June 30, 2015

Garden Fresh: Mediterranean Salad

A few months ago, I saw a delicious salad on a restaurant's menu and thought "I can make that!" So I did, and it is now one of my favorite salads.

Make your own Mediterranean Salad with the following:

torn romaine lettuce {or whatever you are growing}
pitted kalamata {Greek} olives, sliced in half or quartered
cucumber, sliced or diced
roma tomatoes, diced {or quartered cherry tomatoes}
crumbled feta cheese
{I like to add chicken too.}
dressing of olive oil and fresh lemon juice

You could always add your own twist. Maybe you'd prefer some sweet red peppers, red onion, or sun-dried tomatoes. Also, you could skip the lemon juice in the dressing and mix your olive oil with red wine vinegar. Maybe you'd like salt and pepper in your dressing and/or some fresh garlic.

April 4, 2015

Hope: He is risen!

This last week we've been enjoying the weather, friends, and family. I'm excited to embrace love and hope and to celebrate Easter tomorrow. Tonight I took time to go through some old photos and journal entries. Here is what I wrote last year...

In the fall of 2013, I reflected on how we sometimes believe lies in the post titled "Loss and Lies." I wrote: "Lately, I've been thinking that sometimes we don't want to see these things (pain and loss).  We don't want to talk about these things... But, what if we asked the hard questions and wrestled with the truth?"

I distinctly remember the day...
kneeling before a wooden cross,
repenting of sin,
picking up an old nail,
putting it in that wooden cross.
realizing the pain 
of having someone you love suffering,
someone you love dying.
realizing Jesus was separated 
from his father God.
realizing a perfect Jesus felt it all,
all our suffering and sin.
understanding His body was torn,
He was torn from God.
feeling fully the sacrifice and love
for the very first time.

When He wasn't what we expected, we watched and waited.  When He didn't do what we wanted, we turned from laying our robes at His feet to hanging Him out to dry.  We crucified Him with our words.  We crucified Him with nails in His hands.  But, honestly, our sin is what really nailed Jesus to the cross.  And, truly I tell you, Jesus' love is what kept Him there.

Today we celebrate Easter.  Today we celebrate Jesus' resurrection.  Today we celebrate love and true life.

January 12, 2015

Pizza: Traditional Taste, Nontraditional {low carb or gluten free} Crusts

Have you ever fallen in love with something that isn't good for you? Yes, I'm talking about food here. No, not chocolate. In fact, I don't feel bad at all about my love of rich, dark chocolate. That's good for me {you know: because of the iron, antioxidant properties, and how it increases endorphins and serotonin} ... There is research to prove it! Actually, I'm referring to my love of pizza. 

Unfortunately, when working to drop a few {or twenty some} pounds, I had to let go of my love for the fat and carbohydrate collision that is pizza. No, I didn't stop eating pizza. Yes, I found some alternative crust options. I understand that you may be skeptical at first, but please give me {and the following recipes} a chance. I was skeptical too, but I've found some pizza crusts that are low carb or gluten free and really tasty. Really!


Since school has started, our family has gotten into the habit of having pizza and movie night on Fridays. It's a great night for food, cuddles, and family time. But, it's not fun to smell delicious pizza and see your family eating said pizza without joining them.  So, here are my five favorite recipes for tasty crust alternatives...

December 16, 2014

Rhythm: Finding the Calm in the Chaos

Have you ever felt you have so much to do and you’re so overwhelmed that you end up just doing nothing? Or have you realized that sometimes you just go, go, go trying to accomplish all the things you “need” to do only to feel exhausted and unaccomplished? Maybe you’ve found yourself in both of these situations!

I'm wondering if this feeling is especially prevalent at this time of year. I know I have been wanting so badly to make time to write, but I have had other priorities that needed my attention. So, today I share something I wrote this Spring {April 2014} that I needed to read again to remind myself to slow the rhythm of my routine and find calm...

Last night the kids went to bed well and on time. So I was able to put up my feet and open up a book. {Yes, a real book! More on that later.} Then… I heard footsteps coming down the stairs! I watched as the door slowly opened… I saw our large Main Coon cat emerge from upstairs and walk directly to the basement. {Breathe.} Wow, it’s so nice when everyone in the house, even the cat, knows that it’s time to rest! I went back to relaxing. I was thankful, because I know some days it feels like I’m chasing       chasing the kids and cats and calm.
I’ve been thinking a lot about how chaos can overtake a day. Do you see that picture above? It may not look like much, but that mess in my front seat takes a lot of time to put together and even more time to put away. All that is necessary to make Mondays run smoothly! Too many days like this and life starts to feel a little out of balance. Are you making yourself  crazy with too many chaotic days?

When people mention balance, I take notice because that’s been my focus word and my goal for a few years now... or maybe more like the last decade. When I started reading “Unforced Rhythms of Grace,” I took notice right away because she started with this: “I have long loathed the word balance.” What?! But, as I read the rest of what Beth Guckenberger had to say, I entirely agreed with her perspective. She goes on to say: “A while ago, adapting a principle I read in Matthew, I exchanged ‘balance’ in my vocabulary with ‘rhythm.’ ”

November 9, 2014

So Simple Snacks: Five Ingredients or Less

Whether you are at home or on the go, having a low-key or a busy day, I have found that it's a good idea to keep healthy snacks around.  What has really surprised me though is how easy it is to do this.  Today I am sharing three of my favorite simple snacks... because you really can throw something together with not much time and a handful of ingredients.

I hope that this post will be helpful, giving you both recipes that you will use and inspiration to come up with your own simple snacks.  What are some favorite snacks you could throw together with five ingredients or less?

My boys still love what we call apple sandwiches.  It's a simple snack we started a few years ago.  The "sandwich" is made when you core and slice apples {cutting horizontally}.  Imagine a peanut butter sandwich with apple slices instead of bread.  Of course, my boys eat theirs "open face" so they can load on more peanut butter.  They also often add a few dark chocolate chips.

This always seemed like a healthy enough snack to me.  Recently though I realized, while great for growing boys, this snack maybe had a little too much peanut butter {okay fat} combined with the natural sugar of the apple slices for this mama.  I was thrilled when I realized how delicious peanut butter dip was with apples.  Okay, I probably knew it would be delicious, but I was a little intimidated at first by 0% Greek Yogurt.

Decadent Chocolate Desserts

http://ichoosejoy2day.blogspot.com/2014/11/decadent-chocolate-desserts.htmlI can't remember how long it's been since my mother gave me the magnet stating "CHOCOLATE ~ not just for breakfast anymore."  It was a perfect gift, because I do love all things chocolate

Yes, I love chocolate any time of the day.  My boys love chocolate too.  Their favorite breakfast is pancakes with mini chocolate chips.  I know some people will argue that milk chocolate is best, but I am a dark chocolate lover.  Today I challenge you to try a decadent chocolate dessert and see if you disagree.  And please, just because I say "dessert," don't feel like you can't eat these recipes any time of the day that you desire.

November 8, 2014

Baking Fall Treats: All Things Pumpkin

This last month I have been trying new pumpkin recipes, and I'm thrilled to say I have found a few new favorites. Did I mention they are all so very delicious?! 
I'm curious which will be your new favorite: pumpkin applesauce muffins, pumpkin and chocolate pudding parfait, or pumpkin pie cheesecake.

October 30, 2014

Baking Fall Treats: Healthier Apple Desserts

Last Fall, I came home with bushels of apples.  I was thrilled to explore making all things apples: Apple Crisp, French Apple Squares, Caramel Apples, Apple Cake, Applesauce, Apple Butter, & Apple Pie with my first ever homemade crust.  This Fall, I decided to attempt another first: adapting a recipe for Trim Healthy Mama eating.  I don't know why I thought it would be so hard to adjust fat and substitute for sugar, because it was much easier than I had anticipated!  You don't have to be eating the THM way though to enjoy the following "healthified" apple recipes.
A big thank you to my family, my friend Donna, and the ladies at Zumba for being my taste testers! 

October 19, 2014

Living Room: How We Live (version 4)


We moved to the Cape Cod the very last days of March 2013.  That first week brought my husband's first days of work, Easter, my oldest son's first days at a new school, starting a new Cub Scouts Pack and racing in the Pinewood Derby, soccer practice, my youngest son's 4th birthday party, and lots of unpacking.  Of course, we did our best to settle the boys into their bedrooms, their new environments, and our new routines.  That said, it's not surprising that I didn't totally finish unpacking and decorating the first room until mid-April.

The last eighteen months have been a process of learning how we live in our living room.  I know my husband hopes this will be the final version.  Following I'll share updated pictures of version four. 


No reflection or big revelations today.  I'm just changing it up here by rearranging...  again.  Well, I will self-disclose this one nugget: My husband thinks I have a strange fascination with changing up the furniture and decor.  Honestly, I think I may.  Aside from little changes in the boys' bedrooms, I've had one room in one house that I was able to rearrange one of two ways... until now!  Honestly, this past year and a half I have really enjoyed rearranging and changing up our home, especially our living room.

{Check out the Arrange-a-Room program at Better Homes and Gardens if you love playing with floor plans too.  That's how I created the four versions of our living room at left.}

Okay, one more bit of self-revelation: Time has changed me.  It doesn't take great effort to change things around a bit.  In the past I wanted to spend money to update and change our home.  However, now I find it a fun challenge to use what he have around the house, borrowing from another room to rearrange and decorate around our home.  

After living in a Bungalow, a Four-Square, and a Cape Cod, I have learned a great lesson: Love the home you have.  

{You really should check out Melissa at her blog The Inspired Room or as guest blogger at Better Homes and Gardens for some decorating inspiration.  She coined the phrase "Love The Home You Have" and has a new book out with that title.}

October 18, 2014

Cutting Through Clutter: Organizing Recipes

While I'm less than thrilled about packing sack lunches again, I have been excited about trying new recipes lately {both from Pinterest and from pages torn out of magazines and thrown in a drawer}.  Often I've found it difficult to find a specific recipe when I need it though.  So I thought I'd share with you how I organized all the recipes I want to try and the recipes we've come to love. 


From disorganized chaos, where I can't find anything, to a place for everything! Yes, that photo on the left is from last Christmas.  No, that is not a long time ago and it's not really a big pile, considering that those recipes are the last quarter of a stack that I've been going through over the last two years.  Note to self: Stop tearing recipes out of magazines... We have enough!  So, from a high cupboard stuffed full of cookbooks and a drawer filled up with recipes came the inspiration to use a new, easily accessible cupboard to store all of our favorite recipes.  Yes, all the printed recipes and magazine sheets fit nicely into the two binders on the left of the bottom shelf.  There is something to be said about being able to find what you need when you need it!  I think that's typically my motivation behind organizing: make it work well & look good.

October 11, 2014

Rushing, Rushing

I just read the first chapter of a new book by Lysa TerKeurst.  One sentence, consisting of only four words, grabbed my attention right away… “Admission instead of omission.”  Yes, many of us say we strive for authenticity, but honestly we are often less than truthful with both others and ourselves.   So, I’m going to be honest.  It often takes longer than I’d like to admit before I get around to tasks I myself believe to be a priority... I get busy with less important tasks. I get distracted. I get worn out.  

That is why I subscribed to Unrush Me: A 5 Day Challenge.  This morning I received Day 5...  Did I mention that it’s a five day series?  Tonight, I’m finally reading {Unrush Me} Day 1 – The Rhythm of Rush.  Better late than never… right?  Well, I am so glad I made time tonight to read that first email.  Lysa speaks truth - truth of experiences I can identify with and truths that I need to remember when I have set our life to the rhythm of rush.

I found myself rushing my husband in conversation. Rushing my kids out the door. Rushing to the next thing and then the next.  Rushing to make dinner and then rushing my people through dinner. 

Exhaustion gnawed deep places in my heart, demanding me to slow down. But how? I’ve made my decisions and now my decisions have made me.

~Lysa TerKeurst  

September 28, 2014

Fall Decorating

For our family, this time of year is about Fall traditions.  My boys happily help choose gourds and pumpkins to decorate our home inside and out.  While I do enjoy decorating our home, the task is mostly about welcoming Fall.  I'm aware this year of not taking too much time and energy on the task of decor, because I'm much more excited about baking fall treats, updating photographs of our family,  and making memories with my boys whether on a hike, in a pile of leaves, or around a warm fire on a cool night.

I have to admit, however, that I was touched when a friend recently wrote: "I'm decorating for fall and thinking of you and your cute house! Hope you are enjoying your fall."  Honestly, I was especially grateful because she has an amazing talent for decorating and hospitality!  I was honest when I responded with the following: "I did a little decorating before my party... meaning Al was looking for something in the fall box and the boys dumped it and put a few things out around the living room.  I'm doing some deep cleaning this week, and then I think I'll do some decorating this weekend after we go to the Gays Mills apple festival."  Well, we are back from the festivities with apples, gourds, and small pumpkins. The photos at left are what we have done so far to welcome Fall to our home.

I love decorating with the beauty and bounty that God has provided.  It really reminds us to enjoy this time of Fall colors and harvest.

September 27, 2014

Fall Traditions

There are so many things that I love about Fall !  The crisp, cool air means I can keep out my capris and sandals, but I also get to bring out the sweaters and hoodies.  Of course, it's the perfect time of year for a backyard fire.  The air smells of cookouts and campfires and of crisp leaves under foot.  And the house smells of apples and cinnamon.
I love baking every month of the year, but there is something about buying apples and picking pumpkins that makes me a little more ambitious.  In October I look forward to sharing some new pumpkin recipes with you.  While I'm not freezing bushels of apples like last year, we have already been filling our freezer with bags of apples.  I'm also excited to share a variation of my traditional apple crisp that's healthier but still sooo delicious.

There would be no apple desserts without the apples though.  Last year we started a new tradition of visiting Wisconsin apple orchards.  We were joined this year and last by a number of family members from the Midwest.  The drive this morning was especially beautiful as the fog burned off while we drove through the hills.

September 5, 2014

Never Enough Time

I will openly admit that I was more emotional than I thought I'd be about my youngest starting Kindergarten.   How is it that it's already time for my baby boy to be in school all day?  Mid-August I started seeing posts and pictures of friends' children smiling brightly and heading off to school.  That's when the emotions started to set in.  That's when I publicly admitted how I was feeling.  That's when a handful of friends and family admitted that they too were in the same situation and feeling the same emotions.  What a pleasant surprise!  Thankfully, this was not the first time that I was honest and found out that I was not alone.
I will also admit that I had big plans for what I would do with all the time I would now have. 

September 3, 2014

Organizing Time: Weekly Meal Planning

Credits: #1, #2, #3, #4
This year I've been doing weekly meal planning, and I'm writing today to tell you it's well worth the effort!

So, why bother with meal planning?  It saves money and it saves time.  I'd say that is a win, win!

Our family saves money because we plan meals based on what's in season and on sale.  Also, planning ahead means we get all the food we need in one trip to the grocery store, instead of shopping multiple times a week.  Well, sometimes I go to a few stores on my errand day, depending on who has the best deals.  But, I have a list and stick to it.  

Not only does it save time to be prepared when I'm out running errands, but it saves time each night to know what we are making for meals and to know we have all the necessary ingredients.  I don't miss the talks a half an hour before supper is supposed to be ready, when everyone is hungry, and we're trying to decide who wants to eat what only to find out we don't have what we need anyway!

Everyone will have their own preference as too how much they want to plan ahead.  Simply do a Pinterest search for "weekly meal plan" to find a wide variety of meal planning methods, menus, and free printables.  I have included some of my favorites at left.  {Click the number below in the "Credits" caption to link to the website for each form.}

Of course, I couldn't just decide right away which form would fit our family... It was a process.  I have seen a variety of ideas similar to #1 and just love them.  Talk about cute and practical! {Some of them even listed the recipe or ingredients on the back of each meal card.}  But, I had to be honest about whether I would actually take the time to get this system all together... Not at this stage in our busy life.  Many people prefer a simple sheet with one column on the left for daily supper ideas and one column on the right for a grocery list {see #2}.  I did know that I wanted to plan for more than just supper, at least some days of the week.  I liked the design of #3 {because it's pretty} and it serves the purpose just described, but I think you could also use it to list more than one meal for each day down the right column.  In the end though, I figured that we would need something more like #4.  I did use this format for a little while.

June 9, 2014

Household Helpers

Morning place mats have been working wonderfully for two years now.  But, with summer fast approaching, I knew it was about time to set up some sort of system to let the boys know what chores I expect them to help with.  At 5 years and 7 1/2 years old, they are able to help out more around the house, especially when they are home all day.  Also, we have been discussing starting to give our boys allowance. 

All of this got me thinking about what would work best in our home.  A great excuse to look at Pinterest for inspiration!  You can see some of my favorite ideas saved on my Parenting board.  There are lists of developmentally appropriate chores for different ages, commentaries on linking allowance to chores (or why you might choose not to), and many creative ways to create chore charts.

The thing is that my husband and I don't want our children to think of their helping around the house as "chores."  More important, we want them to understand that certain helpful behaviors are their responsibility as a member of our household.  This mind set applies to both jobs around the house and to routine responsibilities.  Here are a few examples of responsibilities that I expect my boys to take care of without my asking: put your shoes away when you come inside, flush the toilet, clear your dishes after you eat, throw your dirty laundry down to the basement.  So, we decided to extend the idea of our morning routine and also establish summer afternoon and evening routines where the children are reminded of their routine responsibilities.  Here are the cards:

So many ideas on Pinterest were very cute and definitely practical.  In the end, however, I decided I wanted the boys to be responsible for more than just a half dozen of the same daily chores.  Inspired by how another mother used mailboxes, I came up with our non-chore non-chart Household Helpers kit.  {BTW: The boys helped me decide on the name.}

June 7, 2014

Morning Place Mats

What parent wants to follow their children around reminding them to take care of basics like getting dressed or to pick up after themselves?  What parent wants to nag about getting everything together before school or getting their chores done?  We're not perfect and yes my children sometimes leave a trail of dirty clothes, leave a room a disaster, or leave their lunch at home.  But, I don't want that to be our norm.  I want to raise boys with awareness and responsibility.

http://ichoosejoy2day.blogspot.com/2014/06/morning-place-mats.html My children work best with routine, so I work with that.  When my oldest was in 1st grade and my youngest started 3-year-old preschool, we started setting out a place mat for each boy at breakfast.  Our oldest has always been an excellent reader, so his place mat has words.  Our youngest has a picture schedule.  The left column labeled "To Do" is their morning routine.  The right column is our version of "Get Your Gear," which is a list of what they need to gather to be ready for school.  If they are not staying on task in the morning, I simply say: "Check your chart.  Are you all ready?"

Morning place mats work for us for a variety of reasons: The boys like it.  If they are off task, I can ask a basic question and I do not have to remind them about specific responsibilities all morning.  They like being responsible and independent.  I, of course, like this too.  Also, they are motivated to get ready so they can fit in some free time (like playing or reading) before school.  Sometimes, when they don't need reminders and have been very responsible, we even let them have a little screen time before school.  It's so nice not to have rushed, stressful mornings!

This system has worked wonderfully unchanged over the last 2 years.  As the children got older, they've helped with more "chores" throughout the day.  In the morning and after school, the boys have gotten used to looking for dishes or silverware to put away, laundry to fold and put away, or another way to help out around the house.  The great thing is that jobs have gotten done with very few reminders!

January 5, 2014

Mission Project Completion


So, we've already established that I don't really set resolutions at the start of each new year.  I do, however, find myself thinking of projects.  Today's project has been tidying up my Pinterest boards... Okay that may take more than one day!  I don't know about you, but I do tend to start one task and then get distracted by other only slightly related tasks.  I still have not found that school lunches template that I wanted to print out... and I didn't like any of the other meal planning sheets I found... but I did find a great daily and weekly task chart to personalize.

So, today I'm going to share a few resources that I hope will help me stay focused and get things done.

New Year: Healthy Choices in 2014

Fact: I'm not one to make New Year resolutions.  But... I have been missing Zumba, and I do want to find ways to be more active (especially now that it's sooo cold outside).  And... I do want to eat healthier foods, and I need to have more energy.

Thing is, I've struggled to figure out what is actually "healthier" to eat.  As is usually the case for me, a lot of different influences have come together to change my life for the better.  The end result is that I'm starting to eat and feel better, and I have so much more energy! 
The key concept I keep coming back to again and again is BALANCE.

September 9, 2013

Baking Fall Treats: Bushels of Apples


What's the best way to celebrate the start of Fall?  Well, until this year I may have answered differently, but now I must say it's with all things apples!

Why so much excitement about apples?  Well, last year Iowa didn't have many, but this year my parents' neighbor's trees were very bountiful!  And this weekend starts all the apple fun, because my mom was awesome enough to bring us up a bunch of yummy Iowa apples.

April 14, 2013

Living Room: Pops of Color (version 1)

Finally, finishing up some rooms!  While my laundry is still all over the bedroom floor (well, nothing new there), I did get the boys' rooms unpacked fairly quickly.  After two weeks, we are finally adding the finishing touches to the living room and the boys' bedrooms. It feels great to no longer have bare walls and to feel a sense of accomplishment having totally decorated a few rooms. 

I've always loved wood floors.  There's something comforting knowing there's wood throughout the main level, but I have to say having carpet in the living room has really grown on me.  The boys have done a great job of leaving their shoes and food in the kitchen and keeping the beige carpet clean.  It was interesting decorating an all vanilla room though without having wood on the floor and a colorful area rug to pull all the colors together.  So, I stepped out of my comfort zone and decorated with bright pops of color and played with asymmetrical design.  I also stepped away from relying on dark brown wood tones to ground everything and added touches of black throughout the room.
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