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Make Your Own Burrito Bowl Night is always a favorite in our house.  My kids love the fact that they get to decide what goes in their bowl, and I love their enthusiasm, and the fact that they can help prep dinner.  At the end of the night, you’re the coolest (and most well-rested) parent in the house.Make Your Own Burrito Bowls

Make Your Own Burrito Bowls

You can customize this to everyone’s likes, dislikes, and dietary needs.  Our typical Burrito bowl choices include rice, red and black beans, lettuce, salsa, sour cream, shredded cheese, avocados, and sliced olives.  You could serve seasoned beef, poultry, even fish, but I find that the protein offered by the beans is a good opportunity for a meatless meal.  As the rice cooks, I steam cut-up carrots above it, which can be added to the Burrito bowl, or eaten separately.  We each grab a few ingredients, and wash, slice, chop, and pour into bowls.  Rice can be made in advance, heck, you can even chop the veggies at your convenience rather than right before dinner.  This works great on nights when we have to eat on the go.  I give everyone a thermos, put all of the choices on the table, and everyone makes their own.  Pack some utensils and napkins, and you’re good to go.

Some days allow for lots of ingredients and complicated recipes, whereas other nights, I’m just happy we’re eating a hot meal.  This one falls in between- the prep involved can take a little time, but it’s simple steps, and can easily be done by your kids.  You walk away feeling like you had a fancy Mexican meal, for a fraction of the cost, much healthier, and quicker.  I find these meal ideas to be essential during a period of busy family life.  Share your quick-but-healthy ideas with our readers, below!  To find out what’s new in our kitchen, stop by, or become a fan on Facebook.

A few weeks ago some friends of mine organized a dinner drop off at a local fire station as a way to say thank you for all their hard work. Several families came out to deliver meals, cards and treats. I’ve shared before how my kids and I bring cookies to the fire station at Christmas. But our volunteer fire fighters will gladly accept your appreciation any time of the year!

How To Host A Meal Drop Off

How do you set up a meal night? Well, first you can easily reach out on Facebook, or email to your fire house and ask what is the best night to arrive. Most stations have a training night and you are guaranteed someone will be there to accept your donations. Pick a night and a time that works.

Next, decided if you would like to open it up to friends and family and ask them to bring a meal, or baked goods as well. You can keep track of what each person is bringing through an Facebook events page, email or good old fashioned pen and paper. Using an events page through Facebook allows everyone to coordinate food items. This way you don’t end up with 10 lasagnas. If you do don’t worry. Any extras can go directly into the freezer for later.

What To Make

You don’t have to make a meal from scratch. I didn’t have time to cook so I bought from the freezer section. I can buy things with love! Meals that feed a crowd are great, but you can also gather up snacks.


I threw in a box of snacks they could serve any time during their meeting nights, or fighters can grab on a late night at the station. I was surprised by how many people commented on this box. I grabbed an empty box from the liquor store and wrapped it with gift wrap.  Then I taped a piece of paper with Thank You written on it and let the kids put some stickers on (who doesn’t have extra stickers lying around?). Then I filled the box with store bought snacks (cookies, pretzels, chips, popcorn, etc).


Unfortunately, the night we were to drop off our goodies was the night my kids came down with the flu. So, I drove over to the station and did a quick drop and run. We didn’t get to stay to thank the fighters personally. But the families attending were treated to a tour of the station and got to see the fighters in action with their gear and training facilities.

Why It’s Important To Say Thank You

Did you know 90% of fire fighters are not paid. That means they VOLUNTARILY run into a burning building to save people and animals. Imagine, actually doing this for free!? They spend hours upon hours running drills and training and learning to use life saving equipment.

You don’t have to limit your gratitude to fire fighters. Contact your local police department or ambulance station to coordinate a drop off. This is a great way for your children to become familiar with community helpers. Seeing a fire fighter in turn out gear, or an officer with a gun on their hip makes them seem less scary and more recognizable when they need help.

Have you thanked a community helper lately?


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


My face fell as I tried to comprehend what my step-father was telling me. My older brother was invited to go swimming at our neighbor’s house. The second I heard the news I went bounding into the house to fetch my swim suit and that’s when a new hard truth of growing up smacked me in the face when my step-dad suggested that the invitation was for him only. The days of social invitations being extended to both of us were over. My perception that we would always be a package deal was gone.

They NEED Space

Now I am on the flip side of this milestone of growing up. My kids are reaching this same age of separation. My oldest daughter is 8 and my son is 6. They are just now starting to participate in activities separate from one another and while for years it’s been easiest to attend the same parties and outings, this mama is actually grateful the days of the sibling package deal are coming to an end.

My kids love each other, they really do, in those few brief moments between bouts of fighting. Spending hours upon hours with each other only brings them closer to physical blows. They are getting to the age where they NEED their own separate friends, activities and space to explore their own identities, apart from each other.

What Does She Have?

I don’t know if it’s because they are only two years apart, but my son has always looked to my daughter to understand himself and his world. He would happily wolf down his dinner, but the second my daughter proclaimed, “I don’t like this.” that was it. He wouldn’t touch it again. He constantly looks to her to judge what he can have or what he wants and it’s so beyond frustrating. He’ll make his belly sick eating one more cookie to keep equal count with his sister rather than listening to his own hunger cues.

This is the first year we enrolled them both in basketball (in separate age divisions) and the first year Jay is in Cub Scouts while it’s Hannah’s second year in Girl Scouts. It’s been really nice that they each have their own activities. Jay can go to Cub Scouts with Daddy and build pine wood derby cars and Hannah can go on Girl Scout trips to the state capital or horseback riding without her little brother tagging along. For the very first time in his life, Jay is beginning to find his own way. He’s discovering what he likes to do apart from her interests.

Watch Out For Landmines!

I see the landmines of this age. Birthday parties are still really difficult. I find myself asking the birthday child’s parents if it’s ok to bring siblings to the party when I have no childcare options. There are times it’s just easier to lump them in as a set, especially because they’re close in age. I’m lucky that we’ll always have friends who have children my children’s ages. The pairing off will be easy, though my youngest will eventually find herself the odd man out.

But at what age is it ok to let your kids make their own separate friends? At this age they are just forming their own identities and may not have the same interests anymore. At what point does the package deal begin to take away from their own individual selves?

Is it hard to navigate these waters? Heck yeah! But I also know that I can’t just throw the oars in the water and let the current decide which way we’re going to go. This is the age where I’m going to have to dole out the hard life lesson that they won’t always be invited and welcome at the same outings.

Jay was not happy that his sister got to go horseback riding with her Girl Scout troop last weekend, but we told him that the event was for Girl Scouts and he was not a part of the group just like his sister is not a part of his Cub Scout troop or the activities they do. Instead my husband took him out for breakfast. They got haircuts and McDonald’s (my son’s favorite) and then spent the rest of the afternoon fishing.

Special But Separate

He got a special day that was completely separate from hers. He ended up adjusting to this special but separate treatment pretty well. I know there will be days we won’t get so lucky. My husband works some weekends so it’s not always possible to plan a special outing just for one child because the other has plans.

It’s also a little bittersweet. It’s the end of the era of “Hannah and Jay” and the rebirth of “Hannah” and “Jay” as individuals. I want them to define themselves on their own terms, but I know this means they’re growing up. They aren’t babies anymore. They aren’t simply there at every event by default and that will be complicated at first. It’ll require a lot more juggling of our busy work and volunteer schedules. It’ll mean more driving them around to separate activities.

What Do YOU Want?

I’ve spent years asking my son, “No, what do YOU want? You can’t just ask what your sister has.” I’m really looking forward to seeing what things and friends he will choose for himself. I want to see that spark in his eyes when he defines himself without her. My daughter, much like myself, has always been pretty independent, but this is a big stepping stone for him.

They’ll always be close in age. They’ll never remember a time when the other wasn’t in their lives. I am glad though that they’re starting to find out that they don’t have to do everything together in order to be big part of each other’s lives.

Did your kids go through this type of separation and at what ages?

Erin Johnson a.k.a. The No Drama Mama can be found writing on her blog The No Drama Mama and Hudson Valley Parent when she’s not wiping poop or snot off her three adorable kiddos. This “tell it like it is” mama has NO time for drama, so forget your perfect parenting techniques and follow her on Facebook or Twitter for her delightfully imperfect parenting wins and fails. Her work can also be found on The Huffington Post, Money Saving Mom, Mamapedia and Worshipful Living.

It’s been one of those weeks. Seriously.  Jam-packed with activities, my husband working late hours on a project, and the nice weather luring us outside as much as possible.  There are two nights a week that require me to pack our dinner into a cooler in the early afternoon and take it along to my kids’ evening activities.  While a picnic is fun on a relaxing Summer afternoon, I could do without having to pack dinner to-go on school nights, but whatever.  That’s the nature of our schedule these days.

Easy Crockpot Taco Soup

Easy Crockpot Taco Soup

I was looking for something to make in the crockpot to alleviate some of the workload, but also something different.  After our winter dinner rotation of soups, chili, and casseroles, I really didn’t want to make a meal we’d had recently.  I looked online for a recipe that would be quick and not too complicated, so that I could prepare it before we headed out for the day.  I found this recipe for Easy Crockpot Taco Soup, and I was thrilled to see I had all of the ingredients already.  A few changes (if I ever post a blog that doesn’t contain changes to a recipe, call for help; I’ve been kidnapped and am writing under duress). Instead of a can of spicy Rotel, I used another can of diced tomatoes, since we don’t like too much heat.  We use our own homemade ranch mix  and homemade taco seasoning instead of packets, and I always substitute ground turkey and chicken broth instead of beef.  It came together quickly in the morning, and we were happy to find dinner waiting after a busy day.

I have to say, this was really, really good. I suspect it was the addition of the homemade ranch mix, because that’s not something that’s ever been in any of our taco or soup dishes.  Garnished with crushed tortilla chips and shredded cheddar, we all loved it.  This is definitely one we will make again!

Share a dish you turn to when you’re looking for something for different, or leave a comment below.  To find out what’s new in our kitchen, stop by, or become a fan on Facebook.






crafty collage

It is simply amazing the amount of pre-made craft kits available for kids today! I know I date myself when I say this, “in my day we had to make everything ourselves!” But it’s true!

Every holiday we made our own decorations; we recycled all our egg cartons and milk cartons into something new. We made our own candles by melting our broken crayons and we always made our crafts from scratch.

We live in a modern, prepackaged world and I am not going to lie, I often enjoy it! Sometimes taking out all the extra steps to a project really helps a mom actually enjoy making things with her kids. When the girls turned 5 back in the fall I asked for what else? Craft kits! They got so many crafty things to make I tucked a bunch away to bring out through the year.

Who knew you could buy a paint your own rock kit, right? Don’t you just find some rocks lying around outside to paint? Well, I am grateful to the person who bought this kit because it saved me a lot of rock hunting time and it was fun. The kit came with everything we need including tattoos!

rock kit

rock tattoo

How cute is this? You simply place the tattoo over the rock and run under water to get the outline to stick. Then you let it dry for a few minutes before painting. Let the kids go to town and make each little pet their own. I love that googly eyes come in the kit!

This is one of those projects that can take a few minutes or a whole hour. It depends on your kids skill and interest level. My kids didn’t want to color every individual section. A turtle should be green and in one swipe of the brush. Now might be a good time to point out that you should lower any expectations that your project will look anything like the picture on the box. Those pics are merely “suggestions” to have someone else make them if you want them to look perfect. 😉

rock box

This was a great activity to take outside on a sunny day. I’m a big fan of painting outside to keep the mess contained and away from my dining room table. We let the paint dry in the sun before decorating different parts of the yard with them.

rock tattoed

rock outdoor

You can find craft kits like this anywhere: Walmart, Target, Khol’s and Five Below to name a few places to look.

Do you craft from scratch, or buy a kit?

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

A neighborhood is just the geographic location of your house, until you meet the perfect neighbors that really make it home. Our neighbors the Wall-Carty’s are our family BFFs. We get together at least two days a week to chat and let the kids play. We also share a meal at least once a week.

Usually our potluck dinners are thrown together last minute and facilitated by a little begging by all the kids. My favorite part about hanging out with our friends is that it’s always, “come as you are,” whether your house is messy or you’re wearing sweatpants. So anything goes when it comes to our potluck dinners.

Here are 6 reasons I love our kid-friendly dinners and why I recommend you plan one with your neighbors, friends or family:

1. Use Up Your Leftovers –  Sometimes we literally grab whatever is in the fridge and head over to our neighbors house or they come to us with their leftovers and voila- instant meal. Not only do you get the pleasure of using up your leftovers, but the kids can choose meals that are new to them so you don’t get the complaining you would get if you just had your own leftovers. Using up your leftovers is a great way to stretch your monthly food budget as well.

2. Please Those Picky Eaters – Having more than one main dish means there’s usually something that will please even the picky eaters in your family. Last night we had a potluck where I made a taco macaroni casserole and our neighbors brought some leftover chicken they had on hand. Both their daughter and ours didn’t want the casserole, but happily ate the chicken and their son and ours wolfed down the casserole. With potluck, there’s virtually no complaining about what’s for dinner.

3. Try New Recipes – Our potlucks are great for getting to try new recipes. Sometimes it gets boring with the same rotation of food, but when you combine meals with another family you get to try things you never had before and test them out on your kids before making them yourself. If you love something your potluck partners bring, you can add great new recipes to your family’s meal plan.

4. A No Cook Night – Who doesn’t want a night off of cooking? The best part of potluck is that we often bring leftovers. Sometimes our family cooks and the other brings leftovers and sometimes it’s the reverse. Last weekend my husband and kids went to a wrestling match last minute and had to leave before dinner, leaving a whole pan of baked ziti for just me and the baby. The next day we had potluck at the Wall-Carty’s and they were making burgers so I grabbed that largely uneaten pan of ziti and didn’t have to cook at all.

5. Play Dates – The kids always want to play with each other and having dinner together means that the kids can hang out longer. Let’s be real, the play dates are for us adults too, especially me who works from home and doesn’t get to talk to adults much during the week.

6. Tag Team Parenting – If you have potluck dinners with family or friends whom you’ve made your honorary family, you can tag team up on the kids to get them to finish their vegetables. While our kids don’t like to listen us when it comes to eating, it helps to have another parent reminding them that they need to eat if they want to get dessert later.

When it comes to getting your kids fed and keeping them happy, you really can’t go wrong with a potluck. Plus it’s a great excuse to get together with your favorite people.

Does your family do potlucks often?

Erin Johnson a.k.a. The No Drama Mama can be found writing on her blog The No Drama Mama and Hudson Valley Parent when she’s not wiping poop or snot off her three adorable kiddos. This “tell it like it is” mama has NO time for drama, so forget your perfect parenting techniques and follow her on Facebook or Twitter for her delightfully imperfect parenting wins and fails. Her work can also be found on The Huffington Post, Money Saving Mom, Mamapedia and Worshipful Living.




Although we do love returning to old favorites, I find it more exciting to find a new dish and bring something fresh to the dinner table.  For some reason, many of our recent side dishes have consisted of some form of potatoes, and it was time for a change.  I was juggling (yet another) busy afternoon, and needed something that could be ready quickly and/or prepare itself (ie- crockpot).  Perusing Make it Fast, Cook it Slow, I came across a recipe I’d never tried before- Corn Risotto.  I had all of the ingredients and it would cook in two hours- just long enough to run around town and come back to find it ready.  I decided to pair it with chicken apple sausage (love me some Trader Joe’s- no pork casing!) and a green veggie to accompany it.  I loved the look of this Easy Sautéed Spinach recipe, especially since the blogger used step-by-step photos that looked so appealing.  I washed the spinach and left it out to dry, so that I could throw everything together quickly when we got home.

Corn Risotto & Sauteed Spinach

After its two hours of cooking, the Corn Risotto needs a few final minutes once you stir in the last two ingredients (cream and Parmesan cheese- although I used light half-and-half instead of cream).  This was just long enough to cook the spinach.  I then quickly pan-fried the chicken sausage, and dinner was truly ready in no time.  I skipped the cayenne pepper in the risotto since we don’t like things spicy, and everyone was really pleased with the meal.  Risotto was a fun side dish, and made in the crockpot, really couldn’t have been easier.  The spinach was delicious, and had enough flavor to overcome any bitterness sometimes present in cooked spinach.

Discovering an interesting side dish can add flare to an otherwise boring meal. Share your favorite side dishes with our readers so we can all try something new! To find out what’s new in our kitchen, stop by, or become a fan on Facebook.

We have been on a huge spring cleaning rush over here. After five years of just shoving things higher and higher out of the reach of small hands, we find ourselves just living in piles of stuff. I don’t need to share with you how to spring clean because you all know how to do that right?

But, what I am going to share with you is this nifty little project that came about from our ventures with spring cleaning. Two years ago my husband and I introduced the girls to one of our favorite beaches. My husband grew up playing on the sandy shores of Robert Moses State Park, and it was my favorite when we lived on Long Island for a few years. During our trip with our kids we filled their little pails with an abundance of sea shells.

The kids have played with those shells for two years. Many a stray shell can now be found in the far flung reaches of the play room, or in the deep abyss of a couch. Out of two tall beach buckets only a handful of precious shells remain. I want to keep them as a keepsake, but I don’t really have a home for them. That is until we recycled this old glass jar I found while cleaning out our spice cupboard. Coincidentally, our sea shells have found a home in an old sea salt jar. How fitting right?

salt jar

First we washed the jar and removed the label. My go to for removing labels is really hot soapy water. Allow your jar to soak for about 10 minutes before peeling off the paper. Then you can scrape or scrub off the remaining glue. If it is still sticky then just allow to soak a little more.

salt jar 2

Next, I rounded up the remaining shells I want to keep and added to the jar.


shells in jar 2

Can you believe these are all the shells left after bringing home two buckets worth? Well, with little girls who like to play beach in every room of the house, or take them outside so the bugs can have a beach too, I’m not surprised. But, at least these are all my favorites.

I thought it would be really cool to some how include a picture of us from that day. Unfortunately, we did not get a picture of all four of us together. But, I did find a picture of what the beach looked like that day! So, I ran it through an online photo editor (PicMonkey) and added the date and details of the trip to the center of the picture. I ordered it online and picked up at CVS Pharmacy for $0.31. I cut it into an oval shape and tucked it inside the jar.

jar with shells

How awesome is this? A SUPER cheap and very personal keepsake of our very first trip to the beach together! When have you ever found a souvenir for $0.31 cents??! Now, our memories are part of our decor. We can enjoy them all the time and I don’t have to worry about finding them scattered around the house. Woo hoo!

This started me thinking about how often we just grab souvenirs from the gift store on any of our trips or vacations. My kids typically gravitate to the cheap plastic stuff which usually ends up in my garbage can. Not only is that a waste of money, but there’s no personal connection to the trip (except for our photos of course). I’m going to have to get creative with making our own souvenirs from now on. It’s a great way to keep our cherished moments alive well after our vacation ends.

Have you ever made your own souvenirs from a trip? I would love to hear about them in the comments below!

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


Have you ever been multi-tasking so much you completely forget what you’re doing? That was my day yesterday. When you work from home, you’re constantly juggling work and family responsibilities. It’s enough to make your head spin. You start just wishing for bedtime so you can just get a little more work done while the kids are sleeping.

With so many balls being juggled in the air at once, something is bound to drop. I felt like a frazzled mama. Even though I didn’t get everything done between work and the kids, here are 5 simple things I do to keep from missing the little moments with them when I’m struggling just to get through the day:

girl gets chocolate

I was so busy that Sydney was able to successfully get way more Hershey’s kisses than normal.

 1.Single Song Dance Party – My absolute favorite part of working from home is getting to be silly and crazy with my kids when I need a break from my work. I put on my favorite happy music and dance with my toddler around the living room. It helps relieve the stress because seriously who can resist the giggles of a twirling happy toddler?

It puts work in perspective, even if it’s only for one song. So I encourage you when you’re just living to get to bedtime, take three minutes and just have fun with your kids.

2. More Kisses Please – My toddler used my stress to her advantage by repeatedly begging for Hershey’s kisses. With that sweet face and a lot of work on my plate I can honestly say she ate more than she should have, but it’s ok. Sometimes you have to use whatever you can to get just a few minutes of time to finish a chore or something on the computer. Just make sure you follow up with a barrage of real smooches on those sweet little faces and your stress will melt away (even if it’s only temporary).

3. Take a Real Break for Meals – I pride myself on eating lunch and dinner with the kids, even if my husband is working late. But in the middle of my crazy work haze yesterday, I’ll admit that I wasn’t fully present with the laptop open next to me. I know in the future I need to put it away during meal times. Not only do you feel better when you’re not mindlessly shoving food in your mouth, but you feel more connected to your family.

4. Forgive Yourself – I felt my frustration building every time my toddler threw her food on the floor or started pulling on me for my attention. Then, of course, I felt guilty for not paying as much attention to her as I should have. Normally I try really hard to only work during her nap times, but I had a lot of things I wanted to get done.

One day she’ll go off to school and I’ll miss all these little moments with her. Then again, she’s not quite two, so I think I can forgive myself for one day of not giving her my full attention.

If you find yourself just going through the motions with your kids, while praying for bedtime, it happens sometimes. The key is just to make sure it doesn’t become a habit. Parenting is a marathon and we can’t sprint through their childhoods. Trust me, work will always be there waiting for you.

happy toddler

This is the memory I want to keep from my very busy day- Sydney’s sweet smile.

5. Take a Picture – Take a second to snap a few pictures of your kids. Years from now, you probably won’t remember what you were working so hard on, but you’ll be able to look at their sweet little faces and remind yourself of why you work so hard. Photos have an almost magical power to remind you of all the things that really matter in your life, while blurring out the things that don’t.

Life is always going to get busy. There will always be days that you’re just praying for bedtime, whether it’s so you can get some work done while the kids are asleep or so you can break out your secret snacks and catch up your favorite show on Netflix. The key is to find a few moments to just be fully present with your kids, even if it’s just at the dinner table or snuggling during your bedtime routine.

How do you cope with days you’re crazy busy?

Erin Johnson a.k.a. The No Drama Mama can be found writing on her blog The No Drama Mama and Hudson Valley Parent when she’s not wiping poop or snot off her three adorable kiddos. This “tell it like it is” mama has NO time for drama, so forget your perfect parenting techniques and follow her on Facebook or Twitter for her delightfully imperfect parenting wins and fails. Her work can also be found on The Huffington Post, Money Saving Mom, Mamapedia and Worshipful Living.

I was looking for something different to do with ground turkey, feeling kind of tired of the usual tacos, meatballs, burgers.  I came across this recipe for a taco casserole-style dish, and was contemplating whether or not my family would like it.  My younger daughter came up behind me, looked at the picture on the screen, and asked, “Is that for dinner?  Cool!” So, I figured I’d give it a try.  It looked easy to double, so I decided to make an extra batch to keep in the freezer for a busy night when we needed a quick dinner.  The recipe author titled it, “Ground Turkey Taco Skillet,” but said that her son dubbed it, “Taco Explosion,” so that’s what my family has decided to call it.

Taco Explosion

Taco Explosion

I followed this recipe very closely, omitting only the green chilis (I was afraid it’d be too spicy for me, I mean, the kids) and tomatoes (and used a little extra salsa in its place).  A friend was having surgery and I wanted to give her some food to have in the freezer for her recovery, so I gave her the second batch.  Using lean ground turkey and light cheese, it was easy to make in a healthy way.  Everyone in our house, both adults and kids, adored this dish.  I served it with romaine lettuce, chunks of avocado, and sour cream, which complemented it perfectly.  What we didn’t finish at dinner was gone by lunch the next day.  This is definitely a dinner that will appear again in our rotation, as it was quite easy and so delicious.  I loved that it took something we loved (tacos) and made it fresh again.

Share your favorite dishes that bring something new to an old favorite.  To find out what’s new in our kitchen, stop by, or become a fan on Facebook.  Happy Spring!

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