The Best of 2014

 

 

It was another great year around here!

 

Even though blogging has changed immensely in the six+ years since I started, I still very much love this community. The increased focus on images over writing is hard on me, since I’m more gifted with words than photos, but I keep soldiering on and, blessedly, so many of you put up with me and my old-school ways. :) Thank you!

 

Commenting has dwindled even more, but it helps to know that engagement on other parts of social media still exists. I thrive on community and conversation and I love to hear your opinions and stories!

 

Looking up the most visited posts of 2014 wasn’t all that helpful, since some are four years old or even older! So, instead, I dug through the archives to dredge up the posts that got the most feedback and inspired the most conversation from the year.

 

Here’s what got you all talking and sharing this year!

 

Best of 2014 (Parenting Miracles)

 

Food:

Most popular snack/appetizer: White Cheddar Cranberry Bites

Best time-saver: Quick Kid-Friendly Suppers

Most-shared dessert: Cinnamon White Chocolate Chip Cookies

Biggest Guilty Pleasure: Boston Cream Donuts

Top breakfast: Cinnamon Sugar Oven Pancake

 

 

Faith and Encouragement:

Scripture Lessons from A.: First Fruits

Most Challenging: The Problem with Crediting Prayer

Best Parenting Reminder: They Need to Help

Favorite Lesson from the Littles: Being Point

Top Post of Social Consciousness: In the Shadows of Our Town

 

Misc. JL

Geek Fave: What (most) Grammar Geeks Actually Expect

Hard but True Read: Making the Decision to Pass in Arms

The Post that Made Others Sigh With Relief (or think I suck– one of the two): No Shame in Being Real

Top-Read Church Debate Post: Inadvertently Scandalous

Silly but Popular: Deciding What to Call Your In-Laws

Most-Shared on Pinterest: Unexpected Hurts After a Miscarriage

 

 

I can’t wait to see what 2015 brings! :)

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Resting in the Season

 

 

The conversation picked up again last night.

 

“I spent all day on the couch,” she said.

“ALL day?” came the incredulous reply.

“Yep,” she nodded, “watching Harry Potter.”

“Good for you,” I chimed in. “It’s been such a busy time of year.”

“Well,” she added, “every time I DID get up, I made sure to take some Christmas crap up to the laundry room.”

The second woman smiled, just a touch smugly, and said, “I’m done.”

“You’re DONE?” asked the first, “As in, you have ALL your decorations up for the year?”

“Mmm hmm.” Another smile.

 

 

And I sat there, not saying anything. I answered their direct query when it inevitably came, but I was in no hurry to share. Obviously, I was a failure when measured against this yardstick.

 

But here’s the thing…

 

Maybe you’ve taken all your Christmas decorations down. Maybe you need to reclaim the space. Maybe they were driving you nuts. Maybe you put everything up sometime in October or November and it’s just been long enough already. Maybe you have a New Year’s party planned and you want to move on.

 

Whatever the reason, that’s fine. It’s honestly no one else’s business when you take down your stuff. Or put it up, for that matter.

 

But you’ll get no pat on the back from me. I’m not handing out awards for efficient dissembly.

 

3 kings

 

 

Around here, the Christmas decorations will remain up until the weekend after the Epiphany. We are IN the Christmas season, after all. That’s what this is. Those “twelve days of Christmas”? They’re not some countdown from the 13th to the 25th. Nope. They’re a celebration from the 25th to the 6th of January. And we observe that.

 

Can it be observed without the tree and the lights?

 

Well, sure. Those are all just trappings. But, while Advent is a time of preparation and hustle and bustle in many ways, the Christmas season allows us the opportunity to joyfully celebrate and rest.

 

For a moment, let’s liken it to welcoming any new baby. There’s a time of preparation. There’s much to get done. We “nest.” We organize. We get ready.

 

And then there is joy– the baby is here! What wonder! What excitement!

 

And then there is rest. Quiet moments. Seeking peace wherever possible. Family gathers. Sometimes meals are shared, sometimes they are unbelievably simple and piecemeal. We yearn for moments to simply rest and wonder at this precious new life.

 

While the Christ child is certainly no average baby, our celebration still mimics this pattern.

 

And so, yes, my decorations remain. I’m in no contest to get them down the fastest.

 

It matters not to me if others prefer to un-decorate in the days immediately following Noel.

 

But you’ll find me here in the treelight, resting in the Season.

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Menu Plan: Ring in the New!

 

 

A belated but very Merry Christmas to you all! I hope you all had lovely holidays and made lots of special memories together.

 

As for us, Christmas Eve was spent with my whole family at my sister’s house and we all enjoyed tons of laughter and what I call the “food-and-cousin-coma” that follows. As you all know, Christmas Eve is also C’s birthday, so we had lots of fun celebrating that, too. More on all that stuff to follow, I’m sure. I’m realizing as I type that I have so many fun anecdotes and stories to share from these past days that if I let myself start sharing more here, this post will wind up being 2000+ words!

 

Anyway, suffice it to say that it’s been fun and busy and joyful around here and, though we’re all fighting some tough colds, it hasn’t kept us down.

 

There are three things I can hardly believe:

1. that I now have two nine-year-olds (!!!)

2. that it’s almost 2015 (!!!)

3. that I almost have a child whose age is in the double digits (!!!!!)

 

Gracious. Time flies, doesn’t it?

 

Anyway, as time marches on, we still have to eat!

 

So, here’s the meal plan for the week!you gotta eat

 

 

Sunday: 

B–Cereal, Apples, Milk ( before 7:30AM Mass)

 

Brunch– Ham, Broccoli, Egg, Cheese & Fried Potato Skillets

D–2 varieties of Chicken Burritos (one with rice, one with beans)

 

Monday: 

Simple Egg Wrap

B–Egg Wraps, Pancakes, Apples, Juice

D–Chicken & Carrots w/ Noodle Rice Pilaf

 

Tuesday:

B–PB Toast w/ Raisins, Milk

D–out for pizza with my family

 

 

Wednesday: 

B–Cinnamon Roll Bread, Eggs, Apples

D–Buffalo Chicken Bites, Mini Pigs in Blankets, Mini Bagel Pizzas, assorted veggies (snacky/appy supper) before an epic Family Game Night with oodles of snacks (And champagne. You can bet I’ll be enjoying champagne.)

 

 

Thursday: (Happy New Year!)

B–Eggs, Cranberry Muffins, Oranges

Buffalo Chicken Chili

D–Buffalo Chicken Chili, Breadsticks

 

 

Friday:

B–Cereal, Bananas, Milk

D–Large Cheese Pizza, Medium Sausage & Onion Pizza

 

 

Saturday:

B–Pancakes, Fruit

Creamy Marsala Noodles

D–Creamy Chicken Marsala

 

 

 

And that should do it! 

 

 

 

 

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Junk- and Clutter-Free Journal Favor

 

 

Got a party in your plans? Don’t give up on favors just because they’re traditionally pricey, junky, or cluttery. This fun, useful favor comes together with a small pricetag and won’t drive the parents of the party-goers nuts. Winning!

 

 

 

I’m aware that some people have strong feelings about party favors.

 

Unnecessary. Feeding entitlement. Waste of money. Full of junk. Cheap plastic toys. Annoying whistles/horns/noisemakers. Foot killers. Tooth rotters.

 

Really, party favors can be much-maligned.

 

I will never try to tell you that party favors are necessary. They are not. You can absolutely throw a fabulous party without sending your little guests home with a gift bag or token.

 

I find that this is both a matter of personal preference and also regional/social custom. Around here, parties tend to be big to-dos. I’m not saying that I think that’s a great thing, honestly, but it is what it is. People typically rent venues, have huge spreads, and guests most often bring sizable gifts. Again, is this superior to a home party with modest gifts? No. But so be it.

 

Favors are most certainly the norm around here. I wouldn’t let that fact dictate what I do, but it has given me the opportunity to get a feel for a wide array of different types of favors. Many are the traditional plastic sack full of junky candy and cheapy plastic toys. I’m not a big fan of those. But I also know that favors can be fun, functional, affordable, and free of both junk and clutter.

 

 

Journal Favor

 

There are lots of fun favors that defy the junky norm, but here’s one of my new favorites!

 

Journal Favors

 

You will need:

 

(for 6 favors)

 

  • 6 assorted hard-cover journals
  • scented pens (mine came in 3-packs)
  • curling ribbon
  • 6-pack snack size M&Ms

 

(total spent: $10)

 

Simply tie a ribbon bow snugly around each journal, curling ends. Tuck a pen and a pack of candy under the ribbon. And you’re done!

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Still don’t have a teacher gift? Don’t panic!

 

 

Holiday break looms right around the corner! It’s starting within hours or days for most of us. If you’re in a panic because you haven’t yet figured out what to give a special teacher in your life, I’m here to tell you to calm on down. It’s okay.

 

thankyounote

 

Here’s what you need to do.

 

  1. Go get yourself a pretty notecard or piece of paper.
  2. Start writing.
  3. Include details as to what makes this teacher special and why you value his or her role in your child’s life. It doesn’t have to be long, but it should be genuine and specific.
  4. Go read my post over at Life as MOM and commit to giving arguably one of the greatest gifts there really is.
  5. Go make a cup of cocoa and relax! It’s all good! :)
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Personalized Stir-Fry

 

 

 

Awhile back it occurred to me that, while it might be convenient if all five of us had the same exact taste preferences, that’s just not realistic. I also realized that, while I am fully capable of insisting my children eat what I fix, I’m also a big fan of offering options that give them at least a little choice in the matter.

 

So the Personalized Stir-Fry was born.

 

I honestly don’t know why I didn’t come up with this earlier. It could be that I’m the only person on earth who hadn’t. For whatever reason though, this was a new method for me and it has been totally life-changing. My kids absolutely LOVE this meal and there is no arguing and no hassle. I call that a win!

 

Here’s all there is to it:

 

Personalized Stir-Fry

 

Personalized Stir-Fry
Author: 
Recipe type: main dish
 
Ingredients
  • 2 cups chopped, cooked chicken (I usually use leftovers from a roasted chicken.)
  • 1 bag "California blend" veggies (carrots, broccoli, and cauliflower) or other frozen blend
  • 2 cups rice (uncooked)-- prepared according to package directions
  • a variety of sauces, such as soy, duck, teriyaki, barbecue, ranch, salsa, you name it
Instructions
  1. Mix chicen and veggies in large bowl or pan and heat.
  2. Pile over rice on plates.
  3. Serve alongside a variety of sauces to allow each family member to customize.

 

These were the sauces I chose last time:

 

sauces

 

Every last one got used by someone. Worcestershire, tabasco, and salad dressings are also popular around here. The sky’s the limit! Kids absolutely LOVE choices and they’re far more apt to eat it if they had a hand in choosing it.

 

Easy? Check. Balanced? Check. Grief-free? Check.

 

And THAT’S why this shows up on the menu plan at least once a month. :)

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Menu Plan: Organization is Key

 

 

Oh, it is just SUCH a busy time of year for everyone. This much I know to be true. Whether you work in the home, outside the home, or some combination thereof, you’re all super busy and the schedules are packed. I know this is the case because it’s that way for every single person I know! I am no exception and, as I juggle mothering, housekeeping, cooking, writing, prepping for Christmas (and a Christmas Eve birthday), and substitute teaching, I know that the key to not going nuts is to be brutally organized. Lists, calendars, plans, pre-cooked ingredients, lunch items packed and at the ready– these are all what keeps me sane.

 

The menu plan is no exception– with a firm plan in place, I can be sure to have all the necessary ingredients on-hand and to do as much prep as possible ahead of time. Doing some extra work early in the week pays off big-time down the road.

 

 

So, here’s the meal plan for the week!you gotta eat

 

 

Sunday: 

B–Cereal, Apples, Milk ( before 7:30AM Mass)

angel

 

Brunch– Bacon, Egg, & Fried Potato Skillets, Juice

D–Sunday Supper at Bama & Papa’s (Crescent Roll Lasagna, Salad, Fruit, Peas)

 

Monday: 

Simple Egg Wrap

B–Egg Wraps, Bananas, Vanilla Yogurt

D–Christmas-Shaped Pasta Marinara, Broccoli, Salad

 

Tuesday:

B–Cereal, Apples, Milk

D–Chicken & Mixed Veggies over Rice

 

 

Wednesday: 

B–Bagels w/ Almond Butter, Clementines

D–Cheesy Beans & Rice

 

 

Thursday:

B–Jelly Toast, Apples, Milk

D–Grilled Cheese, Tomato Veggie Soup

 

 

Friday:

B–Cereal, Bananas, Milk

D–Large Cheese Pizza, Medium Sausage & Onion Pizza

 

 

Saturday:

B–Pancakes, Sausage Links, Fruit Salad

D–Beef & Yellow Rice Burritos

 

 

 

And that should do it! 

 

What’s your favorite prep to get done ahead of time to make the week easier?

 

 

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What’s Your Christmas Soundtrack?

 

 

This time of year, I scroll through my social media feeds and get all twitchy and awkward feeling. You see, I’m just so TIRED of the same ol’ Santa debates and number of gift discussions and yes/no Christmas card hooplah and all that. It kind of rains on my parade, if I’m honest. And, yes, I get the concept of just scrolling past. I just need to get better at it. Could be I take things too personally. ;)

 

IMG_20141208_220943

 

Anyhow, one thing I NEVER get sick of is reading about Christmas carols. I absolutely love to see which ones people adore and which ones drive you all batty. It amazes me how abhorred some songs are that were never even on my radar as offensive, while some that are clearly well-loved make me want to run for the hills. It is a true testament to the uniqueness of our tastes and perceptions!

 

 

So let’s start with some songs that apparently offend a lot of people, but don’t rattle me one bit:

 

“Feliz Navidad”– Really? This one bugs people? I honestly find it kind of fun and catchy and I like singing it because my mouth really loves forming foreign words, even if they’re repetitive as all get out. The more I “research” this, it appears this song is particularly disliked in the Southwest and I wonder if it gets really, really overplayed there. I don’t feel like I hear it more than once a week, so that might be part of why I’m unbothered.

 

“Simply Having a Wonderful Christmastime”– I have no feelings about this one whatsoever. I don’t really notice it. But, apparently, it sounds like rubber bands to some people and drives them wacky. Good to know.

 

“Baby, It’s Cold Outside”– Let me level with you people– I didn’t even realize people had their knickers in a twist over this one up until a couple of years ago. In fact, I may or may not have suggested that my family do a duet of it for our annual Christmas performance at a local nursing home. (<– True story.) If my willingness to sing the song with my NEPHEW isn’t proof that I’m not bothered by it, I don’t know what is. But, anyway, here’s the thing– I understand some of you feel it’s kind of “date rape-y.” And, I don’t know… maybe? But I really don’t think so.  It seems to be that whole “Say, what’s in this drink?” line that really gets folks riled up. Doesn’t bother me. Maybe that’s because I think I’ve said that exact line at least a dozen times to my best friend’s husband and never– not even once– was he attempting to coerce me into anything. But maybe I’m just naive. Who knows.

 

 

Meanwhile, tjhe following songs drive me more than a little bonkers:

 

“Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer”– I just don’t really get who thought this was a good song. I don’t really find it funny. And the guy’s not a good singer, either.

 

“I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus”– Now, maybe if you don’t “do” Santa, this doesn’t bug you. But, if you ever DID believe in Santa or if your kids ever have, you’ll see that it’s a horrifying thing to try to process. Knowing that “Santa” and “Daddy” are interchangeable? Well, that changes things. But that song creeped me out something fierce as a child.

 

Anything by the Chipmunks– I can’t quite convey to you how much I hate the Chipmunks, but I will try. Here a few things I’ve truly done to make it stop: run down two flights of stairs, stop in the middle of kneading dough to hit thumbs down, and beg/bribe/cajole a child to change a station. There is no better word to describe how the Chipmunks make me feel other than STABBY.

 

Bonus: I also can’t handle the Celine Dion version of “Oh Holy Night” that everyone else loves. Most of it’s fine, but that “noel” there at the end? Man, I haven’t heard as cringy a note since Mariah Carey went all crazy on that “Emotions” song back in 1990 or something.

 

 

So there you go! Clearly, I’m a weird one.

 

If you’re wondering what kind of Christmas music I LOVE, I’ll tell you. I love the old crooners. I love Andy Williams singing “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year” and Nat King Cole doing “The Christmas Song.” I love Bing Crosby’s version of “White Christmas” and Dean Martin’s “Rudolph.” I am an old, old soul. I also enjoy some Josh Groban and Pentatonix thrown in there, but, 90% of the time, you’ll find me listening to Pandora’s “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year” Station. It’s a goodie. :)

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Words of Affirmation

 

 

Let me be real about something here– I am a SUCKER for personality-type quizzes/surveys. No, no, not so much those Facebook ones like, “If you were on a pirate ship, who would you be?” or “Who is your 1920s soulmate?” or any of that nonsense. No, no, I just love those inventories you can take that help you nail down your dominant traits and talents.

 

This is why I have taken the Myers Briggs multiple times. I always wind up an ESFJ, in case you were curious. This is absolutely zero surprise for this rule-following care-taker here, but I still retake the silly thing just to see if anything changes. (I DID see a shift from T to F as I moved from my teen years to adulthood, so I do think some things are fluid with maturity but, since then? ESFJ all the way.) Anyway, I digress. See? I can get excited about these things!

 

I also took that whole “Love Language” assessment awhile back. (Okay, and multiple times since.) Are you familiar with that one? Basically, it helps you determine what your particular “love language” is– what speaks the loudest and means the most to you. For some, that might be gifts. For others, physical touch. Still others just really crave acts of service. Me? I am all about the words of affirmation. I mean– it’s not even close. I honestly think I’d be perfectly content doing all the work and not receiving gifts so long as someone kept on constantly telling me how awesome and amazing I am. Yep. It’s the truth.

 

And you know what?

 

This is likely part of why substitute teaching has been a great fit for me. I mean, I love teaching, to be honest, so that part’s a no-brainer. I really enjoy all the ages and phases of kiddos, too. The fact that I can work on the days that work with MY schedule at the school that fits with MY routine is also pretty great.

 

But honestly? Well– here:

 

poem (1)

 

And that? Is truly what I hear and receive all the livelong day. “Mrs. S.– your hair is beautiful!” “Mrs. S.– I love your boots!” “Mrs. S– are your nails real? They’re so nice!” “Mrs. S.– you’re so pretty!” (and this gem from yesterday) “You’re the first tall teacher we’ve ever had, Mrs. S.– you look like a model!”

 

Seriously. All. Day. Long.

 

And, at the end of each day? It’s the staff– “Thank you SO much for coming in.” “We really, really appreciate you.” “You’re a gift.” “We are so grafeful for your flexibility– thank you.”

 

And on and on.

 

And, well, me? I confess I eat it up.

 

Because the truth of the matter is that, while my children and husband do, indeed, love and appreciate me, they’re not gonna shower me in compiments like that incessantly.

 

And I have to admit it’s super fun to have a job where they do. ;)

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Menu Plan: Christmas is– gulp– HOW close?

 

 

Were it just a touch colder out there, we’d be getting buried in snow. As it is, a cold, heavy, ugly rain is falling. That’s okay, though. Rain is a part of life, after all! Still, I’m just not one of those people who loves a “good, rainy day.” I don’t mind the blankets, soup, and reading that often go with it, but I can’t handle the darkness. Let there be light!!!!!

 

 

I can hardly believe that Christmas is only a couple of weeks away. It amazes me how time really does fly and I also always feel like such an old lady whenever I say that. Ha!

 

 

In the meantime, here’s the meal plan for the week!you gotta eat

 

 

Sunday: 

B–Cereal, Apples, Milk ( before 7:30AM Mass)

A&syrup

Brunch– Pancakes (with fresh, local maple syrup A. won for taking division first place in his 5K this past Saturday) and Fruit

D–Mexican ground beef over saffron noodles, Salad

 

Monday: 

B–Whole Wheat Bagels with Almond Butter, Apple, Milk

D–Chicken Marsala over Egg Noodles

 

Tuesday:

B–Egg & Cheese Sandwiches, Bananas, Milk

D–Ribollita (seems apropos for such a dismal day!)

 

 

Wednesday: 

B–Cereal, Apples, Milk

D–Batter-Dipped Chicken Tenders, Salad, Corn

 

 

Thursday:

B–Strawberry Wheat Muffins, Cheese, OJ

D–Pizza Paninis, Tortellini Soup

 

 

Friday:

B–Cinnamon Roll Bread, Fruit

D–Large Bacon Pizza, Medium Mushroom & Onion Pizza

 

 

Saturday:

 

B–Fried Potato & Egg Skillets

 

D–Roasted Chicken, Carrots, Garlic-Wilted Spinach

 

 

 

And that should do it! 

 

What’s your favorite dish on YOUR menu plan this week?

 

 

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