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Summer of Change

Typical Summers

I have been working since I was 15 y.o. with nothing more than a few weeks of vacation every year as a break.  The only extended chunk of time I ever had off was when I took the typical 6 or so weeks of maternity leave after having each of my kids.  Even then, especially as I grew in my career, there was still never a true feeling of ‘off time’ from work.   There was always some project or some deadline to think about.  Having a whole Summer off (and truly disconnect) is something I had often dreamed about but never thought possible.   Summers usually consisted of me or my husband driving our daughter to Summer day-camp, then going on about our daily grind: work.  There was no difference in our day to day between the seasons.  It was all the same: work.  I actually dreaded summers because it meant having to get up even earlier in order to bring my daughter to day-camp and have enough time to get to work on time.

This Summer, however,  was different.  Really different.

Summer of Change

You see, I have recently been through a significant life change.  For the first time in my life, I am not working.  Yes, my blog is entitled “a Working Mom’s Guide” but this is just a temporary season in my life- like Summer.  While I admit that the circumstance around me not having gainful employment is something that left me with constant self deprecating recordings that play over and over in my head, there was one bright light.  It gave me the opportunity to re-evaluate where my passion lies.  In addition, it has given me something more than any job could provide: endless time to devote to my family and a Summer of memory making that I and my daughter will forever remember.

We started the summer off on a softball high where my daughter and her U10 teammates celebrated a Division Championship.  Quickly, we transitioned into a softball summer camp.  It was four hours every day for 2 weeks and I was actually able to drive her to and from without having to rely on anyone else.  I was even able to watch and cheer her on from the stands during the exhibition part of the week.  Being so used to planning ten steps ahead or thinking about all the work that is due, this camp was the first time I came to the realization that I didn’t need to do any of that.  I actually got to live in that moment.

Fun Excursions

It’s not to say I wasn’t looking for work, I certainly was!  But when I wasn’t, I was planning for or on an excursion!  We went to the beach countless of times – I always had a beach bag packed and ready to go!  Living within a half hour from the ocean, it is a quick car ride to catch some waves and rays.  The summer before, I was only able to get to the beach once- maybe twice- so we certainly made up for it this year.

I was able to re-connect with an old friend.  This was something that I hadn’t been able to do or I just never made it a priority.  We went on a mountain excursion to see some beautiful falls and natural swimming holes.  The water was cool and crisp and the memories warm and amazing.

Ella and I then practiced a mother / daughter ‘camp out’ in our backyard.  We wanted to make sure we could set up our site on our own while in the comfort of our own yard.  It was a success! We then went on a 3 day camping trip with the aforementioned friend and her grandsons.  Can you say girlpower?   My daughter learned to pitch a tent, start a fire, and not rely on technology.  It was the best three days!

We traveled by train to Portland, Maine where we explored all the city had to offer.  In the past, I have always driven there by car so it was a super cool experience to travel by train.

We visited The Mystic Aquarium and the Mystic shops.  In addition, we were even able to explore downtown Mystic and see the drawbridge open!

We visited a local science center and learned about some of the amazing animals we have in our state.   Mini-golf was on the list as was being able to participate in 7-Eleven’s free slushy day!  I took her and her friends to the movies, out to lunch, to arcades, and they had several sleepovers! My daughter also had a few day trips with her friend’s families and left me to my own devices.  I took myself to a Sunflower festival and basked in their beauty.

Looking Back

As I reflect on the summer, it was all about reconnecting and grounding myself.  It is about realizing what is important and what deserves my time and attention.  It is about loyalty and realizing that friends and family deserve my loyalty over a place of employment.  I have realized this summer that  wherever my search takes me, I will be looking for that career to fit into my family and life.  I will not adjust my family and life for a career.

If I could give this summer a hashtag, it would truly be #bestsummerever!

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Easy Weeknight Meal: Chicken and Broccoli Casserole

You know when you have a busy week and cooking is the last thing you have time for? Well, this recipe is the perfect meal for those times! You see, it is not only easy but it is a very comforting easy weeknight recipe. The chicken and broccoli come together in this creamy yet tangy casserole sauce. This recipe does not use any cream soup but instead uses mayo as the base. The beauty of this recipe is that can take you 5 minutes to prepare or an hour to prepare and either way, it’s amazing.

Did I mention this is keto friendly as well? Oh yeah!

For the ingredients you will need:

  • 4 Cups of cooked and cubed chicken
    • 5 min prep: use a seasoned, rotisserie chicken
    • Longer prep: roast 4 chicken breasts at 350°F for 45 minutes
      • season these with salt, pepper, paprika, garlic powder
  • 4 cups of broccoli florets
    • 5 min prep: use previously frozen, thawed florets
    • Longer prep: toss broccoli with olive oil and salt, roast on a sheet pan in a single layer in 350°F oven for 30 – 35 minutes
  • 1/4 cup of bacon crumbles
  • 1/2 cup of mayo
  • 1 cup of milk
  • 1 cup of mozzarella cheese
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp pepper
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 2 splashes of Tabasco


Directions:

Preheat oven to 350°F and spray a 9 x 13 pan with your favorite cooking spray.  For the sauce, mix the mayo and the milk together using a whisk.  I like my sauce a little more ‘saucy’ so if I find it too thick, I will add more milk.  Whisk in the spices and Tabasco.  Next, add bacon crumbles, chicken and broccoli.   Lastly, fold in the mozzarella cheese, reserving about 1/4 cup for the topping.  Now, regardless if you are using the seasoned rotisserie chicken or your own roasted chicken, add the additional spices listed in the recipe.  The spices that season the chicken will mostly remain adhered to the chicken.  The additional spices added to the sauce are necessary for the sauce.  Never be afraid to use your spices!

 

Pour the mixture into the prepared baking dish and top with the remaining mozzarella cheese.  Bake for 35 minutes, until the top is slightly brown and the sauce is bubbling.  Let the casserole sit for about 10 minutes prior to serving.  This helps everything come together and also prevents burnt tongues.

My family really enjoys this easy weeknight meal.  I really enjoy it because of how super easy it is to prep and yet it tastes like I worked on it for hours.  The fact that it is keto friendly is also a bonus!  This recipe also lends itself very easily to doubling.

I hope you enjoy it as much as I and my family do!

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Top 5 Things for a Successful Morning Routine

One thing about life is that it can go by so fast.  I feel like it happens in the blink of an eye.  Seriously.  When did this gray hair appear? When did my oldest become of legal drinking age?  How is it that Top Gun is a classic and they are talking about a remake? But I digress.  All of us have the same 24 hours in a day and whether we work out of the home, in the home, with kids or without kids, we sometimes struggle to keep up.  The struggle can be real!  Here I want to share my top 5 favorite things that I incorporate into my morning routine to set me up for a successful day.  Perhaps some of these will work for you too.

#1 My Bed: The Split Top California King i8 by Sleep Number

Every good morning starts off with a good night sleep.  Many studies have shown sleep to be the body’s way to reset from the stress of the day.  Heck, I do not need anyone to tell me that!  I know it! My husband and I put up with a sub par mattress for many, many years.  Every morning there was a new pain and new ache to deal with.  In December, we decided to take the plunge and purchase the i8 as a Christmas present to ourselves.

Up front, it was the most expensive bed I have ever purchased.  However, when we did the math relative to the number of years we would have it, the price was a moot point.  Additionally, I physically couldn’t keep waking up and popping more and more ibuprofen.  With this bed, myself and my husband can customize our sides so that we are able to be as comfortable as possible.

Gretchen 10 PC Comforter Set

The bed even syncs to an app on our phone and lets us know the quality of our sleep.  We probably could have done without the massage option but we got it with all the bells and whistles.  It is worth every penny!  Speaking of penny, if you like the comforter click on the image and it will bring you to where we purchased it: JC Penney.

#2 My Old Fashioned Timex Alarm Clock

Timex Alarm Clock

I can hear it now.  Don’t you use your cell phone like everyone else?  Well, yes I could but how many times do you think your cell phone is fully charged and then suddenly it dies?  It has happened to me many times.  I also know for a fact that it has happened to people I work with.  Those background apps take a lot of battery power and sometimes you just don’t realize it until its too late.  Nothing starts the morning off more rocky than a late start.

My Mom has a truly old fashioned alarm clock.  Hers has to be wound up every night.  That Big Ben alarm clock hasn’t let her down yet!  I rely on a clock with battery back up. It is easy to tell the time and when we loose power the battery kicks in and so I am never late.  At least, not late due to the alarm!  If you want to look at an alarm clock similar to mine just click on the image.  It has no frills like USB or Bluetooth but it is a workhorse.  Like a Timex should be!

#3 My Coffee Makers

Cuisinart and Nespresso Coffee Machines

Yes.  You read that right.  It is plural.  I have 2 coffee makers but each one serves a purpose.  I have the Cuisinart coffee maker so that it brews automatically on a timer.  I prep it the night before so that in the AM I can awake to the beautifully tantalizing aroma of coffee.  Since it is a 12 cup machine, there is plenty for my husband and my son as well.  Any leftovers, I put into a glass jug and store in the fridge so I can have homemade iced coffee.

The Nespresso takes coffee to a whole other level.  I am the only one who uses this because it yields a very strong coffee.  Well, I really only buy the strong brews anyway.  The flavor is bold and smooth.  Unlike other single serve coffee pots, the crema that forms on top adds such a richness to the cup of coffee that unless you try it, you will not understand.  It is divine.  It is for those days when I need a little extra pep in my step or when I just want to sit and really enjoy a great cup of coffee.

#4 My Shower Cap

Sassy Stripes Shower Cap

OK.  Now I may be starting to sound a little bit like my mother.  In my defense, my mother has a plain Jane see-through shower cap.  I, on the other hand,  have this really fun Betty Dain shower cap in the print Sassy Stripes.  I never used to grasp the concept of washing my hair every 2-3 days.  For many years, I was a staunch wash the hair every day kind of gal.  What I didn’t realize was how bad that really was for my hair.  Having naturally curly hair already sets me up for dry hair but washing it every day added to it.

This shower cap stays in place while I shower and does exactly what it is supposed to do.  It keeps the water out.  It also looks super cute and fun.  Wearing this allows my hair to have a break in the washing cycle and maintain some of its natural moisture.  I then spritz on my favorite dry shampoo to refresh my scalp and tah-da.  I am work ready.  This really helps my hair maintain its health and helps me get ready quickly.   I try to match my early morning schedules with my no hair wash days.  It really helps me set up for success.

#5 My Planner

I honestly couldn’t keep any of it together without my Erin Condren Life Planner.   Regardless of how much sleep I had or how much coffee I drank.  My EC helps keep me on track with all I have to remember.  Between my work, my husband’s work, my daughter’s school schedule and all her after school activities there is no way I could keep track of it all.  I also track her specials classes, whether she is buying lunch or not, and what we are having for supper.  I refer to it multiple times a day.

Erin Condren Life Planner

I used a planner all throughout high school and college but went away from that practice for many years.  I found myself writing things on pieces of paper and leaving them everywhere.  I would put things on my phone but then it wasn’t accessible to everyone else.  Having a plan and referring to it makes keeping my family’s schedule easier and takes a lot of stress out of my morning.  I review the night before, make sure I have everything ready and in the AM I am ready to execute.

So there it is.  My Top 5 items for a successful morning routine.  What is something that helps keep you on track for a successful day?

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Lessons from the Softball Field

It’s been a few years but I am finally back to sitting on the sidelines watching my daughter play sports. Between my work, my school, my husband’s work and my daughter’s broken leg, we really haven’t been able to devote much time to sports. Now that our schedules are lighter and my daughter’s leg is completely healed, she is back out on the field.

I must say I missed seeing her have fun and learn how to work as part of a team. In addition, participating in sports allows my daughter to understand the importance of time management.  This is especially true in figuring out how to balance homework, practices and games!  She has also extended her circle of friends since she was able to play on an older team.  This is due to her date of birth relative to the cut-off for the specific age brackets. Not to mention, the exercise is good for her too!  Talk about the amount of transferable life lessons.

As I sit on the sidelines, I can truly say I am in awe. My daughter had not played in years and yet she put herself out there.  Softball was something she has always wanted to play and to start on an older team is tough.  She doesn’t remember much from her earlier team-sport experiences.  Plus, it was t-ball and nobody won or lost.  The age bracket she is currently on is child pitched and scores are kept.  Some of these kids have one heck of a pitch too!  But despite the newness of all of this, she shows up and she tries hard to learn what she can from the coaches and the other players.

After most games, the teams have a relay race around the bases.  It is a great way to end the game with everyone rooting each other on and getting out any remaining energy.  One day I sat there and cheered my daughter around the bases, I could see she was running her heart out.  She was towards the end of the lineup and her team had a slight lead over the visiting team.  As she rounded third heading home to tag the next runner, it happened.  In the blink of an eye, my daughter went from full sprint to a dead stop.  Her cleat got caught in a rut and she went down hard.  Face first with barely enough time to put up her hands.  The crowd went from loudly cheering to dead silence.  It was that kind of fall.

I fully expected her to lay on the ground crying and for her team to ultimately lose the relay.  But that is not at all what happened.  Instead, my daughter got right up and finished her leg of the relay.  At that point, you could tell she was holding back the tears and biting her bottom lip as the coach was assessing her for any injuries.   She ultimately did cry after all was said and done.  Despite the pain and some minor scrapes, there were no serious injuries from the fall.   Her team won the game that day but also the relay race.


How many times has this happened to you?  Not literally falling flat on your face, but figuratively.  Honestly there is such a profound lesson in this.  My daughter knew that she had people depending on her and that she needed to do her part and finish.  Despite the pain, she pushed through for her team when it would have been much easier just to stay down and cry.

Sometimes in family or work it is not about us.  Despite everything else, we must push through the pain, heart ache, difficulties and get to the finish line.  Whatever that may be- this is different for everyone.  Knowing that someone is depending on us, gives us a greater meaning and added responsibility.  This could be a child, a parent, a co-worker, a boss, a customer, etc.  I may pause to shed a tear or to eat a pint of ice cream but ultimately, I know that I too must push through because people are depending on me.  Whether we stumble with our children or loved ones or in our career, pushing through some of the difficult stuff will always make us a better person on the other end.

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Father’s Day Treat: Bourbon Pecan Pie

One thing I have noticed over the years.  There are cake people and there are pie people.  Well, my husband falls into the latter.  There isn’t a cake around that will tempt him to eat it.  However, put a pie in front of him and he will certainly take a bite!  Among his most favorite pie recipes to devour is my Bourbon Pecan Pie.  I have to admit it is one of my favorites too!  With Father’s Day coming up in a few weeks, there is no perfect time to break out my recipe and share it with you as I promised in my last blog (which can be read here).

This recipe is super easy to make and so super tasty you will wonder where its been your whole life! My hubs will often bring it to work and inevitably it does not last long.  Now, I will let you in on a little secret- I cannot make pie crust from scratch.  I know, I know-  I can hear the pie Gods cursing my name.  But it’s not for the lack of trying.  All butter, all lard, half butter half lard, hand held pastry blender, food processor, cold bowl, frozen bowl, cold counter, frozen butter, cold hands, etc.  I tried all the tips and tricks and still, I can never get the darn thing to roll out easily.

But not all is lost since there are some phenomenal commercial pie crusts available at the local grocery store.  I buy them all the time because as a working mom and wife, I do not have any interest in spinning my wheels on a crust.  Instead, I would rather concentrate on making the inside of the pie the tastiest it can be.  And that starts with some great quality Bourbon.

Now don’t worry about this being a Drunken Pecan Pie leading to drunken behavior.  Although not all the alcohol cooks off, using such a small amount spread out over the entirety of pie, will not cause any issues in that regards.  Only in the case of religious beliefs or allergies will this be a factor.  Choosing the right bourbon is the make the pie or break the pie kind of deal.  The important thing to remember when selecting a bourbon is its taste.  If it is a smooth sipping bourbon with lots of rich vanilla, oak and caramel undertones, then it is the perfect bourbon to use in this pie.

Some bourbons can be very expensive and if you do not typically drink bourbon it may not be worthwhile to purchase a full bottle to use just a few tablespoons.  Therefore, one budget idea is to ask a friend for a few tablespoons.  Often bourbon is part of most home bar set ups and many friends will not have a problem with donating a few tablespoons.  Especially if it means they may be the beneficiary of a piece of this pie!  Another budget idea is to peruse your local liquor store.  There are a few good quality bourbons available in the 50 mls ‘nip’ size.

Second of importance to the bourbon are the pecans.  Now, being from the Northeast, I pronounce it Pee-can.  Understandably, there are a few other regional ways to pronounce the word pecan.  Here is a link to a great article depicting the regional dialects of the pecan pronunciation.  Regardless of how you pronounce it, make sure you have a variety of pecan styles in the pie.

One mistake is to have all halves, all pieces or all whole.  Have a variety of chops to add to the texture and ‘meatiness’ of the pie.  I usually start with whole pecans.  I keep 1/3 whole, chop 1/3 into half sized pieces and the final third into small pieces.  You can use the whole pieces to decorate the top of the pie by laying them in a pattern before baking.  Again, as a working Mom, that is not on my priority list.  It will still taste the same with or without a fancy pecan pattern!

For the recipe, I am including it on a free download available below.

Bourbon Pecan Pie

I hope you consider giving this recipe a try and that you enjoy this recipe as much as me and my family do.

Leave me a comment below on how you pronounce pecan.


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