The Appreciation Room

Lent offers many opportunities for introspection and self-reflection. Through the practice of fasting, prayer, or abstinence, one can certainly learn a lot about self-control, sacrifice, and personal growth. Every year, I find myself reflecting on an area of my life that needs the most growth. This year I decided to improve my role as a wife, partner, and friend to my husband. In the hustle and bustle of life as a working mother, I often have little time to cultivate and improve in my role as a spouse. To help me in this spiritual journey, I’ve implored the help of a book that integrates scripture and a daily reading that focuses in on a specific character trait to contemplate and practice.

I found today’s reading to be particularly insightful. It discussed how each of us has an Appreciation Room and a Depreciation Room for our spouse. The Appreciation Room holds all of the positive memories and qualities that make our spouse stand out. Contrarily, the Depreciation Room possesses all of the negative qualities that tarnish our view of our spouse. Naturally we benefit most from our time in the Appreciation Room- a place we feel loved, content, and happy. Allowing ourselves time in the Depreciation Room, on the other hand, can be hazardous to our marriage. If we allow ourselves to dwell, revisit, or marinate in this negative place, it becomes very difficult to see our spouse in a positive light.

Sometimes it’s a bad moment, a bad day, or a bad week with our spouse that draws us towards the Depreciation Room. We’ve all been here at one time or another. It’s easy to allow our anger to fester and grow into resentment if we let it. After all, negativity only creates more negativity. Today’s reading opened a floodgate of thoughts and emotions for me and really forced me to come to terms with my own thoughts and actions. Do I allow myself enough time in the Appreciation Room to recognize and appreciate the amazing man who picked me to be his partner in life? Have I taken him for granted more times than I’d like to admit?

In life there’s no time like the present, to reflect on the little things our spouses bring to the table every day to make us feel special and loved. In a two parent home, it works better when you have a partner who works with you and helps you find balance and demonstrates appreciation for your efforts. It is so very easy to get caught up in the petty things that can cause us to lose focus on who and what is most important in life.

We would all profoundly benefit from revisiting the Appreciation Room of our spouse with more frequency. Pausing in the doorway to reflect on their kind heart, genuine smile, and the amazing gift of having their hand to hold in this crazy, infinitely beautiful journey called life. Treasuring this goodness will pay you back in dividends over the long haul. We all know there will be days when marriage feels like a challenge, but putting our trust in the good will lead us away from the negative thoughts attached to these more trying times.

Ladies, we’re human. We misstep. We make mistakes. We don’t always let our best selves shine through. But every day offers us the unique opportunity to start each day with a grateful heart. Living it fully, loving the ones most precious in our lives with our whole hearts, and extending gratitude to our husbands for their support, friendship, and love. Make time to visit your Appreciation Room and let is help you guide your heart to a more positive place with your spouse. #thelovedare

Fat Tuesday

Today commemorates Fat Tuesday, a day of indulgence before the somberness of Lent sets in tomorrow with Ash Wednesday. In our den, we’ve been celebrating Fat Tuesday for the last few years. Typically Liam and I enjoy a feast of sorts that includes take out, a lavish dessert, and a sprinkling of other junk food items throughout the day like glazed donuts, waffle fries, and something carbonated and sugary to wash it all down.

This year we kicked things off a few days early with a King’s Cake.Atticus, Liam, and I savored it’s subtle sweetness and gooey cinnamon. However Liam and I were disappointed that our cake didn’t include a plastic baby Jesus tucked away between the layers of pastry and icing.

Yesterday on the eve of Fat Tuesday as we sat around the dinner table, Liam looked at me with his bright blue eyes and a mischievous grin and said, “So Mom, since tomorrow is Fat Tuesday that means I can have cake for dinner and then pick a dessert too!” His wittiness practically brought me to tears I was laughing so hard as I imagined how a dinner that started with cake might end.

Last night I suggested Domino’s delivery to start off our Fat Tuesday because Liam lives for two things in life: pepperoni pizza and dessert. I figured this would be a must on our Fat Tuesday menu. So his response actually caught me by surprise. “Mom, we have pizza all the time. It’s not special enough for Fat Tuesday.” This kid was setting the bar high, and I worried I’d disappoint him if I didn’t deliver at least on the dessert side of things.

Fast forward almost twenty-four hours later, as track practice started to wind down I realized I needed to lock down our Fat Tuesday treat. My lightbulb, “aha” moment hit as I was exiting 290 en route to pick up the boys from daycare. A frozen yogurt cake from Orange Leaf! I walked into the store on a mission as I perused the delicate cakes adorned with fluffy whipped cream. My shining star was a birthday confetti round cake with rainbow sprinkles. Mama Bear for the win!

As we walked out of daycare towards the car, I told Liam I found the perfect treat for our Fat Tuesday dinner. I watched his eyes get as big as saucers and his lips turn up in a perfectly gigantic grin as I described the frozen yogurt cake that lay carefully tucked on the floorboard on the passenger side of the car.

After a long day at work topped off with track practice, I settled on leftovers, which I hoped wouldn’t be too disappointing for Liam. Thankfully we both enjoyed the coconut curry soup I’d prepared earlier in the week. As Liam and Atticus finished their meal, I paraded the cake across the kitchen and gently set it down in front of them. Their reaction was priceless- two boys all to eager to indulge in the frozen wonder that lay before them.

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Dinner ended on a high note with lots of smiles, whipped cream mustaches, and a lot of baby requests for, “more, more, more!” The littlest things in life really can be incredibly powerful ways of connecting with the people you love most in life. Liam clearly touched by the simple gesture even made me a handmade Valentine before bed. My cup runneth over!

 

Souper Bowl Sunday

An important part of healthy eating is meal prep. Having healthy options readily at your disposal to avoid reaching for the pint of Ben and Jerry’s or the bag of nacho cheese Doritos. It requires forward planning and fresh, quality ingredients, but with a little practice it can evolve into a healthy habit.

Since our ten day green smoothie cleanse, I started making a pot of homemade soup every Sunday afternoon. The prep side of things is undoubtedly the most labor intensive part of cooking. Let’s be honest, peeling, chopping, mincing, and dicing takes time. But fresh ingredients are key to any delicious soup. To save time and be more efficient, canned and frozen vegetables can also take some of the work out of meal prep. Today’s soup, however, required a lot of knife handling as all of the vegetable ingredients were fresh.

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The greater Houston area has experienced an unseasonably cold winter, which has created the ideal type of weather for savory soups and crusty breads. Yesterday afternoon a cold front blew in that dropped today’s temperatures into the high 30s; weather conditions perfectly suited to make today a souper bowl Sunday.

So without further ado, I give you one of my all time favorite soups, chicken coconut curry. Enjoy this soup over jasmine rice and top with a drizzle of Sriracha sauce. It could very easily be made vegetarian by substituting the chicken for tofu and swapping the chicken broth for vegetable broth.

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INGREDIENTS:

  • 1 tsp olive oil
  • 1 sweet onion, thinly sliced
  • 4 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 4 carrots, peeled and chopped
  • 2 medium white potatoes, halved and chopped
  • 3 to 4 portobello mushrooms, thinly sliced
  • 1 handful of cilantro, roughly chopped
  • 2 limes, halved
  • 1 1/2 cartons of chicken broth
  • 1 1/2 cans of coconut milk (I typically use lite)
  • 4 to 5 tbsp of red curry paste (Adjust to your liking)
  • 1 rotisserie chicken, skin removed and roughly chopped

DIRECTIONS:

In a large soup pot on medium low heat, sauté the onions in the olive oil for ten minutes until softened. Add the garlic and sauté the garlic for 2 to 3 minutes. Next add the carrots, mushrooms, potatoes, chicken broth, and curry paste. Allow to simmer on low heat for 2 to 3 hours until the potatoes and carrots are soft.

Because I usually make my soup while Atticus is napping, I turned off the heat and let the soup rest until about 45 minutes before I was ready to serve dinner. I added the chicken, coconut milk, lime juice, and cilantro and turned the heat back on to low to medium low. It truly depends on your range setting. The goal at this point is to allow all of the ingredients to simmer but never allow the coconut milk to boil. You’ll have to monitor it to determine the best setting on your stove.

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Serve over jasmine rice and enjoy. This soup hits all of the key flavor notes, spicy with the curry, sweet with the coconut milk, and the vegetables all compliment each other perfectly. Cilantro always adds that extra level of flavor too. This soup reheats well making it an ideal option for lunch during the week and at least one leftover meal for dinner during the week. It’s exotic flavors offer a great change of pace to more traditional soups like chicken noodle. Even Liam gave it his seal of approval- a smile and an empty bowl.

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Some of the other highlights of our weekend included Liam wrapping up his first basketball season with his final game on Saturday, Sunday morning shenanigans before breakfast, and catching up with family over ridiculously amazing fried chicken donut sandwiches. All in all, it was a great weekend!

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One Track Mind

My mother jokingly says that from the moment I could walk, I chose to run instead. In elementary school my grandfather gifted me my very own starting blocks that he purchased at the flea market. Most evenings, I laced up my shoes and sprinted around the front yard letting the imaginary gun in my head send me on my way. By middle school, I ate, slept, and breathed cross-country and track. And so began the miles upon miles of strength and speed workouts that helped me develop into a distance athlete with a one track mind.

My life on the run shaped me into the woman I am today. A life of high mileage required stamina, strength, speed, skill, and spirit. In shaking the hands of my competitors, demonstrating sportsmanship through winning and losing, and forging friendships with my teammates, I developed a level of character carved out of perseverance, faith, and heart.

This year I have the privilege of sharing these life lessons with a group of high school distance runners at my school coaching the middle and long distance athletes. I hope to impart some of the wisdom I learned along the way both on and off the track from influential coaching mentors like Sylvia Torres, Melba Barreiro, Meme Garza, and Gary Staley.

STAMINA

Effective distance running requires stamina. This can only be achieved through a well-established base of mileage that allows you to find that third and fourth wind when you need it most. Success in life also requires stamina; the ability to sustain prolonged physical or mental effort. True to the adage, “life is a marathon; not a sprint.”

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STRENGTH

It takes great physical and mental strength to be a successful distance runner. Sometimes a distance race will try to break you if you let it. There are moments in life that will try to do the same. It takes great strength to overcome adversity. The challenges we face in competition force us to push through the pain, refuse to accept failure, and chase our dreams until we cross the finish line. True to the saying, “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”

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SPEED

Although speed in the 1600 meters looks a little different than the speed demonstrated in the 200 meters, don’t discount the level of effort it requires. In life and on the track, it often comes down to the last stretch of the race. Stamina and strength will only carry you so far. You have to find that last gear and sprint with every ounce of speed you can reign in to chase down your opponents.

In life, there will always be a winner, and the winner is always the person who trained the hardest and refused to settle for anything but a first place finish. In life, there will always be a loser too. The positive side of losing, however, is the takeaway. What did you learn from your failure that will make you better?

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SKILL

Success on the track and in life requires a high level of skill. Developing and honing these skills takes time, effort, dedication, sweat, and grit. You can’t be afraid to fail, to fall, to hurt, and to face disappointment.

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SPIRIT

All of the stamina, strength, speed, and skill in the world are not enough to break a world record or shatter a glass ceiling. The most important part of pursuing a dream is the human spirit. Believing in yourself and putting your whole heart into your work, truly are the foundation for achieving great success in life. Humility, grace, and faith together with spirit will light the fire in your heart that propels you forward.

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Oftentimes, the phrase, “a one track mind” carries a negative connotation. But in the pursuit of a first place win, you will need to pull from all of your resources and chase down the gold with blinders that block out anything that might stand in your way and prevent you from cinching the win.

Off the track, the same mindset dictates success. Harness your spirit, muscle up, find the speed and stamina to persevere, and hone your skills so that even in the face of adversity, your one track mind refuses to back down until you successfully summit your mountain. Carpe diem!

Good Things Come in Threes

In the last month, we’ve enjoyed some savory homemade soups, spectated at a few sporting events, and smiled almost every step of the way. True to the adage, “good things come in threes”, tonight’s blog post highlights three of my recent favorites- soup, spectating, and smiles!

TUSCAN CHICKEN SOUP

Since Christmas, I’ve been on a soup kick- chicken tortilla, chicken detox soup, vegetable beef, and now a simple Tuscan chicken soup. Most Sundays, I make a pot of soup that starts the week off on a great foot with a delicious dinner option that also makes for some amazing workday lunches.

This soup was adapted from a recipe I found on Nicky’s Kitchen Sanctuary (www.kitchensanctuary.com). It could also very easily be a delightful vegetarian option by substituting the chicken for cannellini or white beans.

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Ingredients:

  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 sweet onion, thinly sliced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 2 stalks of celery, chopped
  • 3 medium carrots, peeled & chopped
  • 2 medium white potatoes, diced
  • 2 cartons chicken broth
  • 1/2 tsp sea salt
  • 1/2 tsp ground pepper
  • 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 1 rotisserie chicken, skin removed; deboned & shredded
  • 4 handfuls fresh kale

Directions:

In a large soup pot, sauté the onions on medium heat in one tablespoon olive oil for ten minutes until soft and translucent. Stir occasionally.

Add the garlic and thyme and sauté until fragrant (2 to 3 minutes).

Next add the carrots, celery, potatoes, chicken broth, and spices. Bring to a boil and then simmer for 20 minutes.

Add the shredded chicken and kale and heat through for up to five minutes until the kale is wilted. Garnish with fresh grated parmesan cheese and serve with a crusty bread. We enjoyed ours with some delicious rosemary focaccia.

SPECTATING

Atticus and I joined our friends Gabe and Miriam and their sweet son, Milo, to cheer on our friends along the Chevron Houston Marathon course. It was beautiful, cold, sunny day- a trifecta for perfect racing conditions. We cheered loudly and encouraged our fellow Bayou City Road Runners along the course as they zoomed by us a mile 22 in Memorial Park. Despite the cold temperatures, Atticus and I enjoyed spectating, spending time with good friends, and offering smiles to the fearless runners on their journey to the finish line.

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One evening a few weeks ago while Sean was in Dallas for work, I threw a little spontaneity into our week when I took the boys to the girls’ varsity soccer game at my school. Both boys enjoyed cheering on the Lady Lions as they savored Chick-fil-a kids meals in the bleachers. In my favorite picture of the evening, Liam moved to the railing for a close up view of the action, and Atticus turned just in time to smile for the camera.

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Every Saturday for the last month, Atticus and I have cheered on the Liam and his fellow Heat teammates. Sean has earned a special place in heaven for the amount of patience it requires to coach a team of kindergarten basketball playing boys. Every week, we’ve seen Liam make great strides on the court as his dribbling and passing skills have improved. Go, Liam, go!

SMILES

In a house full of laughter and light, smiles and happiness are plentiful. Between the squeals, giggles, and screams of a 15 month old and a six year old, it is often a constant cacophony of  sounds. Beautiful smiles almost always accompany the noises and sounds that reverberate off of the walls in our den. Below are some of my most favorite smiles from the last month.

As I reflect back on the memories shared around a kitchen table, the happiness accomplished through sportsmanship, and the simplicity and beauty of a child’s smile, I am reminded time and time again of how infinitely blessed I am. Here’s to many more moments of joy. May they continue to come in threes, fours, or any other numerical combination of greatness!

Unwavering, Unconditional, & Unfaltering

This week work proved to be incredibly challenging. On more than one occasion, I left work holding back tears that came pouring out as soon as I hit the freeway. Being a counselor, places difficult situations in your lap almost every day. In the course of a day, you are often pulled in numerous directions. It can be emotionally draining and oftentimes thankless work, but my heart guides me every step of the way.

As a mother, my heart broke this week for two students I have been working with all year. Motherhood is a gift, I am so incredibly blessed to have in my life. In sharing stories with my friends who are mothers, all of them share the same sentimentality. We love our children deeply, fiercely, and unconditionally. Motherhood is not always a cakewalk, but whether our children are fifteen months old or fifteen, our children need us to walk with them, accept them, respect them, and love them.

Maintaining confidentiality is an important part of my role as a counselor, so I cannot get into specifics as to why my heart goes out to these students. However I can encourage and motivate the mothers reading this to consider what I’m about to say so that their children alway feel love and supported.

Motherhood tests us each and every single day. Our children will make mistakes, but more importantly we will too. Forgiveness is such an important part of our role as mothers. First we must forgive ourselves for our shortcomings, and then we must forgive our children for theirs.

As our children get older, they will push boundaries more than we might like. They might frustrate us and at times anger us. Don’t lose heart, Mama Bears. Remember it’s part of the job description. We might be tempted to cast judgement in our times of anger. We might have a hard time holding our tongue. It will take incredible self-control, but we absolutely must be mindful of what we say to our children. We cannot take back what we say. Our words have great power and can create mistrust and great heartache for our children. We will not always agree with our children’s actions, decisions, or lifestyle choices. No matter what though, they are our children. We must remember every step of the way how our children deserve to feel safe, secure, and supported.

Our work as a mother requires unwavering patience, unconditional love, and unfaltering support. In infancy, while toddling, growing into childhood, and then blossoming into adolescence, our children need their mother’s love in its purest and truest form. My work with high school students has made that more evident than ever. Be that pillar of support and love they so desperately need even when they seem too big to need it anymore. They will forever be our babies, and our babies will always need their mamas!

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Good morning, Sunshine!

Mornings aren’t for everyone, but I’ve always embraced them wholeheartedly. Before children, I was up before the sunrise and out the door logging in my daily miles. Since children, I’m up bright and early with the boys toting them to school during the week or playing with the boys pushing cars or trains around in the early morning hours on the weekend.

There is nothing better than starting the day with a cup of coffee and a glimpse of a beautiful sunrise. Mornings are a fresh start to a new day, and the morning sunshine offers us an opportunity at a brand new beginning. A critical part of every morning routine should include breakfast. Something hearty, wholesome, fresh, and delicious. During the week when I’m pressed for time, it takes a little more thought and preparation, but starting my day off with a healthy breakfast makes all the difference in the world.

Below are three ideal go-to recipes you can easily pre-make and pre-pack for easy, on-the-go breakfast options. Only one of the recipes requires an oven and two can be prepped and stored for an entire week of ways to break fast!

MASON JAR GRAB & GO CEREAL

For my vegans and vegetarians, this first recipe is the easiest to prep and enjoy. I originally discovered it from a cycling friend of mine who recommended the book, The Engine 2 Diet by Rip Esselstyn. This former professional triathlete and firefighter based in Austin developed a vegan diet specifically designed for endurance athletes. Naturally it was a read that was right up my alley. I’ve modified the recipe slightly but the hearty oats and other grain cereals make this breakfast an ideal way to get a wholesome breakfast that staves off hunger easily until lunch.

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Ingredients:

  • Almond milk
  • 1/4 c old fashioned oats
  • 1/4 c whole wheat shredded wheat
  • 1/4 c Uncle Sam’s cereal
  • 1/4 c grape-nuts
  • 1 tbs sliced almonds
  • fresh fruit

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In a mason jar, add all of the dry ingredients and store in the pantry until the morning of. On your way out the door, top with fresh fruit and milk. Cover with a lid, and you’re ready to jet out the door.

Some of my favorites fruit options include blueberries, strawberries, kiwi, and sliced bananas. Unsweetened or light vanilla almond milk are a great way to add a little sweetness to your cereal. Soy or cow’s milk are also great substitutes.

Allow the cereal to soak for a few minutes so the oats and shredded wheat can soften slightly. Enjoy the wholesome yumminess!

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Green smoothies are another great grab and go breakfast that are also vegetarian friendly. Nothing is easier to consume on your commute to work, and you get a great jumpstart on your daily fruit and vegetable intake.

GOOD MORNING GREEN SMOOTHIE

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Ingredients:

  • 3 handfuls of greens
  • 2 c water
  • 1 apple, cored & quartered
  • 1 handful of grapes
  • 1 c frozen strawberries
  • 1 c frozen mango
  • 2 tbs ground flaxseed
  • 2 packets stevia

In a blender pitcher, add the water and greens and cover and store in the fridge overnight. Core and cut the apple and place the apple and grapes in a Ziploc bag. Store in the fridge overnight. Measure the frozen strawberries and mangoes, and store in a Ziploc in the freezer overnight. Plug in the base of the blender and have it ready to go for tomorrow’s smoothie too. Pre-measure the ground flaxseed, and store in an airtight container next to the blender for easy access. Also leave the two packets of stevia out so you don’t have to do much more than throw everything in, blend, and pour.

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The morning of, blend the water and greens until juiced. Spinach, kale, spring mix, or a blend all work well. Next add the apples and grapes and liquify. Add half of the frozen fruit, blend, and then repeat with the remaining frozen items. Add the flaxseed and stevia and mix until well blended. Pour, sip, and enjoy!

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ANYTIME BREAKFAST CASSEROLE

This recipe is a Mama Bear exclusive developed with minimal effort thanks to always having key kitchen staples on hand. It would also be delicious with sautéed mushrooms and grated cheese. This one does require more cooking and prep than the other too, but it provides ample leftovers that can also double as leftovers to enjoy as a midweek lunch option or on a busy weeknight for dinner.

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Ingredients:

  • 5 slices of bread, cubed
  • 16 oz ground sausage
  • 3/4 sweet onion, sliced
  • 3 to 4 large handfuls of spinach
  • 1 fire roasted red pepper, jarred and diced
  • 1 dozen eggs
  • 1 c milk
  • 1 tsp olive oil
  • Sea salt & pepper to taste

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Prep a 9 x 13 Pyrex dish by lightly spraying it with cooking spray. Cube the bread and layer across the Pyrex evenly. I typically use some kind of a grainy bread like 12 grain or wheatberry. The sky’s the limit though, so use what you love or what you already have on hand.

In a bowl, add the eggs and milk and whisk until well blended. Pour over the bread and allow to soak while you prepare the other ingredients.

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In a skillet on medium high heat, sauté the onions in olive oil until translucent. Add the ground sausage and cook until brown. Slowly add the spinach (about a handful at at time) and mix continuously until wilted. Add the red bell pepper and stir until everything is evenly distributed. Pour into a colander to drain. Then drop the sausage mixture evenly over the bread and eggs.

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Bake in the oven for 40 to 45 minutes until the eggs are fluffy and cooked through. Cut evenly and store in Tupperware containers in the refrigerator. Reheat in the microwave for an instant breakfast packed with color and protein.

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I hope these easy breakfast recipes make your mornings beautiful and delicious. They might even inspire you so much that your belting out, “It’s a beautiful morning!” as you head off to work to take on your day. Arguably breakfast is the most important meal of the day. You don’t have any excuses after reading this blog post to skip out and slight yourself!