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!

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

17 Years of Motherhood

MariellandMommySeventeen years ago, I officially became a mom. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t consider myself a mom from the moment I saw two lines on the pregnancy test, but it becomes official when the baby can be held by other people.

I have always loved this photo. Even though they say babies cannot see anything at first and they do not smile on purpose for weeks, it appears my daughter is doing both things quite well in this photo. And, she has a white-knuckled grip on my finger–which I also love. This photo was taken in the days before digital, so it’s actually a picture of a picture.

Don’t think that it’s a poor quality photo that makes my lips appear discolored. They really ARE that deeply purple/black as I had rolled my lips inside my mouth and clamped on them with my teeth while pushing for forty-five minutes. I did not do that on purpose and I don’t think I realized I was doing it. I suppose it acted as a counterbalance to the pain of and unmedicated childbirth experience. Before someone realized what I was doing and made me stop, I had nearly bitten through my lips–wouldn’t that have been fun? Stitches that my OB wouldn’t have been able to do.

It is unreal to me that my daughter is 17. She has been one of my favorite people since I knew she was coming. I might worry that I was exceedingly biased if it weren’t for all the other people who have met her and tell me that she is just who I think she is–kind, compassionate, witty, friendly, and an all-around wonderful girl.

The idea that next year she will turn 18 and within months of that leave my home makes me pretty weepy, so I’m trying to concentrate on taking each moment as it comes. The hard part is that the moments pass so quickly and I know I will be astounded next year that 18 has already arrived.

I’m so thankful I was trusted to raise her and that in spite of being my first and me not being completely sure what I’m doing, she is turning out pretty great.

Moving Past the Whole 30

Although my Whole 30 ended on the 30th, any attempt to return to even the slightest pre-Whole 30 menu has been met with a wholehearted “are you kidding me” from my body. I think it’s official–there is no turning back now.

dinnerTonight, we had a Paleo dinner and even my husband ate it. This is always a plus given that this involved a replacement to his favorite vegetable–white potatoes.

We had fauxtatoes in the form of mashed cauliflower. I used the easy recipe I found at the Pretty Little Paleo blog. That made a great side dish and a perfect companion to the Paleo Chicken Marsala I constructed from the recipe I found at the Paleoaholic.

My younger daughter opted for baked chicken strips. Simply dredged in Progresso breadcrumbs, these chicken strips make her very, very happy. And, because they are baked and not fried, I feel they are a step in the right direction.

We are probably going to be more Paleo than not for the foreseeable future because I am the one who will be cooking and I am the one discovering all these amazing recipes. I found a recipe using cauliflower to make a pizza crust. I am going to try it. It sounds like a fun alternative to the cardboard tasting pizza I tried earlier this weekend. Imagine how disappointed I was to realize that those things I used to stuff my face with no longer tasted or comforted quite in the same manner as they once did. It’s encouraging as well, but a little scary as I wasn’t expecting that!

This weekend was a busy one for the family. My youngest played in a soccer tournament. These were her first games of the soccerpicseason and the tournament is a really premiere tournament for the very best of the best.

It was nice to see her team hold its own though, as they aren’t the top level in her club. I see a ton of promise in her as a player and that makes my heart full.

My little 41 doesn’t back down from a challenge and I love that about her. Now if I can just channel her energy into becoming more health conscious, it will be a good deal. She drank V8 Fusion juice this evening…that’s my first transitional step in moving her toward drinking Vitamix creations that contain both veggies and fruits. We will get there!

Another busy week ahead. It’s amazing that we’re moving toward fall already. It’s my favorite season even if it’s one of the shortest. I’m determined to learn to use my fancy camera to capture soccer pics AND fall leaves. Fingers crossed!

Whole 30 — Day 16 & 17

Day 16 in the books and I tried a new recipe. It was delicious and easy, plus it left me with a chicken breast all ready for enjoying another day. When Stupid Easy Paleo entitled this recipe with the word “easy” in it, I thought–challenge accepted! I wanted to know if it were, in fact, “easy” and if it tasted as incredible as the blog post made it sound. Easy Pan-Fried Lemon Chicken delivered! This is especially fantastic and quick if you begin with thin chicken breasts. You can slice them down to make them so, or do as I did–pick up some at the market as they were on special this week. The marinade couldn’t be easier and it truly did bump up the tenderness of the chicken and its flavor. Very yummy and definitely an alternative to baking chicken on a weeknight.

Our family attended a wedding on Day 17. I don’t know if anyone else is from the Midwest and can relate, but there are certain cupcakefoods that make an appearance at family events.

For some reason, many of the same foods that show up to celebrate weddings also take center stage when people need comforted at a funeral.

Doing a Whole 30 during the same month as a family wedding was probably poor planning on my part. These foods are “soul” foods and, although not good for me, they could be enjoyed once in awhile in a nostalgic way. Chicken and noodles, mashed potatoes, corn, pulled pork, white rolls, etc. and so forth.

Luckily for me, this bride [my husband’s younger cousin] included salad with cucumbers and tomatoes on the buffet line. My daughter and husband gave me their salads and I was able to find a piece of baked chicken that could have the gravy easily removed [not ideal, I know, but let’s be serious. A woman needs to eat.] I also drank bottles of water the entire evening which was quite refreshing.

My husband, being the team player that he is, offered to eat the cupcake I would have chosen if I were eating such things. He, honestly, didn’t want to, but I made him. 1) Because I wanted to take the funny picture I knew would result and 2) because it looked delicious and if someone ate “mine” I wouldn’t be snooping around the cake table later in the evening.

The wedding reception venue was perfect and we had perfect weather which was nice as it was an outdoor affair. I also choseScreen shot 2013-08-18 at 4.48.03 PM to wear a dress my youngest daughter talked me into buying a couple weeks ago. Normally, I might not go all out with color and definitely not sleeveless, but she told me I looked nice and if she didn’t think so, she would DEFINITELY say so.

She isn’t one to spare a person’s feelings.

It’s a Land’s End dress [LOVE Land’s End] that I bought off the rack at our local Sears. I hadn’t seen it on a model before looking for it online. And, now that I have, I think I made the part above the waistline look much more interesting than the thin model did. The fit and flared skirt was flattering and I felt very comfortable in my choice of dress.

It was a nice family evening and it was so sweet to see my husband’s little cousin so happy. Nothing like a nice wedding to make everyone smile. My youngest [our tomboy] even wore a dress. Without being badgered. She even said, “I’m learning to appreciate dresses. I have two in my closet now and that’s a record.” I am pretty sure she’s right–at least for as long as she’s been dressing herself–or making known what she will or will not wear.

M2andMommyI can’t believe we’re in the homestretch of the Whole 30 already!

Also, I made the choice not to engage in familiar and wonderfully memory-laden wedding food nor did I feel bad when my husband and daughter ordered and ate pizza this afternoon.

I had the chicken breast in the fridge and some sweet potato to eat. It was good and I’m not feeling gross after eating a ton of cheese and bread–although it did smell quite good. Ha!

This coming week will be a challenge–busy Orientation Week full of welcome lunches, picnics, etc. I will need to pack my lunch carefully so I can easily blend in and still be satisfied.

It will be worth it, though.

So determined to make this Whole 30 to the last day!


Whole 30 — Day 12

Today was one of the only days so far where I have felt I properly planned for an entire day of Whole 30 loveliness.

I Tessemaeboxremembered to take the baked chicken to school for lunch. I had a side order of Fuji apple with it.

For dinner, I baked a salmon filet in the oven & paired it with some roasted sweet potato. After my youngest’s soccer practice, she treated us both to a cup of mixed berries–strawberries, red raspberries and blueberries. So good!

My Tessemae’s arrived and, as promised, I made use of the Lemonette dressing. I used it on my chicken at lunch and on my salmon tonight. It did a great job of livening up the leftover chicken breast. And, it kept our salmon filet moist as it baked in the oven. Not overpowering or greasy/oily at all. Very nice and I can absolutely see why people become addicted to these dressings!

I am looking forward to breaking into the other varieties I purchased. It should make the remaining days of the Whole 30 more entertaining.

In other news, my oldest starts high school tomorrow. I am excited for her and yet, it is so bittersweet. I know the next four years will fly. And, just as she graduates and heads off to college, my youngest will begin her high school years. I still feel like a mom of young kids. I don’t feel like I have a high schooler. In fact, I never imagined having only two children. I think I zigged when I should have zagged [law school rather than a third baby] and here we are.

My youngest is having a hard time with her sister going to a different school than her this year. And, the oldest starts tomorrow while the youngest has another week. The youngest asked that I be sure she is up and ready to ride along to drop big sis off at high school tomorrow morning. It will be a whole new world for the youngest to be at a school building where her sister is not. I am sure there will be other kids in her shoes, though, and they can share their collective angst.

It’s a year of big change for our family. My boss retired and I’m now the interim director of the program I’ve worked in for the past five years. My husband is entering his 20th and potentially last year of military service. My sweet girl starts high school and my baby hit double digits and is in fifth grade.

It’s enough to drive a mom into a gallon of ice cream. BUT! Not THIS mom. I am being strong! I’ll drink my fizzy water and LIKE it!