Wednesday, December 24, 2014

All Aboard The Polar Express

One of my favorite things about this time of year is our (almost) annual Polar Express Party. There have been years here & there when I just didn't have the time or extra brain cells to do one more thing during this season but I have thoroughly enjoyed the tradition.  It all started with my oldest, Max and 2 friends when he was on Pre-K.  We decided to invite a few kids over for hot cocoa & popcorn in their jammies followed by card making and it was an instant hit. My kids have asked to host one every year since.

We are gearing up to host another one in just a few days. As tempted as I can be to go over the top with theme & d├ęcor (thanks Pinterest for all the ideas) I have learned over the years that less is more when it comes to this event.  This year, we are expecting between eight & twelve kids, including mine and for sanity's sake, simplicity is key.  The kids won't remember anything but the food anyway.

This has been so fun for us and if you think you might want to give it a try with your own kids or even a few extras, here is what a typical party looks like for us.

I usually plan for at least 3 hours to make sure the kids have plenty of time to craft, watch the movie and stuff their faces with Christmas goodies. This year's menu includes Hot Apple Cider, Hot Cocoa with marshmallows and/or whipped cream, store-bought Christmas shaped cookies, take & bake pizza and popcorn with red & green M&M's for during the movie. I bought Dollar Tree paper plates & napkins in Red & Green and I am using Nestle Hot Cocoa Mix from a can.  In years past, I have exhausted myself searching for the perfect recipe and then making home-made hot chocolate from scratch, baking dozens of sugar cookies the day before and then trying to keep my cool while letting the kids "help" frost them at the party.  I guess you could say I'm learning to "Let it go".

I will be making Apple Cider in the crock pot, but it is super easy and one of my favorite drinks, so it's totally selfish actually.  All you need is 2 quarts of store bought apple juice and a few cinnamon sticks. Toss them in the crock pot and cook on low for 6 or so.  Easy peasy, my kind of drink. 

We have also done lots of fun and somewhat involved crafts in previous years and I admit I have loved that part, too.  We have made fingerprint reindeer ornaments, photo frame wreath ornaments from painted puzzle pieces & canning jar lids and gone through more glitter than I care to remember.  This year, I chose to purchase some foam Christmas shapes and stockings from Michael's craft store at 60% off and will have Christmas coloring sheets on hand as well old Christmas cards, markers, glue & glitter for the kids to repurpose them into something new.

As a mom who likes things to be done a certain way and often wears herself out trying to meet unrealistic expectations, I am very excited about this new, laid back style.  My kids are thrilled to have friends over and stay in their jammies all day.  I am thrilled to be able to enjoy the day and seize the moment rather than fretting over every detail and wearing myself out before the day even begins.

So what are you waiting for? "All aboard!"

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

For When You Don't Have All The Answers

"What do you feel God is trying to teach you right now?" That was one of the questions posed to a table full of amazing women recently and I immediately felt my face burn knowing that I would have no good answer. 

What was God trying to teach me? I could barely remember how I had even gotten to the meeting, and I was being asked to evaluate my current spiritual state and give a report at what in the world the God of the universe might be trying to teach me in this season of survival and sacrifice.  Now, the heart of the wonderful woman asking wasn't a harsh one. There was no judgment in her question, simply curiosity and an invitation to wonder, think, assess. 

So, here was my I straight up lie to save face? Or embellish? Do I give some scripted "Christianese" answer or do I be the real, honest woman that I am often not brave enough to be?
The truth is, I didn't know all the women at the table all that well and we are in leadership of sorts, so shouldn't I have some great, inspiring answer to bestow upon them? In that moment, I knew I needed to just be real and I'd like to say it was born out of some conviction to be more vulnerable and available to people, (that would be a great lesson, no?), but really I was just too tired to try and save face.

I admitted to these awesome women that I really had no idea what God was trying to teach me. I mean, I didn't even know what I was cooking for dinner.  We talked a lot about the seasons we were all in, some similar to mine and some very different.  I was able to honestly say my not knowing was not from a lack of not trying or not listening.  There were lots of suggestions and ideas about how to seek out those lessons and encouragement to not be discouraged if I wasn't 100% sure of God's plan for my life at every moment. The important thing was the seeking, the asking and the growing.

If I continue to strive to grow and learn, keep moving forward and being sensitive to the fact that God may show His plan in the least likely of places, I am moving in the right direction.  It is so easy to feel lost at sea when weariness seems to slow the days and blur them together.  The wonderful, beautiful truth is we don't have to always have the perfect answer. We only need to keep our hearts open and our eyes focused on Jesus and one step at a time, He will get us where we need to be.

Sometimes what God is trying to teach us is that we really have no idea what He is trying to teach us and that we need only depend more fully on Him each day...and not be afraid to admit it.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Think outside the box this year {literally} for your special someone

Thanks to the brightly flashing Santa sign at our local Wal-Mart, I now know that Christmas is only 20-something days away...thanks.  The list of things to-do before that time, whether they be "want to", "have to" or "need to"- feels suffocating at times. In truth, there really is only one task that puts me in a cold sweat and it's probably not what you think - shopping for my husband. 

Don't get me wrong, he isn't hard to please or picky and is always gracious no matter what I get him, big or small, but with the double whammy of his birthday on December 24th and Christmas the 25th the pressure is on.  Eric does so much for us. He works hard, is diligent & faithful, and puts his family first always.  I want him to know how much he is appreciated and a great gift has always seemed the answer.  A few years ago, I saw an article from The Dating Divas on Pinterest and thought about a new approach.

The whole idea is basically a spin on the 12 days of Christmas.  Every day, you give your hubs a small, wrapped gift to correspond with the day.  For example, two pairs of socks on the second day, $7.00 for coffee on day seven or a CD with 12 songs on it for day twelve.  The gifts don't have to be expensive or extravagant, but I can tell you the thoughtfulness and excitement of a getting a small token of love tucked into his lunch pail each morning was evident.  I created little stickers for each day and printed them beforehand so it was easy to stay organized and remember what each gift was.  By day 5, it would be impossible to keep up if I hadn't been organized and pre-purchased all the items.  Depending on your Christmas traditions & whether you open gifts Christmas Day or Christmas Eve, you will want to start your 12 Days of Christmas either December 12th or December 13th. There really is no wrong way to do it.

Another idea I have seen floating around that I really like, but haven't had the resources or extra energy to put together, is a gift called The 12 Dates of Christmas.  You basically pre-plan 12 months (1 year) of dates for you and your sweetheart and put it under the tree or in his stocking on Christmas morning.  Again, these dates don't have to be extravagant, but should be pre-planned and pre-purchased.  Ideas could be coffee and grocery shopping without kids, a matinee movie date, Redbox movies and popcorn after the kids go to bed, a few hours at the shooting range or dinner at your favorite restaurant.   Think of things he likes to do, but you might not normally be up for. It is his gift after all.  It's a great idea to make a little coupon book and attach gift cards for each date or fill 12 separate, sealed envelopes with the details of the planned date and some cash/gift cards. That way, each month is a surprise and he can't look ahead :) 

So yes, I still want to find the perfect gift but I am realizing more often than not that all my hubby really wants is a wife who is invested in him and a little effort on my part shows him more about my love for him than anything I can buy at a store. 

Originally published over at Douglas County Moms

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Car Seat Safety Review

As the weather turns cold and we start to plan holiday trips over the hill and through the woods, now seems like a good time to review an often overlooked item on the pre-trip checklist - car seats. I know I have often found myself questioning my own know-how and skills when it comes to the finer points of car seat and booster seat safety, but with the help of Rosalee at our local ODOT office, I feel a lot more confident in my ability to make the best choices for my family and also the resources to get help if needed.
Let me first say I was pleasantly surprised and encouraged by how eager Rosalee was to offer her wisdom and expertise in this particular area. It just re-iterated to me how wildly important and often overlooked this area of child safety is.  When I originally emailed her, I outlined the basics of what I understood about car seat safety/guidelines for review and/or correction and also asked her several questions that I myself have encountered as well as items of concern I have heard brought up during various Mommy gatherings or Facebook posts. 
So to start, let's review the basics:
1.   According to Oregon law, children under 1 year and 20 pounds must be in an approved rear facing car seat.  However, best practice is to encourage parents/caregivers to keep children rear-facing as long as the seat allows it.  This is also recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics because of crash dynamics and how rear-facing seats are designed to protect a child’s neck and spine in a crash.  While it my not be illegal to turn your baby around as soon as s/he reached that magical 1 year/20 pound benchmark, it is most definitely not recommended. Children are safest rear-facing. 
2.  There is no longer a recommended age for moving children to booster seats, (I originally thought the law was 4 years old and 40 pounds). Oregon law says that children must be in a harness system until they are 40 lbs.  However, many car seat manufacturers are making harness systems that go to higher weight limits.  So, if the harness system will allow a child to continue using it to say 65 lbs., then families are encouraged to continue utilizing the harness system.  Just like race car drivers, children are safer in a 5 pt. harness.  But yes, technically children can move to a booster once they are 40 lbs.  Also remember that when making the switch to a booster seat, they cannot be used with lap belts only.  You must have a lap and shoulder belt available to use a booster seat legally.
3.  Children should remain in an appropriately sized booster seat until 8 years old or 4’9”.  There is no longer a weight requirement.  Plus, Oregon’s seat belt law states that seat belt systems must be used properly and it trumps car seat laws.  So, if you have an small 8 year old and the seat belt does not fit them properly (meaning it rides up on their neck or their waist) then it is not being properly used.  So, even though your child is 8 you could still be cited.  Kids need to remain in boosters until they are big enough for the adult sized lap/shoulder belt to fit them properly.
This was a great review for me and I learned that I had several misconceptions about current car seat laws in Oregon.  Above and beyond that, Rosalee offered a few more details about commonly asked questions that aren't necessarily addressed within the law, but I found very informative and helpful.
Q:  Is it required to use the anchor system for car seats if your vehicle is equipped? (vs. seatbelts)
A:  Never.  You always have the choice to use the lower anchors or the seat belt.  Use only one or the other and they are both equally safe.  It is recommended that you use the top tether for all forward facing car seats.
Q:  When is it appropriate to move your child from a high back booster to a no-back booster or is it preference? 
A:  They are both designed for the same use and the requirements are the same.  The no-back booster must be used in a seating position with a vehicle head rest. 
Q:  What are the fines/punishments for inappropriate use of a car/booster seat? 
A:  The current fine for a class D violation (improper or no use of a seat belt/child safety seat) is $110.  That may be changing in 2015 and does not include child endangerment or any other type of citation that may be issued.
Q:  What can we do with our expired car seats? Is it legal to still use them? Is there somewhere they can be recycled? Why do they expire?  Does just the base expire or the whole seat? Where can the expiration date be found? 
A:  The whole car seat expires, and Douglas County does not currently have a car seat recycling program.  It is best to take the car seat apart, recycle the parts you can, and then take the remainder to the landfill.  It is illegal and dangerous to use expired car seats.  They expire because of the exposure of the plastic shell to the heat/cold in vehicles year round.  So in a crash, the force can actually cause the plastic shell to break in an expired seat.  Car seats typically expire 6 years from the date of manufacture.  So you can find the manufacture date on the sticker on the seat and add 6 years, or some manufacturers print the expiration date on the plastic shell on the back of the seat. 
Q:  What is the biggest or most common mistake parents make when installing car seats? What about when choosing them? 
A:  There are a couple of common mistakes:  Parents can’t get a tight installation; they don’t tighten the harness straps enough; or they don’t have the harness straps at the necessary height for the child using the seat.  Choosing a car seat is different for everyone.  The important thing is to choose a car seat that fits your budget, fits your vehicle, and that you will install properly every time.
Q:  Can you go to any fire or police station to have your car seat checked out? Do you need an appointment? Are there any safety events scheduled in the area where this service will be offered?  A:  No, not all agencies have certified technicians.  Right now you can call the following agencies who have certified techs:  ODOT – 541-957-3657; Roseburg PD – 541-492-6760; Douglas County Sheriff’s Office – 541-440-4486; and Oregon State Police – 541-440-3334.  Please call ahead for appointments, that works best for all of us – we can be ready and prepared and have the time needed to help.  There are no more community car seat clinics scheduled for this year.
Q:  Is it advisable to buy used car seats? What should we as parents look for if we choose to do so?  A:  We do not recommend that people buy used car seats unless they are buying from the sole owner of the seat, whom they know well and trust.  Even then, be sure to check for things like expiration dates, straps and buckles that are in good repair, etc.  You should never buy a seat from a second-hand store for these reasons: (1.) You don’t know the crash history of the seat (2.) you don’t know how they cleaned the seat (and if they didn’t follow manufacturer’s instructions they could really damage the harness system strength), and  (3.) used car seats may not have all of the information stickers on the seat to help determine important information for recalls or expiration.
Q:  Are there any resources or extra information you feel would be beneficial to include? 
A:  Please, please, please if you are an expectant mom, call us for help prior to your due date – at least 1 month before your due date. 
I hope you find this information as helpful as I did and continue to stay up to date on this incredibly crucial topic.  Our kiddos are the most important cargo we will ever carry, let's do it right! 

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Living For Sundays & Somedays

With 3 kids and a very busy schedule life tends to feel like a runaway train some days. It is easy to get discouraged by all the things I "should" have done on any given day.  I constantly have a mental to-do list running and all I ever manage to do is feel defeated and deflated at the end of each day.  I think as moms, this struggle is probably not unfamiliar to you either.  We all go through seasons of change and growth, however imperfect it may be - and sometimes those seasons last MUCH longer than we'd like.

Here is what I'm learning. It's OKAY.  Profound, I know. Learning my limits and not being able to do it all - all the time is no reason to melt down or freak out.  I am learning more and more how and when to say "no" to things that will only wear me out more and also to accept help. I still shudder at the never ending pile of laundry and unfinished home improvement projects, but I choose to believe my husband when he says it doesn't bother him.

I am relying more and more on finding a place of rest in the midst of my day because it is the most important, if not the most urgent part of it.  Loving and living from a place of rest are not easy, but it has completely changed the environment in my home.  My kids don't care or notice if I accomplished a certain number of tasks during the day but they most certainly notice if Momma is running around like a Banty Rooster (thanks, Marla) and melting down over every spill and mess.

I believe there are days meant to rest and not all days will be as productive as I'd like but that is no reason to become idle or defeated into laziness. It is all too appealing some days to feel like if I can't do it all, I shouldn't do anything which would only lead to more frustration and guilt.  I am striving to work hard during the week, keeping balance a priority but never over-extending my strength, patience or abilities.

For us, that day is Sunday.  For far too many years, I have used Sunday as another chance to catch up and get ahead.  Squeezing every spare minute of production out of it and missing the chance to really enjoy my family and a slower pace.  There is nothing quite like a nap on the couch with my sweet-hearted, snuggly six year old or 30 minutes lounging in the hammock with my handsome hubby.  I have traded thousands of Sundays bonding with my family for a clean(er), tidy(er) house and shorter to-do list.  Striving for perfection as a wife and mother has left me weary and empty.  An immaculate house isn't a worthwhile trade for a thriving family with a Momma whose heart is happy and at peace.

So, I'm living for the easy pace of Sundays and saving my to-do list for Someday.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

7 Things I Love About Fall {& A Few I Could Live Without}

Fall is finally here, and admittedly is my favorite season but as with anything, there is always room for improvement :) Here is a list of my 7 favorite (& a few not-so-favorite) things about Fall.

Love #1:  School is back in session!
I can't tell you how much relief the school year schedule brings to this household. We all know there are some great things about Summer, but overall I love the structure my kids have during the school year as well as the opportunities they have to learn & socialize.  Not to mention I actually know what day it is :P

Love #2:  Mom Time
Now, I don't mean time alone although that would be nice from time to time as well, but I mean time with OTHER moms.  It seems every Summer break starts out well intentioned and full of play date plans but somehow, Summer morphs into this time sucking monster and I rarely see other adult humans for the better part of 3 months. In the Fall, all the organized "mom groups", Bible studies and small groups seem to pick back up and it is a welcome change.

Love #3: Cooler Weather
By now, you all know I am not a fan of the heat and although this week has been a bit of an exception, we know that cooler weather IS on the way and I am thrilled.  I can wear sweaters and boots and not worry about dying of heat exhaustion. I can go for an evening run without drowning in sweat and the pressure for that "bikini ready" body is off the magazine covers for at least a few months.

Love #4: The Food
And since we don't have to worry about that bikini body just yet, can we take a minute and appreciate all the yummy goodness that comes October - December? I mean, really.  The crockpots get dusted off, comfort foods are in high demand and it's almost time to start baking Christmas goodies.  I am a sucker for caramel apples, hot apple cider, hearty soups and rich pumpkin breads (with cream cheese frosting of course), and who doesn't love a Pumpkin Spice Latte?

Love #5: Shorter Days
As a wife whose first wake-up call comes at 3:30am, I am so thankful for shorter days. This time of year, my husband leaves in the dark and gets home after dark which isn't necessarily a good thing but it is so much easier to convince my littles it is time to wind down at 7:00pm when the sun isn't still beaming in through the windows.  With 3 kids, I find it takes the better part of an hour to get through our normal bedtime routine.  We start after dinner and by 8:00pm it is plenty dark  to be tucked in and lights out without too much resistance.

Love #6: Pumpkin Patches
Truth be told, my amazing Mother-In Law grows pumpkins for my kids in her garden every year but the experience of taking them to the pumpkin patch is so much fun!  Our favorite local event is held at Brosi's Sugar Tree Farms and is being held on October 11, 2014 from 10:00am-4:00pm.  They have hay rides, bobbing for apples, a corn maze, cake walk, crafts, a petting zoo and some delish food.  It's been a few years since my kids have a had a school field trip to Brosi's, but their Harvest festival is a must on our Fall bucket list.

Love #7: Costumes
We actually don't celebrate Halloween, but all of my kids love to dress up and this time of year is so fun for costume hunting.  We spend hours rummaging through second hand stores and like to hit up local big chain stores for after Halloween sales on costumes and accessories. We have scored some real gems over the years that continue to be used year-round for imaginary play.

Not-So-Much #1: Rain
We haven't seen much of it yet and in all honesty, I do hope we get a good dose of it this year; however, it is not my favorite part of the season.  Sitting inside watching and listening to it fall is peaceful and enjoyable at times, but knowing we have a good 8 months or so of it coming up here in the PNW can be a bit daunting.  Cabin fever can start to set in and I can be sure the inside of my car will never look the same after a season of football with 2 boys. 

Not-So-Much #2:  The Frenzy
We are encouraged this time of year to slow down and be thankful. To count our blessings and enjoy the bounty of life we have been provided, but it seems to be more of a fight with each passing year. Christmas aisles appear to pop up sooner every year and before we even get to Thanksgiving I am burnt out from battling 3 kids and their misunderstanding of wants vs. needs. Teaching kids to be thankful and appreciate all they have is exponentially harder when everywhere they turn something "bigger and better" is being shoved in their faces.  It's me against the retail world and they have a better PR person ;)

Not-So-Much #3:  Hunting & Football
Now, I could get in trouble for this, because I actually DO like both of these things.  The thing I don't like is the amount of time and energy they take up.  My husband and I both enjoy hunting and I appreciate being able to provide food for my family, but am I the only on that runs out of cooking ideas before I run out of meat?  As for football, with one kid on the Middle School team, one kid on the flag football team, a nephew playing in college and all the non-stop coverage on TV, it just gets to be a little much you know? 

So, there you have it.  My take on Fall and all the things that make it so great!

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Crockpot Chicken Tacos {For Breakfast, Lunch AND Dinner!?!}

Well, here we are...School has started, football season is in full swing, and I am happily back together with "Old Faithful", my crock pot.  If there is one thing I love more than an easy, inexpensive set-it-and-forget-it dinner, it is one that can be used to feed my growing family any time of day. This recipe is one of those rare treasures. Not only can I start it in the morning and finish it up in about 15 minutes at dinner time, it is a favorite with everyone in this household. And let me tell you, that is music to this Momma's ears.

I serve this dish at least once a week, and I always put the leftovers to good use.  I intentionally make a little extra each time to throw on top of my eggs in the morning with a little salsa and sour cream or whip up a quick batch of nachos for lunch the next day. I have also used this recipe to make yummy nachos for game day.

Crockpot Shredded Chicken Tacos:


2-4 Boneless, skinless chicken breasts (I use 3 and it there is plenty to feed my brood and then some)
1-15 oz. Jar of salsa (any kind)
1 Packet Taco Seasoning

Combine all ingredients and cook in crock pot on low for 6-8 hours or high for 4-6 hours. That's it! The chicken shreds easily with a fork and I don't even thaw my chicken breasts before hand. 

I serve ours with warmed tortillas, sour cream, guacamole, shredded cheddar cheese, Mexican flavored rice and pinto or black beans, but there really is no limit to what you can do with these. Top as desired and enjoy!