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Cheesy Chicken Broccoli & Rice Casserole

I’ve been trying to use up some of the items in my pantry, freezers, and refrigerators before the end of the year. I had all these ingredients on hand and tossed them together to make a yummy casserole the other night. It turned out really great! Everyone ate it for dinner and then they all took it for lunch the next day! 

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Ingredients:
2 cups chicken, cooked and shredded
1 bag (16oz) frozen broccoli, cooked
1 can cream of celery soup
1 cup milk
16 oz velveeta cheese, cubed
3 cups rice, cooked
1/2 tsp pepper
1 cup breadcrumbs
4 Tbsp butter or margarine, divided

Directions:
1. In microwavable bowl, combine soup, milk, and velveeta cheese. Microwave until cheese is melted; combine well.
2. Combine cheese mixture, rice, pepper, and chicken in large baking dish sprayed with cooking spray.
3. Add broccoli and mix gently.
4. Top with breadcrumbs.
5. Dot pats of butter or margarine on top.
6. Bake at 350 for 25 minutes.

This was a super easy, super quick weeknight dinner for me. I literally tossed it together in minutes and threw it in the oven to bake. Those are my favorite kinds of dinners on busy nights. I’m definitely adding this one to the meal rotation. 

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Weekly Book Club {12.13.17}

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I’m counting down the days until Christmas break. I want to curl up in my fleece pj’s on the couch in front of a fire and just read. Just read and read and read. I have SO MANY books still on my TBR lists that I’m dying to have time to read. I’m sharing 2 amazing books with you today that I loved! I hope after Christmas break I will have a bunch of books to share!

1. Confessions of a Domestic Failure by Bunmi Laditan– There are good moms and bad moms—and then there are hot-mess moms. Introducing Ashley Keller, career girl turned stay-at-home mom who’s trying to navigate the world of Pinterest-perfect, Facebook-fantastic and Instagram-impressive mommies but failing miserably. When Ashley gets the opportunity to participate in the Motherhood Better boot camp run by the mommy-blog-empire maven she idolizes, she jumps at the chance to become the perfect mom she’s always wanted to be. But will she fly high or flop With her razor-sharp wit and knack for finding the funny in everything, Bunmi Laditan creates a character as flawed and lovable as Bridget Jones or Becky Bloomwood while hilariously lambasting the societal pressures placed upon every new mother. At its heart, Ashley’s story reminds moms that there’s no way to be perfect, but many ways to be great.

My Rating: 5 Stars

I loved this book so hard. I devoured it. I’m dying for her to write a sequel. I could relate to the envy the main character felt towards her idol. I laughed out loud so many times during this book, y’all. The main character’s antics were hilarious but not in an over the top, unbelievable way. She was easy to relate to, easy to sympathize with, and easy to like. This book is for every mom who ever got down on herself for not being super mom. 

2. Justice for Erin by Susan Stoker– Part-time bartender Erin Gardner is friendly to everyone who bellies up to her bar, including the local law enforcement and firefighters who keep her city safe. That’s where she meets game warden Conor Paxton, a regular who she asks to join a canoeing trip she’s leading for her university day job. When the trip leads to something more, Erin couldn’t be happier. Conor adores Erin, more than enough to help her continue to get over lingering self-esteem issues from her childhood. He’s thrilled he’s found someone who enjoys spending time in nature as much as he does. Just when the couple thinks they’re on their way to a happily ever after, Erin finds herself in the wrong place at the wrong time. But there’s no way she’ll just lay down and die. She’s woman enough to save herself—and lead her man to her when she’s done. 

My Rating: 5 Stars

This is the 9th book in the Badge of Honor: Texas Heroes Series. Each book is a stand-alone, with no cliffhanger endings. I love this author and I love this series. I love how the main characters are flawed human beings that I can relate to. They aren’t living a perfect life, they have struggles and scars and past hurts. This was a fantastic addition to the series. 

 
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The Reality Of The Perfect Christmas

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I remember the holidays when I was a little kid. We watched Christmas movies on our only TV when they came on one of the 6 channels we got because my dad refused to pay for cable- but only if dad wasn’t already watching something. My mom made us hot cocoa from the packets- sans marshmallows because the ones with marshmallows were a dollar more. We went to one family Christmas party on Christmas Eve after church and all the other holiday parties were adult only. On Christmas morning we woke up to our unwrapped presents separated into piles for each of us (thanks Santa). We had a couple of hours to enjoy them before being forced into our frilly Christmas dresses and beginning what my sister and I now refer to as the Holiday Parade of Homes through 4-5 relatives homes where we would be shuffled off to play with cousins or dogs while our parents enjoyed wine (mom) and scotch on the rocks (dad) with the adults. See back then Christmas was not all about how to create the perfect, magical Christmas for the kids.

Fast forward to the current day.

Pinterest is clogged with 10,546 creative ideas for Elf on the Shelf to delight your kids, 999 extravagant holiday recipes to make at home with your kids, 6500 new family traditions to start immediately so as to not spoil childhood for your kids, 498 ways to make your gift wrapping stand out, and 1.4 million holiday crafts to do with your little cherubs. Christmas has become a whole thing dedicated to creating the perfectly staged Instagram and Facebook posts to show friends, family, and complete strangers that you are a family (and mom) to be envied.

No more. I’m saying no to the pressure to frantically manufacture Christmas magic, to send the perfect holiday cards, to all the things that everyone says you must do to create the perfect Christmas season for your kids. I’m saying no to pushing and forcing and making my family participate in all the activities that society today deems necessary for a picture perfect Christmas. I’m saying no to using Pinterest, Instagram, and Facebook as guidelines for what I should be doing this holiday season. I’m saying no.

Instead, we will focus on what matters most to us. We will drink hot cocoa from a packet- with marshmallows because we’re not savages. We will lounge in our comfy fleece pajamas in front of a fire watching National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. We will make Christmas cookies from refrigerated dough and enjoy every bite. We will decline most holiday party invitations in favor of quiet family nights at home. We will blast our favorite Christmas songs and sing along. There will be no perfect Christmas cards, no outrageous elf antics, no 4 hours spent waiting to spend 20 minutes driving through Christmas town to see lights, no 5 course holiday meals, no matching family pajamas, no expertly decorated Christmas trees or mantles, no Clark Griswold-esque outdoor light displays.

I’m not sending any Christmas cards this year. I can no longer justify spending hundreds of dollars on cards that just get tossed out in a couple of weeks. Our elf, Jingles, likes to find creative places to hide every night but she very thoughtfully does not create mischievous messes for me to clean up. The kids don’t have any desire to drive through the Christmas town to see the lights anymore. We’re going to be dining on Cinnamon Roll Bake and a delicious egg breakfast casserole for Christmas morning. I don’t think there is any possible way to force Tyler to participate in matching Christmas pajamas- he’s pretty stubborn. One of our Christmas trees is lopsided because a foot is cracked and the other Christmas tree is half lit because I can’t find the burnt out bulb. We bought one of those Star Shower laser light things to project Christmas lights onto our house this year instead of hanging real lights.

And you know what? That’s ok. Christmas isn’t about perfection. I’m happy with how we are celebrating Christmas. My family is happy. I can scroll through my Facebook and Instagram feeds, enjoy those perfectly decorated houses, and smile because they really are beautiful. But I don’t feel envious or cheated or less than. I feel grateful. We have everything we need. And that’s what matters. 

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Life Lately {November 2017}

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I’m just a tad bit late on my November life lately post. It’s been a busy few weeks but there’s only 8 school days left until Christmas break. And I am counting them down! November came in with a bang and went out with a bang. 

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Varsity football season 2017 came to a merciful end the first Friday of November. It was an ugly, dismal season. We had 7 concussions on top of various other injuries to starting players and it just made for a tough season. Tyler was finally given clearance to at least attend the very last game of the season to be on the sidelines with the rest of the injured starters. There were 6 of them that stood on the sidelines cheering on the younger players, checking on injured players, handing out water bottles, and supporting their teammates when they would have given anything to be on that field. I’m proud of them. 

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Tyler turned 17 in the beginning of the month. These pictures make me laugh. His friends planned him a surprise party and he didn’t get home until 11pm. Then his friends threw him another party at one of their lake houses right afterwards. He didn’t come home until Sunday. And he came home tired. 

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Zoey brought home her Tom the Turkey project. It made me nostalgic to know that this is our very last Tom the Turkey. We’ve done 4 of them and she’s the 5th and last turkey. We’ve done Superman, a Princess, an Alien, and a Christmas tree in the past. Zoey chose a snowman! Then Mason and Zoey got to use their free pizza coupons that they earned for meeting their reading goals for October. 

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Maliah has made such a great group of friends in 7th grade. She was invited to a sleepover birthday party and they had such a great time. It makes me so happy to see her finding her place even when I know she’s still having issues with anxiety and depression and fitting in. These girls are so sweet together and it makes me smile to know that the girls she’s in class with now will be the group she graduates with in 5 years!

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Just before Thanksgiving break the little kids had the Thanksgiving Feast in their classes. We had Mason on the first day. We picked up Chick-Fil-A biscuits and hashbrowns and had so much fun. His class did a skit and we nommed on some yummy desserts afterwards. 

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And the next day we had Zoey’s Thanksgiving Feast. We basically repeated the same thing over again with Chick-Fil-A biscuits and hashbrowns. Her class did a song and we had more yummy desserts. I love all the cool fun things their school does with parents. 

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I haven’t talked a whole lot on here about Tyler’s concussion. He suffered a complex severe concussion on September 8th in a football game. He took a direct helmet to helmet hit to his temple and then a secondary hit to the same temple that whiplashed his head really hard. When his physical symptoms did not go away within a few weeks we started to get concerned. Then in mid-October he started complaining that he was having trouble concentrating and focusing in class and it was causing headaches. We immediately took him back to his sports medicine doctor who put him on a medication to help and referred him for post concussion physical therapy. He ended up with a diagnosis of Post Concussion Syndrome and twice a week physical therapy. At his first PT appointment we discovered just how serious his issues were. He had severe impairments with vestibular movements and spatial disorientation- he could not balance at all- and near complete destabilization of his vision. He couldn’t track his therapist’s finger without rapid blinking, eye fatigue, and his pupils bouncing and jerking (saccadic eye movements). It was a very scary and very serious diagnosis. He did physical therapy twice a week for 6 weeks, saw his sports medicine doctor once a week, and had to be seen by an independent neurologist. 

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In the middle of the month Maliah turned 13! She chose to have 2 of her besties come spend the night. We took them out to Cici’s Pizza and then to see Daddy’s Home 2. Tyler and 3 of his good friends tagged along for the free pizza haha! I can’t believe I have 3 teenagers now. That’s insane!

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Just before Thanksgiving Tyler’s sports medicine doctor finally discharged him from twice a week PT and gave him clearance to work with his school trainer again. He was finally allowed to run, lift weights, and shoot the basketball again. He had no more headaches, his focus and concentration were getting better, his balance and coordination were near baseline, and his saccadic eye movements while still there weren’t causing headaches anymore. So he’s done with formal PT and working with his trainer again. He was also given permission to play football again, which I’m not all that happy about but we’re waiting to see the neurologist again before making a final decision. 

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We partied hard at Thanksgiving. Lots of people, lots of food, lots of laughter, lots of fun. And lots of pie. Lots and lots of pie. The pie is always the best part. We had a full house of family spend the night and it was loud and crazy. I enjoy hosting family but man, it’s a lot of work. Luckily we had Saturday and Sunday to recover. 

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The last week of November Tyler found out he had been recommended for the Blue-Grey Varsity Football Combine. He has no idea which coach recommended him, it had to be more than one coach. He wants to go so badly. We’re debating. I don’t know if he’ll play in college or if he even wants. So we have 10 days to make some serious life decisions. First, is he even going to play football next season? Second, is he interested in playing in college? We’re just sitting on it for now and waiting for the neurology appointment. I keep telling myself it will all work out the way it’s meant to. But man, this in between is hard. 

So that was November in a nutshell. 

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Weekly Book Club {12.6.17}

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I read 2 really good books by favorite authors this past week. You might recognize Suzanne Wright from last week’s book club list. She writes several of my favorite series. I’m a loyal reader. Once an author pens a series that I love chances are I will read all of their books forever. 

1. Lure of Oblivion by Suzanne Wright– Gwen Miller may be a human, but she has no problem taking a stand against her own kind. She’s going to testify against the teenage boy she saw viciously assault a lone shifter female—and no amount of pressure from the boy’s wealthy family will make her back down. But when the harassment turns violent, help comes in the form of a lean, toned wolf with winter-gray eyes. As a guest at Gwen’s inn, shifter enforcer Zander Devlin can’t help but notice that the fierce and leggy brunette is in serious trouble. Since she’s putting herself at risk for one of his kind, keeping her safe is the least he can do. That’s not the only reason Zander wants her close. He desires her, even as the wolf inside him backs away from her. But his feral instincts are hard to keep down, and as they take shape, they’re harder for Gwen to resist. Then again, embracing them could be the only thing that could save her life.

My Rating: 5 Stars

This is book 3 in the Mercury Pack series, which is a spin off of the Phoenix Pack series. Both are amazing and have lots of interconnecting storylines and characters. This book was really really good. I enjoyed it as much as all the others and stayed up way too late to finish reading it. What I love the most about the author’s wolf series is the way she blends humor, action, danger, alpha wolves, and badass women and somehow turns all that into an amazing story. It’s remarkable. 

2. Havoc by Laramie Briscoe– Holden “Havoc” Thompson – My job as the leader of the Moonshine Task Force is my life. I eat, breathe, and sleep it. The men under my command mean the world to me. Knowing they count on my guidance has kept my demons at bay for longer than I care to admit. The control I have over myself is an iron fist that sometimes threatens to squeeze the life out of me. What I want more than anything is to live again – let go of the hurt smothering every bit of light I have in this darkness. I don’t expect it to come in the form of a Moonshiner’s daughter needing my protection. Leighton Strather – My whole life has been defined by who my family is. In the state of Alabama, we’re number one with a target on our backs. The danger and prestige isn’t for me. I don’t care about the money, and I care too much about the families we’ve ruined. My brother and my dad are proud of it. They wear their arrest records like a badge of honor. Me? I want as far away from the lifestyle as I can get. It’s the only reason I ask Holden to marry me. At least that’s what I tell myself. I never expect his whispered yes to cause such upheaval in my life. Even though I resist, I learn some havoc is good – and this one? It’s a whirlwind of lust, hope, and love and all I can do is let it sweep me away. 

My Rating: 4 Stars

This is book 3 in the Moonshine Task Force series but full disclosure- I have not read the first 2. This book was good. I liked the marriage of convenience aspect, that’s always fun. I don’t feel like I missed anything by not reading the first 2 books but I will probably go back and read them because I enjoyed this one. 

 
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