Swimsuits + Toys + A Fun Art Project

Thanks for your overwhelmingly warm response to my last post about feeding my family. I hope to elaborate on the topic over the next few weeks!

Today, how about a quick word on little girls' swimwear, toys, and a fun, easy art project?!

I majorly prefer that little girls wear one piece swimsuits. One mama/blogger totally summed up my reasons in a post Bikinis.Yes or No?

"There is nothing sexual about a little girl’s chest, so when you put a bikini top on it, it draws unnecessary attention."

I completely agree!

photo credit: my sister, last summer


As you all know, I love cleaning and purging toys! Every time I do it, my children play better and for longer, and life is good for all.

There's a lot of little bits and broken toys I'm sneaking off to the trash, but these 3 Melissa and Doug trucks are keepers. George (2 1/2 y.o.) prefers these to any battery powered toy we own.

here, here, and here

I have gotten rid of all the small pieces that come with the truck on the left. As they were scattered to the far corners of the house, I collected them and threw them out. 

We had a good rain on Friday afternoon, and Stephen, Laurie and I had a great time drawing "night scenes" using pastels on black construction paper.

 The city scene is mine.

Can you believe it's July 1st tomorrow?! 


Feeding My Family: How I Deal

I knew this would be a challenging summer to get food on the table. I have no childcare. I'm pregnant. The heat is debilitating. My husband works long hours.

But the show must go on! We have to eat.

One of the hardest parts of feeding my family is the thinking. Deciding what to have every night for dinner, over and over and over. It drains me. Does it you? 

So in an attempt to make life easier, I came up with a three-week meal rotation. The original idea was that we would rotate through the same, easy, 21 meals over and over, all summer long. Really 18 meals because 3 of the meals are homemade pizza on Friday nights. We always have pizza on Friday night. Going on 5 years now.

The way the plan has actually played out is I use the list as a reference for meal ideas. We don't eat the meals in the same order week after week. The rotation idea didn't work because the leftovers were always throwing me off (in a good way). Or I would want to put off going to the store and make do with what was in my pantry and freezer.

Maybe we would want to eat hamburgers two weekends in a row. Because we felt like it. Because it's a free country. So the rotation....didn't do it. But the sentiment of the list has been a life saver. 

Here it is. It has evolved over time. It's my servant, not my master.

Monday: chickpea chicken salad
Tuesday:  meatloaf
Wednesday: sandwiches
Thursday:  tacos
Friday: pizza
Saturday: grilled chicken sandwiches
Sunday: BLT's

Monday: shrimp and vegetables
Tuesday: spaghetti
Wednesday: hotdogs
Thursday: fajitas
Friday: pizza
Saturday: hamburgers
Sunday: pimento cheese

Monday: fish and vegetables
Tuesday: grilled chicken summer pasta
Wednesday: sloppy joes
Thursday: quesadillas
Friday: pizza
Saturday: BBQ
Sunday: egg and olive sandwiches 

So for example, as I set out to make my meal plan for next week, I will let this list be a loose guide. I don't have to think from scratch. It's been a couple weeks since we've had chickpea chicken salad and pimento cheese. So both those will probably make the plan this week.

All these meals are really simple dishes that I'm familiar with cooking and my family loves. I can come up with different sides depending on what we feel like and what looks good at the store.

Other things I've done to make dinner time and my role as food/meal provider easier....

-I always plan dinner in the morning. It's part of my ABCD's. Shortly after I wake up, drink coffee, start a load of laundry, and unload the dishwasher - I plan dinner. Often this looks like me pulling something out of the freezer, or making a quick list to pick up needed items at the store, or evaluating the pantry to see what I can pull together and call a meal.

-I cook meat in bulk. If I'm making meatloaf, I make two. Spaghetti, I double it. If Stephen is grilling chicken, I get him to grill mass quantities of it and freeze the rest for salads, sandwiches and fajitas. The best was Memorial Day. Stephen smoked two Boston butts. We had BBQ for days! And plenty to freeze.

If you have a meat, you have a meal. It really pays to do this in bulk and freeze it.

*Also, I often use ground turkey in traditionally ground beef dishes. It's cheaper and adds a little variety.


-I go with what I know. Tacos, spaghetti, hotdogs! It does not get easier. Pinterest and the masses of internet recipes make us feel like we always have to be trying new things. We don't! What freedom! I love being adventurous with food. But not in this season of my life. My mantra for right now is get the job done.

-I don't spend my energy couponing and going to different stores for sales. No sir, not with 3 (4) children in tow. My theory is that having a plan and avoiding restaurants saves us tons money. Maybe I could save more by shopping different stores, using coupons, and catching sales, but it's not worth the sacrifice of my mental health.

-I use fresh produce to make everything better and fancy it up. Ripe summer tomatoes on tacos. A fresh green salad with spaghetti. Roasted okra and squash as a side to meatloaf. Summer produce really dresses up the meal. Also, I love shopping at the Farmer's market. I usually go on Saturday mornings with $30 to $40 dollars to spend. I stock up on fruit and vegetables. A child or two is usually with me and I almost always say yes if they request something. This feels like a real treat. And the best kind because it's healthy.

So, do you feel like you over complicate the dinner hour? I know I have in the past.

I can't recommend enough making a meal "rotation" for your own family, catered to your tastes. It simplifies the chore but leaves enough room for variety and flexibility.

P.S. This has been my favorite method to meal madness I have ever put into practice. And I've experimented with a lot of "plans."


Yellow In Small Doses

I like yellow, in small doses. Over the weekend I took a can of yellow spray paint and got after these frames for the baby's room. One was white, one was brown. So now they are a matching yellow for these Runaway Bunny illustrations I ripped out of one of our multiple copies.

And this little yellow foot stool is one of those life changing epiphanies. I bought it from JoAnn's for $20. It was sturdy, raw wood, and Stephen said he could not make it for less than $20.

Every night when we tell the kids "okay, it's time to brush teeth," they run to the bathroom and lose their minds over who's going to use the stool first. No one can get on board with taking turns.

And it comes at the worst time, the end of the day. Frankly, I don't handle it well.

This sturdy, little addition greatly helps our situation.


Last Week's and This Week's Goals

I felt so ambitious about summer before summer actually arrived. I was going to exercise everyday, teach my children a bunch of Bible verses, do lots of house projects, read read read, and craft with my kids like crazy.


So instead, I've been writing down a few goals for each week, hoping to get through half the list, and counting it as a win if I do. I'm still doing all those things I listed above, but on a much lesser scale than I imagined.

Last week's goals

4 walks (went on 3)
3 blog posts
finish sorting and organizing 2014 pictures (got through the first 6 months)
children's reading - read through James Herriot (we lack two chapters)

This week's goals

3 walks
3 blog posts
get Stephen to do 3 pages in his workbook
finish sorting photos through May 2015
children's reading - finish last 2 chapters in James Herriot
                              - read Blueberries for Sal, Ferdinand, & 2 stories from The Jesus Storybook Bible
sew bunting for Laurie's room
plant Zinnia seeds
organize master drawers and closet

I've set the bar a little higher this week because I'm feeling it!

And I started off with a bang this morning and really cranked through some of 2014's photos. I had to turn a blind eye to the house to make it happen though. But that's okay. There is something about writing a goal down that gives me permission to say no everything else and work on the task.

The house, laundry, and general mess are always waiting for me when I can get back to it. 


I Love Amazon + Summer Supplies

Y'all, what did I do before Amazon Prime? Seriously, it has saved me countless errands and no doubt money because it keeps me out of stores. I know it's a huge virtual store, but still  I think I come out better by doing most of my shopping online.

Here are some goodies I've ordered (or have on my wish list) lately to stock up for summer. Several of these items I've mentioned before. I consider these my summer supplies.

1. Design Mom Fun book for me! Treat yo self. I already mentioned how much I enjoyed reading Design Mom. I got so much inspiration from this book, and it just keeps on giving me ideas, validation, and confidence about designing our home to look nicer and work harder for us. This was such a fun, happy read to kick off my summer!

2. Printing Practice Handwriting Workbook for Boys My rising first grader is using this to keep up with his handwriting. Because it's "for boys" he gives me a little less attitude.

3. Chalk pastels. An artist friend said the bold colors make for the best kid art. She recommended using them outside because they get a bit messy. She also said they look really cool on black paper. Can't wait to try them!

4. Plastic rainbow cups. Each of my 3 kids has an assigned color, and it keeps them from using 10 different cups a day and drinking after each other (and me).

5. Both of my boys have a these swim shorts (in the blue and coral). They are totally frattastic, having a classic look about them that I love! And they are only $10! I have a picture of my dad as a little boy in the 1950's wearing an almost identical style. I ordered 2 more pair in navy for next year.

Also, I was swimming with my friend today and her two boys were wearing them. She said she gets complements all the time!

6. Sunscreen. Duh!

7. More zinnia seeds. I have plans to plant some of this seed/fertilizer mix this weekend.

8. These red and white checked napkins are on my wish list. I'm thinking of converting to mostly cloth napkins. Has anyone else out there done this (with kids)? Is it annoying or something you easily adjust to?

So what are your summer supplies?!

Also, do you feel overwhelmed with shopping errands? If so, I cannot say enough great things about Amazon Prime. The membership fee is $100/ year. For that, you get 2 free day shipping on prime items, instant video, and unlimited photo storage space. It's a deal.

I do mourn the idea of not supporting local stores. But my sanity is on the line here!


Easiest, Tastiest Mac and Cheese

I've made this delicious and easy macaroni and cheese a handful times lately. Really, easy! My boys love it. I see using this recipe many many times in my future.

Copied and pasted from here.
  • 2 cups elbow macaroni 
  • 1 cup half and half 
  • 1 pinch cayenne 
  • salt and pepper
  • 2 cups sharp cheddar cheese 
  • 1 tablespoon butter, melted, for the casserole
Boil the macaroni for 4 minutes or until half-cooked (salt the water!)
In a medium saucepan heat the half-and-half with cayenne, salt and pepper. Add macaroni and 1 1/2 cups of the cheese and cook on medium heat until the cheese melts. Pour into a buttered casserole and top with remaining cheese.
Bake in a preheated 350F oven for 15 minutes until the cheese melts.


Total side note, I ordered this darling, 100% cotton, train shirt as a replacement item for some of the shirts I lost in the marker debacle. In navy blue - I love navy. It covers a multitude of stains!

And today, George cut a tiny hole in it with scissors. We can't keep anything nice! He's only worn it twice.

From Old Navy, but I don't see it anymore so probably sold out :(


A Great Podcast About Reading to Your Kids

I came across this really helpful podcast about going from picture books to chapter books. I don't know about you, but I enjoy (good) children's chapter books so much. This is a phase I can definitely get into!

RAR #24 From Picture Books to Chapter Books and Novels, Sarah Mackenzie

I was encouraged to hear that Sarah Mackenzie struggled with reading the Little House series as one of their first chapter book reads.
We had a few bumps in the road with Little House too, and put it on hold some time during the school year for a couple of reasons. One, we just got so busy. But really, only my 6 year old was enjoying the books, and it was so hard to consistently find a big chunk of one on one time.

So, I have back tracked a little and picked some books that my 4 year old will enjoy, too. She's not super enthused about reading right now, but she is always in the room with us while we are reading. If something sparks her interest, she will run over and check in with the story. I felt like we were leaving her in the dust with Little House.

New to our "library" is James Herriot's Treasury for Children. We just finished it last week and are re-reading again it this week.

I'm learning that with reading, like everything else, I'm always having to change up how we do things to make it work.

“A children's story that can only be enjoyed by children is not a good children's story in the slightest.”- C.S. Lewis


If you have any tips about reading chapter books (especially with multiple kids), please leave them in the comments. I need all the advice I can get!


Some Links

How was your weekend?!

Ours was nice and low key. We are having such an easy going summer. It's all good except for kids fighting with each other. Advice?! Most of the time I have no clue how to break it up.

Friday night, Stephen and I watched Lifeboat, directed by Alfred Hitchcock and based on a story by John Steinbeck. I love old movies, especially anything Hitchcock. This one did not disappoint.

Also, I made this cake to share with our new neighbors but then we ate it all!

Recently, I washed and dried a huge load of good clothes with a construction grade permanent marker. It ruined so many things. Mildly tragic. I ordered a few items to replace what was lost. This star-print chambray dress from Old Navy was one of the replacement goodies. 100% cotton. Love it.


I thought this was interesting - Dirty Little Secrets of Tidy Families

We are majorly into construction paper crafts lately. Sometime soon I think it would be fun to make this Galaxy Far Away.


Zinnias and "Gardening" with Kids

Zinnias are my favorite! Every summer I get so excited about planting a little Zinnia garden and having fresh cut flowers. No years have I been successful until this summer.

Here's what I've learned. You need good dirt, full sun (close to 6 hours a day), moderate water, and well drained soil. Seriously, they need the sun. I've learned the hard way.

My expert gardener friend, James, says you can plant them as early as Easter weekend and recommends planting a few batches of seeds in two to three week intervals so they just keep blooming and blooming.

I forgot to do this, but its not too late. Since it stays so warm well into September in the South, I've still got plenty of time to get a couple more rounds of seeds in the ground.

One thing I've learned over the years about "gardening" with kids is to focus on one or two plants or herbs per year. There's a temptation to put tons of stuff in the ground, and then it becomes so overwhelming to maintain it all with children underfoot. Unless gardening is really your thing, it's best to go small and celebrate the little victories.

I like becoming proficient with a new flower or herb each year and slowly adding to my repertoire that way.

My kids have loved on our little Zinnia garden. For weeks they would check on it every day. You can imagine how excited we all were when we finally saw the first bloom!


A Book I Loved - Design Mom

I just finished reading Gabrielle Blair's book, Design Mom. She's a blogger, mother of 6, and she writes about form meeting function in a home with kids.

I LOVED this book. I put it down feeling both validated and inspired about my home.

An issue I have in my own "decorating" is thinking - oh, this is taking too much time, money, and energy. I should be doing something more practical like making huge batches of chicken spaghetti and freezing it. Or folding laundry.

The effort it takes to make my home beautiful sometimes seems too frivolous and not deserving of my time and energy.

That being said, this book reminded me that attention to detail and thinking through of the appearance and practical use of a space, is both valuable and time worthy. Home is the back drop for which we do life. All the details add up and give the feeling of home-y-ness and beauty and enable things to run more smoothly.

In the book's intro, Gabrielle writes :

Design isn't some froufrou gloss or shiny veneer on life, its insisting on a solution (preferably an elegant one) and working carefully to make sure that solution works within whatever constraints you have - architectural, financial, or the fact that children live in your home. I know for a fact that you can use design to solve problems in your home. I've had a million (well, technically, a lot less than a million) conversations with readers and other parents about how to make their nitty-gritty, day-to-day duties more intentional, more stylish, and, dare I suggest, way easier. 

So here's a few examples of design solving solutions to problems in my home and general improvements I've been making lately.

My mom found these red stools at Kroger of all places! Now the kids eat almost every meal here except sit down family dinners. It is way easier to clean these stools and sweep the floor underneath than it is to clean under and around the tight space of the kitchen table.

This drawing has spent way too long in my art box. Stephen drew this picture of George in his crib with his quilt for a school assignment. I think it's the most precious thing in the world. Finally, I grabbed a cheap frame at Micheal's and hung it above George's crib.

In the book, Gabrielle, recommends investing in nice looking laundry baskets. She says "choose a basket you can live with when you start folding laundry in the family room and don't finish for three days."

Y'all, I was so overdue for some new laundry baskets.

I found these deep turquoise, striped fabric buckets on clearance at Target, and they make my heart so happy. I realized that the laundry baskets are as much a fixed part of the decor as our bed or the living room sofa. They are out 24/7. It is totally worth it to buy some nice looking ones. These cost the same amount as the plastic ones I almost bought a few weeks ago.

The book also addressed shoe storage, and I felt validated because I've got this covered. My system has stood the test of time for many months. I have this huge shoe basket close to the front door. All my children's shoes live in here. This is so much easier than returning shoes to closets 10 times a day.

I got a sleek looking canister to hold coffee grounds instead of the huge bag of coffee sitting out all the time. Why have I never thought of this before?! It totally changes my attitude about this coffee corner. Plus, we don't have to stick our hand way down in the bag to scoop the grounds.

 For the living room shelves, I finally put pictures in all the frames and de-junked the bottom shelves.

There are a few other things I'm working on in kids' rooms with book storage and toys. Also, I'm working on the new baby's tiny nursery, which is so fun!

I can't say enough good things about the book! As someone who is home the vast majority of my time, it is nice to be encouraged that aesthetics matter and also hold a practical component. Design can improve our systems and inner workings of household chores and duties, and more importantly can be a major morale booster for the whole family!


One last thing I love that Gabrielle Blair says, ...."there is no due date for my house (or your house) to be "done." There is no to-do list of tasks I have to accomplish right away to make sure my home is wonderful. I can implement one idea today, solve a recurring problem tomorrow, and over time create an inviting haven that makes for the best sort of family memories."


A couple of my other favorite design books:

The Perfectly Imperfect Home
The Nesting Place
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