One fun way to find new meal ideas is to eat at friends’ homes.  Years ago, we went to a potluck at my friend Sarah’s house, where she served Asian Chicken Meatballs.  They were cute, uniquely shaped, chunky little bites full of flavor and paired with a slightly sweet, slightly kicky sauce.  There wasn’t one person who didn’t love them, and I promptly obtained the recipe.  With her permission, I’ll share it here with you.  It originates from her friend Takako, and is an authentic Japanese dish.

Asian Chicken Meatballs

Asian Chicken Meatballs



1 lb. ground chicken

½ T. sake (this is an Asian wine, found at a liquor store)

1 T. starch (potato or corn)

2 green onions, finely chopped

1 in. piece of ginger, shredded (I’ve used 1 t. ground ginger in a pinch)

1 egg


1/3 c. soy sauce (If you’re gluten free, check your label; we use coconut aminos instead of soy)

1/3 c. sake

1/3 c. mirin (found at an Asian market, or the Asian section of some grocery stores)

1 T. sugar

Note: T stands for tablespoon, t stands for teaspoon.


To make the sauce: In a medium-sized saucepan, whisk together the soy sauce, sake, mirin, and sugar. Bring to a boil, and then simmer until slightly thickened, about 30 minutes.  Be careful not to burn.

To make the meatballs: In a large bowl, beat the egg until uniform in color.  Blend in the sake, starch, onions, and ginger. Add the ground chicken, and mix well.

Put a thin layer of a neutral oil (such as canola) in a large frying pan, and heat over medium-high heat.  Scoop meatballs into the frying pan using a tablespoon, roughly shaping them but not forming them into perfect balls.  I was introduced to them in this fashion, later to find out that the shape was due to my friend’s cooking style.  The choice is yours. Rotate until uniformly browned, and cooked through.  Transfer to bowl with slotted spoon and continue to fry until all of the meatballs have been cooked.

In Japan, these are served on bamboo skewers, as an appetizer, but I was introduced to them over rice as a main course, and will forever regard them in that way.  Spoon sauce onto meatballs and rice, if desired. This goes very well with a bowl of steamed mixed vegetables.

To see what’s happening in our kitchen, or to share what’s going on in yours, please stop by, or become a fan on Facebook.  Have a great weekend!

7 Ways To Entertain A Sick Kid When You Are Sick

All my plans for this week have been stymied by that pesky cold virus. Not only are both my kids sick, but I am sick too. It is never a fair fight when mama is sick. The only thing I can do is just focus on survival. The girls missed two days of school to stay home and rest and to stop the free flow of snot. If you’re a parent that doesn’t even phase you. If you are a non-parent just know that is not the worst thing you will encounter as a parent. Snot happens. Gone are the days I can lie in bed with the covers up to my chin while the evil virus takes its course. I now have two kids, although sick, to entertain.

7 Ways To Entertain A Sick Kid (or Two) While you are sick

Make a comfy nest in your own bed. If you have a TV in your room put on a channel they will sit for, or pop in a DVD they love. Snuggle in tight with all their favorite blankets and stuffies. Put an arm around each kid and hold tight. (This way as sleep takes hold of you no one can escape).

Watch a Movie and Eat Popcorn. Yes, even in your bed. Trust me kids love popcorn and they will pick up anything they drop like hand fed pigeons in the park. (If not that’s what dust busters are for).

Books on CD. If TV is not your thing load up the CD player, or MP3 with digital editions of your child’s favorite audio books. Snuggle with them on the couch and let the voice in the box do all the work for you.

Use a lap tray to hold coloring books, puzzles, and treats. Sick kids usually won’t mind staying put on the couch or in a bed if they are occupied and someone is there to interact with them. A lap tray filled with items just for them will make them feel comforted.

Entertain A Sick Kid

Tea time. Tea is a great go-to for hydration and kids like to drink what the grown ups drink. My kids love tea served in a mug because that’s how they see mama drink her tea. Serve a favorite snack along with tea and drink together.

Board games. Playing card games like Uno, Go-Fish, or Memory are easy to play (and store nicely in that lap tray). It helps to pass the time. The last thing you want to hear on top of the sick day demands is, “I’m bored.”

Entertaining A Sick Kid

Make a craft. If your kids are too antsy to stay in bed, or lie down on the couch make a craft with them. Even if its cutting pictures from an old magazine and gluing onto a page. Just keep it simple. Save the finger paints for another day.

The most important thing to remember is to keep your expectations for the day low. Like super low. Don’t expect to finish the dishes, or the laundry. Don’t expect to have a full meal prepared (my kids ate an apple and Tostitos for lunch because that’s all they could reach). Just go with bare minimums.

If you are well enough, it might be tempting to use the day to catch up on chores and items on that to-do list, but it’s also a great way to catch up on sleep after taking care of sick kids; and so you can get better too. You can use this time home with them to bond. Unless your kid has a catchy stomach bug, then all bets are off and you should wrap yourself in plastic and yell to them from the other room.

How do you keep your kids comfortable on sick days?

The Whatever Mom is a full time wife and twin mama living on coffee and wine. She enjoys the pure rush of cleaning the potty between loads of laundry. It is her dream that moms everywhere accept and embrace the Whatever Mom philosophy which can be found here.

When I was a little girl, my mom worked full-time and she didn’t always have time to attend my extracurricular activities, which is why it meant that much more to me that she was my Girl Scout troop leader. We gathered once a week at our town firehouse and recited the Girl Scout promise, sang songs, ate snacks, did crafts and earned badges. When you become a parent you find yourself either longing to give your child some of the same experiences that you had or longing to give them those that you didn’t. My husband was in Cub Scouts as a boy and he attributes his MacGyver-like skills to scouting. He can look at a car part or a household appliance that’s broken and at the very least attempt to fashion a way for it to work again.

Girl Scouts Heart of the Hudson Troop #767: Top from left to right: Jordyn, Sara, Alexia, Ariana, Morgan, Alyssa, Dalila, Hannah, Angelina. Bottom row from left to right: Evyonna, Brin, Juliana, Sierra, Adryana, Addison, Maya, Lillian

Girl Scouts Heart of the Hudson Troop #767: Top from left to right: Jordyn, Sara, Alexia, Ariana, Morgan, Alyssa, Dalila, Hannah, Angelina. Bottom row from left to right: Evyonna, Brin, Juliana, Sierra, Adryana, Addison, Maya, Lillian

It’s amazing how even those who’ve never been in scouting have some sense of what it means to be a scout. Being called a Girl Scout or Boy Scout is often said with the meaning of being someone who always does the right thing; it’s an association that comes for good reason. The ideals taught by the Scouts to be honest, fair, helpful to others, courageous, respectful and conscientious often follow children right into adulthood. In addition to the Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts, there was a great article in Hudson Valley Parent about the Baden-Powell Service Association that provides an alternative to traditional scouting for those parents looking for a co-ed group.

This week we signed my son up for Cub Scouts in the Hudson Valley Council of Boy Scouts of America and my daughter just started her second year as a Brownie in Girl Scouts Heart of the Hudson troop #767. I wanted to talk to other parents to learn their experiences with scouting so I spoke to my husband’s co-worker, my daughter’s troop leader and the girls in her troop to find out just what they loved about the scouts.

Jayden tries on his uniform for his first year as a Cub Scout.

Jayden tries on his uniform for his first year as a Cub Scout.

My husband’s co-worker Mark has been heavily involved in Cub Scouts for the past eight years, since his oldest son was in 1st grade. He has two sons Mathew (13) and Anthony (10) in Cub Scouts and a daughter Angelina (10) in Girl Scouts. He had some great things to say:

Learning New Skills And Making Friends

“I love that they get to meet and make friends, learn life skills, learn outdoor skills like camping, hiking, biking, tubing, survival skills like how to start fires with or without an accelerant, first aid, and earn badges and belt-loops, which is the Cub Scout version of badges.”

“I always tell my kids that the real benefits of scouting will come 10-20 years down the road when you apply for a job and the person you are interviewing with sees you were a scout and they also did scouting. It forms this instant connection. Especially if you reach the level of Eagle Scouts. It shows you have good leadership qualities.”

The girls in my daughter's troop wrote letters to the service men and women in our armed forces, addressing them as,

The girls in my daughter’s troop wrote letters to the service men and women in our armed forces, addressing them as, “Dear Hero” and asking them things like, “How can you be so brave?” They are truly learning what it means to serve our country and community.

Integrity And Community Service

Mark went on to talk about the impact scouts have on their community. “They do a multitude of community service projects from working at the local library to serving at soup kitchens, to gathering donations of pet food for the SPCA,” he said. “Not only is this work good for the kids, but it also shows the community that kids are willing to do positive things whether they are in uniform or not.”

“My son was at a swimming event in New Paltz and a lady in front of him dropped a $50 bill. He wasn’t in uniform at the time, but he immediately picked it up and gave it back to her. That’s the type of honesty cultivated in the scouts,” he explained.

“It’s not just for one year. When you’re a scout; you’re always a scout.”

When I spoke to my daughter’s troop leader Jenny about why she wanted to become a troop leader, she said it was because she wanted to give her daughter Sara the same experiences she had as a girl and when there wasn’t a troop for her age group she decided to get involved.

The girls from troop #767 were interviewed by Mike Sakell on Thunder 107 last year about why they liked being a girl scout.

The girls from troop #767 were interviewed by Mike Sakell on Thunder 107 last year about why they liked being a Girl Scout.

What It Means To Lead

Even though taking on a leadership role in Girl Scouts is tantamount to having a part-time job, Jenny has found it beneficial not only for her family, but also for all the girls she leads.

“They learn respect, responsibility, awareness, kindness, and self-defense,” said Jenny. “I also love the sisterhood that’s formed. If one girl is upset and having a bad day, the whole troop gathers around her for a group hug.”

Field Trips And Opening Doors

The kids go on different outings during the year from trips to a horse ranch to a Dojo to learn Karate. “The recognition of the organization opens up doors when I meet with local business owners,” said Jenny. “It certainly helps to plan outings for the girls when people know the name Girl Scouts and want to help and I find many who were Girl Scouts or leaders themselves.”

Even the shy girl scouts came out of their shells to help sell cookies at the mall last year. Some of them held signs or sang songs, while others took money and gave out boxes of cookies. You could see their confidence growing throughout the day and they sold every last box, all 21 cases which is 252 boxes. It was a great team effort!

Even the shy Girl Scouts came out of their shells to help sell cookies at the mall last year. Some of them held signs or sang songs, while others took money and gave out boxes of cookies. You could see their confidence growing throughout the day and they sold every last box, all 252 of them. It was a great team effort!

When I asked the girls in Hannah’s troop Girl Scouts Heart of The Hudson troop #767 what they loved most about Girl Scouts some said it was the trips, and some said it was earning badges. I’ve certainly seen first-hand how scouting has benefited my child. Last year, while selling cookies at the mall all the girls (even the shy ones) came out of their shells to speak to customers, take money, and give out cookies. When my daughter decided that she was going to dance and sing and work in marketing I thought, “Yup, that’s my girl.” As a former marketing and fundraising professional for non-profits, I know just how hard it is to approach strangers and ask for donations or to sell things like tickets. I see real world skills being taught to these girls right now at the ages of five-years-old and up. It’s amazing to see their fearlessness, their helpfulness, and just how their positive attitudes affect other people. Those are skills they’ll have for life.

Were you a scout as a child and if so, did you want your kids to have the same experiences?

I might blog about breakfast a lot, but that’s only because cereal can only go so far.  Sometimes, the family is hoping for warm and filling, but only on the weekends can I pull off a full morning meal with the time to clean up afterward. The beauty of French Toast Casserole is that you make it the night before and pop it in the oven in the morning.  Imagine the ease of putting this into the oven, heading off to take a shower and get everyone dressed, and enjoying the smell of freshly baking apply cinnamony goodness as you prepare for the day.

Apple French Toast

French Toast Casserole

A friend of mine posted a picture after she’d made a french toast casserole recently, and I was immediately craving it. Fruit baked into anything for breakfast is a personal favorite.  I did some sleuthing online, but couldn’t find a good gluten-free version of the recipe. Gluten-free and/or grain-free breads tend to be much more dense than wheat-based bread, and soak up liquid quickly.  I found a simple recipe and tweaked it to work with our bread.



1 lb. of gluten-free bread, cut into small chunks

3 c. of milk (dairy, almond, coconut; your choice)

6 eggs

2 t. vanilla

3 t. cinnamon

¼ c. brown sugar

3 apples, cored and cut into chunks (we chose not to peel)


In a small bowl, mix together apples, cinnamon, and brown sugar.  Set aside.  Grease an 8×8 square or round baking pan.  If making this in advance, do not use a glass dish, since the pan will go into the oven cold.  In a large bowl, whisk the eggs until uniform in color, and mix in the milk and vanilla.  Gently spoon bread into the bowl, stirring carefully so as to not break the bread chunks.  Into the greased pan, layer half of the bread mixture.  Cover with a layer of apples, and add another layer of bread.  Continue until completed.  Let sit for a minimum of four hours, or overnight.  Before baking, preheat oven to 350.  Put pan into heated oven and cook for 60 minutes, or until cooked through.

Make this before bed, and your family will thank you the next day.  Share your favorite breakfast recipes below.  To see what’s happening in our kitchen, or to share what’s going on in yours, please stop by, or become a fan on Facebook. Happy breakfasting!

Fun things to do inside on rainy day

The next few days are supposed to be really rainy. Normally my kids and I enjoy playing in the rain. But, with an impending hurricane coming up with coast causing heavy winds… well, big trees and heavy winds do not mix well. So, we find ourselves inside until all the rain and 80 mile an hour winds blows over.

What’s a mom to do to keep the kiddies entertained while inside? It is very tempting to throw on the TV, but that only buys me a short window of time. I use that time for things like dishes, reading, drinking tea and enjoying the silence in another part of the house. I like to keep a few simple projects at the ready when we all start to get a little antsy.

For the older set (age 4-6+) you can make a book. Go online to find coloring pages to print out. Punch holes in the sides and tie with favorite string or ribbon. Then your kiddo can color and create. If you have a particularly creative kid, make a book of blank pages and help them write and illustrate their own story.

Make your own book

We put together this leaf book. My girls are working on hand writing skills so I like that it has a place to trace the name of each leaf. You can find your free leaf printables here.

Making a leaf book

Someone gifted us some kinetic sand. My kids love, love, love this! So, they each have their own box of sand to play with. I added in some digging tools and little rocks and gems they can use to dig up treasure. When the girls were younger I made them beach boxes with salt as sand, and colorful rice boxes. This way if it made its way to their mouth I wasn’t so worried.

A beach in a box

For any age you can print out coloring pages from to keep near the crayons and markers. (P.s. they also have adult coloring pages! I know!!). Sit down and color with your kiddo. They will love sharing the activity with you and it is the perfect time to point out shapes, colors, letters, and more.

Kids love play dough! You can use the store bought, or make your own. We love making our own with Kool Aid. It makes some really neat colors and makes the play dough smell so good. Make your own play dough recipes typically call for ingredients found right in your own kitchen. If you do not have creme of tartar, you can substitute lemon juice. This won’t change the consistency of the dough, but it won’t last as long.

Of course our really little ones (ages 10-24 months) love a good cardboard box and some bubbles. You could spend hours alone investigating these! If you have an empty box, or even a plastic wipes box, try hiding things inside for your kid to find. You can use wash cloths, burp cloths, favorite soft toys, rattles, other boxes. They will love the chance to explore and learn how to open and close the boxes. If you really want to blow their mind put a small mirror inside for them to find. Whoa! Sit your kid in a box and blow bubbles over them to really have some fun! (We like to blow our bubbles over a carpeted area when inside. It prevents anyone from slipping in the ‘bubble juice.’).

No empty boxes? A laundry basket works great! To keep my girls entertained when they were little toddlers I’d load them up in the laundry basket and give them a ride through the house making choo-choo sounds. They absolutely loved it. Of course they could have spent hours upon hours being shuttled around. But, mom wore out pretty quickly. Pushing around two kids is twice the work, but twice the pay off in giggles.


So there are some easy quick things to do with the kids over the next few days while the rain keeps you inside. You don’t even have to leave your house. Just get a little creative with whatever you already have in your home!

What are some fun inside, rainy day things your kids love?


The Whatever Mom is a full time wife and twin mama living on coffee and wine. She enjoys the pure rush of cleaning the potty between loads of laundry. It is her dream that moms everywhere accept and embrace the Whatever Mom philosophy which can be found here.

I sit at my table profoundly humbled and heartbroken. We tell ourselves that we aren’t rich, but that’s a lie. It’s a first world problem to always be told by the media that we aren’t rich because we are bombarded with images of the super rich. Yet, in a global context, most Americans are rich, even if we don’t see it that way. I won’t lie, this week every month money gets super tight and we have to watch EVERY penny. I count how many meats I have in the freezer to make it till pay day, but the truth is I have NEVER wondered where my next meal was coming from. The epidemic of hunger is closer than you think. In fact, it’s knocking on your door asking if your daughter can come out to play.

You know that there are people who struggle with chronic hunger, but you don't expect it to be the girl at your front door, asking your daughter to play.

You know that there are people who struggle with hunger, but you don’t expect it to be the girl at your front door, asking your daughter to play.

When Finding Friends Is A Matter of Survival

I’m blessed to live in a neighborhood full of kids in school with my own, but I didn’t feel blessed when one particular girl started coming around SO often that I had to send her away during home work time or meal times. I tried to set boundaries, but she kept coming back and now that I know why it makes me sick to my stomach. Last night, she came over very close to dinner time and when I asked her if she had to get home to have dinner with her family she confessed that she doesn’t have dinner at home most nights. Her mother tells her to find a family to invite her to dinner. I can’t EVEN fathom being a ten-year-old girl forced to figure out how she would eat dinner EVERY single day.

Desperation For Dinner

After having a conversation with another family in the neighborhood, my husband and I found out that this is a known problem and other families pitch in to feed this child. At dinner last night, my husband and I both wanted another helping of chicken, but when I asked her what her mom and dad would eat tonight and she said, “probably nothing” my husband and I decided to wrap up our leftovers and take them over. Her mom was thankful and I’m glad, but I also wanted to shake this woman and scream at her. I want to know WHY she would let it get to this point. My motherly instincts CAN’T reconcile waiting till there is literally NOTHING in the house to feed your child. I CAN’T understand how you aren’t on the phone with food banks before the cupboard and fridge are ENTIRELY empty. I CAN’T understand how you send a child alone at night to figure out how to get their own dinner. I’m APPALLED and SICKENED, but I TRY TO REMEMBER that I HAVE NEVER felt that kind of desperation.

Hunger Is NOT A Concept; It’s A Person

When my kids tell me they’re hungry, I get frustrated because I know they just had a snack 15 minutes ago. When they throw out half eaten apples I tell them there are kids in the world who are REALLY hungry who would NOT be wasting their food. I know they don’t really get it. I silently tell myself when they are old enough I’ll take them to a food pantry or soup kitchen to show them. But instead, hunger came to my door. This little girl lit up, “REALLY?” she smiled when we asked her if she wanted to stay for dinner. I have no reference for hunger except the small pangs that come between meals. I don’t feel that desperation gnawing at my insides, scratching at my belly, clouding my thoughts and crowding out any sounds outside that growl. It’s NOT enough to be saddened by a sad story.

Food Insecurity

Rich People Problems

My husband and I are Christians and we are called to be God’s hands and feet. We are called to be the hope and blessing for others. I realize that I often say I am blessed, but inside I feel sorrow during our meager times of the month. I feel desperate and selfish because I CHOSE to give up an income so I could stay home with our kids, effectively putting all the financial burden on my husband’s shoulders. We do without new clothes from the mall in favor of consignment shops. We shop at Aldi, or with coupons to keep our grocery budget down. We pray fervently that our used cars will pass inspection and give us at least one more year before we need to buy new used ones. I realize NOW, these are ACTUALLY rich people problems.

We have not one, but two cars. We have clothes, food and a roof over our heads. We also NEVER wonder when the next paycheck is coming in so that we might afford food for our kids. I’m BLESSED enough to have been ENTIRELY sheltered from the epidemic of hunger. It’s not something you think about just at Thanksgiving, right before you dive into a table laden with goodies. It’s the every day struggle for some families and they aren’t just in some third world country; it’s around the corner in YOUR neighborhood.

My husband and I collected a few items from our pantry and bought some food at Wal-Mart for our neighbors in need.

My husband and I collected a few items from our pantry and bought some food at Wal-Mart for our neighbors in need. We also printed out a list of local food pantries for them.

Be The Blessing

Last night, I thought we were struggling because there was only a hundred dollars in our bank account till Friday. Some months it’s a lot less than that we squeak by on. BUT by broke I mean I have to borrow from our savings or in ABSOLUTE emergencies use a credit card to bridge the gap. BUT then I REALIZED that there are those who LIVE in that GAP. I REALIZED just what it means to be BLESSED; it means having ENOUGH to be focused only on ourselves. So I packed a few things from our poorly stocked cabinets and my husband drove to Wal-Mart to buy groceries for this girl’s family. He dropped them off with her grateful mother this morning. It’s NOT ENOUGH to simply say or know you are BLESSED, you NEED to prove that you know it by being the blessing for someone else.

Some people have advised us to look away. Some have warned us that we will be taken advantage of. BUT here’s what I know – we SHOULD LOVE a child enough to want to help her, MORE than we want to PUNISH parents that maybe aren’t being responsible. I should mention here that we have heard rumors of drug abuse in the home as well. We AREN’T SAINTS for feeding a child one meal, or delivering a meal or groceries to her family. I don’t think we DESERVE praise or recognition simply for doing what’s RIGHT. They are RIGHT; it’s NOT my PROBLEM to solve, but I’ll be DAMNED if I don’t see it as my profound PRIVILEGE to help.

You can help people struggling with hunger too. Find out how your workplace, neighborhood, church or service organization can host a food drive for the Food Bank of The Hudson Valley. If you know a church or nonprofit organization that feeds the hungry, I encourage you to support them as well.

I used to cook and bake all.the.time.  Looking back at the early days of my blog, I was churning out homecooked meals and freshly baked bread and rolls three meals a day.  How did I do it?  I’m not really sure… I had a preschooler and toddler… where was I finding the time to both cook and document it?

Fast forward to five years later… I’m still cooking as often as possible, trying to keep our diet full of fresh, whole foods, but between full days of homeschooling and afterschool/evening activities an average of five days a week, I’m lucky my socks match.  I still blog, but my time to do so is always short and infrequent.  As I pick out our meals, I look for quicker, streamlined recipes with fewer steps and ingredients than I used to.  It’s just how life is right now.

On the flip side… relying on store bought shortcuts gets expensive, and processed ingredients can creep onto your plate.  I was making pulled chicken the other night and wanted to serve it with rolls.  At $5 for four rolls, buying them seemed like a waste, so I googled a few recipes. For less than the price of one package, I knew I could make almost two dozen rolls.  But which recipe?  There were some great ones but they required making starters first, rolling out dough, and other steps for which I knew I wouldn’t have time during our busy afternoon.  Finally, I stumbled upon one that looked simple but appealing.  I decided to give it a go, and by the end of the evening, we’d fallen in love.  Score!


Easy Gluten Free Dinner Rolls

I found the recipe on My Gluten Free Kitchen’s blog.  Instructions were pretty clear cut, requiring a quick whisk of ingredients in the mixer, three minutes of mixing after adding wet ingredients, scooping and shaping them right into a round pan, an hour rise, and a 30 min bake.  No rolling and cutting dough, a short list of ingredients, and minimal shaping.  I did two consecutive batches, wanting to make enough tor lunch, dinner, and a few leftover for the next day’s breakfast.  I was delighted that they shaped easily, rose beautifully, and filled the kitchen with a fresh-baked bread smell. They were heavenly right out of the oven, and I warmed them again before serving them for dinner.  My husband asked if I could make them again for the next night, so I considered that a very good sign.  These are highly recommended!


Share your favorite quick recipes below.  To see what’s happening in our kitchen, or to share what’s going on in yours, please stop by, or become a fan on Facebook.  Happy baking!

The Fall weather is finally upon us and I couldn’t be happier! The mild temperature makes it easier to enjoy the outdoors. Each day we find something new and fun to do after preschool- from lunch at the park, to play dates and even painting and drawing outside.

Painting pumpkins

A very generous neighbor invited us over to pick pumpkins from her garden. The girls were excited to see pumpkins small enough for their tiny hands to carry. Since it is too early to carve pumpkins we agree painting is the next best option. We also added some glitter and sequins because when you are four everything needs a sprinkle of fabulous!

We live in a rather quiet neighborhood so sitting in our back yard is peaceful. We can hear the birds chirping and the breeze rustling through the trees. Plus, the tall oaks lend themselves to a relaxing shady back drop. We used our non-toxic water soluble paints and I just let the kids go to town. I love to move our paint sessions outside because: 1. less mess inside my house and 2. painting outdoors feels more inspiring!

We were so inspired by our outdoor art session that the next day we gathered up our pastels and craypas (a crayon pastel mix) with our sketch books and hit the outdoors once more. This time we sat under our favorite mighty oak and just drew what we saw, or imagined. These are my favorite artsy moments- when the kids can create their own projects. I love creating projects for us to do together, but when the girls are inspired to completely create from their own imagination- well, nothing is better than that!

Kids using pastels

Using pastels outside

Getting our kids outside to draw or paint not  only allows them to enjoy each season, but it helps make a connection to nature and to find beauty in their own back yard.

If you are worried about the kids making a mess with paint, glitter, glue or other crafty materials take it outside! Use non-toxic, water soluble art supplies and let Mother Nature take care of the rest!

Darla Neugebauer, owner of Marcy’s Diner in Portland, Maine made headlines after yelling at a two year old who was crying in her establishment.

Darla Neugebauer, owner of Marcy’s Diner in Portland, Maine made headlines after yelling at a two-year-old who was crying in her establishment.

Marcy’s Diner in Main became famous in July of this year, not for its amazing food, but for its owner who unapologetically yelled at a two-year-old for excessively crying. The owner claimed the parents didn’t do enough to calm the child and the parents claim that the food took an extraordinary amount of time to get to the table. The owner claimed that as a local dining establishment, it’s known to the community that she has a small grill and full pancakes take a long time to prepare and the parents shouldn’t have ordered so much food for a small child. I remember discussing the incident with women in my mom’s group on Facebook. The absolute best part of that conversation was one woman’s remark – “You NEVER go FULL pancakes. Everyone knows that!” I think I may have peed myself just a little when I read that.

Some took the side of the Diner owner and some agreed with the parents, but I happen to think that dining out with kids takes an effort from both parents and restaurant owners. I’ve been taking my kids out to eat since they were babies. I’ve had other patrons stop by my table on their way out and exclaim, “When we saw you come in with that baby, we were a bit worried, but she never made a peep.” Do I have super kids with supernatural powers to calm themselves and behave in public places? Um, that would be a big HECK NO.” Here are 4 tips I figured out along the way to make dining out a SANE experience for my family, as well as other patrons.

1. Start Young – Don’t wait till your child is four and then expect them to understand the concept of dining out, i.e. that more manners and an inside voice are required and that people must remain at their tables till they’re ready to leave. If you teach them at a young age what the expectations are when they dine out with the family, it’ll be easier to reinforce them. Of course you also need to keep the next tip in mind too.

2. Know Your Kid’s Limits – If your baby has colic, it’s probably best to keep them home till it’s passed lest their crying jag occur during dinner. If your toddler has a really hard time sitting still for long periods of time it might be best to hit a buffet instead of a fancy sit down restaurant. Buffets are awesome because there is no waiting, which leads to a LOT less boredom. Bored and hungry kids make for a REALLY unpleasant dining experience. I would also recommend taking them out a bit before their typical dinner time so they aren’t starving and so it won’t be passed their bedtime by the time the meal is over because dining out is a much more lengthy process then eating at home.

I've always found it helpful to take my child out of restaurants to calm down if they are misbehaving and reinforce what behavior is expected while dinning out. Once they are calmer, I bring them back inside.

I’ve always found it helpful to take my child out of restaurants to calm down if they are misbehaving and reinforce what behavior is expected while dining out. Once they are calmer, I bring them back inside.

3. Bring Them Outside During A Meltdown – It’s going to happen, just as surely as puke, poop and trips to the ER. Having kids means learning how to deal with very public meltdowns. When Hannah was a baby, we didn’t follow tip 2 and took her out to the Melting Pot. If you’ve ever been to this fondue place, you know you’re looking at a three-hour experience MINIMUM. We were on vacation and I just figured she’d fall asleep, which she did BUT not before a tired tantrum. I took her outside to nurse her without all the distractions of the restaurant. My husband kept coming out to see if I was done because I was missing dinner. I shooed him away till he got the point that I would return only when she was asleep. It took maybe 15 minutes max. I much preferred to wait outside rather than deal with the stress of trying to calm an overly tired baby with people around us getting annoyed. I’ve also taken her out of restaurants as a toddler during tantrums. When she calmed down, we went back inside. If you teach them early that it’s NOT OK to scream and carry on in a restaurant, it’ll be much easier when they get older.

I’ve seen parents get so worked up at their kids’ behavior at the table that they are actually louder and more distracting trying to correct their kids’ behavior than their kids were. So don’t stress parents; take a breather instead. Get some fresh air with your kids until they settle down. It’s not the end of the world if you miss some time at the table. The parents of the toddler at the diner in Maine claimed it was raining so they couldn’t take her outside. Well, there’s always the car. Should the world be understanding about normal kid behavior? ABSOLUTELY. Should the world be forced to listen to your kid carrying on in public for an excessive amount of time? No.

4. Feed Them First
– I always have the waiter/waitress bring the kids’ food out first. Sure, there’s more fidgeting at the end of the meal when they’re done, but that’s when it’s easiest to bribe them with dessert for good behavior (even if dessert is at home). Again I say, buffets are great for families with small kids because there is no wait time and everyone can eat together.

It’s great to find kid-friendly restaurants with changing tables in the restrooms, play areas or crayons and activity books, and a more relaxed atmosphere where other patrons know it’s a family restaurant, but we as parents still need to teach our kids that dining out is a privilege, not a right. With the exception of my toddler throwing her food on the floor during dinnertime at home, my kids are expected to sit and eat without toys on the table, without throwing food, yelling, and they are expected to make a good effort at eating what’s on their plate, whether it’s their favorite meal or not. If you have similar rules for dinning at home, it’ll make dinning out so much easier. Now if I could just get my older kids to consistently use their utensils instead of their fingers that would be something, but that’s for a different post.

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When Your Love Tank Is Low

This morning started with a fight about money, but to be fair it started brewing yesterday. It’s probably the thing my husband and I fight most about, though to be perfectly honest we don’t fight all that often. I think there are resentments, fears and misunderstandings you need to voice in order to move forward. In a marriage, you have two people who have agreed to create a life together and it’s our individuality that sometimes gets in the way. When our love tank is nearing empty or completely dry, we get caught in the prison of our own feelings. “You made me feel this way.” “You are doing this wrong and I can’t tolerate it.” We tend to forget completely about the “we” created when you said, “I Do.” There are so many blessings that can quickly turn to pitfalls if you fail to put your marriage first. Marriage isn’t a sprint to get down the alter, it’s a Spartan race and you need to train every day or you won’t be prepared to go the distance.

It Could ALWAYS Be You

I’ll never forget talking to a woman whose husband was unfaithful and wanted to leave her and their family. It was heartbreaking. I told her, “If you still love him, you fight for him.” We’re taught that if someone hurts you, it’s the “right thing” to walk away and not to forgive and rebuild. Let’s face it, we live in a disposable world and some people view marriage the same way. I’m not judging anyone who is or has gone through a divorce, I’m simply suggesting that it should be the very last card you have to play. I prayed for her and her family for months and it bothered me so much more than it probably should have. It wasn’t my marriage after all, but I think it bothered me because I knew it could have been. No this is not a confession. My husband NEVER cheated on me, but every marriage goes through trials you think will break you and you come to the question of fighting for it or not. With my background, I knew trials were just part of life.

This Ain’t No Cake Walk

When my mother-in-law passed away just two months before our wedding, I just knew that marriage wasn’t going to be a cake walk, especially when you have to decide from the very beginning whether to go through with a celebration while still nursing your grief. I can say after going through the death of three parents together, a miscarriage, loss of a business and financial strain that I can see how easy it is to want to give up. The key is to use those times to pull you together instead of push you apart. Our natural tendency, at least mine, is to isolate. BUT the BEST part of marriage is that you are NEVER alone. I married my best friend and the WORST part about fighting with him is that I can’t talk to him about it. We do our best never to let it linger too long and we move forward together. If you want to go the distance avoid these are four common pitfalls.

1.Putting The Kids First – Ever since the day they were born it seems only natural to make sure they have every single thing they need. While your kids should be a priority, I’m saying they shouldn’t be your first one and I’ll tell you why. So many end up sending their kids out into the world at the age of 18 only to discover that they’ve spent all their energy on being parents and they don’t even know how to be married anymore. Your kids are always watching you and they are building their love map based on how they see you and your spouse treat each other. If you don’t make your marriage a priority they won’t have a clear understanding of how to work together with their spouse to overcome obstacles, and going the distance means they can expect many of them.

2. Not Having Sex – You might protest that you don’t have time, are too tired, too busy, don’t feel attractive right now and it’s just not that important anyway. Just imagine going months without hearing, “I love you.” I think that would be awful. You might laugh, but I think sex is marriage superglue. It forms an instant connection to your spouse. I can always tell if my husband and I are getting on each others nerves it’s time to do the deed ASAP. We get caught up in the utilitarian aspects of marriage; what the other person brings to the table. Did they take out the trash, pay the electric bill, or take the car in for repairs? Marriage isn’t a service industry though. It’s not about you each pulling your weight. It’s about making a choice to live life together. It’s also making sure your partner’s love tank isn’t empty. When it is, unfortunately that’s when people start looking for unpleasant ways to get a fill up.

Spartan Race

3. Being A Fair Weather Fan – We all know someone who roots passionately for “their team” when they’re doing good, but the second they lose a game or they’re out of the playoffs it’s “that team sucks!” You need to be your spouse’s biggest fan at their WORST. I’m talking, “I wracked up some serious credit card debt, lost my job, kissed a co-worker” kind of WORST. People will let you down sometimes and you and your spouse are not immune. This is where choice comes in. You may not WANT to love them at their worst, but this is where you must CHOOSE to love them. Love is not this wishy washy hallmark card; it’s a Spartan race with hazard warnings. I will tell you this- there will come a day for all of us where you will find yourself thinking, “Should I stay or should I go?” If you dig deep, grit your teeth and get in the race, you will find your marriage stronger at the other end and more prepared to deal with anything life throws at you. Forgiveness is also a choice; not an easy one, but one necessary for a long and happy marriage. It should come with repentance though; trust needs to be restored in order to move forward.

4. Not Fighting Fair – I will admit that I don’t always fight fair. I get completely wrapped up in my own emotions and say things like, “Well, you don’t care about us because you did this.” I know I need to stop seeing my spouse’s choices as some grand if then statement. If you do this then you love me and if you don’t do that then you don’t. I forget that although I know him so well, that doesn’t mean I can speak for him in these one sided pre-arguments in my head. There is no completely right or completely wrong in any situation. You’ve gotta be willing to listen (really listen not just waiting for your turn to defend your point). The goal is not to WIN the battle only to LOSE the war. You should never use tactics like name calling or bringing up things that have previously been forgiven. If forgiving is hard, then the leaving the past in the past is even harder.

There are some days when the stress of life gets so bad and you vent on your spouse because they are your safe place. It happens. This is where sincere apology comes in. There will also be fights where you could repeat them verbatim from the last time. BUT here’s what I KNOW. I have loved my husband EVERY SINGLE SECOND from the moment we met 16 years ago. I have LOVED him EVEN WHEN I HATED HIM. When there is LOVE, true knock down and get back up, LOVE you fight for it. At the end of the day, there is no fairy tale just the story of your lives and you have to REMEMBER that you’re writing it together.

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