What if for an entire year you were given center stage to share your story and message with others? Would you fight for this chance, and jump in head first once it is officially yours? Would you get a little nervous, and pray that the Lord will continue to give you the wisdom and courage to speak? Would you be thankful for this opportunity and make every day, all 365 of them count? My answer? “Yes” to all of the above! Very recently I was lucky enough to be crowned Mrs. California International 2015 (Eeeeeek!!!). I was given a dozen roses, a crown, a banner, and an amazing opportunity to share my story and message of hope that I have experienced. I have mentioned before that my beautiful family has been through a lot. There has been pain, struggle, and nights full of tears. With our faith, and our families we chose to fight for hope. My very brave husband’s decade long battle with alcohol almost had it’s way with us, but because of hope we won (and continue to win) the battle. This year I want to be vulnerable and honest about what it took to reclaim our family. We’re not perfect, and I have a long (loooooong) way to go! My mission is to share what I have learned so far with the faith that it will help someone else hold on to hope. Without the hope for a different life, my family would not be where we are today.

This next year will be life changing for me, and I am so happy to share it all with you! Don’t worry, this girl still loves to eat so I won’t be jumping ship here! When the eyelashes, crown, and sparkly banner come off, I am still the same woman who loves taking care of her brood of boys with easy-peasy pasta concoctions!

In my humble option, the best foods are always served in bowls.

A luscious, savory bowl of cheese and potato soup, creamy bowls of ice-cream topped with chocolate sauce and a cherry. Bowls of pasta brimming with chunky, spicy tomato sauce, and my personal favorite, a big bowl of chocolate Chex drenched in plenty of ice cold milk.

Did you know there is a bowlful that is equal parts nutritious and delicious? If you haven’t already caught on to the acai bowl craze, let me introduce you to this versatile, lovely snack. All you need is a blender, a couple packets of frozen acai berry blend, a handful of toppings, (sliced strawberries, bananas, blueberries, granola, shaved coconut…) and you’ll be well on your way to a guilt free, bowlful of bliss!

Please excuse the crickets around here, but this summer vacation has gotten the best of me!

We started our vacation with a bang, a big Hawaiian bang that is. Here’s how it all happened; our boys last day of school was on a Thursday, we hopped on a plane that Friday, and we’ve been living island style ever since. No, we haven’t physically been in Hawaii this entire time, but the laid back easy attitude found there has definitely stayed with us.

Aside from relaxing and goofing around on the beach, this particular Hawaiian family vacation held a deeper meaning for us. Ryan and I decided to celebrate our upcoming 15 year anniversary by renewing our vows on the beach in Oahu. With just our boys, our dearest friends, Matt and Shannon, and a photographer, we recommitted, renewed, and reclaimed our union. At the end of our ceremony, the six of us held on to each other and allowed our tears to wash away any residue of the past we all needed to say goodbye to. You see, this resilient, loving family has been through a lot together. Three years ago, after my husband chose sobriety, we slowly started a healing process and began to restore a beautiful life together we thought we had lost. This vow renewal was more than just a celebration of an anniversary, it was a declaration of a new beginning.

Don’t worry, Hawaii wasn’t all tears and seriousness! We snorkeled, sunbathed, and ate our weight in shaved ice. After 12 days of enjoying all that Maui and Oahu has to offer, we were sad to leave but excited to get back to all of the adventures and endeavors that were waiting for us at home.

Since it’s the end of  the school year, I feel like I need to make a confession.

Are you ready for it? Ok…. Here I go…

I do not make school lunches for my boys!!! Not a single one! Ahhhh, that felt good.

Once upon a time (about 6 months ago) I did pack their lunches. Every morning I would slap together 4 turkey (or pb & j) sandwiches, throw some pretzels or sliced apples in a bag, and top it all off with a juice box. I don’t know who hated those lame-o, uninspired, riddled with exasperation school lunches more, my boys or I? I continued to dutifully fulfill my mom obligation day after day, until I found one of those terrible school lunches tucked into the outside garbage, totally untouched. Did I get mad? No. Did I blame my oldest son for not wanting to eat a meal that didn’t want to be made in the first place? Nope. Did I stop making boring school lunches, and instead fill our fridge and pantry with fun and easy ingredients for my boys to make their own lunches with? Yes! Allowing my boys to have complete authority over what they eat for lunch has given them a new found confidence in the kitchen, in themselves, and a deeper appreciation for the meals I do make them.

Because of this bold decision I figured I would step up our after school snacks, just in case one of their lunches fell short that day. Smoothies that are filled with spinach and chia seeds, but taste like chocolate and peanut butter help to fill any nutritional void that may happen when a 9 year old is allowed to pack his own lunch. Cheese crackers, chocolate milk, and an apple sauce? Yes Ewen, that looks like a wonderful meal. Yikes!

I thought I would share one more pot of soup with ya’ll before we become obsessed with summer salads, smoothies, and boozy popsicles! Have I mentioned before that I love, love, love, ridiculously adore, am head over heels with summer? Well I am, but before I jump into the pool, let’s sauté and puree a few spring veggies into a super yummy (crazy easy!) soup.

Making an awesome pot of soup is a mystery to some and a natural gift to others. I fall in the middle somewhere using pre-made chicken stock and doctoring it up with my own creative concoctions. This spring minestrone can be made vegetarian by using vegetable stock and vegan by skipping the cheese. Want to up the veggie count? Stir in a handful of chopped kale or spinach at the end!

Bathing suit season is calling, and this tasty, nutritious, guilt-free soup is a great answer back!

It would take more than a few paragraphs to describe how wonderful my weekend competing for Mrs. California was, so I’ll spare you every detail and just share the highlights!

No I did not win the crown, but I did place second runner up, (!!) won most photogenic, (!!!) and also won the swimsuit competition (!!!!!!). I was blown away by how far I have come since competing last year, but I still have some work to do. While I am much more comfortable on stage, I still need to learn how to let go and allow myself to tell my story. Understanding why I have this desire to put myself out there, on stage, with nowhere to hide, (in 5 inch heels) is the first step in that process. I’ve prayed about and asked myself this very question, and the answer finally hit me on the long drive home from Malibu, California.

I’ll keep you in loop as I become more confident in my journey, but for now allow me to dedicate these spicy, fried drumsticks to my fellow contestants. During competition weekend it’s hard to sleep or eat because of all of the adrenaline and excitement. Fortunately there is plenty of moral support, under eye concealer, and chit chat about what we’re going to indulge in after the pageant. My go-to guilty pleasure meal has always been fried chicken, and I love it even more when it’s a little spicy!

After months of clean eating, and kale salads, this fried chicken was the perfect reward for a job well done!

When people find out that I compete in pageants, I get one of two responses. The first (and most common) is usually, “Wow, that sounds like fun! What’s your talent?” (Thankfully Mrs. pageants do not require you to have a talent!)  The second response isn’t so positive, and usually consists of a raised eyebrow and maybe even a snarky comment.

I never take offense to the latter response. To be quite honest, I had no idea how much work and commitment went into pageants until I competed in my first one last year. If your only experience with pageants is what you see on TV, you would never know about the sacrifices, the determination, or the confidence it takes to get up stage and literally be judged.  It’s easy to only notice the hair and makeup, and assume that pageants are based on physical beauty alone. Trust me when I tell you, they are not!

My personal journey to the Mrs. California stage has be life changing to say the least. Aside from learning how to gracefully walk in heels, the biggest challenge I faced this year was the way in which I regarded myself. Physically I knew I could go through the motions, walk on stage and smile, but mentally I wasn’t sure if I could fill the heels of the Mrs. California title. I am proud to say that after a lot of work, and with the help from my faith, family, and coach I have overcome any self doubt. This April 13th I cannot wait to show my family, friends and the judges what this woman is really capable of!

It goes without saying that pageant prep also consists of super healthy eating! Kale has been my go-to super food with it’s dark green leaves packed with vitamin K, A, and C. It works in smoothies, juices, salads and my new favorite recipe, sautéed in fried rice! Just like having beauty and brains, it’s the perfect combination of healthy and delicious.

At the end of the day, when the makeup has been washed off and the gown put away, true beauty is when the inside is just as, (if not more) beautiful than the outside.

I rely on skillet meals when my life feels like it’s in overdrive. Dinner is on the table in 30 minutes or less, the clean up is quick, and the possibilities are endless.

A few days ago, (before t-ball practice and after homework time) I had a pound of ground turkey, some random veggies, and a jar of marinara sauce that was begging to be thrown into my cast iron skillet. With the help of some mini farfalle and a few dollops of ricotta cheese, I had a meal so worthy of seconds, my boys were fighting over the last few bites. No joke! Little did they know this baked, cheesy dish was packed with veggies, (spinach AND carrots) and I didn’t even have to negotiate a dessert to get them to clean their plates. Thank goodness for dinners that help make my families’ life healthier and my life easier!

Our weekday breakfast routine versus our weekend breakfast couldn’t be anymore different. Technically it’s same meal, but the similarities end there.

Weekend breakfasts are easy going, involving crispy bacon, something freshly baked, and eggs cooked to order, served with a kiss. During the week we roll out of bed, grumble good morning to each other, and quickly put together a bagel, toast, or a bowl of oatmeal. When our days are especially busy, I’ll surprise my boys and bring a little weekend comfort to our hectic weekday mornings with these baked egg muffins.

Stuffed with yummy weekend goodies like ham, cheese or potatoes, this easy, hot breakfast gets everyone fed and ready to start their fast paced day with a full tummy, and a smile!

If you do nothing, nothing will ever happen.

Nothing good, nothing bad, nothing exciting, nothing terrifying. Absolutely, positively nothing.

Do you have a something in mind? Something that you would like to do or carry out? Maybe you feel that you don’t have enough time, patience, money, knowledge, or resources to do whatever it is you are wanting to accomplish. My advice to counter that would be to take the closest step in the direction you are wanting to go. Running around the block can lead into running a marathon. Writing in your journal can turn into writing that novel. Reading a recipe might push you to host (and cook for!) your first dinner party and four measly strips of bacon can inspire a new favorite family dinner.

You don’t have to have it all figured out today, you just have take that first small (yet very BIG) step. To get somewhere, you need to start somewhere because doing nothing at all will always get you nowhere!