My first Christmas at the Tedesco house, I was thrilled to see that Jason had a medallion ornament with his fourth grade (I think?) picture on his parent's tree that almost matched the one from my parent's tree. I don't think I had seen any pictures of him from when he was school-aged before I saw that ornament. Wouldn't it be great to have a tree dedicated to just photo ornaments from years past? I am going to try to make some photo ornaments each year for the next few years so that I will have a nice supply for a picture tree. We always just had one Christmas tree growing up, but my mom blew my mind this year by getting not one, not two, but three! trees. Since seeing how festive each tree looks in her house, I've been pondering the idea of getting more than one tree in a few years. (Not this year because we have a busy boy crawling all over the house and our one tree will be placed in our front den with the pocket door safely closed during the day.)  Unpacking ornaments to decorate the tree has always been one of my favorite Christmas traditions. Ornaments that my mom made when we were kids, ornaments that we made when we were kids (Chris made an amazing cyclops gingerbread man when he was five.), ornaments from vacations, our yearly ornaments from my Grandma Dee, they all bring back special memories. One of my favorite types of ornaments are photo ornaments.  I can't think of the last time I looked at a photo album, but I know that every year at Christmas, I cherish seeing my favorite people in our photo ornaments. Pinterest had lots of great ideas for DIY photo ornaments, but I found this site had the best ideas for capturing memories each year. I've already ordered some snowflakes and can't wait to get started making memories.

Also, a few years ago, I got the idea to take all of our photo booth pictures from the last few weddings we had attended and use them in some beautiful snowflake ornaments I bought at Kohl's to give as stocking stuffers to my mom and Jason's mom. The great thing about photo booth pictures are that we are always dressed up for them, the black and white is pretty flattering, and the little pictures are the perfect size for ornaments. Below are two that I gifted my mom and dad for their trees.  We have the one of me biting Jason's leg on our tree because that's a memory I definitely want to relive every year.


Wrap It Up

One of the things that I remember most from my first Christmas at the Tedesco house was Jason's mom's signature wrapping style.  Every single edge of wrapping paper was secured with scotch tape so that the same amount of effort that went in to wrapping the present had to go in to opening it too. With every present I successfully opened, I felt not only gratitude but also a sense of accomplishment.

Now that I am a mom, I've been thinking about developing my own signature wrapping style. I know some families use a different wrapping paper for each family member at Christmas, and I've seen other people get real fancy with lace. I think I've found something much simpler. For Father's Day, I used wrapping paper scattered with Happy Birthday in different fonts, but of course, I took the time to write "Father's" over every "Birth" in a black Sharpie. Then, when Maggie's birthday came around, I pulled the Sharpie out again to personalize her paper with an inside joke about our new favorite board book.  So when my sister and I were perusing the wrapping section at Target looking for Christmas tags last weekend, I was immediately drawn to this craft paper, and I think it's going to be my new signature style. Perfect for personalizing with Sharpies and stamps and paint and whatever else I have around at the time, every bow and ribbon will always match, and I'll never need tags. I bought every roll they had.
Also, although I love shopping for and wrapping presents, I look forward to the day when I'm a great grandma and can assign shopping and wrapping duties to the grandkids. Thanks for the PJs, Grandma Cil!

A Perfect Way to Start the Week

I have a family member (who shall remain nameless) who likes to ask one particular question at annual  Christmas soirĂ©es upon meeting someone for the first time. It's a highly personal and very technical question that garners immediate scrutiny and judgement upon the answerer. Because I know many of you are working hard and might be struggling to answer questions of what to give, what to bake, what to wear, what to bring and don't need so much added pressure this Christmas, I'm presenting the question here for your prior consideration just in case it comes up at your next shindig. 

That question is: What are your top five all-time favorite, must-watch Christmas movies? 

Mine, in a very particular order, are as follows:

1. Love Actually
2. How the Grinch Stole Christmas (I've been told that only full-length, non-animated movies are accepted when answering the question at parties, but I don't care. I love this movie enough to break that rule.)
3. Elf
4. The Family Stone
5. Home Alone

Feel free to scrutinize and judge. I'm fully prepared to defend myself over a glass of wine and some appetizers. And if you're up to it, leave your own favorites in the comments. I'd love to see some other lists and scrutinize from the comfort of my couch.

Also, just remember, "If you want more, if you want more, more, more. Jump."

Happy Monday! I hope your week is filled with answers to all your questions and many reasons to jump... for my love!


After an entire morning of battling Will to wipe his nose and reminding Lola, "No lick," I started wondering if I just let both of them be, would an acceptable (if not somewhat gross) symbiosis come about? I have tried tissues, warm wet washcloths, burp cloths, my fingers (such a glamorous life, I lead), and the kid just does not want his nose wiped. Depending on how naps go today, I might be tempted to let Lola just go for it.

Also, I googled "wiping baby's nose" this morning because I really do need some reinforcement, and I learned wiping down will help get more out of the nose and avoid chapped cheeks and using nipple cream can help with any chapping that does occur. And now, I am done writing the grossest post yet.

Looking Forward

There are days in the winter (I know it's not technically winter, but it's only going to be seven degrees tonight... so...) when I just CANNOT get warm no matter what. Jason worries that there is something wrong with me because of course, he is just lounging in shorts, warm and comfy, while I am wearing three layers and a blanket, shivering. Over the last few winters, in order to try to make me more comfortable (and save on heating), he has bought me a heated blanket and Hot Booties, but what I've found works best is flannel. After nights and nights of warming my icy feet on Jason's leg for minutes and minutes before finally getting back out of bed (Is there anything worse than having to get out of bed when you are already cold?) to put socks on, I finally remembered to put our flannel sheets on the bed, and oh my is it cozy and warm again. I know many people dread the cold dark season of winter, but there really is so much to which to look forward. Now that I am warm enough to keep my fingers outside of the covers, I'd like to share all that I am looking forward to...

Seeing: which toys William really gets into playing with after Christmas morning. The kid has been equally amused by his music table and a kitchen spoon.

Hearing: first words.

Tasting: tacino, lumpia, siapao, and adobo.  Over the year's, Jason's mom has trained me up to want and cook Filipino food at Christmas.  Last year, we made it for Christmas Eve, and this year we are planning to do the same. 

Feeling: warm inside when it's icy outside.

Smelling: our little family's first live Christmas tree. We're going to pick one out the weekend right before Christmas.

Drinking: Tall Caramel Brulee lattes with one and half pumps (that's half the normal amount) of syrup. Forget Pumpkin Spice. These are where it's at.

Wearing: flannel shirts under grandpa sweaters and puffy vests, basically my day to day momiform.

Reading: The Dinner, The One Hundred Year Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared, and The Four Signs of a Dynamic Catholic. Copies of all three have not only been recommended but also given to me over the last week, and winter is the perfect time to snuggle up and enjoy a good book. If you are looking for a rec, my favorite book of 2013 was Where'd You Go Bernadette. I read it during the summer, but I actually think it'd be a great winter read.

Watching: Elf, The Holiday, The Family Stone, The Grinch, and Love Actually at home and any movie in a movie theater.  Such a luxury these days, but Jason and I are going to make it happen. 

Playing: in our bright new playroom all winter long. Play dates are welcome! 

Making: crocheted baskets.  I have the supplies, but I need my mom to help me get started. I know we'll find the time this winter. 

Also, MOST OF ALL, I'm joyfully expecting the celebration of the birth of Jesus and taking time to let my heart prepare Him room... and heaven and nature sing. 

(This post inspired a bit by Pip. )

The Ultimate Nursery Item

The nesting ottoman!  Do you already have one in your house? (My sister Maggie did, and I must disclose that like all good ideas, using a nesting ottoman in the nursery came from her. Although, I am pretty sure that I was the one who originally made Maggie buy hers, so... maybe it was my idea all along?) When I was looking for a side table for the nursery, I couldn't find anything that I really loved the look of, so I just decided to go with something practical. Maggie had already moved her nesting ottoman into her nursery and it was doing the trick, so I decided to stop searching and just go out and buy a nesting ottoman of my own.

And I'm so glad I did! In eight months, we have used it every single day for: 1. Storage 2. a Side Table 3. Seating 4. an Activity Cube and 5. a Walker/Climber/Cruiser.  Is there any other nursrey item that you can think of that is so multi-faceted?

When I first came home from the hospital, Maggie had stocked my ottoman with fruit roll-ups and granola bars and Twizzlers (Oh my!), and from day one, I kept my Lanolin, little nursing notebook, pen, and water on the tray for quick and easy access. Now, we keep clean-up supplies inside and use the tray to keep Will's favorite books at the ready. After Christmas, we will probably use it to store and rotate toys.

The extra little ottoman is the only extra seating (besides the floor) in our nursery, and once we started our bedtime routine, it became my place to sit and pray and sing while Jason gives Will his bottle (and sits and prays and sings). So I got A LOT of daily use out of this item for the last eight months, but now that Will is moving and cruising (which is a technical baby term, by the way), every member of the family uses this item every day.

Will uses the different levels of the ottomans to pull himself up and cruise from ottoman to ottoman, ottoman to crib, and ottoman to recliner.  Sometimes, he pushes the small ottoman around, using it kind of like a walker. I can set temping items on top and (wallah!) instant activity cube. (We bought Will this activity cube for Christmas, and I am going to laugh if he likes the make-shift ottoman one better.)

Also, the soft padded edges mean that a fall elicits no more than a surprised look. And if it survives until a time when we no longer need it in the nursery, our nesting ottoman is neutral enough that we can use it in many other rooms of our house for years to come.

Can it get more ultimate than that? Well, maybe if it helped put Will to sleep.

A Perfect Way to Start the Week

All I want for Christmas is this...

...or remember this?
I'd take that too... Seriously, Jason and I have been trying to focus on giving each other experience-type gifts, which basically means a vacation, but I would rather be surprised with a flashmob of professional muscians. You have just over two weeks, Jason. I'm even posting this one day early to give you a head start.

To the rest of you, Happy Sunday! I hope your week is filled with unexpected delight!

Also, thanks to Emily at Designer Blogs for the new look here.

(USAF Band Flash Mob video via NPR)

Bye Bye

Adios terrible teething symptoms! Welcome back sweet, happy William of the impressive nap hair. Two teeth are enough, right?  You can eat crackers and bread and blueberries.  That's a pretty good diet. But in all seriousness, check out that nap hair. I've considered not brushing it before we go out because it's even more spectacularly cute in person, and more people should be able to experience it. 

Also, check out the view from behind. I die. The ears that perfectly frame your head and turn out just a bit at the top. The tiny little neck. (I'll always adore you, but it's much easier when you are not whining and pushing at me all day long.) Love, Moma

I Love Lamp...

...these glass lamp bases, to be exact.  I originally bought them because I wanted something light and neutral with my gray walls and dark wood furniture. But I just keep stuffing them up. Earlier this year, I filled them with pine cones and now ornaments. The bottom is open, so all I have to do is flip the lamp over and fill it up. I'm all for easy holiday decorations.

I bought my lamp bases from Target a few years ago, and they aren't available anymore. However, this version from IKEA is another great option. I really love them when they are empty, and I think they are pretty cute filled. So, if you are in the market for new lamps, I'd highly recommend these.

Also, we are getting an IKEA in St. Louis! (if you hadn't already heard)

Let Them Eat Bread

Will has only cut two teeth so far, but those two teeth have taken a lot out of the both of us. Basically, those teefers (as I like to call them) are making both of us hate life.  The last two days have been better than the previous six, but we were touch and go for a while there. Will basically wanted to be held ALL THE TIME for the last week (the same week when I was trying to get the house ready for a big Thanksgiving celebration), which is sweet sometimes, especially when he does this thing where he launches his entire body into my arms or lap. But then, as soon as he is in my arms, he pushes against me with all four limbs until I try to put him down when he grabs on for dear life, all while issuing a high and constant whine. Just a tad frustrating for both of us.

He's also had cold symptoms, fever, and a rash over the last month, all presumably from teething. So what is the cure? Traditional medication like acetaminophen and ibuprofen? Homeopathic medicine like teething tablets and amber necklaces? The former only seems to take the edge off a bit and the latter I'm a bit dubious of. (Anyone out there want to vouch for either of those methods?) Our cure so far has been prayer, perspective, and crusty bread. We pray for strength and patience and comfort.  And I realize that I'd much rather be dealing with a whiny William than grading 120 essays.  And if we ever have a really bad day with really short naps, I just pack Will up in the car, where he is usually happy (and sometimes nappy), and head on down to the closest Bread Co. (that's Panera to you non-St. Louisans) to pick up a french loaf.  When we get home, he'll teeth on a hunk of that crusty bread long enough for me to get dinner ready, and if it was a really bad day or Jason isn't going to make it home for dinner, I will have a piece of bread with butter (and a beer) for dinner and a piece of bread with butter and honey for dessert. I figure if we can make it to dinner, we can make it another day. 

Also, I suspect those two new bottom teeth are responsible for his new top-lip grin. Kinda cute, right? I guess I'll keep him.

Be-Your-Own Bathroom Attendant

Even thought it's been four days since Thanksgiving, I still haven't put everything away from our big shindig. But I did get out all the Christmas decorations... so there you go. One of the things I still need to put away is the be-your-own bathroom attendant supplies. I've never actually used any supplies at restrooms where there are real live bathroom attendants because I just felt awkward, but I have been at weddings and other events where there were supplies set up in the bathroom that came in handy. And I thought, "Hey, I could do that for my guests."

The be-your-own bathroom attendant idea really evolved from when we had guests stay over for Thanksgiving last year, and I set up a hospitality basket in each room with some (hopefully) useful items. This year, I set up the items in the guest bathrooms in our house because... well, you never know. And I believe that being a good hostess (like a good teacher) is all about anticipation and preparation.

You can see all the supplies I included below (purchased from the travel size section and checkout line at Target). When I created the hospitality baskets for the guest rooms, I also put in chocolates, water bottles, a candle, and a lighter. Once you have the basic supplies, this takes about two minutes to set up.  After the party, I just stow the unused items in the linen closet and put the perishable items like mints, gum, and TUMS on my grocery list the next time I have a party. Easy peasy! And you'll be the hostess with the mostess!
Also, speaking of hospitality, isn't that one of the best understated things about traveling... those little extra things that make you feel a bit more comfortable when away from home. Although I love where we live, I keep telling Jason that if his company ever offers him a position in Belgium or Brazil (the two countries the company that bought out his company are headquartered), he should take it, especially if it's Belgium.  In my dream, we will live in Antwerp, and I will get to go to Wasbar to do my laundry and practice my German (or Dutch or French). Check out the sweet little video below about the coolest laundromat ever. 

See the full story about this hospitable place at Messy Nessy Chic.

Also, One More Video to Start the Week

I love the idea of having your own personal LOL/ROTFL like the one mom's CLAH (cackling like a hen). I've been trying to come up with my own since seeing this segment. So far, I have the following:

LLAL (Laughing Like A Lady)
CAAMP (Chuckling Audibly At My Phone)
GFETE (Grinning From Ear To Ear)
WMH (Warms My Heart)
TAPASOOM (Tears And Pee Are Streaming Out Of Me)

Any other suggestions? I feel like CAAMP is most accurate for what is often happening, but TAPASOOM has a nice Seussical ring to it.

Happy Monday! I hope your week has many moments where you are GFETE!

A Perfect Way to Start the Week

Happy Advent! The season of joyful expectation and preparation for the birth of Jesus is here! And let me say, this Advent weather has been very conducive to outdoor preparation so far. Reaching almost 60 degrees yesterday, we got to go for a walk and get our outside Christmas decorations up. 

Another way we celebrate Advent every year is by buying presents for a child in Christian Social Services of Illinois. Last year, we participated in CSSIL's Secret Santa program directly, and this year, we are delivering the presents through our church.  If you are interested in working with them, they have an awesome program.  You can click here to find out more, or you can let me know and I can put you in contact with the right people directly. 

In order to help finance our charitable giving this season more fully, we have tried to cut down on superfluous giving in our family. Instead, in our family, we are trying to focus on the present of presence by spending more time with each other this season, and I am very excited for some of the activities we have planned.  AND... one of my favorite activities actually involves gift giving. I'm talking about Yankee Swap! We have done Yankee Swap for the past few year's in addition to giving individual gifts, but we really enjoy it so much, that we thought we could just make it THE gift exchange. Maggie just sent out the directions to our family last night, and I have already started to get my girl present ready.  Read below for Maggie's Yankee Swap explanation:

Hello Sweet Family,

I feel so grateful that we all got to spend time together this Thanksgiving, and I absolutely cannot wait to celebrate Jesus's birthday with all of you, my beautiful family, and your children and grandchildren. 
As our adult gift giving has evolved over the years, Melissa and I propose a new twist to our exchange. All adults, including MoM and DaD are to purchase a gift, a boy gift if you are a boy and a girl gift if you are a girl, not exceeding a $50 limit. We will participate in a Yankee swap.
See here...   ... for clarification.
If you feel in your heart that you desire to buy a gift for a specific someone, you are, of course, welcome to do so. However, no one is obligated to; we were hoping this might help us focus on the true meaning of Christmas (see here... ...and make inferences) and our sweet children.
Hope you enjoy participating, and we can always make adjustments next year as needed.

Thank you and much love,

I actually really need a new oven mitt, so I'm really excited!

Also, I recently listened to last year's Christmas episode of This American Life and the lengths to which some people go to celebrate are anything if not entertaining.  I mean, just read the description about "Jeko, the super-powerful (and somewhat-scary) Christmas elf."  Let him serve as a warning to all you parents doing Elf on a Shelf. (Just kidding... kind of... I really have no idea what Elf on a Shelf entails more than what I see on Pinterest, but it seems like it could backfire in the same way.)
Happy Monday! I hope your week is filled with joyful expectation!

Cheese Tray Turkey, as Promised

Some mild cheddar and colby jack cheeses, Oldani salami, and Flipside Pretzel crackers for the feathers. Two peppercorns for the eyes, half a pistachio shell for the beak, and toothpicks for the legs (basically whatever I could find in the pantry because I forgot about these parts) and a folded fourth of a piece of salami for the waddle (Is that what it's called, mom?), and that's how you make a cheese tray turkey.  This baby is now cooling in the downstair's fridge. Now for some more cooking and cleaning. Thanksgiving is coming! Huzzah!

Also, thanks to A Beautiful Mess for the idea and my mom for picking up the salami from Spirito's in Collinsville. Oh...and Lola for dutifully standing by my side while I carefully placed each piece of cheese and salami.

Prepare the Way

When we were registering for our wedding, I never registered for china because I always hoped I would get a set (or two? or three?) passed down to me eventually, and my mom made that true right away by gifting me this breakfast china from Villeroy and Boch.  Setting it out this morning for our feast tomorrow brought back so many memories. My parents bought it when we were living in Germany between 1989 and 1991, (and toted it through many military moves) and I can remember eating many decadent breakfasts of soft boiled eggs and bacon and ketchup sandwiches on it. I love how the back of the plate indicates it was made in West Germany. When my parents made the decision to buy this china, they had enough income to live on but not much extra. However, they were still happy to make a few sacrifices to invest in this set. 

As of this morning, all 38 places have been set for all the people who will be feasting at our house tomorrow, and I will spend the rest of my day preparing by cleaning and prepping food. I have been singing the same three lines over the last four or five days, "Prepare the way of the Lord. Prepare the way of the Lord. And all people will see the salvation of our God." I know that tomorrow is a secular holiday, but, just as many people have decided to adopt Christian holidays and make them secular, I have decided to adopt Thanksgiving as a feast for the Lord, continuing a tradition that my parents and grandparents and great grandparents started for me. And there you have it. I am thankful for my Faith and my family and the traditions that both have placed in my life. But most of all, I am thankful for sacrifice. The sacrifices my parents have made. The strength of the Lord that helps me to sacrifice. And the ultimate sacrifice that Jesus Christ made for me. 

I hope you all have a wonderful Thanksgiving! 

Also, if you need a place to come, we will still have room and plenty of food at our house! The more the merrier.

Girls Season 3 and Regret

I had been completely fine with our choice to get rid of premium channels until I saw this today.

The second season of Girls rocked my world. I loved it. I got it. Then, I really didn't get it and was kind of over it. Then, the season finale had me yelling at the TV like my grandma during a Broncos game, "Go! Go! Go!" And just when it was over, I was hooked back in again. A regular Charles Dickens that Lena Dunham. I might just ask for HBO for Christmas.

Also, this trailer reminded me I've been meaning to watch Tiny Furniture, which is streaming on Netflix. Favorite line from that trailer: "Your life is like an epilogue to Felicity." Hooked me again.

Lessons in Meal Planning (part 2)

Yesterday, I shared the first three lessons that have made my meal planning goal so enjoyable, and today I come to you with two more.

Lesson #4: Have a Grocery Day Meal. 

I always try to give myself a cooking break on grocery shopping days.  I had been making a frozen pizza and a bag salad (which I think is a great meal, by the way), but since my mom turned me on to the ease and affordability of the rotisserie chicken, I have upped my game just a bit. So far, I have two grocery day meals that are quick and easy to make with the rotisserie chicken that I pick up from the store earlier in the day: 1. BBQ Chicken Sandwiches and 2. Chicken Taquitos.

For BBQ Chicken Sandwiches,  I just pull all the chicken off the bone, shred it a bit more, squeeze in our favorite BBQ sauce, and serve on buns with chips or salad or chopped veggies. It might take six minutes to make, and I think Jason would eat it every other day if I could work it in, so we have dubbed this one a winner. 

The Chicken Taquitos take a tiny bit more work.  See below for the recipe.

Chicken Taquitos: 

1 Rotisserie Chicken
1 1/2 cup shredded cheese (I like colby jack.)
1 1/2 cup salsa (I decided to try out two new salsa's this time, mango habanero and garlic lime.  The garlic lime was amazing in this recipe!)
8 tortillas (We really like the low carb wheat ones for some reason.)

Instructions: Pull all the chicken off the bone, shred, and mix with salsa and shredded cheese. (I made two batches with the different salsas so I split the chicken and used 3/4 cup salsa and 3/4 cup cheese for each batch.) Place a thick strip of the mixture just off the middle of a tortilla, roll tightly. Place on baking pan and bake for 20 minutes at 375 degrees Fahrenheit or until desired crispiness. Serve with sour cream and guacamole.  Jason also likes to put more salsa on top of his because people like to say salsa.

Lesson #5: Share your Spare. 
Don't let those leftovers go to waste! Meal sharing has just been happening organically between my mom, sister, and me a lot lately.  I think it has more to do with us making soups and casseroles since the weather has changed than with me starting to meal plan, but I think that if you weren't sharing your meals and wanted to do so, meal planning could help you make it possible. You might be wondering what I am talking about when I say meal sharing, and it's really simple.  I just mean making your meal, splitting it in half, eating one half, packing up the other, and delivering it to another family.  This works so well with soups and casseroles because most recipes make about eight servings.

Right now, there are really only two people in my house who eat my meals and only two people in my mom's house who eat her meals and only two (and a half because Piper can handle all types of food now) people in my sister's house who eat her meals.  So by the time we each eat the meal twice, we still have four servings left. Like I said before, my mom, sister, and I have always shared, but now, I make a little bit of an extra effort to split my meals and get them out the same day or the morning after I make them.  

I think that this, more than anything, has cut down on our waste and helped us save money. Meal planning helps me think about what days I will already be seeing Maggie or my mom so that I can easily share a meal or two. 

Last week, I sent Kings Ranch Chicken to work with my mom for her lunch and over to the Brorby's for dinner along with some crockpot potato soup later in the week.  When my mom came to pick up her lunch, she dropped off some delicious cinnamon banana muffins and Maggie brought over Stuffed Pepper Soup for us one night, which means I had a nice variety of homemade meals for breakfast, lunch, and dinner all week long.

I love meal sharing with Maggie and my mom because of the reciprocation, but I have been wondering if there is a way to share a homemade meal with family in need. If anyone knows of a local program, I'd love to know more about it. 

So... that's it so far. If you have any other GO-TO meals or Grocery Day Meals or any other meal planning tips or lessons, I'd would be THRILLED to hear them too. 

Also, once again, thanks to Rachel for getting me excited to try out meal planning with purpose.

What to Read: National Book Award Winners

The National Book Award winners were announced for Young People, Poetry, Non-Fiction, and Fiction!  I've always been a sucker for those little medals on the covers of books, but now that I do most of my book shopping electronically, I have to go directly to the medal's source, which is why this evening, while reading blogs and writing and watching Modern Family, I was also periodically clicking refresh on the National Book Foundation's website. From tonight's four winners, The Thing About Luck by Cynthia Kabonata and The Unwinding by George Packer both look intriguing. I decided to check out the rest of the finalist in each category too, and I already downloaded the sample for Far Far Away by Tom McNeal because I'm a sucker for fairytale-esque books a la Ella Enchanted, and it's nice to read a Young People's book every now and again.  (Side Note: I'm really excited about Into the Woods being made into a movie.) And as for the finalist from the grown people categories, Book of Ages: The Life and Opinions of Jane Franklin by Jill Lepore looks wonderful. Jane is the sister of the better-known Ben and described as just as intellectually savvy as he was and also the mother of TWELVE children. 

Also, Joanna recommended this book after hearing the real-life Don Draper speak, and I think I am going to try to convince Jason to read it with me and have a mini-book club over his Christmas break. 

Oh, the books!  Oh, the excitement! Oh, the rambling... sorry about that.

Lessons in Meal Planning (part 1)

I always thought about the meals that we were going to eat throughout the week, usually on my way or even at the grocery store, but purposely meal planning--actually going through my recipe box, talking to Jason, writing the meals down and rearranging them on the page, and then checking our pantry and fridge while making a list all before I go to the grocery store--has been a great learning experience. Because I am enjoying this one of my Four Simple Goals before 2014 so much, I thought I would share a few simple lessons that have made meal planning so easy and satisfying for me. 

Lesson #1: Make the time and enjoy! 

One of my favorite parts of teaching is actually curriculum design and lesson planning, and although I haven't consciously missed that in the almost eight months I have been off, the thrill of writing out a good plan has come back to me while organizing our meals. Like I mentioned above, every Sunday, I make a list of meals that sound good.  I ask Jason if there is anything he wants (Chinese food), and then I think about what ingredients will stay fresh and what can be prepped and used for different meals. Finally, I write down the plan, cross things off and move them around and rewrite the plan before adding things to our grocery list. And IT. IS. THRILLING. Really. I love it. The actual planning is fun for me. Then, because I have a plan, the shopping and cooking take so much less energy that the 15 minutes on Sunday make my entire week, every single day, easier. I'm not running to the store or asking Jason to stop on his way home from work to pick something up every other day. I don't spend any time throughout the day wondering about dinner. I just know it's all good to go.

Lesson #2: Have a GO-TO Meal. 

My pantry and my fridge are pretty sparse, which is a good thing. We are eating everything we buy and not buying any extra.  But I do have at least one GO-TO Meal, a meal with ingredients that aren't perishable that I can put in my plan every week with the idea that if something changes (like my mom or mother-in-law or Maggie shares a meal or we get invited over or out for dinner) nothing will go to waste if I put off making it for a week or two or three.  So far, my GO-TO Meal has been shrimp, broccoli, and rice, and even though it has been on the plan every week and is a favorite of ours, it hasn't gotten made. All you need is rice, frozen broccoli, frozen shrimp (I prefer the raw frozen shrimp because when I cook the cooked shrimp it gets too chewy. You could also sub chicken.), and this Campbell's sauce. All the ingredients keep for a while, but when you need it, you can whip it up in about 15 minutes, by throwing the rice in the rice cooker, throwing the frozen broccoli in the microwave, peeling the shrimp, cooking it in a pan, then putting the sauce on top to heat up, and serving the saucy shrimp over the rice and broccoli.
Also, my other (not as fancy or healthy) GO-TO Meal is frozen pizza.

Lesson #3: Cook in bulk.  

There are only two adults eating at my house, so cooking in bulk might not seem to make sense, but it has worked out great when combined with meal planning. Last week I planned two meals, one right after the other, that would both use ground beef. Sloppy joes with mac and cheese and green beans on Wednesday and Taco Night on Thursday.  I bought a two pound package of lean ground beef and cooked the entire thing on Wednesday.  Before I added the sloppy joe sauce, I removed half of the beef and refrigerated it. The next night, all I had to do was put the meat into a pan, add the taco seasoning and some water, and let it simmer while I chopped up some tomatoes and grated some cheese. Taco Night was ready in about ten minutes with the help of bagged tortillas, lettuce, sour cream, and salsa. I have also done something similar with chicken, grilling up a few pounds of chicken one night for BBQ chicken with rice and veggies and using the leftover chicken to make a casserole the next day. 

So far, so good!

Also, I have been enjoying this so much that I have even more lessons, so if you are interested, come back tomorrow for part 2.

Prepping Thanksgiving for the Kids!

One of the nice things about having a bunch of people over for Thanksgiving is that the food prep is split up, and I don't end up cooking much more than I would on any normal day. Most of my prep work comes from just getting the house ready to welcome everyone, and one of my favorite things to do is to figure out seating and set the tables. After tallying it up, I think we are going to have eight elementary school-aged kids (and three babies!) at Thanksgiving this year, which means a designated kid's table.

Every Easter, I still reminisce with my brother and sister about how when we were kids, my Great Aunt Geraldine set a fist-sized chocolate egg (Maggie remembers they tasted "like Three Musketeers but so much better.") with each of our names piped in pastel icing to indicate our place at the kid's table in the basement. Maggie brought that memory up again a few weeks ago when we were talking about how to create fun memories for our nieces and nephews this Thanksgiving. She decided to spearhead a few games (that will involve candy, of course), and I am going to set an activity table up for them. Last year, I found these great table cloths on clearance at Target two days before Thanksgiving, and when I saw them this year, I bought three just in case they never come back. (BUT THEN, I saw a similar product at Wal-Mart, so hopefully, they will be here for years to come.) After filling some mason jars with lentils (because I had them lazing about in my pantry after Tony Horton convinced me they should be part of my diet) and putting some crayons in, WALLAH, the kids table is practically done.

Also, I am planning on creating a cheese-tray turkey (inspired by the one below from A Beautiful Mess) to put at the center of the kid's table so they have something to snack on while they color. I plan on adding some crackers and some salami from Spritito's to my plate to round it out. It's looks fairly easy, right?  Wish me luck!

A Perfect Way to Start the Week

Thanksgiving is under attack! And my house is the war zone where at least 35 of our beloved family members will converge in fits of thanks in just over a week and a half.  Last week, a switch went off in my brain, and ever since, I have been on a rampage to conquer Thanksgiving. (Much like Gloria wins Valentine's Day.) So, over the weekend, we deep-cleaned the basement, washed all the windows, and went to Target (all essential tasks when strategizing a full-on Thanksgiving assault, I assure you) where we picked up this lovely and affordable dining room rug. And last night, we moved all of the extra stuff (mostly baby stuff... and Lola) out of all carpeted rooms and into the dining room and bathrooms so that today, carpet-cleaning mercenaries can go in and annihilate seven months worth of Will's spit up from deep in the fibers. A full-on assault, I tell you!

Also, Jason and I couldn't stop giggling at this clip from The Colbert Report last month. I'm thinking about having a contest to see who can create the best hand turkey with one hand tied behind their back a la Stephen Colbert's hand menorah.
Happy Monday! I hope you get some down time from whatever you are conquering this week to practice for the hand turkey contest.

Remembering Seven (and a half)

Yesterday, my sister-in-law Jen came over with my sweet, sweet one-month-old niece, Mia to visit. I was showing Jen Will's latest trick, and we were chatting about babies, and she inquired when, approximatley, he started sitting up. I thought about it for a few seconds, but I just couldn't remember, so I guessed as best I could and decided not to beat myself up about it. Instead, I thought that today, I would just try to remember today. So here are seven (and a half) things I want to remember about Will at seven and a half months.

1. You take an average of two and a half naps a day. (I'm desperately clinging to the third nap.)

2. You seem to like your food served cold.

3. You think Lola is Hilarious with a capital H. Both of you love it when she licks your hands, much to your Papa's chagrin.

4. You love to read and turn pages of books. Our favorite book right now is Little Blue Truck

5. Whenever it is just the three of us, you like to play a game with your Papa and me where you reach for whoever is not holding you so that you just get passed back and forth and back and forth.

6. You're a bit shy with strangers, but I can get you to smile for anyone by blowing on your neck.

7. Besides socks and shoes, your favorite things to play with are anything besides your toys. Ribbon spools, empty boxes, shoe laces, but your favorite thing to get your hands on are Lola's toys. 

Also, a half.  I miss you (I can actually feel my heart aching.) when you go to sleep or even when I leave to go shopping on my own while your Papa is watching you. You are my love. 

Mom Shoe Mission // TOMS

I realize that this is going to sound ridiculous, but for me, one of the hardest adjustments to life as a stay-at-home mom is figuring out what to wear every day. I know I will feel better if I change out of my pajamas/sweats but figuring out what to change into can be unnecessarily frustrating.

My go-to lately has just been a casual version of what I used to wear every day for work. So instead of skirts and slacks, I've been wearing jeans or ponte leggings with casual button-ups or sweaters, but the shoe thing has thrown me for a loop. I would normally wear boots through the fall and winter, but they seem too dressy and not so practical for my list of daily activities, which includes spending a lot of time on the floor and being covered in spit up. Before Will was born, I invested in a version of these Nike tennis shoes (but wish I would have bought this polka dot version) that I thought might do the trick, but I hated wearing tennis shoes for anything other than working out before I got pregnant, and my feelings haven't changed even though they might be the reasonable choice.

So when I saw that TOMS made a pair of their classic shoe with a fleece lining, I decided to try out a pair.  I know so many people that love TOMS, and I was excited to have a reason to jump on the band wagon of casual comfortable shoes. And after about a month, ordering three different pairs, selling one to my mom, sending one back, and breaking one in, I have finally grown to like (not love) my pair of TOMS.

My issues were all about the fit.  First, even though I did extensive research, my sizing was off. When I ordered two pairs in different colors a half size down, I realized why.  The light-colored (which were actually purple not light grey like I thought) eight and a half was much bigger than the dark-colored eight and a half.  I went with the dark-colored one because it was the only pair that I had ordered that wasn't too big, but it was so tight that it was uncomfortable.  I wore it around the house for a few hours and they stretched, but they were still uncomfortable for about a week.  Now, after breaking them in, I think they might do the trick. They are comfortable and warm and seem to go with my daily mom outfits, but I am still on the lookout for other acceptable mom shoes...

Also, I do like that Will and I can wear the same shoe. Now, if I could just get Jason in a pair.

A Real Page Turner

Will has gotten really good at turning the pages of his books.  He sits back and listens until I get ready to turn a page. Then, his arm shoots up, grabs the page I got started, slams it down on the other side, and goes back to his lap until the next page is ready. I've been reporting this to all who will listen as his new trick.

Tricks.  That's how I think of all the new things that Will can do. I guess they are more like skills that most humans learn to do eventually.  But whatever they are, I don't think it was me that started this line of thinking of them as tricks. I feel like whenever I see someone now, they ask if Will is doing anything new.  And I don't want to disappoint, so I try to make mundane things like him babbling (We're pretty sure he said Jabba as in Jabba the Hutt and Walla as in Walla Walla, Washington.) or pulling himself up from a sitting to standing position sound like amazing tricks. And now that's just how I think of everything that he does, and it's really exciting for me and Jason and Will's  grandparents, but probably not all the other people who are just trying to make polite conversation. And I try to be cognizant of that, but I really can't help myself on here, and so I present to you, William, the amazing Page Turner.

Also,  Will has always been a super smiley boy with a great giggle and squealy laugh, but over the weekend, he started cracking himself up.  Whenever he is playing by himself now, we will hear a giggle and look over to see him holding his sock or staring at a tiger or looking at Lola with a big grin on his face. William the Giggler has a nice ring to it too.
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