Easy Halloween Tweaks to Inspire Your Meal Plan



Fall has most certainly arrived! With it, we’re enjoying gorgeous color, sunny days, and crisp (downright chilly!) nights.



Halloween is right around the corner and, while it’s been well-documented here that it’s not my favorite holiday, my kids are super excited about. This year, I’ll have two butterflies and a Thor (<– Norse god, not superhero.) They’ve been excitedly planning their costumes and I can’t help but smile. Their delight is infectious.


Broken record that I am, I will mention again that we are super busy. My oldest has tried out/auditioned for some amazing opportunities this year and I’m so happy for him– but it does add more activities. My girls continue to pursue their own artistic and athletic pursuits and we’re back in the church school season for all of us. Each day is pretty packed and I don’t often have a lot of time for fussing.


But if there’s one thing I’ve learned over my years of mothering, it is this– you do NOT have to do big, fancy things to delight your children. Simple tweaks to the everyday make things special and save your sanity.



With that in mind, here’s the menu plan I put together for this week leading up to Halloween…


you gotta eat




B–Cocoa Crisp Cereal, Clementines, Milk (before 7:30AM Mass) <– orange and black!

Brunch– Breakfast Burritos

Mid-afternoon Snack– pick from the snack bag 

D–Linguine with Meatballs, Salad, Broccoli



B–Buttermilk Chocolate Bread, Eggs w/ Orange Cheddar, Apples (orange and black, again!)

D–Double Decker Tacos



B–C/S Toast cut into pumpkin shapes with a cookie cutter, Orange Cheddar, Milk

D–Chicken & Broccoli Alfredo, served with Halloween shaped pasta




B–Buttermilk Chocolate Bread, Clementines, Milk (orange and black)

D–Cheesy Beans & Rice




B–PB Toast w/ Raisins to make spooky designs, Apples, Milk

D–Chicken Burritos




B–Cocoa Pebbles Cereal, Cantaloupe, Milk (orange and black)

D–Pizza (made in the shape of a big pumpkin– I make a stem and cover it heavily with parsley and we use pepperoni, mushrooms, and peppers to make a face)




B–Pumpkin Bread, Eggs

D–Mummies in Blankets, Carrot Sticks



And that should do it!  





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Making Trends Work for You




Confession time: I don’t love the trend of swing tees, swing tunics, and swing dresses.


Don’t get me wrong. I think they look positively adorable. On other people. People who have different body types from mine. I’m a tallish lady (5’7″) who wears an 8/10. I fall more on the busty side of the spectrum, but my waist is rather small, relatively speaking. Typically, this swing style– which, believe me, I’ve TRIED to wear– is wildly unflattering for me. The garment kind of hangs off my chest and disguises my shape. For me, this is not a look I love.


So, when I was given the chance to try out the Remi dress from Cents of Style, I was super excited about all the glorious color options and, frankly, how comfy it looked. I was skeptical, however, that I would actually like how it looked on me. Swing dress? Been there, tried that– DIDN’T make the purchase.


Nonetheless, I chose a rich plum, perfect for fall, and went for it.





I was afraid it would be unflattering. I was afraid it would be too short. I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to find the right shoes for with it.


But, friends? I was really pleasantly surprised! The soft fabric of the dress has just the right drape and not an excess of material around the rib cage. It has a comfy, swing-y feeling, but it doesn’t hang straight down from the bust-line.


Because it has a higher, modest neckline, I knew I didn’t want extra bulk up by my neck. Scarves and statement necklaces are my jam, but not when layered. I can feel claustrophobic with too much by my neck.




I chose a long tassel necklace to draw the eye up and down and add another fun trend to the mix. I love the rich texture of the tassel and natural stone elements of this piece– it pairs beautifully with this gorgeous autumn purple.




For my feet, I went with a gladiator sandal because, honestly, it hasn’t gotten all that chilly here in New England yet. I’m way past thong sandal season, but a cagey gladiator in a deep hue feels perfect for these in-between days.






The moral of this story is really very simple– don’t feel like you need to embrace every trend that comes across your radar, but don’t be afraid to try new things. You might find that, with the right accessories and the right cut, something you thought you “couldn’t pull off” is actually a great look.



Intrigued by this season-spanning swing dress? Happy day! This week, for Fashion Friday, Cents of Style is offering the coupon code DRESS2016  which will make each dress $21.95 + FREE SHIPPING in the cart. (It comes in SEVENTEEN different colors and sizes S -3X– wowsers!)




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Burger Kebabs




I first made these fun little deconstructed burgers at the start of the school year. I only fully realized their popularity when my husband requested them, above all other recipes, for his birthday dinner this past weekend.


Burger Kebabs are more a method than a true recipe, but I wanted to share them with you today because they’re super tasty and simple. These are fun as an app, fun for a party, or fun for just a family supper!





Here’s the process:



  • skewers (I prefer bamboo so I’m not stuck washing them– use 4-6″ for appetizers or 10-12″ for meals!)
  • meatballs
  • cubed cheese
  • grape tomatoes
  • olives
  • jalapenos
  • pickle chunks (or small pickles)
  • pearl onions or chunks of red onion
  • tater tots
  • ???– anything you think sounds good on a burger that can be skewered! :)


The Process:


  1. Heat meatballs and tater tots.
  2. Serve all ingredients in separate bowls for easy passing and access.
  3. Provide each person with a couple skewers and let them create their own “Burger Kebabs”!


And, truly, that’s it! Enjoy your Burger Kebabs!


And be sure to come back and let me know if you try them. :)




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Lunchbox Snacks in a Balanced World





I want to talk about lunchbox snacks today.


As a mom of three and an almost-always-working substitute teacher, I see a LOT of lunches. I also see a lot of lunches captured and shared on social media. (Newflash: those are not representative of the average lunch. This is not to say there is anything wrong with them. I think it’s great– but maybe don’t spend too much time comparing the lunches you pack unless you really aspire to master Instagram-worthy lunchbox shots.)


What people pack in lunches varies dramatically. That makes sense. There are innumerable factors that go into what makes it into a lunchbox:


  • Budget
  • Regional availability
  • Picky eaters
  • Temperature stability
  • Dietary concerns, including alleriges
  • Family preference
  • … and on and on



I get this. And I’m not here to judge whatever you’re packing in your kid’s lunch.


But, in case you’re struggling with balancing fun, convenience, health, and nutrients, I thought I’d share what works well in our household.


Here are some things you should know about our family right up front:


  • We have no food allergies in our family.
  • Allergy-triggering foods (such as peanuts and tree nuts) are permitted in LUNCHES in our district, as we have measures in place to keep all the children safe, but must not be sent as snacks to be eaten in the classroom.
  • My children are not overly picky eaters.
  • We are, like so many, a very, very busy family with tons of activities and obligations.
  • We eat mainly fresh, nourishing foods, but are absolutely not opposed to some convenience and treats here and there.


Okay, now that you’ve got the scoop, here’s our favorite way of managing lunchbox snacks in a balanced way:





That’s the snack bag.


Each day, when I pack the kids’ lunches, I add a sandwich or protein-packed salad, yogurt or cheese, a fruit, a veggie, and a bottle of water. After all those are in there, I ask each child to choose a snack from the “snack bag.”


They love this part.


What’s in the snack bag? Oh, all manner of things I pick up when I’m out and about:

  • fruit snacks
  • cereal bars
  • chips
  • crackers with PB or cheese
  • sandwich cookies
  • raisins
  • fruit bars
  • jello cups
  • ??? (depends what I find!)


Each kid picks one thing and I add it to their bag. My kids who still get “snack” during the day are advised to choose something else to eat at snack-time, since junky food doesn’t fill the belly well. They know this and don’t object. They’re just excited to have a treat as part of their lunch haul.


Why am I a fan of this method?


Well, I’m a firm believer in balanced nutrition. And I am also convinced that part of why my children never balk at the healthy stuff is that I don’t restrict them from all other foods.


Giving them a choice in the matter makes it exciting for them. It’s also interesting for me. Those chips in there? I bought one package of those bags back in August and there are still many remaining. The dried fruit bars and peanut butter crackers go really fast. The fruit snacks have gone largely untouched, but the Jello is gone. These are things I wouldn’t have predicted, to be honest.


Are these foods healthy and nourishing? Nope. Can’t say that they are. But, as part of the larger picture, they also don’t concern me. They’re portion-controlled treats. That’s really all they are. Do my kids need a bag of goldfish crackers, a pack of Oreos, and a bag of fruit snacks each day? Of course not. And they never ask for it. They know they have the opportunity to choose something that looks fun each day and that fulfills their craving.


I don’t spend a lot of money on these things. Many of them are items I found on markdown at ALDI and grabbed just for fun. I periodically toss something new in there and they’re always excited to discover a new choice.


The best lunch is the one that your kid will eat. That’s first and foremost. But, if you’re striving to send healthy options, while also allowing for a little indulgence and fun, I highly recommend the snack bag.


It’s how we do lunchbox snacks in  a balanced world.



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Embracing Adventures




When I was five months pregnant with our third baby, my husband’s job was eliminated.


I remember the evening he had to come home and tell me. One of our toddlers came down with croup that night. A heavy snowfall blanketed the Indiana ground. I had to drive in that snow to get him to the doctor the next day. I also had to reschedule a prenatal appointment because I simply couldn’t make both.


In the months that followed, I frequently “flew solo” at the home front, as my husband interviewed all over this great country of ours.








We went with him on that last one. Me, 8 1/2 months pregnant, plus our newly potty-trained son resulted in a car ride with LOTS of bathroom trips.


It was scary.


Can I say that without sounding weak? It was. It was a scary, insecure time.


It would have been so easy to throw our hands up in the air over the lack of job opportunities where we lived. It would have been easy to wallow in self-pity as things seemed to collapse around me.


But we held onto hope, knowing that even the scariest of situations can be redeemed.






We wound up moving when our third baby was just barely two weeks old. We packed up everything we could into our minivan and headed halfway across the country.


Life is an adventure.


The story that’s unfolding before us can have some scary chapters, it’s true. But isn’t it wonderful that we’re given a chance to edit and reframe as we seek a beautiful outcome.



Life Is….Beautiful. Grand. Sweet. Tough. An adventure. What is life to you?



Today, for Fashion Friday, Cents of Style is offering their brand new (and really cute!) “Life is…” Collection of tee shirts for just $15.95 each, with free shipping! (Free shipping is one of my love languages, in case you didn’t know. ;) ) Just use code: LIFEIS1  and choose between Sweet, an Adventure, Tough, Grand, or Beautiful. I know… it’s a hard choice!





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6 Questions to Ask Yourself if You’re Considering Being a Substitute Teacher




This is my third (!) year as a substitute teacher now. Obviously, I love it. It’s turned out to be a truly wonderful fit for me and for my family. The reasons for that go beyond the very obvious “it works with my schedule” (though that’s obviously a big perk.)


Still, substitute teaching is NOT for everyone. I have people– typically moms whose youngest child has started school full-time– ask me about the job all the time. “Is it hard?” “How do you get started?” “Is it tough to find jobs?” “Do you get called at the last minute all the time?”




Those are good questions. And I’m always happy to answer them. But, before seriously considering putting in an application to be a substitute teacher, here are six questions I think you should ask yourself:



What’s my educational background?


Now, don’t panic! The fact that you’re not a certified teacher is probably not a problem. State and district guidelines vary, but you can expect there to be different qualifications for food service substitutes, paraprofessional substitutes, short-term substitute teachers, and long-term substitute teachers. Make sure you know which jobs you’re qualified for so you can make sure it sounds interesting to you.


Even if you’re technically qualified to do all of those jobs, think about what you might enjoy most. Do you like to lead a group? Would you rather support children one-on-one? Do you prefer clerical work? Do you like the idea of working in a kitchen, prepping meals? These are all viable options!



Am I able to think on my feet and adapt quickly?


These are important traits for a substitute teacher. Often, you don’t know much of anything about the class you’ll be teaching until you get there. Being comfortable reading a plan and implementing it, while also rolling with the punches and accepting changes, is vital. The most successful subs are those who can execute a plan, without getting overwhelmed or upset if that plan changes.



Do I LIKE children? What age is my “jam”?


Sure, this question sounds silly. But, the reality is, it’s important. Being a substitute teacher in kindergarten is NOT the same job as subbing in a high school. Most subs figure out the range that makes them happiest. There’s no right or wrong answer here, but it’s important to know yourself. Are you okay being with the same 20 tiny people all day long, dealing with crying, sticky fingers, and endless shoe tying? Would you rather show a video or proctor a study packet? Which is more delightful to you– warm hugs and reading stories or deep thinking and witty sarcasm?



Can I control a room?


Here’s the thing– regular classroom teachers sometimes struggle to control a classroom and they’re with these kids all the time. They have “street cred” and it can still be a challenge. Subs walk in without that established credibility and need to gain control and maintain control quickly. If this sounds a little intimidating to you, that’s okay– everyone gets better with practice. But if it sounds terrifying or like torture, you might not enjoy substitute teaching all that much. You might prefer a different type of sub work… or a different gig entirely.



Do I like to learn new things?


Smart boards. Hover cams. FM systems. COMMON CORE MATH.


There’s so much I had to learn. It can be super daunting to realize you don’t know how to do second grade math the “right” way. I mean… really?!?!? But, the fact is, you simply must learn to do it the way they’re being taught. That’s your job. Doesn’t matter if you think decomposing numbers is stupid– you need to know how to do it. Doesn’t matter if you prefer chalk boards to smart boards– you need to work with current technology and not fight against it.


Don’t let that scare you– you don’t have to learn everything immediately. It’s a process. But, if you already know that you’re going to break out in hives when asked to learn these new ways, keep that in mind before pressing SEND on your application.



Still think it sounds like a great option? Fabulous! I’m right there with you!



I’ll be back next week with five big PROs of substitute teaching. Feel free to toss questions my way, here or on Facebook, and I’ll do my best to address those, too.

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(How to Make) All-Purpose Healing Salve




No matter what all the pumpkin spice addicts try to tell me, I know there’s just about a full MONTH of summer left. Hooray! I love the lingering light of summer and really never want it to end.


With summer, however, come a lot of minor skin irritations. From too much sun to bug bites, to bramble snags, to skin that just gets dried out or damaged from sand, salt, chlorine, and the like– there are a lot of things to throw your skin off. Even heat and sweat can lead to uncomfortable, though probably not overly worrisome, rashes.


In the past, I’ve just weathered these annoyances, considering them an acceptable trade for all the wonders of blessed summertime.


This year, however, I finally got brave enough to not just USE my essential oils, but to MAKE product with them.


I know you don’t all use essential oils, and that’s fine. As I’ve said before, I don’t sell them, but there are plenty of places you can get them, should you decide you want to dabble. Two things to know about this recipe:


1. The oils I use in this are all very common and also inexpensive. While some essential oils can be very pricey, these are NOT.

2. Even if you make it without the oils, this salve will be soothing and moisturizing– it’ll be more like a natural Vaseline type substance.


With the oils, though, this salve becomes a total healing and soothing powerhouse. Here are the three oils I’ve chosen to add and why:


1. Tea Tree– Tea Tree does not smell awesome. At least not to me. But it is AMAZING as a healer. It has recently been confirmed to have significant antiviral, antibacterial, antifungal, and antiseptic properties. It’s very effective for treating blemishes or breakouts and is fantastic at reducing the swelling from bites or rashes.


2. Lavender– Lavender has a more pleasing aroma than Tea Tree, to most people, and is also an effective healer. Particularly helpful in soothing and healing burns and stings, it’s also a good germ-fighter in its own right. Combined with tea tree, it’s incredibly effective at treating bug bites.


((If you stop right there, you’ll have a super effective healing salve that’s safe for use even on small children. However, if you only plan to use it on those 6 and over and you crave a touch more, you can add…))


3. Peppermint– Peppermint is cooling and refreshing and has a bright, energizing aroma. That cool, tingly feeling is remarkably soothing on many minor skin irritations. (For children 2 and over, you can safely substitute spearmint oil. While not quite as cooling, it has a delightfully fresh, sweet scent and will still feel refreshing.)



Okay. So now you know why I chose what I did. That was not random or haphazard. These oils all serve a very real purpose and, like I said, I simply love that they’re super accessible and affordable.






Here’s how to make the salve:




  • 1/4 cup coconut oil (the kind that’s solid when it’s cold and liquid when it’s warm– it doesn’t matter which way it starts for this recipe)
  • 1 tablespoon beeswax pellets or shavings
  • 25 drops Tea Tree oil
  • 25 drops Lavender oil
  • 10 drops Peppermint oil



  1. Melt coconut oil and beeswax together, stirring constantly, until completely liquified. (If you have a double boiler, you can use that. I just used a stainless steel bowl over a small saucepan.)
  2. Remove from heat.
  3. Drop in essential oils and stir until evenly incorporated.
  4. Pour into jar. It will be liquid at this point. Salve will “set up” as it cools and will result in a petroleum jelly-like consistency.



Uses: This salve is wonderful for all manner of minor skin irritations, including bug bites, sunburn, superficial scratches, dry, scaly, irritate, or chapped skin, blemishes, heat rashes, etc. Apply a thin layer evenly to affected area.

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Itchy Feet and Relentless Optimism




I love to travel.


I haven’t done nearly as much of it as some people, but far more than others. As with so many spectrums of life, I’d land somewhere in the middle.


But I love to just… GO PLACES.




I’ve lived quite a lot of places, too. North, South, Midwest, East Coast, New England. I’ve lived on the coastline, lived in the plains, lived in the mountains. I’ve lived in very, very rural places and crowded suburbs.


And I’ve always said– there is something I have LOVED about every place I’ve lived. Were they all my favorite? Nope. But I can look back fondly at every place I’ve been and be grateful for the experience. I collect memories and moments like some people collect souvenir magnets– I gather them, reflect on them, and cherish them for representing that special time in my life.


I still want to go more places. It’s woven in the very fiber of who I am. I want to travel. I want to live someplace else. I want to experience new settings and new scenery and new cultures. I want to add to this mish-mosh accent I have that winds up being not much of an accent at all by the time you throw it all together.


I have a touch of wanderlust.


I could bemoan the fact that I also have three children with lots of school still ahead and lots of ties to the community we’re in. I could sigh over the fact that our finances simply do not allow us to pick up and travel on a whim and explore all the places I’d love to go.


But I don’t. 


I have come to expect miracles.


I know that plans can unfold in beautiful and miraculous ways that I never saw coming. I know that I don’t have to have it all figured out to believe it will wind up just exactly how it should be. I believe that amazing, awesome things can happen even when circumstances do not seem to support them.


I honestly have no idea where I’ll wind up. I don’t know how many captivating places I’ll get to visit.


But I love to dream about it. And these necklaces– some of the newest Tribe line at Cents of Style– help remind me of that. They’re a happy little sight in what can sometimes be a boring, relentless day. Just a flash of that “wanderlust” and I smile to myself–


I’m going places.


I may not no where, yet.


But I’m confident it’s happening.


What do you dream of? What motivational messages speak to you?


tribe necklaces


Cents of Style has released their NEW collection of Tribe necklaces, in script, bar, and disc styles. For this week’s Fashion Friday special, you can snag any of them for just $11.99, shipped, with code: TRIBE4.


Which is your fave? I’d love to know why!



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Middle School




He can’t look me in the eye just yet.


I’m five foot seven, after all, and he’s still only 11.


But his feet are decidedly bigger than mine. His legs are as long as his dad’s. And I’ve caught him examining his abs at various angles in a hand mirror.


He’s growing up, this man-child of mine, and he’s headed to middle school this year.






For the most part, I have no worries about this. Confident, clever, and self-assured, A. is the kind of kid who acclimates easily. He is unafraid to ask questions and has an excellent memory. I needn’t worry about him getting lost or overwhelmed.


Despite his awkward social start in life, he’s found his way there, too, and is well-liked by his peers. The boys respect his brain and speed and the girls mostly gush about “how tall!!!” he is. So I don’t really worry about that, either.


He’ll do fine. I know this. He knows this, too.


But, still.


He pushes his watermelon around his plate, picking up some of the cinnamon sugar that scattered from his toast. I cringe inwardly at the thought of how sweet that must be, but keep my expression mild.


“I don’t know if I’m excited about it or not, Mom. The whole going to middle school thing.”


I look up, inviting more, without saying anything.


“On the one hand, I can’t wait to join the cross country team and get home from school earlier. That’s cool. But, you know… we only get a really short recess in 6th grade. And… I don’t know… I just want to be a kid. The whole being a kid thing… I don’t want that to stop.”


I walk over to stand next to him. Kiss his cheek because I can’t stretch to kiss the top of his head anymore. Yank him against my side.


“You’re still a kid, buddy. I know that. You know that. And the middle school knows that, too. You’re gonna do awesome.”


He moseys off to find his sisters, his lanky, loping form crossing the room in a staggeringly small number of steps.


And I swallow hard.


He IS going to do awesome.


Let’s see how his mama does.





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A Mish-Mosh Menu Plan



We’re still in the heart of summer here.



Our schedules are an odd blend of busy and relaxing these days. Swimming lessons carry on, four days a week. Gymnastics and karate are still happening. We’re starting to try to cram in special events and gatherings that somehow just hadn’t gotten done yet. Amusement park trips, play dates, and beach days. These are things we’re trying to fit into our summer. In between, we’re enjoying morning hikes, afternoon pool splashing, and late evening board games. It’s nice to have those lingering moments of peace.


With such a mish-mosh schedule, it should come as no surprise that the menu plan is also a bit of a mish-mosh. Comfort foods mingle among ethnic flavors. The slow cooker gets put to work. It’s an odd conglomeration, but it’s working for this season… and, really, that’s what matters, right?



So, here’s what we’re eating this week…


you gotta eat




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

Brunch– Chocolate Chip Orange Muffins, String Cheese, Water (out on our hike!)




Mid-afternoon Snack– Triscuits and Cheese

D–Hawaiian Pork at Bama & Papa’s (along with sides and dessert that my kids helped prepare– we dropped them off early, they helped make dinner, we came to eat, and then we left them there for an overnight :)  )



B–Honestly? It was just me. My kids were at my parents’ house. My husband was at work. I ate a pizza of cold pizza and drank coffee. Just keepin’ it real, folks.

D–Cold Ginger Peanut Noodles (This dish is adored by all three kids and me; my husband heats it before eating. He does the same thing with pasta salad. He just can’t abide cold noodles, I guess.)



B–Muffins, Fruit, Milk

D–Broccoli Cheddar Soup  (I know there are many who don’t do soup in summer months; I’m one who loves it year-round. Plus, it’s a great slow cooker meal.)




B–Egg & Tomato Sandwiches, Grapes, Milk

D–Company Cook-out




B–Cinnamon/Sugar Toast, Yogurt, Bananas

D–Carnitas Soft Tacos




B–Cereal, Cantaloupe, Milk





B–Breakfast Pizza, Cheese, Grapes

D–Fried Fish, Broccoli, Cheesy Ranch Mashed Potatoes



And that should do it!  





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