Easter 2015

I hope that all of you had a wonderful Easter celebration!  I promised to give you the details of ours, so here goes.  Jeff’s parents were visiting the week leading up to Easter and left for home on Good Friday, so we had a Good Friday egg hunt and feast to send them off consisting of:

The Barefoot Contessa’s Perfect Roast Turkey

The Barefoot Contessa’s Orzo with Roasted Vegetables

The Barefoot Contessa’s Roasted Asparagus

Bulk Herb Store’s Chocolate Strawberry Cheesecake

Water Kefir Lemonade (fermented water kefir plus 1/4 cup lemon juice)

As you can tell, I love the Barefoot Contessa.  I am always delighted with how her recipes turn out; these recipes were no exception!  I’m sad to say I was disappointed in the cheesecake recipe (sorry Bulk Herb Store!); though it’s not nearly as healthy, the Cheesecake Factory original cheesecake copycat recipe presented here is still my favorite.

We celebrated Easter at church on Saturday evening, which is our normal time to attend church.  Then, we had a pretty typical Sunday morning, but we did dye and decorate hard boiled eggs and take baths so that we would look our best for our EASTER PICTURES!  Here are the family picture highlights:

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(best family picture)

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(best couple picture)

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(best kid picture)

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(and, lest you think all our picture taking endeavors are magical, here’s the worst picture)

Then, we did our Easter egg and basket hunt.  For those of you who are curious, I stuffed my kids’ plastic Easter eggs with:  nickels, dimes, stickers, Barbara’s Vanilla Animal Cookies, nuts, Yummy Earth Gummies, Annie’s Gummies, “chore pass” coupons, and “free smoothie” coupons.  In the past, I’ve also stuffed the eggs with bracelets, xylitol sweetened gum, pretzels, hair ties/clips, Legos, lip balm, balloons, dice, etc.  In their Easter baskets this year were a small toy (car/plane), fun pencils, summer hats, a few crafts, and a chocolate bunny.  Other great ideas I’ve heard or used are spring/summer clothes, shoes/sandals, sidewalk chalk, jump ropes, garden/sand toys, games, books, art supplies, and Legos (do they ever get old?!).  In any case, here are some pictures from the action.

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Gwyn (22 months) got a 30 second head start in the Easter egg hunt, which didn’t help her very much because she would find an egg, then open it, eat what was inside (if edible), and then go searching again.  In the picture above, she’s opening an egg, happy with what she found and probably surprised that we were letting her eat so many sweets.

2015.04_Egg Hunt Ben

Ben (almost 5) started the Easter egg hunt 30 seconds after Gwyn.  He doesn’t have the same sense of urgency or keen attention to detail as his older brothers yet (as you can see from the picture where there’s an Easter egg hanging in the bush beside him), BUT he had still fun AND found the most eggs!

2015.04_Egg Hunt Will

Will (7) and Elliot started the Easter egg hunt 60 seconds after Gwyn.  Lest things get too easy for them, we hid their Easter baskets very well this year.  Here’s Will pointing to his in our backyard tree.

2015.04_Egg Hunt Elliot

Here is Elliot (9) jumping for an egg.  You can see his Easter basket in the background on the roof!  Like I said, we didn’t want it to be TOO easy.  (We also didn’t want Gwyn finding their baskets and eating their bunnies!)

After the egg/basket hunt, we made dinner.  The boys were excited to get to use their dyed eggs to make dinner.  On the menu was simple dinner of:

Tarragon Egg Salad on toasted English muffins with tomato and bacon

Salad of Mixed Greens with Brianne’s Poppy Seed or Honey Mustard Dressing

Chocolate Milk

Easter Candy

Throughout the weekend, we talked, sang, and thought about Jesus and his sacrifice.  It was a sweet, simple time of talking with our kids about who Jesus is, why Easter is important to us about it, and why we celebrate!  Though I believe fun and food are important parts of our celebration, I believe our dialog is even more important, so we’re hoping to make that experience deeper and richer in the years to come!

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Family Pictures

Now that our family pictures are out of date, we decided to take some new ones.  I think they turned out very good.  However, I forgot how exhausting it is to prepare for family pictures, especially when you’re operating on a interrupted night’s sleep, trying to find outfits that look good together and fit everyone’s growing and changing bodies, trying to coordinate six different personalities/moods, etc.  In any case, I have to say that I am VERY HAPPY we persevered because I believe we took some really cute family pictures as a result!

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Welcome to our world, sweet baby!

As I’m sure you’ve probably guessed by now, the blog has been silent for a while as we welcomed our fourth child to our family.  We didn’t find out if baby 4 was a boy or a girl, so we were surprised that after 3 boys, baby 4 was a girl!  We went to the hospital with very few ideas for a boy name, but thankfully we got to use the girl name we had been saving through our past two pregnancies.  We named her Gwyneth Anne, which means “blessed with happiness, grace, and truth.”

She arrived fashionably late, 2 WEEKS past her due date.  And, everyone in our family is happy, healthy and doing well.  We’ve been trying to slow down and soak in all the sweet baby goodness that comes with a newborn…lots of kisses, snuggling, napping, journaling, and PICTURES!  The latter of which I wanted to share with you today because there’s nothing like newborn pictures!  Many of my pictures are Pinterest-inspired, photoshop-edited pictures I take with our DSLR (my husband’s compromise to me begging for professional photographs…I’ll buy you a great camera and you can take the Pinterest pictures yourself as often as you like and the camera will pay for itself after just a few photo shoots…he’s so smart!).  Anyway, here goes:

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Gwyn’s birth announcement picture:  She was born on June 6, 2013 at 1:50 p.m., weighing 9 pounds and measuring 20.5″.

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Perfectly framed picture, showing off one of her beautiful new headbands.

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There’s nothing like brother love!

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As Ben says, “look at her teeny-tiny toes!”  I have to say, I can’t get enough of them either!

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Sweet and simple, beautiful Gwyn!

A Fresh, New Year

Happy Thanksgiving!  Merry Christmas!  And, Happy New Year!  Now, that we’re all caught up, I wanted to let you know, my dear blog readers that I have NOT forgotten about you.  In fact, I have been doing something very special over the past few months (drumroll, please)…

baby

…that’s right, I’ve been growing a baby!  I was VERY sick and tired in the first trimester, the sickest and most tired I believe I have ever been during a pregnancy.  But, I am doing much better now and enjoying the energy spurt of the second trimester before the cumbersome-ness of the third trimester.  And, as with all my other pregnancies, THANKFULLY, everything and everyone is well and healthy.  I’m 20 weeks along now and we’re excited to welcome our fourth child into our home in late May!

And, speaking of well and healthy, I know that lots of people are exiting the fun, excitement, and indulgences of the holidays and YEARNING to enter a higher level of health, wellness, and organization.  So, I wanted to share with you a few of my favorite resources for health and wellness.

First up, EATING PLANS.  I don’t like the word diet because I (accurately or inaccurately) believe it implies a level of starvation (which I am fundamentally opposed to).  I much prefer the phrase eating plan.  My favorite has been Dr. Perricone’s anti-inflammatory eating plans.  Dr. Perricone is a physician, research scientist and healthy expert and his trademark anti-inflammatory program is based on foods, supplements, and lifestyle changes that give you the ability to accelerate fat loss by increasing metabolism and building/maintaining muscle mass.  I LOVE that on his eating plan, you are free to eat lots of healthy, nutritious food.  And, while your favorite cravings may not go away instantly, if you follow his plan, you will soon find that you look and feel so amazing that you’ll be happy to leave them behind.

Second up, EXERCISE ROUTINES.  I enjoy being active, so I’ve tried lots of exercise routines.  When I was younger, I swam, biked, ran, kick boxed, and played tennis, basketball, and racquetball.  However, in my current phase of life, I’ve learned that I’m just not going to be faithful to a gym if I’m going by myself.  Everyone is different in this respect.  But, for me, I either need a workout partner (fellow runner, tennis player or racquetball partner) to keep me accountable OR I need something that I can fit into my routine at home.  The latter is what I lean toward these days and in order to do that I rely on workout DVD’s.  My favorites so far have been:  Shellie Blanks Cimarosti’s Tae Bo Post Natal Power Workout, New York City Ballet Workout Volume 2 (please note I’m only recommending Volume 2 here, I really didn’t care as much for Volume 1),  The Tracy Anderson Method Post-Pregnancy Workout (which demonstrates lots of great strength training exercises for anyone NOT just women are in the post-pregnancy phase) and The Tracy Anderson Method Dance Cardio Workout.  I would really love to try Zumba and Insanity sometime, too, but it probably won’t be for a while since I’m bouncing the sweet baby around for a while.  😉

Third on my list is ORGANIZING YOUR THOUGHTS.  I LOVE to organize.  It’s one of my gifts and several of my upcoming blog posts are going to be on this very topic, but my favorite Christian resource for organizing your thoughts and helping you define your personal and family vision is the Mountaintop of Marriage Vision Retreat Guidebook by Jimmy Evans.  This book uses thought provoking questions to help you define your family’s vision/priorities/values and everyone’s next steps in the areas of spiritual and personal growth.  We’ve gone through this book every year for the past five or so years and it’s been a wonderful resource to help keep us unified, focused, and advancing toward our goals.  And, because of that, I believe that singles and couples without families would also benefit from this guidebook.

Last on my my New Year’s list is ORGANIZING YOUR SCHEDULE.  I created a home management binder last year after I completely forgot to show up three appointments in a row.  Talk about embarrassing and frustrating and stressful.  My house (at least the parts that are still within my control…and not that of my children) was pretty organized, but my schedule was not.  I know lots of people these days use electronic resources to keep track of their schedules and I tried that, but it just didn’t work for me.  So, I came across an article on the Passionate Homemaking blog about keeping a home management binder and it’s truly been a lifesaver for me.  The article references several “free printables” for getting you started, there are also some cute, free printables for planners here.  Personally, my binder is very basic and has the following categories:

PAGE 1 (at the forefront before all other Avery “tabbed” categories): THIS WEEK’S TO-DO LIST.  Let me make note that we don’t have a very busy schedule.  If your schedule or that of your family’s is busy, you may want a daily to-do list, but, for now, I can get away with a weekly one that I just check each morning.  My to-do list highlights my weekly project goals, what’s for dinner each night, my fitness goals, and our appointments/obligations that week.

TAB 1: VISION AND GOALS.  For quick reference, this section contains the following:  house rules, blessing chart, discipline chart, and our up-to-date family vision (which I talked about above under “organizing your thoughts”).

TAB 2:  CALENDAR AND ROUTINES.  This section contains our calendar for 2013 and 2014 as well as our flexible weekly routine.  I write long-term appointments on the calendar and then add them to the to-do list I talked about above each week.

TAB 3:  HOME MAINTENANCE, GROCERY AND CLEANING.  This section contains a running grocery list, our monthly menu, and a cleaning checklist.

TAB 4: ART, JOURNAL, AND PROJECTS.  This section contains my ideas for art/projects, my blog ideas, a quick list of items I want to journal about sometime (if I don’t have time at the moment), gift ideas, orders to make sometime, books to read.  This section is essentially my dumping ground.  Often, I will have an idea for something (an order, a gift, a project, …), but, as a mom of three small children, I will not have the time or opportunity to follow through on the idea at the same time it arrives.  So, I will quickly jot the idea down in this section of my binder.  Then, later, when I do have the time and opportunity, I can act on it.  In doing this, our daily lives have been significantly de-stressed because I am able to better organize my thoughts and time my activities.

And, that’s it for my binder.  Since the binder is pretty personal, I feel like the tabs and information under each one will vary from person to person.  But, I found it helpful to read about other people’s binders, take what I liked, leave what I didn’t like, and THEN create my own.

In closing, I hope you are having a fabulous start to 2013 and I wish you and your family the happiest, healthiest, most blessed year ever!

Traveling with Kids

We recently returned home from a trip to Ohio to visit our friends and families.  Since we live 18 hours away and travel to see them once or twice a year (driving and stopping only for gas), many of my friends ask me for tips for happy traveling with small children.

For this trip, we packed a few toys, mostly cars (since I have 3 boys).  This time around we also taped together a cardboard box, drew a road on it, and placed it in the center back seat between their car seats as a barrier between them…or, rather, a play table.  😉  We also packed art folders with coloring books, drawing pads, and colored pencils (NOT crayons or markers because they are too hard to clean up on the road if a curious young child decides to color on something other than the designated books).  I will be posting the art folder pattern soon; I’m still working out a few details on it.  And, lastly, we packed some movies and video games.  We try to encourage them to alternate playing/drawing with media.  I also packed a few dollar store surprises…a bag of balloons for blowing up and bouncing around the car and glow sticks for playing with in the early am/late pm.  I know these thing sound really simple.  But, since we don’t play with balloons or glow sticks very often, they really did a great job of adding a little excitement when the boys started to get restless.

And, last but not least, I would suggest packing your own meals WITHOUT ANY REFINED SUGAR since we want happy kids in the car all day.  As I said earlier, we only stop for gas. So, the car ride is long, but the trade-off is more time with our friends and family (as opposed to stopping and staying in hotels or eating in restaurants along the way).  Also, eating our meals in the car helps pass the time instead of prolonging the trip as a stop at a restaurant would.  In any case, I thought it would be fun to share what we ate on this trip:

Breakfast: Bananas and Breakfast Burritos with Eggs, Cheese and Salsa

Lunch: Pita Chips, Carrots, Celery, Humus, Raspberries, Blueberries

Dinner: Turkey/Cheese Wraps, Broccoli, Raspberries, Blueberries

Snacks: Greek Yogurt, Trail Mix, Apples, Peanut Butter Cookies (sweetened with honey)

Drinks (not shown):  Milk (for the baby), 1 Juice Box per person, and LOTS of water

I packed our lunches and dinners in plastic divided containers (available for $0.75-3.00 or so, depending on where you shop).  If you don’t like plastic containers, the Smart Planet Silicone Collapsible Lunch Boxes and PlanetBox Lunchboxes are also really neat (especially for school/work lunches).  The latter range in price from $10-80 each, depending on the options chosen.  And, they are exceptional in quality and are suitable for long-term, daily use.

This is the first trip in which we completely avoided refined sugar in our meals and I believe it made a big difference in our energy and attitudes along the way.  We had a great drive there and back (except for the a/c going out for a while during our drive back home :/ )…but even better than that, we had a great time with our family and friends and keeping the focus on the joy of being with them while we drove also helped keep us happy as we traveled!

Welcome to Simple Solutions!

Thank you for joining me here at simple solutions for the home!  I am excited to begin this blogging journey with you.  Let me briefly introduce myself and tell you a little about my story so that you can catch a glimpse of what my vision is for this blog and why I decided to start it.

I’m Heather; I’m a wife and mother of three little boys (2, 4, and 6 years old).  My husband and I met when we were in college.  We were racquetball buddies, dated for 2.5 years, and then married.  I went on to graduate school, studying chemistry while he worked at a TV station.  I have also always loved to do crafty, creative, and artistic things…love, love, loved them!  The chemist side of myself and the artistic side of myself were jealous of each other during graduate school.  The artistic side wanted all the time and devotion I was offering the chemist side.  And, the chemist side wanted the passion with which I pursued the arts.  A few years into graduate school, I learned to be me and to apply my artistic passion to my scientific challenges.  I can be creative and a scientist.  I can be organized AND artistic.  I am best when I am me.

After graduating with a Ph.D. in chemistry, we relocated to the Washington D.C. area where I did contract work for the government and my husband did freelance video work (mostly for the government, too).  My first few weeks at my new job were rough, very rough.  But, I rationalized that your first few weeks in any new place are.  A few rough weeks turned into a few rough months.  And, one night, I found myself on the phone with my mother complaining about everything from my job to my constant stomach ache, even with a decent diet, to my constant fatigue, even on a full night’s sleep.  And, she, very matter-of-factly, asked if I was pregnant.  I quickly dismissed her and hung up, frustrated.  Within minutes, I had a change of heart and went to buy a pregnancy test.  My mother was right, I was pregnant, surprised, and happy.  When I was little, I dreamed of having a family and having the privilege of staying at home to raise my children.  I’m so thankful that we were able to make that possible.  It was a rough transition to go from school with a brief (one-year) stop in the workforce to motherhood.  They are all very different worlds, all tough in their own ways and with their own challenges.  Thankfully, we received lots of wise advice and encouragement to help us make the right decision for our family.  And, I am so thankful because I know that I have never been happier than I am in this stage of life.

So, here at Simple Solutions, I’m going to post some of the simple solutions I have worked out in my life as a person, wife, mother, housekeeper, artist, scientist, cook, gardener, teacher, seamstress…  Some will be, just that, solutions (homemade cleaning solutions or cooking/baking recipes).  Some will be “solutions” in the form of solving a problem (like how to get dinner on the table while everyone in the house seems to need your attention or how to organize files so that you can actually find what you’re looking for).  Others will be far less pressing, but ever-so-fun artistic “solutions” (like how to beautifully displaying your children’s artwork or keep the colored pencils from rolling off of the table, again).  So, if any or all of that sounds fun to you, I hope that you will check back in to see what I’m up to.  I would love to have you join me!

Sincerely,

Heather

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