Super Bowl Sugar Cookies

Tomorrow is a holiday in my household.

My husband is a Pats fan, and so he has become quite spoiled when it comes to cheering for his team in the Super Bowl. But while he nervously roots for Brady and Co., the rest of us will eat.

My brother-in-law and sister-in-law always kill it when it comes to the food setup and our contributions are minimal, but I will always bring my favorite party staple: iced sugar cookies.

Go Pats!
I’m probably not going to open a bakery any time soon, but even if they aren’t beautiful, they are addictively delicious.
The penalty flags in the football cups and the Edison lights are some of my favorite features of this setup.
Because you have to have more than sugar cookies, I guess. Aren’t the tomatoes cute?

I’m no pro baker, but these cookies are always delicious, even if not perfectly executed. My kids love to help in the kitchen, and this is one of their favorite baking projects. We make a simple buttercream frosting and add food coloring to decorate.

What is your must-have for the Super Bowl?

Here’s the link to the recipe (and I recommend rolling the dough out on parchment or waxed paper and not using flour).


 

Overstuffed

I’ve suddenly become painfully aware: I’ve missed a lot of life because of my stuff.

Snow days are for snow angels. And mismatched snow outfits, at least at our house.

This week has been one of snow days for my family. My teacher husband, Matt, and my school-aged girls have all been home, and it has been wonderful. I’ve caught up on laundry for the first time in literally years and the sink is empty, too, a phenomenon I don’t remember experiencing in a while (if ever). And today, we delved into organizing and purging toys and other household items.

Oy.

I told Matt I couldn’t deal with the toy situation any longer because I’m suffering from decision fatigue (which I had to convince him was a real thing). He started sorting and quickly filled two large totes with items to discard, then decided he’d had enough.

This is not my house, but the look is basically what I’m going for! I follow several accounts on Instagram featuring perfect home spaces, not so I can realize how I don’t measure up, but so I can remember my goals. Photo courtesy of pixabay.com.

And the basement, where all things go that I don’t want to deal with in our living and sleeping spots, is still overflowing with stuff.

This feels unbelievable sometimes, because this summer, I hosted or took part in three garage sales and sold boxes and boxes of items. I’ve sold a few dozen items on ebay recently and have donated even more. When my sister moved internationally this fall, I helped her sell her items and also delivered tons of my own to local buyers. So where did all the stuff I don’t even want come from?


Sometimes I’m really not sure, but I do know this: I like clean lines, neat and bright spaces, no clutter. I don’t like piles of magazines, laundry, dishes, toys, or paperwork. I particularly don’t like the management of items taking over my days.

And moreover, this week, while full of accomplishments, was not a relaxing play time with my kids or hanging out with my husband that it could have been thanks to the snow. No, I’ve mostly been frantically sorting all the things and trying to figure out what stays, where it goes, and what leaves.

I plan to update here on the status of my efforts. This purging and organizing what’s left is my biggest goal within my three 90-day goals for a reason: I’m trying to cultivate a more purposeful, simple life. I would like to control my stuff instead of it controlling me.

Leave me a comment and let me know how you manage all the stuff in your home!

 

Home

The Best Guy

I first remember getting in trouble with him at our baby sitter’s house when we were five. One of the other kids had been drawing pictures of butts, and since the entire group of kids of course giggled about it, we were all punished for the crime.

I knew I liked him in first grade but by fifth the feeling was mutual. We wrote letters back and forth, shared a few long, mostly silent phone calls, and avoided one another at school. When my best friend asked if I wanted to wear his jacket – which I think was a pretty sweet faux leather Jordan number – I asked, “Why? I already have a coat.” He moved on in the sixth grade, but I never really did.

We spent the next four years as friends, until he asked me to Winter Ball our sophomore year of high school. That was almost 18 years ago, and we’ve been inseparable since.

All that history considered, I’m a bit of an expert on my husband, Matt. Since today is his birthday, I thought I’d wax poetic for a moment.

Matt is witty and clever and fun. He likes to quietly observe but is adept at adding the well-timed smart comment. He has the best laugh and uses it often on reruns of The Office or his oldest daughter’s sassy remarks that sound much like his own.

During one of the hardest times we’ve endured together, we made 8-hour round-trips to a specialist several days per week while we both held full-time jobs and other responsibilities. It was exhausting and often hope-crushing, but that’s not really what I remember about that time. I remember Matt making me laugh until I cried, and then he would do the same. I remember him singing loudly to country songs, rapping horribly and belting out power ballads in his little pickup on the road trips. I remember that after we received bad news, we would drive to the all-you-can-eat Italian place and drown our sorrows in pounds of pasta and three lava cakes each.


We were on our first anniversary trip when he took a call from his former coach, who asked him to join the coaching staff at his alma mater. He did so, and officially launched a career in which he’s impacted numerous lives for the better. I can’t tell you how often I’m stopped by former students and asked to pass along news to him. I was in the post office last week when a friend told me he had heard through the grapevine how much the kids love Matt at his current school. A note received from a student on how he inspired her in her future career path brought me to tears (and I’m not a crier, except a laugh crier or an anger crier, thank you very much). He may be your stereotypical teacher/coach in a small, rural school, but that’s where the typecasting stops. He takes his job seriously and is excellent at what he does.

Each year, I live for the holiday season, and a huge part is because Matt will be home and he will take over cooking. He can re-create any fantastic meal we’ve ever had, his homemade noodles and fish dishes being among my favorite. He even built his own homemade grill and smoker over the summer. We are a perfect team in the kitchen: he cooks, I bake. No one wants the dishes. 

Every night he doesn’t have a game, he plays with the kids after dinner, administers medicines, fetches snacks, helps them bathe and dress, brushes teeth, and reads stories to them before they fall asleep. Then he does whatever needs done in the house, preps for work, and hangs out with me. Sometimes I wonder what I’m even doing around here, because I certainly don’t have the laundry caught up.

Following the birth of our firstborn, I was in bad shape and taken into surgery. Matt scooped up our daughter, not certain I would be returning, and forged a bond with her. He gives equal attention to our two youngest as well, and makes it a point to plan special outings with the kids. He is patient and kind, unless you wake him at 4 in the morning. Just don’t do that.

His obsession with the Patriots is perhaps over-the-top (I mean, when our oldest came down with the flu this year on game day and we couldn’t go anywhere, I know he felt bad for her, but he wasn’t disappointed otherwise). He has followed Tom Brady’s career since he was a quarterback at Michigan. This kind of loyalty to what he loves is evident in every facet of his life.

Matt is athletic and also so competitive, and not just in sports. We keep records of who wins Ticket to Ride in the game box, and he likes to brag about his overall record.

In short, he’s the best guy, and I’m lucky I realized it 30 years ago and that he’s agreed to do life with me for the past 14. Happy birthday, husband. I’ll cue up the Frasier episode and have chocolate cake for you when you get home from your game.

Christmas Traditions

We’ll watch White Christmas, Christmas Vacation, Elf, and Home Alone.

We’ll bake cookies for Santa, play Bingo for rewards like soap and toilet paper, and gobble up Chex Mix.

We’ll stay up too late, wrapping presents by the glow of the tree, singing along to carols in the background.

We’ll scribble out the Christmas cards and stick on the festive stamps.

We’ll make those last-minute trips to the stores to pick up the items we forgot on all the other trips.

We’ll take in the Christmas Eve candlelight service at our church, welcoming the chance to be still and to ponder the reason for the season.

Sometimes we do these things with great heart and other times, we go through the motions, doing all the things we think we should do to observe the holidays. I recall one particular Christmas Eve morning when we received the news yet another round of fertility treatments had failed. We were crushed. Later that day, we spent time with extended family, small children running everywhere, and it all felt so hollow. But as we continued to go through the motions that year, we slowly started to feel our burdens lighten. So many of the traditions we observed each year had been part of our experiences since childhood, and they brought back welcome memories that forced some of the clouds hanging overhead away.

We know too many people who have lost loved ones this year and they weigh heavy on our hearts during this season. Sometimes, those remembrances of days gone by will be too much for them to bear. Yet, there’s a magic to this time of year that seems to help many of us remember our blessings in spite of our sorrows, to help us remember all we’ve been given instead of all we’ve lost.

The romanticized, idyllic version of Christmas I hold in my head rarely comes to pass, but I will enjoy every moment I can. I’ll sing along with Rosemary and Bing and drink the good coffee and eat pastry while I watch my kids open presents. I’ll pull my favorite board games from the closet and hope someone will join in, and I’ll leave my tree and lights up past December 26, at least until Epiphany. And most of all, I’ll drink in the wonder of the season.

Sometimes I feel like Charlie Brown, who said, “I just don’t understand Christmas, I guess…isn’t there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about?”

So I’m grateful for the Linuses, who remind me. “Sure, Charlie Brown, I can tell you what Christmas is all about,” said Linus Van Pelt. “’For behold, I bring unto you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the City of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.’ And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God, and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.’” (Luke 2:8-14, KJV)

“That’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown,” said Linus.

Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!

When Can I Decorate For Christmas?

Everyone I know shares the same meme in the tenth month of the year: a beautiful scene of fall leaves with the Anne of Green Gables quote, “I’m so glad I live in a world where there are Octobers.”

Courtesy of Pixabay.com

And as much as I agree with the sentiment and think October is beautiful, at least in my neck of the woods where we do experience a true change of seasons, I otherwise hate October. (Don’t gasp, I’ll elaborate in a moment).

So today, on the first day of November, I’m facing a bit of a conundrum.

Christmas is my favorite. Twinkly lights are my favorite. But it is not yet Thanksgiving. And decorating for Christmas and removing all the orange and brown accents from my home feels wrong this early.

But I think I’ve found the answer.

I’m going to put up my Christmas tree and add Thanksgiving décor.

Since I typically have no less than four trees decorated for Christmas, as well as wreaths and tchotchkes all over the house, this isn’t an extreme solution, and just thinking about it has me excited for the coming holidays.

Technically, it doesn’t fit into my current goals of buying only what I need, ridding of what I already own that is no longer useful, and moving toward minimalism.

But look at this pumpkin pie ornament and tell me this isn’t a good idea.

We’ve always waited until the day after Thanksgiving to decorate for Christmas. If you celebrate, when do you decorate?


*Why do I hate October? This one in particular has been filled with illness and loss, but I just generally dislike the month. My husband is a football coach and I am a sports writer, and by October, we are worn out. I pick up both kids every day until football is over, and the trip to get just one child kills an hour of my day. My household projects, which had been progressing in late summer, are once again chaos. My kids love Halloween but it always coincides with either games or deadlines and as a homebody, trick-or-treating stresses me out. I guess I feel about October as most feel about February; it’s when I most notice the loss of summer and freedom and the thrill of a new school year has worn off.

Quick, Easy and Perfect Cashew Chicken

My husband comes from a family of excellent cooks. Every family gathering means a feast of just about every food imaginable, but one of my favorite occasions they host each year is Halloween. Matt’s grandparents throw a party, and his grandmother cooks up enough cashew chicken to feed a crowd. I asked for the recipe years ago and was surprised at how simple it really is. So without further ado, here is the perfect cashew chicken!

The first step is to find a cook.

Don’t hate him because he’s beautiful. Hate him because he loves the Pats.

The directions suggest marinating chicken breasts in soy sauce, but ain’t nobody got time for that. So Matt combines steps by adding soy sauce and salt and pepper to two eggs.

Whisk the mixture and add your chicken. We like to use chicken tenderloins cut into bites with kitchen shears. Add the chicken to a bag of flour and corn starch and any seasonings you may like – this time he just used salt and pepper, but he often will add garlic salt and paprika. Shake to coat.  (Shake and bake, baby).

While the oil heats, he likes to make the cashew sauce. Bring chicken bouillon, sugar,  oyster sauce, and water to a boil.

In a small bowl, mix corn starch with cold water. When smooth, add a bit to the cashew mixture. Cook until it reaches desired thickness.

Cool a bite of the sauce. Taste. Make frowny faces. Declare it good.

Fry the chicken with your preferred method. We are currently using vegetable oil, but I have also used shortening. He cooked these on high heat for about 7 minutes.

Side note: The Food Network taught us to buy one bunch of green onions and to place the bulbs in a jar of water. Voila, you’ll always have green onions growing, and so we do.

When the chicken is fried, serve with rice, green onions, and cashews.

Here’s the actual recipe:

Enjoy!


 

I’ve Loved You Best

I started eliminating all kinds of unneeded items in my home earlier this year, and I’m still investing time in that process. Yesterday, I was sorting through a stack of forgotten papers and found something I wanted to share. I’m not sure where this paper came from (I recall it first surfacing by falling out of a hand-me-down book that went out of print in the ’80s) or the author, but this writing from a fellow mother of three resonated with me. It also brought back memories of hearing my husband’s grandfather telling him he couldn’t choose a favorite, but if he could, he would choose Matt. Matt didn’t realize until adulthood that Grandpa told every grandchild the same. 

I’ve Loved You Best, Because…

Dear First Born,

I’ve always loved you best because you were our first miracle. You were the genesis of a marriage and the fulfillment of young love. You sustained us through the hamburger years, the first apartment (furnished in early poverty), our first mode of transportation (the “Junker”), and the 7-inch tv we paid on for 36 months.

You were new, had un-used grandparents, and enough clothes for a set of triplets. You were the original model for a mom and a dad who were trying to work the bugs out. You got the strained lamb, the open safety pins and three-hour naps.

You were the beginning.

Dear Middle Child,

I’ve always loved you best because you drew a tough spot in the family and it made you stronger for it. You cried less, had more patience, wore faded hand-me-downs, and never in your life did anything first. But it only made you more special.

You were the one we relaxed with and realized a dog could kiss you and you wouldn’t get sick. You could cross a street by yourself long before you were old enough to get married. And you helped us understand the world wouldn’t collapse if you went to bed with dirty feet.

You were the child of our busy, ambitious years. Without you, we never could have survived the job changes and the tedium and routine that is marriage.


To The Baby,

I’ve always loved you best because while endings are generally sad, you are such a joy. You readily accepted the milk-stained bibs, the lower bunk, the cracked baseball bat, the baby book that had nothing written in it except a recipe for graham cracker pie crust that someone had jammed between the pages.

You are the one we hold on to so tightly. You are the link with our past, a reason for tomorrow. You darken our hair, quicken our steps, square our shoulders, restore our vision, and give us a sense of humor that security, maturity, and durability can’t provide.

When your hairline takes on the shape of Lake Huron and your own children tower over you, you will still be our baby.

-A Mother

 

Prime Day

For the past several months, my husband and I have done our best to refrain from spending money. Instead, we’ve been doing our best to rid of unnecessary belongings and we’ve picked up some side work (but more on that later).

Enter Prime Day.

We are Amazon Prime subscribers. We have watched a few series through Amazon video streaming (Justified!) and enjoy Kindle services, and of course the two-day shipping. I have a long Amazon wish list, as do my children and my husband. But since I’m trying to save and not spend, I’ll stick to browsing for items I use regularly or that I’ve been waiting for a good deal to buy.

Here’s what I’m pondering:

Seagate External Hard Drives, because I have a Mac and a PC and only one hard drive, and that’s no bueno:

Papermate Inkjoy Gel Pens, because these are my jam and my kids won’t stop stealing mine: 

Prime Pantry Items. My introversion and love for a deal at my doorstep could really be satisfied if I take advantage of the $10 off a $60 pantry purchase. I love this Mrs. Meyer’s Clean Day soap (although this link isn’t for Prime Pantry soap – it won’t let me share that for some reason – you should check out Prime Pantry if you haven’t).

Baby Cage, because my baby fell and bloodied his lip right next to me while I tried to write this. 

I think that’s all I’ll consider for today, although I would really like this item from my wish list, even though it’s not a prime deal today:

What have you bought or what will you buy on Prime Day?

*Update: I actually bought a desktop fan with USB port for my husband for work, a book for my nephew, and an American Girl mini Addy doll and book for my daughter for her birthday. Now I’ll try to abstain from Amazon purchasing for a while.

 

Disorder

I’m writing for the first time in a long while. Also, for the first time ever, I’m writing from my storm shelter alongside my husband and three kids. A tornado has been spotted on the ground in my county.

It appears as though we will make it through this unscathed, but the 1 am jaunt to the basement has highlighted for me a problem I already knew existed.

My house is a wreck. My brain is a wreck. Clutter has taken over in every facet, and I hate it.

As the emergency alerts sounded and we descended the stairs to the basement, we had to do so in single-file fashion because the stairs are lined with boxes of Christmas ornaments that haven’t found a home, piles of school papers, toys, and boxes of outgrown clothing.

I carried my sleeping son as my husband carried one daughter and led the other, and I didn’t really fear the storm. I feared we might not make it through all the junk to our shelter. And that’s pretty embarrassing.

I haven’t written because my brain has been in a similar state as my house. Thoughts of things I want to write swirl through my head but never make it out. Days pass and I accomplish little to nothing on my to-do list. Maybe that wouldn’t be the case if I could remember where I left the list.

It’s ironic that one of the blogs I frequent is called “The Art of Simple” and that I thoroughly appreciated Marie Kondo’s “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up.” I love their thoughts of only keeping the items that bring you joy, and spending your days intentionally. I just haven’t necessarily applied them to my own life.

I haven’t become an untidy mess intentionally. I am a work-from-home mom, and so boundaries between work and home life are constantly blurred. My office space is rarely used because it is instead a veritable death trap, surrounded by Legos and Shopkins. As of right now, my work is taking over part of the couch and most of the kitchen table. Often overlapping: a deadline on a project, a child to feed and put down for a nap, another who needs assistance in the bathroom, one who needs picked up from school, and laundry about to pass the point of being still acceptable to transfer to the dryer.

A year and a half ago, I was ready to clear out my large stash of baby gear and children’s clothes that were taking over my storage room when I learned I was pregnant. Now I’m almost afraid to rid of them. I keep every paper I’ve ever received but they rarely make it to the file cabinet. My dishes are always piling up because we have too many dishes. The laundry is overflowing because we have five people in the house, but mostly because we each have too many items to wear. I have taken millions of photos and have three (three!) full computers that I can’t even use and I have barely printed a photo of my kids in the past 6.5 years.

In short, our abundances have become burdens. This excess has become excessive.

I got a head start to ridding of what is ailing me this weekend, quickly filling three boxes of unneeded items that I then delivered to a local charity. I cleaned my daughter’s overflowing closet and finally took two sets of dishes I’ve always hated out of my cabinet. I recycled a box of my girls’ drawings (stealthily). I’ve sold a few items online. And I already feel just a bit lighter.

Self-help blogs and books are kind of a love-hate category for me, but writing this caused me to recall a post my friend recently shared in social media. If I were one to physically react to what I read, I would be nodding right now. Read it here:

https://thebalancedlifeonline.com/how-getting-rid-of-my-stuff-saved-my-motherhood/

She also shared this resource that I signed up for: http://alliecasazza.com/free-minimalism-guide-toolkit-download.

And of course, I’ll be using lists to guide me, such as this one: http://www.organisemyhouse.com/101-items-to-get-rid-of-without-regret/

So tell me, how do you launch your spring cleaning? (Or, if you’re like me, total household overhaul)!

-Amanda

Pantry Schmantry

When we built our house four years ago, a walk-in pantry was near the top of my wish list. In our former house, we had limited storage space coupled with poor organization. I was determined to have a better set-up in my new home.

But while we carved out the required space for our cupboard, we didn’t exactly have a great organization system.

So I hosted a Thirty-One party (and I’m hosting another! See the bottom of this post for the link).

The pantry is still a work in progress, but my favorite part is the embroidered Your Way Cubes I purchased from Thirty-One. I love being able to find whatever I need quickly and to easily identify what I’m running low on, and it looks so cute and neat! I also like that one side has a clear PVC panel in case I would rather see the cube’s contents.

Last night, I emptied the contents of the pantry – I tend to clean by destroying first – and enlisted my girls to help me out with the organization.

    

They grouped similar products and built towers with their finds, and when we were finished, they found the appropriate storage cube to house everything (except for all of those sauce packets).

I also have embroidered cubes in my laundry room, and I’m planning to add bins to my pantry collection to contain tea & coffee, bread, and my favorite, candy.

If you’d like to see more organization solutions by Thirty-One, or if you need a fun new bag, personalized canvas or pillow, check out my online party or book your own here:

https://www.mythirtyone.com/16726/shop/Party/EventDetail/9671480?verify=true

Happy shopping and organizing!

Amanda