Quick and Easy Meals for Back to School

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Life is getting busy ’round these parts.  School has started back, the girls have cheerleading twice a week, we meet weekly with our church small group, and all the little things in between.  And as much as I love meal planning, and I love cooking, I have to adjust my meals a bit because my energy level is just not quite there like it was during the summertime!  So, I have compiled a list of quick and easy go-to recipes that take very little time to make, and not too much thought, so they can be made for your family on even the busiest of school nights!  I’ll be adding at least two of these to my meals plans each week, and hope you can find a few new ideas too!

Ham, Green Beans, and Mac and Cheese– About $8 and 15 minutes is all you need for our family favorite!

Pizza– Add a salad if you’re feeling like an overacheiver 🙂

Bread and Cheese Antipasto Plate (shown above)– One of my favorite dinners!  Buy a baguette, some cheeses, salami or proscuitto, and a few dips or spreads (we got a spinach dip and an olive tapenade above).  Add some grapes or apple slices, broccoli or sugar snap peas, roasted beets, olives, pickles, almonds or other nuts, and you have one heck of a spread!  I’d add a  it of wine too… 🙂

Chicken Parmesan Casserole– Buy some fried chicken tenders from the deli at the grocery store.  Cut them up into chunks and put them in the bottom of a greased casserole dish.  Top with a jar of spaghetti sauce, about a cup or two of shredded mozzarella, and then a sprinkle of breadcrumbs.  Bake about 20 minutes at 350, and done!  Add a salad and you’ll have a realy great dinner that is seriously so simple.

Breakfast– I almost guarantee that any mom who has a husband that travels keeps this one in their back pocket.  My kids think it is SO FUN to have pancakes, eggs, and bacon for DINNER (crazy!!), so if it’s a hit for the kids, it’s a hit for me.

Meatball Subs– Buy a bag of frozen meatballs, and add them to a frying pan.  Add a jar of spaghetti sauce, and cook the meatballs until they’re warmed through.  Heat up your broiler.  Add the meatballs to a hoagie roll, top with shredded mozzarella cheese, and broil until the cheese is melted.  Add french fries or chips and dinner is ready!

Spaghetti– Seriously, all you need is spaghetti sauce, groud beef/turkey (or not!), and noodles.  You can add diced onion, diced peppers, fresh tomatoes, mushrooms, etc., but do you realllllly need it when you’re going for quick and easy?  Nope.  If you want to be really fancy, put your finished spaghetti into a casserole dish and top with mozzeralla cheese and bake at 350 for about 20 minutes for baked spaghetti.

Hot Dogs– I mean, I seriously love a good hot dog.  Ketchup and mustard, relish, chopped onions, and a can of chili, or just naked!  Add chips and pickles.  Maybe some Bush’s Baked Beans.

Grilled Cheese and Tomato Soup– Pretty sure this will be on our meal plan next a week.  So easy, but SO GOOD.  Also a total kid crowd pleaser!

Quesadilla Idea #1: Chicken Quesadillas– I have 3 favorite quesadilla dinners!  The first is basic.  Get those tyson pre-cooked chicken strips where you find deli meat, and add them to your tortilla with shredded cheddar.  Top with another and heat it up (microwave or skillet). Boom.  Add chips and salsa and guac.

Quesadilla Idea #2: Pizza Quesadillas– Add a little pizza sauce to your quesadilla, and shredded mozzarella.  Then top with your favorite pizza toppings!  I usually add a few slices of pepperoni, diced green peppers, and mushrooms.  Top with another tortilla and heat up!

Quesadilla Idea #3: Philly Cheesesteak Quesadillas– Might be my favorite??  Saute some sliced green peppers and onions.  Add to tortilla.  Top with deli roast beef and shredded cheddar.  Top with second tortilla, heat and serve.  SO GOOD.

Chicken Caesar Salad and Breadsticks– Buy a bag of caesar salad mix (or your favorite!) and the tyson grilled chicken strips in the deli section.  Add a box of frozen garlic breadsticks (taste just like Olive Garden!), and dinner is ready in the time it takes the breadsticks to bake.  SO EASY and delicious!

Loaded Baked Potatoes– Bake a fw potatoes, and top with sour cream, butter, chili, cheese, and add a veggie on the side.

KFC Bowls– Easy, good, and kid friendly!  Layer cooked mashed potatoes (either thr Ore-Ida Steam and Mash or the Country Crock premade mashed potatoes), cooked chicken nuggets or popcorn chicken, and warmed canned corn, and top with brown gravy.  Comforting, quick, and easy.

Greek Flatbreads– Layer flatbreads or pitas with hummus, and top with chopped cucumber, tomatoes, red onion, kalamata olives, and feta cheese.

Baked Ravioli Lasagna– The last time I made this, I decided I wouldn’t make lasagna any other way!  Layer spaghetti sauce on the bottom of a 9×13 casserole dish, then top with a layer of cheese ravioli, then mozzarella cheese.  Repeat the three layers three times, and bake at 350 for 20-30 minutes.  Done!  And SO much easier than old fashioned, labor intensive lasagna!  And just as good!

Rotisserie Chicken– I love picking up a rotisserie chicken from the grocery store for dinner.  Grab a couple deli sides, or a bag of salad, or some frozen steam-in-bag veggies, and dinner is ready in NO time.

Slow Cooker BBQ Pork Sandwiches– Okay, so not technically quick since it’s in the slow cooker all day, but the prep time is SUPER fast and it’s so, SO good.  Toss a bottle of BBQ Sauce in the slow cooker, and a pork tenderloin, cook on low for 6-8 hours.  Shred the pork and mix with sauce.  Put BBQ on hamburger buns and top with coleslaw (coleslaw cabbage mix and coleslaw dressing) and pickles and serve some fries on the side.

Sausage, Pepper, and Potato Hash– Buy your favorite polish sausage or kielbasa, and chop it into small pieces with a few potatoes, an onion, and 2 bell peppers.  Toss with olive oil, salt, and pepper, and spread evenly on a greased sheet pan.  Roast at 400 for about 30 minutes.

More Ideas– Sloppy Joe’s, Nachos, Tacos, Chopped Salads, Stir Fry, Fish Sticks, Sandwiches, and so much more!

What are your favorite quick and easy recipes?!  What are your weeknight go-tos??

This entry was posted in Eat.

10th Anniversary Weekend

Hello Friends!  I was radio-silent last week as I got a bunch of work done and prepped for a long weekend away!  Want to hear more about it??

Scott and I were able to get away for a long weekend to celebrate our 10th wedding anniversay this past weekend!  He had a work conference in Charlotte, so I was lucky enough to be able to tag along for the weekend, and we turned it into a fun weekend celebrating our marriage!  My awesome in-laws came and were able to hold down the fort here at the house with the kiddos, and we were able to get out of town Thursday just before noon.  We drove up to Asheville, NC, which I have wanted to visit for quite some time, and stayed our first night there.  We had reservations at the Haywood Park Hotel, which was a converted Department Store!  It was an amazing hotel right in downtown Asheville, with a ridiculously big room, and free champagne at check-in (won me over right there).

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So we rested for a few minutes, got changed and got ready to head out for our anniversary dinner a day early!

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We headed out for an awesome dinner at the Lobster Trap in downtown Asheville.  We wanted something a little more casual, and we certainly wanted a bunch of oysters and a good wine list!  They definitely had both.

We started out with Dirty Martinis, which is one of our favorite cocktails (we rarely drink them, but do have them on our anniversaries!).

Then we ordered a dozen oysters, and then a dozen more, haha!  We love New England oysters- we think they are smaller, cleaner, and have a less fishy taste than those from the Gulf.  And we love horseradish, and always ask for an extra huge scoop in our cocktail sauce.

Next, we ordered a clam and mussels steam pot  and lobster stuffed mushrooms, both of which were pretty good.  When we were at Five & Ten in Athens for my birthday, we ordered the most delicious bowl of clams and broth that we nearly slurped completely down.  These were good, but not quite as good as Five & Ten!  But garlicky, tasty broth and bread is always a winner for me.

Annnnnnndddd…then we ordered another dozen oysters.

For our entrees, Scott ordered a Salmon special, and I got the steamed lobster.  YUM.

We split a bottle of wine, finished our amazing dinner, and headed back to the hotel to a little bistro in the lobby, where we had dessert and a couple more drinks to top off the night!

Our first night out was wonderful, and we LOVED Asheville.  We are anxious to go back when we can spend a little bit more time!

But Friday morning, we were up and ready to head to Charlotte!  We stopped in Fort Mill, SC and spent a few hours with my brother in law and sister in law, and then headed to our hotel in downtown Charlotte, the Hyatt House.

We got complementary cheesecake in our room for our anniversary (SO nice and SO good!), so we ate it (duh), rested a bit, and headed out for some pizza on our official anniversary night!  We were super lame, but so tired from the night before, so we came back to the hotel, watched the Olympics for a bit, watched Dirty Dancing (my FAVORITE!!), and headed to bed early.  But it still made for a wonderful anniversary.  I was with my love, and we enjoyed our day together!

Saturday morning, Scott had to get up and head out to meetings all day, so I was able to lazily watch tv and lounge, then I got ready, and headed back to Fort Mill to have lunch and shop with my sister in law!  We ate sushi and had a few cocktails at lunchtime, then did a bit of shopping in Baxter Village, which was the cutest little retail/restaurant area near her neighborhood.   Such fun girl time, and we had a great time!  I headed back to Charlotte, and not too long after I got back Scott was done with his meetings and we headed out again!

We had a reservation with his colleagues to go to Exit Strategy in Charlotte.  It’s one of these places that have begun to pop up, where you get locked in a room for an hour with 7-8 other people, and you have to find clues to solve a murder or find clues to get out or whatever within the 60 minutes that you are in the room.  It is an interactive experience and we had SO much fun!!!  It was a little scary, but just at first (I am a totally weenie and can’t even watch scary movies anymore), but so cool, and such a fun night out that we definitely would have not done otherwise.  I would totally recommend going!!  We knew everyone in our group, and I think that was a definite advantage. I would go again with family, or a large group of friends or something- I don’t think it would be as fun with people you didn’t know.  But we had a GREAT time, and we beat our room!!!  We figured out the Who, What, Where, and Why of the murder!

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After our fun night out, and a long day for the both of us, we were just worn out!  We decided to hit up a local Trader Joe’s on our way back to the hotel (one of our old faves that we don’t get to visit nearly as often as we used to) to grab some wine, but once we started looking through the aisles, we thought we’d just make a dinner out of it!  We grabbed a baguette, some olive tapenade, spinach dip, beets, blue cheese, an onion, a couple salads, and with the salami, cheese, crackers, and pretzels we already had on hand, we had quite the “small plates” dinner in the hotel room!  We were so tired and so anxious to just lounge and eat in our jammies (yes, we are old and we are set in our ways), that it was perfect!

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Sunday morning we took our time getting ready to head out, but then hit the road after breakfast.  We got back home a little after 1 to relieve Nana and Pop, and see our three very favorite little people!  But they had been in very capable hands, and told us they had, in fact, NOT missed us, and wanted “just five more minutes” with Nana and Pop!  But they seemed to be pretty lovable and cuddly for “not missing us,” and wanted to tell us all about their fun weekend.

We were so thankful to have time away over our special anniversary, and enjoyed our tenth anniversary so much.  It’s hard to believe that we have been together that long, especially after looking back on pictures and reminiscing a lot over the weekend!  But Scott is truly an extention of me, and I of him after ten years.  We are a team, we are a unit, and being able to reconnect for the weekend without our everyday distractions was such a blessing.   We are more aligned and more in love than ever, and had a great weekend away.  Here’s to a DECADE, and here’s to many, MANY more!!

{{{Our Engagement Photo, 11 years ago!!!}}}

A New Venture- The Magnolia Marketing Group

Something had to change.

It was late last fall, just when my Goat & Lulu Christmas pajama orders were rolling in, and I was clocking in 7-8 hours of solitary sewing time after the kids went to bed.  Every night.  Weekends too.  And I had been doing it for three solid years, all by myself.  As much as I loved my handmade children’s clothing business that I had built from scratch, from a few simple appliqued onesies into an etsy shop with over 120 unique items, something just had to change.  I was exhausted, getting burned out, relationships were suffering, and though I was (and am :)) so proud of Goat & Lulu, the time and effort I was putting in just wasn’t paying off as much as we needed it to.  I am a people pleaser by nature, and it seemed that I was saying yes to all my orders, my business, and my customers, but in turn saying no to my family, my friends, and to myself.  I didn’t want to disappoint anyone, but I was, in fact, disappointing those few that mattered the most.

So after lots of tense conversations (by the way, I hate confrontational conflict, so these were especially uncomfortable) and lots and lots (and LOTS) of prayers, I stopped taking orders in my Etsy shop, effective January 1.  Initially, I was heartbroken.  I had worked so hard for nothing.  All the time I had put into Goat & Lulu was simply a waste now.  I was a quitter.  I was a disappointment.  I was terribly upset and didn’t know exactly where and how I fit in within our family dynamic anymore.  Until January 11th.

I began helping Scott in his new role in his new company.  While we were in Miami on New Year’s Eve for the Orange Bowl, Scott signed the papers selling his stake in his built-from-scratch business to his business partner (literally signed them on the back of our Honda and faxed them back at a UPS store before we headed out to tailgate for the Clemson game on December 31st!), and set out on a new opportunity.  When we got back from the trip and the holidays were over, we dove into the new company head first.  I started helping him with social media marketing, targeted email marketing, I created and sent out a monthly newsletter, I helped to redesign portions of the company webiste, I developed social media content, and pretty much did whatever he needed additional support with.  Before long, the marketing work was paying off, and even a few of Scott’s colleagues were interested in expanding their social media presence, and hired me on, kind of freelance, to help them with their own efforts.  Another opportunity arose that I was able to take advantage of, and all of a sudden, and kind of unintentionally, I had a (very) small marketing firm on my hands!  I missed sewing for my Goat & Lulu customers and filling orders, but was still getting the chance to sew for myself, and for my own kids (which I hadn’t been able to do nearly as much as I’d wanted to), and a custom order here and there, and not under the immense pressure that I was managing before.  And I was able to take on this new work that I could do during the day, even while the kids played in the same room, instead of having to work all night long sewing by myself.  Maybe, I finally decided, this was indeed the change I really needed, but just hadn’t known what to do or how to do it.  You know the saying, ” When God closes a door, he opens a window?”  Well, I’m pretty sure in my case God shut a window and opened a big door.

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I have since added a few more clients, made my new venture official, and The Magnolia Marking Group was formed a few months ago!  What I have discovered over the last several months is that social media marketing is absolutely essential for all businesses in this day and age, but especially important for small businesses.  The dilemma, however, is that if you are a small business owner, you are most likely caught up in the day-to-day priorities of your business activities, and have little room on your to-do list for time-intensive marketing campaigns!  As anyone that has lost themselves into the black hole of Facebook and Instagram for two hours at a time can attest (guilty), social media can be time consuming!  And that’s exactly where The Magnolia Marketing Group comes in.  We build your social media platforms, create a well-rounded social media presence for your business that builds your brand and creates brand recognition, we grow your followers, encourage follower engagement, and work directly with the business owner to grow the business and reach their goals in a collaborative manner.

And social media marketing is only the beginning!  We also design and build websites and blogs, design logos and other marketing materials.  We develop marketing promotions and targeted email and newsletter campaigns.  We develop blog and article content, and can collaborate creatively on other promotional events and ideas to build an online and real life community for your business.  And with my background in merchandising, we can help retail businesses with store design, and in-store merchandising, and schematic plans to maximize retail real estate and increase merchandise turn over and sales.  We are a multi-faceted markting firm, devoted to hands-on marketing campaign development, excellent customer service, and to taking your small business to the next level with a modern and creative take on marketing.

Though MMG has been taking up a lot of my time the last few months, it has been a welcome change.  I am still a stay at home mom (work at home mom, I guess) and am so thankful to able to spend precious time with my kids (though they are all in school most days during the week!), and have a flexible schedule.  I am not up all hours of the night and running on 4-5 hours of sleep anymore, hallelujah!!  I used to have so many people say, “I don’t know how you do it!” and I used to think, I really don’t either.  The way I had to work for Goat & Lulu (if I wanted to continue making everything from hand myself-which I did) just wasn’t sustainable long-term.  I knew that at the time, I just didn’t know what I could do about it.  Now I work with my husband (who also works from home) and collaborate daily on a business level, which has really been wonderful for our relationship.  Thankfully, we work really well together!  It has been an adjustment, no doubt, but we really respect each other and our individual business strengths, so we are able to bounce ideas off of each other and learn about each other in a completely different way.  MMG is certainly a creative marketing firm, so I am satisfying my daily need to create, but it also satisfies a more structured, organized side of me that I have been missing out on for a while.  I love that this business challenges me in new ways, but also allows me more freedom as a mom, a wife, and as a business owner than I have had in quite a while.

So…will I be reopening my Etsy shop?  Probably not.  Not like it was in the Goat & Lulu heyday, anyway.  But am I still creating and sewing?  Yes!  Mostly for myself and my kids, but I also take custom orders from old customers, friends, and family!  And I love being able to say yes, without stressing out, to those orders.  I still have Insta-Sales on my other Instagram page (@shopgoatandlulu) when I come across old samples or sew up a bunch of new items for fun when I find some extra fabric, and I have a couple of fun promotions on the horizon in the next few months.  I still have my Goat & Lulu Facebook page, and I’ll post on there from time to time.  And of course, my blog is titled, Goat & Lulu!  So the Goat & Lulu name won’t be going anywhere, it’s just that it has changed a bit.

Goat & Lulu will always have a special place in my heart, and helped me grow in ways that I wouldn’t have otherwise.  It built my work ethic and made me appreciate the value of handmade goods, and also made me appreciate the work and heart that goes into being a small business owner.  It also made me learn that it’s important to work hard, but, as Scott says, it’s even more important to work smart- and the smarter option for me and my family right now is The Magnolia Marketing Group.

I hope you’ll take a look at my website, follow me on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, and support me (as all my friends, family, readers, customers and everyone ALWAYS have), as I take on this new venture.  And of course, I am just one call, email, tweet, comment, or post away if you were to ever need marketing work!  I look forward to this new venture and all the growth and challenges ahead!


Meal Plan Monday

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Hello!  Happy Monday!  I tell you what, our first (half) week of school wore. me. out.  By Friday, we totally threw our meal plan out the window because cooking was about the furthest thing from what I wanted to do.  But we had a pretty low key weekend, so I am back on my meal planning game for the week ahead!  Here’s what we have on the menu:

Zucchini Lasagna

I have made this recipe a few times, and I truly think it’s almost better than the real thing!  You use thinly sliced zucchini instead of lasagna noodles, and it is SO good.  It’s not difficult, but it does take about 2 hours to make from start to finish, so it’s not a great weeknight dinner, but I made it yesterday (perfect for a Sunday!), and it was delicious.  Even the kids cleaned their plates, and Scott liked it too!  Highly recommended!

Grilled Chicken and Grilled Corn and Kale Salad

I am so anxious to try this salad!  It has been a billion degrees out everyday, and I love eating salads for a light dinner when it’s so hot.  This one is loaded with veggies- corn, onions, avocado, zucchini, squash, and kale, with a homemade dressing with lime and cumin.  Add a little grilled chicken, and we’ll be set!

Pizza and Salad

Brantley and Grayson have cheerleading practice twice a week right now, so at least two meals a week have to be super quick and easy.  Hence, the pizza and salad night.  The girls only like cheese on their pizzas, so I just buy a frozen one, a bag of caesar salad mix, and dinner is served in about 15 minutes with about the least amount of effort possible.  Works for me (and everyone else) on busy nights!

Crockpot Minestrone and Dinner Rolls

This will be my second quick and easy meal this week!  I can prep the crockpot soup in the morning, and then before we head out for cheerleading, I can bake the rolls and serve the soup.  Hoping for some leftovers that I can eat for lunch the next day too!

Ham Steak, Green Beans, Macaroni and Cheese, and Sauteed Cabbage

Our old family standby.  This meal is a favorite of all three kids, and actually it’s another quick and easy one.  I would bet that with school back in session, we eat this at least a few nights a month!

Grilled Fish and Vegetable Bowl with Brown Rice

We are trying to add more fish to our diets, and though this recipe actually calls for shrimp, I thought it sounded like a good idea, so we’re going to sub blackened tilapia in for the shrimp.  The combination of the other vegetables, and a side of brown rice ought to make it very filling and healthy.

So that’s our meal plan for us this week!  What are you having for dinner?  Check out more dinner ideas with my hashtag #goatandlulukitchen on Instagram!

Back to School Sweet Teacher Treats with a Free Printable!

We had such a wonderful first day of school yesterday!!  Brantley had her first day of 2nd grade, and my Gracie Girl started KINDERGARTEN (which blows my mind completely), and I met them in the car line yesterday afternoon, and they both had the biggest smiles that their little faces could bear.  But more on that later this week. 🙂  What I really want to share today is a sweet teacher treat and free printable to go along with it!!

I really like to start the school year out on the right foot with the kids teachers.  And how else to butter them up, get them on your side, and  begin on a high note than to send in homemade goodies?!  The last two years I have sent in muffins for the teachers, but this year, I wanted to switch it up and send in a spin on one of my favorite treats- cupcakes!  So this year, Brantley and Grayson’s teachers (and Ben’s too, in a few weeks) got cupcakes in a jar as a first day of school gift!

I used to order cupcakes in a jar as special little “just because” gifts from a favorite Etsy vendor, but she has since closed her shop.  But they are SO, SO easy to make and definitely easier to eat than a regular cupcake.  And I’ll show you just how I did it!

All you need are :

Cupcakes (I made mine from a box mix)- you’ll use about a cupcake and a half per jar


Sprinkles (optional, but to me, sprinkles are NEVER optional :))

Large Ziploc Bag or Piping Bag

Jelly Canning Jars and Lids

Baker’s Twine or Ribbon, and Downloadable Tag (see below!!)

So to start- Make some cupcakes!  My kids’ favorite combination is yellow cake and chocolate frosting, so that’s what we decided on.  While the cupcakes are baking, add an entire container of frosting to a large ziploc bag (or piping bag), and cut the corner out.

Once the cupcakes are done and have cooled a bit, take one cupcake and break it in half, width wise.  Place the top of the cupcake upside down into the bottom of the jelly jar to create your first layer.  You make your cupcake in a jar kind of like a trifle- layer by layer!  After you add the cake, take your frosting and pipe a good little blob of frosting on top of the cake.  Then add the second half of the cupcake, and another blob of frosting.  I actually intended on that being it, but there was just too much room left in the jar not to add another layer!!  So I took another cupcake half, added it in, and topped it with one last swirl of frosting and a layer of rainbow sprinkles.  Becauuuuuuse… sprinkles.

And the treat is complete!  So easy, and the teachers loved them!  And there are a thousand ways to make these cupcakes in a jar even better.  Make carrot cake, and add crushed pineapple and cream cheese frosting!  The flavor combinations are endless (chocolate cake and peanut butter frosting!  Vanilla AND chocolate cake!  Vanilla cake with sweetened condensed milk and caramel for Dulce de Leche!), and can be customized based on your own preferences.

And NOW, to cute it up a bit!  I FOREVER have tons and tons of fabric scraps hanging around, so I added a little fabric touch to the top of the jelly jar.  I just outlined the top, and cut outside my line about a 1/4″-1/2″.  I laid it on top of the jelly jar top (you can secure it with a bit of glue or double sided tape if it’s shifting on you), and then secured the top on with the cap.

And of course I wanted to add a cute, personalized tag!  I made these in picmonkey, added the kids names, printed them off, cut them out, and tied them on with bakers twine.  DONE!  The cutest little cupcakes in a jar for our wonderful teachers this school year!!

And the best part is, I am sharing the tags with you!  Click here to download the page of tags, save it to your computer, then open it in picmonkey or another photo editing program, and add your own kids names in!  You can also just print it off and write them in, or let the kids sign their own names.  Also, the tags say “A Sweet Start to the New School Year,” so you’re not limited to just making cupcakes in a jar!  You can make a cake, a basket of muffins (my old standby), a box of cookies, or donuts—if it’s sweet, it’ll work!

I hope you can use the cupcake in a jar idea or my sweet start tags to surprise your kids new teachers this year!  Despite the jokes, I genuinely am not trying to butter them up, I just want them to know that they will have our full support and that we are so appreciative of the work they do each and every day, teaching our children.  And maybe a little cupcake (and a half) will make their day a little sweeter!

Happy Back to School, y’all!

Meal Plan Monday

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Hellllloooooo Friends!  We are back from the beach (post coming soon!), and trying to get back into the swing of things since we only have  A WEEK AND A HALF of summer left!!!  Brantley and Grayson start 2nd grade and Kindergarten (WHAAAAAAT) a week from Wednesday, so we have 9 days to cram in the last bits of summer fun and back to school prep that we can!  And also a bit of down/relaxation time, since their little worlds are about to be rocked with school all day long and cheerleading twice a week!

SOOO…I am kickstarting my meal planning again this week to get back into the groove since the next few weeks will be super busy and having dinners all planned out will be my saving grace.  I have been stockpiling easy, healthy recipes and will be sharing lots of easy no-brainer dinners to keep in your back pocket, as well as my meal plans so you too can be prepared for back to school!

So with all that being said, here’s what we’ll be eating this week—

Ham Steak, Green Beans, and Loaded Cauliflower Mash Bake

I have been making a lot of recipes lately from SkinnyTaste, and when I saw this one for a loaded cauliflower bake, I thought it would be worth a shot.  I keep trying and trying cauliflower side dishes, but have found so many to be bland and boring.  But I actually made this last night, and it wasn’t so bad!  Next time I’ll add a bit more salt, but it was definitely a good sub for mashed potatoes.  And with two of our favorites- ham steak and green beans (tip- if you use canned green beans, use two cans, drain out the canning liquid and substitute one can’s worth of water, and add two chicken bouillon cubes and simmer for at least 30 minutes for much better tasting canned green beans!), it made for a tasty and healthy meal!

Slow Cooker Bahn Mi Rice Bowls 

I think I am most excited about this recipe!  I am anticipating lots of slow cooker meals like this in the upcoming weeks, since we’ll have more activities on weeknights and less time for cooking-intensive dinners.  Scott and I love Vietnamese flavors of Pho and Bahn Mi Sandwiches, and with this dinner we are just subbing the bread for some healthier brown rice, but keeping the sweet, sour, and spicy flavors that we love so much.  Plus, I am kind of obsessed with rice bowls.  They are so easy to make for a dinner- a protein, some rice/quinoa/noodles, and a bunch of veggies.   The kids love them too, since they get to pick whatever “toppings” they want.  Win-win!

Buffalo Chicken and Bacon Bubble Up Casserole and Broccoli

Buffalo chicken, bacon, and BISCUITS?  What could be better?!  Throw in a side of steamed broccoli, and I am pretty confident that this will be a winner.  Or should I say, a winner, winner, buffalo chicken dinner??  OHHHH-KAY…enough of that.  I am all about a good casserole, and if I pre-cook the chicken earlier in the day, it will make dinner prep a snap.

Bacon Mushroom Mac and Cheese and Asparagus

Comfort food without the guilt!  I love that this is actually a heart healthy recipe, and with some roasted asparagus on the side, it’ll satisfy my pasta craving without being too bad!

Cauliflower Tacos

Next to the Bahn Mi Bowls, this is the other dinner I am most looking forward to!  I had seen this recipe on Buzzfeed, but was just too hesitant to try cauliflower tacos…but after I saw it again on one of my favorite blogs, and she made it and said they were amazing, I have been so anxious to try them!  You roast the cauliflower in a little butter, hot sauce, garlic salt, salt and pepper, and then load the tortillas with refried black beans, corn, avocado, queso fresco, sour cream, more hot sauce, and jalapenos.  I am planning on making quesadillas for the kids, since I’m pretty sure the hot sauce and jalapenos would be way too spicy for them, but I am SOOOO excited about these tacos for me and Scott!

That’s all I have planned for us this week for dinners.  What are you making?  I love new ideas and new recipe recommendations!

Lutons Lately

I keep feeling like I post a lot about my Monday meal planning, and things I like on Fridays, and other “series” type posts here and there, but I don’t post as much about the day-to-day randoms or the goings-on of our family as much anymore.  Maybe those posts take a bit longer to write and I don’t have a ton of time on my hands right now, but I thought I’d throw together another “Lutons Lately” to fill you in on a few things that are going around in our parts!

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If you follow me on Snapchat or Instagram, you may know that I have been dealing with a HORRENDOUS allergic reaction to freaking poison ivy this past week, and I am finally getting past it (hence the thumbs up).  Evidently some people can roll around in the devil weed and get a few itchy bumps, and some can come within arms-reach of the plant and get shortness of breath and start breaking out in hives.  My reaction is not that bad (praise the LORD), but one of my dogs ran through it/played in it/burrowed into it early last week, and when I snuggled her after she came back inside, the oils from the poison ivy got on my skin and caused the itchy bumps to start forming (last Tuesday night), and elicited a full-on full body reaction with the red, bumpy, itch-like-you-have-been-bitten-by-10,000-mosquitos rash ALL OVER ME.  Like, chest, neck, arms, ears, face, abdomen, etc… I mean itching ALL OVER ALL THE TIME.  I would not wish this kind of reaction on my worst enemy.  I was afraid to touch Scott and the kids, and seriously, when I say that the itching was driving me crazy, I mean, it was driving me crazy.  Like bananas, out of my mind.  So, by Friday I knew that it was the real deal and I was really reacting badly.  So Saturday morning I went to the clinic at Walgreens where the best Nurse Practitioner in the universe gave me a 12-day dose of Pretnizone, Zyrtec, and some other kind of anti-histamine, that, when I say this, have seriously changed my life, I am so serious.  SWEET, SWEET RELIEF.  Within 24 hours the steroid and the Zyrtec were helping with the itching and kept my rash from spreading any more.  By yesterday, my itching was limited to my wrists, which were the last places the rash popped up.  So, PSA: if you see this plant in your yard:

at the very minimum, AVOID IT.  You do not want to go through (or have your kids or husband go through) what I had to go through!  And the more recommended suggestion is to spray the hell out of this plant with Round-Up or some other kinds of poison ivy and/or weed spray.  And wash your dogs (with gloves and long sleeves) if they get (or can get) into it!  Then go take a shower to rinse the oils off of you in case you were exposed.  Ugh.  Poison ivy rant over.

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Scott and I had such a fun date night a few weeks back!  He had a work conference that he was attending for a few days in Atlanta, and the final day, they had an awards gala and dinner at the Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta, and I got to go too!  He was at at conference all day, so I had to meet him there.  My mom happened to be in town that day for a doctor’s appointment, so she came over to watch the kids for us!  And she was also able to take my totally awkward solo picture like I was heading off to prom, haha!

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But we had such a fun time!!  When I got there and we met up, we had a bit of time to tour the aquarium on our own before the gala started.  Though I prefer the zoo as far as exhibits go, the otters were adorable, and the beluga whales and whale sharks are so amazing!  And the tunnel you can walk through that goes underneath the tank is pretty amazing.  I haven’t been to the aquarium for a few years, since the last time I took the kids, so it was fun to look through without having to watch out for three small people.  Once it got time for the gala, we sat down with a lovely group of people, and had an amazing dinner!  Sometimes for a large event, the catered food can be kind of mediocre, but we had a surf and turf that was really delicious.  I love going to work events with Scott, because I see a totally different side of him when he’s in his “business element.” I do get see it often, since he works from home and I overhear some of his working phone calls and do a lot of work with him, but every time I am out with him at a business event, I am so impressed at his charisma and his natural people skills.  I always come home so proud of him and the work that he’s doing, and proud to be his wife!  Date nights are SO, SO IMPORTANT, and though they are few and far between for us, most of the time, I am so thankful we have the opportunity to take advantage of them when we can!

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We had such a fun Fourth of July this year!  We headed up to Blue Ridge since the girls were set to start Art Camp in Blue Ridge (part of their birthday gifts from Bammy and PaDaddy) on the 5th, so we needed to get them up there anyway.  My brother, my sister in law, darling niece and sweet, chubby little nephew all met us up there for a fun day with lots of love and food!

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All the kids were so excited to see “Baby William!” They love their new nephew and Ben keeps asking me when he will be a “big boy to play with him.”

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But, I mean, is he a doll or what??!!

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And Sally Kate is quite a little doll herself!  She and Ben are only 4 months apart in age, but he is certainly her protector.  So sweet!

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We finally had to go inside once Ben had an incident with an outdoor table (you should’ve seen the table!  LOL), and Brantley got stung by a bee (luckily no reaction!  Good to know!), but we all really had a wonderful time.  We ate amazing ribs that my dad grilled, deviled eggs, potato salad, and baked beans, and it was 100% All American, Southern Style, Fourth of July fare.  We headed home and all crashed after such a fun day.

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While the girls were at Art Camp in Blue Ridge, we had such a fun time spoiling Ben and making him feel so special on his own!  He and I went to a movie, just him and I, and had such a fun time!  He missed the girls a lot while he was playing everyday, and couldn’t WAIT until Friday when we went and picked them up, but I was so proud that he and I played each day (and most of the time he played on his own!), and he never even once asked to turn the tv on or for a movie, he was happy just playing with me or on his own in his room.  He was a joy, and we talked, and played, and I truly enjoyed our time together.  BUT, I have to admit that I was even more proud and happy to see the way they all played together again, once the #littlelutontrio was reunited!  After I picked the girls up and we all got home, the three kids played and played and played, and I could barely interrupt them to say hi, between all the hugging and playing house, and school, and art class, dogs, and all their other favorites.  I love them each, SO MUCH, individually on their own, but my heart just explodes when I see them together.  As hard as it was to have 3 kids in 3 and a half years, when I see them playing together and loving each other like they do, it makes it all worth it.


I guess that’s all I have, since the other days have just been lazy (itchy) summer days full of playing and popsicles and wishing that summer would just last forever.  I was telling a friend today that as much as I crave a schedule and more time to myself, I equally never want these summer days to end.  When my beloved babies want, and not only want, but LOVE, to play with each other all day long.  Now, don’t get me wrong, they definitely have their times of arguing and fighting, but more often than not, they play together so well.  They don’t even want to ever leave home (they literally protest even when I have to take them to grocery store, even when it’s likely that they’ll talk me into getting a candy treat), they want to stay in their jammies all day (truly their mama’s children), and play pretend and make believe, and want to watch movies just to inspire their next imaginative play escapades.  All together.  Those are the kind of days that I just want to freeze in time forever.  They are 7, 5, and almost 4.  And they adore each other and are each other’s best friends.  These are the days, y’all.

Tropical Fruit Smoothie

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Soooo… I’ll let you in on a secret.  Well, not a secret, but something I haven’t “announced” or posted about yet, or shared all over, but I have joined Weight Watchers (AGAIN) to shed this extra weight I have been holding onto (unwillingly, hahaha!).  We all know that I love food, I do not love to exercise, but daggumit, I have to find a happy medium if I am going to love the way I look (#thirtiesareFORREAL #amiright??).  SOOO… I am embracing the good ole points plan (though I do like the new smart points system) and trying to eat clean for the most part, while indulging in my favorite ways, of course (cheese, wine, bread).  Oh, and exercise too. 🙂

So when I am craving an afternoon snack, but I know I want to save my points for dinner (or for wine after dinner #letsbehonest), smoothies are key for me.  Sweet and filling, they tide me over until dinner.  So here is my favorite Tropical Smoothie Recipe of the moment, and the kids are huge fans too!

Tropical Smoothie- 2 servings

1 cup diced fresh pineapple

1 frozen or fresh banana (I freeze all our bananas when they are about to go bad so that we have plenty extras for smoothies!)

1 peeled orange, separated into segments

1 mango, peeled and diced

1/2 cup to 1 cup vanilla almond milk, non-sweetened

Layer and blend in blender until smooth.  Serve and enjoy!

I think this smoothie can be enjoyed with or without the mango, or subbing in strawberries, blueberries, peaches, or your other favorite fruit in for the mango.  No matter, the combination is a winner, and is filling, and worse case, 1 point if you drink the whole blender!

Let me know what your favorite combination is!

We Need a Prayer

I don’t think I need to post about things I like today.  I think we all need a prayer.  And I am so glad that God can see directly into my heart and knows my thoughts, my worries, and my concerns, because I hardly even know what to say.  We need a prayer for our country.  A prayer for our families, for our children, for our friends, our government, our future, our communities.

We don’t need another opinion piece about who is right and who is wrong, who’s to blame, who’s the crook, and who’s going to win.

We need to pray for our people.  We need to pray for the hearts and minds of those who lead our country, for those who have been hurt, for those who have sworn to protect us.  We need to pray for LOVE and kindness and tolerance and understanding and PEACE and safety and hope and progress and protection and comfort.

I have a firm belief in my own political preferences, but I don’t like to get political on my blog.  If you know me, you probably know where I stand.  What I will say, though, is that we need to all take a very hard look at the direction we want our country to go in.  And pray about it.  Pray about the decisions that we have ahead of us.  And pray that we as a country make the right decision, collectively.

I have got to get off of Facebook and off the news for a while today; it is just too much for my heart to bear.  I will be holding my kids, loving them as much as I can, and trying to practice patience, tolerance, and kindness.  I guess it’s the little that I can contribute to all the hurt in our world today.  For now, all I want my children to know is love and security, and so that’s what I will give them.

And despite all the hate, and evil, and disappointment in the news, I hope you can have a comforting weekend.  I hope it’s full of family time, and love, and calm.  And prayer.

Brantley’s 7th Birthday

Last month, our big girl turned seven!  Her birthday was on a Saturday, and since Scott had an out-of-town work conference in Louisville, Kentucky the same weekend, we decided to treat Brantley to a little trip out of town by herself with mom and dad!  We didn’t tell her the big surprise until the day before, and she was SO EXCITED when she found out that she was going to get a special big girl trip for her special day!!

We headed out on Thursday afternoon, and after we dropped Ben and Gracie at Bammy and PaDaddy’s house, we hit the road to Louisville!

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We got to the hotel a little late, but this girl was too excited to fall asleep juuuuuuust yet.

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We woke up Friday morning and were excited to order room service and have breakfast in bed!

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Brantley wanted to show her American Girl doll, Parker, the big city. Our hotel was smack-dab in the middle of Downtown Louisville, which was pretty neat.

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Since Scott had meetings all day, it was me and Brantley on the town!  But first, swimming in the indoor pool!

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And then PIZZA.  All we had to do was walk out the front of the hotel, and we were right at Live on Fourth, a little restaurant and live music district.  SO convenient, and we found a great little pizzeria!  We were a little nervous about the crowds since Muhammed Ali’s funeral and burial were that Friday that we were in town, but other than maybe a few extra people in the streets, it was no big deal at all.  The city handled the event so well.

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And then some nice guys struck up a conversation with Brantley about her birthday and surprised her with some birthday ice cream on them!  It must be nice to be cute and seven, ha!

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We thought that Scott would have a dinner meeting and we’d be on our own for dinner, but he surprised us with tickets to a riverboat cruise for dinner!  We were so excited!

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We were on the Belle Lousiville, and cruised on the Ohio River.  We had a buffet Fried Chicken dinner in the dining room, and then were able to go to the top of the ship and admire the lovely views of Kentucky on one side and Indiana on the other (by the way, we discovered that Brantley had now visited 7 states by her 7th birthday!  Pretty cool!).

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We really had SUCH a fun time on the riverboat cruise, and were SO tired when we got back to the hotel!  Plus, we needed to rest up for the REAL big day, Brantley’s birthday!!!

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Scott had early meetings again, so me and the birthday girl headed out to breakfast at Dunkin Donuts across the street (her choice, of course).  And the plan for the day was to head out to a local mall for some shopping!  We don’t go like, for-real shopping very often, so this was a treat for the both of us!  We had big dinner plans too, and wanted Brantley to be able to pick out her own fancy dinner dress!

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No fun at all, can’t you tell?!  Girl was all smiles!  Brantley really wanted to find some “high heel” shoes, so we shopped until we found some.  At the Disney store!  And she insisted that she wear them immediately. 🙂

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We shopped til we dropped, and had a great time.

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The sweet Clinique lady at Von Maur gave Brantley a lipstick from their free gift her birthday, which pretty much made her day (and made me a little jealous, ha!).

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And since Birthday Girls get what they want, we went back to the pool for a bit!

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We headed back to the hotel room and got ready, and were ready for our girl’s big birthday dinner!

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We decided to go to The English Grill in The Brown Hotel for dinner.  We wanted a nice restaurant and to have a “fancy” dress-up dinner for Brantley, and it was perfect!!  The Brown Hotel is a landmark in Louisville, and was gorgeous.  Definitely a must-see if you’re ever in town.

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The champagne was mine, just so you know, haha!

I had read a lot of review on local Louisville restaurants, and The English Grill was said to be one of the best in town.  It didn’t disappoint!  We started with the Crab Cake and Ravioli for appetizers.  And I think we ate every piece of bread out of the basket, it was so delicious.  I usually like to avoid it and save room for the other food, but it was impossible to resist!

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Brantley ordered the biggest plate of Macaroni and Cheese, ever, and it was amazing.

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I ordered the famous “Hot Brown,” which was said to be created at the Brown Hotel.  If you’re unfamiliar with it, it’s a Kentucky tradition, and it’s toast points with roasted turkey breast and tomatoes, topped with an ooey-gooey cheesy Mornay sauce and bacon.  I couldn’t imagine coming to the Brown Hotel and not getting a Hot Brown, so that’s exactly what I got.  And it was delicious!

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When I made the dinner reservation, I let them know that it was Brantley’s birthday, and anything special that they could add to our evening would be much appreciated.  It was so sweet when our wonderful waiter brought out this amazing dessert just for our girl!  The entire wait staff at the restaurant was really amazing.

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I think it was just the cherry on her sundae, and she enjoyed every minute.  You could hardly wipe the huge smile off her face the entire evening.  It was kind of celebratory for us too- seven years as parents!

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We headed back to our room after dinner, and put on our comfies since we were all STUFFED.  Dinner was delicious, and a big hit with our girl.

We headed out the next morning, went and picked up the two littles from Blue Ridge, and headed back home. We kept asking Brantley what her favorite part of the weekend was (“my fancy birthday dinner” she always said), but for me, it truly was getting some one on one time with my big girl.  It’s so hard to really give her the attention that she deserves at home with Ben and Grayson, especially when I rely on her so much to be their example and to do her chores and help me out.  It was nice to give her my undivided attention, really listen to her, make her feel special and really celebrate her.  It was really a much-needed lesson that I need to try and do that more often with all three kids!

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We all had a ball in Lousiville (such a lovely city!) celebrating our big girl.  We love you Brantley, and are so proud of the lovely young lady you are becoming!  Happy SEVENTH birthday!!

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