My Word for 2015 – BLOOM

Picture Credit: Oh My Disney

Picture Credit: Oh My Disney

Bloom. As 2014 was winding down and I started giving some thought to some words to focus on in 2015, I kept seeing the word bloom. In a quote on Pinterest, in a magazine ad, in a book. I firmly believe life sometimes puts things in front of us until we finally notice them. (after all, my husband and I were in the same places at least a dozen times before we met, and then we kept circling around each other for another few years after that.)

My word last year – believe – focused a lot on internal areas I needed to improve. Believing more was something I needed to work on inside myself. Bloom moves me outside myself.

A lot goes on in a plant before it blooms. From seed to sprout to bud – much is unseen. Just like learning to believe has been my (mostly) unseen journey. When a plant finally blooms, it shares its beauty with the world, all of the fruits of its labors become apparent. his year, I’d like to reach beyond my inner self and share with the world.

Just like some of the inner processes of a plant continue after the bud opens up, my journey to believe and to find inner peace will continue. I will still be working on believing in myself, others, and God’s plan. To this end, I am planning on add some things in to focus on this year –

  • Meditation – to learn to better control and quiet my mind and reduce the negative chatter.  I’m also hoping this will help with my anxiety and occasional depression.
  • Running and healthy eating – I started this before but have slacked on it. I just feel better when I do these things, which makes me happier and a much more effective person.

BloomBloom is about what’s happening outside as well as inside, though. Blooming is about seeing a change. To that end, I have a few more things to add –

  • Monthly volunteering – I’d like to do something each month with the boys so we can all appreciate what we have and discover how we can best use our gifts to help others.
  • Turn towards the sun – a plant can’t control most of its environment, but it does reach toward the sun. I can’t control that there are people who are mean or offensive in my world, but I can turn toward those who are kind and encouraging.

This is my start. Just like with believe, I’m sure bloom is going to grow and evolve over this year as I focus on it and what it means to me.

I’m ready to bloom.   

Reflections On the Year of Believe

Believe has been my word for the past year. I wanted to focus on believing in myself, believing in others, and believing in God and His plan. The word believe has come to mean so much to me in just one year. 

As I started to reflect on this word that I have lived with for a year, I have to admit I felt just a tad discouraged. I kept thinking that I would have been farther along in all of my believes. I thought I would have been more confident, more kind, and less worried. But I also kept following those thoughts with a reminder to give myself a break, a little grace. 

Then it hit me – that’s what believing has taught me. Not to never doubt myself or worry about life, but to use my belief to get me through it. 

It has been a year filled with opportunities to believe – the highest highs and the lowest lows. At the start of the year, my husband got a job we had been dreaming about, praying over, and working toward for years. I enjoyed being a syndicated writer on BlogHer for the first time. Then as spring rolled around, my husband started his new job and that very same day I lost mine. Bam – high and low, all at once. 

My belief was tested, but I continued to work on believing in myself and God’s plan. Sure enough, I was able to spend the summer at home with my kids, and then start a new job back in the classroom in the fall. Back to a high. 

Then my niece was killed in a car accident. She was only 20, and the mama to a one year old. My belief in everything was tested, and failed quite frequently. 

The fall was a haze of too high and too low and hard to breathe between. There were monumental and milestone football wins followed just days later by a funeral. There was the joy of jobs we loved, and the frustration of starting over and getting settled somewhere new. There was pride, anxiety, grief, joy, and discouragement – often all in the same day. 

As I entered the holiday season and began reflecting on my word – believe – I was in a bit of a funk. My anxiety was at a high, with worries over doing my job well, paying the bills, and meeting all the needs tugging at me.  But the worries didn’t stop there. I found myself glued to news footage from Ferguson, and laying awake at night panicked about how to teach my boys to change the world for the better. I felt consumed at times by worries about sending them out into a world where words like “middle class” are disappearing and terms like “working poor” are on the rise. Then there were the holidays themselves, with reminders of people who aren’t here and times that are gone. 

I added this to my body in December:

 

My new tattoo! The word is mine, the handwriting is my brother’s, and the infinity is my niece’s. #tattoo #inked #believe

A photo posted by bethatstructure (@bethatstructure) on

Believe is not something it just takes a year to live with. Believing is a journey. This year was the start. Focusing on believing got me through the highs and lows. And the better I get at it, the more it will become a part of me. 

So instead of being discouraged that I don’t believe in myself as much as I should, or that I have trouble believing in or trusting others, or that I don’t always have faith in there being a plan for me, I’m going to focus on how far I’ve come. And recognize how believing is my internal goal and a continuing work in progress. 

I believe. 

I’m Giving Up On Blogging…Sort Of

This space has been silent the last month or so, and awfully quiet for at least a month or so before that. I can easily blame the rigors of a new job, family commitments, and a slight funk over the state of the world I’m raising my babies in. That would be half right. The other half is that I simply burned out on blogging.

I started blogging because I loved to read blogs and I loved to write. No brainer, huh? I naively believed I just needed to write engaging content and that was it. Then I realized my site needed to be visually pleasing – so I found a blog designer (who I love!) and I began learning about photography and creating graphics. Then I discovered I had to market my content through social media and blog link-ups. I quickly tried to master Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Google+, and Pinterest. I made lists of link-ups.

I got sucked in. Soon I had elaborate calendars and schedules of posts, social media promotion, and links ups.  I was obsessed with page views, bounce rates, and algorithms. It got exhausting. And a lot of the fun seemed to fade. 

When I sat back and thought about who was really reading my blog, it was family, friends, and other bloggers mostly. And the real moments that made blogging feel good were when my friends loved a post – whether it was IRL friends or the handful of bloggers who became friends. 

I love how much I’ve learned. I know enough about the ins and outs of social media that I’ve been able to earn some money consulting and been able to lend my expertise to a successful school bond campaign in my district. I can hold my own in conversations about HTML and back-end web coding. I’ve had many posts featured on BlogHer – an honor and a thrill every time. I’ve been able to try out and promote some great products. 

But it’s too much for me. The demands are greater than what I’m willing to give. The schedules and promotions are not what I love. I love to write. So that’s what I’m going to do. Sometimes here in this space. Sometimes just in the beautiful purple leather-bound book my husband gave me, with the simple word WRITE embossed in gold on the cover. And who knows…maybe other places. I still dream of seeing my name on a byline on The Huffington Post some day. 

I’m looking forward to more time to read – books as well as the lovely blogs of those I consider friends. Many of my blogging friends have moved to Facebook friends, so I can still keep up with them. (f we’re not already friends on Facebook – feel free to friend me, Beth Sinclair Ayotte.) I’m looking forward to writing more for my soul than for readers and views. And I’m mulling over the idea of starting that book and telling my story. And I’m looking forward to spending some of that time bloggin sucked up and spending it with my husband and kids again. 

So I’ll be posting – here and there. Don’t expect a regular schedule or weekly features. Just my thoughts when I have them. 

Thanks for being a part of my journey. 

Things I’m Loving – Fall Teaching Outfits

There’s a million things I love about my new job. And one of those million things, is the outfit choices I now have. I’ll be honest, I hated the office environment dress code, and I often pushed the limits. Even business casual seemed rather stuffy for my tastes. So as a teacher, I am loving the more comfortable and casual outfits I can wear every day, while still looking professional for my environment. 

Here’s my fall teaching outfits I’m loving right now…

Favorite Fall Teaching Outfits text

 

1. You will often find me in leggings and a longer top, with ballerina flats. My favorite new purchase is a gray hooded tunic length top, with my black leggings and my silver sparkly flats. I usually pair it with a double necklace – a longer one with a pendant and a shorter one with something small. 

2. I’ve always loved tights in the fall and winter, which is kind of funny because I hate pantyhose. Somehow, they seem different to me! I especially like to pair a brighter colored tight with a solid skirt and boots. I have a khaki corduroy skirt and brown boots I wear often with tights. As the temperatures get cooler, a nice chunky sweater works well with this. I throw in a necklace to compliment the brighter tights, and I’m ready to go!

3. I love, love, LOVE that I can wear jeans on Fridays now!! I usually wear my boot cut jeans with a hooded sweatshirt – most often a football one so I can show my school spirit! Also nice is that a ponytail and headband work perfect with a hoodie, and sneakers compliment the whole outfit. Completely comfy – love it! Bonus – no need to change out of “work clothes” before heading to the football game!

What outfits do you love in the fall?

Favorite Fall Cocktail

Caramel Apple Cider CocktailI’ve said before, I love fall. It has easily become my favorite season. And one of the reasons is the great fall flavors. Spiced anything is delicious and I devour anything pumpkin or apple this time of year. 

My fall cocktail of choice definitely incorporates the flavors of the season. Not really much a recipe to share, just more of a great idea! 

Caramel Apple Cider Cocktail

Apple Cider

Caramel Apple Vodka (I use the one from Pinnacle)

Mix about one part vodka with three parts cider. You can serve over ice, for a more refreshing drink; or heat for a great warm up or an outdoor tailgate!

On to my menu!  I have it easy as far as the dinner planning and prep this week, although only because my week is long and full. I have parent-teacher conferences this week, so as a teacher that means two days in a row of being at school until 8 pm. So The Coach is in charge of dinner Wednesday and Thursday nights. He went for fairly easy picks! Then when conferences are done Friday we’re leaving right from school to head over to visit some family, then stay at a water park hotel the next night. After a busy and stressful fall, we needed a little mini-vacation! Looking for more menu ideas? Check out and follow my Yummy dinners board on Pinterest! Interested in meal planning? Check out my first post on meal planning, or my recent Beginner’s Guide to Meal Planning. Here’s what we’re eating this week:

Breakfasts 

(we don’t plan for each day – see here for why – but these are our choices along with a fruit)

Lunches 

(This school year, our district received a grant and school lunch is free for ALL students! So unless there is a day where my kids really don’t like either of the options, they will be eating the free lunch. Otherwise, I’ll probably just keep a couple Lunchables on hand for those rare pack-a-lunch days.)

If you’re looking for ideas for Peanut Free School Lunches, see my post from last year here

Dinners

    • Monday  – Bacon-wrapped Apple BBQ Chicken, broccoli & rice casserole
    • Tuesday – Chili, cornbread
    • Wednesday – Fish & chips, mixed veggies
    • Thursday – Pizza
    • Friday – Dinner with Family
    • Saturday – Vacation
    • Sunday – Vacation

What are you eating this week? Leave a comment and feel free to link back to your blog if you have your plan posted!

Like the recipe or feature this week? Please consider sending it to a friend, sharing it on Facebook or Twitter, or pinning it to Pinterest. Thanks so much!

{Friday} 5 Tips for Running with Your Kid

I’m a day late on this, but we’ll just pretend it’s Friday, OK? 😉 Today, I’m offering up some tips for running with your kid (or kids, if you’re really ambitious). 

Friday 5 Tips for RunningLast spring, I decided to invite my older son to train for a 5K with me. He’s got a naturally good running form and never seems to be able to expend enough energy, so I thought running might be a good activity for him. And as I knock on the door of 40, I’m realizing I need to get a bit more active to stay healthy in the years to come. He was excited to start our Couch 2 5K program, as we got ready to run in our local Blueberry Run in August. I quickly realized running with a youngster is very different from running by yourself. We had some ups and downs as we trained, but after realizing a few things, we ended up having a great time.  

Here’s my tips for running with your kid:

  1. Start at his level. As an adult, and a slightly competitive one, I wanted to push myself and train hard. As a seven year old, even a competitive one, my son wanted to run when he could run and walk when we needed to. In the beginning, I had to adjust my pace and my expectations. But before long, we had worked into a groove that fit for both of us. 
  2. Allow for bad days. Some days, my son just didn’t feel like running. And while I am able to tell myself to suck it up and just do it because it is good for me, he’s not there yet. I quickly found out, if I made him run on a day he really didn’t want to, we just ended up bickering and having a terrible time, as well as a terrible work-out. So I told him he had three free passes during our eight-week training program. Knowing he only had three, actually made him really think about if he wanted to use one or not. And of he decided to run instead of using a pass, he was all in since it was his choice.
  3. Set goals and build in rewards. We set goals for each and every run. While I can handle having an end-goal of running in a 5K race, he needed something more immediate. So each workout, we would either decide how far we hoped to get, or sometimes it was simply not taking any extra walk breaks. And we got popsicles after every run, for completing it. Our reward wasn’t big, but just enough to feel like we got something for our effort. 
  4. Let him learn his own lessons. My son is just like me (unfortunately), and needs to learn things the hard way. One day I tried to tell him we should run before we ate lunch, because running right after eating was sometimes hard on the gut. He argued, so I said ok. Sure enough, about 10 minutes into our workout, he was complaining that his stomach didn’t feel very good. I pushed him a little and he ended up learning to not eat and then run. Likewise, he didn’t want to listen to me about pacing, so I let him go all out in the beginning one workout, and then let him see how he was completely dragging by the end. He was much more ready to listen to my advice after learning his own lessons the hard way. 
  5. Teach lifelong skills. While I love my kids being involved in organized sports such as football, basketball, and baseball, those are not how you see most adults getting their exercise. I wanted to teach my son some skills that would benefit him for most of his life. Running is an activity he can enjoy into adulthood and a great way to stay fit. I tried to teach him lessons about stretching, hydrating, taking breaks between work outs, and listening to your body. 

We completed our program, set our goal for our time in the 5K, registered for the event, and ran our hearts out. Seeing how excited he was on race day was awesome! And we completely beat our goal with all the adrenaline from the big event. My favorite? When he asked me at the end of the race if we could do another one together.

Do you exercise with your kids? What tips can you share? 

My Favorite Soup

Photo credit: Cozycakes Cottage

Photo credit: Cozycakes Cottage

I have no original recipe to share this week. Instead, I am sharing a favorite from a blogging friend of mine – Danielle over at Cozycakes Cottage. I discovered her Take It Easy Tortellini Soup a little over a year ago when she shared it on her blog. It instantly became a favorite of the entire family. 

I’ve tweaked it a little to suit our particular tastes. I leave out the ground beef (it’s filling enough without it.) I alternate between using cheese tortellini and sausage filled. And I don’t always add the spinach because the rest of my family complains about it. It’s perfect made just as Danielle shared, but it’s also very easy to leave out or add in things to suit your personal preferences. Make sure you click over and give her recipe some love – I promise you will be glad you did!

On to my menu!  This week we are finally slowing down a little. Not much after school and just the wrap up of football with the end-of-season banquet and a fun family evening going to see a play off game. While we wish we were watching The Coach in the play-offs, it will be nice to get to sit next to him for a game! I got input from the family this week for the menu plan, so you’ll see hot dogs (Monkey), breakfast for dinner (Roo), and tacos (Coach). Looking for more menu ideas? Check out and follow my Yummy dinners board on Pinterest! Interested in meal planning? Check out my first post on meal planning, or my recent Beginner’s Guide to Meal Planning. Here’s what we’re eating this week:

Breakfasts 

(we don’t plan for each day – see here for why – but these are our choices along with a fruit)

Lunches 

(This school year, our district received a grant and school lunch is free for ALL students! So unless there is a day where my kids really don’t like either of the options, they will be eating the free lunch. Otherwise, I’ll probably just keep a couple Lunchables on hand for those rare pack-a-lunch days.)

If you’re looking for ideas for Peanut Free School Lunches, see my post from last year here

Dinners

    • Monday  – Hot Dogs, chips, carrots
    • Tuesday – Steak, potatoes, mushrooms, broccoli
    • Wednesday – Breakfast for dinner
    • Thursday – Football banquet
    • Friday – Football game
    • Saturday – Tacos
    • Sunday – Nachos (with leftover tacos)

What are you eating this week? Leave a comment and feel free to link back to your blog if you have your plan posted!

Like the recipe or feature this week? Please consider sending it to a friend, sharing it on Facebook or Twitter, or pinning it to Pinterest. Thanks so much!

Friday 5 – Ways to Use Up Halloween Candy

Halloween CandyMost families will have enough candy to feed the entire population of some small countries by about 8 pm tonight. And the exception of extra candy because it’s Halloween only gets rid of so much (unless you really want to clean up vomit). So what to do with all that candy? We’ve tried doling it out a piece or two at a time for nights on end after the big trick or treating event has passed. But then we have a candy bucket still full when Christmas treats arrive, then even more candy by Valentine’s, and when we get to Easter – ridiculous. So I’ve been searching for creative ways to get rid, er, use up Halloween candy. Here’s today’s {Friday} five:

Trail mix. Mix some peanuts, almonds, and pretzels in with some of the candy and feel less guilty about serving it up as an after school snack.

Eat it yourself. Those Halloween costumes didn’t make themselves (or buy themselves, I’ll admit to it). So you have certainly earned a treat…or 20. And kids who think gummy anything is great loot, seriously cannot fully appreciate a Reese’s peanut butter cup like you can.

Candy Apple salad. Bonus – this also uses up some of those apple from the apple picking trip! There are tons of recipes for this salad on Pinterest, but the basic idea is chopped apples, Coo, Whip, and crushed snickers bars. Technically more of a dessert, but this time of year no one is going to judge if you want to cal it a side dish!

Bribe your kids. Yeah, yeah. If you want to pass judgement, go read another blog. Eliciting exceptional behavior and extra chore completion gets real easy in the stretch between Halloween and the arrival of the Elf on the Shelf. It’s amazing what you can get kids to do for a measly Twizzler!

Get crafty (or mathematical). Use small candies in art projects. Make rainbows with Skittles, use M&M’s for leaves on trees, or make an original abstract using whatever candies they want! Or, make them earn those M&M’s, Reeces Pieces, and Skittles by having kids count them, graph the colors, or make patterns. Go a step further and use as manipulatives for addition, subtraction, and multiplication. If you have three groups of four M&M’s, how many do you have? Now if Mama eats four, how many are left? :)

Halloween Books We Love

I absolutely love reading seasonal books to my kids. I always pack them away after each holiday, and bring them out about a month before. It builds the excitement and makes these favorites have even more of a special air to them. And for each holiday, there are some books we can’t wait to open and jump into again, like old friends we’ve dearly missed. Here’s the Halloween books we love the most:

Halloween Books We Love

 

  1. Room on the Broom. I love this cute story about a witch making room on her broom for some very helpful friends. 
  2. Five Little PumpkinsWhile this is meant for the younger set, I love that my kids now know it by heart, as well as the movements that go along with it. And it’s short enough that we read it a couple times every night that we pick it. 
  3. BunniculaThis is new to our list this year. I loved this short chapter book as a kid, and was so excited to share it with my boys this year. We’re about half way through and there have been nights where my kids are laughing out loud, and ones where they are clutching my arm in anticipation as well!
  4. The Legend of Spookley the Square PumpkinThis is one of my favorite books. Such a cute story with an important lesson about the value of differences.  
  5. We’re Off to Find the Witch’s HouseHow could a word nerd like myself not love a book that includes lines such as, “Which house? The witches’s house!” I love that the pictures add to the story and my kids can pick out the clues in each one. 

What are your favorite Halloween books?

This post contains affiliate links. If you click through and make a purchase, I receive a small amount of compensation for the referral. However, I truly recommend all of these books! Thanks for supporting Structure in an Unstructured Life!

A Week of Halloween Dinners

So, it’s Tuesday. And I’m just now posting my Menu Plan Monday post. Sigh. Such is life these days. If I get thrown for a loop anywhere in my schedule, it seems hard to get back on track these days. But better late than never, right? 😉

This week, I’m bringing you a week of Halloween dinner ideas. I’ve been slacking on the fun in our meals lately, so I thought I would use all my fun Halloween ideas this week and offer up a spook-tacular week of dinners for the littles! Here’s four great ideas, including a recipe I adapted for a fright night version of Sloppy Joe Pie, sure to impress kids little and big in your house!

  • Mummy Dogs. These are as easy as they come. Simply unroll crescent roll dough and use a pizza cutter to cut it into strips of dough. Wrap the strips around hot dogs to make “mummies.” Bake at 375 degrees for 12-15 minutes or until the crescent dough is baked and golden brown. Add mustard or ketchup dots for eyes, if you like!
  • Pizza Fingers. You can get all fancy and make your own pizza, if you like. But I’m going simple and preparing two frozen cheese pizzas per the directions on the package. Instead of slicing pizza-style, cut in straight lines to make strips. I’m going to cut the strips in half, as well, to make them more manageable. Then add red pepper pieces cut into triangles for the “nail” at the end of the pizza “finger.” Add marinara or pizza sauce for dipping.  
  • Spiderweb soup and Jack O’Lantern grilled cheese. I’m making tomato soup. Place sour cream in a plastic baggie and cut off the corner, to make a squeezable bag. Pipe the sour cream in concentric circles on the soup. Drag a toothpick from the center circle out, to give them the look of a spiderweb. For the grilled cheese, simple cut a pumpkin face out on the bread for one side of the grilled cheese, so the orange cheese shows through. Your best to use a less “melty” cheese, like cheddar slices, rather than the simple American cheese slices. 

Halloween Sloppy Joe PieJack O’Lantern Sloppy Joe Pie. This recipe is adapted from one that appeared in the Pillsbury Come & Eat booklet from the Fall of 2001. I made it less spicy to suit the tastes of my kids, and then The Coach and I add a little Tabasco or red pepper flakes to spice up our own serving. 

1 Pillsbury refrigerated pie crust, softened as directed on package

1 1/2 pounds ground beef or turkey

1/2 cup diced onion

1 cup salsa

1/2 cup ketchup

2 Tablespoons brown sugar

1 cup frozen corn

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Unroll pie crust onto a baking sheet and cut out a Jack O’Lantern face using a sharp knife. Bake for 9 to 11 minutes, or until crust is light golden brown.

Meanwhile, brown the ground beef/turkey and onion in a large skillet. Add remaining ingredients, and simmer 8 to 10 minutes or until the corn is cooked. 

Carefully place the pie crust on top of the meat mixture to serve. 

 

On to my menu!  I’ll be linking up on I’m an Organizing Junkie if you’re looking for more meal planning ideas! I also often link up at Feeding Big. Or check out and follow my Yummy dinners board on Pinterest! Interested in meal planning? Check out my first post on meal planning, or my recent Beginner’s Guide to Meal Planning. Here’s what we’re eating this week:

Breakfasts 

(we don’t plan for each day – see here for why – but these are our choices along with a fruit)

Lunches 

(This school year, our district received a grant and school lunch is free for ALL students! So unless there is a day where my kids really don’t like either of the options, they will be eating the free lunch. Otherwise, I’ll probably just keep a couple Lunchables on hand for those rare pack-a-lunch days.)

If you’re looking for ideas for Peanut Free School Lunches, see my post from last year here

Dinners

    • Monday  – Mummy Dogs, fries, apple slices
    • Tuesday – Jack O’Lantern Sloppy Joe Pie, salad
    • Wednesday – Pizza fingers, salad
    • Thursday – Spiderweb soup with Jack O’Lantern grilled cheese
    • Friday – Halloween Party
    • Saturday – Birthday dinner with family
    • Sunday – Leaving open to decide on Sunday!

What are you eating this week? Leave a comment and feel free to link back to your blog if you have your plan posted!

Like the recipe or feature this week? Please consider sending it to a friend, sharing it on Facebook or Twitter, or pinning it to Pinterest. Thanks so much!