Posted in Blog

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.

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

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

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

Posted in Blog

Friday Fav: 3D Christmas Glasses

Our family loves to drive around the neighborhoods this time of year to look at Christmas lights. I feel like there are more decorations up this year than ever before! One thing we always make sure to bring with us when we’re out looking at lights are these cool 3D Christmas glasses my in-laws picked up for the boys a few years ago.

These glasses transform the look of Christmas lights into a variety of holiday shapes like Santa Clause, candy canes, snowmen, or reindeer (like the picture included in this post). Bob your head around, and you can see the shapes move!

Besides Amazon, I’ve seen classes like these at Walmart and Lowe’s. They are typically a couple of dollars for a pair. Although the frames are only made of paper, we’ve largely kept them in one piece for many years. I highly recommend trying them out, if you can find them.

Happy Friday!

Posted in Blog

Gift Wrapping Hacks

As much as I like to give my husband a hard time about the fact that I do all of the wrapping for every gift our family gives each year while he only has to wrap mine, I secretly kind of love it. I squirrel myself away in the basement, watch cheesy Christmas movies, and spend time alone. These days, that feels like an even more special treat!

Over the years, I’ve devised a few hacks for wrapping gifts. I share them here not to convince you to adopt any of them, but rather just to share some ideas. I recognize that most people are significantly more laid back than I am and don’t see the need for these tricks, and that’s totally cool. You do you!

  • Once I wrap a gift, I completely forget what’s in it. This gets dangerous when wrapping gifts for our parents because my husband and I refer to both sets of parents as mom and dad. Our labels can get confusing quickly! My trick? If my husband’s name comes first in the From section, it’s a gift for his parents. If my name is listed first, then it’s a gift for my parents.
  • We have the common Christmas tradition to give our kids new pajamas every Christmas Eve. To not lose these gifts among the others, I put a star on the To/From label.
  • Santa still visits our home every year, and he always seems to have different wrapping paper than we use. He must be a bit egocentric because his wrapping paper always has pictures of himself on it. He also makes sure to always write in capitalize letters than look completely different from anyone’s handwriting in our house.
  • This year we won’t be spending the holidays with family like we normally do. Our families have been generous and mailed gifts to our house instead. I’m hoping we can video call with them on Christmas day to virtually celebrate instead. So as I wrap gifts, I make sure to use different wrapping paper for each family. This way I’ll know at a glance on Christmas morning that all of the gifts with snowmen paper should be saved to open when we can connect with the grandparents.
  • Hands down the best, reasonably priced wrapping paper that I’ve found is at Costco. It takes years to use it all, and the paper is thick.
  • Tags, ribbons, bows, gift bags, etc. are all picked up at Walmart Dec 26th when all of their Christmas stock is at least 50%. I pick up everything I need for about $10. I then store it away until the next year. I like buying everything at once because I can coordinate items and pick products that will match my wrapping paper.
  • Have you ever been in the situation that you don’t have enough wrapping paper to completely cover a gift? Try the diagonal wrapping method! For that trick and others, see this video from But First, Coffee.
  • Never trust the box of any gift you open from me. I reuse them every year. Shoe boxes are great for stashing awkwardly shaped items like socks and underwear (staple Christmas gifts in our house).

Some other traditions I’ve learned from others sound fun too. I know others from large families use a different wrapping paper for each family member. Others may want to rally all of the adults on Christmas Eve to wrap and drink wine together once the children are nestled all snug in their beds. I also like the notion that Santa leaves his gift out of the box and unwrapped by the tree with stockings at the foot of the children’s beds to find early Christmas morning.

Whatever you do, I hope you enjoy the magic of the season and the joy of giving. We could use a little more of both in 2020.

Posted in Blog

Friday Fav: Short Days and Long Nights

In just a few weeks it will be the Winter Solstice, which means that we have limited daylight hours and long nights. Normally I’d hate this change. It means my husband is driving to and from work in the dark. It feels like you need to get everyone home and immediately start dinner and the whole bedtime routine. I’m ready to pass out for the night by 8pm.

However, this year, with the whole family home 24/7, I’ve embraced the extended nights. No longer are we sneaking in sports practices right after school before the sunsets or coming back from Scout meetings in the dark. Most nights we are instead home, warm and cozy under covers on the couch reading together or watching a family TV show in front of a roaring fire. It’s transformed from a chaotic and rushed part of our day to calm (usually) and peaceful (usually) segment of the day.

As a bonus, my children are old enough to get themselves ready for bed. They can shower themselves and get their pajamas on without constant support. We’ve started sending one kid to get ready at a time, giving my husband and I bit of alone time with each of our sons. I’ve really lost that one-on-one time with my kids now that we’re all home constantly, so it’s nice to get some of it back, especially during a quiet evening hours.

Given the year 2020 has been, I’ll take whatever positives I can get. This type of family time is definitely one of them…whether it’s Friday or any other day of the week.

Happy Friday!

Photo by Amy Humphries on Unsplash – This image captures how cozy I feel at home with my family.