Monday, April 27, 2015

Black & Gold Bridal Shower

If you know me at all, you know I love a good celebration! Especially when the event is for someone I love and adore, I cannot wait to shower them with a day totally set apart from any other. SO, when my sister-in-law and soon-to-be brother-in-law got engaged last Spring, I knew right away that a bridal shower for her was in my party-planning future! And thankfully, she agreed and the other sisters-in-law got together and threw a beautiful, fun bridal shower lunch a couple week ago.

We wanted to keep things classy and modern, like the bride and her wedding. We stuck with black, white and gold, and I got to be in charge of my very favorite party detail: the dessert table! I mean, who doesn't love a tasty and beautiful dessert table?!


I made two styles of chocolate covered strawberries, and watched as they were the first treat to be completely devoured by the shower guests! I also made dark chocolate swirled popcorn, simply air popping a batch of popcorn then spooning strips of melted Ghiardelli chocolate all over it. Yum!! Did I mention I love dessert tables?! 

My sister-in-law added some delicious cinnamon roll macaroons and the ever-addictive chocolate dipped Oreos. I also made Reese's Peanut Butter Cup Rice Krispy Pops, which received rave reviews from everyone I caught eating one. AND, I'll be sharing that recipe with you soon!! 

I made a "date night" basket of six pre-planned dates for the bride and groom to enjoy during their first year. Isn't love fun?! So excited to attend the wedding in a couple weeks!!



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Thursday, April 23, 2015

It's All About Me: On Choosing to be a Stay-at-Home Mom


Two years ago, when I first announced that I was going to be leaving my office job in order to transition to being a "full-time, stay-at-home mom", I wrote this post. At the time, I was experiencing a lot of frustration from all the comments spoken to me regarding my upcoming switch. The comments were almost exclusively from other women and sounded like this: "If staying home makes you happy, that's great. I'd just go insane staying at home all day. My kids drive me crazy enough on the weekends!" and "Oh, good for you! I'd be bored to death being at home all day. I really need the mental break that going to work gives me."
One of my gut reactions as I processed these comments was to make it clear that I had not come to this tough decision based solely on my own desires and well-being. I was irked that the automatic assumption was that I must be a person that did not need the mental break of work, that I was uniquely capable of not going insane with being home all day or that my kids would never annoy me sometimes, let alone regularly. 
The comments these women made seemed to universally imply that I was uniquely gifted to be willing to make such a switch. They also seemed to quickly and casually lump me in with all the assumed characteristics of these stereotypical categories: Motherly Type, Homebody, Kid Person. I felt very misunderstood, mislabeled, and as a result, quite frustrated. At the time I wrote this,I'm not staying home because I think it will be easy or fun. I'm not staying home because it makes sense financially. I'm not staying home because I hate my job or have no career prospects. I'm not staying home because I think it will be mentally stimulating or energizing. This is not about {me}." 
  
Now, just over two years into the Big Switch and deep in the “muck and mire” of being home with two young kiddos, I have gained some insight and a lot of appreciation for what being a "stay-at-home" mom is, and also what it definitely is not. I have softened from my gut reactions to those earlier comments, and readily acknowledge that some of my decision to be home with my kids really was about me, in the sense that I had a driving vision about what it looked like to raise my children and saw it as a great honor to get to be the one primarily nurturing their lives. 
I had a vision of being emotionally engaged with my children, of growing together as lifelong learners and of working through life's toughest issues, moment-by-moment. Switching to be home full-time allowed me to live in alignment with this deep value, and in that sense, being at home with my kids is all about me
When I was working, I was keenly aware of sacrificing getting to be a part of all those precious, daily moments in my kids' lives. But now that I am staying home, I am keenly aware of sacrificing the mental break and stimulation that getting to be in an office with adults all day brings. When I was working, I sacrificed getting to be the one to hush a hurt or hug before nap. But now that I am staying home, I am sacrificing any sense of personal space or physical boundaries. 
Being a stay-at-home mom is certainly not the path of a martyr, but it is also not the path for the faint of heart. I think it should be acknowledge both for the sacrifice it is and for the privilege it is. 

Two years ago, feeling frustrated and misunderstood, it was hard to see past the either/ors. It was hard not to just fall into the same stereotyping trap that others had put me in, labeling these women "out" and those women "in," these families "right" and those families "wrong." It was hard not to elevate my own sacrifices in light of feeling so diminished by other women. 

But today I can embrace this: Choosing to stay home is not what makes the most sense for every family. I am only responsible for my own decision, and it is a hard, personal decision that does not fit into the comfortable either/or categories our society prefers to function within. Either choosing to stay at home or choosing to work outside the home can both be seen as a great sacrifice and a great privilege. 
I now know that choosing to stay home with my kids is both all about me and all about them. It both satisfies me deeply and saps me completely. It both makes me bend to me knees in gratitude and bolt out the door in desperation. It is both the greatest honor of my life and the greatest challenge. And I wouldn't change it for the world. 

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Monday, April 20, 2015

Layered Jello Dessert
























If you want an easy way to add color to any dessert table, try this yummy Layered Jello Dessert recipe. I have used it in many of my parties because it is just so versatile, colorful and fun! Here's what you'll need: 

INGREDIENTS

At least two boxes of jello (you can use as many colors as you'd like!)
1/3 cup of sour cream per box of jello
Cool whip & sprinkles to top

1) Prepare boiling water and choose which color of Jello you will layer first. Mix 1 cup of boiling water with your first color of jello, stirring until Jello is fully dissolved. 

2) Split the jello into two equal portions, setting one portion aside and adding two ice cubes to the remaining portion. Stir the portion with ice cubes until completely melted, then pour equal amounts into your serving dishes. I like to serve these in individual glasses, but it will work just the same to serve in one large glass bowl. Put in refrigerator for 15-20 minutes to set.

3) Once your first layer is set, add 1/3 cup of sour cream to the remaining half of your first Jello color. Whisk until thoroughly blended, then pour evenly in serving glasses. Put in refrigerator for 15-20 minutes to set.



4) Repeat steps 1-4 for each color of Jello, being sure to allow each layer to set thoroughly before adding your next layer. 



Here is an adorable Anchors Away Baby Shower where I did this Layered Jello Dessert in pink and blue. You can use all pastels for Easter, red and blue for the Fourth of July - the possibilities are truly endless!



From my son's recent Glow in the Dark birthday party, these green and blue Layered Jello Desserts were a main feature on the dessert table. 


Have fun mix and matching with colors!

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Thursday, April 16, 2015

Because Perfection Isn't Real

Almost two years ago to the day, I posted about a simple organization project I did in the kids' playroom. It included the usual: labeled bins, color coordination, organized toys, everything in it's place. I was only two months into my new gig as a stay-at-home mom, and full of energy and ambition about the days ahead. I was eager to instill an early sense of responsibility in the kids and, let's be honest, I also really wanted a cute playroom that I could enjoy spending much of my days in. Thus, our playroom remodel on the cheap...


I spent at least the first year after completing this project pushing myself and the kids to maintain a level of order and "cuteness" in their playroom that frankly ended up driving us all crazy. I would be like, "Oh my God! Why is this tiny car in the "Blocks" bucket again?! Whoa, whoa, whoa! Who put this squishy ball with the trains?!" and this would send me into a session of frenzied sorting until once again every label accurately defined what was inside each bin. 

Slowly, as we accumulated new toys and outgrew old ones - and as I lost some of my initial SAHM energy and ambition - several bins lost their labels altogether and many toys were inaccurately sorted.  I eased up on the kids, only asking them to assist with clean-up once or twice a week, rather than after every play session.

Much of these external changes were a result of deep internal changes occurring in my life. I was moving from a place of perfectionism, appearances and striving, and finding my footing in a beautiful place of authenticity, vulnerability and uncertainty. 
I was learning to love myself for my essence, not my exertion. I was learning to speak my truth, to own my voice, and to let that be enough. I was learning that perfection isn't real. 

This is our playroom today. It has looked like this for the past couple of weeks, and will probably go back and forth between this state of outright-chaos and one of semi-organization throughout the coming months and years. 

Author Parker Palmer wisely says, "Wholeness does not mean perfection: it means embracing brokenness as an integral part of life." As mamas, and as humans, I think we need a lot more of this truth running through our veins. 
We need the courage and the freedom to show the imperfect sides of ourselves and our lives - our makeup-less faces, our midnight fears, our messy homes. Not because messes are a virtue, but because they are a real part of life, sometimes in our homes, but often in us



Momastery's Glennon Doyle Melton wrote in her book, Carry on Warrior, "Since brokenness is the way of folks, the only way to live peacefully is to forgive everyone constantly, including yourself." I find myself needing to forgive, myself most of all, every single day. 
If you find messes in your life today, know you are not alone. Because perfection isn't real. And you are enough. 


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Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Get Your Glow On: A Glow in the Dark Birthday Party


Ya'll, my little guy is now four-years-old. Four!! Where over almost 1,500 days went, I have no idea. Can someone please stop time before I have a heart attack?! 

For Kyler's fourth birthday party, he was insistent early on that he wanted a "Glow in the Dark Sword" theme. I have no idea where he came up with such an idea, but I did my best to roll with it. And thanks to the amazing help of my little sister, we were able to pull off some great ideas and ended up with a super-fun glow-themed party. I'm excited to share the party with you today!

 

There were three main areas that we focused on for the party: a dessert table, a blacked-out basement, and a glowing garage. We used hundreds of glow sticks and LED finger lights, plus lots of black table clothes and black fabric to accomplish as much of a glow effect as possible. 
Fair warning: I purchased just about every glow-in-the-dark product available on Amazon, and found that only about half of them lived up to their name. From my experience, I wouldn't bother with glow-in-the-dark spray paint, glow-in-the-dark bouncy balls or glow-in-the-dark face paint. We were extremely disappointed with all three. Thankfully, we had dozens of LED finger lights and lots of Silly Spray, which were by far the best purchases I made! 

Kyler loves swords, but a blacked-out basement filled with a dozen or so toddlers all carrying swords seemed like a terrible idea. Or maybe I was just being paranoid? Anyway, to incorporate his wish for swords, we compromised on making sword sugar cookies that could be "stabbed" into tubs of icing. Kyler was happy and nobody lost an eye. Phew!

To the dessert table, we also added my personal party staple: lots of cupcakes with cute toppers & wraps. And for added color and fun, I made rainbow jello cups and green Rice Krispy pops


My best tips for a glow party: Lots of LED finger lights and splurge on high quality glow bracelets/sticks. Then turn the music up & enjoy! (feel free to message me if you have any questions)
Big THANK YOU'S to Kyler's Uncle TJ for photographing the party & to Kyler's Aunt Chelle for being the creative brain & hands behind most of what you see!


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Wednesday, April 8, 2015

One Thing At a Time: An Evening at Urgent Care

This Winter really gave me a run for my money as a stay-at-home mom. I found myself losing my temper and resorting to an octave I didn’t even know I could register. Sometimes I would descend into a lion-like growl, depleted and desperate to get the kids to listen to me, surprised by the new shapes my face could contort into. 
Typically I love being with my kids – and regularly volunteer to help watch friends’ and families’ kids. We just got our license as foster parents and are in the process of adopting internationally. Kids are a part of my every heartbeat, and in many ways I feel most myself around them. And yet, being with my children can also be one of the most discouraging, draining, downright miserable experiences I know. 
Take the other day for instance. At two o’clock, kids down for naps, I found a second to finally text a friend about the plans we had made for that evening. Our original goal was to meet for an exercise class, but after the post-Easter, sugar-induced craziness I had experienced with the kids all morning, I was rapidly faltering in my motivation to intentionally exert more energy. I texted her, “Hey! Kinda a rough day with the kids. Thinking of canceling class…”
Within seconds she responded, “Dude, I’m having a super rough day with the kids too. I haven’t even brushed my teeth cuz they’ve been walking tornadoes of fighting and destruction.” 
After a quick, audible chuckle in my silent house, I replied, “Haha, yeah I haven’t brushed my teeth and I am still bra-less...and I just got caught by my neighbor for an impromptu half-hour conversation outside! Let's cancel class.”
Now, two or three years ago, I would have snuffed a haughty, “Who doesn’t have time to at least put a damn bra on?!” Okay, I probably actually said that exact thing last week. But who’s counting? 
The truth is, I don’t have a newborn or a terminally-ill child. I don’t even have sick or particularly difficult kids. I have a husband that is extremely supportive and helpful, doing his fair share of cleaning and laundry and kiddo-rallying so that I can go on adult-only outings and take time alone to write. We are a relatively comfortable middle-class family, meaning that although my husband’s teaching salary is limiting in many ways, we in no way struggle to feed ourselves or even enjoy regular, fun outings. I have a great support network, family and friends within a minute’s reach. So, it’d be fair to say, I don’t have any excuses.
And yet, here I was, at two o’clock in the afternoon, bra-less, grimy, trudging around the house in sweats and trying to find the energy to take a shower. I had been having chest pains all morning, which I assumed were due to stress, and had found myself breathless and needing to sit down on a few occasions. 
Feeling so exhausted, I had sent the kids to play in their rooms on their own while I made a business call, which resulted in muddy feet, thirteen wardrobe changes, clothes and toys scattered in every room of every floor and obscene amounts of Easter candy quickly snuck and as quickly consumed. 


This is a purchased image, not me! :) 
A little over two years ago, I wrote this post about transitioning to being a stay-at-home mom. I was giddy with joy about finally being able to be home with my babies, whom I had very unwillingly left every day for the first two years of their lives. I believed in and was motivated by the privilege of getting to be their primary life-lesson teacher, adventure-partner and nurturer.  I was desperate to be a part of all those little moments that I had missed over their earliest years. 
Today, I still believe being home with my children is an enormous privilege and I still get teary-eyed about the enormous honor it is to be their mother. But, seven hundred some days later, my idealistic SAHM goggles have been wiped clean with lots of snot and mud and poop and I can see things with perhaps a little more realism. I can see, many days, how my brain seems to melt into mush within an hour or two of having only toddlers around to relate to. I can see how the constant awareness of such a huge responsibility wears away at my energy, causes chest pains and leaves me bra-less at 2:00. 
Perhaps the biggest difference in what I expected SAHM life to be like, and what is has actually been, is that I never originally factored into all my calculations continuing to work while staying home. 
I had started a small business on Etsy prior to the transition, but was spending minimal time outside of my day job investing in it and did not foresee it becoming a significant source of income. However, within a couple months of making the switch to being home full-time, NBrynn Designs started to take off and by the end of the year was requiring almost 20 hours of my week. The business continued to grow into the next year, when a family tragedy also revealed the deep need I had to incorporate writing as a regular part of my life for mental health. 
So here I am, just over two years into my “dream job” of being home with my kids, also running a thriving business and investing significant amounts of time into writing and self-care. 
On any given day, I am mentally and physically torn in a minimum of three directions: The needs of my kids - lofty dreams of learning together and creating together and emotionally engaging throughout the day. The needs of my business – responding to customer requests, dealing with finances and creating and shipping products. The needs of my heart and mind – finding time to write, to edit, to connect, to read, to process the days. Then, of course, there are floors to sweep and nourishment to prepare and friends to text and, uhhhh, well…that’s how I end up bra-less at 2:00 in the afternoon.   
I listened to an interview with Arianna Huffington, creator and CEO of the Huffington Post (www.huffingtonpost.com) recently and was struck by a comment she made. She said that a few years ago, she did away with multi-tasking. She said, up until that point, she had never taken off her make-up or prepared a meal without also making a business call or responding to an email. She worked 12-14 hour days, 7 days a week and usually slept less than five hours a night. 

Arianna's own mother called her out on her addiction to multi-tasking one day, as she opened and read mail while catching up with her daughters after work. Her mother very plainly said, “I abhor multi-tasking.” And soon, Arianna realized why. When we try to do more than one thing at a time, we’re not fully invested in any one thing. We lose the benefit of “getting lost” in the moment by focusing all of our creative energies on the task at hand. We’re always a step ahead or behind the moment we are actually living. 
I know we all know this, but do we know it. I don’t. 
These ideas were soul-crushing for me, an entrenched multi-tasker for as long as I can remember. I have been applauded for and have congratulated myself for my multi-tasking abilities more times than I can count, brushing my teeth while finger-tapping a one handed email, responding to a customer while going to the bathroom, making doctor appointments while driving to a playdate.  In college, in order to fit more into my days, I would schedule hangout times with friends at the laundromat so that I could wash my clothes at the same time. I would change my clothes in the car while driving to my second job (God knows how I and all those around me are still alive). I would even take friends to the grocery with me, “killing two birds with one stone.”  And today, I listen to a book on tape while making a bow tie while talking to my husband about the day. I have never done one-thing-at-a-time well. 
At first, I thought my propensity toward multi-tasking served me quite well as a new stay-at-home mom. I could grow a business, keep the house clean and still get to spend large chunks of the day with my babies. I could write during naptime, learn to cook nourishing food with the kids by my side and spend more time with friends during playdates. But now – chest pains and several bra-less days later – I wonder if I have gotten something wrong. 
I wonder if in all my multi-tasking, I am robbing myself of a single focus essential to mental and physical health. I wonder - in my own words from a few months ago - if fitting more into the day is not the legacy I really want to leave?  If instead I am missing the gift of the present moment by cramming so much into my days.
If I’ve heard it once, I have said it a thousand times: There is never enough time in the day. A few years ago, I made a similar comment about our home. Feeling cramped and like perhaps we had outgrown our 1,800 square foot home, I commented to a friend, “I think we may start house-hunting soon. I just feel like we don’t have enough space in our house now.” She very boldly – and very wisely – said, “That is awfully American of you. You have more space than most people in the world. Maybe you just need to figure out better ways of using it.” 
I took her comment to heart, knowing she was speaking to values that I also held. It wasn’t actually more space that we needed – I had bought into a lie. Soon, we turned our master bedroom into a family art and learning space and moved our now-frameless queen bed into the tiny front office. We adjusted and restructured our space to align with our priorities as a family. And we have been happier ever since.

I have never done one-at-a-time well. I try to coach myself into slowness with Yoga and gratitude lists and hours of writing and reading. But still, I wonder what it would look like to give up on multi-tasking and to restructure my minutes into moments of singularlity. To give each activity my undivided, unstressed attention and to let the next task simply be the next task.  
I wonder, today, if not having enough time in the day is just another lie I have bought into. 
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Monday, April 6, 2015

Asparagus Mozzarella Rolls

 This recipe comes from my sister-in-law, and is now considered a staple at any brunch in our family. I recently served these Asparagus Mozzarella Wraps at Havyn's Ballerina Birthday Party, where they were quickly gobbled up. They are so easy and very tasty!

Normally, I use uncooked asparagus and simply let them cook during the baking process. But this time around I tried sautéing the asparagus for a few minutes prior to baking, and was much more satisfied with the final flavor and texture. 

Ingredients:

Bunch of fresh asparagus
Block of mozzarella cheese (or any cheese really!)
Package of uncooked crescent roll dough
Garlic, salt, pepper, olive oil if sautéing asparagus first

1) Prep by rinsing and trimming your asparagus. I usually cut off the bottom 1-2 inches of each stem. Slice your cheese into 1/4 inch thick slices and set aside.

2) Saute asparagus - I use a teaspoon or two of olive oil and then season with garlic powder, salt and pepper. Cook on medium-high for five minutes, or until starting to soften. Be sure not to overcook, as they will cook more during the baking process. If you're short on time, skip this step completely! 


3) Stack a piece of cheese and 2-3 stalks of asparagus in the center of one uncooked crescent roll, as pictured. Wrap the crescent roll tightly, trying to tuck the edges in so that as much of the cheese is covered as possible. (this will keep all that gooey yumminess inside your wrap!) 

4) Place on baking sheet and follow crescent roll baking instructions. (usually 350 for 12-14 minutes)

5) Remove from oven and serve immediately. These are yummiest when they are soft & warm!



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