The Happy Jar – A Children’s Book of Memories

If you are looking for a great children’s book for the start of summer vacation – I recommend The Happy Jar, written by Jake Frost. I always love a children’s book that draws our little people into a deeper understanding of life and The Happy Jar is just that – a book about family and the little moments that help the world go around. I definitely recommend it! My eight year old daughter read it to my son’s kindergarten class and the children loved the book. It’s a great way to start summer vacation as a family – create your own happy jar.

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Photo Credit: DMHeckenkamp

I look forward to asking my children what they see in their own “happy jar”. Here are a few of my “little moments”:

Snuggles with my children

Kisses from the 19 month old

Drawings from my 8 year old

My husband as we walk together side-by-side each day of our lives

Date nights with my husband

Good friends who are always there for me

A warm and loving home – a secure place for my family

My parents and siblings who love unconditionally

Rainy days and books

Sunny days and sparkling water

The smell of freshly cut grass

Campfires and roasted marshmallows

LOVE

 

What’s in your Happy Jar?

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Photo Credit: DMHeckenkamp

Tomato and Veggie Pasta

I have to admit that over the years cooking has become a form of relaxation for me. I’m not going to pretend that every night I am bursting with energy to prepare dinner for our family of six, but looking back over the past ten years, cooking has become pure pleasure for me. There’s something amazing about combining ordinary foods to create something extraordinary. I have always loved baking, but now my love for sweets has transpired into the realm of pastas, meats, veggies, herbs, and spices.

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Having four children with varying taste buds, I always expect them to try the food I prepare, but as a mom it is easier for me to make dishes that I know they will enjoy. This meatless dish has become a favorite of the kids and I wanted to share it with you. What’s even better, if you make the entire box of pasta, there will be enough for leftovers the following evening.

What are some of your favorite and easy dinner recipes?

Don’t forget a glass of wine for yourself!

Surviving Motherhood: It’s Not What I Envisioned…It’s Even Better

Motherhood brings so many different phases. Places we never thought we would go, decisions that seemed so far away when the baby was born, and dreams we thought were simple to attain. We all have dreams and goals for our lives as mothers – whether working out of the home or working in the home. As my oldest reaches her 8th birthday in three and a half months (yes, she has been counting down the weeks), it has brought a sense of reflection for my role and place as a wife and mother.

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It took me a long time to truly value my role as a mom. Yes, it was exactly what my husband and I had wanted and we were so excited to begin a family, but until baby number 4 graced our family, it was a whirlwind experience. Each pregnancy was so different and each child was even more different. I look back at those early years and I was just surviving. Surviving to wake up for the 8th time in one night to nurse an infant. Surviving to stay awake until nap time and entertain the toddler. Surviving to stay on top of the laundry, the cleaning, and the cooking, while also wishing for the next step of motherhood. But what was that next step? Have you noticed that we always wish for the next phase in our lives, but we never know what that entails and somehow we still desire it?

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Looking back, those early years of toddlers and infants were extremely difficult. It was all a new experience for me. My beliefs of what motherhood really included were only slightly true. Somehow, in my dreams, I failed to imagine the screaming two year old who only chose to express himself with a long, loud wail. I envisioned laundry, but somehow I forgot it has to be put into the drawers or hung on a hanger. The thought of cooking for a family sounded creative and fun, but I never thought of the little picky eaters who wouldn’t appreciate the effort (luckily, my husband is very appreciative).

But I eventually learned to call these disappointments “graceful moments”. Small moments of my life as a mom are not what I envisioned. Instead these are moments of self-sacrifice – a true act of love for my family. I don’t have much to give the world through material items, but I can give my love. And isn’t love the greatest gift of all? It is what we all desire in one way or another. We seek love in our spouses, our family and friends, our children, our neighbors, and even from a stranger. A kind word or smile goes a long way.

So through all these small moments, I have realized that motherhood is even better than I imagined. Those sweet kisses and hugs from my children wouldn’t mean as much if I was never tired. Even that screaming two year knows that his mama needs a kiss (even if it’s on my knee while I’m cooking dinner). The self-sacrifices that mothers give and give more each day of our lives is what makes this world beautiful – it continues an ongoing story that has lasted through the ages. So don’t view frustrations and exhaustion as disappointments, they are only small moments of time, but they give us the opportunity to embrace the experiences of motherhood. This may sound like a dream, because in the moment of doing the 5th load of wash with a screaming toddler, it’s difficult to find joy. But we must remember that eventually the laundry will stop, the cooking will slow down, and the screaming toddler will become a 2nd grader and we will look back at those struggling days with joy, because motherhood wouldn’t be such a beautiful vocation if it didn’t involve hard work and self-sacrifice: a true act of love.

 

 

 

Give a Little Love

Take a moment to smile and change the world – any small act of love. Last week I took all four children to the grocery store (I know that’s pretty crazy, right?) and typically my older two like to color pictures and give them as “gifts” to the unsuspecting check-out person. Well, at first I was irritated with myself because I chose the aisle with the crabby lady who wouldn’t crack a smile. My first thought: oh great, she’s going to ignore the pictures and the children will be upset. Note to self – address the situation later in the car. Luckily, my children didn’t notice her mood right away and enthusiastically handed her the colored pictures. The woman apprehensively grabbed the folded papers and assumed they were garbage. She was about to throw them away, but I explained the children made presents for her…and then I waited for her reaction…you will never believe it, but her entire mood changed. The lady loved the pictures and was extremely chatty and kind to the children after receiving the gifts. These little ones who were so excited to color a picture for the check-out person (even though they didn’t know her) completely turned this lady’s day around. I’m sure every nearby shopper heard my huge sigh of relief.

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This experience reaffirmed my belief that adults are jaded (yes, none of us are exempt). We rely too much on our emotions and creating lasting impressions. Adults are self-centered. We truly need to become more like little children and give ourselves completely to the happiness of others. I have heard many people question the deterioration of their own sanity by giving all of themselves to others. Let’s be honest, society constantly asks the same selfish questions day in and day out. “What have you done for yourself today?” “How will you reward yourself?” It starts again with the uncontrollable reward system. Let’s look at this from a different point of view. It’s about time that we love for the sake of loving and helping for the sake of offering unconditional love. Working together, we can create a unified community. The more love and attention I give to my children and husband, the less I focus on myself and interestingly enough, I am transported into a sublime state of happiness. My love has grown leaps and bounds for my family over the years. The more children we have, and the more I dedicate my entire being to the welfare of my family, the more I love them all. There’s an amazing never-ending supply of love. Don’t reserve that love for only close family and friends (even though they greatly deserve it), but spread it to all.

We will never regret loving another person, even if they aren’t receptive, but there will definitely be regrets if we never try. So, instead of “paying it forward” only around Christmas time or a few moments a year when social media reminds us; it’s time to give ourselves (all of ourselves) everyday. Every person deserves to be loved – family, friends, and strangers. We are social beings who desire love, so let’s unconditionally give that love, while also raising our children to do the same, because ultimately, what is life without love?

Bucket List of Unconditional Love

  •  Invite a friend/family member over for dinner who is lonely.
  • Bake your favorite cookies and drop them off at a neighbor’s house.
  • Pick a handful of flowers and visit an elderly relative.
  • Smile at a stranger everyday (you will never be happy in your own little bubble)/
  • Enjoy every  moment with your family and friends. You will never get a repeat. Those closest to us are sometimes the most difficult to love, but all the more reason to show them respect.

A Minimalist Season

I have a minimalist state of mind while we are living temporarily with family as we build our house. There isn’t much room for an overly decorative Christmas season this year, so I’m taking it slow and only focusing on the small things that matter. It’s all about simple living. So my goal for the month of December is to focus on giving – giving of myself, giving away things that my family doesn’t need, and giving love to others. Throughout this past year we have done a lot of purging while putting our house on the market, selling, and then moving. The most amazing lesson learned through all these crazy times is how much I don’t need on a daily basis. I have actually learned to love the small things more. Too many material items cause me anxiety. This might be since there is a ridiculous amount of items with a family of six, or maybe I’m just getting older and wiser…maybe…

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My goal may be a bit outlandish, but I hope to rid my life of the unnecessary items and keep Christmas more on a spiritual level rather than material. Honestly, the material aspect is exhausting. So here’s to a productive season of minimalism and spending time with the ones we love.

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Photo Credit: Michelle Cascio Photography

A Few Tips for a Minimalist Season of Advent.

 

1. Contemplate the Meaning of Christmas.

   This time of year isn’t only about ourselves, family, friends or even strangers. This time of year is about the birth of Christ. If we don’t focus on the Truth, then there is no purpose for this special day.

2. Simplify Your Life. 

This may include limiting your access to social media and increasing time within your day for reading, organizing, or helping others. You know better than anyone what consumes your time and yet doesn’t have much merit. Spend more time with family and friends, these are the moments that you will remember when you get older and the kids are grown. Don’t have regrets!

3. Don’t Purchase Anything You Don’t NEED!

     Yes, we know this is difficult this time of year, but our consumerism mentality is overbearing. (Maybe this is one of the reasons I cannot stand Black Friday, or Black Saturday, or Cyber Monday…) For me, it will be difficult to drive past Starbucks without a Skinny Peppermint Mocha, but instead of spending the money there, I can donate food to the local pantry or purchase gifts for families in need. That cup of Peppermint Mocha will be so much more enjoyable on December 26th by waiting!

4. Internal and External Silence.

     We all have loud, busy, chaotic schedules 12 months out of the year. Maybe these days of Advent we can occupy ourselves internally and externally with moments of silence. Take a few minutes out of each day, even 5 minutes to sit in silence. Don’t try to plan your next party, or dwell on all the gifts you have to purchase, but enjoy those moments of silence. They are more important than you realize.

5. Keep Perspective – Pay it Forward

     Charity is the highest form of respect for others. Whether you give a meal to the homeless man standing on the corner or choose to give your waiter an extra percentage of a well-earned tip, these are the moments that make living worth while, because for once you are not making it about yourself. The most important thing to remember: don’t brag about it. Once you tell the world your inner most actions, those beautiful forms of charity begin to loose bits of their luster.