Redefining Holiday Magic

This year has been a little rough and bittersweet. On the rough side, my family lost an important member quite suddenly and we are still trying to figure out how to deal with the open space he left. On the bittersweet side, my oldest started college and no longer lives at home full-time. And, my youngest started high school so there are no more wide-eyed children waiting on Santa to come. I’m left looking for new traditions or things to try so that this whole staring-down-an-empty-nest thing isn’t so daunting.

I’ve been digging around the internet looking for ideas, so maybe some of these would be helpful for you too.

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Midterm Break Eats

My oldest is in her first year of her undergraduate education. Her school has a midterm break in October. It fell on a weekend when my husband traveled to DC to run the Army 10-miler. With both my girls home, I decided to try and make some good eats for us to enjoy. My oldest had requested some hot Buffalo Chicken Dip. I obliged! While at the store collecting ingredients and a few other things, I decided to grab a handful of items that could turn into a pretty awesome dinner.

First, I found an Instant Pot recipe for BBQ beef and decided to give it a whirl. I knew even my picky pants youngest might eat it if it involved MEAT…she’s a fan.

The key, I have found, is not to necessarily let her see what things look like going into the Instant Pot. Unless she’s helping prepare it from the start and watching it build into this final photo on the left, it’s best to just put on the lid and turn the machine on quickly.

This beef recipe only took a short amount of time (an hour-ish) to be completely ready to enjoy. The girls ate a few helpings; my oldest and I put some Sweet Baby Ray’s BBQ sauce on top and ate the shredded beef on sandwich buns.

Anytime we have BBQ anything, the obvious choice for a side is macaroni and cheese. I had picked up the ingredients for it and then realized once the beef was resting that I hadn’t really even started the side dish.

Don’t worry, friends! A quick wash of the Instant Pot insert, and we were back in action. This mac & cheese recipe literally took 4 minutes once the pot came to pressure.

You cannot BEAT that! Our side was ready in no time. I will say that it took me a bit longer because I like to shred my own cheese rather than using the bagged varieties.

I chose to use some of the spices from our favorite baked macaroni & cheese recipe in this dish as well.

Next time, I will plan my cooking better and have time to bake off the mac and cheese for a bit so we can employ the crunchy bread crumb topping everyone loves so much.

Trust me when I say: no one was disappointed. Because my husband was not home to eat his usual platefuls of food, we actually had leftovers. I was able to send about a quart of mac & cheese and a takeaway container of beef back to my daughter’s dorm with her.

She was happy and I’m sure she also enjoyed the Buffalo Chicken Dip, celery and tortilla chips I packed up for her, her roomie and her boyfriend. I kind of think I managed to up my mom game just a little thanks to my Instant Pot.

While at the market, I also purchased a TON of apples. I want to try my hand at making apple butter in my Instant Pot. I better hurry, though! My youngest takes the apple-a-day saying along with the “if a little does a little good, a lot will do a lot of good” saying to heart. She’s been plowing through my apples at lightning speed! I can’t say I blame her–they are the perfect fall fruit!

I honestly think purchasing a second insert for my Instant Pot is the way to go. I’ll let you know when I pull that trigger and how I might use a second insert in planning for Thanksgiving!

How Much Is Your Time Worth?

Time may be finite, but I certainly try to bend the rules and cram as much as humanly possible into 24 hours. Sometimes this works, but eventually energy and motivation wane and the basics necessary for comfortable living take a hike. Namely, household tasks like laundry, meal planning, grocery shopping, cooking and cleaning become exhausting propositions. Or, those tasks are impossible to do because I am at one job or another and not even available to complete them.

Some services realize that we all have a price and have been sending me coupons with gradually increasing discount amounts. This week, two services hit the sweet spot and our family will be giving them a try.

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Spring Trip Spontaneity

This spring is my final time of having both my girls home full-time. Once fall rolls around, my oldest will start her first year as a college student and my youngest will start the high school odyssey that progresses into her being gone more than home.

I spent months kicking around the idea of taking advantage of the girls’ tandem time off and planning a family trip. Our last full family trip was in 2011 when we went to a working family ranch in Georgia. It’s been too long and I hate the idea of missing this chance.

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Major Mom Shift

I am 45 years old. My oldest daughter is on the cusp of graduating from high school. In five months, my household will change forever. My role as a mom will shift in some major ways. I will have daughters in the first year of new school situations–college and high school. I have watched from the sidelines while some of my best friends struggled with their own shifts, and while I watched intently, I had no idea the inner turmoil that comes with this time of life.

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Lab Mom Confessional

I have a gorgeous 17-month old black lab puppy.

If I were one of those parents who had wild human children that I had never successfully tamed, I would call my lab girl “precocious.”

But, I have been a pretty tremendous mom to humans. I have set clear limits, maintained consistency at a well over 90% rate, and have two teenagers that I can trust in any social setting to be polite, well behaved, and appropriate.

Why my human raising skills have not successfully been translated into puppy raising skills is beyond me, but I am willing to admit it: I am squishy when it comes to puppy dogs.

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Milestone Year

This year marks an important milestone year for my family. My oldest is a senior in high school and my youngest is in 8th grade. Each daughter finishes their respective level of schooling this year and then moves into their next major level of education. My youngest astutely pointed out [as I was gasping for breath trying to recover from this realization] that when my oldest is graduating from college, she will be graduating from high school so we can do this all over again in four years. She certainly does love seeing her mother in shock!

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We Love Michigan

My youngest and I make no secret that we are big fans of Michigan football. After spending a long weekend in Holland, Michigan with some of my workout friends, my youngest is an even bigger fan of the state. I enjoyed the weekend too–it reminded me of traveling to Michigan as a kid. Back then it was fishing all the time…I mostly read books…but if we could have gone to the beach?! I’d have been in heaven! Want to see our photo album from our trip? Click through! [Hold your cursor over the pics to read the captions.]

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Mother’s Day Approaches

We have a local florist that has been a part of my relationship with a very special person for over twenty years. My first mother-in-law [I refuse to call her “ex” because that makes it sound like she is no longer in my life] fell in love with Oberer’s, as did I, when I was planning my first wedding. As a mom to three sons, she didn’t imagine she would be included in wedding planning. But, we hit it off and even though she lived in Connecticut, I wanted her to feel connected to the wedding. Once I selected the flowers, I asked the florist to send her a bouquet with examples of all the choices so I could walk through them with her by phone and tell her how each one would be used.

She took on planning the rehearsal dinner with gusto. Because we had so many friends and family from out of town attending the wedding, she planned a larger event and invited many more than traditionally might be included in such a dinner. It was a great night with friends, family, shared memories and new ones made. And the centerpieces she worked to design with the professionals at Oberer’s were absolutely breathtaking.

For as many years as I have been a mom, my first mother-in-law has always remembered me on Mother’s Day. She plays a very instrumental role in my oldest daughter’s life and, as the first grandchild, my daughter has enjoyed a special relationship with her grandmother. It’s hard to believe my oldest will be a senior in high school this fall!

Screen Shot 2016-05-05 at 9.46.37 PMFor the past handful of years, I have been gifted with a gorgeous patio pot from Oberer’s for Mother’s Day.

These patio pots never fail to be healthy and gorgeous and they really liven up my lackluster porch. When you live in a 1972 tri-level in an older neighborhood, you need all the help you can get!

Sometimes the pots involve perennials, so it’s a gift that keeps on giving throughout the season. I always like to add fresh plantings in future springs/summers because you cannot go wrong with gorgeous full containers of flowers. The girls don’t even mind watering them either and the pots do thwart hungry rabbits ¬†better than some of our flower beds do.

Not to be outdone, my girls sent me some fantastic orchids today. They also included a Screen Shot 2016-05-05 at 9.46.50 PMpretty vase–if I didn’t know better, I would think my oldest picked a vase that would look great in HER room once the blooms fade.

I know my husband ordered the flowers and penned the sentiment on the card, but he did it in the girls’ voice which made it very sweet. We have been married almost 14 years and have recently had some major moments, but he’s trying very hard and being the most mindful he’s been since very early in our marriage. I appreciate that.

This year, like most, the Army has scheduled something for him to do during the weekend closest to our anniversary. But, like any ride-or-die who waits out all distractions including Mistress Army, this is the LAST such anniversary. His outprocessing after 22 years of service is scheduled for the Saturday before our 14th wedding anniversary. I’m thinking we are going to celebrate two big moments that day!

Screen Shot 2016-05-05 at 11.04.03 PMLast Sunday was his final duty day. It was bittersweet. Luckily, it worked out that the girls and I could attend–especially given that our youngest had a soccer tournament. Sometimes it works out when you don’t play in the championship match!

What was just supposed to be us watching his final formation, turned into a bit of a special moment. He received some beautiful gifts from the troop and from or youngest plus had a chance to speak to all those assembled prior to them being dismissed.

It’s been a long road on many levels and we are forever changed by his service. We know that we are stronger for it and, for better or worse, we live with the edge the Army gave us. I don’t think we would be as tight as we are without his service and I know for a fact that I would not have met some of my closest, dearest and most fantastic friends who are now like family without it.

Christmas Eve Shenanigans

Christmas Eve is usually culminates in some sort of meltdown on my part. Today, crisis averted because my husband made the trip to the zoo of a grocery store, my girls wrapped presents [oldest wrapped the youngest’s and vice versa], and I had help doing things that normally would have taken hours and hours.

I’m not 100% certain, but I think the way I began my day helped my mood CEWorkoutconsiderably. I headed to the gym for a 9 a.m. workout with my usual suspects. Our trainer dreamed up the second in a series of “The Twelve Days of Christmas” workouts. You move through the list of activities just like you would if they were parts of the infamous song. Fortunately, today’s workout did not include any fruitcake [burpees]. When I think about where I was a year ago fitness-wise, it boggles the mind. I had not even dreamed of starting regular workouts and I had not taken the Advocare challenge. Feeling pretty good about my prospects for even better fitness in 2016. Continue reading