A few weeks ago a friend of mine asked me if I ever felt afraid. She was referring the the Mrs. International pageant I’ll be competing in this July, but so many other endeavors I have been called to came to mind.

For example, every time I am asked to speak I am afraid. Every time I tell someone my story, whether it be on stage or over a cup of coffee, I am afraid. Every time I make a phone call to tell someone that I am Mrs. California, and I want to help, be apart of, or donate my time to them, I am afraid. Every morning when I wake up, I am afraid of not being able to do the things I have been set out to do. Thankfully every night before I fall sleep I thank God for giving me the courage and strength to accomplish whatever it was that I was afraid of.

My answer to my sweet friend was simply “Yes”. But don’t let me fool you into thinking that I am some super strong gal that just loves to eat fear for breakfast, because I’m not! I know what it feels like to become a victim of fear and all of it’s lies. In the past my fears have kept me from living a life I knew I wanted, but was too scared to live. Fear told me I wasn’t good enough, smart enough, or cut out for the job. Luckily, God was relentless and continued to put people in my life that told me that I was more than enough. That in fact I was perfect just the way I am, and to believe in myself regardless of what my fear was telling me. Now, every day instead of letting fears hold me back, I enjoy grace which has given me freedom. Freedom to go for it whole heartily, to make mistakes, to live.

I also enjoy baking! Fear used to tell me that I was bad at baking, that I should leave it to someone with a better oven, and a lot more experience. After making two batches of these awesome (and easy) muffins, and watching my boys gobble them up as quickly as they did, I laughed because I feared that they wouldn’t come out that great. Take that fear, these pumpkin muffins are definitely a winner!

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!

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!

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!

A few weeks ago my youngest asked why I didn’t make smoothies in the winter time. Good question, I thought! During the warmer months I love throwing all kinds of healthy stuff into my blender and watching my boys drink to their health. It makes even more sense to whip up healthy concoctions during a wicked cold and flu season, doesn’t it? Leave it to a six year old to say the most obvious thing. Totally off subject, but my husband and I can not believe that our youngest just turned 6. Our house that was once full of babies is now officially a house full of big boys. Wow, that went by fast.

Back to the subject at hand! Since the best part of a smoothie is the seasonal fruit and goodies, I decided to incorporate pumpkin, cinnamon, and nutmeg into this mix. Did you know that pumpkin is full of vitamin C, which helps keep the sniffles away? It also has tons of vitamin A and magnesium in it, which keeps our kiddos teeth and bones strong. That’s a good thing, because in my recent experience I’ve noticed that kids grow up fast. The better we feed them now, the happier and stronger they will be later on!

On your marks… Get set… GO!

Does anybody else feel like they are in a race the moment Halloween decorations are put away and Thanksgiving recipes and Christmas lights appear.

How should we cook the turkey this year? Traditional cranberry sauce or a chutney? Apple pie, pumpkin pie, whipped cream, ice cream, or all of the above? Should we try caroling this year? A real tree or artificial? White lights or colored? Twinkling or still? A fun family getaway or gifts?

The questions are endless but unfortunately our time spent in this season meant for family and togetherness is not.  This holiday I’m going to try my hardest to not sweat the small stuff. I will appreciate my own quirky, simple decorations instead of feeling insecure over the perfect works of crafty art I see online. I will pick quality time with my family and friends over stressing and planning. Instead of busyness I will do my best to fill our holiday season with the important things; family movie nights, hot chocolate, cozy socks, flannel sheets and enjoying warm buttered cinnamon raisin bread by a crackling fire.

It’s taken almost the whole summer, but I think the boys and I have finally figured out this whole summer schedule thing. Going from a very early, very strict schedule to no schedule what-so-ever threw us for a loop this year!

Our older boys want to stay up late, sleep in late and they are slow to wake when they do finally roll out of bed. Our younger boys are asleep by 9:00, awake before 8:00 am and hop out of bed with a spring in their step! I like waking up around 7:00 and after a cup of coffee I start tackling my to-do list that accompanies each day. The task of structuring our very different schedules and wants into a balanced, fun summer vacation hasn’t been easy! Chores and errands are done in the morning so the bulk of our day can be spent enjoying the sun, our pool or time with friends. TV and video games are limited to the mornings and simple late afternoon outings to grab a slurpie or frozen yogurt has helped to keep us all on the same page.

Being flexible with our meal times has also helped our day run smoother. Because the younger boys only want a small bite in the morning, and the big boys sleep right through breakfast, brunch has been our best friend! Everybody is hungry (and awake) by 10:30 and these creamy breakfast enchiladas full of scrambled eggs, black beans and spinach have satisfied groggy teenagers and grumpy 5 year olds alike!

As of last week the Vanni household officially consists of 2 parents, 1 bulldog, 1 grey floppy eared bunny, 3 sweet boys, and 1 awesome teenager.

That’s right, our oldest boy just turned 13 and to be honest with you it’s still a little hard to believe. While some days felt longer than others, 13 years of motherhood has flown by. As a family we have experienced and learned a lot in this amount of time. I expect the next 13 years will be just as educating, if not more than the last!

Since becoming parents to a teenager Ryan and I have felt the desire up the ante in his life lessons department. Instead of bombarding our teen with a laundry list of do’s and don’ts, we’ve learned that the best way to teach him (and the rest of our boys) is by showing him instead of telling him. While some of his lessons will inevitably be harder to teach than others, the incredibly important lesson of healthy eating has been a fun one for us teach. After watching Gaven master the toaster oven and the microwave, I thought it was time for him to learn how to use the stove top and oven. This simple frittata utilizes both and it also happens to be one of his favorite dishes to eat!

Teaching our teenage boy how to cook and eat well, check! Guiding our teenager and helping him uncover the man he was born to be, that life lesson might take just a bit longer!

The older I get the more health conscience I become.

The more health conscience I become the more intolerant my taste buds (and stomach!) become of anything artificial or fake.

The more intolerant my taste buds become, the more time I take to read the ingredients of the food my family and I eat.

The more educated I become on what is in our food, the more disappointed I become when I see unhealthy ingredients in so-called health foods.

The more frustrated I become with what food labels tell me, the more I start to make my own snacks, sauces, dressings, and juices.

The more I take my (and my family’s) food and nutrition into my own hands, the happier and healthier we are.

And what more do I need when the people I love are happy and healthy?

The minute I started to say  ”Yes” was the minute my normal, everyday life started to become not so predictable.

Would you like to join my writing group? Yes!

Are you interested in taking a photography class? Yes!

Do you want fries with that? Duh!

My latest “Yes” has been one of my more exciting and unforeseen to date. A few months ago a former Mrs. California spoke to my writing group. Not about pageantry, just her incredible story in general. After the meeting she asked if running for Mrs. California had ever crossed my mind and I immediately said “No.” First of all I have never been in a pageant and second of all I am not a pageant kind of girl. Despite my No she emailed me a few weeks later and asked again. After listening to her powerful story and walking away so impressed with the way she held herself I decided to listen to this woman and go to a Mrs. California workshop just to see what it was all about.

The day of the workshop I arrived slightly suspicious and very nervous. Within the first 5 minutes of the meeting my nerves were put to rest and everything that I had assumed about pageant women went out the door. Instead I had found myself in a room full of intelligent, inspiring, beautiful women and was once again shocked with where my simple “Yes” had taken me. I decided that day to join the ranks of these incredible ladies and compete in this year’s Mrs. California pageant. Unknowing of where this journey will take me I know that I will eventually land exactly where I need to be as long as I keep saying “Yes” to the opportunities that are placed before me.

Do I want to encourage more families to cook and eat together at home? Yes!

Would I like to someday speak to children about the importance of eating fruits and veggies? Yes!

Should I start my busy Yes filled days with a good breakfast like these morning muffins packed with oats, bananas, carrots, and walnuts? Absolutely!