Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Advent: JOY

I love it when God wants me to learn a lesson.

Monday was starting out as a real Monday. One of those Mondayest of Mondays kind of Monday. Everyone woke up cranky. No one had slept well. No one was happy with anything. No one wanted to go to work or to school. We sniped and griped and whined.

The drive was awful. The weather was dreary. Everything about the day was just... monday.

Work wasn't proving to be any fun. The day started with a meeting that announced more changes - positive ones, potentially - but changes are always a bit wearing. Work load, end of year, dismal, dreary, blah.


A day of meetings and busy schedule and a day where I needed to help pick up, pack up, and deliver our company's donations to a local women's housing group.

I co-lead a women's leadership group at work. And our primary outreach focus is on a place that provides women who are homeless due to domestic violence a place to live that is safe for them and their kids. They also receive education assistance, child care assistance, job placement, etc. These families live in this place for up to 2 years until they can thrive and sustain on their own.

It's a really great organization.

This year, our company decided that our women's leadership group would "drive the train" on the company's community outreach efforts for the holiday. So we divided the 2 buildings into teams, each team received a themed basket with a list of ideas under that theme (kitchen, bedroom, transportation, pantry, etc) and a deadline by which to have donations brought in. We also asked for volunteers to help on the day we would be picking up and loading cars and driving the donations to the organization.

There were 2 of us.

Mondayest of Mondays.

We gathered each group's donations. Some were big. Large boxes, bags full of stuff. Some were small. We walked all over 2 buildings - offices and warehouses and production groups. We hauled load after load after load to our 2 vehicles. In the rain. And the wind. We had the wind "steal" pillows and lighter items a few times. It was hard and kind of miserable work.

And we didn't have help. We had people stand and watch as we struggled with doors and weather and boxes and bags.

When we arrived with our 2 carloads of brand new household items to donate to an organization who creates a home for families who have nothing and the women who helped us carry in the donations gushed over how amazing all of this was - that this was far beyond their expectation... my partner in the job felt good.

"This is why we did this."

But I still didn't feel good.

It was still the Mondayest of Mondays. Why wasn't I feeling good like my co-worker?

I still just felt... exhausted, worn, troubled.

Today, it hit me.

It was a lack of coming-togetherness that had felt so off all day long. My family woke up not being together. We were each focused on individual wants or complaints. Same thing at work - everyone is focused on their own struggles. And the same thing with the donation drive and picking up and loading efforts.

Everyone just wants to focus on their own thing and not see anyone else's needs or wants.

It was that realization that filled me with joy. I get my kicks by seeing a need and filling it if I possibly can. I am very grateful to know other people who are also wired this same way. And most days, my family seeks to take care of each other with this same motivation.

If you're cold and I have a sweater, I will give it to you.

If you're hungry and I have a sandwich, I will give it to you.

If you're struggling to get a load of stuff into your car, I will stop and help you.

Not everyone sees the world this way. Not everyone acknowledges the reality of the experiences of other people. But for me, that's what humanity is. We're all the same, we all have struggles. And when we see someone who is really just like us and they are struggling and we have some way of making it better or fixing the problem or at least showing them that they aren't alone... that's where I find joy. It doesn't mean I can fix every problem. It doesn't mean I have any answers. It doesn't mean I have unlimited resources. It just means that I pay attention and when I see a need that I can address, I don't turn away.

Being on the receiving end of people turning away was just setting me up for understanding where my joy comes from. My joy comes not just from me being able to help. My joy comes in seeing others feel the same way. My joy comes when my daughter creates joy for another person by making them feel special. My joy comes when someone reaches out to my son to bring him a teensy bit out of his shy shell. My joy comes when someone stops at an accident scene, someone holds a door, someone puts away an overwhelmed mom's grocery cart, someone takes meals to the homeless, someone spends time with someone who is lonely.

My joy comes from knowing that compassion and love really do exist in the world.

And that's a pretty good lesson to learn.

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Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Happy HOWL-idays! #treatsforall (GIVEAWAY)

Happy Howlidays! 

Don't miss the start of the video - Bandit wants to say HEH-RO! And Happy HOWL-idays to you!

I love the holiday season — the cold weather, the yummy food, and of course, all of the festivities! And what I wish I could do is spoil our Bandito with lots of fun toys... but he's a dog who only loves treats. I am happy to buy toys to donate to our favorite rescue groups in his name, though.

It turns out that I'm not the only dog mama to spoil her pup during this time of year.  That's why I love this super cute website called from Big Heart Pet Brands (the makers of Milk-Bone, Pup-Peroni, Canine Carry Outs, and Milo's Kitchen).  They really know how to celebrate the holidays with your pup!

On, check out some of the fun doggy do-it-yourself ideas they've dreamed up:
My favorite was the Ho-Ho-Howliday Treat Bag - it's mostly easy enough that even not-crafty-me could do it. And it's a fun and easy gift idea for my favorite neighborhood doggie friends!

I'm also loving the homemade paw-print ornament. I've seen these with children's handprints before. Why not have your fur child make an ornament too?

Other great homemade doggy gifts include a treat bouquet, a sweet treat jar, and a ho-ho-howliday treat bag. 
The also asked 3,000 Americans about their dog-related holiday habits, including whether their dog is involved in gift-giving, stocking-stuffing, Christmas sweater-wearing, and other holiday traditions.

What they found is that Americans really LOVE their pets. For instance, did you know 71% of dog parents give gifts to their pups? Have you completed your Christmas doggy shopping yet?

According to the survey, here are the top 5 reasons people give gifts to their dog:
 1. To express love to my dog:  72%
 2. Because it's fun for me:  60%
 3. To help my dog feel included like a family member:  54%
 4. To give my dog a moment of happiness:  53%
 5. To feel closer and bond with my dog:  43%

We get a little bummed because Bandit is such a low maintenance dog - he likes cookies and treats but he doesn't care at all about toys! We'd love to spoil him with balls and stuffed animals but he just ignores our attempts.

The study also shared how often dogs are included into popular Christmas traditions:
1.    48% of dog parents hang a Christmas stocking for their dog.
2.    43% of dog parents include a dog in a photo for a family holiday card.
3.    32% post photos of their dog on social media with a holiday message.
4.    29% dress up their dog in a holiday-themed costume or outfit.
5.    22% make or buy dog-themed holiday decorations.

For photos and instructions on how to add more dog-related fun to your home holiday traditions, check out these cool projects they have here: 
Finally, want to know which states have the most spoiled pups?

The 2015 Santa Dog Index ranks states based on how much, on average, dog parents will spend on their furry kids:

Top 10 States That Spend the Most on Holiday Gifts for Dogs:
 1. New Jersey: $29.61 (average gift spending per dog for state residents)
 2. New York: $28.95
 3. Pennsylvania: $28.75
 4. Utah: $27.75
 5. Georgia: $27.04
 6. California: $26.07
 7. Washington: $25.81
 8. Florida: $25.13
 9. Illinois: $24.98
 10. Virginia: $24.58

Apparently, it's good to be a dog in the New York tri-state area.  You can find the complete rankings of all 50 states at

One final thing:  The folks at have generously offered to give away a FREE Christmas doggy care package filled with some of the most delicious stocking stuffer treats for your pup.

To be entered to win the care package, just visit this DIY decor article on and tell me in the comments below which DIY doggy decor project that you think your family would love best. I'll choose the winner on Dec 18!

This is a sponsored post - because I love my pooch and I want you to have a chance to win and I know some doggie parents who love to do fun and crafty things for their Fidos.  Hoooooowl!

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A Visit from Morris the Cat - #MorrisFeeds

Hey Eternal Lizdom readers! Morris the Cat, from 9Lives cat food, here. (You may have thought that a cat's only computer skills involve laying on the keyboard while others are trying to use it, but in fact, we are very tech savvy.)

For those of you who don't know me, I've starred in over fifty 9Lives cat food commercials, am an advo-cat for kitty rescue, and was even crowned one of Advertising's Greatest Icons by the Museum of Broadcast Communications. (But I must say, I took issue with this honor. I didn't know I was advertising all those years... I just really love 9Lives!)

In case you couldn't guess, I'm purr-ty much an expert when it comes to eating, and that's the subject of my next venture. As you know, the holidays are 'prime eating time' and I want you to be able to chow down like a pro.

I also thought, with everyone in the holiday spirit, it's a great time to give back. Lucky for you, giving back is as easy as using your opposable thumbs. With those two bad boys – and the rest of your fingers – you can help feed a kitty in need. Watch this video to find out how. (Spoiler Alert: It's totally FREE!)

I don't know about you but all this meowing about food has gotten me hungry.

I've made it my mission to help cats and humans eat well – and by extension – live well. (I've often said the key to life can be found in your food dish.) With that in mind, I invite you to check out my Official Guide to Eating, Munching, Snacking & More. If you've ever caught yourself inhaling your food between errands or carting your human kittens around... or if you mindlessly shovel in your dinner while catching up on the latest episode of "Meownton Abbey" or "Silicon Alleycat"... then this guide is for you!

In it, you'll learn how to eat like the true foodie you were meant to be. On my site, you can also enter to win a customized drivable cooler, so if you do have to eat on the go, you can do so in style. And don't forget to tweet #MorrisFeeds to give hungry kitties the gift of a tasty, hearty 9Lives meal.

On that note, my stomach is starting to rumble. What's on the menu tonight, you ask? 9Lives Lean & Tasty and a side of Meaty Paté with Real Chicken. For a beverage I'll be enjoying some delicious tap water. How about you?

This is a sponsored post. But that contest is real - go check it out and enter before Dec 18!!

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Sunday, December 13, 2015

4 Muslim Women At Target

I've had disturbing stories in my newsfeed, on the radio, on Twitter lately. About Muslim women being taunted and harassed in public places and no one standing up for them. Or standing up but not until after a lot of hate had been spewed.

It's heartbreaking. It's infuriating. It's disgraceful.

It's shouldn't be any surprise that I am one who is going to stand side by side with my Muslim sisters and brothers, just as I would with my Jewish or Mormon or Atheist or Humanist or Agnostic or Catholic or... you get the idea.

Today, I was doing my shopping at Target. I hadn't gotten enough sleep the night before. I'd had a very busy day. I was having some health stuff that was wearing me out. I was run down from my kids having difficult moments.

I didn't pay attention to the people around me.

I came down an aisle and there was a Muslim mom and her teen daughter. Talking about cookies. The teen was very joyful and chipper. A young white family came down the aisle - mom, dad, and an adorable little baby. The teen began to oooh and aaaah over how adorable the baby was.

The young mom smiled and laughed. The dad, wearing the baby, also smiled.

And everyone kept on walking and shopping.

I encountered these 2 in a few more aisles. The same thing kept happening. Normal interactions, smiles, shopping.

I head up front with my cart. The lane with the shortest line has a Muslim cashier. I step up to it. And so do several others - I'm not fast enough. Others beat me to the shortest line. The one being rung by the Muslim cashier. Which no one cared about - they just wanted their groceries rung up.

I noticed another employee in a head scarf. And I noticed no one else seemed to notice.

I encountered 4 Muslim women at Target. And I didn't encounter hate or ignorance.

Doesn't mean people weren't thinking dumb stuff. But it does give me hope that maybe my little community is the greater example... my little suburb might just be what's normal. Maybe not. But maybe if a simple Sunday afternoon in a grocery store in a basic little suburb can be any sort of example, maybe peace really is possible.

But somehow, those peaceful moments and examples somehow have to speak louder than the stories of hate. Somehow, those simple moments have to inspire people to stand up against hate when they do see it happen. Because my simple and peaceful and basic Sunday trip to the grocery store should be what anyone experiences in any everyday part of their lives. In a little city or big, in a rural area or urban, in a school or workplace.

Today, I went to the grocery store. And I encountered Muslims. And most likely Jews and Mormons. And Atheists. And moms and dads. And lesbians and straight people. And brown people and cream colored people. And women and men and children.

And they were all just people. As we all are.

Just... people.

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Friday, December 11, 2015

Wonderful Sweet Scarletts! #giveaway #contest #grapefruit

I love grapefruit.

I have memories from childhood about grapefruit. We lived with my grandparents for a couple of years. Which makes for an awesome opportunity for grandma to spoil her only grandchild. Many nights, I'd go to bed and then try to get out of bedtime by saying I was hungry. My mom would send me back to bed. And then... my grandma would sneak upstairs with a snack for me. Often, it was half a grapefruit, cut in half, sprinkled with sugar, and a cherry in the middle. 

As an adult, I still love grapefruit. I'm not so much a fan of the "sprinkled with sugar" part - I really love to peel the fruit and eat the segments. Although, who doesn't love the old experience of cutting it in half, eating the segments (with a special grapefruit spoon if you were so lucky), and then squeezing out spoonfuls of grapefruit juice.  Mmmm!

So when I was approached about blogging about grapefruit - I was all in.

"Wonderful Sweet Scarletts – a new brand of Texas Red Grapefruits – launched nationwide last year and will change the way you think about grapefruits! From the people who brought you Wonderful Pistachios, POM Wonderful and Wonderful Halos, Wonderful Sweet Scarletts Texas Red Grapefruits are so sweet, you won’t even need to add sugar! The Texas climate yields the sweetest premium red grapefruits around. Not only is our grapefruit sweet, but half a grapefruit is only 60 calories and provides 100% of the recommended daily value of Vitamin C."

I'm a fan of Wonderful products already. So to find out they're adding grapefruit? I have to admit that I got a little excited. Jumped around a bit as if I'd squirted grapefruit juice in my eye (all grapefruit fans have done this, trust me).

Now I've always enjoyed grapefruit just by itself. But Wonderful Sweet Scarletts Texas Red Grapefruit sent me some recipes created by Haylie Duff (actress, author and host of Cooking Channel’s The Real Girl’s Kitchen)... I might have drooled a little bit.

There is a recipe for Wonderful Sweet Scarletts Grapefruit and Red Snapper Ceviche. I love ceviche. And this recipe has all the things I love - ponzu, lime, jalapeno, grapefruit. I'm simply going to be forced to make some! 

Best of all - Wonderful Sweet Scarletts Texas Red Grapefruit wants to offer you a chance to win a basket celebrating grapefruit!! 

"We would like to offer a gift basket that I think your readers would love that includes our Wonderful Sweet Scarletts Texas Red Grapefruit, recipe cards featuring our grapefruit, a grapefruit spoon, circular cutting board, grapefruit bowl, and apron."

Ya'll, I want one for me! But this giveaway is for YOU! Enter via the Rafflecopter below! Winner will be selected on Monday, Dec 14.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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Thursday, December 10, 2015

A Holiday Tradition #ISMCCX

One of my favorite places to visit each holiday season is the Indiana State Museum. There are lots of fun places to visit around Indianapolis this time of year - Conner Prairie, the Zoo, Eiteljorg, Polar Express, the Children's Museum - that it can be hard to choose what to do.

Here is why we love Celebration Crossing at the Indiana State Museum - it isn't chaos. Celebration Crossing brings a lot of the joyful simplicity of the holiday to the State Museum. We enjoy visiting the Indiana State Museum once or twice per year anyway. Teagan loves the natural history side of things. This year, we even became museum members.

But Celebration Crossing is special. There is a throwback to a simpler time - there are recreations of store windows, for example. I love that big department stores used to be a main commerce point in the downtown areas and that those stores would get attention and be part of a tradition as they dressed up their store windows for the holidays. That just doesn't really happen anymore. I love that you can visit a recreation of the L.S. Ayres tea room and my kids can experience a "fancy" lunch that is still kid friendly. I love that the offerings of Celebration Crossing aren't loud or flashy.

This year, there is a loud and flashy but really fun new thing. It costs a little extra but if you grew up enjoying an arcade or old video games at your local pizza place... you won't want to miss the Pop Up Retro Arcade. We played Pac Man, Q-Bert, Asteroids, and more.

After a few video games, we headed downstairs for Santa's big arrival - by helicopter!! And there is a big balloon drop when he comes inside. Toy soldiers line up to announce his arrival. Raggedy Ann is there, reindeer, Xmas trees, and all kinds of fun characters.

Then it was time to see Santa! The Santa at Celebration Crossing is one of our favorite. We've been coming to see him since 2008.  Last year, he helped us create Santa magic for Teagan as she entered the first real stages of Santa Denial. But here is my favorite thing from our visit to Santa this year - check out the side by side pic of this year compared to last year.

I couldn't have done that intentionally if I tried - I'm never tha torganized. I gues each kid really has their own style. But hands the same, sitting the same way, clothing so similar... freaky! Another Christmas miracle, right?

Of course, no visit to Santa is complete with mom getting in on the Santa action, too...

Other favorites at Celebration Crossing are the variety of local talent on display (various choirs and groups come at different times to share holiday cheer and sounds), the 92 County Tree, and riding the L.S. Ayres train!


Another fun find this year was the cafe at the Indiana State Museum. Definitely worth a stop. The food is fresh and interesting and more varied than most! And it was tasty!

Celebration Crossing at the Indiana State Museum will always be top of our list for our family's Christmas traditions!

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Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Advent: HOPE

To make less complex
To make easier
Disentangle, Clarify, Reduce, Explain

Don't try to do it all. Do what matters most.

Every year, Advent has been a season of joy and excitement for me. I think because I just mash it up as a part of Christmas. But this year, it's loud and clear that Advent is a separate season. Yes, Advent is about anticipating the arrival of a Savior. But in today's world, we've turned that into a hurried and rushed time of the year where all of the focus is on the anticipation and none of it is on the waiting.

At church this past week, a lot of emphasis was placed on the idea of simplifying things, of making this season less about all the things we have to do and more about all the things we truly need to do.

So I've been digging. Deep inside myself.

In my digging, I was first pointed towards the book of Hebrews. Chapter 11 is all about people in the Old Testament who had great faith in God and how that faith played out in their lives. Chapter 12 goes on to say 3 main things - rely on your faith, stay focused on Christ, and don't be afraid of God's corrections. Chapter 13 then begins by saying - Don't forget about love.

The next thing that came up was a daily devotional I receive that has a small bit of C.S. Lewis' writing. Yesterday, it was from "Mere Christianity" and the part that stood out to me was that we can't just read the words of Christ or study His life and then attempt to follow it. Instead, we should recognize that Christ is with us and that we can open ourselves up so that, little by little, Christ will come into us and live through us.

And the next thing that was tossed into my path was the work of Gungor and The Liturgists and their offering for Advent and the Christmas season (Oh Light). A spoken word piece by Amena Brown that speaks to the brokenness all around us. A meditation by Science Mike and Michael Gungor that took me on a journey through time and space.

And here is where I ended up, here is where I focus in this first week of Advent.

There has always been and will always be pain and suffering and death and trauma and harm and confusion in the world.

But there is HOPE.

Because the Light of Our Creator is within each of us. And from that Light, we have love and joy and healing and peace.

My prayers this week are that those who feel hopeless will see a spark of light and they will find HOPE. That those who are consumed by anger, those who cause harm, those who feel lost or worthless, those who feel unloved, those who are mourning, those who weep... all of us who have and will and are experiencing the sufferings of living will see even a glimmer of HOPE and cling to it.

Christ is coming. Advent prepares us for His coming. One candle this week, a candle for HOPE. Even if that single light seems very far away. Know that HOPE is coming.

If I can pray for you this week, please let me know. You can comment here on the blog, you can message me, email me, text me. You can share details or just raise your hand silently. Let's join our prayers together.

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Thursday, November 19, 2015

#DoorDashIndy (Special Offer for YOU!)

You know how sometimes you're watching TV and the show is based in New York City and they get food delivered and... it's not pizza? And maybe you're like me and you live in the suburbs and pizza has long been the only delivery option around? Well, to be fair, we recently had a couple of Chinese places move in that deliver.

But I dream of Thai and Indian and Greek. I even dream of Applebee's and Red Lobster and the local pub or local eatery.

My dreams have come true.

DoorDash is a service that has agreements with various restaurants. You go online, see what restaurants are available in your area, place an order, and a delivery person brings it to you.


We decided to try it out last night. I will say that my greatest challenge was that I love international and ethical foods. My husband... not so much. So for this first venture into the world of DoorDash, we went with one of our favorite local joints - Nickel Plate.

Every Hoosier has a heart for a tenderloin and my husband is over the moon that he can have one of his favorite tenderloins delivered right to our front door!

There are times when Jeff is out of town and I long for my version of comfort food - sushi. But no place delivers! Now I have several options through DoorDash to have sushi brought to my house!

DoorDash is really invested in helping local economies. This business not only supports local restaurants but also provides positive work opportunities for Dashers (your delivery guy).

DoorDash is seeking to become international! They've just recently launched in Toronto. No - Indy peeps can't order from Toronto restaurants.

And here is a SPECIAL OFFER for YOU!

If you want to try DoorDash, sign up with my promo code EternalLizdom, and you will receive $8 off your first order.

I was compensated for this blog post and social media efforts. However, all opinions are completely my own. DoorDash is a service I will use in the future!

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Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Dreaming of the Thanksgiving Meal

Thanksgiving is coming soon and my mom has asked me to confer with her on the menu. In recent years, I'v ebeen helping out with some of the planning and cooking. It's a bit of a challenge since we're 2 hours away by car but with a little planning, it's easy to make it work!

Our family meal has scaled down over the years. It used to easily be 20 people. But family has moved away, families have changed, etc. Life happens. So now we should have 7 adults and 2 kids for our family meal.

The must haves on our Thanksgiving table are turkey and my cranberry sauce. I love that my cranberry sauce is included in this must-have list. Cranberry sauce was never part of the meal when I was growing up. Sometimes the jellied canned stuff would appear but it wasn't required or missed.  When I first moved away from home, I knew I wanted to contribute to the meal. I had also recently fallen in love with the cranberry sauce at Boston Market and I'd found a knock off recipe. It was fairly easy and it was GOOD. 

We also like easy when it comes to stuffing so good old Stove Top is on the table.

Dessert is usually classics like pumpkin pie, pecan pie. And riots may break out if my mom doesn't make her very famous chocolate cream pie.

Here are some favorite recipes and some things that I'm hoping to add to the meal this year. I'd love to know what you are planning for your holiday meal - and share what your traditions are (food and otherwise)! Are there any cultural foods that you include? I'd love to hear how your Italian or Polish or Mexican heritage plays in to your Thanksgiving planning.

First and foremost - if you've never ever cooked a turkey in your life, I followed this recipe and it was easy and turned out great! 

World's Simplest Thanksgiving Turkey

And my 2 standard recipes - I've made these (more than once) and they are always a hit!

Cranberry Sauce
     1 can jellied cranberries
     1 jar Simply Fruit orange marmalade
     1 bag of fresh cranberries
     1 small bag of walnuts, chopped

Put jellied cranberry sauce in a saucepan. Add the marmalade. Heat on low (This will pop and spit and can make a mess!! Be sure it's on low heat and that you can stir often and feel free to cover it.). Chop the cranberries - food processor or blender works great. I also like to re-chop the walnuts to make the pieces more fine. Add the cranberries to the saucepan. The white inside part of the berry will start to turn more red. Add the walnuts. Stir, stir, simmer, stir. Once the cranberries are no longer firm, remove from heat, place in container, let cool, refrigerate.  

Pumpkin Crunch 
·        1 box yellow cake mix
·        1 16-oz can pumpkin
·        1 12 oz can evaporated milk
·        3 eggs
·        1 ½  cups sugar
·        4 ts pumpkin pie spice
·        ½ ts salt
·        1 c chopped pecans

·        1 c melted butter

Preheat oven to 350. Grease bottom of 9x13 baking dish (I use my Pyrex). In large bowl, mix pumpkin, milk, eggs, sugar, spice, and salt. Pour mixture into baking dish. Sprinkle cake mix on top, evenly. Top with pecans. Drizzle with melted butter. Bake for 50-55 minutes. Let cool completely. Serve with whipped cream or topping.


Sausage Crescent Cheese Balls
A variety of Cheese Balls
Deviled Eggs - There are lots of recipes out there for deviled eggs. When I make them, I do a portable version. I have a dozen hard boiled eggs. Then a gallon sized ziploc bag that contains: 1/4 c mayo, 1/4 c mustard (I use a blend of brown deli and yellow or a blend of dijon and yellow - I basically loosely follow this step and I add mayo and mustard as I feel like it). Peel the eggs. Cut in half lengthwise. Put the yolks in with the mayo/mustard blend. Mash the heck out of that ziploc bag until it's really well blended (great job for kids, by the way). Snip the corner of the bag and pipe the yolk mixture into the egg white halves. Sprinkle with paprika. 


Green Beans with Blackened Sage and Hazlenuts
Sweet Roasted Rosemary Acorn Squash Wedges
Creamy Mashed Potatoes


Pecan Pie Chex Mix
Bourbon Pecan Pie (I'd cheat and use a pre-made pie crust and I'd also make a Bourbon Whipped Cream)
Chocolate Brown Sugar Butter Cake with Spiced Pumpkin Frosting

I also like to have a hearty breakfast before we hit the road and this year I'm going to try one of these yummy breakfast casseroles!  
Overnight Slow Cooker Breakfast Casserole
Cheesy Sausage Breakfast Bubble Up

And while you're planning that delicious meal, don't forget the other details! Check out these great ideas from Indy with Kids for centerpieces kids can make

Don't mis sout on this great round up of Thanksgiving posts from The Queen of Free! It can be very tempting and easy to break the bank when planning your big family meal. The Queen has tips on avoiding that downfall, helps you shop affordably, and also has some great recipes and even tips on fun things to do with the family on Turkey Day!

If you have a serious love affair going on with your slow cooker and you want to utilize an army of slow cookers for you rmeal (which sounds delightful to me), don't miss the Thanksgiving round up from Recipes that Crock! I can just picture a calm kitchen with 6 crock pots going - turkey breast, mac n cheese, mashed potatoes, creamed corn or corn casserole, praline apple crisp, and pumpkin apple cinnamon cake. YUM.

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Tuesday, October 27, 2015

@MilkBone Has #TreatsForAll This Halloween!

We recently added a very adorable little furbaby to our family - his name is Bandit. He's a 7 year old chihuahua mix that we adopted from a local rescue. He is a very chill little dude. He really wants nothing more than to be snuggled and held and just be touching his favorite people as much as possible.

And he wants treats. He really likes treats!

I was recently contacted by Big Heart Pet Brands about doing a promo and when I saw how fun the info was, I couldn't resist!! Check out these fun Halloween tidbits!

Although Halloween has usually been considered a children's holiday, these days increasing numbers of "furry kids" are getting in on the fun.

Big Heart Pet Brands (the makers of Milk-Bone, Pup-Peroni, Canine Carry Outs and Milo's Kitchen) conducted an original survey of 3,000 dog parents nationwide to find the top 25 states that most like to include their pups, the nation's most popular "Doggy Halloween Tricks," and each breed's favorite special treats -- right in time for the spooky-fun holiday.

Fun Halloween Stats:

  • 44% of NY pet parents have dressed their dog in costume versus 28% of California pet parents
  • 38% of NY pet parents have greeted trick-or-treaters with their dog while 18% of pet parents in California have 
  • 18% of Texas pet parents have given their dog extra treats for Halloween and 16% have taken their dog trick-or-treating.

Because dogs are the ultimate tricksters, Milo's Kitchen brand dog treats wanted to uncover, for the first time, which tricks dogs are best able to perform. The nation's most popular doggy tricks are:
#1: Sit (77% of dogs can do this on command)
#2: Shake paws (58%)
#3: Lay down (57%)
#4: Stay (50%)
#5: Give a kiss (44%)
#6: Beg (31%)
#7: Roll over (27%)
#8: Speak or bark (26%)
#9: Spin (14%)
#10: Play dead (10%)

For wacky DIY doggie costumes, ideas on how to treat your pet, or for downloadable decorations to show your neighbors you're celebrating with your pup, please visit this special Howl-o-ween website, from Big Heart Pet brands' Milk-Bone, Pup-Peroni, Canine Carry Outs and Milo's Kitchen:

For a chance to see your dog's Halloween photo in the Milk-Bone Halloween website and social channels, tag it on FB, Instagram or Twitter with #TreatsForAll.

I received some treats for my puppy (some of which will be donated to local rescue efforts) and you have a chance to win, too!

If you'd like to win some yummy treats for your favorite pooch, leave a blog comment about your pet and Halloween!! Winner will be selected on Friday, Oct 30.

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Thursday, October 15, 2015

Quick Tips: Disney (2016 Update)

This post has been published twice before on the blog. I've gone through and added updates as we prepare for our second family trip (my 4th trip in 4 years).

1.  Don't let Disney be your child's first amusement park experience.  Rides and 3D movies can be overwhelming.  If your child has experienced things at the State Fair, Holiday World, King's Island, Six Flags, etc - they will be better prepared for what Disney World has to offer.  We knew the kids wouldn't be doing big rides like roller coasters but had hoped they'd enjoy 3D experiences.  Instead, we learned that anything with a boat was a winner and we enjoyed shows like Finding Nemo: The Musical and the Indiana Jones stunt show.  However, a 3D experience was out for Zach.  Anything that was dark was scary for him.  It was very hard to adjust our hopes for the trip to what Zach needed the trip to be.  We were able to divide and ride for some things - Jeff took Teagan on Haunted Mansion, Jeff and I took turns on Star Tours.  Zach did great on things like the Buzz Lightyear ride and Toy Story Mania.  But he mostly did best with show type experiences - Monsters Inc Laugh Floor was a big hit for him.  He also liked little rides like Winnie the Pooh and Peter Pan and he loved It's A Small World and the Country Bear Jamboree.  Magic Kingdom was definitely the best park for him.  At Epcot, his best ride was the one in the Mexico pavilion in World Showcase.  We rode it twice.  But if my kids were the kind of kids who were eager to go to amusement parks - Disney would have been a chance to kick it up a notch instead of a place full of overwhelming experiences. My kids were 8 and 5 for our first trip to Disney.

2016 Update - For our 2016 family trip, we plan to utilize a few tools to get our kids thinking about the rides and experiences ahead of time. There are a lot of YouTube channels that post videos of rides - this is a great way to get an idea of what it will feel like. We also previously purchased the Birnbaum Disney World for Kids and plan to pick up the 2016 version. Then we can review the book together and talk about what those rides and experiences were like! My kids will be 11 and 8 for this upcoming trip and I'm eager to see what a difference their ages will make!

2.  Tip your housekeeper daily (you could have a different person each day).  We tipped Mousekeeping each day ($5 per day) - and left little notes.  In one note, we just said thank you.  In another, we told them we were coming up on our last day and that we've enjoyed they're hard work in our room.  In another, we told them that the kids thought it was really Fairy Mousekeeping because they had worked magic in our room!  We also left a picture of ourselves out one day (from the arcade photo booth) so our housekeeper could "see" us.  Our housekeepers made our room fun to return to each day - and also left us extra bottles of shampoo and conditioner and extra bars of soap!

2016 Update - This one we still plan to keep in place. I will bring along a $5 bill for each night we stay and this time I might utilize some of the free online printables to make fun envelopes or sleeves. Related - I also plan to have cash tips available for table service servers. Honestly, I think we tipped about $20 per table service meal.

Here is some of the fun left behind by Mousekeeping:

3.  Keep your room organized.  I can't say enough about having a shoe organizer and a pop up hamper.  We were very glad to utilize the laundry room at our resort.  Having a set place for dirty clothes to go at the end of a hot and sweaty day was great.  And the shoe organizer was fantastic - the kids could wake up and grab a bite to eat without any issue.

2016 Update - This is still top of the list. Each trip I've taken in the past 4 years has included the shoe organizer, fold up hamper, and a power strip! The power strip makes it so much easier to plug in phones or laptops or ipads or whatever other electronics need recharging each night. I carry my cell phone and a rechargable power pak for when my battery gets low - and both need to be charged up each night.

4. Be friendly with all cast members.  I can't tell you how many times our day was saved by a friendly cast member!!  Especially when we were tired, hot, sweaty, cranky... a little eye contact and friendly smile was often the cue for a cast member to go above and beyond.  Not in big ways - just little things to make the day better.  For example, at Epcot, Zach was overwhelmed by all of it and it came to a head when we stopped for a snack and a fly landed nearby.  He freaked out about the fly.  Crying and scared and my normally happy dude was overcome with tears.  A cast member was nearby, cleaning tables.  She saw how upset our boy was and came over to find out what was wrong.  She sat and talked with him and brought him colring pages and crayons.  And she stayed with him until she knew he was happy.  Another night, after a long and fun and tiring day, we got picked up by a bus with a driver in training.  His trainer, Bob, let my kids sit in the seat right behind the driver and then kept them happy and entertained all the way to our resort.  He made faces and joked with them and gave them each a "Safety Tip" card.  Teagan is still doing his routine of pushing her nose to make her tongue pop out and then pulilng an ear to move her tongue to the side... As we were leaving Magic Kingdom - again, tired and hungry - we were greeted by a cast member in the Emporium and she squatted down and talked with our kids for a good 5 minutes about their day and the rides and the characters and when we left that store (we didn't buy anything), the kids were bubbling over with excitement.

5.  Character meals are the best way to meet characters!!  If you want autographs or pictures with characters, the single best way to make it happen is with character meals.  We started out at Chef Mickey's at the Contemporary and got to meet the big guys right away - Pluto, Goofy, Donald, Mickey and Minnie.  We met some of the main crew again at Tusker House at Animal Kingdom - Donald, Daisy, Mickey, Goofy.  My favorite character meal was breakfast at 1900 Park Fare at the Grand Floridian - Pooh Bear, Tigger, Mary Poppins, Alice in Wonderland, and the Mad Hatter.  There are other character meals - I think you can find one for just about any favorite character.

2016 Update - We have character meals planned again. This time we will go to Crystal Palace in Magic Kingdom to meet my favorite Winnie the Pooh characters. We also plan on breakfast at Cape May (Beach Club Resort) and lunch at Tusker House (Animal Kingdom). I'm not one to wait in line just to meet a character (unless it's Winnie the Pooh) so character meals are very much the way to go!

6.  Dollar store glow sticks are awesome.  We didn't have to buy any glow sticks for night things.  We weren't even tempted.  And we discovered that having a little glow stick or bracelet meant that Zach had a little candle to hold on to for darker rides - it was his bravery shield for Pirates of the Carribean.  Plus, we were able to share some Disney magic with other families by handing out glow sticks and bracelets to others!!

7.  No matter how tired you are, take notes!  At the end of the day, take notes.  Jot down the things that made the day special and the things you want to do differently going forward.  Otherwise, there is no way to remember it all!

2016 Update - Seems silly not to have 10 tips so here are a few more!

8. Use the apps! Disney has their own app to help you navigate each park. There are maps and posted wait times so you can decide if it's worth poppin gover to a different ride or figure out if you can make it to a show or parade. I'm also a fan of Touring Plans. I use them to plan my trip and also to plot out potential plans once we are on the ground. I'm not a "hard and fast" type of user - I put together my plan based on their suggestions but the app allows me to then be flexible and rearrange the day as needed.

9. Shoes and socks matter. Don't buy brand new shoes right before your trip. Don't dress your feet for style - comfort is key when you're walking up to 10 miles per day in a park. This coming trip, I plan on a pair of Skechers GoWalks and a good pair of sneakers. We had 2 pairs of sneakers per person - that way if your shoes are damp or wet, you've got a dry pair back in the room. I also took to carrying spare socks in our backpack. If a rainstorm hits and your feet are soaked, dry socks can make a huge difference in your comfort level!

10. Have fun! Don't take any of it too seriously. Things will go wrong. Things you didn't expect to go wrong will go wrong. Disney magic and pixie dust doesn't mean the entire vacation will be magical and dusty. There will be incredible memories and highlights. You can plan and plan and plan and plan - but in the end, you have to have your plan as backup and be able to be spontaneous and go with the flow.

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Monday, October 12, 2015

First and Last

I love when someone shows me a different way to approach a bit of scripture that I've always read in one particular way. That happened at church this past Sunday.

The reading was from Mark - the story of the rich man who comes to Jesus and asks how he can have everlasting life. At the end of the passage, Jesus says that "many who are first will be last and the last will be first."  (This is also quoted in Matthew, by the way, and more than once in Mark).

I've always read that to mean that those who struggle but still follow Christ will one day be head of the line, leader of the pack, receiving the gracious gifts of God before others. As if life is a race with a finish line at the end.

When I think about it that way now... it really goes against what I believe. But I never thought about it deeply.

There is a human gratification in the idea that those who are first - people that I imagine to be on that high horse, putting themselves above others - will get knocked down a few pegs. And that those who have struggled will finally know what it means to be up a few levels.

But I don't really believe there are levels in God's eyes. So why would I believe that scripture to be read that way?

In the message at church this week, our pastor gave me a new way of looking at that scripture. I'm going to paraphrase...

"If you are currently feeling like you are last... don't give up hope. Reach out. Ask for help. And if you are someone who is in a place where you are stronger, where you are first - share that strength."


Those who are last can reach out to those who are first right now. And those who are first can reach out to those who are last. Right now.

This isn't just an afterlife thing. This isn't just a "someday in heaven" thing.

And who says that once you're last, you're always last? And once you're first, you stay up in front?

I took a far more literal approach to that scripture than what my heart really feels.

I truly believe that we are all loved equally in the eyes of God. That grace is abundantly given to every single one of us. How can there be a first and last in that?

And how do we measure first and last, anyway? Power, status, money? Lives touched, lives saved, lives damaged?

The idea that first and last is really more about how we feel in life right now really spoke to me. I have seasons in my life filled with struggle. I have days that are hard to get through. And there are seasons filled with joy. Days where I celebrate all day long.

When I struggle, the Holy Spirit has always delivered a "first" to help me through. When my days are hard, I am blessed to have others around me who pause from the "firstness" to take time to reach me where I am and help me back up.

When I celebrate, I am given opportunities to reach out to others who may be struggling. When I have days of joy and strength, I find it so easy to be strong for someone else. To let my shoulders be where their tears may fall.

The first shall be last and the last shall be first. And that's when we all end up equal, right? That's where we find balance, right?

First and last and last and first. Right here. All around us. Today.

Where are you right now? Are you feeling last, lost, struggling? Are you strong, joyous, content? How can you help someone else? Who can you reach out to so you aren't alone in your "lastness?"

We were also given the opportunity to take a purple and teal ribbon - a sign that I'm willing to be your strength if you're feeling so very last and lost that you just can't do it anymore.

I'm in a season of First. Let me pull you with me. Let me offer you my shoulder. Let me be the ear and heart that hears you. Let's be First and Last together.

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Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Open Your Eyes. And Your Heart.

There was a lot of coverage in the media about refugees recently - specifically after the body of a toddler washed ashore in Turkey.

And the refugee crisis made headlines for a few weeks as important people called on Europe and other countries to embrace refugee families.

I'm not a big follower of mainstream media. But I have been following stories on Humans of New York and NPR that are forcing me to keep my eyes open. Forcing me to continue to realize that my life is one of much privilege.

Humans of New York is a mostly fun project. For the last 5 years, photographer Brandon has roamed the streets of New York City, chatting with people, capturing a portrait and telling some interesting part of their story. He made news recently when he met a kid and got connected to a school and started highlighting this school and ended up raising a lot of money for them.

He also travels each year and shares stories from overseas. And most recently, he is sharing stories of refugees who have escaped Syria and come to Turkey, Hungary, Germany, Austria. He is meeting people who are doing what they can to help, to comfort, to welcome people.

There are stories that are terrifying. Stories that are heart warming. Stories that are gut wrenching.

And they are all stories of real people who have been living in unbelievable conditions, facing situations that we Americans typically only see in the movies. But this is real life.

Go scroll down the Facebook page. Open your heart. Read their stories.

Many times, I end up on my knees in prayer.

NPR is doing a series in October on #15Girls. "Through the month of reports and audio portraits from eight countries, the series examines gender-based expectations and other elements of these girls' (and a few boys') lives that they see as surmountable obstacles - child marriage in India, the Brazilian bias against tomboys, access to education and healthcare, community violence and sexual abuse. The young women in the #15Girls series take risks, break rules and defy stereotypes to create a better life for themselves."

I listened to the first installment on girls in El Salvador on my drive home yesterday and I fought tears the entire time. El Salvador is run by gangs. And not gangs like we think we know in the United States. Not gangs like we see in the movies. People who are heartless, soul-less, evil. The story that turned my stomach the most was of a girl who was trying to escape to the United States who was caught just hours from the border...

"The girl says her father is in one of El Salvador's two main gangs. He's in prison for murder. And now he says if his ex-wife, the girl's mother, doesn't give him $50,000 when he gets out, he'll have the girl raped and killed.

This is how gangs work in Central America.
The girl says the family doesn't have $50,000. The girl's mom is in the U.S. Her grandmother works in a street stall. Her grandfather doesn't have a job."
Her father is demanding money from her mother and this 13 year old girl is the one caught in the crossfire, the one dangled as bait.

I often have to avoid the news. Because my heart breaks. My gut turns. But at the same time, turning a blind eye to the evil in the world means that no one is willing to fight it. I'm a suburbanite in the United States. In a lot of ways, I'm a typical middle aged white girl - right down to my love of yoga pants. I feel powerless to have any kind of impact on these tragedies, travesties, crimes.

Sometimes, remembering that all of Creation is connected helps me deal with it. I feel like, through prayer and meditation, I can send positive and strong and healing energy out into the world. I can be open to the universe, to my Guidling Light, and listen for how I can be the Hands and Feet of my Creator.

Sometimes, remembering that all of Creation is connected makes me feel the pain, the hopelessness, the devastation in big and huge ways that make me feel like I want to cave in, deep inside myself.

Maybe you are against people coming to "our country." Maybe you think immigrants shouldn't be allowed to come to the U.S. anymore. Maybe you favor walls and guns and guards that keep people out.

If so, no matter what your reasons are for that feeling, please take some time to really immerse yourself in the stories of people who are trying to escape.

And maybe you're like me. You know there is great need in the world and you have no idea how to help, how to be one of those who can offer bread to the refugees, who can offer a home, who can help someone get across a border. I feel very powerless sitting in the middle of Indiana.

Let's find some way to reach across those borders, either physical, mental, emotional or otherwise, and share love in radical ways.

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