January 19, 2017

Ten Things That Are Overrated

After I confessed in a guest post on Parent.co that being nice is, um, not a reputation I bear the burden of, one of my favorite responses was this: "nice is overrated." (Thanks for the grace, Megan!) To be clear, I am not in any way saying that being kind is overrated. I don't think it's actually possible to overrate the value of kindness.

A few days later, my friend Cristina--fellow Mother of a Teenage Girl--messaged me to report that her daughter had remarked that "fair is overrated." Which made me think of a whole post about overrated things. Which I suggested Cristina write. Which she, being just that fabulous, ran with. Which is why you're looking at this list right now.

Thank you, Cristina and Jordyn. Don't take this the wrong way, but you are both very, very nice.

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The summer of 2016 was the first since 2005 that I've had an entire summer with my children and husband. When I started in public school administration in August of 2005, my son, Adam (AJ), was one month shy of turning four, and my daughter, Jordyn, was nineteen months. Since that time, I've had approximately three weeks with them each summer, and often it was interrupted.

In July, I learned I was going to have to have major surgery, which meant my mom (an angel in disguise) would be spending a lot of time with us. During one of our trips in the car, to who-knows-where because we did not travel last summer, we were discussing some topic of minor importance when Jordyn proclaimed, “Fair is overrated!”

I knew that my friend Elizabeth would appreciate this profound statement and shared it with her. She, not surprisingly, responded, “That would make a great article.” I initially thought, no, I do not want to write about how being fair is overrated. But then I quickly realized she meant that many things are overrated; write about that.

With surgery approaching quickly, I thought I would have plenty of time to write this article; after all, I would be bored and recovering. Ha! As I sat at my kitchen counter after taking my children to the bus stop for their first day of school, I had some uninterrupted time. Please note: this was the first time ever that I had been able to be involved in the first day of school with them. I was usually preparing for 800 other students to arrive on their first day, or I was having my first day as a classroom teacher myself (last year). My surgery allowed me to get up and cook breakfast and take them to the bus stop. And the opportunity to write this will be added to my little moments of enjoyment that I'll chalk up to "Mom’s list of important moments"-- which is not the same as my children’s!

It only seems right to begin this list with the one that started it all; the rest are in no particular order.

1. Fairness. After spending over twenty years in education, hearing my daughter say these words at age thirteen, and as the summer Olympics ended, was heartwarming. Life is not fair; this is a lesson all parents try to impart to their children but are never sure they understand why. I certainly did not expect to hear this from my daughter, who has attended three middle schools in less than a year and participated in multiple try-outs for club and school sports and whose brother started a new district as he entered high school and who also has tried out for multiple sports. 

My children rarely received special recognition when they attended the middle school where I was the principal because, after all, the assumption would have been that they would have only received it because I was the principal. After years of training focused on building children’s self-esteem, plenty of experience with no-cut sports, and having our personal life totally upturned when my new superintendent offered to buy me out of my contract a year ago for no apparent reason, I can say this: fair is overrated. My children have both learned that in ways I never hoped they would. Yet, they have grown into such a mature perspective on life. They are becoming people I am confident will understand this life lesson well, and it will take them far in life.

2. Name brands. This is a two-fold issue. First, name brands and trends flood the market and add to social issues at school. I've always been a proponent in favor of school uniforms...having been a product of Catholic schools, clothes never played an issue in our days. Children can have many more pieces of clothing that cost less and look just as nice. On the other hand, many of the name brands are made with a quality that cannot compare, but our philosophy in the Eyre household is that we will buy what we know fits well, wears well, and that we can afford. TJ Maxx, Zulily and many other discount stores enable us to afford name brands. This also allows for our children to truly appreciate when they do get a name brand item, and they take care of it because they understand the value and the gift that it is.

3. Perfect parties. Both my husband, Mark, and I are educators, serving mostly the middle school and high school populations over our careers. As a result, I often thought that our children were suffering because neither Mark nor I have patience to add more children to our home on a regular basis, let alone plan the “perfect party." There were times that due to lack of time and energy our children did get great parties--that we paid to take place elsewhere. But it was never because we were trying to keep up with the next family. (I cannot use "keeping up with the Joneses" or "keeping up with the Smiths" because they are real friends in our lives!)

4. Planned mother/daughter or mother/son days. Due to the often limited amount of time I had available, I thought creating these days was so important--to add to the memory of bank of my children’s experiences. But I quickly learned this was more about me than them. Most importantly, I learned that unplanned spontaneity created the most fun, loving, memorable experiences. Stop trying to "create" and just try to enjoy the moments along the way.

Being in a position of power. It was never because of the "power" behind the job that I truly enjoyed my position as a middle-school principal. Instead, I loved being able to make a positive difference with students, teachers and parents. The power in the position was in the daily impact I could have. You have that opportunity in any job; it’s what you make of it. Make the most of being kind, positive, and a model of Christian decision-making.
"The power in the position was in the daily impact I could have. You have that opportunity in any job; it’s what you make of it." 
6. Making a lot of money. Yes, there can be ease in how much money you bring home, but I quickly learned that the money I was earning came at a huge sacrifice: my family. My children often thought of my first home as my office and my second home as Meijer (our grocery store). I realized very quickly that we can be happier if we are living more moderately and placing a higher value on our time together.

7. Speaking your mind. One of my strengths--yet one of my weaknesses--is speaking my mind. I learned very quickly that not all people appreciate complete honesty. Complete honesty comes at a cost, so I have tempered my outspoken nature to be more positive and thoughtful when answering questions. I often turn my thoughts over to God in prayer: let Him be the revealer of the truth, not me.

8. Being social. Comparing yourself to others often comes with the more social you are. I craved interaction with others always. That came with a cost, though. Although I did not realize that I was comparing myself to others, being social can have that effect, and I was exhausted. Everyone has their issues, problems, etc. No one is perfect. I am much happier surrounded by my immediate family and those we hold dear. I certainly appreciate my introvert husband more than before and treasure our alone, quiet, comfortable time.

9. Mentioning plans, ideas, etc., out loud to your children. I have learned it is best to keep things a surprise. Kids hear an idea and hold you to it; they think it is a promise. Then, if it does not come into fruition, they are disappointed, and you feel like a failure as a parent. Life happens, plans change; let plans evolve more spontaneously...children will be more excited, and parents will enjoy them more.

10. Trying to do things by yourself. I started thinking about this article over a year ago, even before Jordyn's proclamation, and this item had a very different meaning then. At that time, I was focused on how important it is to have a circle of friends who will pray for you--I dubbed them my prayer warriors--because I could not face my life’s challenges without prayer, God, and my faith. These are still existent in my life, but they are more embedded. This fall though, this point took on a different kind of meaning. Our family lost my sister-in-law, Michelle, very unexpectedly. We needed so much help during this season, and it was a time when my outspoken nature was appreciated. I asked for the help we needed and said "no, thank you" to the things we did not need at the time. Friends and family who did not know how to help were given the direction they needed, and I was given the assurance that lessened my stress.

On the other hand, these are some of the things I've learned to treasure...

1. Presence.

2. Quality time.
3. Spontaneity.
4. Priceless time in the car with each child individually.
5. Planning and preparing meals.
6. Completing projects.
7. Reciprocal, quality friendships.
8. Budgeting.
9. Keeping my mouth shut: nodding, smiling, and praying for God’s guidance.
10. My faith, especially my alone time with God as the sun rises or sets, as I soak in the fields around my home in the country.

About Cristina: I am a 45-year-old wife to Mark (16 years of marriage), mother of two teenagers--Adam (AJ...15) and Jordyn (14), and a woman of strong faith who loves to serve others. I have been a public educator for twenty-three years, serving as a teacher, counselor and administrator. Currently, I am focused on growing my faith, on my business as a Thirty-One Consultant, and on working with alternative education youth. I am always searching for how to better myself as a mom, wife and woman of God...Lord knows I can always improve. I love reading, writing, cooking, swimming, biking, sunrises, and sunsets. My favorite place is on my couch, curled up in front of the fireplace.

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In case you're just dying of curiosity, here's the link to that Parent.co piece. But a word of warning/mom-vent alert: if Mother's Day is your favorite holiday, you'll probably want to skip this one.

This post may have been shared at some of these blog bashes.

Photo credit: Billy Frank Alexander 

January 10, 2017

Triple Chocolate Marshmallow Cookies


Four years ago, when my oldest daughter started marching band (yes, I promise this does relate to the cookies), I went to my first-ever high school football game. Everyone had on their team colors and shirts with our school name, but I told my husband, "I want a shirt that says, 'I'm just here for the band.'" I meant no disrespect for the football team, but I wanted to demonstrate my allegiance and passion for our under-appreciated marching band. 

We did end up getting shirts made, but my point is this: I know you're just here for the cookies. March on.

Triple Chocolate Marshmallow Cookies {print}

**Annoying-but-worth-it fact: the dough for these cookies cooperates better if you allow about an hour for chilling.**

What you need:
24 large round marshmallow OR 12 "s'more marshmallows," such as Jet-Puffed S'moreMallows (these are now available year-round, praise the Lord, in the marshmallow section of the grocery store...they're more tender and marshmallowy than other shapes on account of more marshmallow interior and less exterior cornstarchy coating)

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature

1/2 cup granulated sugar

1/3 cup firmly packed brown sugar

1 egg

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 1/2 cups plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

2 packets (about 1 ounce each) instant cocoa mix (do not use sugar-free...I love Swiss Miss Dark Chocolate Sensation)

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/3 cup semisweet chocolate chips or chunks

1/3 cup milk chocolate chips or chunks or mini "kisses"

What to do:
1. Before you do anything else on these cookies (and you can do this up to several months ahead of time!), cut your marshmallows into pieces with kitchen scissors you've coated with vegetable oil or cooking spray: if you're using large round marshmallows, cut them in half horizontally. If you're using s'more marshmallows, cut them into sixths. Put your cut marshmallows in the freezer until further notice. You're going to all this hassle because marshmallows tend to disappear in the oven if they haven't been given the deep chill first. It will be worth the work, I promise.

2. Cream the butter and both sugars together until light and fluffy. Beat in the egg and the vanilla.

3. In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, the NOT-sugar-free cocoa mix packets, the baking powder and baking soda, and salt.

4. Add the dry ingredients to your butter-sugar mixture and mix just until combined. 

5. Stir in the semisweet and milk chocolate chips/chunks.

6. Cover and chill for an hour. Your marshmallow pieces should still be camping out in the freezer.

7. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Coat a baking sheet with nonstick cooking spray or line it with parchment paper.

8. Form 1 1/2 tablespoon portions of dough into balls and place about an inch apart on the baking sheet. Do not flatten them. Your marshmallow pieces should STILL be in the freezer.

9. Bake the cookies for 4 minutes. Remove your marshmallow pieces from the freezer; open the oven door; and place marshmallow pieces in the center of each cookie. If you cut up large round marshmallows, use 2 pieces; if you cut up square "s'more marshmallows," use 3 pieces. You can overlap them a little.

10. Close the oven door. Return your remaining marshmallow pieces to the freezer, and bake the cookies for 4 more minutes. The marshmallows should be a least a little browned, and the cookie edges should be just starting to crack. Don't overbake these...gooey is good.

11. Remove from oven and cool on the cookie sheet for 2 minutes before removing to a wire rack to cool a little more or completely. If you have a kitchen blow torch (my favorite kitchen tool, as evidenced by its spot on this list), you can fire it up and give your marshmallows a little campfire-esque burn.

12. Repeat with remaining dough and marshmallow pieces (although you'll probably have some of those left over). Makes 18-24 cookies.

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The back of the aforementioned shirt, in case you've just been dying of curiosity...

This post may have been shared at some of these link parties.

December 16, 2016

Peppermint Crunch Oreo Ice Cream Cake

There are two kinds of people in the world.

Actually, there are lots of kinds of "two kinds of people" in the world.

This is not, mind you, a right-versus-wrong thing: it's just a this-way-or-that-way thing.

For instance, there are people who love camping...and people whose idea of "roughing it" is a hotel room whose breakfast bar doesn't come with one of those flip waffle makers.

There are people who love cilantro...and people who think it tastes like soap and why, oh why, would you ruin a perfectly good batch of guacamole by putting this in it?

There are people who think a 5-mile run sounds like a good idea...and people who think running is only a good idea if you're being chased by something or someone who might possibly harm you more than the running itself.

And (to the post at hand), there are people who adore chocolate and mint in tandem...and people who'd rather eat a mentholated cough drop for dessert.

If you'd pick the cough drop, I apologize for taking up your time. Actually, if that's your bent, you probably aren't reading this post in the first place. So never mind.

As an equal-opportunity chocolate lover, I appreciate chocolate in combination with almost anything, including itself. But this chocolate-peppermint power duo is one of my favorites. Parenthetically, I can tell you it did do rather a lot to spread peace and goodwill in my kitchen when I recently announced to my family that I was making it. And if there's one thing a house with two teenage daughters and a mom who is, well, me needs more of, it's peace and goodwill...at any time of the year.

Peppermint Crunch Oreo Ice Cream Cake {print}

1 package (about 14 ounces) chocolate sandwich cookies, moderately crushed* (gluten-free if desired...we do gluten around here, so I used reduced-fat Oreos)

3 tablespoon butter, melted

1.5 quarts vanilla ice cream

1 cup moderately crushed* peppermint candies (candy canes, or those round candies in cellophane wrappers some restaurants have sitting around, etc.)

8 ounces whipped topping, thawed, OR 3 cups prepared sweetened whipped cream (if you really want to power up your peppermint here, use peppermint Cool Whip when seasonally available)

hot fudge or chocolate sauce, for serving (my favorite homemade hot fudge recipe is here if you need one)

(*By "moderately" crushed, I mean medium crumbs with a few large pieces and some fine "dust" in the mix.)

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Round up a 9" springform pan or a 9" cake pan (the higher the sides, the better). Dump 1 1/2 cups of your cookie crumbs into the bottom of the pan and drizzle them with the melted butter. Use a fork to toss the butter and crumbs together. Press this addictive mixture into the bottom of the pan. Bake for 6 minutes. No, it is not okay to round up to 10 here unless you want Oreo asphalt instead of a cookie crust. Remove from oven and set on a wire rack to cool completely. You can rush this process by putting the crust in the refrigerator if necessary. You cannot rush this process by not cooling the crust and proceeding with the recipe anyway.

Once your crust is cooled, scoop the ice cream into a large bowl. Add in 1/2 cup of your crushed peppermint candies and mix them in with an electric mixer or a sturdy spoon and some muscle power. Sprinkle an additional 1/4 cup crushed candies over the surface of your ice cream mixture and fold in gently. Reserve the remaining 1/4 cup crushed peppermints for decoration when you serve this masterpiece.

Spread 1/2 of your ice cream mixture evenly onto your prepared, cooled crust. Dollop on 1 1/2 cups of your whipped topping or whipped cream and spread evenly. Sprinkle 1/2 of your remaining cookie crumbs over the surface of the whipped topping/cream, and spread evenly with a fork. Repeat this layering, using up the remaining ice cream mixture, whipped topping/cream, and crushed cookies. Press a piece of plastic wrap directly onto the surface of the cake, wrap the whole thing in foil, and freeze until firm, several hours or overnight or up to a month or so. 

To serve: cut cake into slivers or slices or sections; drizzle with chocolate syrup or hot fudge sauce; and sprinkle with some of the reserved crushed peppermint candies. Serves 8-10 normal people or 4-6 of the sort who live in my house.

**This post may have been shared at some of these blog bashes.**