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    Collective Thoughts

    Riding the Rollercoaster

    I haven’t been on a legitimate rollercoaster in…well, it’s been years now, I think. But as a kid, I loved them! Something about the excitement, anticipation and thrill was very enjoyable to me. I’ve been thinking this year a lot about balance in my life. So much is said about balance. How do we balance all the different aspects of our life so that we don’t feel like one area is lacking too much or one is attracting too much attention? This year has been an interesting one for me, as in my own life, a lot of what I have done has been very much my choice. In the past several years, my schedule was dictated by babies, a class syllabus, demanding internship or work hours. This year, much of my schedule became my own choice as my schooling ended, any work I did was on a flexible schedule and babies have grown up.

    Life is much like a rollercoaster ride, am I right? You get on, a little uncertain of what’s to come ( for me it’s been. college, marriage, babies, graduate school, moving to a new city, new jobs, maintaining a home, etc), you head up the hill, working, working, working. You reach the top of the hill and you breath a little at a break and then all of a sudden you’re rushed into the next thing suddenly feeling like you’re barely hanging on and just making it through the day. Then, you reach the bottom and once again everything feels a little calm. Then you might hit a really rough patch (you know those parts of a roller coaster that go around and around, tighter and tighter and you can feel gravity closing in on you). You wonder if it’s going to stop soon, then it does and once again you breathe. This all repeats itself a few times and then you pull to a stop and get off the ride. Except I’ve learned that in life you never really get off the ride.

    That has been a struggle at times for me, especially in this season of life, where so much is unpredictable. Sleep patterns, moods, eating habits, even my address. It’s hard to know if I’m talking about my babies or me here. I find myself trying a new behavior strategy with my kids, or maybe a new approach to chores. Even a new “morning routine” for myself. For a couple of days, it would go smooth as silk. Then chaos returns on the third or fourth day. For months this year it has felt like the unpredictability was wearing at me.

    Personally, I am a person of order. I enjoy routine, predictability and not a whole lot of change on a day to day basis. Girl with the color coded planner and categorized to-do lists? That’s me! This uncertainty of what lay before me each day often left me frustrated and wondering if things would ever settle down.

    As I  tried to think about my reaction to this unpredictability, I found myself thinking about my approach to riding a rollercoaster as a child. I was excited. It was highly anticipated! I loved the experience and got off wanting to go again! The more I see life as a rollercoaster, the more I realize, I have to approach life with the same enthusiasm. I have to look forward to that unpredictability. I have to anticipate it and I have to enjoy the experience as much as I can while it’s happening or I get that feeling like I am on a rollercoaster spinning towards the ground and gravity is pulling me harder and harder.

    Because like so many people I pass at the grocery store tell me, “It goes so fast”. Just like a rollercoaster ride, in the blink of an eye, these moments will pass. The unpredictability will change and I know I will miss it. So I have to hop on, hang on and enjoy the ride.

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    Holidays

    Christmas Memories We Hope To Make This Year

    I mentioned in my post on Monday about how this Christmas is truly our first Christmas in our marriage where we don’t have major life events or the end of school semesters. This whole year has been the same, no school, no pregnancy or newborn. It’s allowed a little more time to think about family traditions and memories that we want to be intentional about creating.

    Here are a few traditions and activities we are looking forward to doing as a family this Christmas season:

    Reading Christmas Books. This is one of our favorites and it is one of the easiest. We have a pretty substantial collection of Christmas books thanks to some generous gift givers a few years ago. Every year we add one or two. Finding a spot for them is always tricky! The first year, twenty-four books were wrapped and we opened one each year to read, which was so fun! Now we leave them all unwrapped so we can read them multiple times. There are some great Christmas books out there of every kind- classic, spiritual, funny, nostalgic.

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    The Elf. Last year, my kids started asking about an elf visiting our house. They were pretty insistent and finally I obliged. Now, before you get all excited there won’t be any funny antics posted about our Elf. Our Elf is very uneventful. He moves from place to place but doesn’t do anything funny or report back to Santa. My kids don’t know that is an option, they just love looking for him! I forgot to move him last night (yep, Day 1) and this morning they thought that maybe he fell asleep. To be honest, this was not a tradition I was interested in or wanted to pick up. However, my kids get so excited just looking for him each day, that it is worth it to me. I’ve learned that sometimes I just have to suck it up as a mom and do it, even if it is not at the top of my list of priorities.

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    Traditional Christmas Meals. Both Brian and I have traditional Christmas Eve meals from our childhoods that we love. His is a formal delicious feast (formal clothes, beautiful table, delicious food). Mine is an informal delicious feast (non-formal clothes, a blanket on the floor, also delicious food). This year, we decided to do the formal meal on Christmas Eve and the informal meal on Christmas night. I am so excited for both of these delicious meals.

    Christmas Lights. Last year, on our “official” drive around town to look at Christmas lights, I fell asleep. Yep, I sure did. In my defense, I had just finished the last semester of graduate school, my graduation had been that night, and I had a 4 week old baby. This year, I am hoping to take my kids out multiple times to look at the many great displays around our area and not fall asleep while doing so.

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    Christmas Cookies. This is one thing I always say we are going to do and then for some reason it doesn’t always happen. But I have a box full of Christmas cookie cutters and a delicious cookie recipe and can’t wait to decorate with the kiddos and share a few. Or maybe not, because cookies.

    Community Activities. A couple of weekends ago, we went to a tree lighting in our area. I had the best time. We ran into friends while there, the kids ran around playing and Christmas music was playing loud over the speakers. Santa arrived and lit the tree and then there was a Christmas light show set to music. Thought I did not know 99% of the people, I felt this unifying feeling with my community as we sat there in the chilly night watching the tree be lit. I am hoping to take in a few more activities before Christmas is over.

    Serve. I hope to do a good amount of service, individually and as a family this year. Serving others brings a special spirit to my life that is hard to replicate with other activities. I hope to instill that spirit in my children too. A great way to do this is by following along with the #LightTheWorld initiative. Learn more about it here

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    Image from The Small Seed

    Tomorrow the forecast is in the 40s and rainy all day. I’m looking forward to jammies all day, blankets, books, movies, popcorn and hot chocolate!

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    Food

    Lemon Quinoa & Barley Salad

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    Lunchtime is a struggle, am I right? I am constantly trying to figure out how to manage preparing healthy lunches for myself that don’t consist of my kids’ leftover quesadillas. Lunchtime is also at the beginning of naptime, of which I am very protective on the days we are home. As the clock ticks closer to 11:30, I am more focused on making sure lunch is eaten and kids are tucked into their beds. Then I am usually off to the races checking off my to do list before I have to wake up my two babies to pick my oldest up from school. So I am constantly on the lookout for lunches I can prepare ahead of time and have ready to go for a quick, healthy lunch for me on the weekdays.

    I came across this recipe from Super Healthy Kids a few weeks ago and it looked delicious! I had been meaning to try it out and this week I finally got to looking at it more closely. Reading through the recipe, I modified several aspects from the beginning. I actually love quinoa cold in a salad, mixed with some yummy dressing, instead of warm. I swapped orange bell pepper for the carrots. I also realized I only had 3/4 of a cup of quinoa when I went to make the recipe. But I did have 1 cup of barley. Thus, Lemon Quinoa & Barley Salad. 

    If you cook the barley & quinoa a couple of hours before (or even the night before), it will be cold and ready to go when you are ready to put the salad together. This salad comes together really easily, which I love!

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    I didn’t use quick cooking barley, so you may be able to cut some prep time if you use that instead. Also, once I serve myself a bowl, I usually add a little more lemon and balsamic vinegar and a pinch of salt. One recipe will usually last me a week’s worth of lunches. If you don’t mind eating the same thing every day for a week, this is perfect! Enjoy!

    Lemon Quinoa & Barley Salad

    Ingredients:

    2 1/2 cups chicken broth

    1 cup barley

    ¾ quinoa

    ½ cup chicken broth

    ¼ cup olive oil

    1 Tbsp balsamic vinegar (or more)

    Juice from 1-2 lemons

    1 garlic clove

    1 tsp honey

    ½ tsp oregano

    1/8 tsp salt

    1/8 tsp black pepper

    1 cup spinach, chopped

    1 15 oz. can white kidney beans

    Feta cheese for individual servings

    1. Bring 2 1/2 cups chicken broth to boil, add barley and cook on low for 30 minutes. Add ½ cup chicken broth and quinoa and cook for 15 minutes. Remove from heat and let stand for a few minutes Chill barley & quinoa in the refrigerator.
    2. Mix olive oil, balsamic vinegar, lemon juice, garlic, honey and spices together to make dressing.
    3. Drain and rinse beans.
    4. Once the grain mixture is cool, add diced orange bell pepper, beans, chopped spinach and dressing. Mix well to combine. Serve cold, adding feta to individual servings. Add a little more lemon and balsamic vinegar if you want, which if you’re like me, you’ll probably will.

    Enjoy!

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    Celebrations, Holidays

    Making the Most of the Holiday Season

    I made it a goal a few months ago to be more prepared for the holiday season this year. I feel like for the last several years I have literally been sprinting to the finish when it comes to preparations. Slipping out to go to Target on December 23rd, putting off certain traditions I really wanted to do because I just didn’t plan for them, and generally feeling stressed and overwhelmed instead of full of Christmas cheer. In our defense, every holiday season since we have been married (almost eight years now) has also been the end of another busy semester of school, or the birth of a baby (this happened two different times) and so everything was pushed off until the two weeks before Christmas.

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    Not this year I said. I started thinking about Christmas around the beginning of October. Not in a crazy way, but I did start thinking and planning so that  I could avoid all the rushed, overwhelmed feelings of years past. And now that  we are approaching December 1st and I have generally stuck to my plans, I feel so good. Tonight, Brian and I talked about some activities and traditions we want to make sure and do this month and we didn’t discuss gifts at all. We have purchased most of our kids’ gifts already, and clearly aren’t talking about our gifts to each other. So we could focus on the activities, events, food and any other holiday happenings. It was so nice. For my future planning (to remind myself next year that it was a good idea to plan in so much advance) and any others who are interested, here’s what I did this year:

    Start thinking about gifts early. I started a new note on my phone at the beginning of October, listed my kids’ names (and my husband’s!), and every time I would think of something they might like for Christmas, I would write it in my note. Big or small, wrapped gift or stocking stuffer, it went in the note. Then, when Brian and I sat down to talk about what to get our kids, we already had several ideas. Because tell me I am not the only one who went into a store unprepared to buy gifts and stood there and thought, “What in the world am I going to get? Maybe my child will like this…t-shirt?” A plan makes it so much easier.

    Shop online. At first, this made me a little sad, because isn’t that part of the fun, going to the store and picking out the perfect gift? But then with one click and two days later, the packages were sitting on my front porch and I thought, “Well, this is nice too”. This also meant that if I got the bigger gifts ordered online, I could still go to the store and pick out smaller stocking stuffers (with my handy note on my phone) at a slower pace. But also, check the front porch before you open your door to check the mail with your kids. Just a tip.

    Choose your traditions. I think most would agree that traditions make up many of the memories we have of holidays and events in the past. That being said, there is such a thing as too much of a good thing. Filling every last minute with tradition leaves everyone exhausted and little time for spontaneous memories. I wrote a post on Collin County Moms Blog about simple ways to create lasting family traditions. In a nutshell it is: make choices, make a plan, prepare and also, relax! Traditions are meant to be fun, not stress-inducing, but they require a little work on the front end, usually from the parents. It’s part of the job, really.

    Make a “schedule” of holiday activities. This is not meant to be an ironclad, maxed out schedule. It’s more of a list of things that you want to do throughout the season. Some might need to go on a calendar (I’ve missed activities in the past because I figured I would “remember” when they were. Ha.), but in general just a running list of activities will suffice so you feel satisfied at the end of the season. I have found that Facebook is a great resource for local events. I can click “interested” if I see an event we might want to go to and it sends me reminders about the event so I don’t forget! We went to a tree lighting last weekend that ended up being such a fun little activity, so easy and simple but my kids (and Brian and I) had such an enjoyable time!

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    Some of our list includes: seeing Christmas lights, visiting some of the town squares in the area, Christmas Eve dinner, decorating Christmas cookies, “gingerbread” houses (really, graham cracker houses), and I’m sure we’ll squeeze in a few more things.

    I love this time of year. Even without all the “extras” the spirit of this season is different than any other. People are more loving, more giving and it’s a time I hope everyone can find a little more peace and happiness.

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    Parenting

    Simple Tips For A Successful Road Trip With The Kids

    Today was our first day of “Fall Break” or is it “Thanksgiving Break”? Whatever it is, it’s a break and we are ready for it! It was so nice this morning to wake up and not have to immediately start fixing breakfast, packing lunches and repeating the phrase “Have your brushed your teeth and hair?” twelve times. My kids played together, we read books, we decorated for Christmas a little bit and we did not turn on the TV once. No one even asked. That was a bit of a parenting win there, we all love to be around each other!

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    We are getting ready to go on a short road trip for Thanksgiving. Although my packing situation won’t look like the one above, I love a good road trip. I love the freedom from most responsibilities, time with family, inevitable good food, several hours of conversation with Brian while my kids are secured and watching a movie with headphones, and general relaxation. And let me tell you, the first road trip we took with a minivan, bliss I tell you. We survived 40+ hours of driving on a roadtrip in August so this week’s total of less than 10 will be a piece of cake, right?  I in no way claim to be a parenting expert, but over the years I have picked up a few tips to make roadtrips a little more likely to be successful (and repeated) with small children:

    In the car:

    Pack a lot of snacks: Like a lot more than you need. And pack a mix of healthy snacks and treats. I think back to a road trip Brian and I went on in our first year of marriage and I distinctly remember buying Oreos, Ruffles and onion dip and Gatorade. I feel a little sick to my stomach just thinking about it. A mix of healthy and not-so-healthy makes for a well-balanced, appetizing trip. Plus, for some reason, your children who eat about three bites of any given meal, with suddenly become ravenous bottomless pits on a road trip, guaranteed.

    A few “new” activities: I always try to pack a few simple “new” activities for the car ride. I also try to keep it simple so it doesn’t look like a tornado went through our car after we arrive at our destination. Stickers and a pad of paper, a couple of new Hot Wheels Cars, a notebook and pencil, books, etc.

    Movies: This one is self-explanatory, right? I try to break up the movie watching with aforementioned activities, but sometimes you do what you have to do!

    A handheld vacuum: I know this sounds ridiculous, but I bring a handheld vacuum (think Dustbuster) on roadtrips and it is so nice (for me) to be able to vacuum the car quickly either at a pit stop, before the next leg of the journey, or before the trip home. It’s a little like cleaning your house before you leave on vacation or doing laundry before coming home, I guess.

    For your destination:

    “Kid proof” Activities: Being in a new or unfamiliar environment can be rough on kids, whether it’s a house that isn’t “kid/baby-proofed” or they struggle sleeping in a bed that is not their own, I try to bring a few activities/items for my kids that are familiar and/or deters them from touching all the things they shouldn’t touch. For bedtime, I be sure to bring their favorite blankets/stuffed animals, sound machines, pajamas, etc to make it feel familiar. Then I pack a few activities or toys that they love to keep them occupied during downtime. Cars for my little boy, coloring books and stickers for my daughter. Since it is Thanksgiving, I’m bringing these activity pages I picked up at Target last year (and forgot to use them).

    tday activity sheets

    I’m also bringing the supplies to make gumdrop turkeys, an activity Brian did growing up at Thanksgiving. Being prepared with a few extra things significantly lowers my blood pressure and anxiety that something will get broken.

    Travel medicine bag: A few weeks ago I posted on Instagram about how I always bring a small medicine bag with me when we travel, no matter how short the trip. Several years ago when I only had one baby and she woke up in the middle of the night with a burning fever while we were on a trip and I had nothing to take care of her. Ever since, I bring a small bag with a thermometer, children’s and infant’s fever reducer, nose drops and a syringe and a few Band Aids thrown in for good measure. It’s saved me (and others) several times while traveling!

    travel medicine bag

    Those are just a few things outside of the typical items brought on a trip (clothes, toiletries, you know). By bringing along these few items, the driving portion of the trip goes smoothly, so long as you plan for the inevitable diaper emergency, and the stay is comfortable and familiar.

    Happy traveling!

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    Health & Fitness

    Running Challenge Update

    Remember that time I set a goal to run 30 miles in November? Yeah. Then my whole family contracted some sort of illness that lasted about ten days. It was one of those illnesses that manifested itself in different ways in each person. It started with a cold in my oldest. Then at the end of the week, we got an email that no parents wants to receive from her teacher that four students were out with a stomach bug and not one hour later it hit our house. It made it’s way through everyone and after a random couple of day of 100+ fevers at the beginning of this week, I think we are finally over it (knock on wood).

    Back to the running challenge. Obviously, I did not keep up with my plan. My mileage currently is at 1. Yep. Just one. I am still going to push for 30 miles by the end of the year. It is still a goal I have, just modified. Sure, I missed my goal and an earlier version of myself would probably have been much more disappointed than I am now. I’ve learned as I have gotten older (I know so old and wise), that you can’t sweat the small stuff as much or it will really affect the way you live your life. So I’m moving on, keeping my goal with a new deadline.
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    But one thing I did learn through the whole ten days that I didn’t exercise really at all was that I have made exercise a habit because I really truly missed it. Again, another earlier version of myself would have said, “TEN days of no exercise, woohoo!” but instead I found myself waking up thinking to myself, “I really hope the kids don’t have a fever, or don’t throw up, or have a runny nose, because I really want to go to the gym today”. I’m calling that a win!

    I’m learning that the road to self-improvement is not a non-stop fast track. It can be bumpy, there could be traffic, maybe you have to pull over for a bit, but you’ll eventually get there! There’s some wisdom for your Friday.

    In other news, it’s Friday! The Friday before a week off of school! I’m excited to spend some quality time with my family and have a few fun posts coming up in the next week.

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    Learning, Parenting

    A Membership For Discovery

    One of my favorite parenting tips is to buy memberships to a couple of places in your area. I love having built in places to take my kids at anytime. Not only is it great for a planned day out, but it also can save the day, as it has a time or two for me. Last summer, the air conditioning wasn’t working in our house. Last summer. In Texas. We took refuge at the museum a few times during those uncomfortable weeks. Did I mention we had just moved and I was seven months pregnant, too? It was fun times.

    But really. a membership is a great way to encourage learning and exploration in your kids. Now, when we read a books with animals in it, my son points out all the animals he remembers seeing at the zoo. The museum is a place my kids ask for regularly. It’s a bit of an investment up front, but it pays for itself in just a couple of visits and then you are the beneficiaries every time!

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    Last week, we got to go check out some of the new additions to the Perot Museum of Nature & Science in Dallas. We have had a membership there a couple of times and it is such a fun place to take the family. Because when you have small children, everything takes about ten times longer than normal, going to a place like the Perot is great, because you can go ten times and still not see everything. Naturally, we always end up at the Children’s Museum first, spend an hour or so there, and have enough time to check out maybe one of the remaining four floors. All the more reason to keep going back. My assistant (toddler) photographer requested this photo.

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    We got to visit their new Birds of Paradise exhibit, which was so neat. It took me back to when we were newlyweds and we would get the Planet Earth DVDs from Netflix in the mail. For some reason, I remember the birds of paradise episode more than the others. Ah, the good old days.

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    After we explored the exhibit, we of course made a stop at the Children’s Museum. It is not huge, but we have spent hours there before and the kids could have kept on going. Any place that gets my kids using their imaginations, playing and socializing is a win in my book!

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    After tearing them away from their beloved Children’s area, we saw the Asteroids movie in 3D in the theater. It was probably an interesting movie, but my two year old decided he wasn’t a fan of giant rocks hurtling through space, so we didn’t watch much of it. I’ve seen movies there before though and they are fantastic. Just be honest with your expectations when taking young kids to things like that.

    Something I think is so neat about this museum (and any good museum for kids) is the different interactive features and how learning and information is incorporated. Case in point, I can never forget sitting on a bench and looking down to see the fact about how many bugs you eat on average in a year. It was way more than I ever would have hoped.

    Just writing about it makes me want to go back again. I can’t recommend memberships enough to a few places in your area. If you’re in the DFW area, head over to my Facebook page later today where I’m giving away a 4-pack of tickets to the Perot Museum of Nature & Science!

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