Friday, August 30, 2013

My sister, Penny's, 40th Birthday

 I have a beautiful older sister named Penny.  She was born with Down Syndrome and has always held a sacred place in my heart.  When I found out that my first daughter had Downs, I was at peace.  I knew that they were the sweetest, most special people in the world and I was so happy to be a mother to a child with this predisposition.  Unfortunately my child passed away at birth.  But thank goodness I still have Penny to bring a special shade of sunshine into my life.

She is about to turn 40 in September but I knew I wouldn't be able to go to her 40th since I live 9 hours away.  So when I visited this summer, my mom, sisters and I threw her an early birthday party!  It was cheap, easy and quick...but it was special, very special!  

I don't believe that all parties have to cost a fortune and be stressed over.  I am a big fan of The Reluctant Entertainer who's basic philosophy is that it's more important to have community and hospitality than to have everything look perfect.  If you ever get a chance to read her book, do it...she's the reason I host Wine Down Friday at my home every Friday! :)

Here's my awesome sister Penny!

My mother lives in the country.  There's a chicken house across the street and cornfield in her backyard...and it's peaceful bliss!  She has this great back porch so I spruced it up and added a little decor.  Penny's favorite colors are pink and we ran with it.

I made the cake.  I baked all the layers/tiers a week before at my house using my equipment.  Then I iced between the layers and wrapped in plastic wrap and froze it.  It made traveling so much easier.  I just stuck it in a cooler and transported it to her freezer until the day before.  Then I let it thaw and iced it with store bought BetterCream icing from the's like a thick whipped cream and glorious!  It was a very hot day though, so the cake started to melt, but at that point you just gotta throw your hands up and say 
"it is what it is".

Who doesn't like a fun cup?  A birthday deserves one for sure!  Penny is a big kid so she loved the noisy party favors and her fun cup!

Now I want you to meet someone else super special.  This is Brian, Penny's boyfriend of 28 years.  He calls her every night at 7 pm and they talk "at each other" on the phone.  He's only ever kissed her once. :)  But they work together daily and love each other dearly.

Here's another couple Penny's friends with.  They have been together for 4 years and he can drive!  She is freakin' hilarious and he's super smart!

She loves all this attention.

And present time!  This lava lamp was her very favorite!

My very favorite time is the dancing!  Penny's friends have no inhibitions or fear of we rocked it out!  So much fun to dance with people who dance crazy like me! LOL!  We had a blast! 

Here's a video I made that I showed at her party.  It's a 15 min. video of her precious life!  
Thanks for watching!  Happy 40th Birthday Penny Lynn!

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Labor Day Ideas & Checklist

I like checklists.  They make me feel in control and that I don't have to constantly be going over it in my head making sure I didn't forget anything.  My brain gets a break...and on Labor Day I need a break! :)  So here's our family's checklist for Labor Day.  It's different than the normal Labor Day, but it's ours and I think it's a lot of fun and very meaningful.  Check it out:

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Labor Day & Our Family Tree

Labor Day is in less than a week which means cook-outs, parades, pool parties, political speeches, a longer work weekend, shopping sales, beginning of football season and a new school year. In a lot of minds, it marks the end of summer and the beginning of fall. By definition, Labor Day is a United States federal holiday observed on the first Monday in September, that celebrates the economic and social contributions of workers.

Typically in our family, we celebrate by going to the grandparents pool and cooking out. We suck this day for every minute of summer we can get! But, I add a twist! :) Since it's called Labor Day, we talk about our family tree! We discuss all our family members who have "labored" before us and what their jobs were. Then we discuss those who "labored" to birth us. We talk about our ancestors and how amazing it is that all of these people who went before us, carved a beautiful path for us to enjoy life as we enjoy it today.

Before I share our day with you, I'd like to share some subway art I made. I like to frame it and display it to remind us why we get this glorious day together!

I still consider Labor Day and "American" holiday in the sense that I decorate with patriotic colors.  So, yes, we proudly wear our red, white and blue!

We enjoy our last pool day of the summer! :) 

I bake these "family tree" cookies to start the conversation of our heritage.  I manage the family tree in our family and have over 3,000 people in my you can imagine how much my geek comes out of me over this! LOL! 

The hubby grills out with a beer in hand, of course! 

One of my favorite books is 'The Birth Order Book' by Dr. Kevin Leman.  It does an amazing job explaining how birth order affects us.  I am a middle born but a functioning first born married to a first born son!  After reading that book, that last sentence holds a TON of meaning.  Anyway, his son wrote children's book which I think are adorable!  They are especially helpful to my middleborn daughter who tends to think that she's not special because she's not the first baby or the last.  LOVE these books!

Sometimes we even have time to make a family tree.  I have a leaf hold punch that I use to make all the leaves.  Then I cut out a random tree.  We write theirs names on the leaves and talk about each person.

And that's all folks!
Happy Labor Day to you all...but mostly moms, find some time for you to "not labor" today! :)  Who am I kidding?

Saturday, August 24, 2013

FREE Back to School Printables

This year I will have all four of my kids in school at varying you can see how I would be so excited! :)  I channeled all that excitement into making these fun printables so that their first day of school could be memorable!

1.  Here we have a great poem that I adapted from one I had seen on Amazing Grace's Blog.  Just add goldfish and give to your child the night before the first day of school and I dare you not to cry!

2.  I created this for their 1st school lunch that I pack.  They will love the fun treat and note I give them!  Just use a hole puncher and scissors to cut a space for the SMARTIES to go and've got a super fun treat!

3.  So the story goes that teachers never use to make much money and parents use to help supplement their income by sending in apples and potatoes.  Apples were a luxury because apple trees were hard to plant, cultivate and harvest.  Hence the tradition of "an apple for my teacher".  Just attach to a real apple, an apple craft or an Apple itunes gift card.  Or just make an apple cupcake and send that in like I did! :)

Here's how to make these delicious and awesome cupcakes!

*Tip: When putting cupcake in a cup, use two soup spoons to drop it in, picking one up at a time.

4.  Subway art anyone?  I created a bunch of printables full of great quotes on learning.  Pick the ones you like and frame them.  They are great conversation starters for you and your kids.

5.  We all know the tradition of milk and cookies after school.  This is something I never do because I try to serve healthy snacks daily, but 1 day a year isn't going to hurt us.  So yesterday I made the cookie dough, divided it up into individual cookies and put them in the fridge.  I think that's the hardest part.  Now on the first day, I'll just pull them out and bake...which makes the house smell amazing!  I love walking into homes that smell like bakeries. :)  In the past I've taken the milk and cookies to the bus stop and share with all the kids!

*Tip: I make the cookie dough a few days before the first day of school and then wrap tightly in plastic wrap.  It can stay in the fridge for up to a week.  Or you can make the dough, scoop out the sizes and freeze for up to 3 months.  These cookies are a 1/4 cup, so I spray the measuring cup with cooking spray between each dip.  This allows them all to be uniform and come out easier.
 6.  Banners!  I did create a "back to school banner" as you can see below, but since I already had one, I wanted to create a different banner with a message.  So I chose "knowledge is power".  I want my kids to LOVE learning as much as I do.  I haven't exactly figured out how to instill that, but hopefully they will see my thirst for knowing more and follow suit.  Who knows?  But here's hoping I can manipulate their little brains somehow with these banners and quotes...if only it was that simple! LOL!

Our "Back to School" mantle

Hope you can enjoy the printables I designed!  But more than that, I hope you enjoy some quiet time once the kids go back to school! :)

Monday, August 19, 2013

Back to School "Magic" Snack Mix

Everyone is jittery the night before school!  Are we prepared?  Do we have everything?  I found this poem a few years ago from Amazing Grace's Blog and I made a few adjustments and to the design.  I love reading this to my kids the night before THE FIRST DAY OF SCHOOL.  It always makes me cry and they look at my weird.  But either way, it's a special moment and I wanted to share it with ya'll.

Just click on the download link below so you can print 4 at a time.  Then buy some goldfish snacks and put in a little baggie with the poem attached.  Give and read to your child before bedtime.  Brush teeth! :)  Hopefully that will create a special moment to calm their jitters and yours!  Good luck!

Sunday, August 18, 2013

First Day of School Checklist

For our family, school starts in 1 week.  As I'm organizing my week ahead, I want to be fully prepared for the first day of school.  So I've made our First Day of School Checklist and I thought I'd share it with ya'll.  

Starting school back in the fall is such a huge transition for a family.  I try to make it as special and fun as possible so that the kids enjoy this day every year...cause let me tell you, none of them are excited to go back to school.  What can I say, life with Mommy is more fun, right? LOL!  Well, that's what I tell myself!


Friday, August 16, 2013

Kids Schedule for School Days

School is starting up and I want to get organized.  Including my kid's daily schedule.  I know there are some people who get freaked out by schedules, but for me it's calming.  It makes me feel like I am in control of the chaos that a family of 6 brings.  But most importantly, there are so many people talking at me, calling, emailing and just chores in general...that my brain gets distracted soooo easily.  The kids and I need a schedule so when they ask, "can I go to Izzy's house" I can refer them to the schedule to make sure everything gets done before first and before bedtime.

Cause guess what?  After the kids go to bed, I'm off.  I am DONE!  The hubby and I go to our third floor "man cave" and cuddle on the couch watching hours of senseless television.  It's GLORIOUS!  I don't get back on my computer, I don't clean, I don't do projects and I definitely don't answer the phone! LOL!  That is my down time so I've got 13.5 hours each day to get everything else done, no more.

I once went to a psychiatrist hoping that she would diagnose me with some kind of anxiety disorder.  I wanted to be clinically "something" so that I could get a pill to fix my crazy.  I wanted drugs! Well, unfortunately she said I was fine and just needed to change my way of thinking about life.  Then she said that each person needs 8 hours of sleep, 8 hours of work and 8 hours of play/downtime.  Yeah, I laughed!!!!

Over the years I've tried to pencil in play/downtime for myself and it just seems impossible.  But I know it's necessary since I tend to live life in the future...always thinking about what's next.  I want to live it in the NOW and enjoy the beautiful moments.  That requires a peaceful mind.  So, each day I try to give myself a few minutes here and there to just sit and mediate.  But I definitely clock out after 7:30pm.  Nothing done after that time would be productive anyways, so why bother? :)

Anyways, here's what our new school schedule looks like.  This year I will have from 9:30am-1:00pm to do whatever I need to without kids!!!!!  HALLELUJAH!!!  Those 3 1/2 hours will be grocery shopping, errands, doctors appointments, chores, working from home and volunteering at the school.  Yeah, I'm thinking I'll be pretty excited next year when they are all in school for 7 hours a day! ;)

But here it is!  My kids love knowing what's coming next and it certainly makes transitions a lot easier!  My oldest keeps the kids on schedule most of the time...and I LOVE that!

  • My girls wake up first at 6am.  They have sunshine alarm clocks that get them up and then they come and wake me up! :)  I don't have an alarm clock so that I don't wake the hubby.  He doesn't sleep well so I always want him to get as much sleep as possible.
  • They get dresses, with their clothes laid out from the night before.  I make breakfast, finish packing their lunches, do their hair and get their backpacks ready to go.  Then we head for the bus stop!
  • After the bus stop I have 35 min. exactly to exercise before the hubby leaves.  So I usually walk my dog when it's not raining.
  • Breakfast is laid out for the boys while I'm gone and they will be eating at the counter when I get back.  They get to watch a little TV and then dressed for the day.  I shower at that time.

  • So I'm hoping, while I am getting ready, that the boys will sort the laundry.  We'll see how that goes.  But I always throw all the laundry on the floor and have the kids sort them into baskets by what belongs to whoever.  Makes folding it easier.  Then we gotta head to the school which is only 5 min. down the road.
  • *Insert my 3.5 hours of errands, work, chores, volunteer time...child free :) 
  • Then I'm back at preschool at 1:15 to pick them up and head home while we talk about our day.
  • They then can have computer time (while I prepare snacks) before the girls get home and take over the computer.  A lot of their homework is on the computer...and yes, they are only 1st and 2nd graders.
  • We get the girls off the bus at 2:20pm and then come home for snacks and chat about the day.

  • After snacks the kids need time to decompress, so they get 1 show to watch.  Then chores begin.  
  • They each have the same chores each day to do.  They don't like it, but they do it.  I'm usually right alongside doing mine.
  • Homework consists of worksheets, word study and a math program online.  So they do that while I monitor.
  • Then they have to read for 20 min. each day for school as well.  I should read at this time too! :)
  • Now, the exercise time is important to me.  They need to get their wiggles out and we try to do it in fun ways.  Either they go on the trampoline, ride bikes, obstacle course, do a kids exercise DVD or CD that I have purchased or run our stairs.  The stairs is their least favorite! LOL!
  • And the last of their chores is to prep for the next days.  Get their clothes picked out, help pack lunches, snack and waterbottles.  That makes the next morning so much easier.

  • After chores they get to go play in the playroom or their rooms while I have quiet time making dinner.
  • The hubby always gets home at 6:30pm and I have dinner waiting on the table.  They all run down and jump in his arms and come to the table...the hubby loves the attention!
  • Then we sit at the table and I begrudgingly tell the hubby everything that broke in the house today via my hands or the kids, unexpected bills we have to pay, actual blood that was shed or how I went over budget.  Yeah, reality happens and the fantasy bubble is busted.
  • Then they bathe, brush teeth, get on their PJ's and we head to bed...while I clean up from dinner.  I spend about 5 min. per child in their room tickling, zerberting, kissing, hugging, wrestling, ect.  Honestly, I'm ready to just go to bed, but I push through and do it because I know it's important to reconnect at the end of the day so everyone goes to bed feeling loved....but seriously, I can't get to the man cave fast enough!
  • When all is done, the hubby and I head to the man cave and get lost in shallow TV.  And that's my life with 4 kids!

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Back to School...Exciting, Sad or Both?

So this will be the first year that all four will be in school to some degree.  I'll have a 1st grader, 2nd grader and the boys will be in preschool for 4 hours/4 days a week.

I don't know how I feel about it, honestly.

Some moments I am giddy with excitement that I will be able to be more productive.  That I can grocery shop by myself, run errands quicker, make doctors appointments at that time, or even meet a friend for lunch *gasp*!

I also find that I'm organizing.  I'm in a "de-clutter" mode and know that my kids will be completely out of the house for 4 hours a day so I want it clean and peaceful for me to work in!

But other moments I'm sad.  It's sad because it's the end of this "baby" stage of their life where I've been all they needed.  They are going to go to an amazing school with amazing teachers and start to think "huh, that lady's smart and nice too."  Um, NO!  I'm the only amazing woman in your life!  But thank goodness that's not true.  I am very grateful that my children are surrounded by amazing women from their friend's moms, my friends, their teachers, coaches and family.  It's great for them to want to be around all those amazing women.  Just as long as I stay #1! :)

I'm nervous about the change.  Which means that I'm planning.  I'm working on our daily school schedule and my schedule.  It's kinda like a puzzle so I enjoy it.  I guess I feel like if I prepare for it then it won't hurt so much.

But I'm also nesting and cuddling.  I'm holding them a little more.  Playing with them a little more.  Saying "yes" a little bit more because I know I'm going to be loosing them a little bit when school starts.  We went on a bike ride this morning and I cried thinking about them all going.  Yeah, I'm a crybaby.

Now, I'm not sad enough to home school them, LOL!  I know women who do a great job at that and in theory I would be too.  But in reality, I just don't possess that kind of patience.

So, during this time of uneasiness, of different feelings jousting for my attention....I just feel it all.  I just allow myself to feel all these feelings and process them; giving myself permission to feel them all without guilt.

Whatever you're feeling about your kids returning to school is normal and healthy...I know I've felt all different types of feelings.  The heart is so complex.  But whether you're jumping for joy or crying in the's probably all normal and all temporary.  I just keep telling myself that it's a new chapter and I'll adapt and enjoy it...we'll see how that goes!

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Dinner Frustrations!

Dinner time is frustrating sometimes for me as with most moms!  It's frustrating because I put all this effort into planning, shopping and preparing yummy, healthy and diverse meals only to have my children, and sometimes husband, give me looks of disgust over what I made....last night was creamed spinach and the night before broiled brussel sprouts.

I know, this is not a 3rd world problem.  We have food on the table and my kids do eat more veggies than most;  but it's a frustration nonetheless and I hope others can relate and commiserate with me! :)  So let me vent.

I'm a good cook...and I love cooking!  But more importantly, I love the memories that family dinners bring...or will bring! LOL!  The house smells of food, everyone's at the table talking about their day, and the whole time I can rest assured that my kids are eating something nutritious that will help them grow strong and think smart!  It's a proud moment...until they burst my fantasy bubble and start fussing about what I've served them!

Listen, I'm not Bree Van de Kamp from Desperate Housewives!  We're not "dressing" for dinner and I'm not slaving over Beef Wellington.

But I'm also not the chicken nuggets, french fries, hot dogs, easy mac kind of a cook either...not that a few of those night haven't saved my butt before...but I'm a moderate.  I don't do all organic, but I do try to do whole foods and little to none processed most is from scratch.  I'm not extreme, I'm just trying to be a good mom and wife by feeding my family healthy, delicious and diverse foods.

The gal at posted this and I love it!  Despite my love for cooking, there are still these nights!

I don't make dinners that typically take over 30 min. of my time.  I try to plan for 60 minutes so I can relax through it, make all the food, set the table, make the drink, and do that 15 min. clean up scramble before the hubby gets home, ect.

But when they start complaining about what I put on their plate, I want to have a freakin' temper tantrum and say to them all "You try doing it!  Try NOT making the same freakin' meals over and over again.  Try staying on a budget.  Try keeping it all healthy.  Try making something everyone will like."

But it wouldn't matter because they would gladly take that challenge and eliminate the diversity and healthy! LOL! This is what those little rug rats would like me to make every single week:

Monday - Spaghetti & meatballs, lettuce/tomato/cucumber/olive salad
Tuesday - Tacos
Wedn - Meatloaf, mashed potatoes, green beans
Thurs - Chicken wings, mac & cheese, green beans
Fri - Pizza & raw carrots
Sat - Chicken, rice, corn on the cobb
Sun - Ramen noodles, scrambled eggs & raw celery

They would do that routine every week and be fine with it.  I can't.  I like diversity.  And I like healthy.  I want a different veggie, side and protein each night of the week for a month...not chicken, noodles and green beans every freakin' night.  That may be extreme on my part?  Although I do try to take these meals and make them as healthy as possible....they still get boring.  For example I'll make spaghetti sauce, turkey meatballs, whole wheat noodles, spinach salad, water.  It's fine, but I don't want to eat it every week.  As you can guess, I'm not much of a left overs girl either.  Ok, maybe I am a little extreme? ;)

So, the rule is that I cook what I think is healthy, delicious, varied and most liked by all and you can eat it or not eat it.  I am doing the best I can.  Even though my feelings get hurt if they don't like the recipe that I came up with, I can pull up my big girl panties and know that I'm not giving in.  I'm not going to be a short order cook...I just can't with 4 kids!
They can go hungry every once in a while.  Listen, I'm not making creamed spinach every night, it's just occasional.  They aren't starving.  Some nights my kids don't eat a thing on their plate and go to bed hungry.  It's not going to kill least that's what the professionals say.  And they have learned not to throw a fit because mama isn't going to give in and make them something else.  I guess I'd rather hear complaints that one thing I made on their plate was disgusting, than fits of rage because I didn't make them an entire meal of chicken nuggets and french fries.  Complaint vs. Rage...yeah, I'll take the complaint for now.

And who knows, maybe all those psychologist are right in that "children have to try something around 7 times before they start to like it."  If they are, then I'm golden.  If they aren't, well it's still better than having to deal with raging tantrums every night at the dinner table or having to cook 6 different meals each night.

And if I gave in and cooked 6 different meals each night, what happens when we go to someone's home for dinner?  What if they don't like anything?  How rude!  I'm happy to say that we haven't had that problem yet because this is our house rule:

One might say that I don't cook what I don't is that fair to them?  Well, I do try new things all the time.  And it is fair.  It's fair simply  because it's impossible for me to afford & have the time to cook what 6 people want each night.  Did I mention my husband is lactose-free and gluten-free!  Yeah, that makes it tricky too.  But someone has to decide.  And even though my decision sometimes causes me to be frustrated that they don't like what I made, it is truly worth it to me to expand their pallet and heal their bodies with healthy food.

BTW, I came up with a prayer to remind my kids to be thankful!  Listen, if God gets a thank you, why can't mama and papa get one too? :)  And if you're a parent bringing home the bacon and cooking it up, just give yourself 2 thanks in that deserve it!

For those of you who are short order cooks for your family, good for you!  I'm not saying that my way is the best way...but it's just the best way for me.  

I'm just trying to survive each day so that I'm aware enough to notice the magical moments.  So don't ruin the magical dinner moment by complaining!  Dang it!

Just putting this in words helped me realize how grateful I am that I don't have to cook 6 different meals each night.  I'll take the complaints with stride now...and continue to work on teaching my kids to be grateful! :)  Thanks for letting me vent and process!

*In my kids defense, they do eat a lot of veggies compared to most kids I know.  Every since they started taking Juice Plus last year (which is 27 fruits and veggies dehydrated down to a gummie) their pallets have expanded.  It is true that your body will crave what you put in it.  And since taking Juice Plus, even I have doubled the veggies I like.  To find out more about Juice Plus, go here: Holly's Juice Plus Page