I’ve found a new love…

When something wonderful happens in my life, I feel that I have the responsibility of sharing it with others, in hopes of them benefiting as well. Friends – Sh*t got real this week. I discovered something that has apparently been around for awhile and kept as a secret by some obviously cold -hearted people. While shopping at World Market with a friend, she casually pointed to a small jar on a display shelf and asked me “Have you ever tried cookie butter?”. That question was the very basis of my introduction to one of the yummiest flavors I have ever experienced. Those 6 words have changed me forever, and Stacey, you now hold an even more special place in my heart.


Recently, this cookie butter phenomena has been a bit more publicized. Arby’s offers a cookie butter shake (bless them), and Oreo now offers a cookie butter flavored option of their famous cookie (on my list for my next shopping trip). The question remained – what the heck was it? Was it like apple butter, because…yuck. No, I had to assume it was going to be something I would love since part of its very description was COOKIE.  In the back of my mind, I was curious, but had never come across the product before – until World Market. And side note, I am so VERY glad that the closest World Market is a 45 minute drive for me, because I can walk in that store and start spending money like it’s my JOB. I should have known that they would play a part in this amazing introduction.

I bought two jars of cookie butter – I’m no dummy. Once home, I was so excited to open it and find out if it truly would become a new favorite. There were no serving suggestions on the jar, so I took this as a clear indication that only a spoon was required to enjoy this spread. Can we please have a moment of silence?!?!? I was 3 spoonfuls deep into this jar and I can tell you that if I wasn’t already married, I would have married it! It’s creamy and sweet and I honestly can’t imagine spreading it on anything else because then some of the flavor may be lost. It has earned itself the right to be a reward for me as I skip to my pantry with a spoon in my hand. And here’s the best part — the label reads “No artificial flavors, colors or preservatives, VEGAN”.  Somebody pinch me – it’s almost healthy!!!!! 🙂


If you have yet to try this spread, please seek it out. I can’t promise that you will love it as much as I do – BUT WHAT IF YOU DO?!?! I need to hear the opinions of others – do you believe this should a requirement in every home, or is it just me?  I have it on my Christmas wish list already.  When I find joy, I share it. I hope you all have a fantastic week end and get to grab one of your favorite snacks sometime soon!

 

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Worth a thousand words…

For as long as I can remember, I have loved pictures, photo albums and framed prints. My mom has an amazing wall of pictures that spans half of one room. I love to look at this wall every time that I visit and remember the people and events they captured. When I was married over 21 years ago, one of the very first things I did to help make our house feel like a home was to frame and display our favorite memories. I wanted to be surrounded by those that love me, and shared my life experiences . I’m so grateful that my mom shared her love for photography with us – it continues to be a passion of mine to this day.

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I, like most people, do my best to capture the special moments. To document the children as they grow and change right before our eyes. I take pictures of pets that will not be around forever, so that when I see a picture of them in the future, I will remember them with a smile. I take a BUNCH of pictures when we travel, so I can remind myself of the awesome places I’ve seen in this beautiful world. Memorable events like holidays and First Communions are also documented- along with goofy smiling children on a random Tuesday afternoon. All of it brings me joy and lifts my spirits on the days life seems too hard. I was so happy the time one of my friends declared that “The walls of your home look like a scrapbook!”. This is exactly what I want. I love for the company that we have to look around and see all that we treasure displayed on our walls and set on our tables and shelves.

I’m amazed at the rate technology has changed since my earlier years taking pictures. I can still remember how excited I was when I went to the drug store to “pick up my film”! It seemed like forever having to wait the week for it to be developed! I’m still in awe when we attend a wedding and the photographer has the pictures from the wedding ON DISPLAY AT THE RECEPTION! What?! We had to wait almost a month to see our precious wedding pictures! Color me green with envy! And don’t even get me started with the amazing editing options available with the touch of a finger to your phone screen. I remember trying to learn how to “photoshop” back in the day – and after lots of sweating and swearing, it didn’t end well. My children can crop and edit and create videos and more. Sign of the times, I guess – and I love that they can teach it all to me, too. I would be lost without my tech support. My high school senior saved up her money and bought a DLSR camera that makes her mama drool. She has already taken two photography classes and her eye for the beauty around her is impressive. I love to share her joy as we share our favorite pictures. Each of the children do a fantastic job of capturing what is important to them in the world – and they will be able to look back at these pictures for years to come – one of the very best ways to make memories!


In the end, photography means connection to me. Connecting me to my past, to my children, and to the world that I want to memorize in all of its beauty. If I have any advice to give, it’s keep snapping those pictures – you will never regret it!


 

After August…

 This summer was one of trips and transitions. We did a lot, we laughed a lot, I cried a lot. Let me explain. Our oldest child graduated from high school in June. He had been accepted into the College of Engineering at Michigan State University, so our biggest goal of the summer was prepping, packing and leaving him in a dorm one hour and forty-seven minutes from home. In the meantime, we also had a graduation party to throw (at our house) two family vacations, several work trips and various other camps that the girls were attending. All of this while trying to keep my head on straight and not allow my emotions to suck me down a spiraling staircase of reminiscing and yearning for years gone by.

Planning for the party was fun. It was by far the biggest event we have ever had at the house. Once we decided that we would host this shindig at the house, we made a list of about 243,946 projects that we’d like done before “D-Day”. We settled on a few and I became a contractor of sorts, finding companies and setting up appointments. We had a privacy fence installed, we power washed the house, we had carpets cleaned… and we were just getting started. Nothing puts a fire under your tush like having 125 people over! Our son is very low key and wanted the basic “good food” at the party. Easy enough. He had worked at Tony Packo’s for 18 months, and wanted their dogs and chicken paprikash for the main course. We also has chicken salad sandwiches and regular hot dogs for those who were not craving hungarian food. We had side dishes galore and an entire dessert table filled with sweets to celebrate our Spartan. I had fun decorating and sharing all of the mementos from preschool to present with family and friends. The weather was absolutely perfect – 73 degrees and sunny on July 9th – and the day was filled with family and friends that were all anxious to congratulate our graduate. After the last guest left, I took the best nap I have ever taken in my life. I was tired, but mostly relieved that all of our planning had indeed granted us a party that we will never forget.

For the next six weeks, I divided my time between searching for dorm furniture/ supplies and packing, transporting, and unpacking our family for various excursions. We spent a fun week at a cottage with extended family celebrating my sweet mom’s 70th birthday. Steve and I went to Traverse City for a work conference. Mary went to camp for a week with 3 friends and rode horses and swam in the lake, and learned awesome camp songs she shared with us upon her return. We took a final family trip to New York in August. We were thrilled to see the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, the Brooklyn Bridge, the 9/11 Memorial and much, much more. The last few days of our trip we were in Atlantic City and enjoyed a gorgeous few days at the beach.

This last trip will always be very special to me, as it ended an era. The time in which all my children lived under the same roof was coming to a close. My heart ached whenever I imagined having our oldest away at school. Would he be OK? Had we taught him enough? Did he know how very much he is loved? Would he ever change his sheets?! I would worry, question my self, doubt my parenting and fret over mistakes I’d made raising him. I prayed more than I have prayed ever before. For peace, for strength, for the ability to keep my sh*t together on move- in day. (It’s Ok. God knows I swear.) And my prayers were answered. As the day we moved him in approached, I felt a sense of calm and confidence that he – and I – would be alright.

It has now been almost a month since our oldest went to college. It still doesn’t feel “normal”. In fact, I can’t imagine that his absence will EVER feel normal. But he calls, texts, and facetimes. I have never appreciated technology more! We have seen him twice, before football games, and he looks good and that helps my heart. I’m excited for him to come home next month for the week end – its fun to have that on the calendar.  I have seen him stumble, and then catch himself. I have sat back and given advice and prayed he could handle it alone – and so far, so good. We are doing it! The transition doesn’t come easily, there are tears, stressful phone calls and worried texts. But, there is also growth, encouragement and independence. This adulting business is no joke. But I couldn’t be more proud. There was an immense amount of effort to get us to and through August.  We made it out alive – with only a few bumps along the way and swollen eyes from crying to show for it. Bring it, October! We are ready for more adventures, and no longer fear the future, for we fully understand that God is already there!

My biggest character flaw…

Everyone is good at something. We all have an area in which we excel. Some are extremely creative, organized or out going. Others are great at hosting, event planning or dealing with financial matters. It’s important to know where your skill sets are, and how they can help you succeed. On the other hand, it’s equally important to know the areas in our lives that need improvement. I am AWFUL at asking for help. Really bad at it. Seriously, I’d rather stick a fork in my eye than admit I need assistance or can’t handle something. Being stubborn only makes this worse, and gets me in more trouble. Every. Time.  I have several examples of situations that should have changed my mind about asking for help from others. But apparently, I’m a slow learner. I need to be repeatedly shown that I’m not capable of “going it alone”, nor should I even try that route. God provides these opportunities for growth frequently because He knows this is my weak spot.

Despite my inability to request help, one of my very favorite things to do is offer help to others. To see a need and fill it. To witness a struggle and make it easier for someone else to bear. The world is chock full of chances to assist others, and I love to jump right in! So – if I find joy in helping others, why do I refuse such help from my friends? Crazy. When I see the question on paper, I feel silly and shake my head. But still, I struggle. To bring a meal, pick up a child from practice, watch a toddler so a sick mama can rest – all of that would be appreciated … but would it be accepted if offered? I know I’m not the only one that tries to do it alone.

Pride. It’s a dirty word. It’s my biggest character flaw. I’m too proud to admit when life is indeed getting the best of me, or when I’m just trying to keep my head above water. There have been times that I didn’t know how I would possibly juggle all that needed to be accomplished. Those that know me, understand this – and help anyways. Their help is given in various ways. A text that contains a funny meme or an instant message that insists I am stronger than I believe.  Sometimes, it’s a meal delivered when I am unable to care for my family. Please note – help with my family and I will NEVER forget your kindness. These gestures mean the world to me, so why do I feel like sharing my burdens with those that love me is selfish? Why can’t I accept their love, smile and hug them and move on? How do I so easily forget the joy it brings me when I help others? The best part of friendship is helping each other through our most difficult days. The sickness of our children, the stress of marriage, the caring for our aging parents, the chaos of our typical Tuesday. We all have areas that we could use help in.

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Let’s make a deal. Let’s all be more honest with each other (especially on Fakebook, oops, Facebook).  Let’s try our best to be open about what we encounter that is threatening our sanity . We could even admit when we need an extra set of hands, or one less day of carpool commitment. Less guilt and less perfection. More community and more compassion. I can’t wait to help you out! My guess is that we will all benefit.

My view from behind the grocery cart

As my oldest is finishing his last year of high school, I have been doing a lot of reminiscing. Going through pictures of him as a baby and preschooler has not helped my sappy mood one bit. I find myself painting those years a bit lovelier than they might have been. Sweet smelling, chubby cheeked babies and energy filled toddlers, following my every word and excitedly learning new things and going fun places. If I am being completely honest, there were plenty of days that we all stayed in our pajamas, I was ready for them to nap by 9 am and I was the chubby cheeked one, seeking comfort in the food left on everyone’s plate after every meal. And the sweet smell was the room deodorizing spray that masked the stench of a solid 9 years of diaper duty in the house. But those memories aren’t as fun to recall. Remember how much everyone loved the zoo? Yes, that’s the stuff I’m talking about.

My desire to go back in time is always heightened when I am at the grocery store or Target, where there is never a short supply of Mamas and their littles scattered around.  I glance around, while trying to check things off of my list, and am easily distracted at the interactions between them. I could people watch all day long – and Mamas and their littles are my very favorite to observe. Watching a new Mama walk past me with a peacefully sleeping baby in a car seat nestled in the cart just makes my heart melt. I watch her carefully choose the softest tissues and healthiest yogurts, etc. What I am forgetting is the desperate urgency she was feeling to get through her list before her sweet bundle woke up and started screaming for milkie. Ahhhhh, I will admit that it’s quite a bit more fun to leisurely stroll down the aisles and actually read the ingredient list on an item if necessary. Still, I always thought it was fun to have a helper with me on these trips, and that I miss. Mind you, when my 16 year old took our family’s list for the week and did the shopping for me last month when I was sick – I felt so entirely spoiled and proud!

On the very same trip to the store, just a few steps away, I witnessed a Mama and her preschooler, Carter. I learned his name quickly because she says it repeatedly. Carter wanted yogurt with candy in it. His Mama was trying to get him excited about the low sugar option next to it, with little success. I can assure you that it took tiny Carter about 3 minutes to all together LOSE HIS MIND over the debate.

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I walked away, remembering that I hated having an audience when I was in a similar situation, so I don’t know the outcome. Did Carter get his yogurt?! I can admit to having both thrown the darn sugar filled yogurt in the cart to avoid further embarrassment AND sticking to my guns and carrying a screaming child out of the store. Was it the time/place for a life lesson, or could it wait?! Desperate times call for desperate measures. I do remember that trips to the grocery store with four kids 7 and under was quite a feat. Pulling one cart full of kids and pushing one cart full of food – it made me sweat more than any  work our regime I could create today.

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All in all, when I look around at the young Mamas and children, the one thing I can usually walk away with is the feeling of “Yes, I remember that….”. I’ve been through it, or some form of it. Some of it was good and I would love to go back, and some of it I praise God that I made it out alive, with the kids in tow. I have to admit that I am curious what in my future awaits and how I will deal with it. As a Grandma, will I be extra patient, knowing what can slide and what is most important? Will I have the great advice and words of wisdom and support similar to what my own Mama shared with me as a new Mama? I can only hope and pray that my experience this far as a Mom will help me to continue to guide my teens and future adult children in the least annoying and most effective manner 🙂  In the meantime – it’s back to the grocery store for more observing!

Happy Mother’s Day to all of you who have done their best to raise AWESOME human beings. You are amazing ❤️

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Name that tune…

A few days ago, a friend mentioned how listening to a certain song could easily take her back to a few decades ago and bring with it some pretty intense emotions. I was quick to agree with the concept that music has some very powerful qualities and the ability to connect us to others and ourselves a bit more. I instantly had a few songs in mind that I could share that impacted me the same way.  Hearing certain words can bring emotions, smells, familiar faces and rapid heart beats. It can remind us of pain, exhilaration and hope. I don’t think that musicians can truly understand the way their songs can change our moods, our moments, and our memories. In both good times and bad, events in my past are often linked with a song or artist that will forever be a part of that crisis or celebration for me.

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I sat down and started a list – a list which I simply named “Soundtrack of my life”. I wanted to see how many songs came to mind when I recalled an important episode, experience, or season of my life. This was really a fun list to make, and I can’t wait to compile all of my special songs onto a list on spotify so that I can add to it as new ones pop up!

My eyes are closed and as I think about growing up – I am transported back to my childhood home on Geneva Street. The stereo is blasting Lionel Richie. He fills a a huge part of my musical memory bank. His earlier music with the Commodores was introduced to me by my Mom who only listens to one kind of music…LOUD. Bless her, but she is not a quiet lady – ahem, the apple does not fall far from that tree. We would dance around our house jamming out to Lionel Richie, Pat Benatar, Al Jarreau, John Lennon, James Taylor and Michael Jackson. The radio was always turned on immediately in the car, too. As my high school years approached – I was constantly listening to Maria Carey, Janet Jackson and Boys 2 Men . Upon graduation, I had listened to their song “It’s So Hard To Say Goodbye To Yesterday” so many times that my mom would say “Just say goodbye already!!!”. Good times. College days were lived listening to just about every kind of music – new friends brought new music genres and I found out what I preferred and didn’t like at all (sorry – I’m just not a fan of hard rock or rap … shocking, I know). We listened to music when we studied, when we exercised, when we cooked, and when we hung out discussing how we would conquer the world.

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Our wedding song still holds such a sweet place in my heart. My husband is a huge Elvis fan, and I have liked his music since childhood as well. Fools Rush In was an easy choice for us and we even have a picture hanging up in our front hallway with some of the words to our special song “Take my hand, take my whole life, too”. Whenever we hear it – we smile.

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Another song that will forever be extra special to me is “Not for a Moment – After All” by Meredith Andrews. This song was released around the same time my dad suffered a stroke. My world was turned upside down but when I heard the words to this song, it brought me a deep sensation of hope, love, and comfort from above. To this day, when I hear this song, it brings tears to my eyes.

I am grateful for the impact that music has had on my life. It makes me smile to see how much my own children love their music and how it enhances their own lives.  What are some of your favorite songs, and how have they added to your life?

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ABC’s of Kelly Jean

I wanted to change things up a bit. I found this and thought it would be fun to complete. Let me know if you learn anything new about me 🙂

A – Age – 44

B – BIGGEST FEAR – Losing a loved one

C – CLOCK – 2:50 P.M.

D – DRINK YOU HAD LAST – ice water with lemon slice

E – EASIEST PERSON TO TALK TO – I am lucky to have a whole list – but at the top are my husband and Mom

F – Favorite song – ooooh – so tough – right now, it’s “Rise” by Danny Goakey – speaks to my heart

G – GROSSEST MEMORY – any of the many times my babes had the flu and didn’t even make it *close* to the bathroom… EWWWWWWWWWWW!

H – HOMETOWN – Toledo, Ohio – good old “Glass city”

I – IN LOVE WITH – My God, my Prince of a husband, our 4 crazy kids

J – JEALOUS OF – people with hair they can control, people who don’t swear like a drunken sailor when they are mad, people with personal chefs

K – KINDEST PERSON YOU KNOW – Amy Dillingham (hey, girl!) Someone once nicknamed her “Angel Amy”, and it totally fits her sweet, generous personality

L – LONGEST RELATIONSHIP – Married to my Prince of a hubby for 21 years, 1 month and 12 days… there are days he probably counts the hours, too :/ I also have friendships that are older than 31 years (Lauri Lyn – what’s up?!)

M – MIDDLE NAME – Jean, after my Great Aunt Jeanne who was the sweetest and called everyone “Lovie” (I do that, too – but mostly because I’m awful at remembering names)

N- NUMBER OF SIBLINGS – one – my favorite sister in the world, Tonya – who laughs at my jokes, buys me gifts on Christmas Eve and loves my kiddos like her own!

O – ONE WISH – I hope and pray that Steve and I can live long enough to be an active part of our Grandchildren’s lives – attending their sports events and dance recitals, having sleepovers and sugaring them up before sending them back home!

P – PERSON I LAST TEXTED – Steve. I tend to send him entirely too many short messages and  pictures of the cats during the day.

Q – QUESTION YOU’RE ALWAYS ASKED – “Are you writing another book?” The answer is YES – hopefully many more 🙂 Now for the ACTUAL question I get asked all the time “What’s for dinner?” Answer : “Chicken stir-fry, go wash your hands and set the table, please.”

R – RIGHT OR LEFT HANDED – Right, but my 3rd child is a leftie 🙂

S – SONG THAT MAKES YOU WANT TO DANCE – “CAN’T STOP THE FEELING” Justin Timberlake  There is something about this song – I hear it and just have to dance …. my kids LOVE this, by the way.

T – TIME I WOKE UP – 5, when Steve got our of bed, but then I rolled over and fell back asleep until 6:30 ….. Where. Is . The . Coffee?!

U – UNEXPECTED FOOD FAVORITES – Salt and vinegar chips, fritos and cream cheese,  bagels with cream cheese and capers –  basically anything with salt on it is a friend of mine.

V – VACATION DESTINATION – Italy. I have been there twice now and it is my favorite … the sites, the pasta, the wine. Did I mention the pasta and wine? Countless beautiful things to take pictures of all day and night long.

W – WORST HABIT – swearing. Who knew a former pre-school teacher and children’s author had this MOUTH ?!

Y – YOUR FAVORITE CHILDHOOD MEMORY – I couldn’t possibly choose a favorite – Vacations, holidays and decorating for them, playing with our cats, singing at the top of our lungs to Lionel Richie, taking turns driving (under age) at the apple orchard in the fall, making applesauce with those apples and heating it up and dumping cinnamon on it for breakfast …. and MORE!

ZOO OR SAFARI?  Drive through safari – except when the animals drool on you or won’t leave you alone after you give them a carrot through your window.

So that’s it for today, friends – hope this change of pace was interesting for you to read 🙂