When we learned that I would be having another boy, so many people were disappointed that we wouldn’t have a little girl. I, for one, was not. Don’t get me wrong! I absolutely adore all of my nieces, and the idea of having a child who might actually enjoy shopping or someone to get pedicures with would certainly be fun - and expensive! And, I know for a fact that Chris would never be able to tell her no!
After having two boys already, I feel like I know what I’m doing, even if so many things have changed since they were born. Between balls, Legos, superheroes, and anything with wheels, I think I’ve gotten the hang of this #boymom thing! (Please note, I am also fairly certain this child will be totally different than my first two, and I will have to eat my words!)
When it came time to choose how to decorate the nursery for our little boy, I decided that since we were starting over on a new adventure to incorporate that into the theme and use maps. First things first, I started my Pinterest board of Nursery Ideas. I couldn’t find any bedding I really liked, so I searched Etsy and discovered this beautiful handmade bedding set from Hagar in Israel. After talking to my sister, Leigh, about how much I loved the fabric and wished I could find curtain panels to match, she coordinated with my other sisters and my Mama to order the bedding, and Hagar even made the curtain panels too!
We planned a date for all of them (plus my dear Aunt Wanda) to come over and paint the walls. Originally, this room was Caleb’s nursery with bright green walls to go with the green gingham and frog bedding we used for him and Seth. Over the years, it’s been a play room, a guest room, my father’s room when he’s had to stay with us after surgeries, and most recently, a bedroom for my sister, Latacha, and niece, Kasey. Once they found a place of their own, my boys and I set to work priming the walls to cover the bright green so we’d be ready when everyone came over to do the real painting.
Since it has been so long since my other boys were born (14 and 11 years!), I had given away all our baby gear, including furniture. I found out that my cousins were selling their nursery furniture, which was beautiful and an incredible deal!
Slowly, but surely, we’ve added to the room to make it functional and fun. The futon will give my Mama a place to take a nap when she's babysitting or if she wants to stay overnight sometime. The glider-rocker was my Mother’s Day present from Chris and the boys, so now we have a place to rock baby Perry to sleep. The little rocking chair was mine when I was a little girl, and the wooden toy chest was Chris’s, for a touch of sentimentality.
Tara covered Perry’s initials with maps as part of the decorations for my shower, and they’re perfect for personalizing this room into his space. Wire baskets underneath the changing table hold burp cloths and blankets, like the one Roxie quilted for Perry. I even found baskets with map fabric to hold all the baby essentials, and a matching photo album that will get filled with photos of all our adventures together!
Pick out something special for your own little or for a friend from our online store! Maileg Bunnies are some of our favorites additions to any nursery are treasured for many childhood years to come.
My husband, Chris, has always wanted another baby. I’m the one who proclaimed we were done, especially once my boys were old enough to start taking care of themselves. Of course, in the back of my mind, I felt that maybe we weren’t completely done with children, but I really thought that God was leading us toward a path of fostering and potentially even adopting down the road. Our family and friends always joked with us that we needed to try one more time so I could have a little girl for Chris. He’s such a fun uncle to all our nieces, but I knew if we had a baby girl, he’d never be able to say no to her!
l’ll always remember how he would play and make faces with all babies and little kids while we were dating. It didn’t matter whether we were at church or with family around children we knew, or if we were complete strangers to a child in a store or restaurant, kids seemed to be drawn to him. I knew he would make an incredible father, thanks to moments like this, and that’s one of the things that made me fall in love with him. I was right; he is an incredible father!
With our first two boys, I was a stay-at-home mom. I’m grateful to Chris for making that time work because I know it wasn’t easy for us financially. Although teachers don’t make enough, losing my salary and insurance was quite a blow! Once Caleb started pre-school, and Seth started first grade, though, I began to toy with the idea of working outside our home again. I took a couple of long-term substitute teacher positions, which made it clear to both of us that I shouldn’t go back to teaching. Soon enough, Roxie and Matt talked to me about coming to work for them in The Cafe, which is how I joined the Fourth and Cherry family in 2011.
Fast-forward six years. By this point, I’m shuttling Seth and Caleb to school and extra-curricular activities, while working in The Café and as part of The Southern Mercantile team. I truly enjoy my job and feel as if I’m not only helping my family achieve their goals, but am starting to realize some of my own dreams. And then, I find out I’m pregnant again at 38 years old! (By the way, I turned 39 in March.) I must admit, I freaked out a little bit - my mind was reeling with thoughts of “I’m too old for this,” “My boys are old enough to do for themselves,” and “I don’t have time to have a baby!” When I revealed the news to Chris, I couldn’t tell if he was going to cry or pass out from the shock!
The first person I called was my sister, Marcy, who is a nurse practitioner in a maternal-fetal medicine practice, which means she deals with high-risk pregnant mothers. She has been such a valuable resource and voice of reassurance throughout my pregnancy - once she stopped laughing! Because of my “advanced maternal age,” I knew I would be referred to her practice, which was just fine with me. I trust my sister and wanted her to be as involved with my pregnancy as possible!
Once the initial shock of being pregnant wore off, my mind turned to worry and fear. I worried that I would miscarry early on, as I figured out I was pregnant around 5-6 weeks. Then, I worried I would have a later miscarriage, even into my second trimester. I worried about my baby having Down’s syndrome or some other chromosomal abnormality due to my age. There was a possibility that I could deal with Intrauterine Growth Restriction. And, the fact that Chris had a cerebral hemorrhage and seizures when he was born was a concern for the doctor, which made me worry about that.
You should know that I am not normally a worrier. When I do have irrational thoughts that flit through my mind, usually I can talk myself out of actually worrying about whatever is going on. With this pregnancy, though, I found that hard to do. I have had so many friends and family struggle with miscarriage, still birth, and infant loss, that it became a real fear for me. I had this horrible feeling that something terrible was going to happen to my baby, and then I would not only deal with grief, but also guilt over the fact that I felt so overwhelmed when I found out I was pregnant. For some reason, I had this irrational fear that I would never meet my baby, and I felt like it would be my fault.
At some point, after being reassured by my sister (and multiple test results) that my baby was growing as he should, with no signs of any abnormalities, I began to worry that my fear meant something terrible would happen to me instead. This made me worry more about leaving Chris, Seth, and Caleb behind to raise our baby boy. Instead of blaming me for losing him, would they blame him for losing me?
No one really knew how I was struggling. I’ve never understood how someone could be so paralyzed by fear and worry, but now I do. It is mentally taxing, and I see now how it can even be physically crippling. I prayed and prayed for God to grant me peace somehow, but it didn’t come. Until Easter Sunday.
I don’t remember much else about our Easter Sunday service, but I remember singing “Because He Lives.” And, I felt the presence of the Holy Spirit about me like I never have. I’ve always loved that hymn, even as a child. When I sing this song, I hear my Mama’s sweet soprano voice singing it along with me. If you’re not familiar with it, here’s the chorus:
“Because He lives, I can face tomorrow.
Because He lives, all fear is gone.
Because I know, He holds the future.
And, life is worth the living, just because He lives.”
Such simple words, but so powerful. I’m wiping tears even now as I recall trying to sing along that morning. I was emotional then, but could still sing until we began the second verse:
“How sweet to hold a newborn baby,
and feel the pride and joy he gives.
But, greater still, the calm assurance,
this child can face uncertain days, because He lives!”
By this point, I was a blubbering mess, just trying to hold it together, hoping no one would notice! I felt God’s peace washing over me, a “calm assurance,” and “all fear is gone.” Somehow, no one else saw me falling apart, or at least they never said anything. I’ve told very few people about this experience so far, but felt compelled to share it with y’all. I want you to know how powerful God’s peace truly is, if you can allow the Holy Spirit to work in you. As Philippians 4:7 states, it really does surpass our understanding.
I left church Easter Sunday feeling so much lighter, even though my belly didn’t show it! And, wouldn't you know, God had already placed a reminder around me for when I would begin to fear again? A couple of years ago, my mother-in-law was cleaning out cabinets and found a plaque someone had given her when Chris was born. She passed it along to me, and somehow, that plaque ended up on the desk in the foyer of our home. What’s on the plaque? A copy of the hymn, “Because He Lives.” As I mentioned earlier, I’ve always loved this hymn, and as it turns out, this hymn brought great comfort to my mother-in-law when Chris was born with a cerebral hemorrhage and faced surgery once his seizures stopped. (That’s a miraculous story for another time!)
The week after Easter, I was diagnosed with gestational diabetes; no surprise, given my family history and the fact that I had almost every risk factor on the list. This means I have to keep track of my blood sugars, and if I don’t keep them under control, my baby could grow too big, which could mean I would have to have a C-section. I’m now on medication, which has a slight risk for stillbirth, so I have to go to the doctor twice a week to monitor his heart rate, while I make sure he’s moving throughout every day. While these are valid reasons for me to be scared, I don’t worry like I did before, “because I know, He holds the future.” And, whatever happens, “life is worth the living, just because He lives!”
A big thank you to Summer Laurel Photography for our new family portraits.
We are so excited to have our dear Katelyn back with us! We are so in love with this little girl they've brought into the world, and are so blessed to be a part of this family's life. We thought that our readers might want to share in the excitement with us, so here is Katelyn's latest blog post about sweet Lainey Kate.
They say time flies when you're having fun -- but it zooms by like a rocket when you're having the best time of your life thus far and also running on little sleep! It's hard to believe it's already been 6 weeks since we first met our sweet Lainey Kate, and what a wonderful 6 weeks it has been! Jake and I are loving this season of new beginnings. In less than 5 years we've both been new to South Georgia, new jobs, newlyweds, welcomed a newborn that made us new parents, and plans to soon plant new roots and make South Georgia, officially, our new home. Whew!
I was truly blessed growing up to be a part of a family that traveled. Since my parents were both school teachers, we had plenty of time in the summer to pack up and hit the road! Keep in mind, my parents were school teachers, so these were not glamourous vactations full of ski trips, water parks, restaraunts and hotels. Our road trips consisted of tent camping (thank you K.O.A.), dinners from the cooler (a.k.a. cooler crud) and finding all the cool stops along the way that were free or cheap! While our trips may have been a strain on the family budget, they were full of fun and happy memories (somehow you forget the stressful times when it is over). My brother and I were really lucky to have gotten to see so much of the United States of America!
From Mt. Rushmore, Devil's Tower, and The Grand Canyon, to a tour up the west coast of California, Oregon, and Washington. We visited the world's deepest hand-dug well in Greensburg, Kansas, Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico, an Indian Pueblo in Taos, New Mexico, and the cliff dwellings in Mesa Verde, Colorado.
Every once in a while, usually in the fall, we got to go to places like Disney World and Sea World!
Of course, as a teenager these trips got a little embarrassing. We were getting the car serviced in California on one of our trips, and I realized that my dad was wearing a tie-dyed tank top, shorts, fanny pack, and Mickey Mouse socks with sandals. We were quite a sight!
Y'all, this blog would be too long if I named all of the fun places my family traveled over the years! We usually landed in Colorado for a week or so somewhere along the way to visit with my grandparents and play in the mountains we all still love so much!
Being able to travel and see so much of our beautiful country did so much to help shape who I am today. I am a southern girl at heart, but I am sure you can tell by touring my home and reading my other posts that my style and personality has been heavily influenced by sights and experiences I was exposed to on our journeys! What a priceless treasure, to have been able to soak up different cultures, styles, people, and landscapes. Thanks to my adventurous parents for being willing to load us up and be away from home for weeks at a time. Your kids are better people for it!
In honor of all of these nostalgic feelings this summer, Tara, Jorj and I thought it would be fun to spread the southern love across the whole country! During the month of July we want to get a new Facebook "like" from at least one person in every state! So, if you are reading this, and you don't already follow us on Facebook, head on over and like our page! If you are a Facebook fan already, we hope you'll tag a friend from a far away place and help us reach our goal!
If you are heading out on a road trip of your own this summer, we hope you have safe and happy travels! Share a picture with us along the way!
I grew up in a small town. Scratch that. I grew up in a rural community outside of a small town. Next door to my grandparents’ farm and within a mile of the county line, I was the first one on the school bus every morning and the last one off every afternoon. Keep in mind, we have one elementary school, while the middle and high schools share a campus, for the entire county!
That summer of 2001 was so eye-opening and the best way we could have started our marriage. We did have a team to work with, and we lived with a young couple and their toddler daughter, but we really only had each other and God to lean on. There were breakdowns and culture shock, all of which brought us closer together.
After that summer, we went back to our normal lives in Atlanta, Chris completing his final classes and working part-time with a civil engineering firm, while I began my first year teaching middle school. Even though this was the life we had always dreamed of, something was still missing. We felt like we had left part of our hearts in Brazil and began to have new dreams of going back. Soon, we were presented with the opportunity to go back to Brazil as full-time missionaries and help create a Globalscope campus ministry. We were so excited!
The following spring (2002), Chris’s family farm was featured on a Food Network show called “Food Finds.” If you’ve read my blog “Muscadines, Grandma, and a Husband,” you’ll know that his family grows muscadine grapes. Chris’s grandfather, father, and uncle were interviewed for the show, which focused on the capsules “Papa Jacob” was making from the seeds of the muscadines and the health benefits they offered. At the time, he was making them by hand in his home office. I remember watching the show in our little apartment with one of our friends from Ocilla who also lived in Atlanta. Afterward, we all just giggled and stared at each other, amazed and bewildered at what we had just seen on TV!
Over the following year, it became more and more evident to us that we were supposed to stay in Irwin County. Serving God was our first priority, but we realized that we didn’t have to leave the country to do that. Looking back now, I can see how God worked through us and the chain-reaction of events that continue as a result of our decision to stay.
That summer, I discovered I was pregnant! Chris and I wanted to share our exciting news with our family in a fun way, so we went to The Shoppes at Fourth and Cherry to purchase a frame for our ultrasound picture. Roxie was at the register, so she was technically the first person we told that we were expecting. We had always known Roxie, since we went to high school together, but we weren’t close friends at the time. Little did I know how close we would grow!
Thirteen years ago, we could not have known how our decisions would affect the course of our own lives, much less so many others. Although we always tried to be faithful to what we believed to be God’s will, we haven’t always understood while in the middle of it. So many times, we’ve wondered what life would be like had we gone to Brazil. Our boys think it’s crazy that they would know how to speak Portuguese! We still have a special place in our hearts for the people of Brazil. I used to wonder if we missed God’s will by not going to Brazil. And, while I know that God would have used us there, I feel like our purpose is to be here, in this small town, to encourage this community, and to share it with the rest of the world. I feel like for the last thirteen years, we’ve been on the cusp of something great in so many areas.
The older I get, the more I grow to love Fall! Cooler mornings, turning leaves, the scent of freshly-dug peanuts have all become a few of my favorite things. I love how going back to school puts our family back in a routine after the freedom of summer. I also love celebrating the season at family reunions, fall festivals, really any holiday gathering.
Our family truly enjoys participating in our church’s “Trick-Or-Trunk,” which is our Halloween/Fall Festival type celebration. Since our church is located way out in the country, most children in our church don't get to go trick-or-treating. (Side note: I went trick-or-treating one time when I was a kid. My mama had to call ahead to let folks know we were coming to their house so they would be prepared to pass out candy. I think we drove around for two hours, visited 4-5 houses, and received a handful of candy. I did have an awesome “Bride of Frankenstein” costume, thanks to my crafty mama!) Stories like mine are what inspired “Trick-or-Trunk.” Church members park their cars in a circle, with their trunks facing inside the circle. They open and decorate their trunks, then once it gets dark, pass out candy to the children as they walk around the circle in their cute costumes. For many of these kids, it’s the only chance they have to trick-or-treat. For many of the adults, it’s a fun time to get dressed up, escape reality, and just enjoy themselves for a little while!
Throughout the years, our family has dressed up in various themes, usually in homemade costumes. It’s become a sort of tradition to decide what we’re going to be, then figure out how to make the costumes. Many times we’ve been superheroes and villains, but also movie characters, and this year - a family of trophies! My boys were champion tennis and soccer player trophies, while my husband and I snuck in a bit of adult humor: his plaque read “I Tried (participation award),” and mine read “World’s Okayest Runner!” We just love to have fun together!
This fall, we’ve already had two family reunions, are helping host a church youth retreat, have attended two festivals with more on the calendar, in addition to regular family and church holiday celebrations coming up. Now, you know that here in the South, we enjoy our celebrations, and the fact that they always revolve around food! And, confession time: I, like so many others, love pumpkin-flavored anything - I get positively giddy at my first pumpkin-spiced latte of the season! Since we have so many gatherings, I have a few recipes that I keep in mind to bring to the table. Harvest Cobb Salad is a great one, with sliced apples and pears, toasted pecans, dried cranberries, boiled eggs, and poppy seed dressing. Of course, green bean or hash brown casseroles are traditional, and usually enjoyed by most folks. I always like to bring something a little different, though. This year, I took a bread pudding recipe I’ve made many times and swapped a out a few ingredients to make a yummy Pumpkin Raisin-Bread Pudding! Even my boys, who don’t care much for bread pudding, loved it! It always makes me happy to make something my boys really enjoy!
Be sure to join our Recipe Club to receive a free printable recipe card with my Pumpkin Raisin-Bread Pudding recipe on it. This is a great dish to serve as dessert, but it’s also delicious for brunch!
Confession time: I am not a morning person. Like, NOT. at. all. I move at a sloth-like pace until about 8:30. Always have - you can ask my Mama! Unfortunately, I need to leave the house at 7:30 to get both boys to both schools by 7:50. Since they’re not tardy until 8:00, and my children take after their mother, that means there’s a frenzy of activity about 7:25 that usually lasts until 7:35-7:40 - searching for socks in the dryer, signing papers, yelling “I need money” and “Did you brush your teeth?” and “Let’s go! Get in the car!” Please tell me I’m not the only one here?
So, packing lunches every morning becomes one more thing to remember at the last minute that causes stress and panic. And, of course, I’m trying to raise my boys to be independent men who are comfortable in the kitchen. They have great role models in their Daddy and Papa! So, I thought to myself, “Why can’t they pack their own lunches?” Cue spotlight and angels singing.
After much research (read: way too much time spent on Pinterest), I created a system where they can pack their own lunches. I had everything all set up at the beginning of last school year, and it worked great! For a couple of weeks. Then, my car decided to wrap itself around a tree. Since I had just stocked everything, my system worked well for my husband who suddenly found himself playing the role of “Mr. Mom.” Then, suddenly, the baskets were empty. And, since my loving church family kept bringing food so my family would survive without me in the kitchen, there was no room for baskets in my over-flowing refrigerator! I couldn’t drive or work, so I didn’t have any place to be at any particular time. Because of that, packing lunches didn't stress me out like it once did, and that was one thing I could do to be helpful.
Here we are, a year later, and I’m trying to get my system back into place. Now that my older son is in middle school where there are more options, and all our schools now have free lunch (high-fives all around!), he usually eats in the cafeteria. That helps me tremendously! My younger son tends to be a little more picky. Not like he’ll only eat chicken tenders and french fries, but more like he sometimes wants all fruit in his lunchbox. He usually doesn’t care for his foods to be mixed together, although he loves nachos. And, texture plays a big part in whether or not he likes a food - french fries and oven roasted potatoes are fine, baked or mashed potatoes are not. He has eaten a whole tomato like an apple and entire containers of cherry tomatoes, loves chili and spaghetti, but doesn’t like “cooked” tomatoes. Somehow, all his food preferences make sense to me, but because the school cafeteria that has hundreds of kids to feed every day doesn’t tend to cater to what one child likes, if I don’t want him to go hungry, then we’re packing his lunch.
So, my system is pretty simple. I fix the “entree” of his lunchbox, whether it’s leftover taco soup in a thermos, a turkey bacon ranch wrap, a chef salad, or his all-time favorite, the old standby, PB&J, with Southern Mercantile Jam (any flavor, he loves them all!). Sometimes, on super busy mornings (or when I’m moving especially slowly) he’ll just grab a nachos or pizza Lunchable. Really, I’m just trying to give him something with protein that will fill him up. He also really likes cheese (real cheese, not string cheese) and yogurt, so I encourage him to grab one of those if I think he needs a little more protein or dairy.
Next, I have a basket of fruits and veggies from which he can pick two. I try to prepare ahead of time and have bags of cut-up celery, baby carrots, or grapes ready to go, but there are also apples and clementines..
In the pantry, I have two baskets. He can pick one from each, which usually gives him something sweet and something salty.
It’s so easy to fill a lunchbox with junk because it’s shelf-stable, and I try to go to the grocery store only once a week. I’m trying to teach my boys to make healthier choices, though, which means I have to limit what they eat out of the pantry. That’s one reason I like having the system of baskets. I set the guidelines by deciding what goes in each basket and how many items he can have from them, but he gets to choose what he wants in his lunchbox, so he feels empowered and independent. That’s a win-win for me!
Maybe you have your own system for packing lunches. Or, maybe you have an ingenious system to help with some other daily chore. If you have any tips to share, we’d love to hear them! Share your ideas here on The Southern Mercantile blog or on our Facebook page.
A few years ago, my family began doing something we never thought we’d do - camping! Now, we didn’t want to invest in a camper or RV because we knew we’d feel like we had to use it for every single trip we took, and I still enjoy sleeping in a hotel room for some trips! Instead, we purchased a tent, which claims to sleep 6 people, but in reality has just enough room for the four of us. As our boys grow taller and taller, that tent gets smaller and smaller!
I love going camping in our little tent, though. Not because I’m really that "outdoorsy," although I do appreciate the natural surroundings. I love it because it’s time spent with my family with little to no distractions! When we’re at home, we don’t stop to look for fireflies or build a fire to roast marshmallows. My boys enjoy riding their bikes through the woods so much more than they do at home. Just the simple things like playing cards or eating hot dogs are so much more fun than they would be at home.
On a camping trip, we’re in close quarters with each other, which would be annoying at home. Even when we go on vacation and stay in a hotel room, we have more space. And, since we’re physically closer, I think it also brings us closer together in our relationships with each other. We go on adventures together, doing things we’ve never done and seeing things we’ve never seen before. I love knowing that we are building memories with our boys that they will have for a lifetime.
I’d like to share with you some of our favorite camping spots so far. We’d love to hear from you if you’ve had great experiences at the same locations! Since we’re really just getting started with camping, we’d also love to hear your suggestions for our next camping trip!
1. Tybee Island
This was our first tent camping experience, and it was a great one! We went with my sister’s family, who had actually been tent camping before, which was a big help. Tybee’s beaches are a lot more natural and less "tourist-y" than many beaches, but we liked that. There are lots of cute little shops and our favorite seafood place, "The Crab Shack." Of course, Tybee is also just minutes away from Savannah, so there’s plenty to do!
2. Anastasia Island State Park
Anastasia Island is just across the Bridge of Lions from St. Augustine, with a more natural and less crowded beach. Of course, the trip to St. Augustine is quick, so we enjoyed touring the St. Augustine Pirate Museum, Ripley’s Believe It or Not! and Castillo de San Marcos. Of course, my boys’ favorite moment was when they fired the cannons from the fort!
3. Red Top Mountain State Park
We loved Red Top Mountain because our tent site was right on the banks of Lake Allatoona! My boys just slipped right off the rocks and in to the cool water! We visited the Booth Western Art Museum and The Etowah Indian Mounds. Both were fun and informative field trips that even my boys could appreciate.
4. O’Leno State Park
We just visited O’Leno State Park recently, and again, my sister’s family came with us. Located in North Florida, O’Leno is apparently short for "Old Leno," which was once a bustling little town in the late 1800s, until the railroad was diverted around it. We took a short hike from the park area to see where the Santa Fe River actually disappears underground! The river continues underground for three miles before it resurfaces in River Rise Preserve State Park. This time, we didn’t plan much in the way of activities, but we did kayak down the Santa Fe River and saw several springs, including Lilly Springs, where we found "Naked Ed." Yes, he is naked, as my son discovered in attempting to be the first to arrive at the springs! He has a small dock where he sits with a wall to protect your eyes, and he is happy to talk with visitors about his life and family and how he came to be "Naked Ed." It was certainly an experience we’d never have anywhere else!
5. FDR State Park
Our family has made several trips to Callaway Gardens, but hadn’t really taken notice of FDR State Park. Boy, had we been missing out! There were so many places to hike and picnic and just take in the beautiful views! Of course, we saw Callaway Gardens again and enjoyed the Butterfly Center and the Birds of Prey show, but we also visited Warm Springs to see President Roosevelt’s Little White House and learn a little more about his life. And, we drove a little farther to Pine Mountain to the Wild Animal Safari! That was one of the most interesting and fun adventures we’ve had! If you go, rent a van - I promise, it’s worth it!
One thing that has always bothered me when we camp is the amount of trash we accumulate by using paper cups and plates. I don’t really like using plastic (just personal preference) and I certainly don’t trust my packing skills enough to take anything breakable! I’ve found the perfect solution here at The Southern Mercantile - our beautiful enamelware! By investing $36 in a set of four plates and four mugs, I’ll cut down on our trash for years to come, and I’m sure I’ve already spent that much on paper goods in the past!
As the mother of two busy, growing boys, I know how hectic life can be, running from work to sports practices and games, then to art lessons and church. I also know how important having dinner together at home is. According to www.familydinnerproject.org:
“Over the past 15 years researchers have confirmed what parents have known for a long time: sharing a family meal is good for the spirit, the brain and the health of all family members. Recent studies link regular family dinners with many behaviors that parents pray for: lower rates of substance abuse, teen pregnancy and depression, as well as higher grade-point averages and self-esteem. Studies also indicate that dinner conversation is a more potent vocabulary-booster than reading, and the stories told around the kitchen table help our children build resilience. The icing on the cake is that regular family meals also lower the rates of obesity and eating disorders in children and adolescents.”
Here are my 5 tips for how to make Family Dinner happen, in spite of busy schedules:
1. Plan ahead.
I try to take the time on Sunday evening to look through our family’s schedule for the next week to determine which nights we can eat at home and which nights we’ll have to eat out. I plan my meals based on the amount of time I will have to cook each evening. (This also helps our family budget, which makes my hubby happy!) My family’s favorite meal on a night I don’t have a lot of time is nachos. We each choose our own toppings, from ground beef, lettuce, tomatoes, and cheese. We also love to add sour cream and homemade salsa and guacamole. Make sure you’re signed up for our email list and join our Recipe Club to receive a Recipe Card with our Homemade Salsa and Guacamole recipes!
2. Crockpot meals.
I go through spells of using my crockpot all the time, then not using it for a while. When life gets busy, though, my crockpot is a lifesaver! I use it for lots of soups and stews, but even if you just use it to cook your meat, the rest of the meal comes together pretty easily. There are lots of crockpot cookbooks and recipes out there, especially on Pinterest. My family’s favorite right now is Asian Pork Tenderloin with Ginger Glaze, which you can find here (shoutout to The Food Charlatan!)
3. Plan to pick up takeout or have semi-homemade.
On the nights your schedule just won’t allow you to cook, go ahead and decide what you can pick up and add to at home. Whether it’s a bucket of fried chicken, so all you have to do is cook a box of macaroni and cheese and heat up a can of green beans, or if you order pizza and add a salad, figure out what will take the most time and a way to reduce that amount of time.
4. Have a back-up plan.
Sometimes, even after planning ahead, you still end up with less time than you thought you would have. I try to keep certain items in my freezer and pantry, so that I can throw together my meals rather quickly. Cans of beans and diced tomatoes stay on my pantry shelf, and I know that my microwave can defrost one pound of meat in less than 10 minutes. That means I can throw together a pot of chili or taco soup in half an hour. Filling my pot with hot water before putting it on the stove helps it to boil faster, which means I can have pasta topped with canned spaghetti sauce and meatballs from the freezer within half an hour, too. Also, my kids love breakfast for supper, and they never realize it’s because I ran out of time! Scramble some eggs, boil water for some quick grits, and fry a little bacon (okay, a lot!), and get ready for smiles. Know what meals you can pull together quickly, then make sure you keep those ingredients at the ready.
5. Make the restaurant table your family dinner table.
You’ve tried your best to make family dinner at home work, but there are times when even your backup plan falls through. I know how you feel, but this still does not make you a failure. Instead, accept the fact that you’re going to have to eat dinner out, then have dinner at the restaurant table just as you would have at home: no phones, talk about highs and lows for the day, play word association games, tell stories, etc. Enjoy the service and the meal prepared by someone else, while you enjoy time together with family! You can even make it an event by inviting extended family!
A long time ago, my sister taught me that with family meals - just as in so many other areas of life - we have to choose between good, better, and best. Of course, a home-cooked meal from scratch at a beautifully set table with spouses and children who talk about their day is best, but that’s not always going to happen. Sometimes, you choose what is only good or better, knowing that you have done the best you could do at the time. Cut yourself some slack, and have a PB&J on paper plates, if you have to. Just make sure that as often as you can, your family has the chance to have dinner together.
This year we served the caramel corn in a big jar and provided cute paper bags for people to fill. You can see that it is also very cute served in little paper cones. However you choose to serve it, this caramel corn is sure to be a big hit at your next gathering! It would also make an excellent gift!
Grammy's Caramel Corn
8 quarts popped corn
1 cup butter
1 tsp. butter flavoring
2 cups brown sugar
1/2 cup white corn syrup
1/2 tsp. baking soda
Divide popped corn into two flat pans. In a saucepan, combine butter, butter flavoring, sugar, and corn syrup. Boil for 5 minutes. Stir in baking soda. Pour mixture over corn and mix well. Bake 1 hour at 250 degrees, stirring every 20 minutes.
**One of Grammy's Tips: Line pans with foil and coat with a nonstick spray to avoid sticking.
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