With the Mrs International Pageant and big move into our new home right around the corner, the question “Are you ready?’” is the first thing most folks have been asking me lately. My short answer, an excited “Yes!” The long reflective, thoughtful answer, “Is anyone ever really ready for a challenge or change?” I usually stick with the short answer, but the idea of being “ready” has me thinking. To be perfectly honest with you, I’ve never been ready. I’ve been brave, willing, supported, and some what prepared. Never in my life have I ever been completely ready for whatever it is that I am about to experience. Thank goodness for that! Had I have been ready for all of the struggles and heart ache that go can into marriage, raising a family, starting a business, learning to forgive, or building a home, I might not have been brave enough to begin any of those journeys. I would have then missed out on all of the happiness, love, excitement, hope, determination, and joy that also comes with living a life unready. Had I waited for “ready” I might have missed an opportunity to experience something even greater, faith. Faith can be a tough because it isn’t about making sure everything works out the way I want. Faith is having confidence that things will happen the way they should. I trust that the next few weeks will unfold the way they have been intended, and my family and I will look back and say “Wow, I can’t believe how perfect everything worked out!” I’ll admit that I am definitely ready for that!

Other than trying to get ready, the boys and I have enjoyed our summer together so far. We sleep in, swim, ride bikes, walk the mall, and generally enjoy the day together. There have been the usual challenges; finding things for everyone to do together, breaking up small arguments, and keeping our meal schedule in sync with each other. The younger boys wake up earlier than the older boys, some want breakfast, some don’t, lunch can get lost in the busyness of the afternoon, and dinner happens when mom finally thinks of something to throw together! We are rarely ready to eat together, so I’ve had to come up with easy-peasy things to whip up. With kitchen space being tight in our temporary apartment, I have relied on grilling outside by the pool this season. After plenty of bbq chicken or brats, these grilled quesadillas have been a welcomed change. I love them because they come together in a snap, can be filled with a million different combinations of ingredients, and my boys are always ready to crowd around the table and eat when they come off the grill!

There are a ton of things I love about my family. We’re hard working, fun loving, understanding of the importance of a great haircut, and we’re always up for an adventure!

Ryan and I are very fortunate to have been able to travel often with our four boys. When we were a younger family, our summer weekends would usually involve day trips to a beach or lake. Since then, our boys have been to New York, Hawaii a handful of times, RV’ed all the way to Washington, and have enjoyed dozens of weekend trips to San Fransisco or Stinson beach. Ryan and I are also very fortunate that our boys have become excellent travelers. The hum of an airplane will lull them to sleep, books and an ipad full of movies have kept them content during long car drives, and snacks keep everyone patient until our destination is reached. Have I ever dealt with a fussy baby on a long flight, broken up arguments in the backseat, or tried to get an overstimulated, over exhausted toddler to bed after a long day of travel? Yes, yes, and yes! But all of the good things that come with traveling alongside our boys have outweighed all of the uncomfortable things. The experiences had, the knowledge gained, the memories made; all totally worth changing more than a few poopy diapers in an airplane bathroom!

Our latest and longest car drive to date was to Palm Springs! As Mrs. California, my family was asked to be in their annual Festival of Lights, and we were honored and excited for the opportunity! We debated on whether or not to fly (we live close to the foothills in Northern California), but the recent drop in gas prices made it hard to justify purchasing six flights. With so many recent seven hour drives to Southern California under our belt, I figured we could handle a drive only a couple more hours long. To help make things a little easier, I decided to pack lunch and other homemade treats for our journey. My least favorite part of a long car drive over the grapevine is the lack of healthy food options. Inevitably we’ll snack on chips and candy from travel stations, only to feel like garbage when we finally reach our destination. Armed with homemade muffins, popcorn, a five pound bag of local mandarines, and a stack of lunches made with love, we made it over the grapevine directly into LA traffic. Did we stress, did we fight, were we sick of sitting in the car? Maybe a little, but not enough to ruin the beginning of our trip! When we finally arrived we were happy and excited to explore our surroundings (aka, go out to dinner). As for the parade, it was amazing! So many people, lights, and even a celebrity sighting!

Jan 24

Salad for One

When I was a working mom, finding time to squeeze a healthy, quick lunch into my busy afternoon at the salon was almost impossible. I never planned ahead (ie. bring lunch to work!) and by the time noon rolled around I could be found stuffing pizza into my face while trying to get ready for my next client! Since becoming a stay-at-home mom I try my hardest to have lunch at home. When it comes to In-N-Out burgers, Chick-Fil-A sandwiches, or Freebirds burritos, I have absolutely zero willpower! It doesn’t help that these places surround the area where the bulk of my errands are ran. Because I am so easily tempted by french fries and refried beans, I try to keep my time spent around these places short! I also keep my pantry, fridge, and fruit bowl stocked with easy, fresh ingredients that can be quickly thrown into a lunch time salad.

To keep a potentially boring ol’ salad appetizing, I follow a few simple rules. First, my lunch salad needs to come together in 10 minutes or less! Anymore prep time than that and I’ll wind up wishing that I stopped for tacos instead! Second, these salads must contain something crunchy, savory, sweet, and substantial! This way all of my cravings are met, except for when I get a random lunch time cookie craving. I still haven’t figured out how to beat that one! Lastly, I don’t limit my salad dressing to just lemon juice! Olive oil, dijon, garlic, a little sour cream, anything goes as long as I can quickly shake my dressing up in a screw top jar!

To help make quick salad assembly easy for you, I put together a list of the ingredients I always have on hand! Lunch doesn’t have to be a forgotten afterthought or an indulgence in fast food. With a little preparation lunch time can easily become one of the loveliest parts of your day!

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!

Ryan (my husband) is originally from Arcata, California. When he was about three years old his parents decided to leave their sleepy, redwood nestled home for a brighter, faster life in Sacramento. This move broke a lot of hearts, including Ryan’s grandparents. In order to keep precious family ties together, Ryan’s parents made it a priority to visit the Vanni’s (Ryan’s grandparents) as often as they could. Fast forward 30 years and you’ll find that these annual Vanni family trips to Arcata are still happening! Except now my husband is in the driver’s seat and our four boys are in the back excited to see their great-grandparents.

I love that my husband’s fond childhood memories of visiting his grandparents are now also a part of our boys history. These trips are always full of catching up, funny stories, old family photos as well as new family snap shots. Of course we all come together to share a big family breakfast with pancakes, hash browns, and a couple sides of bacon. Then there are the dinners complete with at least two helpings of veal parmesan, tiramisu, and a few glasses of red wine here and there. We all get a little misty eyed when it’s time to say goodbye and we promise to not let too much time pass before our next visit. Ryan and I always drive away thankful for his grandparents and for the time spent together.

After these weekends full of family and eating out we are usually ready to get back to our normal, everyday eating habits. On our way home from our most recent trip we stopped at a cute road side restaurant/resort called The Grass House where I stumbled upon this clean and delicious quinoa salad. Paired with a tall glass of lemon water, it was exactly what I was craving after devouring a plate full of pasta bolognese the night before!

You are never too old to hop out of bed, skip your routine cup of coffee, and board a shuttle full of excited/sleepy parents and kids.

You are never too old to run down Main Street, rush into Tomorrow Land, and zip onto Space Mountain before the line gets too long.

You are never too old to enjoy a corn dog from the Corn Dog Castle, fried chicken from The Plaza Inn, bbq ribs from Big Thunder Ranch Barbecue, and a giant ice-cream sunday from Paradise Pier Ice Cream Co. Don’t forget the popcorn, a giant pickle, a tall glass of lemon aid, and a few antacids to wash it all down with!

You are never too old to get excited when you finally see Mickey Mouse, stand in line to give Goofy a hug, or take your turn to defeat Darth Vader in your impromptu Jedi padawan training.

You are never too old to be dazzled by fireworks while eating a muti-colored lollipop, surrounded by a crowd of children and children at heart.

You are never too old to fall in love with Disneyland all over again.

My boys are finally wrapping up their school year and I don’t know who’s more excited for summer vacation, them or I!

Have you ever noticed that summer vacations tend to take on a theme? One year we were all about the pool at the gym. By the end of that summer my three older boys were professional swimmers and I was an expert at packing a stroller with a toddler, towels, lunch and pool toys! The summer after that we explored Northern California. We rented an RV for a week, spent every other weekend on a different beach and had a wonderful time exploring our beautiful state.

This year our summer theme has been set early after a crazy Memorial day filled with three BBQ’s back to back. I have a feeling this vacation will be filled with a lot of charcoal, burgers, hotdogs, ketchup, and potato salad! But what if a person doesn’t eat hamburgers or hot dogs?  Is he or she doomed to a season full of filling their plate with side dishes, and chips as everyone else sinks their teeth into a perfectly grilled main dish?! No way! I gotcha covered with this honey, dijon chicken breast sandwich. I came up with this alternative to grilled red meat or pork after I volunteered to host a BBQ where none of the guest ate hamburgers or hotdogs. True story. Thankfully these chicken sandwiches grilled up beautifully and deliciously filled the void of hotdogs and hamburgers for Ryan and I!

Ahhhhhhh, summer vacation! We are so happy that you are finally here!

My washing machine broke on a Monday night, but of course I didn’t catch that until Tuesday afternoon.

I called the repair man right away and he told me that he could squeeze me into his schedule on Wednesday between 9:00am and 3:00pm.

After arriving promptly at 4:00pm the repair man informed me that he needed to order a part and it wouldn’t be here until Friday morning. “No problem”, I said slightly disappointed, ”See ya Friday.”

Friday afternoon rolled around and my repair man regretfully told me that I would need yet another part for my machine. And of course ordering a part on a Friday means you’ll need to wait until next Wednesday to get it. “Ok”, I said fighting back the tears, “I’ll see you Wednesday”.

Did I mention that my husband was also out of town this week and that my boys were pretty upset with me because they could not have a sleepover with their cousins now that I had to drag a weeks worth of laundry over to the laundry mat to wash, fluff, and fold. After a disappointing day and a not-so-hot evening spent at the laundry mat we  needed something quick and comforting to enjoy for dinner. I could have gone through a drive-thru to pick something up, but I knew a bag of greasy tacos or shriveled hamburgers wouldn’t be enough for this tired mama or her four sour faced boys. Instead I decided to take on the challenge of having a hot, healthy and easy meal on our dinner table in 15 minutes or less!

So what did I come up with? This grilled cheese on sourdough with spinach and tomato sauce! Full of comfort and spinach! It was a total win which my boys and I needed that night. And it almost made me forget about the 27 loads of laundry that now needed to be put away or that it might have been easier to have just replaced my poor, tired washing machine!

You should totally invite your friends over for dinner one of these nights.

If you invite people over for dinner, you’ll have to figure out what you’re going to feed everyone.

While leafing through cookbooks and wondering what you’re going to make, you might stumble across that fried chicken recipe you’ve been wanting to try.

Reading up on how to make fried chicken will remind you that you need to go to the grocery store to shop for ingredients!

In the middle of picking up chicken, buttermilk and breadcrumbs, you’ll realize that this fried chicken would make an awesome sandwich!

Once you start throwing fried chicken dinner parties your house will become the home everyone will want to be at.

And you’ll be the boy or girl who can make the best fried chicken sandwich that anyone has ever had!

Aug 19

Pizza Bagels

The end of summer vacation has got be my least favorite time of year. Our lazy, sunny days have been taken over by drop off’s, pick up’s, school lunch, and everybody’s favorite, homework. You would think that a mother with four children would be delighted to wave goodbye to her kids as they leave for school each morning, but not me. I kind of hate it. I know what your going to say “Well if you love hanging out with your kids so much why don’t you just homeschool them?” I tried that for a few years when the boys were younger and for whatever reason it just didn’t work out for us. I wasn’t very good at keeping a schedule and when we did hit the books I wasn’t very creative and I had a hard time with making learning fun. That’s ok, because thankfully my boys ended up loving school and I was able to figure out what I was good at.

I’m really good at getting them ready and excited for a new school year. I love helping them pick out new school supplies and talking to them about what Pre K,  2nd, 5th, and 6th grade will mean for them. Speaking of 6th grade, I’m also pretty good at teaching my oldest son how to dance with a girl when the time comes for him to go to his first school dance! No, I can not believe that school dances are about to happen for him. Don’t even get me started, I’ll only end up crying! But what I’m really good at is listening to them talk about their day when I finally get to pick them up from school! It’s one of my favorite things and I just love listening to what happened in their day while they were out of our up nest. Of course they are always starving after school so if I want to hear about what went down on the playground I’d better put a really good snack in front of them! These fun, simple pizza bagels toast quickly under the broiler and always bring everybody to the table. They are also easy to taylor to everyones taste! Not a big fan of tomatoes? No prob, I can leave them off.

While I am looking forward to a few (precious) hours to myself during the week, I never look forward to saying goodbye to another quickly vanishing summer with my boys.