A unique gift idea…. Family Adventures

Last year my husband and I were at a loss as to what to get our youngest son and his wife.  They are very handy and very busy with two kids, jobs, and home projects.  After watching their busy lives all year we came up with a unique gift idea.  

A family adventure album.  We bought a cute little scrapbook and filled that pages with gift certificates to all sorts of places.  The pages were filled with family fun (and date night) ideas.  Once we decided on the plan for the book, we went shopping… on-line and to the gift card aisle.  Yep, it was a book of pre-purchased family adventures.  Everything from a trip to the zoo, movie tickets,  to ice cream nights (gift certificate for Dairy Queen), beach days (complete with gift certs to subway for lunches). On the trips that would take them a distance to get to, we added in gas cards.  After all the point of this gift was not to add financial strain of accomplishing these adventures, but to make these things easy and obtainable for this kids (and gran kids) to do. This book was filled with all sorts of adventures from bowling to mini-golf to go kart racing.  

To come up with ideas we scoured the internet to check out our local city and find fun interesting places to go.  We also googled”date night” ideas to ensure they could enjoy time together without the kids.  If you are thinking of giving a gift such as this, don’t forget the handmade gift certificates that include babysitting.  It was a fun gift to make and a great way to get to know the city we live in.  

I hope you think of a gift like this (or any variation of it) when you are planning your next celebration.  

A twist on this concept is “Your year in review”.  Make a scrapbook for your loved ones of their past year.  This is a great idea for the little ones in your life.  You can give it to them on each birthday as a memory of what they have accomplished in the past year.  On the last page of the album make a list of that child’s goals for next year.  This makes an amazing keepsake and helps each child accomplish things each year.  Have fun!  Happy gift giving!

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Give the gift of time…

What do you get your kids as they get older?  What do you give your spouse as the years pass on?  What about grand kids when there are so many?  Start a tradition in your family of giving the gift of time.  

My mother has done this each year with my sister and I.  Every Christmas we get a handmade gift certificate wrapped up that simply states, Good for one day with mom.  The certificate is valid for one day and is to be used sometimes in the next calendar year.  This is one of the best gifts because it ensures you get one full day without other family members, without other distractions, and you get to really enjoy the time with each other.

What do we do on these “Mom Days”?  Good question.  When we were smaller they could be anything from a nice lunch out, a beach day, or even just a fun day playing board games or cards.  As we have gotten older, we have taken advantage of these days by trying new things, getting out of our comfort zones, or just being young again.  My mom and I have taken a seq-way tour through a different city just an hour or two away.  We have gone zip-lining, gone to a hockey game, even gone to see a psychic.  

The point is, these special days can be shared with anyone who could use a break in life throughout the year.  If you have busy schedules, giving this gift to your spouse could be worth its weight in gold.  Take time out of your calendars this year and remember to enjoy the day or days with loved ones.  You only get one chance at this life and you can’t take the “stuff” with you, so make memories together and experience all this wonderful world has to offer.  

Note:  If you decide to give this gift to a special someone this year, make it a tradition and do it every year.  Make a point to try something new, take a trip on a tankful, or spend the day without the distraction of cell phones or electronics.  

Learning to let go

Learning to let go is a hard lesson to learn but oh so important.  So often we get bogged down with a mile long list of “to do’s” and follow that with a busy schedule, a long list of people (friends and family) that crown our minds with their own issues and you have the perfect recipe for anxiety, stress, and an overall sense of doom if you’re not careful.

It happens to the best of us and far too often.  We let our inbox fill up and sit there staring at it not even sure where to start.  This is where “letting go” comes into play.  I have two thoughts to share with you:

  1. My dad always told me that even after you are dead and gone, people will still put things in your “inbox”, the trick is to focus on what is important and don’t worry about all the small stuff.
  2. There is only one way to eat an elephant and that is one bite at a time.  Even when your lists of things to do and places to be pile up…. in the end you can only be one place at a time and do one thing at a time.  Sure there is the novel idea of multi-tasking, but a task done right deserves your full attention.

So where does this leave us?  Yep….  sorting through our mess and figuring out what to let go of.  We can’t do it all and we can’t be everywhere all the time.  You know I love lists and here is your turn to make your own.  There are two lists that you need:

  1. List of priorities in life
  2. Current list of things to do (this is a daily list)

The first list (Priorities) is the most important and will help you keep perspective when making your daily list.  The priorities list is one that stays fairly constant and only changes when major life events happen.  (The birth of a child, a marriage, a divorce, or even a death).  This is a list of who, what and where your personal priorities are.  I will give you an example of my list to kick off your thought process (This is by no means the same list you will have, but you get the idea).

  1. My Sobriety
  2. God
  3. My family
  4. My job
  5. …… this list can go on, but the first four are the most important to me.

The order you make the list is also important.  As you can see from my list, my sobriety is #1 on the list.  I am currently 15 1/2 years sober.  God willing, I will be 16 years sober and counting.  This is a choice I have made in my life and live this choice one day at a time.  It is at the top of the list because without it, I lose sight of my faith, crush and ruin my family and will ultimately lose my job.  #2 on my list is God.  For me a solid faith in a Higher Power comes before my family.  Without my faith in God and the ability to trust in him, I fall to pieces.  Faith can move mountains and my life is proof of that.  #3 is my family.  My husband, my children, my grandchildren, my parents and siblings.  I am blessed with an enormous, loving family.  It is my priority to show up and be present for them.  They are my rock when I waiver in various areas of my life and they keep me grounded.  Finally, my job is on the list.  I work to live, I do not live to work.  I need to place importance on my job in order to provide support to my family and to be an active member of society.

This is just an example of a list (that happens to be mine).  With this list in place, I can build my daily “to do” list.  It is a daily activity because as we all know, life throws us curve-balls all the time.  The order of this list, the contents, and the length of the list changes daily.  It is supposed to.  IF it was always the same, I fear we would lead very boring lives.  Here is an example of my “to do” list:

  1. Exercise – usually done first thing in the morning, but a daily goal for my physical and mental health
  2. Get my grandson ready for school – I have made a commitment to my family to be the best mom / grandma possible and helping this little guy out is very important to me.
  3. Work (Work has it’s own “To Do” list of course, but I try to keep that list confined to the hours spent at the office.)
  4. Spend time with my husband – He and I have completely different schedules when it comes to work and this keeps us missing each other if we aren’t careful.  When I married this man, in my wedding vows I promised to make him a priority in my life.  I keep this promise by making sure he is on my daily list.  Even if it is a simple shared cup of coffee or a walk on the beach holding his hand, that is very special quality time.
  5. ….. this list can go on, but you get he point.

Sometimes there are other task involved.  Do I need to call the doctor and make an appointment?  Do I need to stop by the store on may home and pick up groceries? Do I need to go to a meting in the evening or do I have plans to meet up with a friend?  All of these go on the list and the list is ever changing.

Once my lists are complete, the next thing to do is step back and take a look at the size of my “elephant”.  The only way to get things marked off my list is to put the list in order and then ready set go!  One thing at a time.  One task, one errand, one little tiny goal to be accomplished.

Sometimes life can feels like it is only tiny goals and the milestones are never hit.  When that feeling creeps in and your lists begin to overwhelm you that is when it is time to take a step back.  DO a little inventory of your life over the past month, year, or several years.  See where you have made major progress and take time to celebrate.  The little voices in our heads can so easily get us down on ourselves.  Are you climbing the corporate ladder fast enough? Are you the best mom or dad you can be?  Are you keeping up with bills and chores?  When stepping back to look at life for a brief moment, realize a few things….  your lights are on, your able to keep warm when it’s cold out, you’re able to reach out to your family when you need to, you’re able to eat a good meal or even enjoy a fun time with friends.  This must mean you are doing things right.  Do you have a place to lay your head at night?  You did that (by working, paying bills, and being present in life).  Do you have people who love you?  You did that (by being present in their lives too when they needed you).  I could step back at your life and tell you how wonderful it is, but that isn’t what you need.  You need to give yourself a pat on the back for making the good decisions that got you to the age you are.  A little hug now and then for not giving up. Trust me, giving up may many times seem like the easiest thing to do, but don’t give up before the miracles happen.  You will miss out on the most beautiful thing yet to come.

I will close with this…  When your list is long and life seems overwhelming, break it down.  If the lawn doesn’t get owed today, it will be there tomorrow and maybe then your list will be shorter.  Base your daily list on your priorities list.  For me, it is a gut check on the strength of my sobriety.  It is a moment to pray and thank God for his blessings and ask for his will in my life.  It is a call to my kids and a stolen glance with my husband even on the busiest of days.  These are the top three things on my list.  The rest is just “stuff”.

Written With Love,

Mrs. Go To Girl

 

Positive reinforcement, Structure and Smiles

I am a huge fan of positive thoughts and positive vibes and if you know me, than you know this to be very very true.  It is so very easy to let our heads lead us to negative self-talk and we can let ourselves get down in the dumps, we don’t need help from anyone else.  I wanted to take a minute to talk about Positive reinforcement and then follow it up with the importance of structure for the little people in our lives.    When we are little this is when we are finding our identities and building our self-esteem and figuring out who we are.  We learn how to dress, how to match our clothes, how to get ready in the morning , how to do our chores, learn that we need to go to school, and how to be responsible for ourselves, for our pets, and eventually for others.  These are all very important lessons.  If we as adults are constantly speaking in negative tones or punishing kids rather than building them up, how are we helping them?  Of course there are consequences and of course we need to teach the concept of consequences, but we also need to teach the concept of rewards.  If you go to work, you get a paycheck.  If you work harder and faster, you get bonuses, earn promotions, and get ahead in life.  Why should we not teach our children this part of life in addition to teaching them that if they do not follow thru on their responsibilities, they will not reach their goals (not earn their paychecks i.e., play time).

Positive reinforcement is defined as the process of encouraging or establishing a pattern of behavior by offering reward when the behavior is exhibited.  Rather than saying “If you don’t do “this”, than “this” will happen.  It is just as easier and a positive approach to say; “If you complete “this”, “this” will happen.  It is the exact same approach but rather than enforcing a fearful or negative approach to a child, you encourage a child to work hard to gain reward.  During their work process, they are happier and eager to please rather than scared and unfocused on the task at hand.

It is not always easy to take the higher road and be cheerful and positive.  We all get frustrated and at the end of the day we have all lost out temper.  I think the take away is to remember we are trying to raise little people to big people who will in turn one day  contribute to society.   Looking around in today’s society, there is a lot of negativity.  If we can contribute to the little people of today by enlightening them in a more positive manner to make this world a better place.  By helping hem to make good choices, to make calmer choices, to think things through and not always rule with an iron fist than we have all done our jobs.

When we were children, we did not have to worry about kids bringing guns to school, we were able to play outside safely and ride our bikes without helmets, drink from a garden hose without worry.  We ate dinner together as a family, we watched Saturday morning cartoons,  went on family trips together.  If you are a single mom, blended family, large family or mixed family of all ages, it doesn’t matter.  Love each other and do you very best.  You are each other’s biggest cheerleaders.  Be a team.

First Aid Kits (Home, Travel, Office)

Do you have a first aid kit in your home or car?  When is the last time you opened it?  The aspirin may be expired and the liquid items may be out of date or worse, dried up.  Once a year you should make it a point to update your first aid kits, refresh them, and add any notes about medication changes.  (In Florida or the south, I would suggest doing this in June as that is the start of hurricane season.)

First aid kits come in many shapes and sizes. You can purchase one from the Red Cross Store or your local American Red Cross chapter. Your local drug store may sell them. You can also make your own. Some kits are designed for specific activities, such as hiking, camping or boating.I would suggest having a kit for your home, your office and your car.  You never know when or where an tiny emergency will pop up and you will need some sort of medical supply.  Below are some suggestions to customize your kit to your family or needs:

What a kit should include:

 

  • 2 absorbent compress dressings (5 x 9 inches)
  • 25 adhesive bandages (assorted sizes)
  • 1 adhesive cloth tape (10 yards x 1 inch)
  • 5 antibiotic ointment packets (approximately 1 gram)
  • 5 antiseptic wipe packets
  • 2 packets of aspirin (81 mg each)
  • 1 blanket (space blanket) 
  • 1 breathing barrier (with one-way valve)
  • 1 instant cold compress
  • 2 pair of nonlatex gloves (size: large)
  • 2 hydrocortisone ointment packets (approximately 1 gram each)
  • Scissors
  • 1 roller bandage (3 inches wide)
  • 1 roller bandage (4 inches wide)
  • 5 sterile gauze pads (3 x 3 inches) 
  • 5 sterile gauze pads (4 x 4 inches)
  • Oral thermometer (non-mercury/nonglass)
  • 2 triangular bandages
  • Tweezers

Additional items to think about:  Include a list of current medications or allergies for each member of your family.  This should be updated annually.  Keep your first aid kit in a known location in your home and car.  Add any emergency equipment that may be required by your family (i.e., epi-pens, etc.)

First Aid Kit Review:

  1. Include personal items such as medications and emergency phone number or other items your doctor may suggest.
  2. Check your kit regularly
  3. Check expiration dates and replace any used or out-of-date items.
  4. Store your kits in a place that is out of reach of children, but easily accessible by adults

Find your tribe, love them hard

I am a huge fan of “Family” quotes.  I wanted to take a moment and share some with you.  To me, family is everything.  It is the foundation that built me, the love that has shaped me and the rock on which I can always fall back on.  Throughout my life I have watched my family evolve into what is the most precious thing I have to date.

  • Family – Where life begins and love never ends
  • The love of a family is life’s greatest blessing
  • Family – We may not have it all together, but we have it all
  • Family is not about blood, it is about who is willing to hold your hand when you need it the most
  • Family is family, whether it’s the one you start out with, the one you end up with, or the family you gain along the way.

I suggest you take a moment and draw your family tree.  You may be surprised to see the list of parents, cousins, nieces, nephews, etc. that are there.  If your family is small, try adding leaves to your tree that include your complete tribe.  Do you have a family friend that has been like a sister or aunt to you?  Do you have a best friend that has helped you raise your children?  They are all leaves on our trees.

When you get a moment, send a note to your tribe and let them know what they mean to you.  Here are my little notes:

To my parents: “Thank you for teaching me to eat with a fork, to wipe my own butt, to get up when I fell down and to laugh so hard my belly hurts.  Thank you for teaching me that this life is a beautiful gift and then telling me to go live it”

To my sons: “You may not have the same eyes or smile as me, but from the very first moment, you had my heart.”

To my grandchildren: “Trying to explain how much I love my Grandkids is like trying to count the stars”

To my cousins: “God made us all cousins because he knew our parents couldn’t handle us as siblings.”   Thank you for being my first playmates and now my greatest friends.

To my extended family: “Family is much more than a word – It’s a feeling of warmth and love that neither time nor distance can change.”  Thank you for always being on the other end of the phone, a text, or an e-mail.

To my husband: “You are my forever and always”.  God knew what he was doing when our paths crossed.  There is no one more patient, loving, understanding, strong, or crazy than you.

To my friends (Both near and far): “Friends go like waves on the ocean, but the true ones stay like an octopus on your face”  Hahahaha…  and this is why we are friends!

 

“Date Night” on a dime

So many times we lose track of what is important and that is ourselves and our relationships.  We focus on the day to day of work, house-keeping, kids schedules and more.  Here are a few fun options for an unscheduled date night on a limited budget.  We all have the excuses of no time, no money,  too busy.  Hopefully you will be able to keep this list handy and stop from time to time to enjoy life.

  1. Movie night – pull out the blankets and pillows.  Pop some popcorn and have a movie night.  Make it fun with a theme and watch a series of movies. As days pass by, build your DVR list with movies that are coming up or pick-up the DVD’s on sale at your local store for date nights like this.
  2. A walk in the park – So many parks have benches, exercise activities, play grounds, and trails.  Make the most of all of them.  If you haven’t tried Geocaching yet, give it a try too.  Fun and free time for the whole family.
  3. Go for a swim – Put on a bathing suit and take a swim.  Find a pool, a beach, a lake or a river.  If you are able, get a tube or float and relax or rent a kayak or paddleboard and get some exercise.
  4. Have a campfire – You can use a fire pit, or find a place for a bonfire (safety first of course).  Make s’mores, tell stories, or just listen to the crackle of the fire under the stars.
  5. Build a snowman – Put on some warm clothes and build a snowman, make snow angels, or have a snowball fight.
  6. Pick fruit at a local farm – Find a local strawberry farm or blueberry farm and spend the day picking fruit.  At the close of the day bake a pie or make a fun dessert together.
  7. Watch a sunset – Take a walk or sit on a porch somewhere and say good bye to the day with a loved one.
  8. Watch a sunrise – Get up early in the morning and fins a beach or great park and enjoy the start of a brand new day.  Take a thermos of coffee with you and some music or maybe a good book.
  9. Have a game night – When is the last time you played yahtzee? Monopoly? Candy Land? Clue? Scrabble?  Pick a night and pull out the games you loved as a kid or even as an adult.  You can do this with just two people or make an evening out of it with friends and family.
  10. Dance together – Get on spotify or youtube music and create a music list together of your favorite songs.  Keep it handy and when the mood strikes, dance with each other.  Dance in a park, in your living room, or in a restaurant.
  11. Go window shopping – Walk thru IKEA, or find a shopping mall.  Take some time to hold hands, people watch, day dream together about a DIY project or a future home.
  12. Get creative….  this list is just the tip of the iceberg.  Make and keep a list of ideas for those times when it is rainy, your broke, or your bored and check items off your list.

Digital memory books (AKA E-mail)

Have a child in your home or one you are responsible for or assist in raising?  Create a digital memory book for them.  You can do this at any time in your child’s life (as a newborn, school age, heading off to college or the military, or as they have children of their own).

Create an e-mail account for them.  (I suggest doing this with a service that is tried and true, dependable).  I am not supporting one outlet over the other, but I prefer g-mail becuase I’m pretty sure Google will be around for a while.

Don’t give them the password for this account until you are ready to share with them the contents.  The purpose of the e-mail is to provide them with bits of advice, stories about themselves or their heritage, and other funny things that happen throughout their lifetime.  Keep this e-mail address to yourself or share it with your family and friends.

Anytime you experience a situation where words of wisdom have helped you, send an e-mail to this new account.  Family recipes, photos, etc. are all great things to share.  So many times we wait until we are older to ask our parents for stories of our childhood or of our heritage.  There will come a day when we leave this world and leave our children behind, this is a great way to create a memory book of sorts for them that they can rely on for years to follow.

Have you personally lost a parent or close relative or friend and later wanted to give them a call to ask a question or are sure that if they were here they would know the solution to a situation?  Take this “digital memory book” and use it to alleviate the pain of not being able to call years down the road.

I have lost my grandparents and a few other friends and relatives.  I wish they were here now to share all of their wisdom and wit with me.  Take advantage of your resources in today’s age and pass on some history wrapped up in love and good intentions.  Your child will cherish it later in life.

SIDE NOTE: Share the password with them at a turning point in their life.  When there are no words at the moment, but so many thoughts have come and gone.  A child heading off to college, or preparing for their own child are perfect times.

 

Snacks for the beach (or a hot day in the sun)

It’s summer time, that means road trips, days in the summer sun and fun!.  It can be expensive to get snacks while you are out and about so here are some easy and fun ideas for treats as you play.  We all work up an appetite and the summer sun can drain us.  Take advantage of a little pre-planning to pack your snacks and enjoy your day without breaking the bank.

Ranch-Seasoned Spice Crackers

INGREDIENTS:

1 ounce dry ranch seasoning mix

3/4 cup vegetable oil

1/4 teaspoon garlic powder

1/4 teaspoon onion powder

5 cups oyster crackers ( 9 oz bag)

RECIPE PREPARATION:

Preheat the oven to 250F.

In a large bowl, combine the oil, ranch seasoning mix, garlic powder and onion powder. Whisk everything together and add in the oyster crackers. Toss everything together until the crackers are coated.  Spread the crackers out onto a baking sheet.  Pop the baking sheet of crackers in the oven for 20 minutes, stirring at the 10-minute mark. Remove from the oven and let cool.  Keep in an airtight container or separate into snack size baggies for an on-the-go treat.

Chex-Mix

INGREDIENTS:

3-1/2 cups Rice Chex

3-1/2 cups Corn Chex

2 cups Wheat Chex

1 cup peanuts (you can also use 1 cup of mixed nuts)

6 Tablespoons butter, melted

1/4 cup Worcestershire sauce

2 teaspoons seasoned salt

1/2 teaspoon garlic powder

1/2 teaspoon onion powder

1 cup bite-sized pretzels (I like the pretzel sticks broken in half)

RECIPE PREPARATION:

Preheat oven to 250 degrees. Combine ingredients for Homemade Seasoned Salt in small dish then set aside.  In a very large bowl combine Rice Chex, Corn Chex, Wheat Chex, and nuts. In a small bowl stir together butter, Worcestershire sauce, 2 teaspoons seasoned salt garlic powder, and onion powder. Pour butter mixture over cereal mixture then stir with a spatula to coat. Pour into a 11×17″ or larger baking dish then bake for 45 minutes to 1 hour, stirring every 15 minutes. Stir in pretzels when Chex Mix is cool, then serve! Keep in an airtight container or separate into snack size baggies for an on-the-go treat.

Salt and Pepper Oven-baked Zucchini Chips

INGREDIENTS

1 large zucchini, sliced into rounds about 1/8″ to 1/16″ thick

1-2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1/2 teaspoon salt (recommended: kosher salt or coarsely ground sea salt)

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

RECIPE PREPARATION:

Preheat oven to 200 degrees Fahrenheit. Use convection bake setting if your oven allows.  Place sliced zucchini on paper towels and let sit for 10 minutes. Blot the tops of the zucchini with another paper towel to absorb as much moisture as possible.  Line two baking sheets with parchment paper and place the zucchini on the pans in a single layer, making sure not to overlap.  Pour olive oil into a small bowl and lightly brush onto the zucchini.  Season with the salt and pepper.  Place in oven and bake for about 2 hours, flipping zucchini after about an hour, until zucchini is crispy and starting to brown. Start checking them at about 1-1/2 hours in as ovens can vary. Any pieces that are crispy and starting to brown should be removed.  Serve immediately!

 

 

 

Chore Charts – They work wonders!

I grew up with two sisters in my mother’s home.  We were all close in age and all very very different.  There were rules to follow of course, but my mom gave us chore charts.  She did this when I was little and again when my sisters and I were teens.  They were very different as they were age appropriate, but looking back they taught us to do our fair share and to take responsibility for ourselves.

As a little girl, my chore chart had the days of the week (I was learning those), and the chores that I was responsible for and capable of doing. (i.e., making my bed, picking up my room, putting my clothes in the dirty laundry hamper, etc.)  My sister and I shared the responsibility of laundry, cleaning our bathroom, dusting and vacuuming as we got older.  The chore chart faded away as the things we did became a habit and generally just expected.

As a teen, the chart came back into effect for dividing up chores and keeping us each accountable as individuals.  We had a calendar hanging in the kitchen with our initials on the days and order.  1, 2, 3, and repeat.  This was our dishes calendar.  If our name fell on the day, then we were responsible for doing dishes that night. (no question or hassle, it was there in black and white). NOTE: If our name fell on a day where we had a pre-planned social activity that kept us away at dinner time, the task of dishes fell to my mom, so she had her fair share of dishes nights too.)

As a young child, there were rewards for accomplishing all of my chores and doing them well.  Gold stars placed on my chart, a prize at the end of the week (this was either being able to stay up 30 minutes past my bedtime, or maybe watching a movie of my choice, or being able to have a friend over).  The consequences for not doing my chores were just as clear (i.e., no TV, no friends coming over, etc.)

These chores taught me to keep my home clean, to respect my property and that of others,  to be responsible for myself.  Don’t get me wrong, I did not have a difficult or challenging childhood, but my parents had rules and they had good reason for them.  Looking back I am so grateful they did.  I am the woman I am today because of them.  Things like washing the towels and sheets on your bed, vacuuming AND dusting, cleaning out your closet occasionally, are all random things we take for granted as an adult but should thank our parents for teaching them to us when we were young.  After all, they taught us to use a spoon, wipe our own tushes, and hopefully to take care of ourselves overall as were grew into successful independent adults.

If you have a little kiddo in your home, I hope you are teaching them to grow into fabulous independent adults.  The joy is equal in succeeding as an individual as it is to watching your child succeed, knowing you did a good job.

SIDE NOTE: I was an argumentative child at times.  I hated to be told no.  I would accept a choice or a reason, but the word “no” sent me through the roof many times.  These chore charts outlined exactly what was expected of me and decreased the arguments over all.  As I grew older I appreciated conversations with reasons and purpose rather than being “told what to do”.  Today as a result, I have a pretty solid foundation and open line of communication between myself and all of my parents.  (As I mentioned before, I have two step-parents that also raised me and I respect them as much as I respect my biological parents.)

Summer fun on a budget

We all love the roller coasters, concerts, and road trips during the summer, but those activities can end up costing a fortune if you aren’t careful and if you have a family of four or more that cost gets higher faster.  Tickets, Food, Gas, Souvenirs, yikes!

I wanted to take a minute and offer a few ways to save some pennies this summer and still make great memories.  We all know I love to make lists, so not to disappoint below is a list of inexpensive summer plans and additional ways to save some cash while having a blast.

  1. Summer Concerts in the park: Many cities offer free or nearly free shows in parks (especially if you live near a college town). Bring a blanket and a picnic and kick off your sandals while you enjoy the music. Bonus fun if you get up and dance with your kids!
  2. Camping: If well managed, this doesn’t have to be an expensive adventure. For starters, you can camp in your own back yard and have just as much family fun outside under the stars there as you can in a campground.  Second, plan ahead and weekday campsites are typically less expensive.  Plan food ahead and don’t forget to bring some fun (free) activities like outdoor games and challenges to keep kids having a great time. Simple meals like sandwiches don’t require cooking so no charcoal or grill supplies are required.
  3. A Day at the beach: Find your nearest waterway. It might be a river or a pond, but chances are you can find a body of water close to home that offers a chance to try out some water activities. Many water locations have recreation areas where you can rent kayaks or canoes very inexpensively. (They may even offer free usage for locals and students.) There’s plenty of fun to be had on the banks of a river. Make it a daytrip, don’t forget to pre-pack your snacks and enjoy!
  4. Get a National Park Pass: If you live near a National Park, then it’s a great idea to buy a membership pass that you can use all year. Don’t want to splurge on one? Most National Parks have very affordable one-visit passes, and some even have discount days.
  5. Free Pool Play Dates: Be sure to take advantage of your neighborhood pool, and set up play dates with friends and family. Don’t have a neighborhood pool? Set up a play date with someone who does!
  6. Free Outdoor Concerts or Movies: There are many free outdoor performances over the summer. Check your area for any, and see if you can pack a picnic to take with you. Hint: if you’re looking for a summertime date without the kids, swap a night of babysitting with a friend, and bring along a blanket with some wine and cheese. Kick back and enjoy your free performance under the stars!
  7. Free and Cheap Store Events: Several national chain stores offer free kids’ activities throughout the year, such as building wooden projects in Lowe’s Free Build and Grow program, Home Depot’s free weekly workshops, $2 Michael’s Kids Crafting Classes, Lakeshore Learning Free Crafts for Kids, Disney Store’s Free Summer Play Days …and the list goes on and on.
  8. Be a hometown tourist: You don’t have to leave town to go on a vacation: Get to know the town you live in. Look into local landmarks, call the local historical society for some fun hometown trivia, and ask a neighbor for her favorite restaurant recommendation to try somewhere new.
  9. Volunteer your time: Volunteering teaches compassion and responsibility—it also keeps kids busy. Little ones can do plenty, like cleaning up a green space or collecting canned goods.
  10. Geocaching: This is a fun activity for all ages. There is an app to download (free).  This is a real life treasure hunt for trinkets.  Move the trinkets from location to location and log your finds and trinket status.  Add a trinket (once logged) and keep an eye on it via the website to see if your trinket is able to move across the state or country.

Extra ideas: Splash Parks, Free Bowling Nights, Free Skating Nights, Playgrounds and Parks, Local classes at Home Depot or Michaels Craft store, Storytime at a local library or bookstore, Game Nights, Bicycle Rides, the options are endless!

What to do with cook-out leftovers?

Did you have a recent cookout or party at your house? Is your fridge filled with leftover meat, veggies, and other yummy goodness? From chicken tacos to pan-fried sausage, here’s how to use up all the leftovers from your cookout and make sure they don’t go to waste.

Grilled Chicken Tacos:

INGREDIENTS

1 medium onion,

cut into wedges,

keeping root intact 2 garlic cloves,

finely chopped 1 pound skinless, boneless chicken thighs

1 tablespoon cumin seeds, coarsely crushed

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

8 corn tortillas, warmed (for serving)

Charred Tomatillo Salsa Verde (click for recipe; for serving) Cilantro sprigs, sliced radishes, and lime wedges (for serving)

RECIPE PREPARATION Prepare grill for medium-high heat. Toss onion, garlic, chicken, cumin, oil, salt, and pepper in a medium bowl. Grill onion and chicken until cooked through and lightly charred, about 4 minutes per side. Let chicken rest 5 minutes before slicing. Serve with tortillas, Charred Tomatillo Salsa Verde, cilantro, radishes, and/or lime wedges.

Grilled Sausage and left over grilled veggies = Fritatta You can chop up leftover sausage and add it to an egg scramble, omelet, or frittata.

INGREDIENTS

6 large eggs

6 ounces leftover roasted vegetables, cut into ½-inch pieces (about 1½ cups)

½ cup leftover cooked grains or crumbled leftover sausage

1 ounce coarsely grated or crumbled cheese

1 tablespoon finely chopped tender herbs, such as thyme, basil, and/or chives Kosher salt Freshly ground black pepper

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided

RECIPE PREPARATION

1. Vigorously whisk 6 eggs in a medium bowl until streak-free.

2. Add 5 oz. vegetables, ½ cup grains (you can use left over sausage too), 1 oz. grated cheese, and 1 Tbsp. herbs; season with salt and pepper. Mix with a rubber spatula to combine.

3. Heat 1 Tbsp. oil in a medium nonstick skillet over medium; swirl skillet to coat with oil.

4. Add egg mixture and cook until edges are set, about 30 seconds.

5. Using spatula, agitate eggs by scraping bottom of skillet in a small circular motion and bringing edges toward center of pan to form large curds, then let mixture sit undisturbed until edges are set again, about 1 minute.

6. Reduce heat to low and continue to cook, tilting skillet and lifting edges up with spatula to allow uncooked egg to flow underneath and around sides, until surface is wet but center is mostly set when you shake the pan, about 5 minutes.

7. Shake skillet to loosen frittata. Place a large plate over skillet and invert frittata onto plate.

8. Heat remaining 1 Tbsp. oil in skillet over medium, swirling to coat. Slide frittata back into skillet; reduce heat to low. Cook until set all the way through, about 3 minutes.

9. Let frittata cool in skillet 5 minutes, then invert onto a cutting board.

10. Season frittata with salt and pepper. Cut into wedges to serve.

SIDE NOTE: This Fritatta can be prepared in advance covered and chilled. Bring it to room temperature before serving. Great to have on hand for the morning after and any visitors that may have stayed the night.

Other left over ideas can be the following:

1. Hot Dogs can be turned into beans and franks

2. Grilled steak can be converted to street tacos (use caution when re-heating so you don’t dry out your meat or over cook it.

3. Left over condiments like olives, tomatoes, cucumbers, etc can be made into a fun pasta salad (use rotini and an italian dressing seasoning packet for great flavor)

Do you have a bucket list and are you ticking things off?

When my mom turned 60, my sister and I asked her to create a “Bucket List”.  She laughed and responded, “I’m not dying!”  On the contrary, my mother is in impeccable health and will probably live well into her 90’s.

Our point in asking her was that she spent the majority of her life raising my sisters and I and now that we are grown doing well on our own with families of our own, we want to ensure she has and is ticking off items from her own “Bucket List”.  When tasked to make a list, she started small.  We went to a painting class, we took a segway tour around a city a few hours away, we went to a hockey game, and even zip-lining.  As she tried more of the things she had yet to explore we found that her list grew longer and more adventurous.  We have learned a lot about our mom, been able to experience great things with her and grown closer as adults.

In the past few years she has experienced her first concert and for this our cousins and husbands joined in the fun.  It was an amazing time.  This past year my sister and I had the pleasure of accompanying our mom on her first cruise.  The three of us traveled to Mexico where we ate authentic Mexican cuisine and went snorkeling in an underground river.

As she has added to her list and our adventures have grown, so has my personal bucket list.  I’ve discovered more of what I would like to do and where I would like to go along the way.

I challenge you to create your own bucket list and ask your family to do the same.  By writing it down and posting it you will not only discover your family’s dreams but also have a visual reminder of the things you can plan for and do.

This Saturday I will be skydiving for the first time in my life.  I’m terrified and excited all at once but as they say “You only life once” and I truly want to experience it all on my trip through life.

Enjoy your family, experience the world around you, and make memories everywhere you go.  Have a Happy Day!

Happy Fourth of July, Celebrate safely

Happy Fourth of July! As we gather our families and friends to celebrate our nation’s holiday let’s remember to use caution and be safe. Below are some easy safety tips to follow and share.

  1. Obey all local laws regarding the use of fireworks. Know your fireworks; read the cautionary labels and performance descriptions before igniting.
  2. A responsible adult SHOULD supervise all firework activities. Never give fireworks to children.
  3. Alcohol and fireworks do not mix. Save your alcohol for after the show.
  4. Light one firework at a time and then quickly move away.
  5. Use fireworks OUTDOORS in a clear area; away from buildings and vehicles. Never relight a “dud” firework. Wait 20 minutes and then soak it in a bucket of water. Always have a bucket of water and charged water hose nearby.
  6. Dispose of spent fireworks by wetting them down and place in a metal trash can away from any building or combustible materials until the next day.
  7. Never carry fireworks in your POCKET or shoot them into METAL or GLASS containers.
  8. Do not experiment with homemade fireworks.

And let’s not forget the safety of our pets!

  1. Don’t bring your pets to a fireworks display, even a small one.
  2. If fireworks are being used near your home, put your pet in a safe, interior room to avoid exposure to the sound.
  3. Make sure your pet has an identification tag, in case it runs off during a fireworks display.
  4. Never shoot fireworks of any kind (consumer fireworks, sparklers, fountains, etc.) near pets.

Extra tip for pet owners: I personally have two very very small dogs and loud bursts of sound terrify them. During holidays and celebrations that include fireworks, we like to leave the tv or radio on a little louder than normal close to their sleeping quarters. This provides for constant sound, drowns out some of the noise from fireworks, and helps to reduce the stress of the random bursts of noise.

3 ways to cook corn on the cob for your next get together.

Corn on the cob is a great staple for cookout! Here are three easy ways to cook the perfect corn on the cob for your next cookout. #Cornonthecob #cookout #cookingisfun

1. Boil it up: Boiling is the classic way to prepare sweet corn. You can either use a wide, flat pan and lay the corn on its side, or use a taller stockpot to boil a big batch at once. Either way, fill the pan with enough water to cover the corn and bring it to a boil. Shuck off the outer husk and silk from the corn. Dissolve a tablespoon of salt in the water and add the corn. If your corn is very fresh, cook it for three to five minutes. For corn that’s a few days old, go for six to eight minutes once.

2. Microwave it: In our house, we use this method a lot when having corn as a side dish for dinner. Shuck the corn and wrap it in damp/moist paper towels. Cook on high for three minutes. Carefully remove from the microwave (it will be hot), coat with butter and seasoning and wrap it in aluminum foil. It will continue to steam in the aluminum foil and absorb the butter and seasoning as it cooks.

3. On the grill: Roasting on the grill gives the corn a smoky flavor that is absolutely delicious. Peel back the husks, but leave them attached at the stem. Remove all the silk and then brush the corn with olive oil (butter can sometimes burn). Add salt and peper to your preference. Cover the corn back up with the husks and secure them closed with a piece of string or aluminum foil. Roast the ears of corn over a medium-hot grill, turning occasionally, until the outer husks are charred and toasted. This usually takes about 15 minutes. Let the corn cool enough to handle, then strip off the husks and eat.

When water is thicker than blood

Many times I have heard the saying blood is thicker than water when it comes to family matters but I have found that this is not always true.  If you have had the pleasure, the HONOR, of living in a blended family than you know that water can be thicker than blood.  Let me give you some beautiful examples from my own experience.

Let’s start with my parents.  Both of my parents re-married when I was young and I was blessed with two step-parents who love me as their own.   My step-mom is my first example.  From the word go, she has treated me as her very own daughter and never waivered.  I have tested her love, tried her patience, and even tried to drive a wedge into her marriage to my father simply because I was a punk kid at times.  (Even into my twenties).  I made some rough choices and she stood by my side, encouraged me, lifted me up and helped dust me off when I fell.  She is one tough lady but has always been there standing next to me and even behind me letting me shine as I found my own light as an adult.  Just as my own biological parents have done.

Next there is my step-father.  This is another example of unconditional love.  He and I have a different relationship than he does with my other siblings.  Though he loves us all very much, he and I have a special bond that I value very much.  This bond is a result of choices I made in my twenties that changed my life and the lives of my family. (I will go into this in a separate blog someday down the road, but trust me, bad choices bring out major changes).  My parents, all four of them stepped in to help me at varying degrees and this opened up many channels of communication that I never thought possible.  It was when I was at my lowest point that I found the most love and tolerance.  I thought I had pushed all of my family to the breaking point, but this couldn’t have been further from the truth.  My parents and my step-parents have taught me what real unconditional love is for a child and for another human being.  For that, I am eternally grateful.

This brings us to the present.  I am now married and a step parent to two wonderful grown men.  They of course don’t need a mommy or by any means even a mother, but here I  am and they are stuck with me.  I say that jokingly.  I love these two men as if they were my very own all along.  I now know how my step-parents felt and feel.  I worry about these guys constantly and want the best for them always.  It’s crazy!  They have children of their own and I am beyond blessed to be their “grandma”.  Words cannot describe the feeling I get when the family I married into comes together.  Some live close by and some are out of state, but I assure you they are all as close to me and as important to me as my sister, my niece and nephew, and my own parents.

Each of my sons participates in a blended family as well and I am so proud of the kind of men they are.  They are great husbands / boyfriends and amazing fathers.  Raised by an amazing man, my husband.  Though I didn’t have any part in raising them, I am still just as proud of them as ever.  My cup runneth over!  For the longest time as a child I took my step- parents for granted.  I was so very wrong.  They chose to marry my parents, they chose to be a part of my up-bringing and they choose to still be a part of my everyday life and for that I am so eternally grateful and blessed.  I too choose to be a part of my sons lives and I am so blessed that at this stage in their lives they let me.  As adults they have the opportunity to accept me into their lives, their homes and their new families.

Throughout my life, one of the greatest lessons I have learned is that your family is what and who you make it.  It consists of blood relatives, people you marry and friends that are just as important or even more important than family.  Family can be close in proximity or live far away.  You can talk every day or once a month or once a year, but they are still there for you, supporting you, loving you, and in your corner when you need them and you are there for them as well.

When I play those silly games wondering what would you want with you if you were stranded on an island, my answer is always my family.  I can  make it through anything anywhere with them by my side.

My wish for you, my friends, is that you love your family / friends as much as I do.  That you have the opportunity to make amends if they are needed and that you embrace life and love more than “stuff”.  At then end of the day you “can’t take it with you”.  After all…

“Life is not measured by the number of breaths you take, but by the number of moments that take your breath away.”

As always, have a happy day.

Easter isn’t just for the little ones… it is a family affair!

Don’t let the fun of Easter fade just because your little ones are growing up.  This season try a new twist on the Easter holiday if you have slightly older kids in your home.  If you are planning an Easter dinner, you are of course going to spend a little on grocery shopping and that will take time.  or maybe you are planning on eating out as a family.   Well, I propose a little something different.  Take that cash you will spend and hide it in the little plastic eggs you can buy at the dollar store.  Send your kids on a fun (potentially long) egg hunt and this one could include a scavenger hunt if you have older kids.  If you prefer not to do the plastic eggs, than just make it a scavenger hunt where each clue leads your kids to a cash prize and closer to the finale where they will find out the location of dinner (and the fact that the cash is what will pay for the dinner!)  That’s right…. dinner is on them this year!

If you are a softy like me, you will of course have their Easter basket for them at the family dinner or at the final clue location so there are candy and treats to be enjoyed, but the fun can be had for older children as they figure out the clues and race through the yard as they did when they were younger hunting for eggs.  Below are some examples of great clues:

  1. If you’re in a hungry mood, go here first and find some food.
  2. Now you’re on your second clue, these go on before your shoes.
  3. If you want your teeth to shine, pick this up and spend some time.
  4. Take a walk and step outside, this is where you go to ride.
  5. I used to write to send a letter, but now this machine does it better!
  6. Rubber ducky your the one!  You make ______ lots of fun!
  7. Hickory Dickory Dock, The mouse ran up the ________!

There are so many more you can come up with.  You can google “Scavenger Hunt Clues” and the lists are endless or come up with your own to include the fun places in and around your house.  Use a theme, rhyme, or make fun jokes.  Have fun and make it interesting.  This can be a fun tradition your children will look forward to each year.

On a side note, have you ever wondered about the history of the Easter Egg or the Easter Bunny?  What are they and where did they come from?  Well here is a quick history lesson for you as we hop into the holiday and hunt for our eggs.

The egg is an ancient symbol of new life and rebirth. In Christianity it became associated with Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection.[102] The custom of the Easter egg originated in the early Christian community of Mesopotamia, who stained eggs red in memory of the blood of Christ, shed at his crucifixion.[103][104] As such, for Christians, the Easter egg is a symbol of the empty tomb.[14][15] The oldest tradition is to use dyed chicken eggs, but a modern custom is to substitute decorated chocolate, or plastic eggs filled with candy such as jellybeans.

The Easter Bunny is a popular legendary anthropomorphic Easter gift-giving character analogous to Santa Claus in American culture. Many Americans follow the tradition of coloring hard-boiled eggs and giving baskets of candy. On Easter Monday, the President of the United States holds an annual Easter egg roll on the White House lawn for young children.[105] Since the rabbit is a pest in Australia, the Easter Bilby is available as an alternative. Easter eggs are a widely popular symbol of new life in Poland and other Slavic countries’ folk traditions. A batik-like decorating process known as pisanka produces intricate, brilliantly-colored eggs.

The celebrated House of Fabergé workshops created exquisite jewelled eggs for the Russian Imperial Court.

I hope you enjoyed the quick little lesson and I certainly hope you plan on trying a scavenger hunt or something fun with your family this Easter.  As always, have a happy day!

Vacationing – “Gypsy Style”

The best vacations are the unplanned ones.  My husband and I have just returned from a whirl wind trip around Florida where in one week we accomplished the following:

  • A weekend trip to a friends wedding where I participated as a bride’s maid.
  • A visit to my dad’s lake house to pick-up a few things for my dad (pre-surgery for him)
  • A few days in the keys (fishing, kayaking, site seeing, etc.)
  • A celebration of life for my Great Aunt who has passed away (at 95 years of age)
  • A visit to my father’s house (post-surgery)
  • A visit with  my son and some house hunting
  • And home to in-pack and do some laundry.

Now, I will admit, some of these little day or multi-day trips were pre-planned, but for the most part, we just jumped in the car and headed out for a road trip and our vacation worked our beautifully.  Stress free and my husband and I laughed harder and longer than we have in so long.  Along the way we made new friends and connected with old ones.  We made side trips to the Sponge Docks of Tarpon Springs and took a little hike thru the Florida Panther and wildlife preserve down in Alligator Ally (neither of which were even thought of in advance).

If I can offer a few pieces of friendly advice they are the following:

Love often and laugh hard.  Tell jokes!  Sing along to the radio.  And don’t get mad if the other person likes to hum.  That’s right hum.  I have learned that my husband hums when he is happy.  It used to irritate me, now, I listen for it because it lets me know that he is genuinely happy in is heart and then I have done my job.

Hold hands with your best friend just because you can.  I love it when my husband comes up beside me and takes my hand to go for a walk.  There is no reason.  He isn’t “Dragging me somewhere” or “Showing me something”.  He just likes me close to him, and I, he.

Stop and smell the roses, and take a picture too!  Along our trip, we noticed things that had we been in a rush we would have missed.  The Alligators on the shore of the ditch along the road.  The iguana eating lunch in the mangroves as we kayaked in the afternoon.  The beautiful shells along the seashore and the tide changed.  The local food, the music, the smells in the air, all so beautiful if we just slow down and put our electronics away for a moment.

Stop worrying.  We had so many things to see and do during the week.  A wedding, time for each other, a surgery for my dad, extended family worries, and a funeral of sorts.  But as my dad has always told me….  Even when you leave this world, someone will still pile things into your “inbox” and the world will still turn.  Do what needs to get done and don’t sweat the small stuff because after all, it’s all small stuff.

So with that in mind, we enjoyed the heck out of each day and love each friend and family member as we made it to them.  And all the while, we held hands, sang songs and laughed.

May your next vacation be very soon.  Try to take an evening away, a little weekend getaway or even a few days to get back to what is really important and that is each other.  As always, have a happy day.

Speaking without words – love

Have you ever wondered what the world would be like without the words “I love you” or “I’m sorry”?  Without being able to say “I’ll fix it” or “I’ll make it up to you”?  Have you ever wondered what the world would be like if we all “spoke” without ever saying a word.  No sign language, because after all, those are still words.  But actually not using those phrases or anything similar to those at all?  Here it comes my friends, another challenge!  Valentine’s day is right around the corner. New Year’s has come and gone, and I suspect some of us may have already fallen short on a few resolutions.  So here is my February Challenge for everyone.  Try speaking without words.  You read that right!

I’m asking you to try to learn all of the different languages of love that are out there.  Try “doing” instead of “saying”.  Is it a smile instead of a frown?  Is it a gesture of making the bed or actually hanging up the towel or folding the laundry that catches your partner’s eye and lets them know you heard them?  Is it showing up maybe five minute early to pick up your child so you can see their face light up that you took time out to put them first instead of being the last to pick them up?  (It does make a difference.)  Is it remembering what a favorite meal is for breakfast or adding a note in a lunch box or writing a note in the mirror from the steam of the shower?  The point is to slow down and not make excuses or high five in the hallway this month with the traditional kiss goodnight and “I love you”.  Please try to figure out what makes your friend and family feel special or make them feel like you heard them and DO THOSE THINGS.  I promise, it comes back ten fold in happiness on all levels.

I will give you a hint (and a glimpse into my life).   Even setting up the coffee in the morning for your spouse so they just have to turn on the machine goes a long way.  My husband does this for me and every morning it starts my day with a huge smile because I know in his morning rush, he took a few minutes to think of me when he didn’t have to.  He measures out the cream and sugar and puts the K-cup inside the Keurig so that all I have to do is press the button.  He even puts the spoon inside the cup to remind me to stir.  Every single morning, he manages to melt my heart without saying a word.

I hope this challenge pays off for you and everyone you try it with.  As always my friends, have a happy day!

 

Re-purposing Christmas Cards – a Fun DIY way to keep them going

Have you ever thought that there should be a way to keep Christmas cards after the Christmas season?  So many of them are beautiful and some are sentimental.  Some are photos of loved ones and it is a great way to see how our friends and family members grow and change from year to year.  I thought it would be fun to share some DIY ideas of how to re-purpose and craft the Christmas Cards you received so that you can cherish them throughout the years.   As usual, I‘ve done some research, so I can’t take credit for all the ideas I share, and I would love to hear about any ideas you have as well.  NOTE: before you re-purpose any Christmas card or toss an envelope be sure to update your contacts and make sure you have the senders correct address so you can be sure to have them on your birthday and holiday card list for the coming year!  Especially if you have a growing business.  Sending holiday cards is a great way to keep your growing business in full swing at the close of the year.

  • If there is no writing on the backside of your card cover (where the image is), you can cut off the top fold and use it as a postcard, writing your message on the blank back side.
  • You can slice card covers into four to six different rectangles and use them as gift tags. Punch a hole in the card and slide it onto your ribbon before you tie your bow.
  • Cut the card covers into festive shapes like Christmas trees, ornaments, and stars. Then punch a hole, and tie a loop through it with ribbon. Then, use it as an ornament on your tree. You can spice them up with glitter, beading, etc.
  • Cut the card covers into star shapes and letters to spell out words like “Merry Christmas.” Then, make a garland out of them by stringing them together with twine, yarn, or ribbon.
  • Use them for book marks! Cut the image out of the front that of the card that you want to keep in a long rectangular shape.  Punch a hole in the top and thread a ribbon thru making a knot around the hole.
  • Use the images from your cards to decorate an ordinary brown gift bag. Cut the images out of the card and glue them onto the gift bag turning your gift bag into a beautiful and unique 3D gift bag and keepsake.
  • Keep photo gift cards for ornaments on your tree. Cut the photos out.  You can either laminate the photo and hot glue ribbon to the back and remember to add a date or insert the photo into a store bought photo ornament with the year already on it.  Year after year your tree will turn into a family and friend tree and keepsake.
  • In the past, you used to be able to donate your Christmas cards to St. Jude’s Ranch for Children.  This program has since been discontinued, but if you have a local organization that you work with, reach out to them and see if they can use your Christmas cards for Re-purposing.  (Be sure to remove any personal info first, of course).

Lastly,  I hope your holiday was everything you wished for and more.  Mine certainly was.  As you take down the decorations this week and move into the new year, please be sure and not pack that beautiful holiday spirit away.  That special feeling should stay with you all year long.  As always, have a happy day.

The importance of a morning routine

Ever stop to think about your morning routine?  Ever try changing it and feel either totally rejuvenated or completely out of sorts.  Isn’t it funny how one or the other is bound to happen?  I will share with you my morning routine and hope to hear about yours as well.  First let me share with you the back story for this little blog.

I never used to have a morning routine.  Or, maybe my routine was that I didn’t have one at all.  I would set my alarm, hit snooze about five or six times and then after running very late, charge out of bed like a mad-man, rush around then out the door!  It wasn’t very relaxing and not the least bit productive.  I was neither reliable or organized.  Oh how times have changed.  I have come to learn the value of a morning routine.  Looking back at my childhood, I remember my parents and their morning routines.  Each had their own, but each definitely had specific routines.  It is my mother’s that stands out the most to me.  She would get up before my sister and I and make her coffee.  She would sit on the end of the couch in total silence and sip her coffee and just be still.  These days, she still does the same getting up before my step-father and before her dogs awaken to enjoy her peace and quiet.

As an adult, and a wife in my own home, I see the importance of this very routine.  It is the way you start your day and it truly does set the tone for your day.  Looking back on  days that I jump up out of bed and run through my morning, my whole day tends to follows suit.  I feel rushed, unorganized and behind the eight ball all day.  More often than not, my morning routine is as follows:  I still awaken to an alarm and I still tend to hit the snooze button once or twice. My husband and I enjoy a cup of coffee together outside on the back patio as our dog does her morning business in the yard.  Then my dog and I chill out in the hammock and watch the birds flutter around in the trees and we listen to the leaves dance in the breeze for about 20 – 30 minutes.  There is very little conversation between my husband and I in the morning.  Not for lack of points of discussion, but more for true enjoyment of space and time.  It is my favorite time of day.  To be with the one you love and just be still.  It is beautiful.  To watch my dog be happy in the yard and then cuddle with me in the hammock is blissful.  (side note: she is only three pounds)  After our little outdoor time, I wander inside, feed the puppy and then begin getting ready for my day by making the bed, showering and getting dressed as usual with the accompaniment of a great playlist.

My point in sharing this with you is two-fold.

  1. to share with you my beautiful morning routine and reflect on the idea of enjoying a slow start vs a quick jolt to your morning.
  2. to ask you how your morning routine is?  Do you prefer to fill our morning with news and social media?  Do you prefer to exercise?

Think about how you start your morning.  As I asked before, what happens when there is a change in your routine.  When I am running late, my whole day is a mess.  On the flip side, When I am trying like crazy to start a new healthy routine, I am frustrated and rejuvenated all at once.  Like trying to start a new work out regime, or trying to switch up and do my household chores in the morning so I come home to a cleaner house.  I’m happy with the change, but a bit frustrated until I get the swing of things.  (Neither ruins my day, in fact I feel empowered).  There are so many versions of a great start, I hope whatever you do provides you a very happy day!

 

Holiday Cheer Challenge

Winter is here, Thanksgiving has come and gone and Christmas (or Hanukah or Kwanza) is at the forefront of every mind right about now.  But why do we celebrate these Holidays?  I can’t speak for Hanukah or Kwanza as I am truly not that knowledgeable on either, but I can speak about Christmas.  This is a season of giving and family.   Whether you are a religious or spiritual person or not, this description pretty much fits the bill.  For those a bit more spiritual, it is a time of celebration and reflection.  A time to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ.  No, I’m not going to get super religious in this blog, not to worry.  I simply want to point out that however you celebrate and for whatever reason, a general basis world wide is that this season is about family, giving, sharing, and love.  (Insert the holiday song Peach on Earth…  in fact, turn on your Christmas music!)

I would like to generate a Holiday Cheer Challenge.  For the rest of the month, I challenge myself and all of you reading this blog, to promote Holiday Cheer each day for the rest of the month.  I am a huge fan of making every day a happy day and sharing your happiness with the world.  By doing a Random Act of Kindness, being a secret Santa, making a conscious effort to pay it forward daily, I am positive you will find that your heart grows daily and by helping others, you will be filled with a little more peace and happiness in your soul.

Take a moment and think of a few ways you can do this:

  1. Random Acts of Kindness (these are always fun and usually super easy when you extend the olive branch to help a stranger)
  2. Become a Secret Santa.  This is fun to do in your home with your family or even extended family or ignite the tradition in your workplace.
  3. Pay it forward.  Surprise the car behind you in the drive–thru line by paying for their lunch or cup of coffee.
  4. Get involved in your community.  Commit to volunteering for one or more charitable organizations this month.  There are so many opportunities for adult, kids or the whole family together to help organizations or participate in community events this holiday season.
  5. Be a greeter for a while.  This may sound strange, but try standing at your local store this month for about 10 minutes and just hold the door for guests coming in and out.  Wish them a happy holiday season and brighten their day.  It may sound strange, but how many times has a door been held for you when your arms are full of shopping bags and it really made you grateful for the help?
  6. Spend more time with your family (near and far).  Turn the television off, jump n the car and go look at Christmas lights.  Visit a local church to hear a living Christmas Tree.  (If you have never heard or seen one, they are breathtaking.)  Keep that television off and play a board game.  Write a note to a friend or family member each day wishing them a beautiful holiday season and new year.  (Sending out holiday cards is always a great time and reason to send a little hug in the mail).

There are countless ways to spread a little happiness and if we all did this for just this month, the world will be a little bit brighter and less stressful for all of us.  Who knows, it may become a tradition in your family or a habit you keep all year long.  This may sound trivial to some of you, but by taking a moment to stop and think of others daily, you will find a little renewed pep in your step.  (The trick is to do these tasks without expecting anything in return, truly share and give of yourself).

I hope everyone one is jumping into the Holliday this year with both feet.  In my humble opinion, there is no greater time to get into the habit of sharing and caring for others more than right now.  Wishing you all a beautiful and blessed holiday season and as always, have a happy day.

Turn your gratitude into your goals… even better, a bucket list.

I’ve been thinking about all the things I’m thankful for and watching my friends and family lately.  Talking to them on the phone. Learning about their lives as time rolls on and finding out what is important to them.  It’s made me think about what is important to me and has me thinking about my goals for the future.  The New Year will soon be upon us and, as we all typically do, a list will get made of resolutions. As quickly as it’s made, it is forgotten.  I propose a challenge for us all, to do something different this year.  Let’s turn our gratitude list into our goal list.  Let’s create a bucket list for one year only.

This may sound sort of strange at first and I haven’t carved the whole thing out yet but let me start by sharing a little story with you.  A few years back my sister and I asked our mother to create her bucket list.  Her response was of course, “Girls, I’m not dying!  I’m not even sick!”  We laughed and agreed.  Our mother couldn’t be in better health.  In fact she will probably out live all of us.  We corrected her and pointed out that the fun part of a bucket list is doing the things you’ve always wanted to do while you can actually do them, NOT when you are past your prime and wish you had the strength or energy.  She thought about it and at first her list was small.  We went to a painting class, then a hockey game.  Her list grew as the ideas came to her of things she had never done but wanted to do or sounded like fun to try.  My sister and I have had so much fun helping our mom to tick things off her bucket list one by one and her list has grown just as quickly as we knock items off.  That is the fun of it, never finding the bottom, but always finding new adventures together.  We have since gone to her first concert, gone zip-lining, taken a Segway tour around a quaint town we had never visited before.  Just this past summer we were able to enjoy a cruise to Mexico with our mom.  It was the first time our mom had ever been on a cruise and she loved it.  The best part; it was just the three of us, my mother, my sister and myself.  It had been so long since the three of us had taken a trip that I’m not sure if it was the destination, the method of the destination or the company that made the trip absolutely perfect and a memory for a lifetime.  The point of this short story about my mom is that by asking her to make a bucket list, my sister and I have been able to share experiences with her that we never knew she had wanted.  These experiences are now beautiful memories for us all.  Now, each time I miss my mom I send her a note and ask what our next adventure will be.  For Christmas, my sister and I get a hand-made gift certificate from her good for one day to do whatever we want, a date with our mom.  That may sound trivial, but in a large family whom all have very busy lives and live across several cities, this is one of the most beautiful gifts I get each year and I look forward to it each year.

Circling back to the point of this blog if I haven’t lost you yet, I would like to take this time to think of all the things we are grateful for.  If you have small children in your life I’m sure they are bringing home crafts from school with little turkeys and feathers indicating all they are grateful for.  If you have older ones, take your next meal and make this a topic of discussion.  Learn about each other.  From there take a few days to think about it and begin to think how you can take what your family is grateful for and turn that list into a bucket list for next year.  If your family is grateful for “family” than take a family trip or maybe one day trip a month to somewhere new; A trip on a tankful.  If your little one is grateful for breakfast (there are always funny things they are grateful for), thank take that to heart and have your little one cook breakfast once a month on a weekend or maybe go out to breakfast once a month to a new restaurant or a special place.  The point is to turn your gratitude list into goals or a bucket list for the next year and embrace what your family feels is important.  Have fun with it and include them in the decisions for your list.

The experiences my sister and I have had with our mom have been priceless and each year we learn more about her; what her likes and dislikes are, what her dreams are and what she is looking forward to.  It was not until I was older that I have learned to appreciate these qualities in another person. They are what make up their whole person and what make them special.  Take time as you are learning about what your family and friends are grateful for this season to step back and really see what makes them special.  What are their wants, their fears, theirs hopes and dreams?  Can you help them accomplish them and in turn be a part of their memories and them be a part of yours?  Enjoy this beautiful season and enjoy your family and friends.  As always, have a happy day.

An Attitude of Gratitude

It’s November and this is typically the time of year when we all take more time than usual, or possibly stop for the first time all year, and begin to list the things we are grateful for.  Thanksgiving brings that warm loving feeling out in a lot of us and reminds us of the importance of family, friends, and quality time.  Here are a few challenges for yourself, your family and friends this fall season.  I challenge you to try one or all of them, bringing an “attitude of gratitude” into your home and possibly having it last beyond the holiday season.

  1. A daily gratitude list – Each day write down one thing you are grateful for. Put it on a small piece of paper and drop it into a mason jar.  On Thanksgiving Day, take time for each person to pull out their papers and share with family and friends what they are grateful for.  To expand on this idea, make it one jar per family and write your name / date on each note (so you remember who wrote it and when).  These can be one word notes or maybe a small message.  It will be a great way to start your Thanksgiving Holiday as well as start each day with an Attitude of Gratitude.  To keep this fun tradition going past the holidays, set dates for family gratitude dinners.  (Christmas Eve, New Years, Day, the first of each month, maybe every Sunday Night).  It can be a great way to keep a grateful heart and a great way to keep your family close. You might be surprised to find that one moment you took from your day, really touched a family member enough to make it on their gratitude list.  Now that is a full circle of happiness!
  2. A daily or weekly Random Act of Kindness – These can be a lot of fun and really make your heart smile! Do something for someone else that is unexpected and unsolicited with no expectation of a return gesture.  Some ideas that are fun can be paying for the car behind you in a drive thru line at a fast food place or coffee house.  Leave a kind note randomly on a parked car in the mall on a busy shopping day to simply wish a stranger a great day.  Stop and speak to a cashier or retail associate, look them in the eye, and ask how their day is going.  Thank them for working today.  If you have ever had a retail job during the holidays, than I’m sure you know that a person taking a moment to be nice goes a long way.  NOTE: This is also a great opportunity to set an example for the little ones shopping with us.  They learn by what they see and if your manners are great, it will rub off on them so remember please and thank-you as well.  There are so many ways to leave a smile, help another, the possibilities are endless, and this is a great way to use your imagination and do these things as an individual or make a greater team effort as a family.
  3. Contribute to a charitable organization or participate in a charitable event – Contributions come in many forms other than money. Two that come to mind are time and effort.  Volunteer for a local event, participate in the planning process, or maybe stay after to help clean-up along with participating.  This is a great way to help important causes in your community, get to know your neighbors, and work together as a family.  It feels good to give back.  Soup kitchens are always looking for volunteers, as are pet shelters.  Another great way to contribute (and get ready for Christmas) is to clean out your closets and toy boxes.  So many toys and clothes go unused / unworn and eventually get tossed out with the trash.  Make it a habit to help your children donate the items they are no longer using or have outgrown.

These are just a few ideas of how to have an attitude of gratitude and to help keep it past the holiday season.  I hope you and your family are enjoying the cooler weather and as always, I have a happy day!

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