Making Time to Slow Down

One of the my favorite parts of summer break is the opportunity to slow things down and take things as they come. The need for alarms, rigid schedules, and the typical “go-go-go” mentality take a back seat to the simpler things in life.

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For each of us, I think summer break has offered a unique opportunity to relax, grow personally and together, and enjoy all things summer… sun, sand, and splashes. You can learn a lot trying to live life through the eyes of a child. In their world, things slow down, are far less stressful, and come with an a healthy amount of light moments and laughter.

If our summer was a made-for-tv movie, the script would read something like this…

THE RETIREE

Liam would love nothing more than to retire early and live the beach bum life. Every morning would start with sleeping in, downing donuts, and cramming in as much screen time as his parents would allow him. If he could stay in his pajamas and laze away the day, he most certainly would. The one exception Liam would willingly make to bring himself out of retirement would be anything water related. For him, water fun comes in many forms- water guns, pools, splash pads, and beaches.

When school starts in August, my little retiree might have a difficult time initially re-acclimating to the realities of first grade. I’m pretty sure he can’t wear pj’s or press snooze on his alarm when back to school dictates the direction life takes. While this adjustment period may prove to be hard at least for a few weeks, there is no doubt in my mind he’ll be ready to soar to new heights academically.

THE BACKPACKER

In his future life, Atticus aspires to be a world traveler. He absolutely loves toting a suitcase on wheels. He fondly refers to it as his car as he pulls it down the sidewalk or through the living room eager to find his next adventure. Atticus wakes up bright and early, and summer break is no exception. His infectious smile greets me every morning. From the minute he’s lifted out of his crib until he lays his head down for nap time or bedtime, this little man is a mile a minute. He idolizes his big brother down to the shoes he wears, and the big boys things he does like brushing his teeth.

When summer ends for Atticus, he’ll take his take-on-the-world attitude into his new toddler class. For this Mama Bear, it breaks my heart that he’s growing up so fast. But little Atti is resilient, and I have no doubt he’ll flourish in his new social setting. Oh, the places you’ll go, Atticus!

With less than two weeks until I’m officially back at work, I will continue to relish in the simplicities of summer. There’s still time for a few more adventures with my dynamic duo. After all, we still have miles to log as we bike the neighborhood, frozen yogurt and sno cones with our names on them, and plenty of water fun to be had! I’m cataloging these memories to get me through the back-to-school blues that always come when summer officially ends!

 

Summer on the Horizon

With just one week left until my work obligations cease and desist, at least until August, the excitement of summer is definitely on the horizon. If the little moments of happiness sprinkled in on the weekends and after school can predict the future, then the boys and I have a great summer in store for us. Today marks Liam’s last day of kindergarten. I still cannot believe how much he’s grown academically, socially, and not to mention physically. But today instead of looking backwards, I am looking forwards to the simplicities that come with the summer.

ADIOS ALARMS…

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One of the simple pleasures of summer is bidding adieu to setting an alarm clock. Granted my children are both set with internal alarms that often have them rising before the sunrise most days however I look forward to letting their internal clocks set the tone for our days rather than a blaring alarm.

SNOW CONES! YES, PLEASE.

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Houston summers are hot and humid no matter how early in the morning you rise to avoid the heat. Hydration and sunscreen are both key to a safe summer of fun in the sun. What better way to cool off than with an ice cold, refreshing treat like a snow cone. Our favorite local spot is Bahama Bucks. They have a great rewards program to help you earn free snow cones and the boys absolutely love this indulgence. This Mama Bear is pretty keen on them too, especially their Birthday Cake flavor with sprinkles.

QUALITY TIME

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During the school year, authentic quality time is often limited to the weekends when free time is readily at our disposal. Summer, on the other hand, offers bountiful opportunities for time well spent together. Unfortunately Sean’s schedule doesn’t ease up in the summer, but we’ll try to weave in some spontaneous moments together when we can.

SPLASH PADS

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In the Texas heat, water, in any form, is your greatest chance of beating the heat. In our neighborhood a wealth of splash pads offer some solace from the heat in a fun and extremely kid friendly way. There will be lots of splash pad play dates this summer. I’ll be one of the many Mama Bears splashing alongside my children as a refuge from the grueling heat wave that sweeps across our Texas summers.

SUMMER SILLINESS

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Summer is the perfect time for silliness in all its forms- silly smiles, sounds, traditions, etc. This morning we kicked off the almost official first day of summer vacation with an impromptu breakfast at Shipley’s Donuts to commemorate National Donut Day. Cake sprinkles, chocolate icing, and free donuts had my little Golden Bear offering up his best silly smile.

For those of you also lucky enough to have a summer break, may your days be filled with sunshine, smiles, and snow cones. Bask in the little moments and enjoy the slower pace of summer with your water babies!

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That Time of Year

The end of the school year is plagued with a long list of to do’s that make the last few weeks feel like a frenetic race in a hamster ring that spins incessantly without a definitive end in sight. As my twelfth year in education is winding down, I find myself in this familiar rat race. The one difference, however, is that now being a counselor in a high school setting the amount of paperwork I’m trying to manage far outshines any end of year duties I’ve performed at previous schools. With all of that being said, it’s that time of year, and I have had very little downtime to attend to my blog.

In between proctoring AP tests, preparing for final exams, and managing course selections, I’ve managed some time for the most important thing in my life- my family. Last weekend the boys and I trekked to Waco for an adventure at the TAPPS State Track Meet. Friday rain brought incredibly muddy conditions and the boys relished in the opportunity to frolic in the mud. Thank goodness for hotel bathtubs to help remedy the dirty work of boys being boys.

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Our Saturday morning started off early as usual, so I decided on an impromptu trip to the Cameron Park Zoo since running events weren’t slated to begin till later in the day. The rain from the previous day brought gorgeous weather for our zoo adventure. The animals loved the cooler temperatures and put on quite a show for us.

The afternoon brought warmer temperatures with beautiful blue skies and bright sunshine. The level of student talent was high as they raced their hearts out around Panther Stadium. Harrison toed the line with seven other competitors poised to finish this season out on a high note. Seeded 8th going in, he knew he would have to run a strong race. The four laps of his mile race demonstrated dedication, perseverance, and heart. Racing alongside the best 6A milers in the state, he secured a 7th place finish with a strong showing in his final lap. I couldn’t be more proud of his efforts and look forward to watching him chase down PR’s in the next three years at St. John XXIII.

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We ended our weekend off on a high note with a belated cinco de mayo celebration on Sunday at Gringo’s. Sean and I enjoyed our celebratory margaritas and the boys enjoyed ice cream and some playground fun while we were there. Our spontaneous dinner also included Jim (Grandpa Dodd) who we had the pleasure of sharing our evening with.

By Monday the work week was in full swing and the nonstop to do list continued to build. Riding out these last few weeks, I know how important it will be to make time to unwind with the boys. Monday marked the first day I didn’t have track practice since March, so the boys and I capitalized on the gorgeous afternoon with an impromptu trip to one of the neighborhood playgrounds after school.

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I hope that when the dust settles and the school year officially comes to an end, I will have more time to dedicate to sharing my thoughts, adventures, and life with you through my blog. In the meantime, the adage, “this too shall pass” is a rather comforting quote I’m carrying with me.

Showered in Love

Tonight as I checked in on my herb garden, I was excited to see the first fruits of my Spring Break project. I ran upstairs to fetch Liam so that he too could relish in the tiny green tomatoes sprouting on the vines. I laughed as he wrinkled his nose at the jalapeños taking flight in its pot too.

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As I walked back in basking in my little victory, a more expansive thought erupted in my mind. These herbs were flourishing because they were showered in love. First from my efforts to plant them and give them a place to take root and take off. Then Mother Nature stepped in with spring rain, idyllic temperatures, and just the right amount of sunlight to help these herbs maintain a presence in my backyard.

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On a grander scale, though, so many things around us are showered in love. This weekend for example, my mother, sister-in-law, and I hosted a baby shower for my cousin, Veronica, who is expecting her first child in early June. Family and friends gathered to shower her and her baby girl in love. Together we shared words of wisdom, sprinkled with anecdotes of humor, and showered her with gifts every new mother needs. Then of course there are all of the other gifts they don’t need, but who doesn’t love the “oohs and aahs” that come from adorable pink dresses, tulle trimmed skirts, and teeny tiny onesies.

When you travel home to be with family, your children enjoy the benefits of being doted on and loved by one set of grandparents and great-grandparents. Again this pervasive theme of “showered in love” holds true. I cannot think of two boys more lucky than Liam and Atticus because between them they share four sets of grandparents. Each of these grandparents is a blessing in their own rite showering them with wisdom, love, and experiences that will last a lifetime. Here are a few of my favorite keepsakes from our weekend in the Valley.

The takeaway for me in reflecting on today’s post is simple. In big and little ways each and every day we are showered in love. Obviously the more grandiose gestures speak volumes to us. But if we allow ourselves to slow down and take in these smaller moments, we will be pleasantly surprised by the love sprinkled on us throughout the day. For me this weekend, it was watching my father watch Saturday morning cartoons with my children or seeing Liam paint blocks for his new cousin’s nursery with my eighty-seven year-old grandmother. These simple but beautiful moments offer a glimpse at the greater love that comes from all of the family, friends, and loved ones we break bread with and share our life with. Showered in love is not only something to appreciate and be grateful for when we receive it. It’s a phrase we can apply in our daily lives as we love and serve those nearest and dear to us.

 

 

A Little of This & That

This last week has been a whirlwind of Liamisms, birthday wishes, and high notes. Here’s a quick recap of the highlights!

Liamisms 

No week is every complete without some humorous Liamisms to lighten the mood. The two that stand out most include some potty humor and a misunderstanding about the rules of driving.

“Mom, sometimes when Atticus poops his diaper looks like it has peanut butter spread in it. I just want to eat it.”

“Liam, that’s absolutely disgusting. Why would you want to eat that.”

“Well dung beetles eat poop, so why can’t I?”

“Maybe because you’re not a dung beetle for starters.”

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“Mom, I’m all ready to drive the Escalade now. I have my own license plate.”

“Sweet Liam, driving doesn’t work that way. A license plate is different than a driver’s license. That’s what you need to drive a car.”

“Mom, I’m pretty sure all I need is a license plate. So you can just give me the keys.”

“Liam, why don’t we revisit this conversation in 10 years when you’re really ready to drive.”

Birthday Wishes

As I walked down the stairs with Atticus in my arms and Liam at my heels ready to head out the door for work, I noticed a gift lying on the dining room table. I asked Liam about it and very nonchalantly he said, “Mom, it’s nothing. It’s just your birthday present.”

“Oh how nice! Well today’s my birthday.”

“Oh yeah, right. I forgot.”

He then preceded to carry the gift bag to the counter and disappeared. I thought he was going to turn off the light when he suddenly reappeared grunting as he made his way back carrying a wooden plant stand with a succulent. He retreated again, walking back shortly with yet another plant stand and succulent. As I opened my gifts, I loved watching him look over the countertop at me as I opened my gifts. He truly set the tone for a wonderful start to my birthday.

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My 35th year is off to a great start. I’m looking forward to everything this year sends my way.

High Notes

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Liam and I discovered microwaveable Mug Treats on our weekly H-E-B run. Until recently, I thought no one loved dessert in our house more than Liam. After letting Atticus lick the spoon, I think Liam might have some competition for the title of Dessert King in our house. Nothing makes me happier than sweet baby smiles even when those smiles are caked with chocolate!

An Easter Tradition

Easter Sunday marks a time of celebration and joy. After a somber 40 days of penance and sacrifice, we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus and new beginnings. My childhood memories of Easter are bright and vivid. After Mass and an Easter lunch at either Gammie’s or my Aunt Jerri’s, the afternoon culminated with an Easter egg hunt of epic proportions.

From January until Easter, my mother, grandmother, and aunt salvaged all of the egg shells from cooking. Being from a vibrant Mexican family, breakfast tacos were a staple in our homes, especially on the weekends, so you can only imagine how many dozens of eggs my family collected in the months leading up to Easter.

In our house, my mother led the effort of dyeing, stuffing, and gluing tissue paper on each egg. This was quite an ordeal in and of itself because there were so many eggs to decorate. My brother and I enjoyed the task though because we recognized the significance of this part of the bigger picture- our ritual Easter egg hunt.

For those of you who didn’t grow up in South Texas or aren’t Mexican, let me shed a little light on the confetti egg- more fondly known among Spanish speakers as cascarones.

In Mexico, the cascarones tradition began to evolve. Instead of scented powder [originally used in China], Mexicans put confetti into the eggs. They then developed the tradition of cracking the egg over a friend’s head to release the confetti, which inspired the name cascarones or “shell hits.” (http://kkyr.com/cascarones-are-a-hispanic-american-culture-easter-celebration-video/)

For children, nothing is more exciting at Easter than running around the yard chasing your siblings, cousins, and friends with confetti stuffed eggs. It’s a colorful mess of vibrant colors and more importantly vibrant fun! Sharing this tradition with my children has truly been a way to enjoy cascarones full circle.

The one difference is that now you can buy cascarones at most retail stores at a very reasonable price. To save on time, this is typically the route I go. As the boys get older and can more readily participate in the assembly, I will likely move towards including them in the process.

We have much to celebrate and so much to be grateful for thanks to the incredible sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Let us count our blessings, hug our loved ones a little tighter, and indulge in some incredibly delicious food around a table with our closest loved ones. Wishing you and yours a very blessed Easter.

A Comfort Food Concoction

Most Saturday mornings, the boys and I venture out to our neighborhood H-E-B for my weekly grocery run. Oftentimes, Liam is still in his pajamas and the boys enjoy breakfast in the shopping cart as I peruse the aisles stocking up on the essentials and the more wildcard items that end up on my weekend menu. The two of them indulge in fresh donuts with sprinkles or flaky blueberry muffins sprinkled with sugar. The trip probably takes longer than it should as I pause at almost every aisle to break off a piece of the muffin and hand it to Atticus. There are a lot of, “Oooo’s and mmmmm’s!” Two of Atticus’s most favorite phrases when enjoying good food. The easy exchange and back and forth banter between the three of us, makes the weekly grocery trip something I look forward to. The ease and simplicity of it makes grocery shopping seem like anything but a chore.

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This particular weekend, I was inspired by a sale on sausage at H-E-B. At two for $5, I added a pound of Italian and sage sausage to my cart. As I continued to shop, I happened upon their frozen Central Market demi baguettes. I usually like to keep these on hand for when I need them in a pinch to accompany a fresh pasta dish or pot of soup. This weekend, however, they became the brainchild for dinner. I consulted Pinterest for some ideas and found the perfect recipe for all of the ingredients I had on hand. With the help of yellowblissroad.com, I adapted the homemade Italian sausage meatballs to create a comfort food concoction that proved to be an ideal marriage of savory, spicy, and flavorful in each and every bite.

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So without further ado, I present to you marina meatball subs paired with Italian roasted potatoes. Buon appetito!

MEATBALL SUBS

Ingredients:

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  • 1 pound Italian sausage
  • 1/2 sweet yellow onion, diced
  • 2-3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1/2 Italian style bread crumbs
  • 1 egg

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Line a baking sheet and spray with non-stick cooking spray.

In a skillet on medium high heat, sauté the onions until translucent. Then add the garlic and cook until fragrant. Set aside and allow to cool.

In a large mixing bowl, combine the sausage, breadcrumbs, egg, Parmesan cheese, and onions. Don’t be afraid to get your hands dirty as you mix all of the ingredients together. Be mindful that over mixing can lead to tough meatballs.

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Divide the meat mixture into 24 equal sized meatballs and place on the foil lined baking sheet.

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Bake for about 20 minutes. A good indicator that they are ready is when they no longer look pink.

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I made these on a Sunday afternoon and then added them to a pot with jarred tomato and basil to reheat them for dinner. I used demi baguettes as the base for my meatballs subs, but ciabatta bread would also be a great option. Spoon the meatballs and sauce onto your bread and top with grated mozzarella cheese.

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ITALIAN ROASTED POTATOES

Baby potatoes would be better suited for this dish, but I already had fresh Russet potatoes on hand so I opted for those instead. I sliced them all about the same size so that they would could more evenly. If you used baby potatoes, it would be best to cut them in half. This recipe was adapted from rasamalaysia.com. 

Ingredients:

  • 1 pound potatoes, cut evenly
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
  • sea salt to taste
  • 2 to 3 dashes of paprika depending on your preference for heat
  • 1/3 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cubed

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Clean and rinse the potatoes before cutting.

In a cast iron skillet, heat the olive oil on medium high heat. Add the potatoes and cook until the potatoes begin to get crispy. Continue stirring to allow them to brown. Push the potatoes to one side and sauté the garlic. Then add the Italian seasoning, salt, and paprika. Combine well. Turn off the burner and sprinkle the grated cheese atop the potatoes. Transfer the skillet to the oven and roast for 15 to 20 minutes. Add the butter cubes to the top of the dish upon removal from the oven and allow the butter to melt into the crevices. Serve immediately for the best flavor outcome!

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