Posts Tagged ‘Family’

Back-to-School Celebration Feasts With Recipes

Monday, August 30th, 2010

I hope you will allow me the beauty of indulging in my endless brag book of photos of my children. There is nothing like the freshness of a new year, a new opportunity to do better, a new opportunity to be better, new teachers, new friends, and the same old sappy mom who won’t stop taking your picture. Ah, some things just will never change!

Emily is all tutus, ballet shoes, and anything purple, pink, or sparkly. She is wildly dramatic, has the sweetest little voice in the world, and is fiercely independent. She plays pretend for hours with her Little People and in her little doll house.

This year she was off for her last year of preschool. My heart just aches when I think that next year my little baby will be going off to kindergarten. I am savoring this last year together more than I can say.

Ethan & Emily started on two different days this year and so we  had two fun-filled celebrations for each of them. I have never cooked so much in my life, but they each got to request their favorite main dish and a favorite dessert to celebrate their big day at school. I look forward to having one giant celebration next year to celebrate them both at once, but I might have to make an investment into another celebration plate to make that happen!

Emily’s celebration request was a taco bar and chocolate cupcakes with pink icing. I have a feeling you are going to really love this celebration dinner because it is thrifty and absolutely delicious!

This taco meat is the best taco meat in the world- truly! The mixture of tomato sauce and chicken broth take away the beefy taste and give it just the right hint of flavoring. Since my kids can’t handle the heavy spices, we modified the chili powder to 1 teaspoon and skipped the cayenne pepper.

Beef Tacos (Courtesy of  The America’s Test Kitchen Family Cookbook)

1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 onion, minced
3 garlic cloves, minced (I use a tablespoon of the bottled minced garlic)
2 tablespoons chili powder (adjust to your personal taste)
1 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon oregano
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
Salt
1 pound (90 percent lean) ground beef (or use a higher fat beef and rinse the meat)
1/2 cup smooth canned tomato sauce
1/2 cup low sodium chicken broth
2 teaspoons cider vinegar
1 teaspoon light brown sugar
8 taco shells

Heat the oil in a medium skillet over medium heat until shimmering. Add the onion and cook until softened, about five minutes. Stir in the garlic, spices, and 1 teaspoon salt and cook until fragrant about thirty seconds. Stir in the ground beef and cook, breaking it up with a wooden spoon until no longer pink, about five minutes. Stir in the tomato sauce, broth, vinegar, and sugar until thickened, about ten minutes. Season with salt to taste. Divide the filling evenly among the taco shells and serve passing any desired accompaniments separately.

Make-Ahead Version: The filling can be fully prepared, cooled, covered tightly and refrigerated for up to three days. Reheat over medium-low heat, adding additional water to adjust the consistency.

These cupcakes. These cupcakes. No words. The cake is moist  and gets its beautiful texture from a few pantry ingredients and a little boiling water. The batter looks like a watery-looking mess and turns  out to be the most delicious cupcake I have ever made in my life! The cake was moist and flavorful. Use a batter bowl or a ladle to scoop the watery batter into the lined cupcake pan.

Moist Chocolate Cupcakes (Courtesy of The Farm Chicks)

1 cup sugar
1 cup brown sugar (not packed)
1 3/4 cup flour
3/4 cup cocoa powder
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
2 eggs
1 cup milk
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 tsp vanilla
1 cup boiling water
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Fill muffin pans with 24 cupcake liners.  Sift dry ingredients into a mixing bowl.  (I recommend a batter bowl to easily pour the batter into the cupcake liners).  Add eggs, milk, oil and vanilla.  Beat with a mixer for about two minutes, occasionally scraping the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula.  Add the boiling water, and beat, just until blended.  (Don’t be alarmed – the batter appears watery).  Evenly ladle (or pour) the batter into the liners.  Bake for 20-25 minutes, until the center of the cupcakes springs back when lightly touched.  Cool and frost.

I am not a fan of heavy frostings, in fact, I don’t even really like buttercream frosting. That being said, this frosting is my favorite frosting in the world. It is light, delicious, and reminds me a little of marshmallow fluff. It is not a decorator frosting, but decorating isn’t important if the frosting tastes like heaven. For the perfect little swirls on top of your cupcakes,  you can use a Ziploc bag and cut the corner to pipe the frosting on top or use a 2D tip that is gathering dust in your baking supplies and hasn’t been used since that last batch of Snickerdoodle Cupcakes. Get ready for a good old-fashioned mind-blowing frosting perfect for the frosting-haters.

PS- Be sure to break out your stand mixer for this or be like me and forget to do it and update your Facebook profile, tweet a bit, watch a You Tube video, secure a new freelance job, and do this all while simultaneously beating the crud out of those egg whites. Yeah, that really happened.

No Cook 7 Minute Frosting (Courtesy of Food.com)

3/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 cup boiling water
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
3 unbeaten egg whites
food coloring

Mix sugar, cream of tartar, vanilla and egg whites. Add boiling water. Beat on high til mixture forms peaks (like meringue) approx 5-7 minutes.

My sweet boy was ready to head off to second grade. I know many of you have read my site for many years. I still can’t believe that I have been doing this since he was only a year old. For many of you, this kid has been growing up right before your very eyes!

This year it is all Pokemon and Bakugan and, more recently, a lot of the magical Harry Potter. We started the tradition of reading the series together at night before he goes to bed. When he bursts through the door he begs for another chapter. One of the naughtiest thing he does is hide books under his pillow to indulge until the wee hours of the night. He reminds me so much of my bookworm self.

Ethan’s celebration feast was my homemade spaghetti and meatballs, homemade bread sticks, with the new family favorite…peanut butter balls.

Homemade Spaghetti & Meatballs

For Sauce (sauce recipe adapted from AllRecipes Dinner Tonight Cookbook):

3/4 cup chopped onion (we omitted because we don’t like onions)
5 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup olive oil
2 (28 ounce) cans whole peeled tomatoes, undrained
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon white sugar
1 (6 ounce) can tomato paste
3/4 teaspoon dried basil
1/2 teaspoon black pepper

For Meatballs (this recipe will make enough for a double batch, half to eat and half to freeze):

1/2  cup plain bread crumbs
1/2 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
4 large eggs, lightly beaten
2 tablespoons whole milk
2 tablespoons ketchup
1 1/2 cups grated Romano (or Parmesan)
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1  teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 pound Italian turkey sausages (remove the casings)
1 pound ground beef

To make sauce: Saute onion and garlic in 1/4 cup olive oil until onion is translucent. Stir in tomatoes, salt, and sugar. Cover, reduce heat to medium-low and simmer one hour and thirty minutes. Stir in tomato paste, basil, 1/2 teaspoon pepper, and meatballs and simmer thirty more minutes. Gently break apart the tomatoes with the back of your wooden spoon.  Five to ten minutes before serving, add in your meatballs and then serve over a big bowl of your favorite pasta.

To make meatballs: In a medium bowl, stir together the bread crumbs, parsley, eggs, milk, ketchup, Romano cheese, and the salt and pepper. Add the turkey & ground beef, then gently stir to combine. Make your meatballs the standard size and put them on a baking sheet. Bake at 400 degrees for ten to fifteen minutes. When done cooking, drop in the baked meatballs for a few minutes. This will be just as delicious with a lot less mess and fewer calories.

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I add a 1/4 cup of extra flour to make sure  the dough is sticky, but not too sticky. I cover the whole cookie sheet with plastic wrap and pop it in my fridge until our dinner hour. About a half hour before our dinner, I pull it out of the fridge and let it rest on the counter while our oven preheated.

Homemade Bread Sticks (Courtesy of Chocolate on My Cranium)

Dissolve:
2 TBSP sugar and 1 TBSP yeast in 1 1/2 cups warm water

Add:
3 cups flour and 1/2 tsp. salt. Mix and knead for 5 minutes with your stand mixer (using the dough hook)

Let rest for 10 minutes. Melt 1/2 cube (4 TBSP) of butter in a bowl in the microwave and pour into a 11×17 pan (jelly roll pan). Place dough into pan then lift and turn over so that both sides of the dough are covered in the melted butter. Press dough into pan. Sprinkle with desired seasonings (I love the Italian Cheese Blend cheeses and a sprinkle of garlic salt all over). Let rest 15 minutes. Cut into strips with pizza cutter. Bake at 350 for 20 minutes or until golden brown. Recut with a pizza cutter and serve.

Our dessert was courtesy of last week’s notebook at The Southern Plate. I halved the recipe just to see if my kids would love these. The results were delicious and satisfying. The oats combined with the peanut butter and the dried milk create a dense stick-to-your ribs treat perfect for after-school or as a yummy snack before bed. My husband said they reminded him of cookie dough. I will definitely be making these again!

In fact, the bread sticks and chocolate cupcakes were both featured in our notebooks (and were notebook experiments) which is why notebook day is my favorite day of the week. We have gained so many family traditions and meal ideas from it. I love experimenting and being inspired daily by bloggers.  You all are wonderful!

After all of that, I collapsed into a puddle of endless dishes combined with a puddle of pure exhaustion. It didn’t matter though because I am so proud that we have these moments to cherish forever!

Do you have any special traditions for celebrating the back-to-school season? I would love to hear them!


Back to School Recipes, Organization Tips, and Other Hidden Resources

Monday, August 23rd, 2010

Good morning, friends! Today my daughter heads back to school and my son will be shortly following behind her on Wednesday. I am a sappy momma and tend to sob on both days that the children head to school. I also am the one in sunglasses for the entire day to hide the tired circles and red eyes from all of the crying. They do drive me crazy sometimes when they are here, but I miss them when they are gone.

It has been a flurry of activity- uniform shopping, clothes shopping, shoe shopping, backpack shopping, school supplies shopping, back-to-school nights,  ice cream treating, lots of individual dates with each kid, and plenty of talking about the exciting year to come.

I just wanted to point out a few of my favorite resources for moms that might help you as you ease back into your busy school year! These are my favorite resources for organizing and feeding my family during this busy time!

Back-to-School Breakfast Ideas:

Blueberry Pancakes (make and pop them in the freezer for the school week)

Fluffy & Light Pumpkin Pancakes (make and pop them in the freezer for the school week)

6 Amazing Waffle Recipes & Tips for Getting Your Waffle On

Protein-Packed Strawberry & Banana Smoothies

Banana Cream Pie Smoothies

Slow Cooked Oatmeal

Homemade Hot Cocoa Mix

Homemade Cinnamon Rolls (a great way to celebrate your week at school on Saturday morning)

Honey Nut Granola

Vanilla Scented Granola

Deliciously Homemade Granola Bars

Getting Organized for Back-to-School:

One Month of Slow Cooking (perfect for those days filled with after-school activities)

The Essentials for Saving on Back-to-School

Weekly Planner Sheet

Weekly Menu Planner Sheet

Transforming the Paper Clutter

Choosing a Great Family Organizer for Your Family

Simplifying Your To-Do List

Ideas for Celebrating That First Day of School:

Back-to-School Celebrations

World’s Greatest Homemade Slushies

Throw a Frugal Pizza Party

For Capturing Those Back-To-School Photos:

Capturing Your Children Through Photography

Making Lunch Special:

Free Printable Lunch Box Notes

Writing Love Notes to Your Child

Fun with After-School Snacks:

Deliciously Easy Raisin Bran Muffins

Deliciously Homemade Granola Bars (I think I like the word deliciously)

Lemony Blueberry Muffins

Simple Oatmeal & Chocolate Chip Muffins

Delicious & Easy Cereal Bars

Chocolate Chip Cookie Bars

Good luck to each of you that are on this journey again with your kids! I hope you all get off to a successful school year start!

Rediscovering the Simple Pleasures in Life

Tuesday, August 17th, 2010

Summer is coming to an end soon for our family and that will mean sliding back into the hustle and bustle of busy school days and extra curricular activities. As a mom, it can feel a little overwhelming preparing for the start of school especially if you have had a jam-packed summer like we have had.

My solution to keep me grounded as we transition back into this time is to have a minimum of one day a week where we do nothing. It is a day that I lovingly refer to as our  “detox day” from the busy running and commercialism that we are exposed to.  It is the day where we do nothing, we spend nothing, we are unplugged, and we just spend time together, making time to indulge in the good old-fashioned things in life. These days are filled with time spent around board games instead of  time spent around a television, library books instead of our electronic games, creating instead of buying, and rediscovering those simple pleasures in life.  It is this one day a week where I can come back to center and feel aligned again with my family and what is most important to me.

Forts are built and snuggled under with blankets and pillows from the bed.

Treasured books from the thrift store are lovingly read again.

Fancy meals are abandoned in favor of eggs and toast for dinner.

Homemade treats are baked with my children, while making giant messes in the kitchen.

Sheets are lovingly washed and hung on the line, waiting for each family member to indulge in the crispness after a day filled with nothing.

These days allow me to refocus on the abundance and the simple pleasures that are within my life, instead of the need to go, go, go, buy, buy, buy. After having one day like this,  I often want to continue the trend of simple living and simple pleasures and extend it further into my week.

It is these days when I am…

Thankful.

Centered.

Happy.

It is these days when I feel that I am at my best as a mom and wife.

It is these days that I wish I could fall into daily.

It these days where I know what is important.

Who is important.

Why they are important.

How do you bring focus back to the simple pleasures in life?

Make Outdoor Living a Family Priority

Thursday, June 10th, 2010

(this article originally published on 06.30.09)

I love nothing more than lounging around in our backyard all summer long. I will do anything to stay outside with my kids and hibernate in our big backyard. Indiana winters are so long and our summers here are far too short. I really try to make the most of every moment of sunshine.

Wouldn’t we all love to just lounge around in the backyard all day with our feet kicked up? While I can’t say it will be possible every day, I want to share with you a few things we have been doing to make outdoor living a priority in our home.

Chores come first. We all love being outside and in order for me to be able to camp out with the kids in the backyard, we need to have our indoor chores accomplished. The short list for me is to unload the dishwasher, make the beds, and swipe the bathrooms. The kids have to eat their breakfast, get dressed, and tidy up their rooms and playroom. With the promise of fun and relaxation outside, we all are more motivated to do our chores inside.

For work-at-home moms, I try to get up an hour before the kids and tackle any work priorities and I do most of my work on the weekend mornings. I encourage you to read my post on finding balance to work priorities to assist with figuring out a good work-at-home schedule.


Get the dinner prep done. After I have finished the chores, it is time to get together whatever we will be eating for dinner in the evening. Slow cooker meals are a great alternative in the summer because they don’t heat up the house and can be pulled together quickly. Likewise, marinating meats or preparing meat for the grill is another way to keep the house cool and keep one step ahead of the game in mealtime prep.

Of course, anything that you can do after your grocery shopping will also give you more time to enjoy being outside. Chop up veggies and fruits for snacking on throughout the week, cook pasta for pasta salads and keep it in a food storage bag to make a yummy cold pasta salad, bake chicken for the week to dice in tortilla wraps, for cold chicken salad sandwiches, or to toss into a pasta salad. I also love to wash and chop the lettuce for the week and use it on burgers or for a light lunch for myself or a side salad with our dinner.

Take the night off completely from dinner and roast your dinner on an outdoor fire pit instead. Children will love the novelty of cooking their foods over the fire and you will love having a night off from cooking. We try to do this a couple of times a month as a fun family night tradition.

Scale back those fancy dinners and keep things simple with grilled meats, fresh veggies, and fresh fruit. Summer is not meant to be spent in a hot kitchen so get acquainted with your grill or slow cooker so you can enjoy that beautiful weather outside.


Be prepared for outdoor excursions. The past couple of years, I have learned to become more prepared for those unexpected outdoor adventures. On our door hangs a beach bag that is ready to go for a fun outdoor getaway. I keep sunblock, bug spray, towels, bathing suits, and a water bottle in this bag.

In our car, we have a collapsible bag that is filled with activities for the park. I try to keep containers of bubbles, a ball, a waterproof blanket for sitting on, a Frisbee, and a lawn chair. These activities not only come in handy for when we take a trip to the park, but they also are invaluable when visiting friends who don’t have activities/toys to keep little hands busy.

Revise your homemaking schedule with the weather. Check the forecast at the beginning of the week and try to format your schedule according to the weather. If it is raining on Thursday, make Thursday your day to clean the house. If it is sunny on Tuesday, use that day to accomplish the laundry day outside and hang your clothes on the line instead. If it is sunny all week long, then accomplish chores during your child’s nap time or after they head to bed. By revising your homemaking schedule to fit the weather forecast, you can take advantage of as many beautiful days as you possibly can.


Make the outdoors fun. My children will play outside for the entire day, but each summer we make an investment into outdoor activities that will help keep the outdoors fun. Some of my favorite summer investments have been a sandbox, a small water table, sprinkler toys, a new set of chalk, and a batch of homemade bubbles.

My children also love to create so I also put out a bucket of water with paint brushes for them to paint the cement or to paint their chalk drawings. We also make a batch of sponge balls to play with in their water table or for fun water play outdoors. Nature journals can help them document the changing of the seasons and what they see in nature. Homemade play dough with some cookie cutters and a rolling pin can lead to fun creations, without the mess, on an outdoor table.

Don’t forget that many activities that you can get your children to do outside can also help you. I have my kids use their water toys to water my garden. My children also love to help wash the cars and wash their own outdoor toys. Have them set their own table for lunch or help you clean up after an outdoor dinner.


Make easy evening routines. After a long day of playing outside, I bring the kids inside and we start tackling the baths. After the kids are bathed, they can have a small snack and watch a television show while I work on getting our dinner ready.

This usually leads to a little napping or general zoning out as they are usually so exhausted from playing outside. With this time, I tidy up and get our easy dinner together for us to dine outside. After that the kids play outside until bedtime and I am able to put them to bed earlier after all of their outdoor fun.

Outdoor chores are accomplished by my husband & I trading off the kids to get done what needs to get done. One of us mows in the front, while the other parent is playing with the kids in the back. As I have said before though, many of these chores are just done side by side with the kids while they are playing or helping.


Remember they are only young once. Each summer, I marvel at how much my children have grown and how quickly our time together seems to be passing. I am trying to savor these moments and for me, that means slowing down our summers. While we make big plans for summer activities, I can admit that I become selfish with my time with them in the summer. The school year will begin again and we will be back to the crazy grind of school days.

Savor these moments and revise your schedule so you can enjoy each moment of them. Seek a little shade with them. Create with them. Hop in the kiddie pool with them. Indulge in homemade slushies and popcorn every single day and blame it on “the kids” and “hydration.” Be selfish with them and their time. Treasure them.

As my husband and I say after it takes two hours to put away all the outdoor toys and clean up after the dinner, “We are making memories.”

How do you make outdoor living a priority in your family?

Gift Giving: Putting Your Own Spin on Photo Journals

Tuesday, May 25th, 2010

I could not wait to show you guys what I made for my moms for Mother’s Day this year.  Unfortunately, to keep it a secret, I had to wait until the holiday was over to show them to you. That being said, these photo books would be perfect for just about any occasion, including the fast approaching Father’s Day holiday!

I know that many people are fans of the photo albums that you can create online, but I had never done one before. I adore taking pictures of my family, but I am not very good about printing them out and sharing them the way I should. I thought it might be neat to share with our moms this year a brag book that that they could enjoy for years to come. I admit that I prefer to make handmade gifts for these occasions (I doubt either mom will ever forget our infamous ping pong wreaths last year), but I knew that there could be a way that I could put a unique spin on these photo albums and add my own homemade touch.

I first weeded through all of the pictures and tried to get a good representation of both of the children as well as pictures of them with the other family members. After selecting my pictures and template (through the photo site I used), I then went to Quote Garden and tried to find a quote for each page of the photo album that would fit the pictures that I had selected. All in all, the process took four hours because of my own admitted perfectionism. I chose a soft-back cover (to save money) and I also visited Coupon Cabin to find a coupon code that I could use towards my purchase. These each cost roughly $16…and it was worth every penny.

These were a few of my favorite photos and quotes that were chosen:

“Everything is beautiful at the ballet” A Chorus Line

“If you obey all the rules, you miss all the fun.” Katherine Hepburn

“There are no seven wonders of the world in the eyes of  a child. There are seven million.” Walt Streightiff

“I have the same goal I’ve had since I was a girl. I want to rule the world.” Madonna

“Brothers and sisters are as close as hands and feet.” Vietnamese Proverb

“There’s no place like home.” Wizard of Oz

“The Force is strong with this one.” Darth Vadar

“A boy’s story is the best that is ever told.” Charles Dickens

“Grandmas hold our tiny hands for just a little while, but our hearts forever.” Author Unknown

“Everything has beauty, but not everyone sees it.” Confucius

“And thank you for a house full of people I love. Amen.” Terri Guillemets

I can honestly say that my copy of this book has already become lovingly worn as I have placed it on my coffee table and glance through it almost daily. Each time, I walk a way a little misty-eyed, a little more thankful, and really proud of my amazing kids.

As the gifts were given, there were a few tears and a whole lot of pride radiating from our proud grandma and nana. It is the perfect gift for purse-toting and brag sessions. From what I hear, they have already made the rounds in their workplaces and churches. To me, that is when you know that a gift is a total success..when it just must be shared!

Just a few quick tips:

- Don’t forget to check for coupon codes through whatever photo book publishing site you use. There are usually multiple coupons available. Be sure to compare which coupon will offer you the most bang for your buck. My 20% off coupon, for example, was less than the shipping cost so make sure you crunch those numbers before ordering. Just Google, “Photo company’s coupon code”  and you should get plenty of codes to use towards your purchase.

- I found it easiest to sort my pictures by date first so I could group pictures together on pages easier. Sorting by date also helps to allow the flow into the different seasons of the year and pictures to flow a little more naturally.

- Choose a template with a neutral palette, that will compliment and not detract away from the beauty of your photos.

- Edit your photos before putting them into your book. I use Picnik for my photo editing needs and I absolutely love it. You don’t need to get carried away with the editing (unless you just love to), but it can be a great tool for saturating the color, adjusting color temperature, switching to black-and-white, or adjusting the exposure or contrast in a photo.

Looking for some added Father’s Day inspiration? These crafty bottles brimming over with treats were a hit with my hubby last year.  Our dads also really loved our movie gifts and handmade photo compact disc jackets filled with great music in years past.

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Ironically, I had some great timing on this post because today is the last day to enter for a $50 Snapfish gift card for Father’s Day. Please head over there and get your entry in today! And yes, I actually had to pay for all of those photo books so I am extremely jealous you can get one for free!! Entries are due by 8PM eastern time tonight! Good luck, friends

What did you do for Mother’s Day gifts this year? What is up your sleeve for Father’s Day? Please share!

It Hasn’t Always Been Easy…My Fitness Confession

Tuesday, May 18th, 2010

I have to admit that I am doing a few things that I don’t feel entirely comfortable with today. I am sharing with you a very vulnerable place in my heart, I am exposing a time in my life that I wasn’t the most proud of, I am sharing one picture (of many) of a person that I don’t really recognize, and I am telling you that I am trying to be different…knowing that saying it out loud is the hardest part.

In my college years, after numerous indecisions about what I wanted to do with my life, I settled on a career path in Food & Nutrition. While learning about the formula for calories, flunking my cooking class twice, and taking courses on exercise and physiology, I became a blimped out version of my former self. I ate out almost every single day, stopped exercising, partied hard, and lived a sedentary life. My hair suddenly became greasy, my face was shiny all of the time, I had chronic stomach problems, exercise-induced asthma, chronic back pain, high cholesterol, and I need to nap because I was constantly tired. Freshman 15 would have been mild compared to the Freshman 35 that I put on. It was such a gradual process that I don’t think I even realized what was happening.  So gradual, in fact, that I found it strange when I overheard a guy friend say that I had a pretty face and would be cute if I could just lose some weight. I was that girl now.

I bring this up because I know that sometimes it can be hard to relate to someone if you don’t see the struggle, the work, and the decisions that are made daily to accomplish their current body, and the daily commitment that is made after you have reached your personal goals for fitness or weight loss.

In my thirties, I am in better shape than I ever was in my teen or college years. My skin is great, I no longer take any medications, I have no chronic health conditions, I am at a healthy weight for my body, and I am proud to show my kids that physical fitness is an essential part of my day.  When a ten minute workout would have winded me before, I can now run on my treadmill miles at a time. Each day that I put in my exercise time, I remind myself that I am running and exercising against a family history of diabetes, high cholesterol, osteoporosis, low bone density, stomach problems, and am running towards quality time with the people I love.

How is fitness and frugality related? Well, frankly, it is simple… the more fit you are, the less you pay in medication and doctor visits. Fitness doesn’t require a big investment at all, but it is an investment that will pay off for years and years down the road.

Believe in 30 Day Goals- I still believe firmly that you can accomplish anything with small thirty day goals. I started with a 30 day goal to complete a Jillian Michael’s 30 Day Shred workout. Now I have a thirty day goal to run a 5K in great time on the treadmill. Someday, it would be wonderful to be able to run a mini-marathon or be able to keep pace with my runner husband.  Think of a fitness goal that you would like to accomplish and work thirty days towards making that dream into a reality.

Eat Healthier During the Day- No matter how hard I was exercising, I was still eating whatever I wanted and not seeing the results that I was looking for.  As a mom it can be difficult to not give in and just eat whatever the kids are eating. My days were filled with macaroni, chicken nuggets, crackers, chips, and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Unfortunately, that was not filling me up and I would feel hungry throughout the day.

Each week, I now chop up salad, fresh veggies, and fruit at the beginning of the week. I roast and dice chicken breasts as I chop the veggies so I have all of the perfect fixings for a satisfying salad bar at home.

Start with small switches- oatmeal or a protein-packed protein shake for breakfast, a handful of almonds instead of heavy carbs for snack, a colorful salad instead of a sandwich for lunch, and whole grains instead of the white stuff could all be small changes that make a big difference in how you feel.

Be frugal, but make wise fitness investments- Thanks to the wonderful consignment shops in our area, I was able to score most of my workout gear and paired it with inexpensive tank tops and sports bras from Walmart. I was proud of my frugal workout gear, but my back was hurting after my workouts.

I started to realize that I had not made one important investment… a new pair of tennis shoes. While new tennis shoes were a big investment for me, they are an investment that has really paid off and allowed me to workout longer and not feel achy after my workouts.

Don’t be afraid to make an investment if it will improve your fitness experience and help your endurance levels with working out. My tennis shoes are just one example of something that had held me back from feeling my best, and something that has made a huge difference in my motivation to keep moving.

Switch up your routines- If you are hitting a plateau in your fitness routine, then it might be time to switch things up a bit. For many years I have been working out at home. I found a lot of variation in my routine compliments of the library and the DVD’s that they offered.  Recently, I got a new writing gig that could pay for a monthly gym membership. My kids were finally at an age where I could do this and so I joined a gym. The results in these last two months have been phenomenal and the variation and equipment is much wider than what I had available to me at home.

Think about what you are spending your money on and see if it could be allocated to something healthier. Do you have a movie club membership or premium cable plan? What if you put that money towards a gym membership instead?  With my cable plan and my movie membership, I felt forced to sit in front of the boob tube. After canceling the movie membership, I have felt less dedicated to television time and more dedicated to the things that matter most to me.

Having a workout buddy has also pushed me out of my comfort zone for trying new classes and we help each other stay on schedule.  I was proud that for Cinco de Mayo, I went to a 2 ½ hour Zumba class and danced my little heart out instead of sitting on the sofa this year. These small changes are making a big difference in my confidence and how I feel.

Turn off Distracters- The hardest part of working out for me are all of the distracters that can pull me away from my goals. I make deals with myself where I am not allowed to login to Twitter, Facebook, or my email until my workout is complete.  What distracts you from reaching your goals? Some distracters (our children, for example) are more difficult to reduce, but many are silly things that could be pushed aside until your workout is done.

(my beautiful inspiration)

Get inspired- What inspires you? Is it a picture of your former self on your fridge, is it having an awesome workout buddy that you can check-in with, is it reading the victory stories of weight-loss from other bloggers? Is it being able to keep up with your crazy children?

Whatever it is, get inspired and try starting a new workout routine today.

Fitness Sites to Inspire:

Grooveshark.com- Groove Shark is my new favorite site to create great workout mixes that help me stay motivated when I am on the treadmill. Put on workout anthems that can force you to go that extra mile and create mixes that help keep you pumped!

LogYourRun.com- At LogYourRun you can keep track of your running and other exercise progress and sign up for one of our free training programs to help you improve your performance or train for your upcoming marathon. LogYourRun will help keep track of how many miles you have on your shoes and you can trace your routes on a map to figure out how many miles your favorite route is and share with your friends.

SparkPeople.com- Looking for a community-driven site to help keep you motivated. With SparkPeople, you can create personalized diet and fitness plans, track your calories, track you your workouts, and connect with others like through the support teams available.

Mamavation- Looking for some added mamavation, then the Mamavation site might be a hot spot for you to visit. They have a great team of writers who share inspiring stories and up-to-date health/exercise information that can help you reach your goals.

How do you reach your fitness goals? What sites, people, or workout routines are motivating you right now?

New Article: Great Board Game Recommendations

Monday, May 10th, 2010

Our family loves to play board games and we love sharing great game ideas with our friends. We hope you like our new piece on Great Board Game Recommendations for some added fun to that board game collection. There is nothing like a great set of board games to keep you busy on those rainy days. Make sure to check your local thrift shops for some fun board game bargains!

Feel free to leave a comment and share your own recommendation for anything that might not have made our list!

Shifting Your Focus to Thankfulness

Tuesday, May 4th, 2010

“If the only prayer you said in your whole life was, “thank you,” that would suffice.”  ~Meister Eckhart

I have discovered a very annoying habit about myself. When I get nervous, I repeatedly say thank you. Not once, not twice, but usually around fifteen times.  When I was in labor, I had the nurses in giggles because each time they would ask me something, I would say thank you… even in the deepest pain and anguish of labor.When I got in a car accident, I said thank you to the lady who hit me. Not because I was thankful, but because my nerves get the best of me. I was once told this is a self-esteem issue and that I have a desire to be liked. That is probably true and I suppose I could act in far worse ways than expressing repeated thankfulness.

In reality though, living in thankfulness in a world of immediate gratification, speed of light technology, and the busy hum of our lives can be a practice that is often overlooked.  Each day as my kids get older, I find myself looking at the clock in the morning and glancing at in the evening, never realizing that so much time has passed or that I have not acted thankfully once the whole day.

Everyone has a different way of showing their thankfulness for what they possess and own. I know many who keep a gratitude journal where they take a moment to jot down a few things in life that make them happy. I attempted this, but found myself repeating myself over and over again. It is hard to say thank you without saying thank you for your spouse, your children, your home, your God, and for what you already have. I’d shut my little gratitude journal and say, “Well, that’s four.”  No, the writing process quickly bored me, but I still wanted to find an outlet that would remind me of all of the little things in life that make my world go round.

I needed a more creative outlet for my gratitude and a daily reminder of what I posses. Sometimes it is the big things- a new job that pays the bills, a new furnace when our furnace was going out, a financial goal that is met for our family. Other things are smaller, but are still absolutely special- movie nights with my family, freshly folded laundry, or just a great cup of coffee.

I decided to start a Things That Make Me Happy virtual photo album and began to add those super special moments and the perfectly ordinary that I find extraordinary in life. Behind the lens of my camera, I try to capture to me what makes me thankful each and every day.  Almost every single day, I try to find one thing that makes me happy and to take a picture of it.

I then loaded all of these beautiful things that make me happy into a digital frame that we had. It had been gathering dust in our office,  not loaded with pictures since my daughter was a tiny baby.  I put all of these pictures into the digital frame and put them in my front room where I do all of my best thinking.

As I see the images flashing before my eyes, I silently give thanks over and over again.

Thank you!

Thank you!

Thank you!

Thank you!

Thank you!

Thank you!

Thank you!

If people find it strange that I have random photographs of waffles and library bags mixed throughout our family pictures, no one has ever been brave enough to inquire aloud. I am sure they chalk it up to the weird artsy mother who hangs pictures of shoes on walls and mistreats her home.

As Jacqueline Winspear has said though, “Grace isn’t a little prayer you chant before receiving a meal.  It’s a way to live.” I want to live thankfully, to be aware of every blessings (great AND small), and the more aware I become the more thankful I am. The more thankful I am, the more blessed I feel.  It is a richness that money can’t buy.

Try a little thankfulness today:

Find a New Way to Say Thank You- If you have a digital frame gathering dust, start loading it with pictures that make you happy to remind you of what you have to be thankful for. Other ideas could be updating your screen saver on your computer with images of thankfulness, starting a free Flickr album, keeping a small family journal on an online site like Cozi,  or printing out a photo album at a place like Shutterfly so you can glance through it with your morning coffee.

Give a Little of Yourself to Say Thanks- The best way to show that you are thankful to those around you is to let them know that you care. It could be bringing them a meal when someone is ill or needs caring for, it could be just sending them a card to thank them for something they have done, it could be as simple as sitting down and spending time with them. Put one person on your thankful list each week and do something that will make them feel special. Rinse. Repeat.

Compliment Someone Today- Want to make someone feel immediately special and at home in your presence? Give them a compliment. This past week, I got an hour to volunteer in my son’s class. Each child that came through, I tried to make them feel like the most special person in the world. I told them how smart they were, how amazing their ideas were, and would compliment them on something they were wearing or doing. The faces…beaming. The warm fuzzy I got from the experience… priceless. You may think that was just a child’s response, but if someone compliments me, I beam like it is the Fourth of July. You never outgrow the beauty of a compliment and telling someone they are special and that you are thankful for them is something that will last long after you have said it.

Thank Your Children- When was the last time you thanked your child? Praise is one of the greatest gifts we can give to our kids and I want to give it to them freely. I don’t always succeed, sometimes I really hate my nagging self or how easily I can lose focus on offering praise. The best way to raise a grateful child is to be grateful. I want to do this so much better and I want my kids to remember that I thanked and praised them often.

What are some ways you are practicing thankfulness? What is one thing you have done to show your thankfulness that you are really proud of?

Because I Am Glad to Give & I Want You To Give Too!

Monday, April 19th, 2010

When someone once asked me one word to describe myself, the word that came to mind was, “giver.” I love to give to others and thrive in any environment where I can share a piece of myself with someone else. There is nothing I love more than the giving of food, the giving of my time to make someone’s day easier, even being the giver of advice that might make a mom’s day run a little smoother. I am a giver because it comes naturally to me and that is why I am thrilled to share about a campaign that you can give back frugally and thoughtfully to families who are faced with a disease called pediatric cancer.

Did you know that the number one death disease of children living in the United States is pediatric cancer? Why is it the number one killer? Truthfully, it kills children daily because the funds are just not there to develop the research to find a cure for this disease.

I was asked to help spread the word about a campaign called, “Glad to Give,” that is sponsored by the GLAD company.  They believe that they can raise the funds for this research one cookie at a time. Yes, you heard that right! This campaign’s roots are firmly planted in that beautiful thing we love… bake sales!

As parents with busy schedules, I know that volunteering and baking might not be the top two things on your priority list. What if you knew that those two things could make a difference in a child’s life though? Glad to Give is offering up some fantastic ideas for how you can participate and how you can be a part of their partnership with Cookies for Kids’ Cancer.

Here are some easy and frugal things you can do to participate:

Buy GLAD® Products and Contribute to Pediatric Cancer Research: This spring, every time you purchase a  GLAD product (to help host a bake sale or for other use), the Glad Products Company will make a $1 donation to Cookies for Kids’ Cancer, up to $200,000! Just enter the UPC code here!

Enter the GLAD Recipe for Giving Contest: GLAD recognizes the time spent prepping, kneading and decorating bake sale treats is quality family time that instills a spirit of service in children. To help celebrate families in action, GLAD® is conducting the GLAD® Recipe for Giving Contest. Consumers can share their “recipe” – that is, tip or advice – on how their family gives back through food related activities. Four consumer winners will each win $1,000 toward a family activity of their choice and a chance to compete alongside a celebrity in the holiday GLAD® Recipe for Giving Celebrity Challenge. Come November, the two lucky consumers on the winning celebrity team raising the most money will each receive a “voluntourism” trip for four to St. Lucia.

Host a Bake Sale: I know that this might take a little work on your part, but imagine the lives that you could touch through the donations raised. GLAD will take you through the process in four easy steps that will have your raising funds in no time!

I am committed to this campaign and committed to spreading the word about how you can help. I want to kick off the GLAD to give campaign by donating $400 to jump start the cause and I need your participation!

I am going to be hosting a virtual bake sale on May 14th. I am asking you to participate here on the site and share your best bake sale recipes!  From those entries, I will randomly select a winner who will receive a box full of baking goodies (valued at $50, prepared by me!) just for sharing one of your bake sale recipes and sharing about your participation in Glad to Give! Doesn’t that sound lovely?

I hope that you will consider participating and sharing a favorite baking recipe in honor of this campaign. It would mean the world to me, but it would mean a world more to the families of these children! Start gathering those recipes and think of the ways that you could help with my virtual bake sale. I can’t do it without you!

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In honor of all things bake sale, here is a quick cookie recipe that can be made out of pantry ingredients and one ingredient that makes the whole thing go a little quicker… the ever amazing cake mix!

Cake Mix Peanut Butter Cookies

1 (18.25 ounce) package yellow cake mix
1 cup creamy peanut butter
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 eggs
2 tablespoons water

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Pour the cake mix into a large bowl. Make a well in the center, and add peanut butter, oil, eggs, and water. Mix until well blended. Drop by teaspoonfuls onto ungreased cookie sheets. Flatten slightly using a fork dipped in water. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes in the preheated oven. Let cookies set on cookie sheet for 2 to 3 minutes before carefully removing from the cookie sheet to cool on wire racks. Amy’s Notes: Be sure to keep the cooking time to the ten to twelve minutes and don’t let the lighter color fool you. I had some burnt cookies in my first batch because I left them in the oven too long. Let them cool as instructed and then place them on a pretty plate for serving. Then you need to complete the most difficult step of all…Try to graciously accept the compliments without giving away your cooking secrets (which I never can do myself!).

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Disclaimer: I was paid for this campaign and invested every dollar back into it to spread the word about pediatric cancer. It is far better to give than to receive. I hope you will consider doing the same!

What is one way you donate your time or talents to charity? How do you make this a family priority?

An Orlando Treasure: GatorLand

Tuesday, April 6th, 2010

Ethan and I had a fantastic time in Orlando and I am looking forward to sharing about some of the attractions that we visited and ways you can save on enjoying many things in Orlando while you are there. We truly enjoyed our visit to Orlando and the experiences and memories we created together were just priceless.

To start this series, I wanted to share with you my absolute favorite place that we visited and some ideas for ways that you can save on your ticket to this attraction and many others that you might be visiting. You might be surprised to hear that it wasn’t Disney that holds a special place in my heart. In fact, it wasn’t anything that I thought would be that exciting, but I was quickly proven wrong by an amazing little theme park called, “GatorLand.”

GatorLand definitely is not a new attraction to Orlando residents, but we had never heard of it before and my little guy was so excited to see a few Florida gators for himself. GatorLand might sound  like a quaint touristy spot to visit, but it is, in fact, a 110-acre theme park and a nature conservatory for the city of Orlando.

When I say theme park though,  it isn’t the kind of theme park that you might think of when heading to Orlando. They have no big relationships with corporate companies, real animals (not mechanical ones) are located there, real people are guiding you and sharing about the animals, and kids are gobbling up every minute of these beautiful animals and their stories.

Upon entering, we were introduced to the four very rare white alligators that are currently residing in the White Alligator Swamp. These are not Albino alligators, but a very rare breed that actually have blue eyes and the white pigmentation to their skin. It is thought that there are only a dozen of their kind in the world, and four of them have happily made their home there. Technically, they are named leucistic (loo-SIS-tic), which is basically a genetic defect which produces their white pigment and the bright blue eyes that make them so unique.

While there were many alligators there, there were perhaps a few hundred more birds that are located on the property. They had everything from herons, to wood storks, to vultures that were happily residing near the alligators that were lazily swimming in the water. Our tour guide informed us that the birds love to make their nests and be near the alligators because the alligators protect them (and their eggs) from other predators. The alligators have no interest in bothering the birds and the birds know that they can make a home there.

The spot is a hot one for photographers and people come from all over the world to photograph the birds there. Photographers can buy a  pass and come in the early morning hours to sneak a peek at the birds. It was quite unbelievable all of the varieties of birds that were on the property. It would be a great place to bring a trusty bird guide and discover birds with your children!

Kids can get a closer look at the alligators in their “Gator Wrestlin’ ” arena. No worries, there was no wrestling other than the wrestling required to get the animal out of the water and give kids the opportunity to learn more about these fascinating creatures. They offer survival tips on what to do if you are ever in the path of a gator and share facts about what makes alligators so unique. Stunts, like the ones pictured above, showcase the strength of the alligator’s jaw.

For an additional $5, they offer the chance to pose with a real alligator, in the arena, which my son was very eager to do. The extra five dollars goes towards the care and food for the animals. This was all done under the watchful care of their trainers.

If your children love the creepy crawlers, then they won’t want to miss the Up Close Encounters Show. You never know what kind of animal you might be introduced to next as they unveil a variety of different snakes and spiders from behind the crated boxes. Volunteers are brought up from the audience for the great unveiling which the kids will definitely get a kick out of… especially if their mom is the one that gets selected!

There is so much more to do that we didn’t even get a chance to see while we visited. They offer a train ride around the property, a water park that the kids can play in to keep cool, and you can even sit down and have lunch or a latte there.

The price of admission is as follows:

Adult- $22.99 (if purchased online, $19.99)

Child- $14.99 (if purchased online, $11.99)

To save a little more on your visit to GatorLand, head over to print out a free 2010 Orlando Magicard which provides year-round savings at more than 75 area establishments including attractions, accommodations, restaurants, dinner theaters, ground transportation, golf courses, and cultural arts.

The Orlando Magicard is free and can be downloaded at VisitOrlando.com/deals, requested for mail delivery by calling 1-800-551-0181, or picked up at The Official Visitors Center in Orlando. The 2010 version of the card provides expanded offers including theme park deals and other significant savings options such as free nights plus additional free amenities at area accommodations; buy one ticket, get one free offers at attractions; or straight discounts up to 50% off.

If you use the Orlando Magicard at GatorLand, you can score a free train ride for each paid admission.

As a parting gift, on our way out each child got to hold a baby alligator.  The kids were so excited and were all amazed at just how tiny these alligators start out.

I was so taken into the moment that I even took the opportunity to hold the baby alligator myself. If you know me at all, you know that this is so not like me. I will say that my son couldn’t have been more proud of his mommy and I am so proud of myself for stepping out of my comfort zone a little!

We would like to thank GatorLand for giving us the opportunity to explore and learn more about what they offer and to experience a place in Orlando that we would have never known about. It is a hidden gem that I highly recommend if you are ever in the Orlando area.

Disclaimer: We were invited by the Orland/Orange County Convention & Visitors Bureau for an all-expenses paid trip to experience Orlando and share with our readers about our experience. All-expenses paid means that our travel, hotel stay, visits to area attractions, and food were covered by the company. We will receive no other additional compensation for the project and are asked for our honest opinions without any further obligation. To find out more about how things work here at MomAdvice, please feel free to visit our official Disclaimer page!

Do you have any hidden gems that you have found in your state or in another that you highly recommend visiting for a family vacation? Please feel free to share cool things about your own town or links to past entries on great places to travel!