Monday, July 17, 2017

How to Throw an Epic Birthday Party for Less Than $50

In this day and age of Pinterest, it can be difficult and downright daunting to throw your child a birthday party.

While inspiration from incredible party planners and bloggers can be found with a few easy clicks, you may find yourself feeling discouraged once you discover that their themes (complete with food, decor, entertainment, etc.) costs HUNDREDS of dollars to complete! When my oldest turned 3 in December, I knew we wanted to celebrate him and invite over a few of his friends, but I also knew we needed to find a theme he would enjoy that wouldn’t require buku bucks to accomplish.

Ladies and gentlemen: I give you Jackson’s (home) movie theater birthday party:
Money saving hack: Forgo the expensive birthday cake by stacking donuts... it's both pretty and costs a fraction of the price! 
The curio cabinet in our dining room doubled as our concession stand, which we stocked full of boxes of popcorn, various candy (all from Dollar Tree), pretty straws (Dollar Trees), and bottles of water (Target). 
These boxes were super cheap on Amazon and added so much to the party!

For Jackson’s movie theater party, we invited several of his best friends (and their families!), stocked up on all kinds of treats from Dollar Tree (and bags of pre-popped popcorn from Costco), dimmed the lights in the basement, turned on Finding Dory, and voila — we had a simple, yet fun birthday party for around $50 that both the parents and kids enjoyed.

I’m not necessarily saying you HAVE to have a movie theater birthday party in order to stay under $50 (though it is a theme I highly recommend and will probably use again), so I will share a few tips that I have picked up along the way in order to keep the party cost low and the entertainment factor high:

Opt for FREE invites
While I love snail mail and enjoy receiving paper invitations in the mail, it is completely unnecessary for a child’s birthday party (as — let’s face it — the invite will maybe hang on the refrigerator for a week or two before being tossed), which is why I use Evite. If you aren’t familiar with Evite, it is super easy to navigate, easy to customize, and FREE to use, which are all wins in my book!

Use what you have
Yes, bounce houses and balloon-animal-making clowns can be fun, but they can also be extremely costly and — quite frankly — unnecessary (since most kids are happy with just playing with their friends and eating snacks). If you are on a budget, work with what you have! Do you own a TV? Take my advice and host a movie theater party! Do you live by a park? Let the younger kids run and play on the playground or plan a fun scavenger hunt for the older kids (which my dad did for my 9th birthday and was enjoyed by all!). Summer baby? Water balloons and sprinklers in the backyard! Do you see where I’m going with this?

Remember: you don’t have to serve an entire meal
An easy way to keep party costs low is by planning around meal times. Remember: you do NOT have to serve your guests an entire meal (which I can almost guarantee the kid’s parents are not expecting); cake and ice cream is perfectly acceptable!

Don’t get sucked in by expensive party store decor
While colorful decor can be fun and can add value to a theme party, it is not necessary… However, if you do decide to add a little more pizzazz to your party with streamers, pastel-colored plates and cups, or balloons, do NOT buy them from a flashy and over-priced party store. Instead, I recommend checking out Oriental Trading (for cute bulk items), Dollar Tree, or even a big box store (a la Target or Walmart) for any decor or party ware.

Favors are OPTIONAL
Okay, so I will admit that I did small favors for Jackson’s party (which consisted of Finding Dory gummies and graham crackers, plus a bag of microwave popcorn), but they honestly wouldn’t have been missed had we not given them out. That being said, don’t think that you need to spend extra money on parting gifts for the kids — their memories will last WAY longer than any candy bar or small bottle of bubbles ever will.

How do you save money on your child’s birthday party? Share your tips in the comments!

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Passion Project

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Annnnnnnnd... I'm back! Long time no hear, right?

Actually, I think about this blog pretty much every day... this website is something that I feel super passionate about and am constantly brainstorming. Life just keeps getting in the way.

Anyway, to make a long(ish) story short(ish), I have had this calling to return to this blog and do something HUGE with it, but I kept pushing it to the side because of other commitments... well, lo and behold, out of nowhere, one of my previous commitments went away (in the form of a blog I worked for being shut down by its owner), which to me was a divine sign that it was time to get back to work on Living Like Martha!

I am constantly reading articles and listening to podcasts by entrepreneurs, and am getting so many ideas about this website's mission and just where I want to take it... after reading articles before bed for MONTHS and thinking about everything I was wanting to do but thinking I didn't have the time to do it, I ran across an article (I think by maybe Brit & Co.?) that said that you only need 15 minutes a day to launch your passion project.

Now that I can do!

Stay tuned, friends... we have LOTS of good stuff coming your way that deal with not only simplified living, but living your BEST life through faith, family, and food!

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Making Our House a Home


Last July, we sold our House Hunters home... it was very bittersweet, but also something that needed to be done with a new baby on the way and not enough space in our little 1,000 sq. ft. duplex. Fortunately, we found our perfect home almost immediately, had our offer accepted the next day, our duplex under contract two days later, and then moved in our new beautiful forever home!


The big moving day was August 1st (which is a story for another time -- our buyer was a nightmare, cleaners never showed, I was 7 months pregnant and just couldn't deal, etc.) and we are still working on making it our own. Things are slowly coming along and we have a few of our rooms completely finished, but there is still so much that needs to be done (especially our master bedroom, which has yet to be touched).


It's a daunting thing, isn't it -- having a family and wanting to create that perfect space for them to grow up in? I have nothing but warm and wonderful memories of my childhood home... it was such a safe and fun place, which is the exact kind of home I want for our boys. 


Over the next few months, I will be sharing the progress of our home with you: the completed rooms (living, play, theatre, and boys rooms) and the complete overhauls. To follow along, click the "House" button on the navigation bar or simply follow me on Facebook or Instagram. We look forward to sharing our home with you, our friends -- and hope that you can even give us tips and pointers along the way!

July 29th, 2016 -- the day we closed on our forever home (a 5 bedroom, 3 bath ranch with a beautiful backyard in the suburbs). 

Monday, April 24, 2017

Lemon Blueberry Bundt Cake

As you may have noticed, I have been extra silent lately... sorry about that! I have so many ideas for this blog and can't wait to implement them, but other projects (and life in general) keep taking the driver's seat. I will share all about some of these exciting new life changes soon, but in the meantime I wanted to share the recipe for this light and airy Lemon Blueberry Bundt Cake that I whipped up the other day!

Jackson (3) and I share a love of cooking shows and recently stumbled upon Food Network's Spring Baking Championship. All of the spring-themed baked goods got us both hungry and feeling creative (or so I convinced Jax), and inspired us to whip up something fruity and delicious.

Enter this cake.

Last year, my sweet friend Ashley introduced me to Young Living Essential Oils and I have recently had the urge to play around with them more and actually used Lemon Vitality in this cake! It is seriously the easiest thing ever to bake and would be the perfect dessert to serve this Mother's Day.

Without further ado, here is the recipe:

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup margarine 
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 12 drops Young Living Lemon Vitality Oil (If you don't have oil, substitute with 2 tablespoons lemon juice)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1 cup blueberries
  • Powdered sugar (for garnish)
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease bundt pan with nonstick cooking spray.
  2. In a bowl, mix together flour, baking powder and salt. Set aside.
  3. In large mixing bowl, beat together butter and sugar until fluffy. Add eggs, vanilla, and milk. Mix until combined. Add flour mixture and lemon oil, and mix on low until combined. Stir in blueberries.
  4. Pour batter into greased bundt pan and bake for 30 to 35 minutes. or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. 
  5. Let cool and sprinkle with desired amount of powdered sugar. 

(Note: This cake pairs well with coffee and can even be served for breakfast!)

Monday, April 3, 2017

Easter Basket Ideas for Catholics

Easter Sunday is less than two weeks away and all I can think is "where on earth did this Lenten season go?" These peaceful 40 (technically 46) days of Lent always seem to fly by, but I have found that busy days with little ones make the time go by even faster!

If your family is like mine, you not only observe Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter Sunday (AKA the TRUE meaning of the season), but you also set out little baskets for the kids. Now the Easter Bunny, jelly beans, and stuffed eggs obviously aren't the reason for the season -- and I know a lot of good Christian families who do not observe this more secular tradition -- but my husband and I both think that it is a fun part of childhood that we want to share with our boys.

That being said, I have been on the lookout for basket stuffers that pertain to Jesus and His Catholic Church, and came across some fun gifts that you may also want to consider:

I am pretty much obsessed with these beautiful vinyl dolls from the Shining Light Dolls company! They are so pretty, colorful, and are the perfect way to introduce your littles to important saints. (Pictured is their Our Lady of Guadalupe doll.)

As I have mentioned before, I always carry a religious coloring book and crayons in our diaper bag for mass... if you are looking for something to keep your crafty kids occupied either at home or church, I recommend a coloring book like this Saints one from the Catholic Company!

If your toddler is anything like mine, he/she may enjoy playing mass at home (and crossing themselves after eating mints... or is that my Jackson?), so why not consider surprising them with a detailed mass kit like this one from Amazon

This exact rosary was gifted to my 3-year-old at his baptism and is now a favorite of both him and my 5-month-old! The beads are huge and sturdily fastened (so you don't have to worry about choking), and are an automatic favorite because of their bright colors and smooth texture. 

Talk about a gift that keeps on giving: The Mass Box is a monthly subscription box that is chock-full of crafting goodies pertaining to each Sunday's gospel reading! (You can read my honest and unsolicited review for the box here.)

For the school-aged kids in your life, I recommend checking out Raymond Arroyo's Will Wilder books, which are described by saying that "Fans of Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson and the Olympians and Peter Lerangis’s Seven Wonders series will embrace this epic adventure in a rollicking new series by a New York Times bestselling author."

7.) Cat Chat CDs ($5.95 each)
My 3-year-old LOVES listening to Cat Chat CDs in the car! Not only do they provide toe-tapping tunes and easy entertainment, some of the audio CDs also tell bible stories and teach important life lessons from a Catholic perspective. (In addition to the CDs, the company also sells DVDs, books, and saint cards!)

These are my suggestions, so now it is your turn to sound off: What will you be putting in your kid's Easter baskets?

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Kindness

"Well, this is going to be a fun flight."

I heard the sarcastic tone come from behind me whilst bouncing my overly tired and fussy 4-month-old on my lap.

"Excuse me, but he is just a little baby and he WILL fall asleep once we get moving!" I wanted to turn around and say to her (followed by a snarky comment about how my baby will get some sleep and be his normal happy self, but that her personality will always suck).

I bit my tongue... after all, this is probably the same thing I would have said or thought back when I was the perfect parent (pre-children, of course). As I figured, Gabriel did finally fall asleep once the plane began to move and I got a few uncomfortable minutes of sleep as well.

After a long 4 hour flight, we landed in Newark and scrambled to make it through customs, check our bags, and walk through the unorganized security check. Whilst standing in the never-ending line and being bombarded with requests to cut, my husband and I just knew that we were going to miss our connection (as our layover only lasted an hour). We felt completely frazzled and defeated, as our bag had made it on the flight but we hadn't.

We stood in the security line with our numerous bags, tired toddler, and wiggly baby for nearly an hour before finally making it to the terminal. At this point, we were walking at a snails pace and decided to just take our time, get the boys diapers changed, and grab some food before figuring out our plan.

"What flight are you on? Let me help you with your bags."

I turned.

It was a United flight attendant with a friendly smile and several bags of her own.

We thanked her for her generous offer, quickly explained out situation, and expected her to bolt to her next destination.

"I'm going to Denver," she eagerly told us, "and there are still plenty of seats available on my flight!"

She quickly grabbed the boys diaper bag from me, told us to follow her, and lead us to the Denver gate. The ladies at the desk were extremely helpful, but told us that in order to catch this flight, we would need to hustle to the nearest help desk, which Brandon did in record time.

He came back with the great news: we were on the flight. We would be going home (and only an hour later than our original flight)!

After feeling so sad and put off by such a rough day of travel, I had my faith once again restored in both the airline industry and in humanity... and all thanks to a caring flight attendant who went out of her way to carry a bag and get us on our way.

The whole experience reminded me of the importance of kindness and also made me think back to a time when Jackson was a newborn and I had a terrible Monday. I originally wrote and published the following post back in 2014, but wanted to share it again as a reminder to both myself and others to be kind to everyone, as you never know the kind of day someone may be having.

(The following post originally appeared on Annie One Can Cook on April 1, 2014):

Yesterday was definitely a Monday.. did you feel that way too?

I usually make it a point to not go out on Mondays--I have designated it as a day to just clean, do laundry & dishes, go for walk, and cuddle with Jax. However, with lots of errands to run and places to go, staying home yesterday wasn't an option. Shortly after Brandon left for work, Jax and I hopped in the car and headed out.

Our first stop was the bank.

Nothing bad happened there--in fact, the people I stood in line with were all very friendly and wanted to talk about Jax (which happens to be my favorite subject!). 

Next stop was Target.

Again, nothing too eventful--my cousin sent a gift card for Jackson so we picked up a few Easter related items  for him and some all-natural teething tabs his doctor recommended. We were in and out in about 15 minutes and all was well.. until I couldn't find our car. I kid you not, I carried our bag and Jax (in his heavy car seat) around that entire parking lot because I could not remember where I parked. 

After about 8 minutes, I finally spotted our car and we were off to Conoco to get gas. $56 later, it was time to head over to King Soopers to pick up a few groceries and mail some packages.  

Okay Colorado people, don't laugh at me.. at Dillons (which is King Soopers with a different name) you can mail packages, letters, and buy stamps, so I figured I'd be able to do that here, too. Not the case. I asked one of the very nice ladies working if there was a post office nearby and she gave me directions and sent us on our way. As we shopped around for a few groceries, a woman who wasn't paying any attention to where she was going nearly hit our cart.

"Oh, excuse me!" I said (politely, I honestly wasn't being sarcastic).

This woman looked at me and then at Jax and rolled her eyes.

Now it's one thing if you roll your eyes at me.. but when you roll your eyes at my child, it's a whole different ball park. I had to make a split second choice: do I make a scene and ask her what her problem is or do I take the high road and just keep walking.

I chose the high road--but I did mumble a few expletives as we walked away.

Once we had our groceries, it was time to head to the post office.. and that's when all hell broke loose.

At first, Jax was just fussing a little bit in the back of the car so I started talking to him and telling him we were almost finished and he calmed down.. but once we got out of the car and into the post office, he let loose and screamed. I tried to calm him in his car seat by rocking him but that wasn't working so I took him out and started bouncing with him (while I'm addressing/stuffing giant envelopes) but that just made him scream even louder--the entire line was staring at us by this point and I just wanted to climb in a hole and hide. Between the mean stares, the rude lady in the grocery store, and an inconsolable baby, I felt sad and defeated.. I was ready to curl up and start crying with Jax.

It was then I had three different people come up to me and offer to help--they were kind, understanding, and knew exactly what my heart needed. An extremely sweet, older woman ended up holding and rocking Jax for me as I addressed, filled, and mailed my packages--she was even able to get him to sleep! I wanted to hug this woman (actually, I did hug her) and invite her over for dinner; I don't think she realized that such a seemingly small gesture could mean so much to one tired mama. Her kind gesture turned my day around and I prayed for her and thanked God for bringing her into my life when I needed somebody the most. 

The moral of this story is to be kind to everyone you meet--you never know what kind of a day a stranger is having and how something as simple as a smile can turn their day around. I'm going to remember that the next time somebody rolls their eyes at me or seems completely overwhelmed at the post office and I hope you do too.


Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Shrimp & Tortellini with Tomatoes and Mozzarella

Lent has officially begun and the Church is observing this liturgical season through personal sacrifice, prayer, and -- of course -- by abstaining from meat on Fridays. If you still want to prepare a beautiful Friday meal for your family that doesn't involve mac & cheese or frozen fish sticks, take my advice and try this fresh and flavorful shrimp dish that is guaranteed to become a Lenten staple in your home.


Ingredients:
  • 1 package (9 ounces) refrigerated cheese tortellini
  • 1 pound peeled, deveined & uncooked medium shrimp
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 cans basil, garlic, & oregano flavored diced tomatoes, undrained
  • 3/4 cup white wine vinegar
  • 1/4 cup grated mozzarella cheese
  • 1/4 cup half & half cream
  • 1 teaspoon oregano 
  1. Cook tortellini according to package directions. Meanwhile, cook shrimp in oil until shrimp turn pink. Stir in the remaining ingredients (minus the tortellini and mozzarella), reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes.
  2. Drain tortellini; stir into shrimp mixture, cover and simmer for 5 minutes. Sprinkle mozzarella cheese over top. 
(Recipe adapted from Taste of Home)

Monday, March 6, 2017

How to Throw a Movie Theater Birthday Party for Kids

My oldest son turned 3 in December and -- like most kids -- wanted to have a birthday party. (Well, maybe we pushed it a bit, too -- I'm not sure if he would have really known the difference either way!)

The previous year, we had his party at our local rec center (which included cake and ice cream, decor, games, and the gymnastics room for one hour), but since it was all booked for the month, we realized we needed to get a little more creative. My husband and I began brainstorming ideas of what all Jackson loves and came up with a number of different themes, including baseball, Mickey Mouse, and HGTV ("Since he likes Fixer Upper so much, maybe we can have the kids work on sanding down the kitchen cabinets for the party!" -My husband), but in the end we decided to go with something he had been talking about non-stop since going to one months earlier: Movie theater.

While I love a great paper invite that you can hold in your hand, it isn't always the most practical thing to buy and send, so I went through movie-themed templates on evite and invited several of Jackson's besties for a day at the movies!

Now, the beauty of hosting a movie theater birthday party is that you can go as laid back or dressed up as you want. Limited on time and have a budget to stick to? Pop some bags of popcorn, offer bottles of water, and maybe some other kind of movie-esque snack to share... easy, right?

Seeing as though I am crazy, read too many party planning blogs, and enjoy creating in this capacity, I decided that we would make a full-blown concession stand complete with personalized water bottles (because what toddler doesn't appreciate staring at labels you spent way too long designing, printing, cutting, and taping, right?), popcorn in adorable striped boxes, and an assortment of different boxed candies just waiting to be devoured. 

Here is how everything looked:

After the kids played for a bit and devoured the doughnut cake (which I HIGHLY recommend doing -- it is less expensive than a cake AND a huge crowd pleaser!), everyone grabbed a box of popcorn, water bottle, and candy before heading downstairs to watch Dory. 


This is seriously the easiest birthday party to throw together and one of my favorite aspects of it is that you can include both the kids and parents in the fun! Another plus to a movie theater birthday party is that you can do it up as much or as little as you like, which is great when you are throwing a party on a budget. (Jackson's party came in well under $100, thanks to the Dollar Tree, Amazon, and the fact that we already owned Dory!)

It has been more than 3 months since Jackson's party and he STILL talks about it nearly daily, which gives me the push I needed to both share and wholeheartedly endorse this simple and fun theme!  

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Reasons to Not Give Up Anything This Lent

Fat Tuesday and Ash Wednesday are upon us, meaning another joyous Lenten season is on the horizon! Do you know what you will be giving up this Lent? While many people may dread this time of year because of the sacrifices they may plan to make, it is a liturgical season that I look forward to each and every year.

Have you thought much about what you will be giving up this year? Like many of you, I have been pondering this question long and hard, and came to the decision that I will not be giving up anything.

Why?

Well, in 8th grade, I gave up junk food and pop so I could fit into my cotillion dress.


My senior year of high school, I started running a few times a week so I would look better in my prom dress.

My junior year of college, I gave up drinking on weekdays and cursing (partly for God; partly to break bad habits).

Does this sound familiar to you? If it does, you are in good company, which is why I come before you with this request: Don't even bother giving up anything this Lent. 

Now, before you begin sending me emails condemning my sentiments, just hear me out. Instead of giving up anything this Lent, consider taking up something that will teach you about your faith, evangelization, and/or deepen your relationship with Christ. 

Need ideas? Here are 5 things to take up this Lenten season:

1.) Adoration
via
This is something that I did last Lent and absolutely loved! Each Wednesday, my toddler and I would make a special afternoon out of attending Adoration and would spend up to a half hour with the host (depending on how my 2-year-old was feeling that day) and then go to lunch to enjoy some special time together. As a work-from-home mom of two busy boys, I don't get to go to Adoration nearly as often as I would like (or should), so having this special time carved out to go made the Lenten season even more meaningful.

2.) Serve
via
Whether you work in a soup kitchen only once these 40 days or do something for someone every day, go out and serve your fellow man without expecting anything in return. The world will not only become a better place, but so will your heart!

3.) Daily Scripture
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This is something else that I have done the last 4 Lents that I cannot recommend enough: Find out what the daily Gospel readings are (or download an app like Laudate), carve out some quiet time each day, read, and reflect. (Whenever I do this, I also check out the daily reflections on Laudate -- they are VERY helpful and make the readings a little easier to understand!)

4.) Bible Study
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Want to take your daily reading to a whole other level? Join a bible study! If you live in a bigger city, there is a good chance your parish already has a number of studies available -- take advantage of this! If you live in a smaller parish (like my parents do), form your own with friends and meet weekly for dinner, discussion, and fellowship. Need a suggestion? Check out either 33 Days to Morning Glory or Consoling the Heart of Jesus, both of which are by Fr. Michael Gaitley.

5.) 90/10 Tithe
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I had actually never heard of this concept until last week on EWTN, but the way it works is this: We are all taught that we are supposed to tithe 10% of our income pre-tax, right? But instead of tithing 10%, some people go WAY above and beyond by tithing 90% and living off the other 10. How cool would this be to do during Lent? Not only would you be helping your church, but you may also learn something new about yourself (like, maybe you don't need your daily $5 latte to get by!). Not quite ready to make that big of a jump? Try adding an additional $10 or $20 to weekly tithe during this Lenten season.

Now I want to hear YOUR suggestions! What are your plans this Lent? Will you be giving something up or adding something new to your routine? Let me know in the comments. 

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Creamy Chicken Chimichangas with Chile Lime Sauce

Okay, so I know that I haven't been the best at regularly posting here on Living Like Martha (which is a BIG no when you are trying to grow a new blog!), but I am in the midst of getting my plan of action together, so please stay tuned!

In the meantime, I just HAD to share these sweet, savory, and oh-so creamy chicken chimichangas that I made for dinner last week. I found this recipe for baked chicken chimicangas on Six Sister's Stuff website, but ended up making so many modifications and changes to it that I figured I would just re-write it and share it with you, my awesome friends! Without further ado, here is my recipe for yummy Creamy Chicken Chimichangas with a Chile Lime Sauce:

Ingredients:
  • 2 (4 oz.) cans diced green chiles
  • 2 (10.5 oz.) cans condensed cream of chicken soup
  • Fresh lime juice (to taste)
  • 8 oz. plain green yogurt
  • 1 (8 oz.) package shredded mozzarella cheese
  • 1 lb. rotisserie chicken, shredded
  • 12 flour tortillas
  1. Pour chiles, soup, and desired amount of lime juice into blender, pureeing until smooth. 
  2. Once pureed, pour into saucepan and heat over medium, stirring occasionally. 
  3. In a large bowl, stir together yogurt and mozzarella cheese until well blended. Fold in chicken.
  4. Evenly divide mixture into 12 tortillas, folding each tortilla around filling. 
  5. Spray 9x13 and 8x8 pans with non-stick cooking spray and add chimichangas. 
  6. In a preheated 350 degree oven, bake chimichangas for 15 minutes. Pull pan out, turn over chimichangas, and bake for another 15 minutes.
  7. To serve, place chimichanga and plate and drizzle with warmed chili lime sauce. 

Friday, February 3, 2017

Mass Box Review

Disclaimer: I was neither asked nor compensated for this review. The good folks at Mass Box have no idea who I am and have no idea that I am writing this review. All opinions are my own. 

My 3-year-old Jackson is a perfect combination of both my husband and me.

From me (and my side of the family), he gets several of his facial features, sense of humor, play-it-safe attitude, and love of naps.

From his dad, he gets his laid back personality, great head of hair, likeness of sports, and deep love of creating things with his hands. 

I love seeing the world through this little boy's eyes and being able to spend every minute of every day with him and his baby brother. One of his favorite things to do on our days at home is to craft and create (which, like I previously mentioned, he gets from his dad, not me), so I am always looking for fun and creative things for him to do. 

That being said, you can imagine my excitement when I ran across an ad for The Mass Box on Facebook

Just what is The Mass Box? As per their website, "The Mass Box is a program for 3-7 year olds to help your family get ready for each and every Mass with craft supplies, kids missals, and coloring sheets delivered every month to your door!" Genius, right? I was all set to sign up my 3-year-old for the subscription, but changed my mind upon seeing its $20 + shipping monthly cost. 

A few months after first seeing the ads on Facebook, I saw another one, this time advertising their New Year's special that included half off boxes PLUS free shipping. After seeing this, I was sold and got Jackson all signed up. Less than a week later, our first Mass Box arrived at our front door, chock full of pre-sorted crafts and instructions pertaining to each Sunday's Gospel reading. 

Jackson showing off this week's craft: A decorated lantern to signify that we are the light of the world (Matthew 5:14).
To demonstrate just how bad I am at crafting, I ruined three different pieces of paper (even after reading the directions/watching the helpful video) and eventually had to break into our construction paper stash just to get a good lantern!
Everything we needed to make our Epiphany of the Lord craft (which I ended up gluing onto a piece of construction paper and gifting to my parents -- they loved it)! 
Terrible picture, but crafting at the dining room table is kind of a family affair.
My little crafter has absolutely loved helping me with the weekly crafts in our box and I have loved having the opportunity to not only teach my children the faith, but learn more about it myself! 

While I do absolutely love the Mass Box and everything the company stands for, I did end up canceling our subscription for the time being... but hear me out! After receiving the box, I completely agree with the $20/month + shipping price tag (there is A LOT that goes into researching and curating the each week's craft, PLUS the cost of materials) but thought that everything was still a bit too advanced for my newly-turned 3-year-old. I think that once my little guy can handle cutting, precise drawing/coloring, etc., a little bit better, we will renew our subscription -- but in the meantime, I wholeheartedly recommend this subscription box for any child 3 1/2 + and think it would make the perfect gift for grand kids, godchildren, nieces, nephews, etc. 

For more information on Mass Box -- or to begin your subscription -- be sure to visit their website

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Fresh Fruit and Cream Cheese Brownies

Congratulations... you made it through another Monday! This deserves some sort of a celebration, right? I think so, which is why I am sharing one of my favorite dessert recipes with you all today!

If you have never had chocolaty brownies with a creamy frosting and fresh fruit, you have not really lived... this dessert is so simple to prepare (I use a boxed brownies mix, because "Simplified Living" and is sure to be the hit of any church potluck, book club meeting, or Tuesday evening at home.

(Psst... Fat Tuesday is coming and this would be the perfect way to indulge before beginning another blessed Lenten season!)


Ingredients:
  • Brownie mix
  • 8 oz. of fat free cream cheese
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1/2 tsp. vanilla
  • Fresh fruit
  1. Bake brownies as directed.
  2. Let brownies cool for at least an hour.
  3. Blend the cream cheese with the sugar and vanilla until completely smooth. Spread thin layer over the cooled brownie. 
  4. Gently press fresh fruit into the cream cheese topping. Cut into 

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Let Them Be Little

This post originally aired on my personal blog in January 2015. Two years (and one new son) later and these sentiments remain true. 

On Friday, I took Jackson to our awesome local library (AKA our new happy place) to play around, read, and kill some time before Brandon arrived home from work. We played around inside for about a half hour before Jax started peering at the "big kids" playing outside.

He. Wanted. Out. So. Badly.

Since it was a nice day, and since my little toddler wan pining to go play with the school aged kids, we went outside--and it was awesome! I had no idea that there was a hands on area in the back complete with musical instruments, playground, smooth wood pieces to build with, and much more. Of course, Jackson wanted nothing to do with that and instead crawled all around in the rocks, grass, and all over the plastic boardwalk (complete with several steps for a curious tot to climb up and down). 

It's amazing how Jackson turned one and just RAN--he seriously changed from a baby to a little boy over night and is now fascinated by blocks, Legos, books, and dirt (this kid loves him some dirt). Sure, dirt is a pain to clean off clothes but it's easy to wipe off tiny hands and faces so I let him pick up rocks, crawl through the grass, and explore this exciting new place. 

He was in heaven and I was having the best time following him, admiring the rocks he proudly showed me, and just taking the moment in.

That's when I heard a voice come from behind us.

"You let him just play in the dirt and get all dirty like that?"

I turned around to see another mom (whose kids had been playing inside the library the same time Jax and I were) staring in horror at my joyously dirty son and his (in her mind) negligent and irresponsible mother.

"Oh, yeah?" I answered, taken aback by her question.

"Whatever, I guess." she responded as she rolled her eyes and walked off with her two kids.

I was stunned and couldn't find the words to respond.  

Was I wrong for letting Jackson play outside? I mean, sure, he was getting dirty but he wasn't being rambunctious or causing any kind of trouble. I kept going over the scenario in my head and tried to figure out why she'd be upset with me for letting him play.

Another 15 minutes passed before the sun began to set and it was time to go home and get Mr. Jax into the bath. On the short drive home, I started thinking about my own childhood and how I was always outside with my brother, next door neighbor/best friend, and all the other neighborhood kids--climbing on the swing set, jumping on the trampoline with the sprinkler under it, and playing Power Rangers in the front yard are just a few of my fondest childhood memories.

I loved my childhood.

Every time I think back on our neighborhood hide-and-seek games and catching of crawdads and garter snakes (and naming them Sarah Michelle Gellar), I can't help but smile.

I want my kids to have that same kind of childhood.

If Jackson wants to dig in the dirt for worms to take fishing, he should be able to.

If he decides he doesn't like getting dirty and would rather paint, read, or do something else he enjoys, he should be able to.

If he wants to run around like crazy, partake in water fights, and climb trees, he should be able to.

As long as kids aren't hurting themselves or others and are being respectful, let them run and play. 

Let them enjoy that all too short period known as childhood--it goes by way, way too quickly and once it's gone, that's it.

Let your kids be innocent and naive to this crazy and often scary world around them. 

Let them figure out what they like doing and what they're good at (whether it be sports, art, music, etc.).

Let them get dirty.

Let their imaginations soar.

Let them be little.
Mamma and her messy (but oh-so sweet) boys. 

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

A Tug of War with the Devil

I had every reason to not go to church on Sunday.

After a late night with my oldest (who had fallen asleep at 7 pm to only wake up bright eyed and bushy tailed from 10 pm til 2 am), I woke up with body aches and chills -- plus it was cold outside, it is always hard getting both boys ready and out the door on time, yada yada yada.

Despite a little voice in my head saying "Just stay home this one time... you are tired and don't need to take the boys out on your own this morning," I powered through and had everyone up, fed, and dressed a good half hour before church. Once I topped off my 2-month-old with a quick nursing session, we were out the door and scheduled to actually get to mass a minute or two before it started (which is a big deal, if you know me and the fact that we are almost always late to everything).

When we pulled up, the parking lot was completely packed.

"Is today a holy day of obligation that I didn't know about?" I asked myself as I searched for just one open spot.

I cursed under my breath at all the cars taking up two parking spots, wondering why and how common sense goes to pot in Colorado whenever there is snow on the ground.

"Well, you tried, Annie. The boys are still content in the car seats, so just turn around and go home." the voice told me.

It was then I had a moment of Divine intervention; I found a parking spot. It was about as far away from the front door as I could possibly get, but by golly, I had a spot and the boys and I were going to mass.

While I was walking, I heard the voice again.

"Gabe's carseat is so heavy... I know your shoulder hurts, so why not just turn around, put it back in the car, and go home?"

Gabriel may have the heaviest carseat known to man, but I was willing to bet that the cross Christ carried was even heavier, so on we trekked.

The boys and I were splashed by passing cars.

It was standing room only by the time we made our way into the church.

My poor 14-pound newborn was apparently wasting away from not nursing in the last 20 minutes and wanted to make it known to everyone within a 3-mile radius.

While I may have been physically exhausted by the time mass had ended, my soul felt completely renewed. God knew that my boys and I needed to attend the service and -- as always -- he provided us (and hundreds others) with parking spots, a meaningful homily, and a safe place to come together and worship.

Why am I sharing this story?

No; it isn't to get an "Atta girl -- you made it to church like you're supposed to!"

It is to share that we all have that little voice in the back of our head saying we aren't good enough, aren't deserving, or that we can't do something... never listen to it or give in.

We all have our own personal tug of wars with the devil, but with Christ by our side, we can conquer any obstacle that comes our way.

You, my friend, are good enough.

You are deserving.

You can do it.

And -- most importantly -- you are so, so loved.

Sweetest boys in their Sunday best.

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