and because I figure if I read them, I could figure out what she likes and try and get her to branch out a little bit).

I took a two week vacation from Facebook and have been back for a week and am ready to take another.

I’m focusing a lot on the day to day things in my life. Brushing hair. Packing school bags. Chatting with friends. Folding clothes. Making dinners. Playing games. Saying yes when Abram asks me if I want to shoot hoops (despite being completely horrible at it). Snuggling in. Thinking about the goals I’m going to set for my 39th year. Taking baths. Going to bed early. Sleeping in late. Accepting that I might not be changing the whole of the world (I might not even be doing much at all) but loving the tiny place I inhabit. Searching for peace amidst the chaos and madness because I’m tired of feeling chaotic and mad.

What’s new in your world? Watching, reading, cooking, making anything good?

Officially the Unofficial End of Summer

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We had a lovely Labor Day weekend. The kids swam. We had fires both inside and out (that black and white picture of Abram and Jesse lighting the fire is one of my favorite pictures from this weekend), ate lots of s’mores and other good food. I knit a little (my September socks) but watched zero Netflix. Abram and Grandpa dug worms for fishing, Violet proceeded to set them free because they were “innocent and shouldn’t have to die”, we later used the can to scoop three baby mice out of the boat. We found the nest (see a life jacket of Violet’s) and Jesse says he found the mother and got her out of the boat too, but I don’t believe him. Just thinking about it gives me the heebie-jeebies.

Two random Violet comments I want to remember: While discussing the freeing of the worms, Jesse’s dad mentioned that those worms are going to head back and talk about the great Violet who saved them. “Grandpa, they don’t know my name!”.

And when we heard an owl (a great horned owl if my google comparison of owl screeches is correct) one night: “He’s warning those mice we set free that if they aren’t careful, they’re gonna be dinner.”

I updated my Lightroom a few weeks ago and ever since then any pictures I try to post on the blog show so much more grain then they do on any of my software (or the couple of prints I’ve ordered) so I need to figure it out because it’s gross. The last thing I need is another processing step, but I hate posting pictures that look crappy when I know for certain they do not actually look crappy.

I haven’t cooked much of anything though I did make a broccoli slaw for the weekend because it’s my absolute summer favorite. It’s simple to make – a bag of broccoli slaw, a small head of broccoli cut into small pieces, sunflower seeds, raisins, peanuts, red onion, and some crumbled bacon (if you aren’t a veggie). For the dressing I put a 1/2 cup mayo, 1/2 cup greek yogurt, 1/4 cup sugar (or a little less), and 2T vinegar in a Mason Jar and shake the crap out of it. When it’s good and blended, I pour it over the salad. If you make it ahead of time, put the dressing on right before you serve it. It gets soggy otherwise. We also made some chicken salad – a perfect addition to our last lunch of the summer cabin season.

Tell me what’s new with you this week? Any good recipes, knitting patterns, books, or television shows on your radar?

First Day

Fourth and Second grade. We went from having two things on the calendar in August to very few free days in September. Maybe having a lazy summer wasn’t such a terrible thing.

And I have no idea why my pictures are showing so noisy and grainy because they don’t look it at all on my software, but I’m beyond trying to figure it out. The kids are still adorable. (And of course, I’m not biased in the least.)

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Mostly Good 14 Years

On this date, 14 years ago, we got married. (It’s a picture of a picture because we got married back before people got digital copies. In fact, I’m pretty sure our photographer shot using actual film.)

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Now, the rule of thumb in pretty picturesque bloggerland is that you write the wonderful and amazing and good – especially about your spouse. Because it’s public. And you do not show your cracks in public. It’s better to make everyone think that you have it all under control and that your biggest problem is which pinterest project to tackle today.

Well, I’m going to say this: Jesse is wonderful and amazing and good. He’s also almost completely my opposite in every imaginable way so quite regularly drives me bat shit crazy. Honesty, folks. You’ll always find a good dose of that here. The reverse is also true (but Jesse would probably be too kind to ever say that because of that whole completely my opposite thing).

But in all seriousness, any of you who have been committed to someone for any length of time know that there are years and then there are years.  Some years are smooth sailing, some go by so uneventfully they are lost to the ether and then every so often…you’ll have a year full of surprises (and not the good kind of SURPRISE! but the Dear God, can we just catch a break, PLEASE), and setbacks, and life-altering-big-decision-where-do-we-go-from-here conversations, and all you can do is hold on and hope the crazy rollercoaster will stay on the rails. You know, a hard year.

We’ve had one of those.

I look at the picture of that young girl above. Her ideas about marriage, and life, and love were all so precious. She didn’t have one iota of a clue about what marriage looked like. She was completely oblivious the future times when the only thing holding it all together would be a scrap of love and a whole lot of white knuckled stubbornness. And I’m grateful for that…because I can tell you, that girl wouldn’t have done it.

This girl is glad she did. Because if I was going to white knuckle a part of my life with anyone, it would be Jesse for a million and one reasons. This isn’t that kind of post, so I won’t name them all here.

But he’s helped me build a life in the last 14 years that is wonderful, and amazing, and good. At least most of the time.

We Went to Michigan

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We swam. We ate. We rode the dunes. We climbed a lighthouse. We built sandcastles for the two and half year old to destroy. We jumped waves and when the rip current got to be too strong, we climbed back up to the house for more food and for (some of us) karaoke.

I don’t have many pictures this year and I don’t have a whole lot of words. It was exactly what I needed it to be.

This Last Week, Part Two


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I finished both the socks and the book from the last post. I was happy with how both turned out. Though finishing two socks in two weeks was a bit of a haul. Two pairs of socks this month have me feeling a little less than joyful at the thought of finishing another pair for July, but I will. I quit things easily and often, but something about this challenge has me locked in and stubbornly working away at socks.

Oh, and in my last post…that turtle was laying eggs. I used the super awesome rental lens (70mm-200mm 2.8G) to zoom in but stayed at quite a distance so not to disturb her. I was hoping to get a picture of her laying, but mostly just got her digging. We were all fascinated.

And Violet is off at camp. She was fine at drop off. She was more than fine. She was shooing me out the door once I finished making her bed, and being the smart mom that I am, I gave her a hug, told her to listen to her counselors, and proceeded to walk myself to the car where I had a few minute sniffle at how stupidly grown up she seems and how I’m going to be sending her off to college in nine years and how the last almost nine years have gone too fast and yes, this is the run on sentence of a mother who just realized that all those times they were talking about time flying…look an awful lot like this. I realize that mothers actually sending their babies to college probably find me a little overly dramatic (it’s four nights, Kate, seriously) but the cleaving of motherhood is a never ending process – from the moment they cut that cord, to leaving her with a sitter while still nursing, to the first four overnights without phone calls or texts. I guess, all this to say, I’m going to miss her. I miss her already.

This Last Week

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I’m the absolute best kind of exhausted. If you happen to follow me on instagram, you’ll see that since June 26th we’ve been swimming and tubing and playing games and staying up late and eating lots of good food and just soaking up every single minute of cousins and aunts and grandmas and a grandpa. (The grandpas on my side couldn’t be there for work or travel reasons.)  These pictures are from our first few days with my family.  I’ll share some more with Jesse’s family tomorrow. (I had over 230 to choose from and while the ones I’m sharing aren’t all technically “right”, they are my favorites.)

I completely destroyed our boat’s prop and it’s being hung up as cabin decor. I’ve since replaced it and have backed up the boat trailer twice. I’m a far cry from proficient, but I’ll get there before the summer is out, I hope.

Currently I am doing lots and lots and lots of laundry and packing up a storm so that V will have clothes for her first sleep away camp adventure. She leaves today and I know she’ll have a blast, but I’m going to miss her like CRAZY.

Hope you all had a lovely Independence Day (if you celebrate it) and a lovely start to your July if you don’t!

It Begins

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Poor Violet missed her last day of school due to strep.

But we’ve gotten some antibiotics in her and have kicked off summer vacation.

So far we’ve:

-gone to the library
-baked muffins
-written some letters
-made up a game involving an old mop handle, a giant ball, and a basketball hoop (I didn’t get the rules, so just took pictures)
-gone swimming (I watched)
-practiced making our beds and picking up our rooms first thing in the morning
-gone to lunch with our Granny and Grandpa
-had a daily dance party
-played trains
-climbed trees and practiced cartwheels (I didn’t do that one either)
-read a lot

It’s been a pretty productive summer so far. I’m really struggling with my camera right now, but I’m hoping with continued practice I’ll have an easier time. (I’m missing my D90)

How about you?

A Weekend

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We celebrated a birthday. Ate good food. Fought off Violet’s unknown allergy with lots off Benadryl (poor thing had hives and puffy eyes almost the whole weekend). Rode zip lines. Made s’mores. Worked on some graduation party decorations. Swam (because kids don’t care about the temperature in the lake). Fished. Played games. Chased each other down with bb guns (and intelligently used the six year old as cover).

I always come home after a weekend at the cabin tired, overwhelmed at the quantity of laundry amassed, and grateful.

P.S. The socks I’m currently working on are a birthday present for Violet because she’s been asking for a second pair. Yarn is from The Lemonade Shop. Colorway: Blue Fluffy Unicorn

We Are Magic*

I get up. Progressively snuggle, cajole, yell the children out the door (and rejoice on the days where the progression ends at cajole). Load and unload the laundry, the dishwasher. Make beds, put away clothes, pick up forgotten socks, stack and purge scattered papers. I shop for groceries (or clothes, or housewares) making sure to get a little something they each love. I write checks, balance accounts, lick and stamp envelopes to make sure the bills go out on time.

I wipe breakfast off faces. I make sure soccer, baseball, piano, library miscellany and people are where they need to be when they need to be. Dentist, doctors, birthdays, school holidays.

I pack nourishing snacks, lunches. Unpack lunch bags, wipe them down. Vacuum, dust, swish toilets, wipe counters. Make lists of home projects, tackle what I can. Try to keep the car free from the detritus of back and forth and here and there.

I provide and clean up dinner, check that the homework is done and the permission slips are signed, sign assignment notebooks, nag about piano and spelling word practice. I make sure teeth are brushed, retainers are worn, minutes are spent reading. I tuck in and snuggle and kiss and listen to stories about the day.

I go to bed with a whirling list of things that went well, things that did not, things I need to accomplish tomorrow, and the next day, and the day after that. I try to make my brain shut up.

My day is not unique. It’s the day of parents (mostly moms) all over the western world.

It’s exhausting, frustrating, and absolute magic.

We are magic.

And I needed to hear that today and thought maybe you did too.

*I did once tell Abram I was magic and he very quickly reminded me that if I was magic, I’d find a way so the toilets would clean themselves…smart kid, that boy.

Renewal

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If you had told me six months ago when I booked this trip how badly I would need it, I wouldn’t have believed you. I wouldn’t have believed you even a month ago. But in whatever way the universe knows, it had me schedule it six months ago and when it came time to go, I was ready. I needed it. We both did.

Canoe Bay is a balm to my soul whenever we go, but this trip may have been my favorite. We kayaked (saw a beaver and innumerable sunning turtles), ate amazing food (the amount of time we spent talking about the creamed spinach is unbelievable but it was that good), and sat on our porch overlooking the lake and the moon and just…were.

Now we are home and settling back into the routine of parents and partners in the business of living, but with renewed energy and purpose in this life we are building.

I am so grateful for these times away.

Spring Break


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It snowed. The big beautiful snow I’ve been wanting all winter. Earlier this week we played at the park without coats. Spring in Wisconsin.

And the kids were home because they’ve been home all week for spring break. (I forget how much NOISE kids make all day long. It’s lovely having them home but it is NEVER quiet.)

I need to make more of an effort to pick up my camera. I’m so often saying, “Eh, I don’t feel like going and getting my camera.” and then I miss the pictures. Earlier this week, Abram was at one end of the table with the fuse beads and Violet was at the other with her fuse bead project and along the table they had built a circular train track. Abram would load the box cars with the color Violet was using and turn on the battery operated engine. The train would travel to Violet who would turn it off, work her project and then turn the engine back on so that it could be refilled. They did this for close to 30 minutes and it was so adorable. But I was busy folding laundry and putting away dishes and I just didn’t have time to get the camera. By the time I had time, they were done and had (miraculously) picked up after themselves and the moment was lost. Which is why I’m writing it here, because I know I won’t remember it otherwise and it was so DEAR.

Now the snow is melting and dripping (spring in Wisconsin – it won’t stick for long) and soon it will be the weekend. And then the kids will be back in school. I will be both grateful and sad for the quiet.

Wolfie

Starting with a sidenote:  Old pictures really can do a number on you, can’t they?  I’d forgotten that humidifier (and how dry that old house was).  I’d forgotten how Violet would love to roll it out and stick her face above the fan so that the damp air would blow right on her.  I’d forgotten how she would carry all those stuffed animals one by one and stack them and arrange them on whatever flat surface was closest to her.  And then start the process all over again when she moved to a new location.  I forgot that she really was that little once and how I loved those jammie jumper things (especially in the winter) and almost always had her in one because they were cozy, warm, and easy to launder.  I forgot how long, and hard, and exhausting those days were because looking back they seem so short, and magical, and fast.

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Wolfie’s First Known Picture

Wolfie was a gift from a woman named Diane.   You know those people who get put in your life for a very specific time and for a very specific purpose?  That was Diane.  She had recently moved to the area and we happened to join a local volunteer organization around the same time.  She had a grand baby about the same age as Violet, but lived far enough away that she didn’t get to see him often.  I didn’t know her well but I think she knew I needed someone so we had lunch or coffee occasionally.  I knew she missed her grand baby and loved having the opportunity to see another little one the same age but still I was surprised when she brought a gift at coffee for Violet’s first birthday.  (Which goes to show you how much of a new mother I was…how fun to buy for babies!!)

And then there was Wolfie.  After months of trying to get her to connect with dolls, blankets, other stuffed  animals, it was instantaneous.  He was her lovey.  I’m not sure the alchemy involved.  I just know that she went down for a nap with him that afternoon and has loved him ever since. (Abram was the same way.  We tried and tried to find a security object for him only to have Violet pick out a stuffed raccoon that he connected with immediately.)

Diane moved closer to her grandbabies .  We sent Christmas cards a few times but lost touch.

Wolfie, however, has remained constant.

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He’s had surgery to reattach his tail a few times (and currently needs it again as he has developed a bit of a hole), he’s been left in hotels and shipped home, he’s been rescued off a plane by a VERY kind flight attendant when he was forgotten, and he’s been searched for often when stuffed in a toddler hiding place and left behind.  (Jesse and I became quite the pros at finding Wolfie at the end of the day).  Once when he was lost on a stroller/playground adventure, my friend took the very first picture on the left and made up a reward poster which we distributed through the neighborhood.  (He was turned into the area elementary school about a week later.)

He’s gone to doctor appointments and dentist appointments (especially when teeth needed to be extracted), he’s traveled out of the country as many times as I have (which seems a little unfair, actually), his tail  has been rendered flat from Violet running her thumb and forefinger down either side as she goes to sleep and she blames his floppy head on her “squishing the life out of his neck when I hold him” which is in evidence in the pictures above.  He is loved, and special, and so very, very real.

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Memories

Tonight as I was tucking Violet into bed we started talking about her favorite stuffy.  He’s been around since her first birthday and at this point he’s basically a smooshed flat pancake of what was once a stuffed wolf.  She mentioned that she wondered what he looked like when she first got him.  I thought it’d be fun to show her so after I came downstairs, I did a google search but couldn’t find a picture.

I decided to start digging through old pictures to see if I could find a picture of him before he became the well-loved version he is today. And that’s when I stumbled on this:

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Trying to wash that off her was like trying to wrangle a greased watermelon.  She was slippery for days.

Violet is 8.

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My girl turned eight.  Jesse took off work so we did swimming lessons and went out to lunch as a family.  Then dad took her to pick out her present (a new bike and new shoes) and we went to her brother’s t-ball game.

Today we celebrated with her classmates and painted pottery.

Usually we are in Michigan for her birthday so being able to celebrate with her friends from school was a great treat for all of us.

I took terrible pictures because I need to work with my camera more.

And yes, I moved back to WordPress.  I’m still working out a few issues so let me know if you stumble across any problems.

He turned 6

Ten kindergarten boys bowling do not lend themselves to remembering the camera.  We got shoes on them, loaded them up with glow sticks (the bowling alley kindly gave us the “Thunder Bowl” treatment with disco ball, black lights, and a whole lot of flashing whirligigs), and then tried to keep them from falling all over each other or down the lane.  It was a loud, gambolling group and I completely spaced my camera until it was time for pizza and cake.  We had a blast and I hope they all did as well.
I have a hard time believing that my baby turned six when it feels like this happened just yesterday:

But for all his growing up – his love of chocolate cake has not changed.  He gave me a stern talking to when he found out I ordered marble.  Thankfully, I had time to call the bakery and change the order.

His favorite things include t-ball, cars, and carrots and dip.  Trying to put long pants on the kid is a battle even in January.  He loves rap music and thinks the words poop and fart are hilarious (do boys ever outgrow that?).  Most nights he reads to me now instead of the other way around and I’m still blown away by how quickly that transition happened.  His facial expressions and commentary on life make me laugh almost daily.  He still loves to snuggle up and twirl my hair when he’s tired and because I know that will probably come to an end soon, I try to soak up every minute.

And whenever I tell him that he’s getting too big and I wish he’d slow down he very seriously reminds me that “I have to get bigger mom because that’s the way it works. but I’ll always be your baby.”

Always.

First Communion

Violet celebrated her First Eucharist on Sunday.

The Mass was beautiful.  Violet was beautiful.  Her faith is beautiful.  And humbling.

I spent the morning stressed about getting to church on time, the lunch to follow, the combination of seven year old with white everything.  You know, the things that matter when your daughter is about to receive the Sacrament of the Eucharist for the first time.

Thankfully, my family knows me and loves me and ignores my crazy.

We had a simple lunch, a cake, a few lovely gifts and I feel stupid for being such a crabby-pants-worry-wart, but that’s usually how it goes.

Over the Weekend

I’m not going to pretend to be anything but a very proud momma. Seeing the joy and hearing their satisfaction is one of the best perks in parenting.

Because Abram isn't going to let his sister be the only one on two wheels.A video posted by Kate (@ohkatiejoy) on Mar 29, 2015 at 9:02am PDT

Holes in the Heart

Violet and I had a talk the other night about a friend who moved away and “left a hole in her heart that was never going to go away”.  When I told her that I had friends move away and leave holes in my heart too, she was shocked.  
No matter if you’re 7 or 37 or 77, people move.  Literally, figuratively.  Relationships end.  
And it hurts.
I told Violet the same thing I’ll tell you and the same thing I tell myself (over and over and over again). 
Some days are harder than others.  Some days you’ll be so busy playing with other friends you won’t even notice.  Other times you’ll think of nothing else.  It’s okay to be angry and sad but that it’s also important to remember we’re hurting because we loved someone very much and created happy memories.  Don’t stop loving people because you’re afraid of holes in your heart. 
I know that there will be more instances of hurt hearts as time goes on – both for her and for me (and even for you) – because holes in the heart are the price we pay for living and loving.  But hearts with holes are good hearts.

5/52

I sat down yesterday to edit, upload, and order my pictures for the month of January.  I even did the layouts for the family yearbook.  Since I’ve been terrible about keeping up with it, I did January of 2014 as well.  This should come as no surprise, but it’s easier when I bite it off in chunks.  (I have to thank my friend Dani for the month by month suggestion.  She’s kind of a genius.)
I have four projects on the needles right now.  I frogged & restarted the Follow Your Arrow 2 shawl a couple of times with a couple of different yarns until I realized that metal needles just weren’t working.  So I purchased Knit Picks interchangeable needles.  Whoever said the right tools make all the difference wasn’t lying.  The wooden needle has made it much easier and I’m almost finished with Clue 1.  I wish I would have bought a set of interchangeable earlier.  I have so many circulars, this would have been a more economical option by far (learn from my mistakes). I’m also working on a shawl in the Henslowe pattern.  Originally it was going to be for Violet’s First Eucharist but the yarn is a little too creamy.  The pattern is gorgeous and the shawl is turning out beautifully so I’ll have to find something to wear with it.  I’ve also got a striped cowl and some socks.  I always used to be a serial monogamist when it came to knitting, but I’m liking the variation in projects.
I’m looking through these daily pictures and chuckling – they are by no means great photographs, largely unedited, and a complete hodge podge but they are definitely what life looks like here – unmade beds and all.
My new planner arrived about a half hour before I was to leave for a First Eucharist parent’s meeting yesterday.  Because I knew I wouldn’t tear myself away, I left it on the table for when I got back and  then spent the meeting trying really hard to focus on what Father was saying and not how I was going to organize it all.  But I was so excited when I could finally get home and start sticker-ing.  
My nerdy-ness knows no bounds.

Hello 2015!

The last two weeks of December, beginning of January have been a whirlwind of family Christmases, packing, and travel.  I’m not going to lie, I’ve been craving my corner of the couch, some knitting, and a good long Netflix binge.  In fact, I don’t think I enjoyed this trip to Mexico NEARLY as much as I should have considering home is freezing while Mexico was a balmy 80° but if I’ve learned anything in 2014, it’s that I am a hermit.  Too many people, too much bustle, and I either shut down or blow up.  Neither is pretty.
Now I’m home and it’s positively arctic so I’m bundled up on the couch finalizing goals and plans for 2015.  I wanted to have a much more organized plan in place when I returned home but the aforementioned hustle and bustle simply didn’t allow for that so I’m starting my 2015 ambitions a little late.
Instead of making a resolution for the year, I sat down and made a list of things I’d like to accomplish and habits I’d like to adopt (or squash).  I started working on a system to help me do that and I’m sure I’ll share that before too long, but right now I’m still finalizing and puttering with things.

Small Houses, Tight Families.

Last weekend we went to my parents’ for a family celebration of Christmas.  Twelve people, three dogs,  and a merry time later, I’m home catching up on laundry and last minute details for our own “big day”.

Some favorite memories:

The look on Violet’s face when she opened her “fur” coat.  And then again when my mom told her there was more in the box.  “Um, but it’s not something I think I’d want” she said (trying so hard to be polite) of the dirty old rock (a geode).

All of us wearing the ribbons from our gifts around our head for some reason.

My nephew’s kiss face.

The best “sofa pillows” dessert.

Molly (our blonde cheerleader of a dog) being followed around endlessly by my little brother’s dog – a little, grumpy old man if there ever was and my parents dog looking like he just wanted us all to go away so he could have his quiet house back.

Three sick and snuggly kids and a Packer (play-off clinching) victory.

A Little Christmas Cheer

I’m not sure why but I’ve just had a really hard time getting into the Christmas spirit this year.  It could be that we traded our Thanksgiving weekend tradition of tree hunting, carol blasting, me grumbling Jesse needs to put more lights on the tree for a family vacation and a pre-lit artificial tree.  It could be that we have no snow and green grass.  It could be that I’m just feeling a little grinch-y this year.
Whatever the reason, our tree has been sitting in our front room undecorated for about three weeks.  I’d flip the lights on every morning and flip them off at night before bed, but other than that and the garlands we hung the week before Thanksgiving – our house has been pretty devoid of decorations and I haven’t felt any pressing need to change that.
Until my children came to me this morning with their hearts set on decorating and being I’m not the grinch-iest of grinches or the scrooge-iest of scrooges, I cranked the carols and agreed.  We put out our nativities.  We hung ornaments and stockings.  I put out the ceramic tree (like this one) my mom gifted me when I was feeling nostalgic for the one she had made (and lost in one of their plethora of moves) and started to feel the smallest twinge of anticipation.

I’m looking forward to the happy chaos of my family (and three dogs) descending on my parents’ little house followed by Jesse’s family annual Christmas Eve bash. I’m excited to dress up and attend a Christmas Mass with my children and husband and remember what it is exactly we are celebrating.  I’m still not brimming with Christmas cheer, but I am feeling a lot less humbug. 

 

I guess it’s really hard to feel blah about Christmas when your kids are decidedly un-blah about Christmas.  Particularly when you ask them what they want and you get answers like “a robot that does all my chores” (Abram) or “a magic wand that helps me memorize my spelling words” (Violet).  I’m so grateful for their creativity.  

And their contagious joy.  I just finished their shopping and there will not be spelling word memorizing magic wands or robots that pick up toys and put away laundry under the tree, but I’m pretty sure they’ll be happy.  And that makes me happy.  And a lot more happy about this Christmas season than I was at the beginning of the day.

Just a Few More Pictures (and Words)

Main Street, USA all decked out for Christmas?  A little boy (and not just any but my favorite little boy) and his balloon on dad’s shoulders? Yeah…I’ll cherish this picture for always.
One of the things I was looking forward to most on this trip was taking Violet to Cinderella’s Royal Table for dinner.  Jesse’s mom bought her a crown (which wouldn’t stay in place so Jesse ended up wearing it), and we surprised her with her very own Elsa dress (one of her classmate’s mothers is an AMAZING seamstress and we had it made) and when she saw Aurora (her favorite princess) come out…I think she summed it up perfectly when she looked at her grandpa and said, “I will remember this night forever.”  

I heard a few grumbles about Elsa lighting the castle instead of Tinkerbell and I get it (The Pirates of the Caribbean ride was my FAVORITE as a kid and it’s all wonky now) but I never saw Tinkerbell light the castle and this was breathtaking. 
Can’t wait to get Jesse’s dad’s pictures from Animal Kingdom.  While we were there a gorilla charged towards a man (who was beating his chest and acting like an idiot) standing next to us (we were separated by a huge ravine, but my heart stopped), Tom captured the gorilla’s face as he was staring down the man (who was also getting a talking to from the park official).  It’s absolutely terrifying.  I’ll share it if I get it from him.  I won’t forget it soon.

Disney Lessons from an Amateur

If you follow me on Instagram, you may have noticed that we were at Disney World last week.  When we first started planning this trip (about a year ago) my friends were split into three camps – those who looked at me in horror, those who talked about “getting through” a Disney vacation, and those who were overjoyed at the idea of us visiting the most magical place on earth.  My husband was decidedly in the horrified camp but was sick of me nagging about how much the kids would love it when he agreed to going.  He’s now a HUGE Disney fan is already talking about when we can visit next.
Here are a few lessons I’m taking with me for our next trip:
:
1)  Charge your camera battery & bring your charger.  My battery was more than half dead when we got to Orlando and to my dismay I ended up with no camera for a few days while I was waiting for a charger to be shipped from Amazon.  I was fortunate in that Jesse’s parents met us for a few days so I’ll be able to get pictures from Jesse’s dad, but I still missed some great shots not having a camera.
2) Go with the flow.  Part 1.  The resort that we were staying at was undergoing pool renovations that were scheduled to be done by the time we arrived.  I called two days before to confirm that the pool would in fact be open and was told that it was ready to go.  When we arrived, the pool renovations were not complete and when the pool did finally open later that week, we still had closings due to water quality concerns.  Violet and I jumped in line for Space Mountain because we were told wait times were about 10 minutes and found that everyone else had jumped in line for the same reason (and waited a little over an hour).  A perfectly clear forecast turned into a mid-day deluge at Animal Kingdom. Being flexible is not my strong suit, but it’s simply a necessity and knowing that going in helps. 
3) Go with the flow.  Part 2.  That mid-day deluge at Animal Kingdom had us running for cover, listening to a pretty amazing band. I enjoyed a beer while kids had a blast dancing.  That long wait at Space Mountain forced us to miss a fast pass but catch a parade/dance party on the square instead.  The pool renovation issue resulted in us getting a one night’s credit on our stay which I happily put toward a badly needed massage and some souvenirs.  Things don’t always go as planned, but it’s Disney.  If something falls through, there is always something else to enjoy.  Enjoy it.
4) Expect crowds.  We visited during one of the slower times of year and visited Magic Kingdom on a day that was expected to be less crowded.  There were still more than enough people for this claustrophobic girl.  To avoid lines (to the best of your ability), use an app.  We used a combination of the Disney World app (which is free) and WDW Lines app (which requires a membership).  I found the WDW Lines app to be very helpful – especially for planning which park we wanted to visit on which day.
5) Bring a water bottle & snacks.  I spent so much money on stupid bottled water because I didn’t think ahead.  We did okay bringing breakfast bars, goldfish, yogurt pretzels, and a few sweets but I think I’d still add a few things for our next trip.
6) Make your dinner reservations.  Early.  Dining at Disney is no joke. In general, I’d say our meal planning adventures worked for us (we did not do the dining plan so I can’t say anything one way or another about that) but there wasn’t one night where we didn’t see a family getting turned away when they thought they could just “pop in” to resort restaurants.  What worked for us was a few structured dinner nights (our first night & the 4 evenings with Jesse’s parents) and a few nights where we just picked up something at the park or the sandwich stand in our resort.  We had a couple of breakfast reservations (I got lucky one night and made them the night before and one night I didn’t get lucky and we bought fruit plates from said sandwich stand) but mostly had grab and go breakfast bars that we had brought along. 

7.  Use your hand sanitizer. I missed Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas party and our last day at the parks because I was sick with 102° fever.  I blame it on the adorable little baby with the big ugly cough who was one seat in front of me on the plane down.  All the same, do everything you can to avoid being sick.  And if you do get sick see tips 2 & 3.  

8. Get a dole whip.  The soft serve kind and not the float.  I can’t say anything about how the float tastes but I can tell you the soft serve version is UN-REAL.  

9.  Accept that you can not do everything (or even everything you think you can).  Looking back at each day, I’m a little underwhelmed at what we checked of the itinerary considering how exhausted we were by the time we crawled into bed.  We certainly could have crammed in more rides or more character visits or more shopping or MORE but no matter how much MORE we packed in we’d still be missing something.   By picking a few “must do” items each day (as in, no more than 3) and letting the day unfold, we kept the meltdowns and tantrums at bay (mostly, mom did have a minor one after our first day in the park).  
10.  Have fun.  I know I made my friend laugh when I sent her a text and said, “This place is crazy.  Even the bathrooms are themed.” but I was just blown away.  Disney World really truly is a magical place.  If you aren’t having fun, I say sit on a bench and people watch for awhile (with a dole whip, of course) and then visit the bathrooms by Rupenzel’s tower.  They’re freaking gorgeous.  AND THEY’RE BATHROOMS!
I’m not an expert.  I’ve only visited Disney twice and only once as an adult.  There are websites a plenty that can tell you when to go and what to do and where to eat and where a good place to relax might be (we took a ride on the Liberty Belle, it was perfect) but these are the very basic things I think everyone should know to have a good trip.

The Magpie

Contrary to popular belief, magpies actually don’t steal shiny things. My daughter, on the other hand, has a bit of a problem. On Thursday night I found out that she had been in my jewelry box. I also found that I was missing four rings – my engagement ring, the engagement ring my dad gave my mom and my mom handed down to me, a ring Jesse bought me when we first moved into this house, and a diamond band.

It was a rough night. I yelled a lot. I cried a lot. I emailed her teacher in a fit of desperation. I felt as if I was completely failing as a parent because this is not the first time we’ve had an issue with her and “Mom, I was tempted.” She has been told. And trying to explain to her that these weren’t just shiny things but shiny, valuable, meaningful things that didn’t belong to her just didn’t seem to sink in.

Friday at drop off, her teacher came out with one of the rings (it had been found by the gym teacher about a week earlier) and a joking suggestion that we buy a metal detector and make Violet scour the playground with it.

I liked the idea (but not the investment) so bright and early Saturday morning Violet went down to the local rental place with her dad, rented one out for the weekend, and headed over to the playground.

It’s a terrible picture, but it’s the only one I have. And it’s my engagement ring. And it’s found. Blurry picture or not, I’m thrilled. Violet maintains that they are the only two she took to school but we continued sweeping just to cover our bases (and try to drive the point home).

We’ve had no more luck as of yet and have reason to believe they are somewhere in or around the house. I’m scouring every single purse and trinket box and nook and cranny I think she may have stashed them in and praying. I’m also trying to remind myself that while they are sentimental and special and valuable things – they are still just things.

More than anything, I wonder what lessons (if any) we have managed to impart on Violet these last few days. We’ve talked about not taking other people’s things, and hurt, and trust, and personal responsibility. We explained that her paying for the metal detector and looking for the ring was a way to try and make it right. Violet’s biggest concern after we got back was whether she could ride her scooter. I don’t know if a single thing we’ve said or done has made a difference. I hope so. For now my jewelry box is hidden on a high shelf.

Parenting is hard and it’s confusing.

First Day

I sent my babies off to school today. Both of them.

And I’m getting a little misty as I type that. Because it’s been seven years since I’ve had at least one of those critters at home. SEVEN. That’s not really a long time but it is a really long time and the house is quiet. Which is perfect, because I’m back at school.

I started off by taking two classes but decided yesterday that I would only take one. For a lot of reasons.

1) We have a vacation scheduled during my semester and I want to be able to work ahead. One of the classes didn’t allow for that and I didn’t want to be doing school work on vacation.

2) I think easing back into this school thing is probably a good idea.

3) I want to be able to enjoy my life AND enjoy school. I could probably do both and still take two classes, but probably not as much as if I just took one.

4) Money. Tuition is expensive and I can think of other ways to spend that money right now.

5) Christmas knitting. I know. It’s an absolute ridiculous reason to drop a class BUT it is an absolutely ridiculous legitimate reason. I’ve got projects and projects and projects to finish before December 25th and writing paper after paper each week makes that almost impossible. (See also #3 – I can’t enjoy life if I’m not knitting.)

6) I want a clean house. If I’m at school the whole time my kids are at school…no clean house.

7) I’m not ready to shut down the blog. And I would have to. (Again, #3.)

BUT, I’m taking a class. And I’m reading the textbook and I’m stupid happy because library science, people. It’s awesome. I couldn’t even shut up about all the interesting first chapter snippets I read over the weekend (the people spending the weekend with me LOVED it, I can assure you) and I’ve already got a good start on my paper for next week. I’m the biggest, happiest dork EVER.

Happy Anniversary

I’ve been married to the most wonderful man for 12 years. To celebrate we spent the first night at the family cabin and the following morning headed into Minneapolis for amazing food, a great show, and more amazing food. Then we came home and loved on our babies a little.

Friday night fish-fry in the Northwoods. And a Shirley Temple (because I’m still a ten year old).

We ended up with a free room upgrade because of an overbooking.

We were WAY up in the tower and below a rooftop wedding ceremony was being set up. We didn’t actually get to see the wedding but I loved watching people arrive.

Our favorite restaurant is not the place for a vegetarian but their steaks are divine and their lobster cakes unbelievable.

I laughed so hard. And was ashamed of myself for laughing so hard. I was certain we would all be smote for attending such an irreverent show, but it really was just too funny.

The next morning we had brunch at a place recommended by one of my favorites (this girl needs to have a lifestyle blog or something – she’s way better than Gwyneth) and it was AMAZING. I had bourbon glazed french toast with pecans. To. DIE.

We came home to these pretty flowers and happy children. Dumped water on our heads and made a donation for the ALS challenge and are now back to life as normal.

Feeling very, very blessed.

Empty Nesting

In two weeks, both of my babies will be heading to school.

I’m excited. And sad. Ready. And nostalgic.

I know to call it empty nesting is a bit dramatic. I’ll drop them off every morning and pick them up every afternoon and it will be many years before I’m truly empty nesting.

But I am dramatic and I don’t know what else to call the child-free hours (where I’ll be cleaning and studying and volunteering and hopefully having lunch with my friends) so “empty nesting” it is.

I don’t want to dwell too much on how quickly the baby years and the toddler years and the preschool years have gone because time is still going. If I stop for too long thinking about all the past stuff, I’m going to miss all the amazing stuff right in this moment.

I know it’s gotten popular to romanticize the early years. To talk about how fast it all goes and how much you’re going to miss it. People can go on and on with the “one day will be the last time {fill in the blank}” until you’re bawling. Let’s not be those people.

Am I going to miss certain things? Absolutely. But there’s also a whole slew of things I don’t miss and a few things I’m even looking forward to not missing.

I want my children to grow up (it beats the alternative) and I want to (as my mom once said) work myself out of a job by teaching them to be independent and capable. Just not all at once.

School starts in two weeks and both of my babies will be in elementary school. It’s going to be very quiet around here and yes, I’m a little sad. But I’m mostly happy. They’ll be learning new things, making and developing friendships, and seeing a little more of the world. And I will be too.

I think that’s something to celebrate.

A Daily Checklist for the Kids

This summer is flying by and I really want to kick back and relax and enjoy the last few weeks before my babies head back to school. But I also know that the prep work I do today will make that transition come September a whole lot easier. With that in mind, I’ve been reviewing different ways to make routine/chore charts.

One of my favorite ideas was Jessica’s The Morning High Five (and all her other high fives) but because I wanted the full day on one sheet of paper, I gave up the fun little handprint and created my own form. (The daily five concept might be stretched when I say your “daily five morning, daily five afternoon, daily five evening” but I wanted something for the printable that wasn’t my kiddos names, so pretend.)

With one of my children being a pre-reader, I made one using mostly clipart. (Anything to help along that independence – especially on school mornings!!)

My kiddos like to check things off once they’ve done them (and I’m the same way) so I laminated them before clipping them to their boards and attached a 3M Command hook for hanging a dry erase marker. This also allows me to write in/update their chore of the week without having to print a new form. (I use this list to help me assign chores but I know there is a list attributed to Maria Montessori on Pinterest as well. Basically, if they show interest in me doing it – I start teaching them and once I get comfortable with them doing it, I add it to their rotating list)

If you are interested in these printables, let me know if you’d like the clip art or word version and I’ll send a pdf to your email!

Road Trip Activity Binders (a link round-up)

We just got back from a week long vacation. The hardest part is the 10+ hour ride getting there and back. We like to break up the ride some but no matter how you slice it getting ready for a 10 hour road trip with a seven and five year old can be tricky. I’m willing to do some maneuvering when at the end I’m burying my toes into Lake Michigan sand. One of the must have essentials on every trip is each kid’s entertainment backpack and binder.

The backpack contains the iPad (and headphones), a brand new coloring book (that they pick out and I save) and crayons, a new notebook with a few pre-drawn doodles that they can color in, a few books, and their binder.

In their binders, I like to put classic road trip games and a few surprises as well. Here are links to the sites I use:

Coloring sheets

Made by Joel (my favorites)
Crayola
Dabbles and Babbles (she has some great coloring pages if you look around a bit – her robots and monsters are awesome)

Worksheets (math, handwriting, school refreshers)

Dad’s worksheets – Violet did these as time trials last year at school, so I thought I’d add them as refreshers.
Worksheet Universe – they have lots of great activity sheets for younger kids (preschool-first grade)
Paging Supermom – an overabundance of awesome
Handwriting Worksheets

Games/Mazes

Mr. Printables – great mazes
I Spy (travel), Slug Bug, and Alphabet Search
The License Plate Game
Paper/Pencil Games (like hangman, tic-tac-toe, dots & boxes)

I like to put everything but the coloring sheets in page protectors and give them each a dry erase marker. To keep the coloring sheets tidy, I use a plastic envelope that’s made for 3 ring binders. I’ll also put stickers and other odds and ends (a coupon for an hour of radio control for example) in there as well.

We’ve had a lot of success with them. Violet even spent one evening “just working on math problems” when she needed a little down time (in this she is NOTHING like her mother). What are some of your road trip tricks? Do you have games or activities you can share with me?

What Abram's Reading Now (Or Having Read to Him)

I know I often share the books that I’m reading for myself, but with two kids who are developing a reading love that rivals my own, I thought it might be nice to share their reads as well. Here are the books that Abram has been having me read (and reread) daily.

Caps for Sale (A calls this “Hubcaps for Sale”) | Press Here | I Took The Moon for a Walk | This is Not My Hat | The Pigeon Wants a Puppy | The Day the Crayons Quit | Extra Yarn | The Peace Book | The Jolly Postman

Five Things I’d Tell Myself as a New Mom

1. A good mom makes sacrifices, but doesn’t sacrifice herself.

When Violet was born they thought she had a condition called LQTS. Between worrying about her and a bout of postpartum depression, I should have been taking an antidepressant. But I was breastfeeding and none of the medications I could take to treat my depression were considered LQTS-safe. I wanted to be a “good mom” so I kept breastfeeding and tried to put on a brave face. It didn’t work. I can’t look back at that time without wishing I had done it differently. My life was beautiful and I had never been more miserable. After four months, I switched Violet to formula and started taking Lexapro. I wish I would have realized that good moms don’t always do what “good moms” are supposed to do, but they do what is best for themselves AND their family. A burnt out mom isn’t good for anyone.

2. The days are long, the years are short.

One day when I was complaining about how hard it al was one of my best friends told me to listen to You’re Gonna Miss This by Trace Adkins so I did. And I rolled my eyes. I wasn’t going to miss being sleep deprived or lugging a baby into my daughter’s once a week playgroup. I wasn’t going to miss toys all over the floor and diapers and spit up and drool covered shirts.

And in truth, I don’t miss being sleep deprived. Or trying to contain a toddler while breastfeeding a baby. I don’t miss messy diapers. Or having my shirt covered in baby goop. But I do miss the 3am feedings where the house was completely still except for the suck and sigh of a bitty baby. I do miss the smell of a freshly bathed, sleepy headed little being rocked to sleep. I do look at my almost seven and five year old and wonder how so much time has gone by so quickly and I wish I would have slowed down a little and enjoyed it more.

3. Know how to say no.

The year I had Abram I also served on the board of a volunteer organization, helped organize a fundraiser for a local non-profit, and co-chaired a committee for an event with over 300 attendees. I don’t remember a whole lot from that year but at the end of it my husband sat me down and made it very clear I needed to make my family the priority. He was right. I think of how much more I would have enjoyed my family if I wasn’t rushing off to this meeting, or trying to type up that email, and I wish I would have known how to say no.

4. Know when to say yes.

As a parent, my first reaction is too often to say no. Wearing pajamas to preschool, getting out the paints and making a mess, going to the park. Is it really a big deal if Abram has swimsuit shorts under his pants instead of underwear? Will the world come to an end if Violet’s hair isn’t pulled back perfectly? Being able to take a step back and pick battles is important and it’s a lesson I still struggle to remember. I wish there was just a way to permanently etch the “If you can say yes, say yes” mentality into my brain.

5. Chill out already.

I’m too hard on my kids. And then too hard on myself for being too hard on my kids. And then I’m annoyed with myself, so I’m snappy and hard on my kids and the cycle just continues. Sometimes, all I need to do is just take a breath, realize that kids are kids, and enjoy their stories and thoughts and games. I’m an imperfect person raising imperfect people and that’s okay. That’s how the world has worked for thousands of years and mankind is still here. Imperfect and beautiful just like my children.

What advice would you give yourself as a new mom? What are somethings you wish you had known?

Happy Mother’s Day.

A Conversation with Abram

I was just talking this morning about how I love my night time conversations with the kids. Tonight I got to tuck Abram in again and I decided I would take the moment to prep him for taking the worm he brought home from preschool and putting it in the garden tomorrow:

Me: Abram, I know you want to keep wormy in his cup, but he won’t be happy there. He needs room to dig and tunnel. That’s why your teacher told you we should put him in the ground.

Abram: But Wormy wouldn’t stay in our garden. He’d go all around the town. And then go out into the road. And get SMOOSHED. And then I would be sad because some car would SQUISH him and I never get to see him again. (Cue tears)

Me: Maybe we could put him into the part of the garden with the fence. Then he’d have to stay in the garden.

Abram (not to be outsmarted by mom logic): No, mom. Worms like to jump. They can’t jump as high as skyscrapers, but he could probably jump out of the garden fence. Or smoosh himself really small and sneak through the fence. And then I’d never see him again (more tears).

So the question remains: how exactly does one house a worm?!?

Happy Birthday, Tots

One of the first times he babysit me and my sister, I shut us up in a closet and wouldn’t come out (rumor has it I even said that he locked us in it). He still married my mom.

Waking up to him playing the piano is one of my favorite childhood memories.

He makes the best chili.

He’s wise and funny and kind.

He’s OLD. 🙂

And I’m blessed to have him as a Dad.

9 Pictures (& A Misleading Title)

We went to Mexico over Christmas vacation. My husband’s family takes a trip somewhere warm each year and it’s a wonderful week of the cousins playing and adults sharing stories and memories being made. I took nine pictures the whole time we were gone. Nine. {Yes, I’m kicking myself}

Eight that involved Abram, his dad’s cowboy hat, and the beach and then this one:

At one point, Jesse started to roll over only to bump into Abram and stop. Then Abram shifted a little so Jess could roll over some more. A five minute roll and wiggle had them sleeping just as closely but with Jess on his back and Abram in the nook of his arm – and my heart melted.

I got zero pictures of Violet but she had moment that will live on in the family lore forever. AFter a little sassy episode, it was decided that she would need to go back to the room for an attitude change. She decided she wanted to play a game of cat and mouse (that girl can run) but Jesse eventually got her and hoisted her over his shoulder. She immediately started screaming, “Put me down. I don’t know you. Put me down. You’re not my daddy.”

I started researching the boarding school option for when she’s older, but I’ve been told that only people who don’t like their children do that.

And I do like her. A lot.

I don’t like being outsmarted by her though.

Parenting can be amazingly humbling, can’t it?

The day back was horrendous because it was just when we really got hit by the polar vortex and our car wouldn’t start and everyone was grouchy and I realized something:

I’m getting better about biting my tongue. Not great. And I love a “huffy” like nobody’s business…but I don’t feel the need to share every single negative, grumpy, irritated thought that goes through my head. And friends, as progress goes, that is giant gold star time in my little corner of the world. So self high-five, I’m one more step away from being a 35 year old toddler.

And finally, the blog might be quiet in 2014: I’m re-establishing some habits that have slipped during holiday season and I have a lot of goals that need my attention (knitting and reading and SCHOOL, oh my!!) but I’m going to try and check in at least weekly. No promises. BUT if you plug me in your reader you’ll be sure not to miss anything (shameless plug).

Hope your 2014 is off to a great start. Did you make any resolutions?

Day 30:: Not Tot’s Chili

My dad’s chili is legendary.  It really truly is – he’s won cook-offs and everything. This recipe is not for my dad’s chili (because he doesn’t write one down) But now that I live 2-1/2 hours away, I had to learn how to make my own.

 

The Recipe

1 lb ground pork sausage (I either use spicy or mild, depending on my audience)
1 lb ground beef
8-12 cloves garlic minced (I like garlic, we use closer to that 12 number)
2 chopped onions
2 chopped green peppers
1 jalapeno pepper (seeded if you’re a wimp like me)
2 T chili powder (don’t be shy, heap it in there)
2 T brown sugar (packed in tight)
1 T ground cumin
3 T tomato paste (a little more than a half a little can)
1 t dried oregano
1/2 t ground black pepper
1/4 t salt
2 bay leaves
2 (28oz) cans whole tomatoes, undrained and coarsely chopped
2 (15oz) cans dark kidney beans, drained

1- Heat a large Dutch oven on medium-high heat. Add in the ground sausage (remove casings if necessary) and beef and set them to browning for a minute or two.
2- Add in the garlic, onions, and peppers. Let that cook until the meat is well browned and the peppers/onions are soft. Stir it all up.
3- Add everything from the chili powder-bay leaves and cook for a minute or two getting it all well and stirred in.
4- Add the tomatoes (the best way I’ve found to coarsely chop those bad boys is make your three year old wash his hands REALLY well and then set him to town squashing) and beans.
5- Cook uncovered for about 30 minutes before serving. Remove bay leaves (or if you are like us and a bay leaf in your dish means you doing dishes – add them to the Misters bowl) and serve with grated cheese, saltines, and/or sour cream.

Leftovers are AWESOME.

And I know some people put noodles in their chili but that just makes it goulash, so I don’t. If you’re one of those weirdo’s you can certainly do that with this recipe, just don’t tell me about it.

The Discussion

What is your favorite thing to have for dinner? (This one does double duty as research!!)

The Daily Tip

Family dinners are a great time to practice gratitude and thankfulness. In our family, we have a prayer board and each week we offer up a different prayer of thanksgiving. If you are interested in doing this, all you need is a google search to get some suggestions. If prayer isn’t something you’re comfortable with, just go around the table and share some daily blessings.

Day 20:: Ranch-Pesto Chicken

Easy and good. The chicken absolutely falls apart after a day in the crockpot. I serve it up over roasted spaghetti squash and it’s my favorite dinner. EVER.

The Recipe

– 1 lb chicken breast
– 1 T ranch dressing mix
– 6 oz jarred pesto (or homemade)

1. Add chicken, ranch dressing and pesto to crockpot.
2. Cook on low for 6-8 hours.

The Discussion

Should the school principal be allowed to randomly search lockers/backpacks?

The Daily Tip

I’ve recently started collecting cookbooks but not knowing where to begin, I asked everyone I knew for good ideas. Here are some of my favorites {and my favorite recipe}:

Stop and Smell the Rosemary {Oregano Shrimp}

The Pioneer Woman Cooks: Food From My Frontier {Whiskey Glazed Carrots}

Time for Dinner {Creamy Chicken with Shallots}

Not Your Mother’s Make Ahead & Freeze Cookbook {Bacon & Spinach Quiche}

If you’re a person strapped for time, but want healthy and economical meals, I can’t recommend NYM’s freezer cookbook enough. Lots and lots of good things and brilliant meal plan/shopping list help.

Day 19:: French Toast Casserole

I’m a breakfast lover. Sweet, savory – I don’t discriminate. But this sweet french toast casserole is an absolute favorite. I love to make it up the night before and serve to guests (I look so talented in a kitchen) but I’ve certainly been known to whip it up the morning of just for a family treat. Topped with melty butter and warm maple syrup, it’s an absolutely decadent way to enjoy morning.

The Recipe

Butter, For Greasing
1 loaf Crusty French Bread
8 whole Eggs
2 1/2 cups Whole Milk
1/2 cup Sugar
1/2 cup Brown Sugar
2 Tablespoons Vanilla Extract

Topping

1/2 cup Flour
1/2 cup Brown Sugar
1 teaspoon Cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon Salt
1 stick Cold Butter, Cut Into Pieces
Warm Syrup, For Serving
1 cup fresh berries (raspberries are my favorite), For Serving

To do:

-For the French toast: Grease the baking pan with butter. Tear the bread into chunks, or cut into cubes, and evenly distribute in the pan. Crack the eggs in a big bowl. Whisk together the eggs, milk, cream, granulated sugar, brown sugar and vanilla. Pour evenly over the bread. Cover the pan tightly and store in the fridge until needed (overnight preferably). Or you can make it and bake it right away—delicious no matter what!

-For the topping: Mix the flour, brown sugar, cinnamon, salt and some nutmeg in a separate bowl. Stir together using a fork. Add the butter and with a pastry cutter, and mix it all together until the mixture resembles fine pebbles. Store in a plastic bag in the fridge.

-When you’re ready to bake the casserole, preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Remove the casserole from the fridge and sprinkle the topping over the top. Bake for 45 minutes for a softer, more bread pudding texture or for 1 hour-plus or more for a firmer, crisper texture (my favorite).

Scoop out individual portions. Top with butter and drizzle with warm pancake syrup and sprinkle with berries.

Recipe found adapted from The Pioneer Woman

The Discussion

If you had to spend all weekend (both day and night) in any store – which store would it be?

The Daily Tip

When I really started to get into cooking, I realized just how many great blogs out there have to do with food and I’ve definitely cultivated a few favorites (this recipe is from one of them) and I thought I would share them with you. I’m always looking for new food blog recommendations, so please don’t hesitate to share yours with me as well.

The Pioneer Woman
Iowa Girl Eats
A Thought for Food
Smitten Kitchen
Life as Mom (recent find, but oh, how I love her)

Day 18:: Shrimp & Black Bean “Salad”

Shrimp is quick, full of lean protein, and yummy. I almost always have the ingredients on hand to throw this together (minus the cilantro – if anyone has tips on keeping cilantro good when you get it home from the store, I’m all ears – but that’s a two second stop at the grocery store) and my kids love it mixed up with rice so I can stretch it even further.

The Recipe

-1 Tbsp chili powder
-1/2 tsp garlic salt
-1/2 tsp ground cumin
-1 lb medium shrimp, peeled and deveined
Cooking spray
-2 Tbsp fresh lime juice, divided (optional-if I have one, I use it – if I don’t , it’s not the end of the world)
-1 1/2 cups frozen whole-kernel corn, thawed
-3/4 cup bottled salsa
-1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
-1 (15-ounce) can black beans, rinsed and drained

To do:
-Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat.
-Combine first 3 ingredients in a large bowl. Add shrimp; toss to coat.
-Coat pan with cooking spray. Add shrimp; sauté 3 minutes or until done. Add 1 tablespoon lime juice.
-Remove shrimp from pan. Add corn to pan; sauté 1 minute. Stir in salsa, cilantro, and beans; cook 30 seconds or until thoroughly heated. Stir in 1 tablespoon lime juice. Serve shrimp over bean mixture.

Recipe modified from Cooking Light

The Discussion

Name an imaginary creature or extinct animal you would bring to life if you could.

The Daily Tip

Music is one of my favorite ways to set the mood in our house and dinner time is no exception. Because it can be a little crazy – the Mister just getting home from work, everyone wanting to talk at once, getting the food on on the table – I tend to lean toward more mellow and relaxed music. I know I’m a late adopter, but Pandora has been great for this – I use Mumford & Sons, City & Colour, Iron & Wine, or The Civil Wars as my “station” – if it gets too hectic, I do turn it off, simply because I tend to get “sound claustrophobic” but most of the time I find it helps mellow us out. And I just bought this speaker for the Mister – and I can’t imagine life without it (makes a great Christmas gift).