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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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All For Not?

Did you ever wake up and think to yourself: When I leave my child to go to work, do the lessons I try to teach them and show them get through?  I often think about this very subject during many early mornings.  I know that my older son is certainly on the right track but I was home a lot more with him as he was growing up.  My daughter is much younger and has seen me work away from the home through out most of her life.  This includes long hours, plentiful work trips, and an MBA to boot.  She is growing up in a completely different generation from her brother.  She actually makes him feel old!

Life Goals

Realistically, we all know that time is limited with all things- even people.  It is a precious commodity that once is gone, you cannot get back.  Sometimes, before getting out of bed, I lie there hoping that I have instilled important life lessons to both of my kids.  Especially my youngest who is still in her formative years.   The other week, I had a business trip and I didn’t see her for almost 24 hours.  Come to think of it, I didn’t even have time to talk to her.  It was a few days later when I was contemplating work and family that I come across proof that somehow, in some way she hears me.  My daughter is listening- even when she looks like she’s tuned me out.

I found her Boogie Board that she occasionally uses for notes and drawing when paper is not convenient or easily found.   These are great on trips or in the car.  It is essentially an electric piece of paper that erases with the touch of a button.  What I read on that that board, honestly makes it all worth it and reinforces the path I am on.  Ella had divided the board into two categories:  Weekly Goals and Key.

Ella’s Weekly Goals:

  • Eat Healthy
  • Exercise More
  • Make Better Decisions

Ella’s Key:

  • Be Happy
  • Be Responsible
  • Be Kind

Inspire

What else is there to write?  She sums it up nicely.  Not only does she share how to become a better person, but also what it takes to get there.  This little late night writing means the world to me.  As working Moms, sometimes we are our own worst enemy when it comes to wondering if we are doing the right thing by our kids.  Think about it.  Every morning we bring our kids to school or to daycare and we entrust them to others for over eight hours a day! By the time we Moms get home, its supper and bedtime.  Have we done enough to instill anything of ourselves into our kids?

Heck Yes!!

It is time that we start deleting these negative comments in our head.  Kids are sponges in the way they absorb everything around them.  They see the way we handle ourselves through various situations, how we treat people we interact with, and they benefit from this exposure.  They also benefit from those they are around while we are at work.  Whether, they are at school, daycare or with a trusted family member or friend.  The saying is true: it does take a village- the right village.  I am so glad that my daughter is exposed to different people and experiences.  She understands compassion and empathy, fortitude, gratitude, and possesses an openness to new experiences, people, and adventures.

The next time thoughts come into your head about working and not being there every minute with your children, delete it.  Do not give those thoughts credence.  Instead concentrate on all of the great opportunities your are exposing to your children.  Yes, time goes by quickly so we have to make the most of what we have with them and trust that our children gain so much from us- even when we are not looking.

Now go ahead and do as Ella says and “Be Happy”.

 

 


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Easter Prep Sheet

I cannot believe it’s coming up on Easter already.  I feel like we just got through the holidays, because in my neck of the woods, we have had lots and lots and lots of snow!  As a matter of fact, we are still expecting more snow tonight!  I cry Uncle.  With a little over a week left until Easter, I cannot imagine all the snow melting away.  Hopefully, the Easter Bunny has white eggs because any colorful egg surely will be found easily!

Every year, there are a few Holidays that I host for my family: Easter, Thanksgiving and Christmas.  These are the big three in my family.  I luck out for Christmas as I only provide the space.  My sister does ALL of the cooking and schleps it to my house.  But I do the cooking for Easter and Thanksgiving and this usually equates to 13 – 15 people.  So, on top of working a FT job, making sure the house is extra clean, shopping for the big day, and prepping for the Easter dinner, I really need some shortcuts to help keep balance.  This is where my prep sheets come in handy.

I have lists going back three years and they are my life saver.  Just wait until I show all the ones I have for Thanksgiving!  The process of writing everything down in a very particular way started many years ago.  It was a way for me to be able to visualize all I needed to do, purchase, prep and time.  Over the years,  it has now become a plug and play system.  I know which recipes I can rotate and which ones I need to keep making every year.  You know those family favorites!

Easter Prep Sheet

Below are the subheadings I use:

  • Guests 
    • I always include a total number of people
    • This takes away from me having to remember one more thing and I wont have to keep counting
  • Extras
    • This is some of the items I need to do or to remember
    • This may include something to buy or clean or even remembering someone’s allergies or special requests
  • Appetizers
  • Salad
  • Main Meal
  • Side Dishes
  • Desserts
  • Drinks

I also remember to include any dishes that someone is slated to bring.  For example, my Dad is always in charge of bringing the salad because he makes a phenomenal salad- this is an art.  Thus, once the plan is set, I make the shopping list according to the plan.  I sit down with any recipes I may have and get to writing.  I break each section up into a different color as shown in the picture above.  Colorful Signo pens help me keep the different parts of my plan separated and allow me to focus on the various sections.  Plus, they are very colorful!

This is what I do every year and it saves me a ton of time and worry.  I know which dishes are the tried and true.  The ones that I would NEVER remove off the menu for fear of a family revolt.  And I also know the ones that can be changed out and revamped.

To help you get on track, I am including a free printable (based off of the way I like to plan) to help you get your Easter planning started.  Remember to keep these filed year after year, this will help streamline your Easter planning.

Get your free printable here:

Easter 2018 Prep Sheet

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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