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How Our Children’s School District Saved My Sanity

This may be a controversial post, but I decided to share it anyway. This offering has helped save my sanity lately while the kids have been in virtual school and my husband and I have been working from home.

There’s no denying that I hate food prep, meal planning, cooking food that people end up complaining about, and then cleaning it all up. I especially hate that this whole meal process occurs three times a day. It’s one of my least favorite chores.

That’s why, when our school district started offering free weekly pick up of food for the children, I jumped at the chance to skip some meal prep and shopping. I make it a point to swing by each week to pick up the available meals.

Our county has committed itself to offering free meals to all students, regardless of need, for the school year. They are now providing breakfast, lunch, snack, and dinner along with beverages. On top of all this, you get a weekly vegetable from a local farm with an accompanying activity to do with the kids. There’s a frequent rotation of school pizza and french fries, but also cucumbers, apples, oranges, squash, and beans.

Admittedly, my husband and I have been incredibly lucky throughout the pandemic to have stable incomes and jobs that allow us to work from home. I don’t take that for granted, and I recognize that we don’t NEED to take advantage of the free food offered by our school district. I don’t feel entitled to it, but – goodness – it is a nice benefit and wonderful support to a family working from home with children constantly underfoot.

It is such a relief to not have to think about every meal every day while adding a bit of variety to the boy’s diets. (Before this, I was limiting breakfast to cereal only and lunch to peanut butter and jelly, so this has to be better, right?)

I share this information because our family has really benefited from this offering, and if it’s available and potentially helpful to others, I hope they leverage it. It’s also important to highlight that everyone could benefit from a helping hand, even this momma. I’ll be the first to admit that there are still many days in this house when it just feels like we’re trying to get through each day in an attempt to balance work, school, and family. It doesn’t always work out. Having support like this definitely helps, and I’ll take all the help I can get.

Posted in Blog

Striking the Right Mood In Our Alternative to the “Formal Living Room”

I’m a huge fan of making mood boards or vision boards for rooms before I redecorate. I’d like to say it’s for some sophisticated reason, but the truth is that I need to “see” something before I know whether it works or not. Since we’re in the process of redecorating around here, I’m sharing the mood board for our den that I made in a PowerPoint slide.

This room is technically supposed to be the “formal living room,” but seeing as we’re not really entertaining right now and these types of formal spaces are out of vogue anyway, we are going with a den. To me, a den is a space to unwind with family or maybe even escape to get away from others for a while. I want to use this room to play games and do puzzles with the kids, grab a book from the shelf and read in relative quiet, or escape to have a drink with friends. There’s no TV, but rather cozy places to chill out without a screen.

Okay, so I want this room to be all the things.

We’ll see what we can make happen.

Before we got serious about painting the room, the space was the kids’ playroom. It worked well for many years because the toys were largely contained, and I could easily keep my eyes and ears on them. This was a great solution with early walkers and destructive toddlers.

One of our original playroom setups

Now that the boys are 5 and 7 years old, though, I don’t need to hear and see them constantly. Honestly, I could go for a lot less noise and fewer LEGO pieces underfoot on the regular. Moving the playroom to an upstairs bedroom (with a door!) has given us this space.

My husband graciously agreed to support this redesign and move of rooms, thank goodness! We’re currently in the middle of the project having moved the playroom and painted the den. Now we’re waiting for furniture to be delivered, and then I’ll add the finishing touches. Now we’re getting to the fun part of the project! I’m sure I’ll share photos when we’re all done.

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Friday Fav: Costco Bookcase

It’s January, which means it’s that time of year again that Costco removes the Christmas trees and replaces the floor space with furniture. I spotted my Friday Fav there again this year: the Bayside Furnishings room divider/bookcase. And, it’s been on sale (in store only) for $99.99 rather than its older price of $129.99!!

I know, it’s a piece of furniture. I shouldn’t be so excited, but I just love it! It is hefty, versatile, and provides larger storage bins than those I see often at Ikea or Target.

We originally bought it for our townhouse to store baby toys in the living room. When we were staging the house to move, I took out the storage bins and turned it into a nifty dining room buffet table.

It moved to the playroom when we moved to our house, and I picked up an extra one that year to use as a credenza in my office. Now, both of them are flanking the TV in the kids’ playroom.

If you are in the market for additional storage, then check it out at Costco warehouses. It will likely be unavailable and out of stock by the end of the month.

Happy Friday!

Posted in Blog

My Kids Share a Bedroom and I Don’t Feel Guilty About It

We live in a neighborhood where many families have three to five bedrooms and enough space for each child to have their own room. Even though we are lucky enough to have four bedrooms plus our not-technically-a-bedroom, guest room space in our basement, we have our boys sharing a room. When people learn this tidbit, I sense their surprise or curiosity about why we’d make this choice when we have the space for separate children’s rooms.

Well, there are several reasons. First, when my boys were little – maybe two and four years old – they wanted to share a room. Well, let me rephrase, the four-year-old munchkin was adamant that he not be left alone.

As I pulled the younger son’s crib into the room, I explained. “Here, kid. I made you a brother. You are no longer alone.”

My older son was happy, my husband and I were happy, the two-year-old didn’t care, and we all slept well each night. All was right with the world.

A second reason we made this change is because I was a fool. I worked from home 5 days a week and somehow thought it would be a good idea to share my workspace with the family space on the main level. The kids were in daycare or school all day, so I could work without them underfoot. It would be fine…until I had to work an evening or weekend or the boys decided to pull out every item in my desk drawers. Oh, what a naïve and silly woman I was!

That’s when I converted one of the bedrooms into my office. If you’re keeping track at home, that means one bedroom for the boys, one for my office, another is the master for my husband and me, plus the guest room in the basement. That leaves one more bedroom, which we recently turned into a playroom. I love it! We had the playroom in the “formal living room” space, and I was tired of it always being a mess and noisy. Now that the playroom is in a bedroom upstairs, when the playroom is a mess, I can just close the door.

I’m sure there are still some out there thinking, “But, why, Stephanie, would you force your kids to share a bedroom? Surely you could make something else work.”

Yeah, I could and maybe I will in the future when my kids are older. I refuse to feel guilty about this choice for several reasons.

First and foremost, everyone in my household is happy about our living situation.

Plus, I have to share a bedroom (and a bed, mind you!) so my children can share a room too.

There is also great learning to be had when you need to learn to compromise and share a space. I remember the struggle I saw in myself and others freshman year of college when people who were forced to share a dorm after living in their own rooms for so long at home. I have no problem with my children working through this life experience before they leave the nest. There are certainly a significant number of children, now adults, who shared their bedrooms with one or more family members and turned out just fine. No one is being hurt or emotionally scarred here.

Additionally, I absolutely love having my office (with a door!) where I can have my own private space. This is something I’ve learned that I need to maintain some semblance of sanity. It has the added benefit of helping to create boundaries with my work-from-home situation. When I leave my office, I’m off the clock. When I’m in the office, everyone knows I’m in work mode (and they mostly respect that).

Ultimately, I live by the philosophy that everyone needs to make choices that work best for them and their family. I certainly won’t be judging anyone else’s choices. You do you, don’t hurt others along the way, and all will be well. I’ll do the same.

Posted in Blog

Friday Fav: Nice Cream

Move over, banana bread. You had your time to shine during this pandemic. Now it’s time for nice cream!

What is this deliciousness? It’s a non-dairy ice cream alternative made with bananas that hits the spot without all of the added sugar.

There are tons of flavors and varieties that you can find online, like here and there. My favorite is Cherry Garcia, made with only frozen bananas, frozen cherries, and chocolate chips all thrown together in a food processer until creamy. I think I lean toward this flavor because it is not one of my preferred ice cream flavors. (I mean, I’d never pick it if there was anything with chocolate ice cream available. Let’s be real.) Since I’m not comparing nice cream with its ice cream step brother, it stands alone and provides a guilt-free dessert that satisfies.

Based on this picture, I’m clearly not a food blogger.

The links above provide some recipes, but I don’t really follow a recipe anymore. After my mother showed me how to make nice cream, I just eyeball it based on the number of servings I want to make.

This is by no means a food blog, so you won’t find a traditional recipe blog post here. The directions are to literally put all of the ingredients into the food processer and blend until creamy.

However, here are a few tricks I’ve learned.

Image courtesy of Mr.-4-Year-Old
  1. Ripe bananas provide the best flavor. I just plop the entire unpeeled and brown bananas into the freezer and wait for the urge to strike for dessert. When I’m ready to make nice cream, I leave the bananas on the counter for a few minutes, then use a knife to peel away the skin.
  2. You can just drop the cutup frozen bananas, some frozen dark and sweet cherries, and a small handful of chocolate chips into the food processer and have dessert in a matter of minutes. If you want to get fancy, add a splash of vanilla.
  3. If you find the ice cream is too thick, add a bit of non-dairy milk. I use almond milk, but any milk or its alternative would work. Oftentimes, I don’t have to add anything extra.
  4. We have used semi-sweet chocolate chips in the past, but I found these Hu dark chocolate “gems” at Costco that are on point. I highly recommend them.
  5. Speaking of Costco, there you can also find a large bag of frozen dark sweet cherries, which is helpful when you plan on making lots of nice cream like our family.
  6. Personally, I think it’s best eaten the day it’s made. You can freeze leftovers, but I don’t like the ice crystals that form in the nice cream at that point.

So there you have it! I share in the spirit of giving during a time when many people likely have New Year’s resolutions to eat healthier. It’s not only my Friday Fav but one I share with my entire family.

Happy Friday!

Posted in Blog

My Pandemic-Friendly 2021 Goals

Oh thank goodness, 2020 is about to be over. Mr.-7-year-old asked me today if that meant the coronavirus would be gone after tonight. I wish, kid. I wish.

I’m excited for today because I feel like the entire world will unite (virtually, in their own homes) to make sure 2020 leaves and welcomes 2021 in with the hopes that it is just not as dramatic as 2020. I’m under no illusion that 2021 will be significantly different from 2020, at least for a good portion of the year. The bar is low for 2021 to outperform its predecessor.

Although my 2020 goals are laughable now with hopes of increased travel and tons of date nights with my husband, that’s not going to stop me from creating some plans for 2021. I did, though, geared my 2021 goals so they are more pandemic friendly.

  1. Continue my daily gratitude journal entry – Earlier in December I started writing three things I’m grateful for every night before I go to sleep. I didn’t get any fancy journal or spend time making it look pretty. I picked up a $2 little fat notebook from the supermarket and leave it on my bedside table as a reminder. It takes 60 seconds to write my thoughts. I have to say that it’s been doing wonders in making me feel better already….though my two-week vacation from work may be helping with that too. Time will tell!
  2. Read 50 books – I had a goal of 25 this year and blew it out of the water by reading 72 books with so much unplanned time at home. I feel like 50 books will be doable. I’m hoping to weave more classics into the rotation this year too.
  3. Explore 4 new hiking trials – One activity we can still do it get outside, and boy am I tired of walking around our neighborhood! Having this goal will help me to get out and explore more. (Plus, I think this will be an easy one because the kids’ Cub Scouts have several planned trails picked out for families to hike each month, so I won’t even have to do a ton of research.)
  4. Have Mommy/Son days – I want to have mommy/son days at some point this year, assuming my husband is up for it. I rarely get any one-on-one time with the boys anymore because we are always all home together…24/7…morning, noon, and night. By scheduling “Mommy/Son days” with each kid, I’m guaranteed to spend some focused time with them. Perhaps I can weave this goal in with the new hiking trials I want to explore.
  5. Try six new meatless meals – I’ve been trying to add some tofu or veggie meals into our rotation. It’s been difficult finding recipes that all of our like, though that’s a challenge even if it’s not a meatless meal. I want to dedicate some time to exploring new options here. I may leverage a service like Hello Fresh to make it easier. We haven’t tried one of these food services yet. It might be a good substitute for takeout.
  6. Walk at least one mile per day – I recognize this isn’t much, but I want to make an effort to get on the treadmill or walk around the neighborhood more often. The thought is that if I can motivate myself to get started because I only have to walk a mile, I may decide to walk longer or perhaps jog instead. If I just want to walk for a mile, great! It’s better than not moving at all.
  7. Meditate for at least two mins a day – Again, this is another small habit I’d like to start that may grow over time. It’s two minutes. I have time for two minutes, even if it’s right before bed after thinking about what I’m grateful for that day. It sounds like a wonderful way to wind down.
  8. Increase our savings and monetary charity donations by a set percentage – This goal helps to keep me focused on watching our finances and knowing that if/when there’s extra money available, we know where we want to put it. If we are offered raises at our jobs this year, then we’ll add the extra money to these goals.

That’s it! Though I feel like eight goals is a lot, I feels achievable. My perspective has changed over the years, though. Even if I only reach half of these goals, I’m still better off and have made progress over inaction. I’ll take that.

Happy New Year!

Photo by S O C I A L . C U T on Unsplash

Posted in Blog

My Top Ten Reads in 2020

I started 2020 with the goal of reading 25 books throughout the year. Little did I know that I’d be home so much and able to get in significantly more reading time. With just a few days left of 2020, I’m up to 72 completed books! Thanks to the Goodreads app, I know that’s 24,389 pages read. Certainly my highest number ever.

Apparently, I rate books highly. My average rating is 4.2 stars out of five. Even though I read a book as short as 144 pages (Laura Vanderkam’s Juliet’s School of Possibilities) and one as long as 818 pages (Ron Chernow’s Alexander Hamilton), I average books with 338 pages. I will admit that books in the 300-400 range are my preference. There’s enough time to set up strong characters and a good plot without dragging it out forever.

So, which were my favorite out of the 72 books I read? I gave more books than just these 10 five stars. I’m calling these out in particular because I still think about them. I remember their characters and story, plus the way they made me think or feel. If you are looking to set a 2021 reading goal or add to next year’s “to-be-read” list, consider these.

Historial Fiction

The Nightingale – I’ve always had a fascination with World War II stories, particularly those related to the Holocaust. I think it’s largely because I just can’t imagine how people can allow something like that to happen and the great admiration I have for those who endured and risked everything to help the Jewish people. I picked up this book after I really enjoyed We Were the Lucky Ones when I read it in 2019. The Nightingale is about how the Nazi invasion of France impacted two sisters and their relationship.

Fiction

  • Verity – Here’s a caveat from the get-go. I haven’t read a thriller in years before this book in 2020, so I haven’t explored this genre since my high school years of devouring Stephen King novels. However, I’ve read a few other thrillers since in 2020, and Verity still stands out as a favorite thriller and overall book for 2020. I don’t want to give much away, but it’s about an author who goes to live with a family. She moves in to help finish a novel the mother of the family (Verity) started before she had an accident and couldn’t finish it.
  • The Hate U Give – This is a novel written for young adults, but I suggest a broader audience. It’s about a high school girl of color who lives in a poor neighborhood and goes to school in a neighboring fancy school district. She is forced into the public light after her best friend is murdered in front of her eyes. It’s a thought provoking and moving read.
  • Little Fires Everywhere – I enjoyed the interconnectedness of the characters in this novel as a single mother and her daughter move into a progressive, planned community. You see how this family reacts to and intersects with the Richardson family.
  • Such a Fun Age – It’s a realistic tale of how a young Black babysitter and white suburban mother react and relate to each other when the babysitter is accused of kidnapping the baby one evening at the supermarket. Disclaimer: I cringed reading the perspectives of multiple characters in this book and didn’t really like any of them, which is why I initially gave the book only four stars. However, the plot and points I walked away with afterward jumped it to five stars a few months later.
  • To Kill a Mockingbird – This is a classic book I read in high school years ago. I sort of remembered the plot and the main takeaways, but I wanted to reread it. I’m so glad I did! It is a powerful story of life in a small Southern town in the 1930s through the eyes of a young girl named Scout. The story is in many ways a coming of age tale as Scout sees how her community reacts to the trial of a Black man. Now I have to decide whether I’m going to read Go Set a Watchman or not because I’ve heard mixed reviews of it.

Nonfiction

  • Alexander Hamilton – This is a lengthy and detailed biography of Alexander’s incredible life and exploration of his accomplishments. It’s dense and long, but a thoroughly good read. I’m not typically the type to pick up a nonfiction title like this, but after being swept up in the Alexander Hamilton musical craze this summer with many others, it was a great deep dive into one of America’s Founding Fathers.
  • Off the Clock: Feel Less Busy By Getting More Done – This is another title by Laura Vanderkam that details time management strategies and time tracking in a way that makes sense to me as a busy and structured working mother.
  • The Four Tendencies – Rubin’s book details four main personality types that give some insights on how you may respond to expectations. This book really helped me relate to others and see their perspectives of work and expectations. It led to some great conversations with my husband, even though he didn’t read the book himself.
  • The Only Plane in the Sky: An Oral History of 9/11 – Out of all of the books I read this year, this one was the highest rated on Goodreads. I’m not surprised. This book provides accounts from hundreds of individuals significantly impacted by the events of 9/11. You are hearing directly from those involved. Each chapter takes you to a different place as the day progresses, ranging from the Twin Towers, Pentagon, PA, and the President’s plane. It was not an easy read, but it was impactful and well done.

Well, geesh, this exercise was enlightening. I seem to have an interest in exploring the many facets and manifestations of hatred: where it comes from, what people do with that conscious or unconscious hatred, and how we can overcome it. Hatred can be covered by how people view each other so differently (all of my fiction titles), what people do with hatred directed toward them (Alexander Hamilton), or how to help others when they are being targeted (The Nightingale and The Only Plane in the Sky).

My 2021 list is not particularly long at the moment, and I’m hoping to read at least 50 books next year. Please share any particularly good books you’ve read that others should check out. I’m always looking to add to my to-be-read list!

Posted in Blog

Friday Fav: Time with Family

Merry Christmas! I’m wishing you and yours a wonderful holiday season and peace for the new year.

My Friday Fav this week is certainly time with my family. They may be constantly underfoot these days and it may be difficult to find a moment of silence during daylight hours, but I love spending time with them all. I’m thankful we are together and healthy this holiday season. I’m grateful my husband and I have jobs, particularly ones that allow us to take time off during the holiday season.

We have been blessed beyond measure, and this year in particular I’m trying not to take that for granted.

So I will try to embrace the loud children bouncing off the walls at their excitement for Christmas. I will make the best of virtual get togethers with family instead of in-person gatherings. I will be grateful for my husband’s constant playing of YouTube videos and podcasts because that means he’s home and near me. I will read that one extra chapter of Harry Potter after the kids’ bedtime to get a few more minutes of cuddle time under the blankets with the boys.

On this Christmas day in particular, I’ll slow down. I’ll soak in the magic of the day and the good fortune that we get to spend it together.

Please hold your loved ones close and treasure their presence. That’s the greatest gift I’ll get this Christmas, and I know it.

Posted in Blog

Christmas Morning Supply List

Have you ever been with the family Christmas morning, gathered around the tree with coffee in hand and kids, shreds of wrapping paper, and toys underfoot when someone says something like, “I can’t get this box open!” or “It didn’t come with batteries.”

Yup, I’ve been there too.

Now, ahead of time, I gather of a basket of supplies that we’ll likely need and leave it by the Christmas tree. I even took it a step further and have the list of supplies auto-emailed to me every Dec 23rd so I don’t have to remember each year what to grab.

In case it’s helpful to others, here is that list:

  • Scissors to open boxes and to cut ribbon
  • Garbage bags to discard wrapping paper
  • Paper and pen to take notes for thank you cards
  • Black and silver Sharpies to label items (If the boys get the same item, they want them labeled immediately to avoid mix ups.)
  • Batteries of common sizes (e.g., AA, AAA, and C)
  • Screwdriver to open battery compartments
  • A camera with its battery charged
  • A quick grab set of food, like a mini box of cereal, for the kids

I know to many this is an insane amount of organization, and that’s fine. I like feeling prepared. If my planning can help someone else, all the better.

Happy holidays!

Photo by Evelin Horvath on Unsplash

Posted in Blog

Christmas Traditions

I always enjoy learning about others’ holiday traditions. You can hear in their voices the love and warmth they have for their friends and family. As they share Christmases that have past, you can see the nostalgia in their eyes. Sometimes even more interestingly, ask newlyweds how they will celebrate the holidays, and you’ll learn how at least two different families have blended their traditions and made their own.

Like many others, I’m lucky enough to remember amazing Christmases filled with good food, huge gatherings of extended family, trips to see Santa, and the joy of finding that gift I specifically asked for under the tree. The whole month of December seemed magical, and Christmas itself extended to last the entire winter break from school as we bopped around visiting family celebrating several rounds of Christmas.

Of course, this is through my rose-colored glasses. My mother was the one wrapping, cooking, and baking everything. When my dad’s parents came to visit us, my parents gave up their bedroom for them. My father was the one driving us, usually through snow, 12+ hours after Christmas to visit his in-laws while the dog was between my sister and I and throwing up every couple of hours. It was a whirlwind trip to visit family, trying to get a good amount of quality time with both sides of the family. I’m sure the whole Christmas experience was sometimes stressful for my folks but they never let on. They made it look easy and seamless.

Well, I can’t promise that my sons will see things as rosy as I remember, but I’m hopeful that we too are creating magic. The Christmas season for us starts with the Christmas Season Printable, my action plan full of traditions I don’t want to forget. We fill in these activities on the nights and weekends leading up to Christmas.

Once we get to Christmas Eve, we usually have family visiting. We go to mass then out to dinner at our favorite local Italian restaurant. There will be no in-person extended family visits this year. Additionally, it will be virtual mass and takeout food, but we can make that work.

Afterward, the kids unwrap one gift. It is always Christmas pajamas, the boys always forget that’s what they are getting, and they are always really excited to receive them. (I wonder how much more time I get of this experience!) We then set out milk and cookies for Santa and nine carrots for the reindeer. My husband then jingles a bell so the kids think Santa is on the way, and they rush off to bed.

My husband and I attempt to stay awake until the kids are asleep, and then we set up all of the gifts. No presents for the immediate family go under the tree until now. The cookies magically disappear and our in-house, furry “reindeer” enjoys the carrots. Santa tracks are made on the hearth from a pair of boots and soot from the fireplace. Stockings are stuffed and hung by the chimney with care. Simultaneously, as much prep as is possible is done to get ready for coffee and breakfast for the next morning.

Since we tend to have extended family with us for the holiday, we often set a time on when Christmas morning will begin. That gives people the option to set an alarm and get ready for the day first if they want. We try to pick a time that won’t keep the boys waiting forever but isn’t before the sun. I’m not sure if or how we’ll change this tradition for this funky 2020 year.

Our little ones are NOT allowed to come downstairs until the adults are ready for them. I always want video evidence of them seeing that Santa visited, and I’m sure the other adults want to see their reactions too. Once the adults are settled, the kids can come down. The boys tend to impatiently wait for us, wake each other up, and generally bounce off the walls. This is where having the set time for Christmas to start is really helpful because you can tell the kids only X more minutes.

After the kids react to Santa’s arrival, the boys always want to “be Santa” first and pass out a gift from under the tree to each person in attendance. This is the cutest part of the day, because of course the boys will pick out gifts they are giving others to pass out first. They can’t wait to see how you’ll react to what they made or bought for you. I love that they already enjoy the act of giving to others.

We then take turns opening our gifts. It’s more like everyone opens their one gift passed to them at the same time, but I always wait. I want to see how everyone else reacts. I may snap a few photos along the way as well.

After all of the gifts are opened under the tree, we break for a breakfast of cinnamon rolls and usually biscuits and gravy. Healthier choices will come Jan 1. We then return to open stocking stuffers from Santa that include things like a new toothbrush, toothpaste, chapstick, and a small toy of some kind. (I picked out card games this year.)

At this point, the boys are fully occupied for the rest of the day. My husband and I then cook a roast beef dinner around a formally set table while socializing with family. We dine together and often enjoy dessert with friends before the day is out.

It is a whirlwind of a day and the climax of a lot of planning and preparing, but I love it. I think about the traditions my husband brought to our family and those from mine and realize that our parents’ and grandparents’ live on in these small, repeated acts. And when my husband and I are older and grandparents ourselves, I hope to see some of these traditions live on through our sons’ families. It’s the closest I’ll get to eternal life, and I’ll take it.

Photo by Samuel Holt on Unsplash