Christmas Thoughts + Pics

We had a lovely Christmas in all the ways Christmas is supposed to be.

Best of all, husband-Stephen was off for quite a number of days in a row. Whoo hoo! That never happens. We had so much togetherness, and I loved it.

Also, Stephen gave me THE most fabulous gift - he made me (us) a gorgeous kitchen table, the perfect size for our quirky long, narrow space in the kitchen.

The kids were easy to please gift-wise, the biggest hit being an electric train from Publix for $14.99. No Disney World. No iPads. I'm a big believer in setting the bar low for young children....on purpose. They are so satisfied/thrilled with so little. You see this quote "presence over presents" everywhere this time of year. It is cheesy, but it is so true!

One funny thing I always do for my children's stockings, I divide one bag of candy amongst the 3 of them. By the time Christmas arrives the last thing they need is more sweets. It also saves me a few dollars to only buy one bag.

We are loving these last few slow days before the children return to school. Right now I'm sitting by the fire, the older two are playing outside, baby George is napping, and I'm making tea. Bliss.

Hope you all had a wonderful Christmas! See you in 2015.


Five Great Toys

Here are 5 toys that have stood the test of time in our house. My kids have loved each of these toys for a long time, and no matter how many times I clean house I never get rid of these. They suit a number of ages and stages and my three children (ages 2-5) are always inventing new ways to play with them. 
1. Wooden Pull Toy My babies have loved this as well as toddlers who pretend it's a dog on a leash. This is also is super popular with visiting friends.

2. Cozy Coupe Need I elaborate? Cozy Coupes are just the best.We have two and often if the weather is bad, I will bring them in the house.

3. Giant Stuffed Alligator My parents bought this for my oldest child almost six years ago before he was born. All three of my children actually play with it, pretending to ride it or wrestle it. More recently, my son started sleeping with it every night. I guess its kind of like a body pillow.

4. Toy Pizza This may be a pizza, but my children also pretend it's birthday cake or pie. The other night, behind my back, they turned the pan over and spread some leftover hummus on it, pretending to ice a cake. I wasn't real happy about that. But they were so thrilled with themselves I didn't have the heart to fuss.

My two year old also loves to cut and slice through the Velcro pieces over and over and over.

5. LEGO Duplos I actually put all our Duplos up a few weeks ago to take them out of circulation for a while and give them a rest. Within two days my children were asking where they were. These seem to hold their attention span longer than any other toy.

The beauty of each of these toys is they are all gender neutral and appeal to kids ranging from age 1 - 5. I think any of these would make great first birthday gifts.

What are your kid's all time favorites?

I've heard these Magnet building tiles are fabulous.


Piggy Cupcakes

Stephen, my kindergartner, had a program at school this week, The Three Piggy Opera, and it was SO CUTE. I'm amazed how much discipline and hard work the class put into pulling off this production.

Afterwards, there was a reception, and I signed up to bring the piggy cupcakes. Pinterest for the win! This post from Emily's Little World was my inspiration.

These were SO fun to make. But I'll admit the stress of keeping my children from touching every-single-cupcake drove me mad. I'm convinced for every cute cupcake out there, a mom yelled five times. But hey, we got the job done, and overall making these was a positive experience. 

ears: strawberry wafer cookies cut into triangles - use a sharp knife
eyes: brown mini m&m's
noses: pink marshmallows cut in half

Wal-mart was the only place I could find pink marshmallows and strawberry wafers. These would be so cute for a farm party.


Sorting and Organizing Photos - My Goal for 2015

I mentioned that I'm reading Japanese writer, Marie Kondo's book, The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing. I'm an avid purger and simplifier, but I needed an extra kick in the pants before the flurry of new stuff comes with Christmas.

The message of the book is to tidy up "in one go", not a little everyday because you will be tidying forever says Kondo. The idea is to clean right, one time over the course of a few weeks or months. This way you catch a vision for order that enables you to actually change your habits and keep your home tidy. Behind all this tidying is the method of discard, discard, discard. We all have too much stuff!

The question Marie asks when deciding whether to keep an item or not is "Does this spark joy?"

Isn't that great? I love that.

* I don't think Marie has children ;) So, I'm reading this book with a grain of salt (or a saltshaker of salt), taking what works for me and leaving what doesn't.

One of my favorite parts of the book was about dealing with photographs. When sorting photos, Marie asks her standard question "Does it spark joy?" about each photograph.

My photos have been piling up on my computer since 2009. I have had so much angst about how to organize them and which ones to print. I once attempted to create photo books, but then got so overwhelmed I've resorted back to regular old photo albums.

So, a big New Year's goal of mine is to sort photos and have them printed in 2015. Before reading this book, I probably would have seen these photos below as ones I'd unlikely print.

But with my new question "Does it spark Joy?" I can boldly say YES and keep blurry crayons, over exposed children on a picnic table, Hello Kitty, and my Tuesday night supper being breathed on by my son.

I'm actually a little excited to tackle photo albums in 2015, feeling joy and not dread! And it's funny how even pictures of inanimate objects spark joy because they remind me of our everyday, ordinary life.


Here is my inspiration post by Soule Mama for how I'm going to FINALLY get my my photos in order. I absolutely love how she prints them with the white boarder.


Also, I use Costco to do all my printing. I think they do a fabulous job.


How do you organize your photos? Are you up to date? Does it stress you out?


The Secret Ingredient to AMAZING Hot Chocolate

I love homemade hot chocolate. It's the only way to go. A packet will suffice in a pinch, but homemade is a delicacy.

Honestly, I re-invent my recipe every year. This year:

serves 1

small handful semisweet chocolate chips
enough water to cover chocolate chips
teeny hint of vanilla
tiny pinch of salt
about 1 cup milk 
and the the secret ingredient, a splash of coffee

In a small sauce pan, melt the chocolate chips in water on medium heat (this allows you to melt your chocolate thoroughly without scalding the milk). Add vanilla and salt. Pour in milk and a splash or two of leftover coffee.

The coffee enhances the chocolate, but does not make the hot chocolate taste like coffee.


I'm sitting here finishing this post, sipping on my hot chocolate, and I just popped over to the blog Habit. A small group of bloggers share captivating photos in their every day life and a one or two sentence thought. I love how mundane, yet beautiful the photos are and how often you can relate to the words even though they don't tell the whole story. It's relaxing.


Also, have you seen this gorgeous wrapping paper on Etsy? I think it would be a great gift itself.


Good Haircut for So Cheap

I got my haircut....for $13.95 + tip. My friend, Jessica, always has the best hair and one day I asked her where and who cut it. She said Billy at Cuts by Us and that she paid almost nothing for it! She told me he used to work at an upscale Aveda salon, but got tired of the drama. I was sold.


I have been bouncing around trying to find someone who I could trust and would not charge $45-$60. Usually I'm in a hurry and want a quick and dry cut.

Anyways, I could not be more thrilled! I'm feeling some ambitious financial goals come January and this new hair guy fits right in line with my 2015 plans.

Let it be noted, I think I look so much more put together with short hair. I don't throw it in a ponytail or top knot... because I can't. And it actually does better if I don't wash it a few days. I'm on day 2 and I think I can definitely go one more day. Such a time saver.

Get a hair cut, keep a hair cut. It's one of my life rules I've slacked on lately.


P.S. I think Old Navy is killing it with the flannel, plaid shirts this year.


Thanksgiving + Christmas

photo credit: my dad

Y'all, we had a great Thanksgiving visiting my family. And now we are home and ready to take on Christmas!

I love the Christmas season, but I do not like to go too crazy schedule-wise, especially with kids. I like to be careful and not let all the hoop-la throw over our normal routines.

Going to bed early, playing outside, reading books, eating our vegetables, and memorizing scripture- it's important to me to keep these things a priority. Mostly, I have selfish motives. My kids just do better when we stay committed to healthy activities.

Promise I'm not a Scrooge. Of course there are plenty of treats! - the tree, Christmas music, fires, hot chocolate, parties, and gifts.

Also, in prep for the flurry of new toys I'm working on a major clean up/ clean out around here. This book, The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up, is both hilarious and inspiring.

Praise the Lord, I got most of my Christmas shopping done online on Black Friday. All I have left is a stop at (the cutest!) local bookstore. I want to patronize them and the experience of going in there takes me back in time.


Had to Have It, But Didn't Really Need It

In August, we moved into a new house and completely re-did the kitchen. It's so wonderful. I love it. Half the time I'm in there I'm saying to myself - I can't believe this is my kitchen! 

There are still some finishing touches that need to be done, hardware on the drawers and cabinets and the cabinetry needs to be finished above the refrigerator. But who are we kidding, I'm married to a builder which means we will probably get to it in 5 years. The cobbler's children have no shoes!

We intentionally left the cabinets above the fridge undone because we thought we would be buying a new refrigerator, preferably stainless steal. I actually thought we would buy one before we moved in the house. I felt like I had to have a new refrigerator because the black one that came with the house just would not do.... from a decorative standpoint. I thought it was a deal breaker, a non negotiable expense. Because what's the point of having a brand new kitchen and an old, black fridge?

Well, for three reasons:
It is in perfectly good condition.
We already own it.
We maxed out our renovation budget before we got to the fridge purchase.

So we put it off. And over time, the ol' black fridge has grown on me. What I thought I had to a have, a stainless steel new-to-me fridge, is really no longer necessary. In fact, I like the imperfectness of it. My house does not need to be perfect.We are a real family, not one in a magazine.

This whole thing has been a good reminder in contentment, in waiting, and in making do...because what we have is more than fine.

Also, it is a reminder that in most cases what I think is a need is really a want.

In the same vein, I thought this blog post was so refreshing...
Five Ways to Be More Content This Holiday Season by Life as Mom


My New Coat + I'm So Over Buying Expensive Clothes

photo credit: Stephen Small

Over the past couple of years I have searched high and low for a wool coat that could be dressed up or down. I was thinking Boden or J.Crew. But in the end, I picked up this super affordable pea coat from Old Navy. I bought it during a SALE for about $35. And my mom actually paid for it!

It's a polyester wool blend. I'm thrilled with it.

Over and over, I have debated...do I buy nicer, more expensive clothes or do I stick with Old Navy and Gap?

I'm coming out of a phase when I thought buying more expensive clothes might be the way to go. My thought was they would be higher quality and last longer. I was thinking with cost per wear I'd come out better, financially....and I'd like my clothes more.

But in my recent experience, even the nicer, more costly clothing I've bought has left me totally disappointed. This past summer, I splurged on some shirts from Anthropolgie and they held up pitifully. I was even careful to wash them exactly according to directions.

I also had a bad experience with a pair of Paige Jeans. They were fabulous when I bought them. I went as long as I could without washing, but eventually had to. I washed and dried them exactly as directed. They puckered in several places and stretched out. They are dead to me now. Y'all, they did not hold up for even three months!

What I've discovered is just because I'm paying more it does not guarantee higher quality. So, I'm trying to become a student of quality regardless of price or brand.

I'm back to (mostly) shopping at Old Navy, Gap, Ann Taylor Loft, and Target. In a way, I'm relieved that I have come full circle and can shop at these less expensive stores without feeling like I'm missing out on all these amazing high quality clothes that will last a decade.

I've decided that if I'm going to put a lot of money towards something, I say spend it on shoes! Shoes tend to fair better when it comes to getting what you paid for and they can really pull an outfit together.


For almost a year I have adopted the "ten" item wardrobe concept, having fewer clothes that I love and wearing them over and over and over. One of my favorite blogs is Jennifer Scott's, The Daily Connoisseur. She has a great video series about about creating a ten item wardrobe.

I particularly enjoyed this video about how she takes care of her clothes.


Another one of my favorite finds this season, also from Old Navy, this cream colored open cardigan.


What about you? Do you find it worth it to by expensive clothes? Or do you do just as well with Old Navy, Gap, and Loft?


Perfect Pork Chop Marinade

When it comes to trying new recipes, I find so few that are keepers. This five ingredient pork chop marinade is one of those rare exceptions. It has found a permanent spot in our regular meal rotation because it is so easy AND delicious.

recipe adapted from Passionate Penny Pincher:

1/2 cup soy sauce
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
2 teaspoons honey
2 teaspoons garlic powder or onion powder
4-6 bone in pork chops

Mix first four ingredients together and pour over pork chops.

Once the pork chops have soaked in the marinade for a few hours, remove them from the juices and place on a foil lined cookie sheet. I find that cooked soy sauce is so hard to scrub off dishes, so lining with foil is a big help with clean up. Bake in the oven on 375 degrees for 20-30 minutes depending on thickness.

I like to serve these with a green vegetable and baked sweet potatoes. It makes for a really simple, but flavorful meal.

Another thing I like to do with this meal is buy a bunch of pork chops from Costco, divide them up into Ziploc bags, double the marinade, and freeze. Then on a busy day all you have to do is pull them out of the freezer and bake.


Another recipe, Easy Bacon Wrapped Chicken


Easy, Cheap Way to Hang Kids' Artwork


Last week was long, busy, and packed with so many details. By Friday I wanted to do something fun and creative, a non-chore. But I only had a tiny amount of time (and money).

I wanted to do something with this bare, brick wall in our family room. This corner is the perfect place for this children's desk and two little chairs. The desk belonged to my grandfather when he was a little boy, and it is my favorite piece of furniture ever! Often, we let the kids eat here and many times the desk serves as the check out counter when they are playing store.


I have been debating about what sort of artwork to put on this wall. I originally wanted a huge black and white photograph of my kids. Like this. But I don't have the right photo. And then there's the cost of the frame.

Also, since it's brick, drilling a hole for a frame is tricky.

Then I had this other idea.... A friend of mine, who has a gorgeous home, hung a bunch of her children's artwork in her entryway using this putty. $3 at CVS.

I knew this idea would be perfect for this corner! $3 and I had my creative, minimal time required "project" on a Friday afternoon.

My daughter helped me decide on the placement of the pictures. We were thrilled to see these works of art go up on display.

I love that this project has a big impact and was so inexpensive. Also, I can rotate out the artwork as new stuff comes in.

The putty works great for securing frames on the wall so they will hang straight. Perfect for wall galleries

Also, Sorting Kids Artwork, To Keep or Throw Away?


Simple Salad My Kids Like

For about a week surrounding Halloween my kids were on a strict diet of hotdogs and candy. I had to get something green back in their diet!

One afternoon I got them good and hungry then I served this simple salad before dinner. They ate it up. Even my (almost) two year old like it.

Romaine lettuce
Briannas' Real French Vinaigrette dressing
lots of freshly grated Parmesan cheese

I've served it a second time since and it was again a hit. 


In the warmer months, I love a big ol' salad for lunch. But now that its cooler, I like soup.


Inspiring Resources for Reading to Your Children


We have been reading the Little House series to our five year old, Stephen. By the way, these are great books for BOYS! There is so much adventure and danger. Pa is always making his own bullets, braving the bitter cold winters, and coming face to face with wild animals.

Stephen is loving this series. In fact, we all are.

I have always wanted to instill good reading habits in my children. I have tried to make reading a normal, expected, and enjoyable part of our day.

That being said, I have found it painfully challenging to establish a culture of reading in our home. Part of this is my firstborn's disposition. I don't even believe in A.D.D. But if I did, he has it. In reality, he is just a normal, especially active five year old boy, a delight!


Also adding to the challenge is that my children are so close in age, and we are still very much in the little years. As soon as somebody sits down happily with mommy and a book, another child is pouring a gallon of milk on the kitchen floor.

And then there is my own laziness. 

Excuses. I have so many.

But as much as I could resolve and with the help of my husband we have stayed committed to reading. Keep on keepin' on has been my motto. It is wonderful to finally begin to enjoy the fruits of our labor and actually enjoy reading books to our children. I'm loving this new phase of chapter books.

One of the ways I've stayed inspired during the difficult times is I try surround myself with reading success stories, reminding me why it is so beneficial to read aloud to children

When nobody will sit and read with me, when the phone rings as soon as we get into the story, when restless toddlers fight over who will sit in my lap....when I'm generally discouraged, I look for a book, a blog post, a podcast or a story to encouraged me in reading.

Here's some of the resources that have inspired me recently.... and not so recently:

The Read Aloud Handbook
Honey for a Child's Heart

Inspiration for Reading Aloud to Your Children
How Reading Aloud is Like Comfort Food

Series I'm really looking forward to:
The Chronicles of Narnia
Winnie the Pooh
Harry Potter
Anne of Green Gables

Audio Resources:
(Even though my children are a little too young for audio books, I'm a huge fan, and I look forward to putting them to good use eventually.)
Loyal Books

How incredible is Ben Carson's story! He was dirt poor, raised by a single mother with no more than a third grade education. She made Ben and his brother read, requiring two book reports a week. As you all know, he grows up to be one of the most renowned neurosurgeons in the world. I love how simple his mother's method was....she just made him do it. 

I'm curious. How much time do you spend reading to your children?


Making the Most of Leftovers

Tonight I had planned to make turkey tacos for dinner, but as it turns out we have so many leftovers.

I have a couple of hamburgers, a little of this, part of a calzone, and some lettuce. There is not enough of one thing for all of us to have the same thing, but there is plenty of good food and I do not want it to go to waste! The bonus is I don't have to cook. Also, I'm saving money by using what we got and moving turkey tacos to a night later this week.

leftovers some time in August 2014

Here are a few discoveries I've made when it comes to enjoying leftovers:

Heat them up properly. Often, microwaves do not do food any favors. Take the extra time and heat the food up in the toaster oven or on top of the stove in a skillet.

Boil a pot of pasta and throw leftover meat and vegetables on top. Pasta will give any dish a second life and will help you stretch a meal. Top with fresh Parmesan cheese to make it feel really special. The same thing could be said for lettuce. Put your leftovers on a salad.

Make a wrap or quesadilla. Roll up leftover meat, vegetables, salad, rice etc. in a tortilla. Drizzle on a little salad dressing. For a quesadilla, heat cheese, leftovers, and vegetables in a tortilla on a skillet.

Open a bottle of wine. Suddenly leftover chicken spaghetti doesn't sound so bad when you consider opening a yummy bottle of wine and making a fresh side salad to go with it.

Stephen and I started a ritual on Sunday nights. When we get home from church, we march the kids straight to bed and then we enjoy a candle lit meal of properly cared for leftovers and a glass of wine. It's a date.

It's really fun to have something like this to look forward to at the end of the weekend. Sunday nights used to be kind of a bummer for us until we started this Sunday supper thing.

Here are some of the leftover meals we've shared together...

pork chops re-heated in the skillet with a little butter, side of pasta and broccoli.
leftover spaghetti and meatballs my mom sent home with us from the beach.
hamburgers with toasted buttered buns

If we don't have leftovers, a fried egg on toast is pretty good.

What about your family? Do you eat up all your leftovers or do you find yourself throwing food out? 


Costco Faves + Grocery Shopping with Kids

72 oz. bag chocolate chips when on sale $7.49, normally $9.99
I divided these up in 6 Ziploc bags, that's 6 batches of chocolate chip cookies!

Rotisserie chicken $4.99
I cut some chicken off and set aside to freeze. Will make chicken quesadillas next week. What's left we will eat as is on Thursday night along a side of cooked spinach.  

Organic whole bean coffee $12.99. I love this coffee!

Apples $6.99. Great price in season. We go through a carton of apples a week.

Huge box of organic spinach $3.99. Five year old Stephen loves cooked spinach! French Kids Eat Everything. Last night we had brussel sprouts and he was whining about wanting spinach instead. Good problem ;)

He has the biggest sweet tooth, so I'm glad he is balancing out and enjoying some greens.

Not pictured:
milk $2.89

bag of 6 avocados $4.99
I will make guacamole for the quesadillas next week. I also love to eat avocado on toast in the morning.

It has taken me a while to learn what we like at Costco and what will not go to waste. I also have an understanding that going is a big event. If the children are with me I prep them about their behavior and what is expected. Stay near the cart, do not ask me to buy anything besides what's on the list, etc. I learned this tip from an older-than-me mom at my church. Talk about expected behavior on the way to the store.

I also try to offer some incentive if they behave well. If y'all obey we will eat lunch here or buy a box of Oreos, etc.

I also know that loading the car is an ordeal and unloading at home and then putting all the food away is a massive undertaking. I try to make day of it, consider it my exercise, and prep everything at home like making space in the refrigerator and cleaning up the kitchen. Typically on the days I go to Costco I aim to have a simple dinner (like Rotisserie chicken) because I'm weary of dealing with food. 

In a perfect world I would never take my kids to the grocery store, but sometimes it is just unavoidable. I tell myself "people have done harder things, like go war". Usually that puts things into perspective.


Non-rountine + Say No, Anticipate

We have had two non-routine weeks of out of town company and time at the beach.

My best friend from growing up came to visit for two days with her 3 kids during fall break. Shortly after, we joined my family at the beach.

All fun! And now it's back to reality. The house needs attention, the pantry is bare, and I already have Christmas on the brain.

Two major themes I'm holding dear this week/this season.

1. Say no

Recently, we have received several invitations to birthday parties, baby showers, and opportunities to serve at school and church. It's just where we are in life, and we are so grateful to be asked to be a part of so much. Realistically, there is not enough physical time, space, energy, and money to accept all these invitations/obligations/opportunities. We have to say no to some things, a lot of things. It's hard because the no is to people we love and care about. Sometimes the no is because we can't be in two places at once and sometimes it's because we are saying yes to rest, regular meals together, and time as a family.

Step one is saying no. Step two is telling myself not to feel guilty for saying no. Because I - you - we - simply cannot do it all.

2. Anticipate

Christmas is coming. My family needs dinner tonight. We go through 2.5 gallons milk a week. These are all things I can anticipate and prepare for because these things are not a surprise. I'm learning to think ahead, way ahead. Months and seasons ahead. This concept is Biblical...

Go to the ant, O sluggard; consider her ways and be wise.
Without having any chief, officer, or ruler, she prepares her bread in summer and gathers her food in harvest. Proverbs 6:6-8

She looks well to the ways of her household and does not eat the bread of idleness. Proverbs 31:27

It is work to prepare, but it is more work to not prepare.

They beach in October is fabulous! So grateful to my parents for having us.


I listened to Laura Vanderkam's What the Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast: A Short Guide to Making Over Your Mornings - and Life on the drive home from Gulf Shores. It was so inspiring and really made me think about how I manage my time, specifically my mornings.

Self help books are my guilty pleasure.


Mending + Reheating Pizza + eBay

Several months ago I gave up sewing. I did not have the time and it was not enough of a priority to make the time for it. What was once fun became frustrating because of interruptions and the fact that if I wanted do it, I had to neglect something vital to my schedule....like making dinner or sleep.

So I quit, hung it up, gave away my fabric. I almost sold my sewing machine, but my family recommended that I hang on to it....just in case. And I'm so glad I did because although I gave up sewing, turns out I did not give up mending!

Recently, I have hemmed, mended, and stitched so many children's clothes. One booth at a re-sale shop I like had a going out of business sale. I was able to buy George some things a size up and hem them.

It was freeing to give up the "big hobby" - sewing. But it is nice enjoy using the skill to repair and tailor some (not all) of my children's clothes. I'm saving money by doing it myself and it is not very time consuming at all.

I bought this plaid longall on eBay for $9, had a red G monogrammed on it, switched out the Scottie dog buttons and I'm calling it George's Christmas outfit.


Have you seen on Pinterest this best way ever to reheat leftover pizza? A skillet. This is genius. It is so delicious because it makes the crust nice and crispy.

This is Friday night's pizza served for Saturday lunch.

Confession: we dipped it in homemade ranch dressing.

 How to Reheat Your Pizza at Home


Another eBay find, this $11 Auburn cheerleader outfit.

I'm loving eBay these days!
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