Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Suddenly, They're Teens

It's been a long while.  

You could say that working full time and raising a family is hard work.  It's wonderful, heart aching, soul filling work. I wake up and go to bed happy and content with what God has given me. It's a feeling that money can't buy, and I'm eternally grateful.

I started this blog when my kids were small.  They were in elementary and preschool.  I needed a way to speak my mind and gain some income.  I poured myself into learning how to build and navigate a blog.  I spent hours googling and teaching myself how to make this work.  Not only was it my outlet, it was my income.  People heard how much money I was making and thought "oh I'll start a blog too!"

I wanted to tell them, and sometimes I did, that it is HARD work.  You have to be driven to succeed and never quit because it requires time and patience.  

My blogs were about keeping my sanity, my recipes and my Disney knowledge and expertise.  These things were my specialty.  I had four young kids and so much to share.

I blinked my eyes and those babies are 16, 14, 11 and almost 8.  I don't know how it happened but it did.  I went from worrying about playdates and potty training to honor rolls and permit tests.  My goodness mamas, it goes FAST.

The past two years I've been evolving.  I've been learning to really balance being a mommy, being a wife and finding stuff I love again. It's kind of bizarre when you go from being tied down all the time because you can't leave your kids alone to literally leaving the house with "I'll be right back I'm going to the store."

You just leave.  It's crazy.  I remember lugging carseats and holding hands and packing bags with toys and snacks.  So much changes as your kids grow, it's hard to believe it happens but it does.

And it happens fast.

With every child, time went by more rapidly.  My days were more full and I was spread thinner and thinner.  I literally had days when I spoke to no one but my kids.  And that's okay.  I was at a place where my kids needed that from me.  They needed all of me and I gave it to them.

The strange part is learning to navigate the days when they don't need all of you.  They need rides and homework help and signatures, but they don't require constant attention.  You suddenly have time to go for a run because no one will choke on a Lego or munch on detergent pods.  Supervision is in the form of monitoring them without them being aware you are monitoring.  You are checking cell phones and back packs.  You are online tracking grades and assignments.  

It's different.  It's not better or worse, just different.  You go from parenting these little people to parenting big people who are finding themselves.  Suddenly you embarrass them and they can't believe how uncool you are.  No longer are they proud mommy is at school, trust me. They are finding their path while you rediscover your path.  They still need you so much but they don't know it many days.

They push you away and they pull you near.  The trouble is sometimes you can't even decipher which they are doing...you just have to pay real close attention.

Mamas, it's an adventure.  The problems get less frequent but they get bigger.  They go from poopy pants to fender benders and failing grades.  They go from kids who don't share to kids who are downright cruel.  And sometimes your kid is the one being cruel.  Sometimes your kid is being picked on your kid still may be picking on someone else.  The story is never that simple. 

Don't let them fool you into thinking they aren't...I work in a school and while they are all good kids they don't always make good decisions.

They are finding themselves.  Our job goes from keeping them alive to keeping them on the right path.  The trick is to still be there.  You have to be present and willing to read the signals, even though some days you'll think "wtf is that?  what is going on here?"

Well, most days you may think that.

But the rewards are endless.  Never stop hugging, never stop listening.  Turn off phones and have conversations.  Keep watch over them even when they tell you they don't need it.  That's when they need it most.

Parenting teenagers and preteens is not for the faint of heart.  You have to be tough, be fair and be ready to realize your kid is not perfect.  

And they shouldn't have to be.  They will make mistakes, they will break your heart.  They will have their heart broken which almost ends you.  Literally you feel like you're dying inside because you can't take the pain away.

It's a crazy, beautiful ride.  And I'm here to tell you, while bittersweet they aren't babies, you'll always look at them that way no matter how old they are.  

Cheers to all the mamas.  You're doing amazing, important work.  Keep marching. 

Thursday, March 9, 2017

St. Patrick's Day Cupcakes

*a repost*

These little guys are great for St. Patrick's Day.  A little "over the rainbow" and a lot of sugar.  Just what every munchkin desires.

St. Patrick's Day Rainbow Cupcakes

One box white cake mix, prepared
One container vanilla icing
Assorted food coloring (I used red, blue, green)
Cupcake liners
Green sugar for decorating

Prepare cupcake mix.  Separate batter evenly into four small bowls.  Using food coloring, tint batter in 3 of the bowls, each a different color.  Leave one bowl with the plain batter.

Spoon the batter into cupcake liners, alternating colors.  I find they look best when you finish with the standard un-tinted cupcake batter on top.

Bake as directed.  I bake at 350 for 15 minutes.  Cool.

Frost generously with icing.  I tinted mine green and rolled edges on green decorator sugars.


Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Macro Friendly Turkey Chili

I'm trying this macronutrient counting thing.  I've heard about it for months and I knew nothing about it.  Zip.  I didn't pay much attention because I operate on a need to know basis.

It's my key to sanity and survival while I work full time with four kids in school and athletics.

I decided, after listening to my friend at a basketball game, to try macro counting.  She lost weight, felt good and didn't feel it was too difficult.  While I don't have a ton of weight to lose, and I run four miles just about every day, I knew I needed something.

My body wasn't changing and I wasn't losing or gaining.  I'm just here, like everyday, looking the same no matter what my daily workout. 

Bring in the food scale and myfitnesspal. 

I'm not going to dive into the details of macro counting because there are far more credible, knowledgable sources you can turn to for more information.  I'll just say that so far I love it, I feel awesome and I'm excited to see where this takes me.

With counting macros, my meals have transformed.  I haven't cut anything out of my diet, but to make hitting my numbers easier I'm trying new recipes.  This homemade turkey chili was delicious, and I love how much protein it packs in one cup.  I love even more that it was so filling one cup was all I needed.

As I try new foods and recipes I love I'll be sure to share.  For now, here's the lowdown on the chili (I even counted out all the macro information, making this super easy for anyone who wants to make it!):

(This recipe makes 6 one cup servings)

1 can diced tomatoes 
1 can low sodium red kidney beans 
1 can tomato paste 
1 lb extra lean ground turkey
1 McCormick Chili packet
1/4 medium red onion
Garlic, salt and pepper to taste
Nonstick cooking spray ( I use Smart Balance non GMO)

For nutritional reasons, these are the cans/brands I used: 

Spray large pot with nonstick cooking spray, saute onions over medium heat. Stir in turkey, cook until no longer pink.  Add diced tomatoes, kidney beans, tomato paste and McCormick Chili packet.  Add salt, pepper and garlic to taste.  

I did not add salt, I only added pepper and garlic.

Turn heat to low and simmer about 10 minutes.  

Nutritional Information:

Calories (1 cup): 212
Fat: 1.25g
Carbs: 21.5g
Protein: 26.5g
Sodium: 313.75g
Sugar: 5.8g
Fiber: 7.5g

This was delicious.  Even better on the second day!  Enjoy!

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Best Tips for a Successful Walt Disney World Vacation

So you're going to Disney....it's overwhelming right?  I've been there over 40 times throughout my life, from my parents taking me as a kid every year to me taking my kids every year.  Disney is expensive, exhausting and confusing.  There are different ticket options, dining options, dining plan options, Fast Passes to set up and hotels to consider.

We didn't even talk about transportation or the Magical Express.  

Overwhelming indeed.

I wrote a book about all the personal data I've collected while traveling to Disney with kids. While much of my advice will always be relevant (as long as kids need naps, snacks, routines and sunscreen we're good), Disney is always changing.


In no particular order, here are my best tips for a successful vacation. These will never expire no matter how many times Disney updates its tickets, systems or parks.

1.  Go during the off season.

This can be tricky if your kids are in school.  We pulled our kids out of school until work was tough enough to make the crowds and extra expense of going over a break worth it.  Every year we cleared the trip as an educational absence, which is completely true.  A Disney vacation can teach you much about money, budgeting, patience and time management.  

There are countries to tour in Epcot and the Hall of Presidents in the Magic Kingdom.  Educational experiences are all over at the Walt Disney World resort.  I promise.

I found the best months to travel to Disney (I'm considering weather here) are September, October, November (before Thanksgiving) early December, February and May. 

Crowds are lighter, the sun is still shining and you won't be battling for a seat on the bus as you ride to the parks.

2.  Stay inside the parks.  

Yes, this is expensive.  But Disney has definitely made vacations more affordable with the sales, packages and deals throughout the year.  They also have pretty reasonable resorts such as Art of Animation and Pop Century.  The Disney service is still there, you can get to and from the parks easily and there are usually plenty of little kids at these resorts.

As long as you don't mind cafeteria style food and corny decor you'll save a bundle using a value resort.  

Staying inside the parks makes Disney feel more like a vacation.  You don't have to battle with driving or parking, they send packages back to your room from the parks and you can utilize Magic Hours if you choose.

3.  Use Magic Hours, or COMPLETELY avoid them.

There are two ways to go about Magic Hours (the days parks open early or stay open late for resort guests).  Either you use them to your advantage or you stay away.

We use them.  If a park opens at 7am, we are there at 6:50.  We usually ride at least 5 rides in the first hour and we hardly wait at all.  We are back at our resort by noon swimming and enjoying the pool.  If you go to a park that has Magic Hours and you don't arrive early, you're looking at bigger crowds.  People very often pick the park that will stay open late or they get started early and stay all day.  

We don't, but many people do.

Crowds are typically more manageable extremely early in the day or at the park without Magic Hours.

If you're crazy enough to get up and get to a park by 7am, do it.  You'll get more done and you can grab an afternoon siesta by the pool or in your room.

If you have an infant or toddler YOU SHOULD BE GOING BACK TO YOUR ROOM FOR A NAP ANYWAY.  This is a tip in my book, and you best live by it or battle tantrums.

4.  Use your Fast Passes wisely.

When you book your Fast Passes, book them for around 10am at the earliest.  If you go to a park when it opens (see #3) you will ride several rides without a wait.  A FastPass at 9am is a waste.  Plan your Fast Passes for those times of the day the lines will get long.  

5.  Bring your own snacks.

Even if you opt for a meal plan (they are costly but worth it if you don't bring any of your own food) you will still need snacks.  A hot pretzel is about $6 in Disney.  If you're a family of four, and you need a snack, every stop will cost $25 without even getting a drink.  Do yourself a favor and pack granola bars, dry cereal and other grab and go snacks in your luggage.  Bring a small backpack to the park with your extra drinks and snacks.  If you have a stroller this extra bag is no problem.

You'll thank me. We have never entered a Disney Park without a bag full of drinks, snacks and sunscreen in all of our forty plus trips.

Wishing everyone a wonderful trip - and peace of mind while planning!  For more in-depth practical and easy to follow planning tips grab my book on Amazon.  It's a well spent 99 cents!

Happy Trails!

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Small Changes Add Up to Big Things

Welcome 2017.  My goodness 2016 went fast.

This year, as with all other years, I'm light on the resolutions.  I've just found they don't work well for me.  I can't handle the pressure.  I'd rather focus on bettering myself in itty bitty ways.

Drink more water.
Eat a little less sugar.
Be patient (as much as possible)

I like to keep it general so as not to overwhelm myself.

In keeping with my "small changes" theme I'd like to share a few that really add up.  There is no need to overwhelm ourselves and set ourselves up for failure.  Let's keep it real.  Keep it small.  Keep it kind and achievable.  Which, in turn, can add up to big things.

1.  Try something new every week.

Just one thing.  It can be a food, a movie, a book, a class an exercise or anything else that you don't normally do.  We get into ruts.  It's hard to live to your fullest potential when you're in a rut.  Experience something new every week, no matter how small.

You may find something you like, you never know.

2. Use a small plate.

Do you ever notice how you fill what you have?  If I have a bowl, I fill it with ice cream.  No matter what size it is, I scoop that ice cream to the rim.  If you use a small bowl, you won't eat as much because it's easier to resist a second helping than it is to resist ice cream you already scooped.

The same goes for a dinner plate. Your eyes love the look of a full plate, and you won't be eating as much.  I promise.

3.  Make a list.

When you write something down, you are MUCH more likely to remember it.  Make a list.  Cross off what you get done.  This also gives me the feeling of accomplishment, which is a great feeling when days start to run together and life gets busy.

Every night I make a list of what needs done the next day.  It works wonders for me.

Make a list for the store, and you won't forget the milk.  Even better, clip some coupons for what is on your list for the store and keep it in the same place (like an envelope).

Now you remember everything and save money.

Just don't forget the envelope when you leave for the store.

4.  Drink an extra cup of water.

Just add a cup before a meal.  You'll probably eat less.  You may even realize you were just thirsty and not eat at all. I've realized when I add a cup, I usually start to crave more over time.  And before I know it, I'm drinking water all morning and cutting back on soda and coffee.

5.  Leave the kitchen. Literally.

When I was a teenager I read an article that said if you're hungry, wait fifteen minutes.  Walk out of the kitchen or away from the food and snacks and do something for just fifteen minutes.  Chances are, you'll get caught up in something else and more than fifteen minutes will go by.

I do laundry, turn on a show, grab the vacuum or call a friend.  More often than not I was just bored, not hungry.

6.  Order one less meal, coffee, snack, etc a week.

ONE LESS.  That's it.  A week.  I love Starbucks, but it's costly.  I spend a whopping $30/week on coffees.  Yikes.

I decided this year I was ordering three less a week.  I'm not giving it up, I'm not walking away completely.  I'm ordering less.  Even if it was one less a week, I'd still save $20/month.

Aim for one less meal out.  One less sandwich ordered.  One less coffee.  Even if it's $5, that's $20/month.  Which translates to $240/year.

Small changes will add up to big changes.  $5 turns into $240 over time.  That's proof enough for me.

Happy 2017 everyone.  Life is what you make it.