Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Day 5: Elf on the Shelf

Day 4: Elf on the Shelf

It took Ryan some time to find Jolly this AM.

Probably because he was hiding in the fridge!

(Also, if you want your son to drink a gallon of milk in a day, dye it green and slap a stuffed Elf on the container...that kid drank milk ALL day!)

Day 3: Elf on the Shelf

Aaaaaaaaand SpiderElf is in the House!

(You'll notice quite a few superhero themed set-ups this year...Ryan is totally into superheros right now).

Day 2: Elf on the Shelf

Jolly delivers Ryan a Christmas tree each year.

This year Jolly hijacked Ryan's new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle ornament that Grandmama bought him. Ryan was *NOT* happy about it!

North Pole breakfast 2013!!

We had another super fun North Pole Breakfast!

The second Ryan came out of his room and noticed the marshmallow trail, he took off running and screaming, "Jolly's here!!"

We had a great time and I'm so happy we found this tradition to incorporate into our holidays.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Elf on the Shelf Super Plan!

Last year (2012) was the first year our family celebrated the Elf on the Shelf tradition.

Ryan was 2.5 years old and while I worried that may be pushing the limits of his comprehension abilities, I'm happy he completely proved me wrong. He became totally engaged in the magic, awakening each morning to happily announce that he *must* find Jolly! As he climbed out of his bed, he'd preemptively giggle just imagining what shenanigans Jolly must have involved himself in overnight.

I spent HOURS upon HOURS last year planning out the entire month.

Luckily, like most things in life, the first time is always the most time intensive. This year's planning was MUCH easier.

I started by reviewing the note I wrote to myself after last year...... I distinctly recall that the #1 problem we had last year was not having thoroughly vetted WHERE Jolly would be placed each evening. Recall:

My notes also reminded me that Ryan seemed to really enjoy the antics whereby Jolly incorporated familiar toys into the shenanigans. The Jolly-fishing-in-the-blue-toilet-water-with-disintegrated-goldfish was cool to me, but Ryan didn't necessarily understand how creative that was. But, the morning Jolly was playing Angry Birds in the kitchen? "That was sooooo cool, mommy!!!" 

With those reminders in mind, I sat down (in September and October, per the calendar) and planned out the 24 days of EOTS for 2013.

Here's the calendar, in all of its coffee-stained glory. Because I basically use code, I've included links to most of the ideas below so you can better understand each day.

Dec 1st- North Pole Breakfast!! Jolly's first appearance!

Dec 2nd- Jolly puts up a Christmas Tree in Ryan's bedroom

Dec 3rd- Squinkie Snowball fight

Dec 4th- Spiderman Elf, makes web (I bought spiderwebbing on clearance after Halloween)

Dec 5th- Green Milk in the fridge (I made the scarf and ear muffs from a small felt stocking I got on sale for $0.59 at Michael's last year before Christmas)

Dec 6th- Jolly gives RJ EOTS PJs (from Zulily) and an invitation to gingerbread party that night! (We have 2 couples coming over that night to decorate gingerbread houses, have breakfast for dinner, and watch Prep'N'Landing. We're all planning on giving PJs to the kids, and having our elves deliver invitations to the event)

Dec 7th- Jolly puts up Christmas Tree in the hallway outside RJ's room

Dec 8th- Underwear balloons!

Dec 9th- Canned good tree

Dec 10th- Marshmallow bath

Dec 11th- Elf Garden

Dec 12th- Cookies grow (or candy canes, if you plant peppermint candies)

Dec 13th- Picnic with toys

Dec 14th- Batman Elf (Jolly will dress up as Batman and is going to leave a handmade Batman costume that a friend handed down to us from her son when he was younger)

Dec 15th- Hot Air balloon ride!!

Dec 16th- Making S'mores with friends

Dec 17th- Stealing syrup (maybe with mini-sized pancakes)

Dec 18th- Jolly leaves balloons all over Ryan's floor while he's sleeping (squinkies inside so he has to pop them?)

Dec 19th- Elf brings donut snowmen

Dec 20th- Playing the DS with toys

Dec 21st- Tee Pees the Christmas tree

Dec 22nd- Breaks into piggy bank

Dec 23rd- Hides candy canes for RJ to find (leaves a note with it)

Dec 24th- Elf sized donuts as a parting gift

We also have a few very basic back up ideas in case we forget to set up and need to get it done at the last minute:

Hide'n'seek inside a glass
Name in the cereal
Snow angel
TP roll swing in the kitchen doorway

I think we have a good combination of complex and easy ideas planned. About half of them are repeats from last year. As you can see from all of the superhero ideas, Ryan is totally into them right now! Although, his favorite is IronMan so I may need to find a way to incorporate him somehow.

As was the case last year, I'm so excited for Dec 1st to arrive! Ryan has already been asking about Jolly and even remembered that he began his visit last year with a marshmallow trail into the kitchen (that kid has the memory of an elephant.....he clearly isn't my child; most days I can't even remember how old I am). 

T-minus 8 days until the big North Pole Breakfast!!

Friday, October 25, 2013

It's Magical

"Because it's magical."

That's the response I usually give when others ask me why I go so overboard with Elf on the Shelf.

(First of all, let's agree that the word "overboard" is subjective and left up to much interpretation.)

Here's the thing. When your fertility journey takes unexpected twists and turns and babies don't just fall out of you, I can safely say that your perspective on many things changes.

For me, one of the things I vowed to do if and when we were blessed with children, was to embrace their childhood.

"They're only young once." It's SO TRUE.

Month after month of disappointment and grief and being childless only solidified my drive to wring every little drop out of my future kids' childhood.

Now that we have a child, that desire to soak it all in hasn't waned. At all.

I have a friend who spent months and months planning her son's first birthday party. She probably spent more money on that party than I did on my wedding dress. And I remember our friends questioning why she was focused on planning every little detail of a party her son will never even remember. Some were judgmental in their questioning; others were honestly just curious since they didn't share the same desire to create such a memorable event for their child.

I'm sad to admit that at the time, I was one of the judgy moms. I couldn't believe the time and energy, let alone the money, she committed to the party.

Fast forward another year and I got it. I understood why someone would devote their entire being to planning an event, even if the child will never remember it.

It's like me and the Elf on the Shelf. This silly little Elf thing that causes moms to hurl more mean spirited comments than mentioning George W. Bush at the DNC National Convention. I'm serious!

I've seen a mom become so enraged by EOTS that she actually turned and walked away from me when someone else told her I was one of "those" moms.

The gal who stayed proceeded to berate me for showing up all of the other moms and making such a ridiculous imaginary creature seem so important.


But, I don't get upset when others refer to me as "that" mom You know, the Pinterest mom.

Because they probably haven't had the same experiences I've had.

Here's the thing: That desire that built up inside me to want to savor every little piece of Ryan's childhood is entirely responsible for Elf on the Shelf.

When I think about my childhood, part of what made it a childhood was that I believed in magic. I believed in things that adults don't believe in.

So when I think about how I can stir up that same belief in magic and special possibilities for Ryan, I think the EOTS fits the bill. Our Elf is special in that he only comes around once a year. His BFF is Santa. Come on, that's pretty magical, eh?

He flies to the North Pole EVERY NIGHT! He encourages good behavior while he himself is just a little mischievous. Who else can pull that off? See...magic. Pure Magic.

I have friends who won't cut their child's hair until they're at least two years old. Another friend won't use the phrase "big girl" around her daughter just yet.

Apparently, we all have our own ways of prolonging our kids' childhoods. Or at least making it distinctly childish instead of rushing them ahead into their advanced years.

So, I get it. I get that not everyone agrees with or appreciates the effort and time and money I put into EOTS.

But, as my dad says, "where you sit determines your perspective."

My perspective changed when our conception circumstances changed. And I'm eternally grateful things worked out as they did. And I'll continue to outdo myself year after year as long as Ryan believes in the magic of Santa and his Elf friend, Jolly.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Christmas planning

I start planning for the Holidays in August.

Judge me; it's OK. I can take it :)

On the 25th of each month beginning in August, I start planning for Christmas. I have a relatively complete list of things to do each month between now and December. Because I plan ahead, by the time December rolls around, I am able to *ENJOY* the month. Like, the ENTIRE month.

As a guest blogger last year for Salt & Nectar, I chronicled my planning in detail.

A reader commented and asked about philanthropy and service during the holidays since I didn't specifically mention that in my post. I generally don't advertise acts of service, so I intentionally didn't focus on that (although I did respond in the comments section with a few highlights of how we give back). One of my favorite bible verses is Matthew 6:3-4:
"But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you."

Having said that, I want to share with you something we're doing this year.

It's funny b/c even though I don't usually advertise good deeds, the reality is that much of what we do is done because we learned about it from someone else sharing their good deeds. Had others not told us about their service traditions, we wouldn't necessarily have evolved our giving into what it's become today.

During a Mothers of Preschoolers (MOPS) meeting last year, a friend shared with us one of her family's traditions. And I feel in love with it. Through Gospel for Asia, you can purchase items that help the poorest of families in Asia. Chickens, goats, and even water buffalo are available to purchase. Not only do the gifts provide food/milk, their eggs and milk can often be sold and become a source of income for  a family.

I had never heard of such a program and immediately became interested.

I was torn, though, because I had also just recently read an article in my Kentucky Monthly magazine about a Kentucky man, Aaron Collins, whose final wish before he died was to leave a $500 tip for a server at a restaurant. This act of service has since *exploded* and become a national movement. People all over the country are leaving large tips for servers. How cool would it be to leave such an large tip to someone waiting tables right around the holidays?

Having both of these service opportunities on my heart, we decided to do both. Since Christmas 2012, my little family has been saving change in a jar. This year, we'll cash in the change and use half to leave a larger than normal tip and the other half we'll use for Ryan to pick out a few things from the GFA catalog.

Although he's probably too young to truly understand the impact these acts of service will have on others, he's certainly old enough to learn how to give to those less fortunate.

We have our other traditions we'll continue this year like the North Pole Breakfast, and The Elf on the Shelf (oh yea, I'm one of THOSE moms), and of course, the Mini Express. But we're excited about our newest tradition and look forward to incorporating more service opportunities.

Do you have a favorite philanthropy or act of service idea I can steal from you too? ;)

Monday, May 6, 2013

I've lost my son

I've lost my son. And it feels awesome.

Obviously I didn't really lose RJ. I did, however, recently lose 34 pounds which is the weight equivalent of my 2.5 year old son.

If I stand on the scale with Ryan, I'd weight exactly what I weighed on New Year's Eve 2012 (5 months ago).

It was a picture taken on New Year's Eve that prompted my weight loss. I subsequently deleted the picture, 'else I'd show you now. Although it was a very blurry and poorly lit cell phone picture, my excessive weight still shown through. It was awful. It was the heaviest I'd ever weighed (non-pregnant).

Before I resigned from my job in Nov 2011, I had lost about 20 lbs. Mostly it was stress related weight loss, but I did consciously watch what I ate. A year later, I added on the 20 lbs and some. Ugh. I looked and felt horrible.

In 2013, I've lost 34 pounds so far. My goal, if you'll recall, was 15 pounds.

I kept the weight loss a secret until I had reached 25 lbs. To be honest, many didn't people even notice the first 25 lbs. I mean, a few people commented here and there, but it wasn't until I hit the 30 lbs mark a few weeks ago that it became more noticeable.

I've lost the weight entirely through calorie counting and eating healthier. I use MyFitnessPal App to track my calories. We eat a vegetarian dinner at least once/week. We eat MUCH smaller portions. I didn't start out making healthier meals; I just made and ate smaller portions of the same food we've always eaten. After dropping a few pounds, I got encouraged and then began making more of an effort to make healthier meals (enter Pinterest).

I keep all of my recipes on Evernote. You can view my notebook here. If you type "light" or "healthy" into the search box, recipes with those labels should appear. Most of the recipes have the nutrition info at the end of the recipe.

Some of our recent favorites include Creamy Tortellini with Spinach, Quinoa Salad, Philly Cheesesteak Stuffed Portabella Mushrooms, and Spinach salad.

For lunch, we eat at home 4 days/week (we meet hubs for lunch on Fridays) and I'll have a lean cuisine panini, lean cuisine cheese ravioli, salad, or smoothie. I try to keep lunch less than 350 calories.

I used to drink Dr. Pepper and Sweet Tea with meals. Now I don't drink any soda. I carry a water bottle with me and drink water with meals, even when we eat out.

I eat Dairy Queen, sometimes several times a week. But, now I order the kiddie sized treats rather than the medium sized.

I've lost significant weight twice before, but this time feels different. We haven't drastically altered our lifestyles to the point where we feel we're "almost there" and then can eat "normally" again. THIS feels normal. This feels healthy.

Now that I'm over the 30 lb mark, I've started adding exercise. We walk/jog 1-2 times/week. I try burning at least 150 calories.

I don't really enjoy running, but sometimes it's the easier thing to do. Strap on the shoes and get out there. I've got a Garmin Forerunner so I can just go. No planning ahead required.

I really want to weight train so I'm putting together a program for that. Weight training (at least in my mind) takes planning. I don't feel like I can just pick up weights and go. I probably could, but for some reason it just seems more complicated. Weight training is really what shapes the body, though, so I really want to start a consistent program.

I'm not sure what's so different this time around, but something definitely is different. Maybe it's because, for the first time, I've prayed about it? I've never prayed about weight loss before, but a comment a friend made about not being able to go at things alone really stuck with me. So I handed it over to God and asked for his help.

Thirty four pounds later, I'm glad I did.

I don't really have a goal weight. Maybe I should. But for now, I'm just trying to keep this as a no pressure, go at my own pace, take it one day at a time rate. And it's working.

A few weeks ago I bought some new jeans. They were one size smaller and fit great. The other day, I could pull them off without unzipping them. They're already almost too big. It's ridic. Fabulously ridic.

So, you'll have to pardon me (or hide me, whichever) when I start posting more pics of myself on FB. You see, for years, I avoided posting pics of myself. No one should be subjected to my bloated, triple chinned photos. But now, those single chin pics are making more of an appearance.

One chin, people. ONE chin!

Saturday, March 23, 2013

SMASH your year: February

I'm only about a month behind in posting my SMASHbook pages for February.

A few weeks ago, I had some minor medical problems that knocked me off my butt for a few days, but I'M BACK!

Here we go....February 2013:

I made the red Valentine's Day book and wrote a few notes about the holiday. I included a picture of the Valentines that Ryan gave his classmates. 

I love that we're doing this. I just know that in December 2013 when we look back at our year, we'll be proud of the fun memories we made and even more proud that we documented them!

See January's SMASHbook pages.

See Connie's AWESOME pages.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Menu Plan

Just got home form Kentucky. Loved the trip, but hated having to hit up the grocery store after driving all day.

Anyway, made it there and back and got a pretty good menu planned.

It is a BUSY week for me, but it's a good balance of work and socializing :)

Here's our plan for the week:

Sunday: Chicken Nuggets and/or cereal (lunch was our big meal today)
Monday: Mini Tacos
Tuesday: Cranberry Avocado Salad *new recipe

Cranberry Avocado Salad
Wednesday: Kale Stuffed Portabella mushrooms *new recipe

Kale stuffed portabella mushrooms

Thursday: General Tso's Chicken with fried rice

Looks good, huh?

Monday, February 25, 2013

New Recipes

Why is it that I only ever blog about food these days??

Cuz I'm back on Facebook ya'lll! I post all of my wit and humor there :)

OK, so we tried two new recipes.

Last night we had these Chicken Shawarma Pitas. Meh. They were OK. I was disappointed in the overall dish because when I made the marinade for the chicken, it smelled so good! It was creamy and had a little cinnamon kick. And the reviews on the website raved about the marinade.

But, when I cooked it, the chicken really dried out (probably some user error there) and the whole pita was just dry and bland. I also really messed up the yogurt based sauce that goes into the pita-- I accidentally used vanilla greek yogurt instead of plain. That made the sauce much sweeter than it's intended to be.

I think I was hoping for more of a gyro type meal, but this didn't do the trick (probably b/c its not a gyro recipe :) ). Next time I'm jonsing for a gyro, I'll try this recipe instead. I'll make it again (cooking the chicken in the oven instead of the Foreman grill and using plain yogurt instead of vanilla) but probably not for a while.

Luckily, tonight's dinner kicked some major flavor bootie!! We had Creamy Tortellini with Spinach and O.M.G! It was really good! At first I worried that the spinach wouldn't be cooked enough b/c all you do to prepare the spinach is to drain the tortellini over it in a colander. I thought that would make for some still crunch spinach leaves. Nope!

The recipe also called for savory garlic cooking cream. Huh? Never heard of it. Luckily I Googled it before I hit up the grocery. It's made by Kraft and found in the same section as the cream cheese.

I also almost bought cheese tortellini instead of the meat/sausage, but I'm glad I stuck with the recipe on that. I think the meat added a good flavor. Had I used the cheese, I think that would have been much and less flavorful.

I love everything about this dish. It's SUPER EASY, really creamy and has just a little bit of tomato flavor. Delicious.

The BONUS is that it's only 425 calories per serving!

I got the recipe from the magazine you get at the grocery store when you spend over $50. I usually don't look through it, but happened to this time. Glad I did. This is definitely a keeper.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Menu Plan

We'll be traveling to KY at the end of the week, so I only planned meals for Sun-Tuesday.

Trying TWO new recipes again :) Hope I'm not jinxing us by doing this two weeks in a row!

Sunday: Chicken shawarma pitas
Monday: Creamy Tortellini with spinach (doesn't that just sound delicious??)
Tuesday: Meatloaf and roasted broccoli

Have a great week my friends!

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

A few good recipes

This week, you'll recall that we're trying several new recipes. I usually limit new recipes to one per week in the event that they bomb badly :)

But this week, Craig picked out a few of them and was OK with trying new ones....

Last night we enjoyed the Philly Cheesesteak Stuffed Peppers.  I've never made anything using roast beef (I'm not a big fan) so I wasn't sure about this.

They were pretty good, though! I thought the peppers would soften more in the oven and taste more like sauteed peppers so I was a little disappointed when they were still pretty crunchy. I also didn't have any mushrooms to use (as directed). We definitely missed having them, too.

In order to cut calories, I only used 1/2 the butter it calls for and on MY pepper, I only used one piece of cheese (instead of two).

Next time, we're going to make the philly cheesesteak and put it over portabella mushrooms! YUMMO!

So, this is a keeper, with just a few alterations.

Tonight we also made a new recipe: Turkey Black Bean Enchiladas.

Clearly I forgot to snap a pic before we chowed down :)
Ummm.....DELICIOUS! I made this as directed (no alterations) for the mixture, but only had flour tortillas so I used those. The recipe says to stuff the tortillas with 2/3 C mixture, but that was waaaay too much so I only used 1/3 C. As such, the nutrition info provided on the original recipe was incorrect. I recalculated and came up with 238 calories per enchilada. SCORE!

This, too, is definitely a keeper. Next time, though, we're going to add diced green chilis because we like things with a kick.

All in all, it's been a successful week of new recipes :) Oh and technically Monday night's recipe was new too since the mix I had turned out to be Honey Sesame instead of our usual General Tso's. It was pretty good, although I still prefer the Tso stuff.

Seriously, those mixtures make some AWESOME dishes. We especially like the fried rice mix. Craig said he prefers that over take out. They're the Sunbird Seasoning Asian mixes found in the international aisle at our local grocery. They're $0.99 a packet. And they're really, really good.

Tomorrow night-- BISCUITS and GRAVY! Oh yeah.

Finally, I am unreasonably and inexplicably excited about my new digital scale.

We've never owned one and one of the blogs I follow alerted that it was on sale for $9.99 (originally $59.99) at Amazon (and still is!). It's also free shipping for Prime members.

It measures in ounces, grams, kg, and lbs. With all of the conversions I'm doing with calorie counting, this has been a huge blessing! Plus, come's fun piling crap on there to see how much it weighs :)

Monday, February 18, 2013

Organizing the important stuff

You know how you set out to accomplish a single, simple goal, like, "book a dental appointment," and then 2 hours later you've reorganized your entire household binder of important papers??

I had one of those super-efficient mornings. I needed to make a dentist appointment for Ryan now that he's finally on our dental plan and before I did, though, I wanted to review our policy details. After working in healthcare for 13 years, I knew better than to assume that every visit is covered. I wanted to make sure (best I could) that there aren't certain exclusions since Ryan is only 2.5 years old and this is his first visit.

The plan summary document is pretty straight forward, so I think I'm OK, but there's still a chance that the dentist will bill some totally obscure code that'll get rejected as "not medically necessary." That's just how things work.

Anyway, as I pulled out the documents to review, I started finding other paperwork that needed to be filed. Then I remembered that during MOPS last month, we made a Household Binder in which to organize important papers. Then I remembered that I found a ton of filing folders, binder clips, and tabbed folders in the guest bedroom recently. Then I remembered we recently opened a safety deposit box at a local bank and it's totally empty.

Organizing the household paperwork

Our Household Binder
Inside of Household Binder
One thing led to another which led to another and two hours later, I'm pretty well organized on the paperwork front :) And, I have some legal papers (Healthcare power of attorney, which, BTW, is DIFFERENT than the regular Power of Attorney) to put into our safety deposit box.

Our HealthCare Power of Attorney
Next fall, I'm the Assistant Coordinator of MOPS, so I need to start pulling things together now. I'm heading to Office Max later today (I could LIVE in that store) to grab an organizer or binder for the MOPS stuff. Many of the tabbed file folders I didn't use this AM will be put to good use for MOPS.

In addition to the binder, I also have a crate which I use for other major filings (taxes, retirement paperwork, car paperwork, work done on the house):

Something I'd like to be better at is saving (in one place) important receipts. You'd think that as much as I enjoy organizing that I'd already have that one down, but I don't. When we make a major purchase, I have every intention of storing the receipt in an important place. The problem is that I have approximately 539,205 important places for receipts! I have a folder in this crate for receipts (and ones to hold for 6 months), but I'm not great about actually putting receipts in there.

Later today, I'm taking Ryan to his first movie at the theater! We're going to see Wreck It Ralph with some friends. I'm hoping that Ryan sees how well the other kids behave and will model their behavior during the film. *Fingers Crossed!*

I've said it before and I'll say it again, I LOVE MONDAYS! 

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Menu Plan

Here's what we're eating this week:

Sunday: Sloppy Joes with sweet potato fries
Monday: General Tso's chicken with fried rice
Tuesday: Philly Cheese steak peppers (new recipe)
Wednesday: Turkey and black bean Enchiladas (new recipe)
Thursday: Biscuits and gravy (made with low fat biscuits)

If you follow the recipe links, most of them contain the nutritional information per serving.

And, I have to admit, I was TOTALLY WRONG about the zucchini boats from last week. I thought Craig would give them 2 out of 5 stars and ask to limit them to once/month. But, he actually really liked them! I thought they were OK (3/5 stars), but he really, really liked them. I'm glad :)

Thursday, February 14, 2013

A heart full of love

Happy Valentine's Day!

We celebrated with a little breakfast and some quality family time. Tonight we'll uphold our annual Valentine's Day tradition and enjoy breakfast for dinner at Bob Evans with our friends!

As much as I'm trying not to gift him for every little holiday, it's difficult to hold back when toys like this Toy Story Water station (retail $19.99) was on sale for $5.98!

Plus, he LOVES it and I'm pretty convinced that if the toy helps develop motor skills, then it's really not a toy, but rather a necessity :)

Giving Woody a shower

Yesterday was Pink Day at Ryan's school. Good luck finding a pink shirt for a toddler boy! Impossible. I thought about taking his red shirt and ruining it in the wash, but didn't. Whatever. They need to make pink polo shirts for toddler boys. Period.

Here are the Valentine's that Ryan gave to his classmates. I used this free printable to make them.

Valentine's we made for Ryan's classmates
He totally thought there was milk in them :)