Author Archive

DIY Lunchbox Creation Station

Thursday, August 20th, 2015

For our Meal Planning M Challenge, we don’t want to overlook the challenge of creating school lunches day and and day out for the school year, so we’re republishing one of my favorite Organizing/DIY projects: making a “lunchbox creation station.” I love this organizing idea for two big reasons: it’s easy for the kids to find things for their lunches, putting a lot of the responsibility to them AND it’s easy for me to see what we have available and what I need to stock up on. That’s a win-win!

As our kids head back to school, I am in preparation mode to get our family organized & back on track for the new year. One area that I am always working on organizing is streamlining our lunchbox routines. I am excited to share with you my DIY lunchbox creation station that you can create in a corner of your home to streamline your lunch routines. You won’t believe how easy this is to create and you will love my idea for revamping this into something you can use in the summer months too!

For this craft you will need:

  • 3-6 Sterlite Medium Modular Drawer
  • Krylon Chalkboard Spray Paint (often home improvement sections)
  • Avery Removable Wall & Window Signage Sheets (in office supplies)
  • 16 count chalk (in office supplies)
  • Large circle hole punch or a jar or glass that you can use for tracing your circles (I had this in my craft supplies at home)

We are going to start this craft by creating our cute Chalkboard labels first.  You may recall that we made these easy chalkboard labels before when making my super cute Chalkboard Conversation Bubble Cookie Jars. We are going to do the same thing that we did in that craft for this one, but we are cutting them into circles instead of the conversation bubble!

First, pull out your Avery Sheets. For this craft, we are going to use the Wall Application Side for spraying with chalkboard spray paint. This is the side that has the sticky side that is removable and adjustable… perfect for people who can never get anything on their projects perfectly straight.

In a well-ventilated area covered with newspaper or cardboard, place your Avery sheet. Shake the can vigorously for two minutes. Hold can 10-14 inches away from your project and begin spraying. Spray a thin coat in a sweeping motion beginning off the surface and continuing off the other side. Follow this pattern horizontally and then vertically. Wait fifteen minutes or so and then apply another coat.  They should be dry and ready to cut in about an hour.

Cut these out into circles. One sheet should give you six generous size labels that you can write your labels on. While those are drying, you can begin assembling your drawers.

Your needs for your lunchboxes may be different than my own. I wanted to show you what I did in my drawers, though, to inspire your own categories for your lunchbox creation station. I used six drawers because that is what would fit on my pantry floor and would cover all of our lunchbox needs. I have a drawer for snacks, fruit, drinks, chips, water, and a drawer of fun (more about that below). Think of the problem areas in your kitchen and create a drawer to accommodate!

Here is an interior view of my drawers and here are some ideas for items you could keep on hand for your kids:

Snacks- Granola bars, low-fat puddings, natural fruit leathers, nuts, goldfish crackers, rice cakes, wheat crackers, sunflower seeds, homemade cereal mix, fruit snacks.

Fruit- Natural applesauce, yogurt covered raisins, raisins, dried fruit, apples, bananas, oranges.

Drinks- Juice Boxes and organic milk boxes.

Chips- Sweet Potato Chips, Veggie Chips, Pita Chips, Pretzels (I package my chips in tiny Glad containers and have used these a few years now with great success. This drawer also contains my new favorite sandwich cubes that I found at the The Container Store).

H20- This is where I have all of our water bottles so that the kids can grab one in the morning and before extracurricular activities.

Fun- This is where I keep my cookie cutters, homemade play dough, and craft supplies for our kitchen.

Next to the drawers, I nestled a basket for extra snacks to be placed in the drawers as needed and the lunchboxes. Place your designated labels on your drawers and stand back and behold your AWESOMENESS.

With this simple system in place, the kids are now in charge of creating their own favorite lunch combination, selecting one item from each of the lunchbox drawers. My kids have already been scheming and dreaming about their daily lunches and are excited to finally be in charge of their own lunch destiny.

When the summer months roll around, I plan to erase the labels and fill them with all of our summer necessities like pool snacks, water bottles, drinks, sunblock and insect repellent, and other items that tend to accumulate on counters and on top of my fridge. I think this is a great organizing solution for all year round!

Designate one day a week (my day is on Sunday) to creating your snack packs and making items that can be tucked into lunchboxes.

Another tip to keep your lunches organized and accessible is to designate one refrigerator drawer towards lunches. Items like freshly cut fruits and veggies, sandwiches, and Asian lunchbox noodles can all be waiting for the morning in this drawer.  I even tuck commonly forgotten items in the drawer like napkins and spoons to trigger my tired brain to kick in on busy school mornings.

Don’t forget about yourself in all of the hustle bustle of school preparation! I love this DIY Salad Bar to help keep me on track with healthy eating during the school year!

What do items do you love to keep on hand for your child’s lunchbox? I would love to hear your ideas!

I am a part of the Walmart Moms program, and Walmart has provided me with compensation for these posts. My participation is voluntary and opinions are always my own.

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Amy’s Notebook 08.19.15

Wednesday, August 19th, 2015

DIY Macrame Chair via Mollie Makes

Source: Mollie Makes

 

DIY macrame garden chair- I’m dying to try this.

What will happen if I don’t take my phone out right now – can’t stop laughing!

Lemon tart perfection.

8 decluttering lessons learned from the Marie Kondo book.

How to properly lace your dress shoes- noted!

Adorable hairstyle tutorial that I’d want to wear anywhere.

This moved me deeply.

Grilled hot dogs with avocado relish via Dine & Dish

Source: Dine & Dish

 

How good do these hot dogs look?

Reading this and loving the transformative power of just one.

Yarn-wrapped sconce cords- an adorable detail and stash-buster.

Does your neighborhood have a tool-lending library? What a great idea!

All the feels.

Make an easy hook rack to go with your decor.

Can’t stop laughing at this, too.

I hope you enjoyed our notebook, a collection of gathered links to DIY crafts, food projects, thrifty ways to spruce up your home, and thoughtful reads. Nothing brings me more joy than to highlight other fabulous bloggers. Follow me on Pinterest for daily inspiration! This post may include affiliate links!

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Apron Full of Giveaways 08.18.15

Tuesday, August 18th, 2015

Red striped apron via etsy

Source: White Barn Mercantile,  $45.00

 

Welcome to our Apron Full of Giveaways! I hope everyone is having a great week this week! As we do each week, here is our round-up of giveaways for our readers. We hope that this is beneficial to you and your family! Please let us know if you guys win anything- I love to hear the success stories!

Below are the contest links-if you are hosting a contest please link it up below. Sorry, we are not giving away the aprons just showcasing them! Please put your site name and then what type of contest you are hosting. For example, “MomAdvice (Kid’s Movies).”

Good luck to each of you!

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Sundays With Writers: We Never Asked for Wings by Vanessa Diffenbaugh

Sunday, August 16th, 2015

Sundays With Writers

It’s such an honor to share my Sundays With Writers space with Vanessa Diffenbaugh this week. Way back in 2011, I wrote a review on her first book, The Language of Flowers and when I saw that her second book, We Never Asked for Wings was out, I could not dive into it fast enough after enjoying her debut novel so very much.

What you might not know about Vanessa though is about the incredible organization she started for foster children and the impact she is having on raising another generation of gifted writers. What a gift to share more about this incredible writer AND incredible giver…two things I have a soft spot in my heart for!

We Never Asked for Wings by Vanessa Diffenbaugh

Today Vanessa is here to share about her book, We Never Asked for WingsIn this story we learn that for fourteen years, Letty Espinosa has worked three jobs around San Francisco to make ends meet while her mother raised her children—Alex, now fifteen, and Luna, six. But now Letty’s parents are returning to Mexico, and Letty must step up and become a mother for the first time in her life.

Navigating this new terrain is challenging for Letty, especially as Luna desperately misses her grandparents and Alex, who is falling in love with a classmate, is unwilling to give his mother a chance. Letty comes up with a plan to help the family escape the dangerous neighborhood and heartbreaking injustice that have marked their lives, but one wrong move could jeopardize everything she’s worked for and her family’s fragile hopes for the future.

This book is beautiful and it reminded me a lot of, The Same Sky (you can read our interview on that one here!) as it tackles the issue of illegal immigration and two sweet kids neglected by their alcoholic mother, struggling with poverty and placement in society. I would recommend this one for fans of The Book of Unknown Americans  (you can read that interview as well, here). To read my full review, check out this must-read list!

Now grab your coffee and settle in with this  incredible writer today!

Vanessa Diffenbaugh

 

Illegal immigration seems to be a theme in so many of the books that I have read this year (The Same Sky, Americanah, & The Book of Unknown Americans- to name a few). Why do you think so many authors are exploring the topic of illegal immigration and what was the most surprising thing you learned about this issue when writing your book, We Never Asked for Wings?

This is a great question.  For me, it is especially interesting that I wrote a book about immigration because I had no intention of doing so!  I was thinking about economic and educational inequality, and themes of motherhood and family.  But as I got deeper and deeper into this novel, it struck me that I had created a community of characters in which immigration status would be an issue.  It would be disingenuous to write about a low-income community in California and pretend that every citizen in the book would be documented.  That simply isn’t the case, and it has profound implications for the people who live in these communities.  So, to answer your question, I think so many writers are writing about immigration because so many people are living it, and for those of us who are trying to capture this moment in time, undocumented immigration is an issue we can’t ignore.

In your first book you had to learn so much about horticulture, but in this book it was all about the feathers (from the science of them to utilizing them in an interesting art medium). How did you come up with this idea for your story and how did you gather your research to learn more about birds and feathers to shape this theme? Were there any books or documentaries that helped you as you put together this research?

Five days after we were married, my husband and I moved to Guanajuato, Mexico, to learn Spanish and volunteer, work, and travel.  We lived there for a year, and one of our favorite things to do on weekends was to open up a big book we had purchased on Mexican Folk Art, find a work of art we especially liked, and travel by bus to the small village where the artist lived in an attempt to meet him or her.  This is how we got acquainted with the Olay Olay family in Michoacan—we arrived by bus and were directed to their house, where a dead bird greeted us on the stoop.  Senor Olay Olay, a fourth generation feather worker, told us that if a bird died anywhere in Michoacan it always found its way to their door—a line that made its way directly into my book. To this day, that visit remains one of my best memories of our time in Mexico.

When I came up with the idea of the abandoned housing project I kept asking myself—but why would the Espinosa family stay?  Why would they stay, even when everyone they knew had already left?  It was this question that led me to create the character of Enrique, a Mexican feather worker.  He stayed for the birds.  I imagined him at the window, sitting underneath the Pacific Flyway; I imagined his vast and intricately organized feather collection.  It was great fun to research the birds of the bay, and when I needed an idea for Alex’s science project based on his grandfather’s feather collection, I called my brother-in-law, Noah Diffenbaugh, who is a climate scientist at Stanford.  We spent hours talking about all the things Alex could learn from the feathers, and with his guidance I was able to come up with a project idea and describe the science behind it. 

The Language of Flowers was such an enormous hit and has been one of my favorite debut novels in the past few years. When your first book gets such wild praise and accolades, how hard is it as a writer to follow that up with a second novel? Do you feel it created additional pressure for you?

It was very, very hard!  So hard that when I open my new book, my favorite page is the one at the very beginning that says: The Language of Flowers, and under that, We Never Asked for Wings.  I have two titles to my name!  There are so many phenomenal writers that haven’t produced a second book after a first success, and I can completely understand why.  You have all the reviewers in your head, reminding you of all the things you did wrong, and you have all your readers in your head, reminding you of all the things you did right, and sometimes they are the very same things!  It is easy to lose your own voice.  About three years into the book, when I’d completed (another) terrible draft and was losing hope, a smart writer friend of mine gave me fantastic advice.  She told me to imagine what it feels like to open up the latest book of my favorite writer (I imagined Toni Morrison) and she told me to think about that sense of the familiar you get when you are reading the words of an author you love.  Then she said “What is the next Vanessa Diffenbaugh book like?”  When she asked me that, I knew exactly what she meant, and I also knew that I hadn’t written it.  So I started over, again, but this time I remembered my voice.

In the opening of the book, Letty abandons her children to take her parents across the border. We also read of many instances where Letty really struggles as an alcoholic, even risking her son’s life at one point in the story. Do you think Letty deserved to work through all of this with her kids or do you think Letty is a good example of a mom that would have benefitted from having a foster mom come in to help with her children until she got back on her feet?

Letty is a good example of someone who needs support.  Far too often, parents lose their children to the foster care system when what they really need is help to become the parent they want to be to their children.  There are extreme cases in which the child must be removed for their own safety, but we know that more often children and parents do better when they are kept together and given the support they need to thrive.  Youth Villages, a national non-profit, is a leader in the effort to reform foster care and increase positive outcomes for kids.  They are perhaps best known for their Intercept® intensive in-home program, a program that revolutionizes foster care by helping children avoid it altogether. Youth Villages is respected not only for their programs but also for their research and policy–they have a decades-long dedication to outcomes measurement that has resulted in national recognition.  I am thrilled that the small non-profit I co-founded, Camellia Network, has recently been acquired by Youth Villages, and we will be working together to grow a national movement around supporting youth aging out of foster care.  You can become part of the new network at www.lifesetnetwork.org.

As a former teacher to youth in low-income communities and the founder of the former Camellia Network, were you able to use these experiences working with struggling youth to channel them into the children in your story?

It’s funny, with The Language of Flowers, interviewers often asked, or even just assumed, that Victoria was based on the children I fostered.  She wasn’t!  In fact, her personality was as different from my sons’ as possible.  But in We Never Asked for Wings, I drew a lot of inspiration for Alex from my sons.  Both Tre’von and Donovan are incredibly smart, responsible and resilient, and Tre’von, like Alex, liked to read the encyclopedia and recite random facts to his friends and teachers.  I interviewed him a few different times about what it felt like to be a smart kid who loved to learn in a school that didn’t expect anything from him.

You have been working on a really special project leading a Young Authors Club, assisting 40 young authors to help them write their own books. What has your experience been like leading such a large group of young authors and what advice would you give to other authors to do the same in their own communities?

I didn’t mean for the group to be so big—who would have thought that so many kids, after six hours of sitting still and working hard, would want to stay after school to WRITE?  Well, it turns out that many do.  I had a great time teaching these eager young people everything I know—we started by doing close readings of some of my favorite children’s books, and then we spent a week writing spectacular first sentences, and then we moved on to first chapters.  The kids wrote some amazing books, including titles like “Surviving Middle School with Violet Woods” and “The Teddy Bear Detective Agency.”  In terms of advice, I would look at Dave Egger’s nonprofit, 826 Valencia (or 826 National).  He and his wonderful staff have been teaching writing for almost 15 years and run great programs.

As busy moms, I often hear that moms feel like they don’t have the time to take on volunteer opportunities. You are a perfect example of a mom that really does an excellent job doing both. What advice would you give to moms who want to do more to help their community, but feel limited with their time?

I have to be honest here and say that I have a phenomenal full-time assistant, and I couldn’t do half of what I do without her.  I say this because I think we often expect ourselves as women and mothers to be superhuman—to care for kids around the clock, to support our husbands and have immaculately clean homes and still somehow have successful careers and volunteer endless hours in our communities.  It just isn’t possible, and too many of us spend too much of our time feeling guilty about not doing one (or more) of these things well enough.  When I sold my first book, I decided to hire an assistant so that I could spend all my time with my kids or writing my books or volunteering in the community—not booking travel or managing my schedule or picking up dry cleaning or all the other billions of little things that are involved in managing a household and career.  I will say, though, that even before I was in the financial position to hire an assistant, I was always good at prioritizing.  When I wrote The Language of Flowers I was a stay-at-home mother of four, and I would often call my mother and announce that I had just gotten both babies down for their nap and I was kicking the piles of dirty laundry out of the way so that I could open my office door and start writing.  You just can’t do it all! 

If you could tell anyone to read one book (other than your own) what would that book be (we will add it to our list of recommended reads for our readers!)?

Just Mercy, by Bryan Stevenson.  It is an incredibly intense book about racial inequality in our criminal justice system, but it is beautifully written and powerful, with just enough hopefulness to help you sit with the discomfort of the truth and think hard about how you can help contribute to a solution.  I recommend it to everyone I know.

 You can connect with Vanessa Diffenbaugh on GoodReadson Facebook, or through her website! I’m always thankful for these moments with writers and I hope you will pick up this amazing book! You can always connect with me on GoodReads,through our books section of our site, and you can read our entire Sundays With Writers series for more author profiles. Happy reading, friends!

*This post contains affiliate links!

 

 

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It’s the 3 Little Things: Cardboard Safari, Bold Documentaries, & KonMari Dreams

Friday, August 14th, 2015

reflections

Good morning, friends! My son started cross country this week so it’s been a week of girl dates with my daughter while he’s been at practice. We have been hating it so much- just look at that face! I’d like to give a local shout-out to Chicory Cafe for their outdoor seating for coffee/cocoa dates, the South Bend Farmer’s Market for the most beautiful flowers, & Potawatomi Park for such an incredible playground to play on this week. We are definitely savoring this last week of summer in South Bend!

Here are 3 other things that are making me happy this week!

cardboard-safari

Cardboard Safari Love

I have been wanting a fake deer head to go in our front room and I  found these incredible Cardboard Safari animals that I thought would work perfectly. We got Bucky in a large size and I thought I would hang him over our entryway table. I underestimated his size so he was moved to hang above our couch instead, but I just love seeing him when I walk in. I have lots of fun dreams of how to decorate this guy for the seasons and I love what a quirky focal point this has become in our room.

My son and I also had the best time putting this guy together and had lots of laughs assembling him which brought me a ton of joy. If you are on the hunt for a little quirkiness for your home, browse their site for some fun additions to your decor and have fun putting these together with your kiddos.

Vivian-Maier

Bold Documentaries

Documentaries are a big passion of mine because it is a way that I can explore the world from the comforts of my own home. I try to indulge in one a week and to also share the love of these with my kids through our Docu-Pizza nights. I will try and do a round-up of great family-friendly ones for you soon!

This week I caught two REALLY incredible documentaries that you must watch! The first was called Finding Vivian Maier. Vivian is pictured above, and this documentary explores the life of a mysterious nanny who secretly took over 100,000 photos that went unseen during her lifetime. The images are just astounding and this documentary is a series of interviews with all the people who knew Vivian and it was created by the guy who discovered her after purchasing a box of her negatives at an auction.  I wish this one was on Netflix for you, but it wasn’t! I actually snagged it at our local library and I can’t tell you how fascinating it was. If you want to see really incredible street photography, you must browse her collection.

Here is the trailer for that one!  It was absolutely captivating!

the-true-cost

The other documentary that I watched is called, The True Cost.  Friends, I can’t recommend this enough because it just shocked me in so many ways. There is a lot that I did not understand about the farming community, what it really means to donate our items, and the true cost of the fashion industry on our world. I can’t stop thinking about it and I really want you to watch it so we can talk about it.

Embracing the capsule wardrobe has made me think about embracing classics with longevity in my home so I think I was headed down this path already.  I know that I can continue doing better about making smarter purchases though and this documentary really showcases who pays for these inexpensive impulses and what happens when we cast them off.

Seeing this also renewed my commitment to try making most of my wardrobe purchases secondhand. I’m sad to see that Twice is no longer an option (are you disappointed too?), but if you haven’t given thredUP a spin, they are offering $20 to spend on your first purchase this month to try, which is incredible.  Watch that documentary and see if it doesn’t change how you feel about your clothing purchases and renew your commitment to secondhand shopping.  Watch the documentary on instant on Amazon ($2.99) or it is available on Netflix this month!

KonMari

KonMari Dreams

If you don’t listen to the The Lively Show, you are missing out on a wealth of information on intentional living (try out the podcast app I found last week to listen!). This episode was chock full of great information and Jess used The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up to create a printable checklist you could use through your home to declutter. If you aren’t familiar with the book or methods, the one thing I really got out of it was to declutter your home not room by room, but by category. Instead of the closet, you do tops and then go through your entire house to clear out all the tops.

Of course, when I explained to my husband, I said, “Say bottoms will be the category. So I’m getting rid of all the bottoms. All the bottoms that we don’t need are going.”

Cue hysterical laughter and bottom clutching.

You have to sign up for her email list to get the printable (scroll down a bit to find it), but isn’t this just the kick in the BOTTOM you need to get started? I have big dreams of tackling this while the kids are at school!

xo

*this post may contain affiliate links- I only recommend what I love though. Check out past editions of  It’s the 3 Little Things

Now it’s your turn! What’s making you happy this week?

 

21 Easy Slow Cooker Meals

Thursday, August 13th, 2015

Slow cooker meals are always a cornerstone of our family’s meal plans since it’s so convenient to have dinner cooking while you’re away (or breakfast cooking while you sleep!). Which makes it perfect to republish this article full of slow cooker meal ideas for our Focus on Meal Planning M Challenge. I hope you enjoy seeing these recipes again!

21 Easy Slow Cooker Meals from MomAdvice.com

I have a confession to make. I am addicted to my slow cooker! And so I’m sharing 21 of our favorite slow-cooker meal recipes that you can create and enjoy all month long. These recipes are a few of our tried and trues over the years on MomAdvice and will make your week go oh-so-much smoother!

I believe that the slow cooker can be every mother’s (or father’s!) best friend. What could be easier than throwing in a few ingredients, plugging it in, and then going about your day, without the worries of needing to figure out what everyone is going to eat for dinner?

Ninja Cooker

Truth be told, I have moved up in the slow cooking world and am now madly in love with my Ninja Cooker. I use it almost daily and love that I don’t have to dirty my stove or skillets to brown my meat anymore. I would definitely add that one to your next holiday wish list! You can read more of my thoughts on that over here.

In honor of this kitchen gadget, I have put together a month’s worth of meals using your slow cooker. Each of these meals will have a recipe and tips for making your dinner hour go more smoothly. Keep in mind that many of the recipes accommodate six to eight people so you may be able to cover (at least) a month’s worth of meals.

Slow Cooker Honey Bourbon Chicken Wings

Slow Cooker Honey Bourbon Wings

 

Side Ideas- Fresh veggies & blue cheese dressing for dipping, steamed broccoli, and fresh fruit.

Slow Cooker Stuffed Green Pepper Soup

Stuffed Green Pepper Soup

Side Ideas- Pumpkin Cornbread Muffins & Salad

 Sticky Chicken Recipe

1 tbsp salt

2 tsp paprika

2 tsp dried oregano leaves

2 tsp dried thyme leaves

1 tsp pepper

1 tsp garlic salt

3 lb roasting chicken

1 cup chopped onion

In a small bowl, combine all ingredients except chicken and onion. Rub herb mixture inside and outside of chicken. Place in food storage bag; seal bag. Refrigerate overnight. Remove chicken from bag; stuff with onion. Place in crockpot on low 6-8 hours; high 2-4 hours. Chicken juices should run clear and chicken reaches 180*. Let stand 15 minutes before carving.

Side Ideas- Mashed Potatoes & Corn

Pot Roast Italiano

Pot Roast Italiano

 

Side Ideas- Roasted Green Beans & Orzo Pasta
Tortellini & Turkey Divine

 Tortellini & Turkey Divine

1 1/2 pounds Italian sausage turkey

2 clove garlic– minced

2 small onions– chopped

2 cans whole peeled tomatoes- 16 ounce cans

1 1/4 cups dry red wine

5 cups beef broth

1/2 teaspoon dried basil

1/2 teaspoon dried oregano

2 zucchini- sliced

1 green bell pepper- chopped

3 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley

1 package cheese-filled tortellini

 

In a large pot, cook sausage over medium heat until brown. Remove with a slotted spoon, and drain on paper towels. Drain fat from pan, reserving 3 tablespoons. Cook garlic and onion in reserved fat for 2 to 3 minutes. Stir in tomatoes, wine, broth, basil, and oregano. Transfer to a slow cooker, and stir in sausage, zucchini, bell pepper, and parsley. Cover, and cook on Low for 4 to 6 hours. Bring a pot of lightly salted water to a boil. Cook pasta in boiling water until al dente, about 7 minutes. Drain water, and add pasta to the slow cooker. Simmer for a few minutes, and season with salt and pepper before serving.

Side Ideas- Salad & Fresh Fruit

Slow Cooked Italian Beef

Italian Beef Sandwiches

Side Ideas- Oven Fries & Apple Slices

Sloppy Joes

 Side Ideas- Tortilla Chips & Carrot Sticks

Pumpkin Chili

Pumpkin Chili

Side Ideas- Pumpkin Cornbread Muffins & Fresh Fruit

Slow Cooker Beef Stew

Slow Cooker Beef Stew

2 pounds beef stew meat – cubed

2.5 cups carrots

2.5 cups potatoes

1 cup celery

1 can diced tomatoes – with the juice poured in

1 can beef broth

1 cup water

1 tsp ground mustard

3 sprigs rosemary

Put beef in a zipper bag with a 1/4 cup of flour and toss to coat. Brown the meat in a skillet and place on the bottom of the crock pot. Coarsely chop vegetables and place on top of the meat. Pour in the can of diced tomatoes with juice, can of beef broth, water, and ground mustard. Place sprigs of rosemary on top and cook on high for four hours or on low for six to eight hours.

Side Ideas-  Make your own salad bar!

Slow Cooked Apple Oatmeal

Slow Cooked Honeycrisp Apple Oatmeal

 

Side Ideas-  Create your own oatmeal toppings bar and serve with green smoothies.

3-Ingredient Chicken Tacos

3-Ingredient Slow Cooked Chicken Tacos

1 package taco seasoning mix

1 cup chicken broth

1 pound chicken breasts – boneless & skinless frozen chicken breasts

Dissolve taco seasoning into chicken broth. Place chicken breasts in slow cooker and pour broth over them. Cook on LOW for 5 hours. With two forks, shred the chicken meat into bite-size pieces. Serve with your favorite taco toppings.

Side Ideas- Roasted Corn Salsa With Tortilla Chips

Slow Cooker Spaghetti Sauce

Slow Cooker Spaghetti Sauce

1 package Italian Turkey Sausage – mild

2 cans crushed tomatoes

1 can petite diced tomatoes

1 can tomato paste

½ cup beef broth

Brown the turkey sausage in a large skillet. Place cooked sausage in the bottom of the slow cooker. Pour over the sausage all of the other ingredients, including any of your own Italian seasonings. Cook sauce on low for six hours or on high for three to four hours. Serve over your favorite pasta.

Pulled Pork Stuffed Sweet Potatoes

Pulled Pork Stuffed Sweet Potatoes

 

Side Ideas- Lemony Spinach & Tomato Quinoa Salad & Carrot Sticks

Mongolian Beef

 Mongolian Beef 

 

Note- to make this in your slow cooker, brown the beef and then heat all the ingredients together on LOW for four hours.

Side Ideas- Brown Rice & Steamed Broccoli

Slow Cooker Chicken BBQ Sandwiches

 

Side Ideas- Shoestring Oven Fries & Carrot Sticks

Taco Soup

1 pound ground turkey

1 can chili beans with liquid

1 can kidney beans with liquid

1 can whole kernel corn with liquid

2 cans diced tomatoes

1 can tomato sauce

2 cups water

1 package taco seasoning mix

In a medium skillet, cook the ground beef until browned over medium heat. Drain & set aside. Place the ground beef, chili beans, kidney beans, corn, tomato sauce, water, diced tomatoes, & taco seasoning mix in a slow cooker. Mix to blend and cook on Low setting for eight hours.

Side Ideas-  Roasted Corn Salsa With Tortilla Chips

Chicken Italiano

Chicken Italiano

 

Side Ideas- Spaghetti & a DIY Salad Bar

 Breakfast Casserole

Note- I recommend doing this one using this technique to prevent burning and even cooking.

1 pound turkey sausage – sweet or spicy

1 teaspoon mustard powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

4 eggs, beaten

2 cups milk

6 slices white bread – toasted and cut into cubes

8 ounces shredded Cheddar cheese

Crumble sausage and cook thoroughly. Drain meat. In a large bowl, mix all ingredients together evenly. Place the casserole in the fridge overnight. In the morning put in the slow cooker for four hours on high or six hours on low.

Side Ideas- Fresh Fruit & Grapefruit Halves

Gluten-Free Orange Chicken

Orange Chicken

 

Note to make this in your slow cooker, brown the chicken and then heat all the ingredients together on LOW for two-four hours.

Side Ideas- Brown Rice & Steamed Broccoli

Chicken Lasagna Florentine

2 cans cream of chicken soup – (10-3/4-oz) reduced-fat, reduced-sodium, undiluted

1 package frozen chopped spinach, thawed, and squeezed dry (10 ounces)

9 oz chicken – diced cooked chicken (two small or one large boneless skinless chicken breast)

8 oz sour cream – low-fat

1 cup milk

2 oz grated parmesan – (1/2 cup)

1/3 cup onion – chopped

1/2 tsp salt

1/4 tsp black pepper

1/8 tsp ground nutmeg

9 uncooked lasagna noodles

1 cup mozzarella cheese – (4 oz) shredded part-skim

Combine first 10 ingredients in large bowl.

Spread about 1/4 cup sauce in bottom of a 5-quart slow cooker coated with cooking spray. Add 3 uncooked lasagna noodles, breaking noodles in half as necessary to fit slow cooker. Spread one-third of chicken mixture over noodles, sprinkle with 1/3 cup mozzarella. Layer 3 more noodles, half of remaining chicken mixture, and 1/3 cup mozzarella. Top with remaining noodles and chicken mixture; sprinkle with remaining 1/3 cup mozzarella cheese.

Cover with lid; cook on high-heat setting 1 hour. Reduce to low-heat setting; cook 5 hours or until pasta is done.

Side Ideas- Roasted Green Beans & Grapes

 

Slow Cooker Lemon Chicken

3 pound chicken – whole or pieces

1 tsp dried oregano

½ teaspoon dried rosemary

garlic cloves – minced

2 tablespoons butter

¼ cup sherry wine or chicken broth

¼ cup lemon juice

Wash chicken; pat dry; season chicken generously with salt and pepper; sprinkle half of oregano, rosemary and garlic inside cavity of chicken; melt butter in frying pan and brown chicken; transfer to slow cooker or crockpot; sprinkle with remaining oregano, rosemary and garlic; add sherry to frying pan and stir to loosen brown bits; pour into slow cooker. Cover, cook on low for 7 hours; add lemon juice and cook 1 more hour (total of 8); transfer chicken to cutting board; skim fat from juices and serve over chicken.

Side Ideas- Have two slow cookers? Try our easy Slow Cooker Mashed Potatoes!

Feel free to share your favorite slow cooker recipes below! I’d love to add them to our list!

This post contains affiliate links.

Amy’s Notebook 08.12.15

Wednesday, August 12th, 2015

Avocado-Lemon Zest Pasta via Design Sponge

Source: Design Sponge

 

Avocado Lemon Zest Spaghetti- my two faves in one dish!

The day technology left the building.

25 key lessons when you’re ready for a simpler life.

My jaw dropped- this diy faux marble tabletop is incredible!

100 swoon-worthy romances.

How to email someone you’ve never met (so they’ll actually reply).

Entertaining and educational YouTube channels for kids.

How to manage Instagram in 20 minutes a day.

What’s your spending personality?

Design Mistakes via Style by Emily Henderson

Source: Style By Emily Henderson

 

I need to take a peek at our curtains.

Adding a spiralizer to my wish list. Do you have one?

10 memoirs for armchair travel.

Fight for rest.

I struggle with sleepovers.

So powerful (and brave).

How to write a condolence note.

Nobody ever admits to loving money. Everybody just wants more of it.

#doitfortheprocess

amys_notebook

I hope you enjoyed our notebook, a collection of gathered links to DIY crafts, food projects, thrifty ways to spruce up your home, and thoughtful reads. Nothing brings me more joy than to highlight other fabulous bloggers. Follow me on Pinterest for daily inspiration!

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FirstDay Kicks With Shoe Carnival (Giveaway!!)

Tuesday, August 11th, 2015

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FirstDay Kicks With Shoe Carnival (Giveaway!!)

*This post is sponsored by Shoe Carnival.  Thank you for supporting the companies that support this site!

I don’t know what your experience was like when you got your school shoes, but my experience wasn’t too different from my own kids! I remember the thrill and excitement of getting fitted for new shoes (and just praying my feet grew so I would HAVE to have a new pair). I then remember the joy of walking out in my brand new shoes on the way home, and those old, awful shoes thrown in a bag. Is there any better feeling than walking out with fresh, cushy shoes on your feet and all the promise they hold?  It was always one of my favorite days and a rite of passage into the next school year.

Today I’m partnering up with Shoe Carnival for the back-to-school season and to show off our FirstDay Kicks with you!  I don’t want to just tell you about it though, what fun would that be?  I’d love to share FOUR $50 gift cards so you can get your kids some stylish kicks to wear on their first day back!

FirstDay Kicks With Shoe Carnival (Giveaway!!)

FirstDay Kicks With Shoe Carnival (Giveaway!!)

FirstDay Kicks With Shoe Carnival (Giveaway!!)

My children wear uniforms to school so our shoe choices are a little more limited than when I was a kid. I do remember that my mom always pushed us towards practical (AKA BORING COLORS), but practical shoes that adhere to school guidelines are what we have to look for now.  Shoe Carnival has always been where I have taken them because of the plethora of choices we can get at one store that meet our requirements. They not only offer a handful of great options within our limited choices, they even carry brands like French Toast that are specifically for kids like mine who wear uniforms.

When you walk in, you can ask for an associate to help you with foot measuring! We did that and found out both of the kids had gone up at least one size (oh, their prayers were answered!).  Each kid picked one pair of athletic shoes and one pair of dress shoes for the school year, as is our annual tradition. Do you do that too?

FirstDay Kicks With Shoe Carnival (Giveaway!!)

For my son’s dress shoes, we found the Vans Atwood was a great shoe for a wider foot. I loved that the shoe trim was in black to prevent these shoes from looking worn out quickly (a problem all moms of boys face!). Anything I don’t have to maintain to keep bright for this kid is a win in my book.

My daughter found the French Toast Ashley was the perfect shoe to wear when she wants to doll up for school, with Velcro closures and a padded collar on the back for comfort. We love the price too (under $20) which helped keep our shopping excursion affordable.

FirstDay Kicks With Shoe Carnival (Giveaway!!)

FirstDay Kicks With Shoe Carnival (Giveaway!!)

We have always relied on Nike for our athletic shoes for comfort and durability! My son picked out a Nike Flex that he can’t wait to break in on his cross country runs. My daughter loved the Nike Revolution with the pink accents, Velcro closure, and cushy bottom for her gym class needs.

 

FirstDay Kicks With Shoe Carnival (Giveaway!!)

FirstDay Kicks With Shoe Carnival (Giveaway!!)

FirstDay Kicks With Shoe Carnival (Giveaway!!)

We are particularly thankful for our Shoe Perks Rewards that we get. Have you signed up yet?  You earn a point for every dollar you spend, receive a $10 Shoe Perks reward certificate for every 200 points earned, and get 50 points just for joining!

Those points add up fast, especially when your kids are growing in and out of shoes so quickly.  Just look at my son! Who is this man I am living with?  Shoe sizing has been changing every few months in our house!

FirstDay Kicks With Shoe Carnival (Giveaway!!)

For me, back-to-school is a lot different as an adult than it was when I was a kid.  Between dance lessons, cross country, piano lessons, guitar lessons, and volunteering in our community…it is a season that I really struggle with. Running these kids, running a household, and running a business…tough stuff!

Did my mom do this for us?

She was a saint.

Since I’m on my feet all day, I treat myself to a back-to-school reward too. For me, it’s all about maximum comfort and maximum style. I’m not 20 anymore (oh, the things I did to my poor feet!), so point me in the direction of the comfort aisle, please!

FirstDay Kicks With Shoe Carnival (Giveaway!!)

Let’s break down my three favorites for the mamas out there!

First, if there is a cuter shoe than the City Classified Taylor then I would be shocked! This has a comfort cushioning footbed, a beautiful herringbone oxford exterior, and a nice rubber tread on it.  I love a good throwback and these fit the bill perfectly.

If you want a pair of these, size up one size because they tend to run a little shorter than my other shoes.  Also note, this lady has a wide foot and these accommodate a wider foot.

FirstDay Kicks With Shoe Carnival (Giveaway!!)

FirstDay Kicks With Shoe Carnival (Giveaway!!)

Have you tried BOBS yet from Skechers? My girlfriend recommended I check these out and I am so glad I did.  It is like I am walking on a cloud, not kidding! These shoes could double for slippers! These are also filled with cushy memory foam and I love the company’s mission to donate new shoes to kids in need with every purchase. I’m all about companies that care for those in need. It makes me feel good about my purchases.

I chose a neutral tan to go with my whole wardrobe.  I recommend sizing down since these will stretch out over time. They come in a variety of colors and patterns. I had to resist the urge to get them in every color, especially since they are so comfortable!

FirstDay Kicks With Shoe Carnival (Giveaway!!)

We did a lot of walking in Italy this summer, and you may recall I purchased the Clarks Wendy Estate shoe as a treat to myself for Mother’s Day. My feet never hurt (not once), and after walking seven miles in Italy, we came back to our hotel room and I still didn’t take them off- they felt that good.

They are just the perfect shoe with supportive cushioning and Velcro adjustable straps. They come in a wide and medium width. I have worn them all summer long and love that this shoe looks great with dresses as well as shorts.

I am of the belief that if you love something that much, you should get it in all the colors.

Are you too?

So here she is in black.  It’s the perfect shoe.  I mean it.

Did you love our haul? Today I am giving away a $50 gift card to FOUR lucky mamas to treat your amazing family to some new FirstDay Kicks with Shoe Carnival.  Please follow the instructions below in our Rafflecopter widget to enter. I hope you have an incredible first day of school!

This is a sponsored post written by me on behalf of Shoe Carnival.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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Apron Full of Giveaways 08.11.15

Tuesday, August 11th, 2015

Red-White Polka Dot Apron via Etsy

Source: The Forties Revisited,  $36.00

 

Welcome to our Apron Full of Giveaways! I hope everyone is having a great week this week! As we do each week, here is our round-up of giveaways for our readers. We hope that this is beneficial to you and your family! Please let us know if you guys win anything- I love to hear the success stories!

Below are the contest links-if you are hosting a contest please link it up below. Sorry, we are not giving away the aprons just showcasing them! Please put your site name and then what type of contest you are hosting. For example, “MomAdvice (Kid’s Movies).”

Good luck to each of you!

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Sundays With Writers: All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven

Sunday, August 9th, 2015

Sundays With Writers

There are some authors that I have waited for months to feature here and Jennifer Niven is one of those poor hounded authors that I worked so hard to get here for you today.  A girlfriend recommended that I read her book All the Bright Places and as soon as I finished it (you can read our review here), I emailed Jennifer to see if I could secure her for an interview. She happened to just be leaving on book tour though and said she would answer my questions when she returned. This one was worth the wait.

I am so glad she followed through on this interview with me especially amid her enormous undertaking of adapting this movie into a film starring Elle Fanning!! Yup, Jennifer is writing the script and I have been waiting to share that with you today. I’m so proud of this writer and this book she has created.

All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven

All the Bright Places is a beautiful story of two sweet kids who find each other just when they need one another the most. Niven sheds light on a topic rarely discussed in YA literature sharing the true struggles of mental illness as Finch, the main character, struggles with bipolar disorder.

Theodore Finch is fascinated by death, and he constantly thinks of ways he might kill himself. But each time, something good, no matter how small, stops him.

Violet Markey lives for the future, counting the days until graduation, when she can escape her Indiana town and her aching grief in the wake of her sister’s recent death.

When Finch and Violet meet on the ledge of the bell tower at school, it’s unclear who saves whom. And when they pair up on a project to discover the “natural wonders” of their state, both Finch and Violet make more important discoveries: It’s only with Violet that Finch can be himself—a weird, funny, live-out-loud guy who’s not such a freak after all. And it’s only with Finch that Violet can forget to count away the days and start living them. But as Violet’s world grows, Finch’s begins to shrink.

The stigma attached to mental illness and the reaction of his peers to this, make this a compelling read for any teen in understanding what it would be like to live with mental illness. This was heartbreaking, beautiful, and provided a thoughtful ending with a great resources & info list for kids struggling with (or who have family/friends struggling with) mental illness at the end of the book. I highly recommend this one for a well-captured idea of what living with bipolar disorder would feel like.

Grab your coffee and let’s settle in to learn more about Jennifer’s incredible book and the real-life Finch that inspired this beautiful story!

Jennifer Niven

 

In All the Bright Places, you send your two characters (Finch & Violet) on an epic road trip to discover Indiana. I actually live in Indiana so I really loved how you created this for them. Were these destinations real and, if so, did you visit them?

All of the destinations Finch and Violet wander are real except one—the bookmobile park. (But oh, how I wish it existed!) I grew up in Indiana, but I hadn’t visited all of the places until after I wrote the book. In April, I traveled from California (where I live now) to the sites with the producers and director of the upcoming All the Bright Places We saw the World’s Biggest Ball of Paint, the Blue Hole, Gravity Hill, the Ultraviolet Apocalypse, the Taylor Prayer Chapel, Hoosier Hill, the Purina Tower in my hometown (Richmond), and we even went up into the bell tower of my high school, which was where I envisioned Finch and Violet meeting.

Blue Flash Roller Coaster

But my favorite place of all was John and Sharon Ivers’ backyard roller coasters.We rode the Blue Flash and the Blue Too over and over again. And it was AMAZING.

You tackle the issue of mental illness in this book, specifically bipolar disorder. As someone who has personally known someone with this illness, you truly capture the manic highs and lows of Finch in a very real way. What inspired you to share about this mental illness and what has been your response from kids who have read this book?

Years ago, I loved a real-life Finch and he was bipolar. I witnessed up-close the highs and lows, the Awake and the Asleep, and I saw his daily struggle with the world and with himself. I also saw how funny he could be and how vibrantly alive. In knowing him, I experienced firsthand the stigma associated with mental disorders—both from the perspective of this boy I loved and from mine—and I realized that we need to make people feel safe enough to come forward and say, “I have a problem.  I need help.”  If we don’t talk about suicide or depression or mental illness, how can we expect anyone to reach out for help when they need it most?

The response to All the Bright Places has been emotional and overwhelming, and while I anticipated some of that, I had no idea just how emotional and overwhelming it would be. The thing I hear most from readers is that this book saved their lives in some way, big or small. They’ve thanked me for making them feel like someone gets them, and for reminding them they aren’t alone. But they’ve also written to tell me they see themselves in Violet and/or Finch and reading about these characters who they identify with so closely has helped them realize that the world really can be a bright place, no matter how dark it may seem. I’m hearing daily from many, many teens who are either struggling with their own mental health issues or know someone who is, and the first thing I tell them is to talk to someone they trust, whether that’s a parent, teacher, counselor, sibling, or friend. Being isolated only makes things worse, and you really, truly aren’t alone. (Here are some helpful links to organizations that get it, that care: check here and here for a resource list to assist.

All the Bright Places is going to be hitting theaters starring Elle Fanning as Violet. How involved are you in the adaptation of your book into film and what scene are you most excited to see come to life on the big screen?

I’m so excited! I’ve been asked to write the script, which I’m working on now, and I’m thrilled and honored to have that opportunity. The scene I’m most excited to see on the big screen is when Finch leaves his car by the side of the road because it won’t go fast enough, and as he’s running he passes a nursery where he collects flowers for Violet.

I don’t want to give away the ending of this book for those that have not read it, but I would love to know if you feel that ending the book the way you did ended with the right message about the topic of mental illness and if you entertained another way of ending this story?

I never questioned how All the Bright Places would end. I knew in my bones that the only ending could be the one I wrote, not just because too many stories about teen mental health are tied up in neat little packages with bows on top, but because it’s the ending I lived with the real-life Finch. It was the ending I knew to tell. In terms of the message it sends, from what I can tell via readers, especially readers who see themselves in Finch, they are walking away from the book with the right message: they are not alone. It is important to speak up, to ask for help. And even in the darkest times, it’s possible to find bright places.

I have read that it took you a mere six weeks to crank out All the Bright Places. This is such an incredible feat! Why do you think this story came together so quickly this time?

Because it was a story I had carried with me for a long time, and because it came from the heart.

You have tackled so many different genres as a writer, but this is your first young adult book. Is there a particular genre that you love the most and what did you love the most about writing a YA fiction versus the other genres you have tackled?

I love YA the most. As one reader put it, “Jennifer Niven thinks 18,” which I take as a huge compliment. I feel at home in the voice, and I absolutely love what’s being done in the genre—some of the bravest, boldest topics are being explored, and I think that’s fantastic. YA is fearless, and YA readers are the most passionate and voracious of all.

If you could tell anyone to read one book (other than your own) what would that book be (read ALL the recommendations over the year HERE)?

Wonder by RJ Pallacio.

 

You can connect with Jennifer Niven on GoodReads,on Facebook, or through her website! I’m always thankful for these moments with writers and I hope you will pick up this amazing book! You can always connect with me on GoodReads,through our books section of our site, and you can read our entire Sundays With Writers series for more author profiles. Happy reading, friends!

*This post contains affiliate links!

 

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