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An Annual Tradition Revisted

About seven and a half years ago I became a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. It was really a big, life changing moment in my life, and in a lot of ways, I felt like that was when my life really began, and when a lot of great and positive things started happening for me. After  I got baptized, I became obsessed with taking pictures, and then told everyone that they were going to go into my "First-Year-of-Being-A-Mormon-Scrapbook".

It kind of turned into this big joke in college, and whenever I took a picture of anything people would always say, "oh, this is going to go into her scrapbook!" After my first year, I had over two hundred pictures of really meaningful things all chronologically organized into a really pretty photo album that I'd spent a couple hours putting together. 

Because I'd had such great success with the first year book, I decided that I would make a new photo album every year, from September 12th through September 11th of the following year, and each book would document my life as a "Mormon".

I did a great job with staying on top of these photo albums the first three years, until Jay was about a year old. Then I became pregnant with Em, and her entire pregnancy, and then raising her the last two and a half years, and a blogging career... all of a sudden four years had passed by without me making another album. Luckily, I've always had the intention to go back and make more albums, so I've organized my pictures very meticulously over the last several years. 

A few weeks ago I found out about Shutterfly's "Make My Book" service, where you simply upload your pictures to their site and they literally put an entire photo book together for you. It was seriously the most amazing thing in the world. Since my pictures are so well organized, all  I had to do was upload all my pictures, which took about 10 minutes, and then pick a color scheme for my book. Shutterfly's designers took over the rest with laying the pictures out in chronological order, and then sent it back to me within a day to review. 

I was able to go in and type in a few notes or details next to some pictures, make color choices for the text, and the cover, and move a couple things here and there if necessary, and then my entire book was complete. It made this overwhelming task of catching up on four years worth of photo books so much easier. Now that I have my fourth book complete, I want to get the last three done before I have to start making year eight in September.

I loved watching Jay and Em flip through this book together. Jay loved looking at pictures from "when he was a baby", and Em loved shouting, "DADDY! DADDY!" each time Jay turned the page. I remember how much I loved looking through photo albums when I was younger, and it's so fun to get to share that magic with my kids now too. There really is nothing better then getting to relive fun family memories again and again.

A Preschool Valentine's Day Party

A few weeks ago I thought it would be really fun to throw a party at our house for all the preschool aged kids at church who weren't in school to exchange Valentine's with people. I was a little nervous because it was the first time since we've lived in our new house where I've really thrown myself out there and invited a lot of people over, and I was really hoping that it would be a success.

As it turns out, the party went over so well that there is talk about repeating it for St. Patrick's Day, Easter, and any  other holiday we can make up between now, and when school gets out in May. There were a total of eight moms and thirteen kids, and everything went seamlessly. When we threw Jay his birthday party over the summer, I didn't do a good job of leading the kids through the activities, so it was kind  of just chaos the entire time. 

This time I took charge from the beginning and directed the moms to the kitchen right when they got there so that their kids could decorate their Valentine's Day boxes. We had a wide spread of stickers, markers, and glue where kids could create their own designs, and when everyone was done, and their glue was dried, we headed into the living room to pass out cards and play some games.

I was originally going to do two games, but because things were going at a good pace, and I didn't feel like I needed to scramble to add more time, we just stuck with one, and then headed back into the kitchen to eat. While we were all playing games and passing out cards, Derek was in the kitchen cleaning up, and very carefully organizing all my craft supplies. I didn't even realize that until I went to reorganize everything the day after the party and everything was already perfectly back in it's place. Bless him for that, bless him.

I kept things really simple for the food. I bought three boxes of muffin mix the night before and whipped up three dozen muffins. I then dipped some pretzel rods in chocolate, and then in sprinkles, and called that good. Marshmallows also got the same dipped in chocolate and then in sprinkle treatment. I then took a Wilton Edible Food Marker and wrote cheesy Valentine's Day sayings all over a bag of clementines, and the food was complete. 

This really was such a fun way to get a big group of moms together to chat and have fun with one another, and bonus points that with 13 kids in the house, the only squabble to ever happen was when Jay got upset with someone for touching his balloon... which he proceeded to hold for the rest of  the party.

Come Hang Out with Me in Atlanta

This post is sponsored by Everywhere Agency on Behalf of Macy's; however, all thoughts and opinions are my own. 

One thing about blogging that I really love is that once in a while I get the opportunity to attend some really awesome events, and share them with my readers. It's rare however, when I'm able to invite all my local friends to tag along with me! 

This Friday night, if you're going to be in the Atlanta area, come hang out with me at Macy's Lenox Square where you can attend a Culinary Council event with Chef Marcus Samuelsson to celebrate his new cookbook, The Red Rooster Cookbook: The Story of Food and Hustle in Harlem and Black History Month. Being a writer from New York myself, I'm so excited to hear about his life and successes that he's found and made for himself. 

Not only am I excited to learn some new kitchen skills from Marcus (and hello, samples!), but there is also going to be a live performances by Harlem-based band The Rakiem Walker Project and NYC-based dance group W.A.F.F.L.E.! 

Marcus Sameulsson was born in Ethiopia and raised in Sweden so he brings a unique fusion of foods and flavors to the table, which I'm super excited to see, and taste! 

So if you're going to be in the Atlanta, GA area Friday night 2/17/17 then come hang out with me, and see Marcus Samuelsson put on an amazing cooking show at 7pm. You can RSVP tot he event for free here, and when you do, you'll get a $10 gift card at the door! 

Weekly Menu Plan and Grocery Haul #5

Last week when I was making our menu, I couldn't find anything on Pinterest that looked good, and I couldn't remember anything that I'd seen floating around the blogging world, so we just kept it really simple and basic. These are the weeks that Derek prefers the most because he know's what to expect at each meal instead of some some random meal that I'm testing out on him. 

1. Baked Potatoes: You likely don't need a guide or recipe on how to make these, but in case you do, I found this guide from The Kitchn to be pretty helpful. It shares three different ways to make baked potatoes and the various cooking times. I feel like I can never remember when I go to make them, so I find myself referring back to here often. 

2. Tomato Soup: It's been a while since I've made tomato soup from scratch, so when I saw this recipe from The Girl Who Ate Everything pop up on my bloglovin' feed last week, I knew we were going to give it a try. I paired it with some grilled cheese sandwiches, and everyone loved it.

3. Cheesy Party Burgers: I ironically don't even follow Kevin and Amanda on any form of social media, and yet I always wind up making something from their blog at least once a week, or so it seems. We made these "Party Burgers" on Friday night and they were super simple, and delicious... to me at least. Derek only ate one, the kids didn't touch it, and between dinner that night and lunch the next day... I ate four, so take this information for what it's worth. 

4. German Pancakes: Is anyone else confused by how many names these things have? German pancakes, oven pancakes, dutch babies, and now according to Jay "Idaho Pancakes" because we had them several times when we were in Idaho for Christmas. I definitely need to update the picture for this on my blog at some point, but this recipe still holds true, these are delicious. 

5. Sloppy Joes: When I was making the menu plan last week I asked Derek if there was anything in particular that he definitely wanted to have, and he said sloppy joes, so  I made it happen for him. This is one of our all time favorite recipes, and I filmed Jay and I making them together this week here. 

The End of Our Homeschool Era

I've talked a lot about our choice to homeschool Jay for preschool, what our curriculum looked like, and that if we had the choice, we wouldn't be holding him back from Kindergarten this upcoming school year. As it turns out, the new Georgia law for birthday deadlines and Kindergarten attendance is not changing, and so we do in fact, have a choice.

Derek and I have always been on the same page with our kids and their education. Our stance is that we pray for each kid, each year, and decide what will work best for them. Jay has always shown interest in pursuing academics and wanting to learn and do worksheets and projects at home, which is why I started doing a preschool workbook with him right when he turned three. It's always been one of his favorite times of the day, and he's always picked up on topics really quickly. Most recently he's learned a few facts about George Washington, and loves to tell them to anyone who will listen, and can also tell you Abraham Lincoln's name when shown a picture of him. He's a pretty bright boy which is why despite him being four when the school year starts in July, we will be sending him to Kindergarten at our local public school this fall (summer). 

There are some reservations and hesitations that I have with sending him, and I am prepared to pull him out and homeschool him for Kindergarten if needed, but I think our best bet, in this moment is to send him. My main concerns are that Jay has never been in a classroom setting, and he's pretty shy, so if someone hands him a worksheet and says, "here do this", I wonder if he's just going to stare blankly at his teacher and just not do the worksheet. And then because he doesn't do any of the worksheets, he fails out of kindergarten, or the teacher says he has behavioral problems, even though he's just shy and needs to be shown a little love, and then the entire thing backfires and there's a lot of fingers pointing at me saying, "I told you so." Which I'm fully ready to accept and swallow that when the time comes. It also takes him FOREVER to eat his food sometimes, so I worry that he's never going to eat his food in the cafeteria, and then he's going to be hungry, and then he'll be cranky, and then he won't do his worksheets, and then they'll label him with behavioral problems even though it's just hunger and then we're back to square one again. Also, I have no idea where this "worksheet anxiety" is coming from, please tell me it's a real thing... 

When we put the fears aside though, there are many reasons why we feel sending him is the right decision, and I'd like to share some of those with you as well. The most important one is that he's verbally said that he wants to go to school next year, and that he want's to ride the school bus, and that he wants to bring a lunch in his lunchbox, and for a kid who is as shy as he is, I feel like I need to honor his request for bravery. I need to be able to support him in his desire to spread those wings. 

Another reason we think it's best to send him is because Em will be attending the special needs preschool for children with disabilities for ages 3-4 at the same public school. So in that case, how do you tell your child who has said that he wants to go to school, "Sorry, your little sister who is two years younger than you is going to go to school, but you'll have to wait just one more year." There was even a ton of hesitation with sending Em to the special needs preschool. My main thoughts were, "Why on earth does my sweet baby who is so little need to be going to school everyday?" I fought it tooth and nail for a while until someone from back home who is a TA in a special needs classroom told me, "You need to think of what's best for Em when she's a 25-year-old adult, and not as a three-year-old little girl." And then there were the tears, and the sobs, and knowing that she was right, but feeling so helpless and so lost in the entire process as well. 

And then God stepped in, twice. The first time was around November when I was raking leaves in the front yard. A little boy who lives two doors down wandered into our yard, and then his mom cam over looking for him. He and Jay played, while the mom and I talked for a while. After a few minutes it had come up that Em had special needs, and then she'd told me that her son was in the special needs classroom at our local public school. She'd told me all about her fears with sending her kids to school, how she was half in the door, half out with homeschooling vs public school, and how she was going to drive her kids instead of the bus... literally all these same thoughts and feelings that I had, she had too. She then told me that she ultimately decided to send both of her kids (she has a daughter in 1st and the son is 5), because of her son with special needs, and she said that she has had zero problems with the school, that it's the greatest school ever, and that even though she was hesitant about the school bus, there has been zero problems. She even said that the special needs department is what mainly sold her on the school and that all the teachers there have been nothing short of amazing. Her son didn't attend the special needs preschool like Em will, but her overall approval of the school was so comforting to my worrying heart. 

A couple weeks later someone from the HOA in our neighborhood came over to our house to talk to us about ordering a new mailbox since ours was broken, and then he started telling me about another family who lived a street over who has kids that were one year older than both of my kids, but that the younger child had Down Syndrome, and that I should meet her sometime. 

Since that conversation, I'd been on the lookout for her around the neighborhood when we go on walks, or to the playground, and then on Martin Luther King Day, we finally met. We were both at the park with our kids and Em was in the swing  and she was playing with her younger son a few feet away, and then I spotted her older son, and knew exactly who she was (but I of course had to act like  I hadn't been seeking her out for weeks...)

I said, "Hey I have a random question for you... Does your older son attend Kindergarten at (insert name of local public school here)?" She said yes, and then went on and on about how much she loved the school and then followed with, "My youngest is actually at the preschool there too, and I couldn't be happier with it." I then told her without going into too much detail about Em that she would be attending the preschool next year too and she said, "I just really love that I don't have to worry about where my kid is each day, and that I know he's in the best hands possible." 

It was piercing daggers right to my mommy heart. The words that I needed all along. Everything is going to be okay. It was that five minute conversation on the playground that reaffirmed for the thousandth time, this is why we needed to be here. This is why the Lord put us in this house. This is why we had the most horrific home buying experience. Heavenly Father was just waiting for us to find this house, for this school district, to meet these families, these neighbors. It's that constant reminder that we need to just trust in the journey. This is where our children need to be.