2014 - Baby Steps in High Heels

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Stay Warm with Chicken Tortilla Soup

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Stay Warm with Chicken Tortilla Soup
Looking to start the new year off with a healthy recipe?

I’ve got a great one for you … Slow Cooker Chicken Tortilla Soup.

I love this recipe for many reasons ….

It’s easy! You just dump everything into a slow cooker. You can even add chicken that is still frozen. Seriously.

You can load it up with lots of toppings to make it a hearty meal. Or, you can scale it back to provide a healthier option ... At least for the first week of the new year, while we are all still dieting.

However, my newly discovered absolute favorite reason why I LOVE LOVE LOVE this recipe? My kids love it, too!

That’s right! My kids, who do not like the same foods at all … unless it’s something of the junk food variety, both love this meal. We made it on Sunday, and both have eaten heaping bowls for dinner the last few nights.

If you’ve been keeping up, this is a big deal. Miss Mighty, who eats exactly zero vegetables and only just started eating meat, asked for seconds! This momma was nobody’s short order cook this week.

Here’s what you need:

Slow cooker
One package of chicken breasts or tenders (frozen or thawed)
One can of black beans
One can of diced tomatoes
One carton of chicken stock
Diced onion (as much or as little as you like … I usually use about 1/3 of the onion)
Spices to taste – we use garlic salt, garlic pepper, cumin, onion powder, chili powder, and a dash of cinnamon

(Sorry the chicken is missing from the picture ... it's been cooked. And eaten!)

I like to put the chicken in first, then everything else on top. Cook on low for 4-6 hours.

If your chicken is frozen you’ll need to cook it longer and possibly on the high setting if you need it to be ready in a shorter amount of time.

Once it’s cooked, shred the chicken with two forks, add a little more chicken stock … and fill your bowl!

For Chicken Tortilla Soup, we top with cheese, fresh avocado (when I manage to buy some that aren’t already bad), cilantro lime greek yogurt sauce, and tortilla chips.

You can top yours any way you’d like.

Another reason I love this recipe is that there are many variations. You can add other veggies (carrots, squash, corn). You can drain your canned items and skip the extra stock to use this yummy mixture to stuff tacos or enchiladas.

Or nix the chicken stock and replace the chicken with cooked ground beef for a delicious chili. That’s what we’ll be eating tomorrow!

Whatever works for you.

Stay warm as you ring in the New Year. And don’t forget to weigh in on what my New Year’s Resolution should be!

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Options for my New Year's Resolution ...

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Options for my New Year's Resolution ...
I’m not really one to make New Year’s Resolutions. Sometimes I will set goals for the upcoming year, but I tend to think resolutions are fairly fleeting once the holiday hangover that is January has passed.

This year, however, I’m considering making a resolution. There are several goals I have in mind for 2015, so why not make it official?

The ideas I’m tossing around in my head center around four main topics: health/fitness (surprise, surprise), writing, parenting, and giving back. Want to vote on what my resolution should be?

Health/Fitness. Husband and I both work out 4-5 times per week, but I would love to focus more on healthy, clean eating. I have a whole Pinterest Board dedicated to recipes that sound awesome despite their health benefits. And I’m getting an advance copy of The Food Babe Way soon! Maybe I should incorporate a weekly blog post/update about our successes and failures. Don’t get me wrong … we’ll still eat pizza at least once a week, but I could see this as a great way to stay accountable to making healthier choices. Plus, we have a beach wedding in just a few short months …

Writing. I enjoy this blog. It keeps me writing fairly frequently, but I have always wanted to do more. Exactly what ‘more’ means is kind of a toss-up. Write a children’s book? Become a contributor to other blogs? Simply find greater success with my own blog? And whether success with my own means more page views or simply feeling like I can truly write what I want to write without holding back … I’m just not sure yet. Which is why formulating some kind of resolution around writing could really be what I need to get motivated.

Parenting. Yikes. This is the hard one to discuss on a public platform. But it’s probably the most important goal I have, whether or not it becomes a resolution for the new year. I want to do a better job! Balancing work, responsibilities, and relationships is tough. I feel like my kids get the worst of me (and vice versa!). The most time we spend together during the week is during the proverbial ‘witching hour’ … something we have discovered does not only apply to kids. We parents are worn out and cranky at the end of the day, too. I really want to find a way to dig deeper and make those few short hours we working parents have with our kids THE most joyful time of the day for all of us.

Start Making Ripples ... Taking into consideration everything I have already listed, it’s no wonder we find little time to give back … to each other, our family, our community, or those around the world in need. I constantly find myself feeling like a failure because we tend to do the very minimum. I’d like to do more, but it has to be something we can handle. I have finally updated my Even the Tiniest Ripple tab up in my header. It's something that I wrote a while back, and now that I am looking at it again, I've realized that it actually encompass several of the goals I've outlined above ... which I suppose should be a really big hint. Hmmmm.

So, what do you think? Knowing myself well, I know that I will focus on all of these things in the coming year … but should I pick one to be an official New Year’s Resolution? If so, which one?

And, do you have a resolution? Please share!

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Christmas Countdown Complete

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Christmas Countdown Complete
In the few short weeks leading up to Christmas, Husband and I often lamented how short the Christmas season seemed to be this year. Thanksgiving was so late, and we  felt the holiday festivities were very compressed. I thought for sure that we would keep the spirit alive and moving well into the new year.

But … I’m kinda over it. Sad, but true. After …

TWELVE children sponsored this year. Or was it 13? Or 14? I honestly don’t remember.

ELEVEN businesses and organizations coordinated for the Christmas Pajama Promise.

TEN days of antibiotics for The Boy – which he was thankfully already on when his class had an outbreak of Hand Foot Mouth Disease. Whew! I’ve never been more grateful for an ear infection/

NINE parents and grandparents for whom gift buying is nearly impossible.

EIGHT different festive foods assembled, cooked, baked, and delivered across county lines.

SEVEN times we forgot or nearly forgot to move Stanley the Elf this month. The stress!

SIX grocery store trips this month. At least. And another big one tomorrow to restock everything I’ve used up. And to buy healthy food, because, well … you know. Stay tuned, because I’m pretty sure there’s a clean eating New Year’s Resolution in  my very near future.

FIVE different cities/towns in 24 hours, 4 of which occurred inside of about 5 hours on Christmas Day.

FOUR family Christmas celebrations. So far.

THREE Christmas Festivals earlier this month.

TWO toys that took 6+ hours to assemble. Poor Husband, I mean, Santa.

ONE family visit still on the horizon …

And that’s in addition to the 30 bags of reindeer food and 16 teacher gifts I assembled for the kids’ school.

It’s been a wonderful whirlwind, but y’all, I’m pretty much done. I’m ready to relax, watch movies, and enjoy this pretend-winter that Central Texas is attempting to have. Will we really see snow next week?!

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Merry Christmas!

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Merry Christmas!
From our family to yours ...

Monday, December 22, 2014

These are a few of my favorite {Christmas} things …

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These are a few of my favorite {Christmas} things …

Christmas Cards. I don’t know if I’m more nostalgic for printed pictures and real mail or for the faces of friends and family that arrive daily during the Christmas season, but I love Christmas cards! I also love the process of taking family pictures and creating our own card … even if I sometimes select a card based on which one fits all of our really long names!

Cooking. We have some traditional items we always make – stuffed mushrooms and jalapenos are our specialty. But I also tend to experiment with new recipes at this time of year, especially when it comes to sweet treats. I’m really not a very good baker, but I always seem to find at least one new recipe that is a hit. This year … salted caramelitas! (If you try this recipe, I’d suggest baking them for longer than directed and then storing them in the fridge).

Cinnamon Applesauce Ornaments. I’ve made them for the last 2-3 years with Miss Mighty. They’re so simple, and they smell delicious for the entire season. Just mixt up an entire container of cinnamon (about 4 ounces) plus a cup of applesauce. Roll them out and press cookie cutters to make the shapes you want. You can let them air dry for a few days or bake them on 250 for a couple of hours. Fun and easy!

Traditions. I remember posting several years ago about wanting to balance new traditions with my little family with the traditions Husband and I have from our own childhood. Somewhere along the way, it has happened without any intention at all. From the cinnamon applesauce ornaments to when/where we pick our Christmas Tree (Black Friday at Lowes every year!), we’ve found a way to fit new traditions.

Giving. I love that the spirit of Christmas seems to bring out the generosity in people. This is the time of year when we donate toys or coats or food to those in need. It’s when you find more people willing to lend a helping hand or ear or smile.

Family. In this crazy, busy life we can go months without seeing some of the most important people in our lives. I love that we always find a way to reconnect during the holidays. 

Movies. Everyone has their favorites, but mine is The Holiday. I LOVE that movie. We also watch Love Actually and Four Christmases every year. The kids love Shrek the Halls, and this just in Santa Buddies .... BOTH kids watch it. At the same time. Can you say Christmas miracle?!

Stocking Stuffers. I wrote a post a while back about practical stocking stuffers, which we definitely include. But I love the fun stuff too!

Vacation Time. I'm not sure I need to explain this one, but it has to be mentioned!

Christmas Eve Mass. It's true that we have not had the best track record at church this year. And we haven't had many successes on Christmas these last few years, but we'll get there. And we keep trying and we keep showing up. Some will be critical, but I love that everyone comes out of the woodwork at Christmas. I love that everyone is dressed up. I love that we have to craaaam close together to make room for everyone. Okay, maybe not that last part. Especially with two loud, squirmy kids in tow. But I just love all the togetherness and celebrating the birth of Jesus.

Music. I think my all time favorite is Hark the Herald Angels Sing. But I really love them all.

What are your favorite things about Christmas? 

Friday, December 19, 2014

Christmas Books for the Family

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Christmas Books for the Family
There are tons of lists floating around out there for great Christmas books. I have found many of the ones on my own list from other bloggers. In fact, a while back The Gray Matters posted about the cutest idea to wrap a Christmas book for each day leading up to December 25th to create an Advent Calendar of books.

In my efforts to try this, I bought a ton of Christmas books for the kids. Of course, you know me … I never actually found time to follow through on this idea, but it did leave us with a big stack of really great books to read at this time of year, and I wanted to share some of my favorites with you.

 For the kids

The King’s Christmas List by Eldon Johnson is absolutely MY new favorite book for kids. It just arrived last week, and I love the story and the message. Sometimes only one or the other is good, but both the plot and message about giving are great. I also love that the end of the book encourages us to pick out birthday gifts for Jesus via World Vision. There are options for $0 or $1 that even the youngest kids can ‘afford’ to purchase.

The Animals’ Christmas by Catharine Gardam was given to us by my aunt, along with many other books she had been holding onto since my childhood. Our copy of this book may be as old as I am, and it’s another one of my favorites. This is such a great story about how God’s love affects us all, even the animals who sneak out of the farm to have their own special Christmas celebration.

For my little guy

 Who Was Born This Special Day? By Eve Bunting and Leonid Gore is a beautiful picture book with a simple story that asks who was born on Christmas day, going through various animals before arriving at the baby Jesus. You might have to keep the paper pages away from those little hands, but the story is simple and the pictures are gorgeous.

Who is Coming to Our House? By Joseph Slate and Ashley Wolff is a cute and simple story of the animals in the stable asking the question: Who is coming to our house? Each animal tells what they will do to prepare. The Boy loves looking at the animals on each page.

Especially for my girly girl

The Little Shepherd Girl by Juliann Henry is a different take on the telling of Jesus’ birth. The main character is a little girl who wishes to be a shepherd in a time when that job was really only for boys. The night that she finally has the opportunity tend to the flock turns out to be the very first Christmas.

The Nutcracker is such a classic story, and my little girly girl really loves it. For now, she’s content with the ballerinas and sugar plum fairy, but I hope that she will also appreciate the larger story of the magic of love as she grows up.

For me

The ADVENTure of Christmas by Lisa Whelchel walks us through modern holiday traditions like putting lights on the Christmas tree, baking, and sending Christmas Cards. It provides background information to help parents explain to children how they can find Jesus within these traditions. Did you know that the word Bethlehem means the ‘house of bread’? I didn’t! The page on ‘baking’ talks about how this holiday tradition really has a rich, meaningful history that relates to the Bread of Life. I love that this book allows us to relate many of the things we’re already doing right back to the true meaning of the season.

30 Days With Mary is an e-book I ordered a couple of years ago when I was pregnant. It offers a small prayer or story from the Bible to or about Mary. I loved reading it in the days that led up to Christmas while I was pregnant. It almost seemed like we were sharing in a similar journey. This book really gives me just a couple of quiet minutes each day to calm and focus on the role of the mother at Christmas time. 

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Affordable Christmas Gift for Teachers

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Affordable Christmas Gift for Teachers
Finding the perfect Christmas Gift for your child's teacher can be tough. It can be especially tough when you want to find something meaningful and still stick to a budget. It can be even more difficult when you have two kids who share SIXTEEN teachers between them.

Yes, we need sixteen teacher gifts this Christmas!

How in the world do we find something affordable that says: Thanks for taking care of my kids all day, every day when I can't be there to hold them, feed them, nurture them, or teach them new things?

How do we do this without breaking the bank? It's tough!

I know teachers appreciate gift cards, but y'all know I find them incredibly impersonal. And, even if we went that route, the amount would be so small given how many we would need to purchase.

So, of course, I scoured Pinterest, Etsy, Amazon, and a ton of local shops. Nothing seemed just right. When I did find something that would be perfect, it just didn't make financial sense to buy so many.

The only logical option was to cobble something together myself and hope that they see the love and good intention behind it ... because we all know I am NOT a crafty person.

This is what I came up with: Kisses & Warm Wishes!

I bought the printable from Etsy and included a scarf and chocolate kisses. I was lucky to find scarves in bulk online, so these gifts came out to about $7/each after adding in the paper, printable, ribbon, and candy.

That's as affordable as I could get, still hoping that it has the feel of a higher quality gift.

Be warned, though, if you're making SIXTEEN! of these items .... it will take some time to assemble. Time and supplies like a hole punch and stapler. Who knew I even owned those items?! Maybe I'm getting craftier than I realized.

Do you have affordable ideas for teacher gifts? Please tell us!

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

What Working Parents Do When Kids are Sick

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What Working Parents Do When Kids are Sick
Sickness stinks any time of the year, but especially during the holiday rush. With upcoming holidays and vacation days already approved, there is precious little time left in December for any kind of wrench in the plans.

But there seems to be a lot of wrench throwing going on around here lately. Fortunately, my house has escaped the flu and strep this month (so far!), but we have all had a touch of something over the last few weeks.

When I was sick, I did my best to push through. I laughed because my Fit Bit showed I still had over 7,000 steps on my sickest day. That’s the mom life, for sure.

When Husband was sick, he also pushed through, still going to work and helping with house and kid duties.

However, The Boy has been sick for the last few days, and it’s overwhelming to try to balance all of the work and home duties at the same time. Sometimes I think that our flexible work schedules that makes these experiences even more frustrating for our family.

Because we’re able to, we try to still try to fit in an entire work day plus the doctor’s appointment, prescription pick-up (and the drive across town to the other pharmacy because your regular pharmacy did not have the prescription in stock), and all of the holding and cuddling a sick kiddo needs.

We’re both very blessed to have the flexibility in our work day, and I know I’m blessed with to have a husband who shares all of the responsibilities with the kids. But sometimes I wish we had less flex time so that we’d be forced to take a personal day and be able to focused entirely on just one thing at a time.

What do you do when your kids are sick? Do you take time off? Do you try to balance it all? 

Sunday, December 14, 2014

The Crazy, Big Blogoshpere ...

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The Crazy, Big Blogoshpere ...
Follow my blog with Bloglovin

I stumbled upon (literally, not with stumbleupon.com) a blog post that mentioned that connecting via blog comments is now considered old fashioned. What?! I had no idea!

As I'm working my way back into the blogging world, I'm finding that a lot of things have changed!

It used to be that the comments and followers were all that a small time blogger hoped for.

Now, the social media world has taken over!

Between Facebook and Pinterest and Twitter, you'd think that would be enough, but there is so much more!

There are mommy blogging networks, like the Top Mommy Blog page ... I added a button in my side bar this week.

There's also Bloglovin, where you can now follow me with another button in my side bar.

Um ... there is so much to navigate! I would love any tips from those of you who have been around for a while! What's your go-to for promoting your page? Social media? A network?

What has worked best for you?

Friday, December 12, 2014

The Awkward Drop Off

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The Awkward Drop Off
For those of us who are veterans at the day care drop off process, it may seem like no big deal. Of course, it was at first. I’m pretty sure I cried after dropping off Baby (aka Miss Mighty) every single day for months when we initially started day care.

The months passed, and it became easier. The years passed, and it simply became part of our routine. Some days are easier than others. And, of course, she saves the clingy, whiny, guilt trips for me and not Husband … which is why I ‘let’ him do most of the morning drop offs.

This is also why, when I drop the kids off, I often do the ‘drop and dash’ routine, leaving them safely, but quickly, in the arms of a loving teacher so as to avoid the meltdown drama.

When I look back at both the good and the bad, I can see that we have a pretty good system in place. It makes those rushed mornings run more smoothly and gives us an overall sense of balance.

The day care drop off routine for us is well established, but there are other drop offs that are a little more awkward. For example, a few weeks ago, I signed Mighty up for an after school class. On the first day, I was that weird mom who didn’t quite know what to do.

Do I leave her there? With complete strangers? Sure, it was a trusted program with vetted teachers that came highly referred. But still.

Do I wait around? For an hour and a half? Doing what? It was awkward. Because I did wait. I waited out the entire 90 minutes while other parents who had been in the program longer dropped their kids off and went about their business.

After a couple of classes, I felt more comfortable leaving while she attended the class, but my comfort soon gave rise to another level of awkward. Once in the comfort zone, I fell quickly back into our drop and dash routine. I’m pretty sure I was on the receiving end of a few looks and some mama judgment as I headed out the door last night without a hug or wave or even a yelled ‘goodbye’ in Mighty’s direction.

She was okay. I was okay. It felt comfortable, and she was a singing, happy girl when I picked her up. No worse for the wear. But the whole situation did make the think twice.

How do you handle drop off? 

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Keeping Christmas Special ...

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Keeping Christmas Special ...
One of the biggest struggles we have in celebrating Christmas is how we keep it special for our kids, our parents, and for us when we have four separate family celebrations in addition to all of the holiday festivals and activities that have led up to the big day.

By the time Christmas actually rolls around, we’ve attended parties, street festivals, and a half dozen Santa-full activities. We celebrate Christmas Eve with my in-laws and Christmas day in our own home first thing in the morning, followed by visits to my mom’s house and then my dad’s house. Sometimes we even add an extra celebration the weekend after Christmas with extended family.

It’s a LOT of Christmas!

Although I never really identified Christmas as a favorite holiday when I was growing up, I’m really starting to love the season as I watch my own children marvel at the magic of it all. It is difficult, however, to maintain that magic when they’ve already seen Santa 4 times this year!

We’re still working out some of the kinks in our holiday experience, but there are a few things that 
we are trying in order to keep Christmas special for our kids.

      We just say no! We are lucky to live in a community that offers dozens and dozens of holiday activities. We simply do not attempt to do all of them. We pick a handful of ones that we enjoy, and stick to those every year. It makes these events feel more like traditions, and the simplicity helps to make the ones we do attend feel that much more special.

      We also say yes! We have friends who refuse to travel at Christmas now that they have kids. They let family come to them. But we don’t do it that way. A few years back, we started our “Christmas plan” for where we would be and when, and we’re sticking to it! It can be a lot of driving, but we’ve found a few ways to make that seem less overwhelming. We go early, stay late, and do our best to be present wherever we are in that moment. Sometimes just showing up is a great way to keep Christmas special for our parents who do so much for us throughout the year.

      We have told the kids that Santa only brings ONE gift. Santa might whisper some great ideas to Mommy and Daddy (and to all the grandparents), but HE only brings one gift. Plus stockings. This started out as a way to explain why we were giving toys to underprivileged kids at Christmas. It was an easy answer to why Santa doesn’t just bring gifts to those children too. However, it’s also increased the magic for us. The kids marvel at THE Santa gift. And they also see all of the hard work their parents have put into the other gifts. It’s creating gratitude in them, which is a big part of the meaning of the season.

      We give to others. Husband and I forgo big gifts for each other and sponsor gifts for foster kids instead. If I’m honest, it’s a little hard for me. I love giving and receiving gifts, and I especially love the moment of the exchange … which we miss out on once we package up those gifts and send them off for delivery. However, this little tradition that we began a few years ago has become so meaningful and special to us. We love that we’re able to help others out at this time of year. I really believe that the way to instill gratitude and the joy of giving in children is to allow them the joy of receiving in when they’re young. I can’t imagine a child having a Christmas without gifts, although I know it happens all too often. This tradition keeps the season special for us.

      We read a lot of Christmas books. Since the kids are little, it’s easy for them to get caught up in Santa, and activities, and celebrations, and gifts. So we try to layer in books that tell the true meaning of Christmas. We have simple stories about the birth of Jesus. We have stories told from the animals’ perspective. We have books that walk through all of the modern ways we celebrate and help navigate the season from a child’s perspective. I’ll share some of our favorite Christmas books later this week.

      We church. We may not always GO to church, but we do ‘church’ (use it as a verb!). We’re in a tough season as parents, and we find it a little difficult to balance our loud children with our quiet Catholic services. Most Sundays, we do try to actually attend church, even if we only just walk the halls with The Boy. When we don’t go, we do the mass readings and prayers at home. We talk and pray together to remember just why we’re celebrating Christmas in the first place.

There is another element that I’m still working on, though … that my kids do receive soooo many gifts. After four Christmases, what else could we expect? I want to keep this element special, too. I want the grandparents to be able to give what they want to give, to spoil their grandchildren, and to watch the joy on their faces when opening a special present. I want my kids to experience that joy with each of their grandparents.

But it is a lot. I have some ideas floating around on how we might try to do things a bit differently next year. I’m still working out the details, but I’d love to hear your thoughts. How do you balance it all? How do you keep Christmas special? 

Monday, December 8, 2014

Monday ...

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Monday ...
No matter how hard Husband and I hope and try and plan to sleep in on the weekends, our sweet, precious, loving children always have other plans. And those plans tend to begin somewhere in the 5-o’clock hour. Is that even morning?!

No matter how hard we hope and try and plan for a nice, lengthy nap time, our sweet, precious, loving children also seem to have other plans at this time. They either take turns whining or crying about nap time so that one sleeps while the other is awake. Or, they refuse sleep all together.

Either way, the weekends are rarely a time for rest in our home. When Monday morning rolls around, however, I typically have to drag their snoring, sleepy, cranky (but still precious) selves out of bed with barely enough time to feed and dress them before it's time to get to school and work.

I’m not sure what this is all about, but I definitely feel like we are the living embodiment of the Honest Toddler. Have you seen him around social media? He would be funnier if he wasn’t so honest.

If I ever get around to updating my Inspirations tab, I just might add him to the list … not that I want our house to be filled with more of his antics, but at least he reminds me that we’re not alone in this crazy, sleep-deprived phase of life.

It does make me wonder, though … is this just a working-mom phenomenon? Or a kids-don’t-want-to-go-to-school phenomenon? Or do those of you who stay at home with little kids also experience this? 

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Thank You

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Thank You
I was born and raised writing Thank You cards. I’ve always written them. For everything. And I’ve always been complimented for how quickly I send them out. My momma raised me right.

Except ….

I recently found a stack of cards that I wrote for The Boy’s birthday. Which was in April. At least I wrote them! Somehow thought, I forgot about them and never mailed them out.

Before that, we had a Baptism and Miss Mighty’s birthday last year, events for which I never found time to write cards.

With Mighty’s recent birthday, I thought I’d get back on track. I ordered a printable Thank You card from Etsy that matched the party invitations. MOST of the words are already written. It’s designed for the child to fill in a couple of blanks – recipient’s name and the gift they gave.

Great idea! In theory.

In reality, not so much.

To start, have you ever tried to print and then cut out anything with a toddler on your lap? Fun times.

Also, my five-year-old’s name is really the only word she can spell without assistance. On the plus side, she should be able to spell Frozen, Elsa, and toy on her own by the time we’re finished writing these. Unless I completely fail and just have her write ‘gift’ on that line.

Of course, all of that is only relevant if we actually get to it all. I’m highly skeptical. I don’t know what has happened to me, but I just can’t seem to find the time anymore.

Do you write Thank You cards? Skip it all together? Or do you use an app? I’ve heard there are several good ones, but haven’t ever really tried any. Would love suggestions!

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Flurries ...

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Flurries ...
Although I had picked out and purchased the BIG Christmas gifts for both of my kids back in September, I am still struggling with finalizing my holiday shopping lists (and with keeping everything organized!).

Which is probably why I recently posted Practical ChristmasPresents and Practical Stocking Stuffers … you know, to help finalize, organize, and just generally get my act together.

We have no less than three Christmas/winter festivals to attend this week alone (plus some that we’re skipping), so using the term ‘flurry’ is pretty accurate even if it’s unlikely to ever refer to snow in these parts of Texas.

I initially told Husband that I wanted to be finished with all of the shopping by December 1st. That did not exactly happen. I really do have a huge chunk of it completed, but I’m still working on the details.

We have been somewhat delayed in our personal shopping because we decided to sponsor a few foster kids this year. I’m so happy that we can do this again this year. However, I now have gifts for about a dozen kids scattered throughout my house. Plus the first installment of pajama donations has arrived for the Christmas Pajama Promise I have been working on.

And we have nowhere to hide gifts for our own kids! Let’s hope they don’t get too curious, because some things are really hiding in plain sight. Is that a princess board game in the middle of my folded laundry stack? Yes, yes it is. That box in the garage that Miss Mighty sits on every day when going to or from the car? It’s her gift from Santa!

I have conveniently managed to stash a few things in shopping bags at the top of my closet, but even that space is running out.

Do you have tips for staying organized at this time of year? Any special hiding places or tricks? Please share … I think the only place we have left is the bathtub!

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Helping ...

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Helping ...
Husband and I are rarely on the same page when it comes to gifts. I love them! I love giving gifts and I love receiving them. I love what gifts can say about a relationship … that we’re paying attention to each other, that we care.

Husband, on the other hand, is much more practical. He prefers giving and receiving gift cards. I see the logic; I do. I just take a different approach.

This time of year, however, we absolutely agree on one very important thing … that our family is blessed beyond measure. We already have more than we could ever want or need, even if our five-year-old begs to differ!

To that end, we started sponsoring gifts for foster kids a few years ago. We agree to forego gifts for each other so that we can help fulfill the wishes of these children. My desire for gifts for myself goes right out the door (mostly), and Husband’s desire to not get bogged down in all the ‘things’ also disappears. We’re able to focus on helping others.

This year, because we asked, we were given a bit of background information on some of the kids. We wanted to be sure and buy things that they need, but also gifts that will really put a smile on their faces. It is so bittersweet to balance the joy of helping others with the reasons why they’re in need.

I look at my own kids and can’t imagine how broken their little hearts would be if they were separated from us or each other at Christmas (or any other time). I think about how difficult these foster kids’ lives must have been in the first place that a youth home could be a ‘better’ place to spend the holidays. I think of all of the love and comfort and security and joy they have missed out on in their very young lives.

It’s true that I have gone a bit overboard in gift buying, but I don’t mind. I might have spent my fall bonus before it has even been paid (something that is very unlike me), but that’s okay. Husband has graciously handled all of the mail packages that have been arriving daily. He has not once asked me to be better organized or to work faster.

We may have become a little overwhelmed trying to keep everything organized, but we’re more overwhelmed with the mixture of emotions – joy and sorrow and gratitude and pain. Okay, maybe Husband is more overwhelmed with the things than the emotions, but I’m struck by it daily.

I can’t imagine my kids being excited to open pants and shoes on Christmas morning, but those lone items were on one child’s wish list. I hope and pray that we’re able to brighten up their holidays and bring them a little bit of joy during such a difficult time. If you’re reading this, I hope you’ll say a little prayer for kids everywhere who will spend the holidays worried or scared or sad or alone.  

Will you also consider finding a child in your community to support this holiday season? There are angel trees at many stores and churches, or children's programs can point you in the direction of a family in need.

I'm linking up with Pour Your Heart Out at Things I Can't Say today ...
pour your heart out

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Practical Stocking Stuffers

7:25 AM 0
Practical Stocking Stuffers
I love Stocking Stuffers. It’s so much fun to find little treasures to put in the kids’ stockings. These are basically bonus gifts for Christmas morning. And they’re bonus presents that I get to buy to appease my gift-buying nature when I’m really trying to scale back.

Since my kids are under age 5, they can still get excited about practical items they find in their Christmas stockings … as long as they’re the right color or have the right character. These are a few items I like to add to the fun stuff...

Socks. Pick fun colors, patterns, or characters, and you can’t go wrong.

Water bottles or sippy cups. We use the Thermos ones that are a little pricey, so this is a perfect time to pick up an extra one.

Tooth brush. They’re long and skinny and are super easy to slip right into a stocking.

Books. The early readers are skinny little books and perfect for my preschooler, the small board books are great for babies.

Movies. There are always great deals on movies right now, and the case provides a good structure for the stocking.

Necessities. Tooth paste, diaper cream, etc. are good little additions (and something you won’t have to buy next time it needs replacing).

Headbands, bows, and pony tails. No matter how many hair ties we buy, we can never seem to find one when we need it. This is a great time to stock up.

Of course, I always add fun items as well. However, since we celebrate Christmas at least FOUR separate times, my kids have typically received plenty of gifts by Christmas morning. A few practical items to stuff their stockings doesn’t hurt anything.

Do you have any practical suggestions for stocking stuffers?

Happy Stuffing! 

Looking for Practical Christmas Presents? I have suggestions for those too!

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Happy Thanksgiving!

6:56 PM 1
Happy Thanksgiving!
Today we not only celebrate Thanksgiving in my family, but it's also Miss Mighty's 5th Birthday. I've been living in a bit of denial for the last few weeks, so she sweetly tells me that I can still rock her like a baby any time I want.

"Shhhh, Mommy. I won't tell!"

We started off our day with pumpkin pancakes and birthday cupcakes, so you can imagine the sugar high that followed. We visited Husband's family today, and they basically have all of the food covered. And then some.

So we all we had to do was show up with our meager offering of Rice Krispie treats, which we appropriately decorated with Princess Elsa colored sprinkles in honor of the birthday girl.

It was a great day filled with family, good friends, beautiful weather, and lots of fun.

Although I did post the following on Facebook early on ... "When the only thing that calms your screaming one-year-old is your five-year-old screaming Twinkle Twinkle Little Star ... fun times."

Fortunately, things turned around once we arrived and the kids were able to run and play.

I love spending Thanksgiving with Husband's side of the family, and I love how easy it is to just show up without any stress. However, I also love to cook, so I'm excited that we will celebrate a second Thanksgiving this weekend.

Tomorrow, as I watch the parade (which we recorded today), I'll be making ...

-Orange Bourbon Cranberry Sauce
-Sweet Potato/Apple soup, which we garnish with a chive sour cream and bacon (yum!)
-And, of course, more Rice Krispie treats. Perhaps with Thanksgiving-colored sprinkles this time

Hope you're all having a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday!

(And I hope you like the new bog layout!)

Monday, November 24, 2014

Work at home mom ...

7:29 AM 0
Work at home mom ...
My sales season is winding down, so I'm entering into the time where I work from home and won't travel at all for a couple of months. It's nice to finally slow down, and I always get the same question ...

"Will you keep your kids at home with you now that you're not traveling?"


As much as I'd love to be able to keep them home AND be productive at my job, this just doesn't seem to be possible.

I was reminded of this last week when my little guy was home sick one day, which also happened to be the day before I had promised Miss Mighty she could stay home with me. What was I thinking?

Honestly, I was thinking that I had missed my kiddos while traveling so much these last few months, and I just wanted some extra time with them. However ... as much as I'd hoped it would work, and as much as I really wanted it to, it just didn't.

These kids are used to a schedule where they get close to 100% of my undivided attention on the weekends, and it just didn't translate well that this couldn't happen on a 'work' day.

I had one conference call in particular that turned into a pretty big disaster. Between potty checks, snack requests, and a snafu with a Barbie Mermaid movie, I'm pretty sure I missed out on some important details during that call.

So, lesson learned. I won't keep the kids at home while I'm trying to work. I will, however, be scheduling in a few extra vacation days to spend some much needed quality time with them. We have a couple of dates already on the calendar for next month, and I'm really looking forward to building these in while I'm not traveling.

How do you balance work and kids? Any special tips or tricks to make it work?

Linking up with Monday Mom Confessions at Family. Work. Life.

Monday Mom Confession

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Practical Christmas Presents

8:36 AM 0
Practical Christmas Presents
My friend Jolie over at The Gray Matters recently posted a list of Perfect Preschool Presents that I really love. If you know me personally or followed any of my posts in the past, you know that Husband falls a tad into the ‘neat freak’ camp. He likes clean lines, organized everything, and absolutely no excess of stuff. 

This can be a struggle to balance with the love my kids have gift-receiving along with the love their grandparents have for gift-giving

Add to that the fact that we have a birthday in November followed by Christmas in December, and I can almost see Husband’s anxiety building right in front of my eyes as he envisions all of the new things he will have to find room for in our home.

On occasion, we have tried to save extra gifts to donate, but Miss Mighty tearfully pointed out earlier this year, “But that was MY present, Mommy. They gave it to ME.”

While I think she is old enough to understand the concept of giving to others, I’m not sure she’s quite ready to give from her own wealth. That’s one we’re working on.

In the meantime, I love rethinking the types of gifts we give, both to her and to our son.

Based on the list from The Gray Matters, I’m making a list of Practical Christmas Presents from my own perspective.

  1. Clothes. This one may not work for everyone, but Miss Mighty is a girly girl right down to her core. She would be as thrilled to receive a dress as a toy, and I bet there are a lot of kids out there with their own clothing quirks. Hone in on what that is, and indulge them!
  2. Stuff to do. We live in a great little town right between two cities, and we love getting out of the house. Memberships or season passes to the water park, zoo, or museum would be great. Tickets to plays, which my little drama queen loves to attend, are also a big hit. Even just a spa day for her to have her fingers and toes painted is always so special. In fact, my mom does this every year for my daughter before her birthday. It’s becoming a little tradition, which is even more special.  
  3. Art Supplies. Some to share and some that each kid can call their own. As The Boy gets older, he wants more and more to play right along with his sister. I think it’s a great opportunity for them to do something together, but it can also be difficult to both color in the same book. Stickers and crayons are great for sharing and learning to take turns. A box for each kid to keep their own special note pads and/or a portfolio to house completed projects would be great individual gifts.
  4. Jewelry. This is another one for my girly girl, but I love the idea. A friend told me that her grandparents got her jewelry every year from an early age, so she had a nice collection by the time she was an adult. It doesn’t have to be expensive or fancy. We’ve started this a bit with some James Avery charms, and I also think it is also easy to do with birthstone items.
  5. Stuff for summer. Bathing suits, beach towels, sand/pool toys. How much fun would it be to get a little basket of sunshine in the middle of the cold weather? This gives kids something fun to look forward to, and it's a great way to give the child with a winter birthday a gift to go back to in the middle of the year. 
  6. Movies, books, and games. These blend practical with fun. New movies always seem to be released around the holidays; and, can anyone really ever have enough books?! Games – board games, games for the leap pad, or even outside games are all great ideas,      too.
Of course, I still have an Amazon Wish List for both kids, and the lists are full of …. stuff. I make these lists to give ideas of what my kids are into at the moment, and it’s a great way to keep an organized eye on prices and when things go on sale.  

All that said, I do think sometimes kids need to receive a just-for-fun toy, and sometimes gift givers want to give exactly that – something that will put an instant smile on a child’s face. After all, the spirit of Christmas is in the joy of giving, and I firmly believe that the basis for that later in life is to experience the joy of receiving in the early years. 

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Back to my roots ...

8:24 AM 0
Back to my roots ...
I spent a lot of time in my young adult days running as quickly as possible in the opposite direction of my small town roots. Big school, city living, sales job that allowed me to travel the world.

As I've gotten older, though, I've started to realize that those country roots are actually closer to where I want to settle. We still want the amenities offered in a bigger town, especially the educational resources for our kids.

But nothing feels more like home than a quiet weekend at the ranch.

I told Husband last week that I would much rather our kids grow up 'country' than 'city' because I think it's easier to layer in city later than vice versa.

It's interesting coming to this realization, though. Especially when things happen that make you truly unable to deny the shift in dynamic. Like finding the PERFECT Christmas Stockings, the exact ones I've been searching for for years ... At Cabela's.

Really? Yes, really.

I've had a picture in my head for the last few years and have not been able to find anything that came close to what I was looking for ... at least not at a price I'm willing to pay. And then, there they were. Right in the middle of the deer season display and camo-laden everything.

I haven't brought myself to actually buy them yet, but it's probably going to happen. Soon.

The only one I'll have to modify is for Miss Mighty. It will obviously need to be glammed up a little. Sparkles or pink or something shiny, of course.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

The mom life ...

8:48 AM 0
The mom life ...
Last night I spent 45 minutes brushing a doll's hair. I actually spent more time untangling and uncrunching. Never mind that that's not a word ... just focus on why/how it got crunchy in the first place. I have no clue.

This was not just any doll, mind you. It was a Rapunzel doll. And, not one of those Barbie-type dolls, but one with hair that might literally be longer than my own.

Then I french braided her hair, because 'only one braid, Mommy, not two' was the request.

I did at least half of this in near dark because we were playing slumber party, of course.

The other half I finished after Miss Mighty was tucked in bed, because, "She's my favorite girl, Mommy! I neeeed her."

That's the mom life.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Time Change

10:07 AM 2
Time Change
Based on my social media feeds, I may be the ONLY person who actually likes the time change, but I do! I love it!

I love how much cozier the evenings feel. In some ways, everything seems to slow down. We don't feel as rushed, trying to beat the sun clock. We change into pajamas earlier. We snuggle more. We cook more comfort foods like lasagna and chili. We're in total homebody mode.

Maybe the dark tucks us in earlier so that we don't feel the need to be out and about, running errands or staying busy. It feels so natural to be home and without any other agenda.

The consensus in this family is that we love the time change. What about you? What's your preference?

Tuesday, November 4, 2014


1:10 PM 0
I voted! Did you? 

I actually voted early, so no standing in lines for me today.

This election has been especially frustrating for me. I don't know if it's a sign of getting older or becoming more aware, but I'm starting to fall precariously close to the ledge of the conspiracy-theory camp.

Politics used to be exciting for me. I used to be really passionate about certain issues.

Now, I really see ‘politics’ as a way that our very broken system pits us against each other so that we’re too distracted to hold them accountable. Something along the lines of, “Here! Argue about these sure-fire-hot-button issues instead of the fact that I haven’t done my job in a decade.”

I voted, somewhat begrudgingly, but I voted ... because I firmly believe that you should not get to complain if you don’t cast your ballot. Even if you’re unsatisfied with your own choices.

So, if you haven’t already, go vote! There’s still time for your voice to be heard.

(And, sorry, this post doesn't exactly ease me back into blogging. More on the adventures of being a working-traveling-mom in the weeks to come!)

Monday, November 3, 2014

I'm back .... maybe.

7:17 AM 4
I'm back .... maybe.
It's hard to believe I haven't posted here in almost 3 years. I used to post daily! I've tried to write other blogs in other formats, but nothing has quite caught on. It could be because we've added another baby to our always-working, always on-the-go family. We're definitely busy. However, I think it has more to do with the fact that THIS page is probably just the right fit for me and my writing. So, I'm back! At least, I'm back as long as I can keep up with it. It will be less organized than a few years ago, but I'm going to give it a go. I will be looking for somebody to update the layout (suggestions welcome!) in the next few weeks, so look for some changes to the look, and probably to the content/topics as we get up to date. I'm still taking what feels like 'baby steps' in this whole journey of finding balance in our busy life, but I'm looking forward to taking those baby steps with you! I hope you'll join me.