Acts of Service Day – A New Family Tradition

One of the neatest things about starting a family is getting to start our own family traditions.  Last year we spent a day where we focused on others and doing small acts of kindness around our town. While it wasn’t without the challenges you’d imagine with a 3 and 5 year old, it was a wonderful, feel-good family day… and the beginning of a new tradition.

So this year I was determined, in the midst of the craziness of the holiday season and the birthday celebration of my youngest, to carve out a day where me and the boys could spread kindness and holiday cheer in our community. For me, the connection to Christmas and teaching them the true meaning of Christmas is important. Now 4 and 6, they understood the concept a little better, and they were generally easier to manage than last year. We repeated some of our ideas from before and added a few new ones too. I tried my best to capture photos of day. Here’s what we did:

  1. Made sweet treats for our neighbors and went door to door passing them out. dsc_3292dsc_3298dsc_3295
  2. Stopped by a fire station to give treats and cards to our local fire fighters. They returned the favor by letting the boys play in the trucks for a few minutes.dsc_3314dsc_3304
  3. Went to a local restaurant for lunch, left a big tip for our waiter and Brogan sang Christmas carols for the wait staff.dsc_3318dsc_3320
  4. While at the restaurant, we ran into some police officers. The boys thanked them for their service, gave them some of our sweet treats and the cards we made for them (we had intended to drop them by the police station). dsc_3323dsc_3327
  5. Went to Publix, cashed in all of the household coins we could find (to help fund some of our acts of service) and purchased some animal food to donate. We gave to the feed the hungry initiative when we checked out.
  6. Stopped at a gas station and gave the clerk $10 for the next customer who pulled up to pump 10 (Brogan liked the idea of $10 on 10 lol). dsc_3332
  7. Went to the local assisted living home to drop off homemade cards to the residents.dsc_3334
  8. Visited the library to give cards and sweet treats to the librarians. dsc_3343dsc_3342
  9. Stopped by Home Depot, brought in some extra carts from the parking lot and grabbed a last minute Christmas gift for daddy.dsc_3349dsc_3350
  10. Went to Aldi to leave quarters in all the carts and purchase food for a local food pantry. dsc_3355dsc_3356
  11. Made a stop at the Dollar Tree to purchase toys to give to random kids at the park. While we were there the boys left $1 bills all throughout the toy aisle for other kids to find. dsc_3361dsc_3362
  12. While driving through the parking lot, we came across a homeless woman asking for help. Brogan gave her a care packet he’d made at school (that we happened to have in the van), as well as $5 of his own money that he’d earned the day before. The woman was overwhelmed with gratitude by the sweet gesture, thanked us for our kindness and gave Brogan the biggest hug. This was Brogan’s favorite part of the day… and the most emotional one for me.
    [at this point the wheels started to come off, and so my energy was spent wrangling the crazies and not photographing our last few stops]
  13. Stopped at another fire station to give the last of our treats and cards. Again we were met by the nicest fire fighters who indulged the boys’ love of fire trucks, sirens and walkie talkies.
  14. Swung by the food pantry to donate our food and pet items.
  15. Went to the park to distribute our toys. Found four kids to give to – the parents and kids were surprised and very thankful.

I share this with the hope that our tradition inspires others.

Despite the good intentions for a selfless day, I still had to deal with whining from the back seats and little boys who were occasionally annoyed by the diverted focus away from them. I tried my best to keep them on mission and remind them that while most days we cater to their wants this day would be about others. Did the boys see the big picture in all the things we did that day? Probably not. But there were parts where they could see how their actions brought happiness to someone else, and that made them feel really good inside. While I don’t expect that our one day a year excursion turns them into unselfish little people, I do hope it plants a seed. The seed of a selfless spirit, the tendency to do for others, and the true meaning of Christmas.

In short, the Christmas spirit is the Christ spirit, that makes our hearts glow in brotherly love and friendship and prompts us to kind deeds of service. – David O. McKay

 

My Thanksgiving All-Stars

In excitement and anticipation of Thanksgiving this week, I’m re-sharing my all-time favorite Thanksgiving dinner recipes! Enjoy!

Biscuits 'n Crazy

I typically spend my Thanksgivings alternating between my grandma’s house and Blake’s family. And so while I haven’t hosted turkey day at my home but once or twice,  I’m usually making half a dozen sides to contribute to the meal and so I’ve acquired my favs over the years. My office also has an annual Thanksgiving lunch, and so I get another opportunity to try new recipes and perfect the tried and true.

Ever since I began eating cleaner and cutting out all the “cream of whatever” soups, I’ve been on a quest to find recipes that are just as flavorful, but truly made from scratch. So far so good. I’m still lacking a good green bean casserole, but I’ve got a couple of Pinterest ideas that I may just try next week – stay tuned.

So here’s the list… sorry don’t have pictures for all of them, but trust me…

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My New Piece of Advice

It’s been a while since I’ve blogged about the fam. It’s a combination of reasons, really. Three kids means not as much free time, a lot of my evenings are now spent editing photos, and frankly, motherhood has humbled me – all the advice that I once thought I had, well… in retrospect all seems a bit smug. I think I got a few things wrong.

The reality of parenting is that there are lots of great ideas on how to succeed. However, most of those great ideas forget that most days we’re just trying to survive. Trying to get through the daily grind and salvage some sanity and happiness in the midst of chaos.  While I don’t discount that helpful suggestions and well meaning advice do aid in the plight of parenthood, my sometimes one-size-fits-all approach was naive. “If you want to get your kids to sleep through the night, do this… “. “If you don’t want your kids to be picky eaters, do this…”. I’m here to tell you if your kid doesn’t want to sleep, she won’t. And if your kid doesn’t want to eat the broccoli, honey, she is not going to eat it. And if she does, you will both be a little worse for the wear. I think the worry about whether we’re doing it all just right is futile. I’ve parented my kids from most sides of the various parenting trends, and I’ve not a clue if any of those decisions will yield well-adjusted, Christ-like, productive members of society. And while that is my prayer for my children, I’m fairly confident that it won’t be because I breast fed or bottle fed, co-slept or let ’em cry-it-out, restricted screen time or allowed a free-for-all, fed them organic or indulged them with candy, spanked them or did time out. It’s as if I thought good works might get us to the parenting promised land. Not so, my friend.

So when a few years ago I’d sit down at my computer each evening and be excited to share my war stories, my triumphs – feeling certain that my insights were unique and maybe even influential and inspiring – the delusion has faded. I’ve gotten wiser. I’ve realized that not only do I truly have no idea what I’m doing, I’m no longer looking to myself for all the answers. I come home some days to one kid who was in trouble at school and is pitching a fit over homework, one kid who screams out “Mommy, mommy, mommy!” every few minutes and throws himself on the floor for attention, and one who is only happy when she’s eating snacks… and so I feed her snacks all the way up until dinner, and then shocker, she doesn’t eat dinner. They’re all screaming and running around and fighting and tattling and destroying the house and being disrespectful, and I think really, am I qualified to do this? Never mind give advice, can I even successfully raise my own kids??  Truth is none of us are qualified. Will I make it through this parenting journey? Yes. But will I act as though I’ve got all the answers? Nope – because I don’t.

Interestingly enough, though my tone may have told a different story, today was actually a really good day. All the kids surprised us with good attitudes and helpful spirits. We enjoyed each other’s company and there was minimal fighting. Homework was done without a complaint and the two littlest played contently outside. And so with kids in bed, and a little “me time” I felt like writing. Felt like sharing about my victory of a day and what lesson could be told. But as I thought about how I wanted to tell the story, how I wanted to boast about my awesome day, God laid a bit of humility on my heart. I was reminded that this perfect day was not of my own doing. I was a reminder that He is and always will be in control. And so while we can run ourselves ragged trying to be the perfect parents – of our own kids and of everyone else’s too – He does not call us to perfection. He calls us to be kind, to show grace, to treat others how we would want to be treated and most of all, to love.  To love our children and each other. I hope I always remember what it was like when I was told the “right” thing to do, but couldn’t muster the energy to execute… or it just didn’t sit right with my soul. I hope I remember my own feelings of unworthiness and failure, of judgement and hopelessness. I hope in moments where the urge comes to judge or see situations through my own narrow lens, I choose grace, compassion and humility. And so as I reflect on what I do know as a mom, the only piece of advice I feel qualified to give is this: seek the answers to parenthood through prayer, and honey, give yourself a break.

A Nursery Rhyme Baby Shower

I love throwing a party. Like, love it. I get giddy over flower arrangements. I squeal when I see the vision I have in my head for a theme come to life. My co-hosts typically think I’m nuts. I am – I embrace it.

So my latest soiree was a baby shower with a nursery rhyme theme. I hosted this shower with a few of my colleagues to honor our co-worker who’s expecting a baby girl this fall.

Here’s how the nursery rhyme party went down:

We had all the guests sign a Mother Goose nursery rhyme book as a keepsake for the mommy-to-be.

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We decorated with framed nursery rhyme prints (courtesy of a quick Google image search) with little knick-knacks that went along with each rhyme.

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I arranged small flower arrangements in a mix match of jars and set them at each nursery rhyme scene. nursery-rhyme-shower4nursery-rhyme-shower5nursery-rhyme-shower6

[oversight note – I forgot to set the clock to 1 :/]nursery-rhyme-shower7nursery-rhyme-shower8

For food, we catered to the pregnancy cravings and served mini cheeseburger skewers, BLT pasta salad, bacon wrapped dates, goat cheese dip, shrimp salad and fruit salad. Delicious.

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cheeseburger-skewers

And here are a couple of the recipes…

blt-pasta-salad1

Gluten Free BLT Pasta Salad
[disclaimer – there’s no L, but BT pasta salad just didn’t seem right]

1 lb gluten free pasta (I used corkscrew), cooked according to the package
1 1/2 cups mayonnaise
3/4 cup sour cream
2 tbsp white vinegar
1 tbsp sugar
1 1/2 tsp onion powder
1 1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp celery salt
1/2 tsp pepper
5 green onions, thinly sliced
1 pint cherry tomatoes, diced (I used a little more)
1 lb bacon, cooked and crumbled (I baked mine on a sheet pan at 350 degrees for 30 mins)

1.) In a small bowl, mix mayo, sour cream, vinegar, sugar, and seasonings.
2.) In a large bowl, combine cooked pasta, sauce, green onions, tomatoes and bacon.

Adapted from The Country Cook’s BLT Pasta Salad

fruit-salad

Fruit Salad with Honey, Lime and Mint

2 cartons fresh strawberries, halved or quartered (depending on the size of the berries)
1 pint fresh blue berries
1 lb red grapes, halved
1/4 cup honey
1/4 cup fresh lime juice
1/4 cup fresh mint, chopped

1.) In a small bowl, whisk together honey, lime juice and mint.
2.) In a large bowl, add fruit and stir in sauce and coat the fruit well.

Adapted from Epicurious’s Fresh Fruit Salad

And because I’m a firm believer that if you don’t play a game, it wasn’t really a shower, we played a fun rendition of “Baby Mad Lib” to tell the birth story.

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Me and the beautiful mommy-to-be!

Thai Quinoa Salad

Thai Quinoa Salad

Quinoa. We dated a few years ago. I couldn’t commit. We parted ways.

Then I was introduced to the quinoa salad at Zoe’s Kitchen (ahh mazing!), and I realized that perhaps I shouldn’t ditch this little grain just yet. Perhaps I just needed to find some better recipes. Perhaps quinoa is really a keeper. Perhaps.

So I found this recipe scouring the depths of Pinterest. The sauce was reminiscent of one of my fav dishes (Simple Asian Peanut Noodles), and so I felt like it had some real potential. Y’all – this stuff is good.  As Blake described it to Brogan last night when he asked what was for dinner: “Pure deliciousness.” And it is. I hope you enjoy!

Thai Quinoa Salad

1 cup dry quinoa, cooked according to the package and drained afterwards
3 cups of shredded (or sliced very thin) cabbage
1 red pepper, diced
1 yellow pepper, diced
2 carrots, peeled and grated
1/2 cup chopped cilantro
1/2 cup diced green onion

Sauce:
1/2 cup crunchy peanut butter
6 tbsp soy sauce
3 tbsp honey
2 tbsp rice wine vinegar
Juice of 1 lime (about 2 tbsp)
1 tbsp sesame oil
1 tsp grated ginger
1 tsp sesame seeds
1 tbsp water

1) Add all the salad ingredients into a large bowl.
2) In a small bowl, mix the sauce ingredients until peanut butter is fully incorporated with the sauce.
3) Pour sauce over salad and toss until well combined.

Adapted from Sweet Peas and ABC’s Rainbow Thai Farro Salad

Mushroom Stroganoff

We’ve been trying something new in the kitchen lately – adding some vegetarian dishes to the dinner rotation. And the craziest part of this menu modification is that it was my husband’s idea [gasp!]. The meat eater of all meat eaters actually suggested that we add some vegetarian meals to the line up (thank you Netflix and the documentary Cowspiracy).  While I love meat, I like to mix it up and so I saw this as an opportunity to try out some new recipes. Yay!

So let me introduce you to Mushroom Stroganoff. This dish is ahh-mazing. I’ve always been a stroganoff fan, but mine had always had beef. I thought it was the beef that contributed most of the flavor, but I was wrong. This dish is full of flavor and hearty as well. My kiddos loved it too – Brogan actually said it was one of his favorite dinners ever! I’ll take it! Hope you enjoy!

Mushroom Stroganoff

Mushroom Stroganoff

1 tbsp butter
1 large sweet onion, diced
1 tbsp minced garlic
8 ozs white mushrooms, sliced
8 ozs baby portabella mushrooms, sliced
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
1 tbsp tomato paste
1 tbsp flour (I used gluten free)
1/4 cup white wine
2 cups vegetable broth
1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce (if you want to be 100% vegetarian, use soy sauce)
2 tbsp whole grain mustard (I used Grey Poupon Country Dijon)
1/4 tsp dried thyme
1/4 cup sour cream
3/4 lb pasta (would prob be best with egg noodles, but I used gluten free penne), boiled according to package

1.) In large skillet over medium-high heat, melt butter and sauté onion and garlic until translucent (about 5 mins).
2.) Add mushrooms, salt and pepper. Sauté until mushrooms are soft and browned (about 8 mins). Stir in tomato paste and cook a few minutes longer, continually stirring.
3.) Add flour and stir, scrapping the bottom of the pan as you do. Cook for 1 to 2 minutes. Add white wine to deglaze. Continue stirring and scrapping the bottom. Once wine is mostly evaporated, add vegetable broth, Worcestershire (or soy) sauce, mustard and thyme. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to low and simmer for about 5 minutes.
4.) Remove sauce from heat and stir in sour cream. Stir in cooked pasta and serve!

Mushroom Stroganoff1

Adapted from the Cookie Writer’s Mushroom Stroganoff (Vegetarian)

Getting Patriotic!

I took my youngest son out today to “test run” my ideas for my 4th of July mini sessions next weekend, and let’s just say I’m feeling pretty patriotic! This little guy was the perfect model and it was some great one-on-one time. I may be biased, but I think he rocks red white and blue.