New Christmas Traditions



Christmas, that word itself screams family and a time for togetherness. I took it for granted as a child. Then I grew up and moved over 2000 miles away from home to go to college. I managed to make it home during the college years. Then, after I graduated, airfare prices seemed to soar making it very difficult to make my annual trek home.

Then I married prince charming who came with a very large family that also considered Christmas equally important. It was the one time of year that all six of his siblings got together. What was I getting myself into?

Christmas of 2013

Our first married Christmas, we went to California to celebrate it with my mother’s very large family. It would be her first Christmas in probably 29 years that she would get to celebrate it with them. I’m seeing the trend now, from my mother to me. Despite how important Christmas with our parents was, we would devote that time to our in laws. I knew after my California Christmas that I needed to find a new Christmas in my heart otherwise I would probably be very bitter about the holiday every year in not being able to spend it with my parents. That just wouldn’t do.

Christmas of 2014
I knew in advance to stay put and not make travel plans for my annual trek. That I needed to make traditions of my own that also included going to the huge Christmas party that my husband’s siblings had every year.

Christmas of 2014 threw us a curve ball with a call to pick up our first foster care placement, a newborn, from the hospital just a few days before Christmas. It was truly special to become a family of 3 that year. My first year that I tried so hard to make my “own Christmas” without my parents.

From this Christmas, I started the tradition of making new years cards to send out to family and friends with a year in review update. This helped me to feel close to those loved ones that I didn’t get to see often.

Christmas of 2015

I was a miserable almost 8 months pregnant but I pushed through. My dear mother sent me some pieces of Christmas decor from her own collection to help me have pieces of my childhood. One piece was a collage that I made when I was about 4 years old with cut outs of Christmas cards that my mother saved. This was particularly special because she used to always hang it with the one she made when she was a little girl.

I will carry on with saving Christmas cards so that my own children can make the collage when they are that age.

Christmas of 2016

We went on a week long family vacation in early December to Puerto Rico. This made us feel like we didn’t get to savor Christmas. We got the tree late in December and by the time we got everything decorated, Christmas was over.

The lesson learned and tradition gained was to not go anywhere on vacation in the month of December. This way we could really cherish Christmas.

Christmas of 2017

The biggest change this year is an artificial tree. We had bought one on clearance for really cheap. Despite the practicality of it with not being messy, not costing a lot and not needing constant watering, it is just not the same. I miss the elegance of a real tree and the wonderful smell. I will deal this year since it’s already up and in my living room. I plan to make a new tradition this year of making sugar cookies and decorating them with my children.

For the Future

I have really learned to embrace Christmas and make it my own. I have come leaps and bounds from my first married Christmas. I also try to make sure to video chat with my mom throughout the Christmas season as I imagine her making her own Christmas without me must be very difficult as well. I cannot wait to see what other fun traditions my family makes in the Christmases to come.

Advertisements

Flying Solo With 2 Toddlers

What? What was that? You flew with your two toddlers alone? With no one else? Are you crazy?

Apparently I am. Being from Idaho originally brings a complication. My family is there and I’m here. Boo. I hadn’t seen my father since last November and there was no definite upcoming trip of him coming to visit. I sucked it up and booked my tickets for September.

I wanted to avoid holiday travels and the prices that come with it. I highly recommend figuring out a way to have holidays with your long distance family on a day other than the official holiday if possible. It will save lots of money and hopefully cut down on stress of overcrowded airports.

As September drew near, I began having anxiety attacks. My dear friends told me that I would be fine. If anyone was crazy enough to handle it, then it was me.

As the big day drew near, I made sure to try my best to make sure I had systems in place. A complete bare bones diaper bag. One suitcase to check. The tricky part…bringing a carseat on the plane for my 2 year old to sit in. How to do that? I couldn’t finagle a stroller, my layover was 45 minutes only, I couldn’t risk waiting forever on a gate check.

So I made a redneck stroller. I attached my toddlers carseat to my rolling suitcase some magic way that was still stable. The only issue was getting on the plane with two toddlers, a carseat, a backpack (diaper bag) and a rolling suitcase since an airplane aisle isn’t as wide as a carseat. Thank heavens for babywearing for one kid at least.

While waiting for the first flight in the boarding area, my first encounter was a creepy old guy that my 20 month old had the nerve to wake up. Bless her heart. He seemed harmless at first but then started showing my 2-1/2 year old pictures. Red flag to me. I hurried and got away from him and thankfully didn’t run into him again. You can never be too careful with how strangers interact with your kids. Although you will think I’m a liar for saying that after what happens next.

Next encounter, a lady who apparently was a frequent flier saw me and took charge. She asked if I needed help and I said okay thinking to pass her my rolling suitcase. She scooped up my 2-1/2 year old and charged for the gate.

Gulp. Some lady has my kid in her arms. Did that just happen? I boarded the plane, everything was fine. Then at the last minute the flight attendant switched my seat on me to give me a whole row to myself. She took my 20 month old in her arms and then took my other toddler by the hand and took them 18 rows away from me while I scrambled to unbuckle the carseat and gather my stuff. Another hard moment for me to trust some stranger with both of my kids.

Fast forward to the end of the first flight. The lovely older couple in front of me were apparently going to be on my next flight. The gentleman took my carseat from my hands when we were deplaning and his wife lovingly picked up my kid and off they went. At the gate, I asked for my carseat and child back so I could set up my stroller and they told me that they wanted to help. There was no time to argue. When we headed to the next gate I wanted to take a bathroom stop and the lady gave me my kid back and then proceeded to take my suitcase and said she would meet me at the gate.

Yep. That just happened. This lady has my suitcase and her husband has my carseat. Deep breaths. I needed to relax and go with the flow and be thankful for the help. We had no time to waste. Changed two diapers and ran to my gate and the lady with my stuff told me to go ahead since boarding just started and handed me the carseat telling me she would bring my suitcase aboard. All those airport warning announcements went ringing in my head.

I boarded the flight and sure enough a flight attendant came to me to relay the message that my suitcase was aboard. The attendant definitely seemed puzzled and I simply smiled. When I got off that flight, the couple was waiting for me. I tried again to put my redneck stroller together and the couple said no, we are helping you. They proceeded to carry the carseat all the way as well as carry my 2 year old halfway until I met up with my family in the waiting area.

I’m stubborn and do not usually accept help nor do I hardly ever ask for it. This was such a lesson for me to be more open to help. That I do not have to be superwoman. Do not be afraid to try new things. I was so petrified of this day and this loving just as stubborn couple helped me almost the whole way.

Sure, I had to trust a handful of strangers with my kids, was tempted to cry at times and ultimately had to step out of my comfort zone. It helped me grow to be a better person though. I might not be so daring to try to accomplish something like this so soon again but if I do, I will try make new friends and pray for angels to come my way.

Science Museum Annual Membership

This year I opted for something different for my daughters’ (ages 1 and 2) birthday present. I asked at their combined birthday party for money to get an annual membership to a local place instead of toys. 

I’m blessed with many choices to choose from, I researched each place to see what places were on their reciprocal list. I did a zoo membership last year so I wanted something that just gave me more options.

I went with the Boston Museum of Science despite the chances of me actually going there would be on the slim side. The rest of this post includes the journey of various places this pass blessed us with. I will update it as we go.

1. Beardsley Zoo

First stop was Connecticut Beardsley Zoo. Located in Bridgeport, CT about 2 hours from home, we used it as a pitstop on our roadtrip to the Delaware Water Gap. We didn’t have to pay anything to get in. The zoo was large with a wide variety of animals. Definitely seemed to be well shaded at each exhibit so we weren’t just standing in blatant sun. Had tigers that were awesome to see. There was also a fun farm area with duck/water fowl ponds. A bonus was a large indoor carousel that had long lasting rides.

2. Providence Children’s Museum

A gem on this list is the Providence Children’s Museum. We got into this place for free with our pass as well. Just under a half hour from my house, we will be frequent visitors most likely. From a giant water play room to many small rooms with different themes plus an outdoor area both my girls enjoy this place immensely and kids of many ages would enjoy this place as well.

3. Capron Zoo

This zoo was very strict about the pass, must show ID and only your immediate family can get in. A smaller zoo that also has a splash pad in it. Some of the animals they had were lions, sloth bear, farm animals, a handful of monkeys, a fun nocturnal animal exhibit and others.

4. Grizzly & Wolf Discovery Center

Located in West Yellowstone, Montana near the Yellowstone National Park entrance, this place takes in bears that had to be removed from the wild due to human conflict or if they had been orphaned as cubs. This center also takes in birds of prey as well as wolves. One bird, an eagle, had been hit by a propane truck and the center took it in. The pass allowed us to get for half off here and it was definitely a fun experience. They have an area for the bears to run around in and change the bears every 2 hours or so. Between the switching of bears they hide food in rocks and areas to help the bears to keep up with their natural instincts and maintain their muscles.

5. Discovery Center of Idaho 

A small science center that used to be a childhood favorite of mine. Another freebie on the list, the girls and I enjoyed going through here even though it’s definitely geared towards school aged children more so than toddlers. Unfortunately the shark exhibit that was currently going on was a bit over their heads to be appreciated but I’m sure more school aged kids and shark lovers would appreciate it! The permanent exhibits have been minimalized still including the fun shadow picture room. A toddler area was also put into place but unfortunately didn’t seem to be well maintained as some areas were missing pieces and there were some areas that none of us parents in the room could figure out what to do.

6. Zoo Boise

This zoo only charged us the conservation fee which was 50 cents a person. This zoo is big and could take 2-3 hours easily. We were there just after the summer season so the extra attractions had died down but this zoo has giraffes, lions, monkeys, penguins, a farm area and many other animals. A fun giraffe slide too and small play areas scattered about. 

7. Ecotarium

Just under an hour away from home, this place (another freebie) is definitely good for ages 5 and up it seems. Although there is still plenty of things for the toddlers and preschoolers to enjoy. Plenty of hands on science exhibits, a traveling exhibit, a hurricane wind stimulator, a few animal exhibits, a toddler play area, a large outdoor play area with not so common play things and a seasonal train ride.

8. Buttonwoods Zoo

A nicely laid out zoo in New Bedford, just under an hour away from the house. The pass got us in for free here. There was a good layout with plenty of shade, an outdoor picnic area, an inside cafe with plenty of seating too and at the time we went there was a small play area for the kids. This zoo has elephants as well as bison, otters, bunch of birds, a fun monkey exhibit and other animals. Currently adding on and renovating making it nicer all the time. We will back as we enjoyed our time there!

9. MOAS

Museum of Art and Science in Daytona Beach, Florida was another freebie. Seems like they wanted a museum and weren’t sure if they had enough interest in one particular area so this place was a combination of science, art, some historical and a bit of a children’s museum/play area with a planetarium. There was a handful of art gallery rooms, a fun temporary Coca Cola over the last 100 years exhibit, a large room with 2 train cars showing you what travel uses to be like, a room full of hands on science stuff and a play area with a pretend pizza parlor with cash register, pizza bar and oven. My girls enjoyed playing in this area a lot. We definitely would come back if visiting in the area again!

10. Brevard Zoo
We got immediate family only in for half price with our pass. This zoo was one of my favorites that I have ever been too. They have an excellent non confusing layout and lots of fun affordable side options. We were able to go into an aviary with lorakeets and feed them from a nectar cup for only a dollar, got to feed a giraffe a hunk of lettuce for only a couple bucks, got to take a train ride through an animal exhibit, and got to walk through a kangaroo walk about where we actually had to step over kangaroos that were sleeping in the path. We spent half a day here and enjoyed it immensely.

Purge!

I am a pack rat borderline hoarder always stocking something in fear of not having enough or running out of something and heaven forbid have to go to the store. It’s bad. Thankfully I have gotten better about it over the past couple years but that means I still have stuff to work through with it.

First of all, there will never be an opportune time to purge and sort through stuff. Just schedule it in along with everything else otherwise it will never get done and you will just have all this junk holding you back.

I have been currently working through baby clothes, that seems to be my biggest issue. I feel like if stores didn’t sell baby clothes for a whole year people could manage just fine! I store baby clothes in bins, a bin for each size and I make sure to label them. I have noticed too if everyone has less clothes it forces you to keep on top of laundry and then it doesn’t becoming an overwhelming mountain of it ultimately making life hopefully a bit easier.

50 shades of pink! How many different pink pants does 1 baby need! Needless to say only 2 pairs got saved.

I keep myself open to donations because you never know what you get and it can be helpful to someone else. I’m a huge networker when it comes to stuff. I have a few friends who contact me with a wish list of stuff for me to find for them. I wished I had kept a running list of all the stuff I played middleman to delivering to someone who needed it.

If it’s stuff you are sorting through that you have leftover stuff to keep, make an organization system from the start so you don’t set yourself up for failure. 

The goal is to have as little as possible. Can you imagine your life with less clutter? Less stuff to spend time looking for? Less stuff to clean? Start small if you have to but once you get rolling it should be quite addicting and you will love not walking around junk piles or having to ferociously hide stuff before a friend comes over. If you have a busy schedule start with a 15 minute time slot and one designated area. Each time slot try to eliminate 5 things and build yourself up to more. Don’t let that stuff sit around either get it out of the house immediately!

Peach Cobbler Ice Cream Recipe

Peach Cobbler Meets Ice Cream!

Ahhh, peaches. I love peaches. For once, I took advantage of them being readily available at the farms around me and went peach picking. The first one I grabbed off the tree was melt in your mouth delicious. 

We bought 6 whopping pounds (guess what we are doing this weekend). First, we made a double batch of delicious peach jam and still had a small handful of peaches left. I knew we had to make some ice cream! My husband put in a request for something with graham crackers too. I set off searching for the perfect recipe that was peachy, graham cracker loaded and maybe a nice bit of brown sugar goo and couldn’t find one that was simple enough to do plus many demanded some ingredients I didn’t have on hand or annoyingly took two to three days to make (not counting the freezing of the ice cream bowl).

I resorted to make my own starting by being inspired by a basic vanilla custard base provided by the Cuisinart’s ice cream maker’s recipe book. The recipe they provide seemed to be too big for my 1.5 quart ice cream maker plus it seemed to have too much vanilla for what I wanted.

Ingredients

For the custard ice cream base:

  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 1/2 cup sugar divided
  • Pinch of salt
  • 3 egg yolks
  • 1 tsp vanilla

For the peaches:

  • 1-1/2 cups ripe peaches (about 3 good sized peaches or 5 small ones)
  • 3 tbs butter

For the cobbler part:

  • 5-7 honey graham cracker sheets
  • 1 tbs cinnamon 
  • A pinch of nutmeg or pumpkin pie spice
  • 1/3 to 1/2 cup of dark brown sugar  (based on preference)
  • 5 tbs melted butter
  • Pinch of flour

For the custard ice cream base:

  1. In a saucepan pour the milk, heavy cream, 1/4 cup of sugar and pinch of salt in on med heat
  2. Put the egg yolks into a medium bowl and whisk a 1/4 cup of sugar  in amd vanilla until blended
  3. Just as the mixture is about to boil, remove 1/3 of it and pour it into the yolk bowl stirring constantly. Turn the pan heat down to low while doing this. Add another 1/3 to the yolk bowl stirring together then pour the contents of the yolk bowl into the saucepan.
  4. Stir constantly the completely combined mixture with a wooden spoon for about 3 to 4 minutes or until it starts sticking to the back of the spoon. This isn’t to come to a boil as it will overcook the yolks thus creating a mess. Afterwards, remove from heat, cool to room temperature and then refrigerate for an hour or two.

For the peaches:

  1. Cut the peaches into small chunks and get the pits out. I left the skins on because my family doesn’t mind them. You could even puree it or use a utensil to mush/chop it up more, all up to preference on size of the chunks.
  2. Put peaches into a small sauce pan at medium and add the 3 tbs butter stirring occasionally until the peaches start to bubble and the butter melts
  3. Remove from heat, cool enough to transfer to a small container and store in fridge

For the cobbler part:

  1. Place the graham crackers into a small bowl and mash up into small chunks 
  2. Add the brown sugar, cinnamon, and nutmeg and stir together
  3. Add the melted butter and pinch of flour and stir well

Add the base to your ice cream freezer bowl and begin churning. My ice cream maker usually takes about 15 minutes to churn before adding the peaches and cobbler then about 5 minutes after that. 

Mama, I help you?

My 2-1/2 toddler has always been helpful but lately we’ve entered this crazy helping phase. For everything and every step of the way. And if I am being a couch bum she will come to me and say, “I help you?” Aka she’s bored or hungry and wants me to start some crazy project with her.

For the record, I’m completely stubborn and independent and typically an impatient person. If things can be done quickly with no need for explaining then sure maybe you can help me.

The Lord sure knows I need refining in this matter and my tot is part of this. As we do projects together, I learn to have more patience, that it’s okay to take an hour to make pancakes, that it’s okay there is a mess made, those can always be cleaned up. I also try to remember they are only little once, that they grow up quickly, and that it wouldn’t be good to squash this loving helpful mentality. 

Helping me flip pancakes. I prefer her on a chair instead of the counter but this keeps my other toddler from climbing up and touching hot stuff

Let the memories flow and let them help you. Life doesn’t need to be rushed all the time but rather savored. Hopefully my 2-1/2 year old can make me a full dinner spread by the time she is 5 years old and all my hard work paid off. Just kidding, that’s not a good perspective either. 

I’m not mastered at letting my toddler help me, I still cringe inside when I’m in my selfish just wanna get the job done mood and she crashes my party but I’m learning. Learning to take it all in and enjoy life from another angle. 

Helping me dry rub some pork

Gluten Free Southwest Tater Tot Casserole

I came up with this recipe when I wanted to make a casserole with tots in it. I was disgusted to find recipes with green beans and cream of mushroom soup, as those aren’t exactly some of my favorite things.

I also didn’t want something too complicated to throw together with two toddlers hanging on my legs helping me make dinner.

I didn’t get a picture of the actual meal the last time I made it because we were hungry savages….oops

Ingredients

  • 1lb – 1.3lb ground turkey or ground beef 
  • Taco seasoning
  • Can of Rotel (tomatoes and diced chilies)
  • 2lbs frozen tater tots (a good sized bag works)
  • Optional to add in sliced bell peppers (frozen works well) and/or frozen corn
  • 4tbs-8tbs butter  (amount varies by preference)
  • Garlic powder or minced garlic 
  • 2 cups milk (plain almond milk works in a pinch too)
  • Adobo seasoning or similar all purpose seasoning
  • Pepper
  • Cornstarch
  • 2 cups/1 bag shredded cheese – cheddar or Mexican blend works best
  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees
  2. Get out a 9 x 13 casserole pan and set aside
  3. Brown the ground meat until cooked, drain the fat if excessive amount, then add enough taco seasoning that the ground meat is covered well/to personal preference. Also, if you have time to chop up an onion and brown it before adding the meat to the pan, do so! But I usually don’t have time for onion tears
  4. While the ground meat is browning, in a separate small pot pour in milk and add butter and set to medium heat
  5. To the milk/butter mixture, add 2tsp garlic powder and 2tsp adobo seasoning (or just eyeball it…who has time to measure????) Add a sprinkling of pepper
  6. Add the cornstarch (or flour if you don’t need to be gluten free), start with 1-2tbsp, mixing well until it becomes a goopy cheesey sauce
  7. Add 1 cup/half bag of the shredded cheese to the pot and stir until melted. Turn off heat and set aside
  8. Pour the can of Rotel, the browned meat, and tater tots (plus the corn or peppers if you are adding that) into the casserole pan 
  9. Pour the cheese sauce mixture over everything in the casserole dish then stir until everything is mixed and well coated
  10. Sprinkle the remaining cheese evenly over the top
  11. Cook for 25 to 30 minutes at 400 degrees

Camping With Toddlers

Part 1 – Kitchen, Gear, Dry Food

Does this title make you cringe? Yeah, I don’t blame you. I have found the key to this is being organized. Which is something I have been learning to be better at. My family takes a handful of camping trips a year. We often use the camping part as a means of an affordable accommodation thus allowing us to do more trips. Knowing that we will camp several times a year, I knew we needed to be prepared plus it makes each trip easy to pack for.

First, I took a glance at all the supermoms on Pinterest to get some ideas. Then I made my own system. We have a couple designated totes. One is for the kitchen and one is for gear. The other great thing about these totes is that in case of a natural disaster or emergency (ahem zombie apocalypse) we can grab them and have a basic set up for cooking and survival.

The kitchen tote has everything we will need for cooking. I bought separate supplies for this tote instead of pulling things from my kitchen each trip. While it may sound expensive, it wasn’t since I got things from the dollar store or Ikea or Wal-Mart. The gear tote is basic and not all inclusive missing items like compass, walkie talkie, fire extinguisher, aloe vera, radio, whistle, bug candle, and umbrella. Every family is different and will need slightly different stuff for their tubs.

Kitchen Tote Supply List

  • Cutting board
  • 2 knives both in a sheath if possible, a big one and a small one
  • Simple utensil set – tongs, spoon, spatula
  • Simple BBQ utensil set – tongs and metal spatula(for dealing with campfire grills etc) 
  • Can opener
  • 2 frying pans (we often use 2 frying pans for 1 meal, this is something to adjust to a family’s particular need)
  • 1 average sized pot
  • Foil
  • Ziploc baggies both small and big sizes
  • 2 wash bins
  • Simple dishes – a plastic plate for each family member, a simple metal fork, spoon and knife for each family member, a cup, a mug if you plan on hot beverages and optionally a bowl. You can always use the cup as a bowl in a pinch 
  • Disposable dishes as well to make meals simpler
  • Potholders
  • Dish soap and scrubber
  • A pill box to store spices in, one of the only things I have to refill between trips
  • A small colander
  • A small mixing bowl
  • A small 2 cup measurer, we do not do elaborate baking while cooking so I skipped the whole measuring cup and teaspoon kits 
  • Marshmallow roaster sticks
  • Dish drying mat
  • Paper towels
  • Vinyl tablecloth and clips to hold it in place
  • Bleach wipes 
  • Baby wipes
  • Hand sanitizer 
  • Trash bags and grocery bags
  • Brita water pitcher
  • Cooking spray 
  • Matches/lighter

    The pot is missing….it has run away

    Gear Tote Supply List

    • Small lantern/flashlight
    • Larger lantern
    • Extra batteries
    • Glow sticks for the kids at night
    • Extra tent stakes
    • Chalk for the kids
    • Clothes line with clothes pins
    • Shower curtain liner and clips (makes for a quick last minute tarp for gear or a privacy curtain using rope between trees)
    • Rubber mallet
    • Small toiletry kit with soap, shampoo, conditioner 
    • Bug spray
    • Sunscreen
    • Toothbrushes and toothpaste
    • Basic first aid kit
    • Basic rope/twine
    • Bright colored tape/duct tape
    • If space allows then some simple shovel and buckets for dirt play
    • Toilet paper 
    • Propane for the campstove
    • Bubbles and card games
    • Work gloves
    • Fire starter/kindling
    • Laundry detergent

    I also pack a designated dry food bin that is customized for each trip. For this last trip I experimented with a new set up that seemed to work well. I had the Smores stuff in a small shoe box sized tote, all the kids snacks in another small shoe box sized tote, a silverware caddy that I kept all the disposable paper goods in which allowed easy access and then a reusable grocery bag with everything else neatly stacked in it. All of this stuff I fit into a Insta crate but it can go in a bin or similar container.

    All packed together

     Snack bin and smore bin on bottom

    Be on the lookout for Part 2! Hope this is helpful for preparing your family to have plenty of wonderful camping memories!

    Zoom Baby

    Somehow we always seem to be on the go. It may be my wayfaring heart or thirst to continue to always explore. My husband doesn’t seem to mind and we just drag along whatever kids we have to explore new places and take in new sights. A RI transplant mama with Idaho roots to two beautiful little girls age 1 and 2, an at times foster mama, wife to a loving husband, follower of Jesus Christ, adventurer, frugal innovative thinker and sometimes a DIYer, the unknown doesn’t always scare me and I try to get the most out of this crazy world. Join me on this blogging journey for a glimpse of my at times crazy life from things to do with kids, different ways to do things, crazy adventures, some boring trip itineraries, and who knows what else.