My Encouragement for the New Year: GET OUT!

My Encouragement for the New Year: “GET OUT!”

As in, get outside! And get your kids outside! Every day!

When stress mounts and tension rises, it’s tempting to want to hunker down and self soothe with things like television, food, video games, or Facebook escapism 😳 Believe me, I totally get it.

But here’s the thing, none of the above actually helps deal with stress or lift the tension. Instead, it just makes it worse.

But you know what does help with stress and tension? Fresh Air! Exercise! Playing!

Several years ago, I made it a practice to make sure my kids got outside every day for at least a little bit of exertion. If I’m honest, it was in response to a child we had who was labeled “ADHD.” I was convinced he just needed more exercise. 😜 I have since come to terms with the fact that ADHD is a real struggle for some kids and exercise, while vital, is not “the solution.”

However, I have seen time and again how getting outside and heading to a playground or taking a walk can be a turning point for my own mental health and that of my kids.

So this year… 2018… commit with me to GET OUT EVERY DAY! Take your kids on a walk, a hike in the woods, bike rides, collecting rocks to paint, doing yard work together, checking out all the playgrounds in your area. Maybe get an inexpensive camera and let them take pictures of things they see outside. Play the “what shape do you see in the clouds?” game. Keep the crusts they don’t eat and bring them to the park to feed birds. The possibilities are endless!

Will they still bicker? Yes. Will they complain about it? Yup. Might they fight over who gets which this or that [fill in the blank]? Of course! But that’s beside the point.

As foster parents, we are teaching kids a new culture, planting seeds of healthy emotional engagement and healthy living.

Model making “getting outside” a normal part of daily life. You never know… it just might stick with them for the rest of their lives! And I promise… it will be good for YOU too.

Happy New Year, Friends!!! Here’s to a healthy 2018! 🎉👏💪🙏🏻

Baked Potato Bar!

Last Monday, our family was in Virginia Beach with my parents and my oldest brother’s family of five. We each had a cabin on a little dead-end street in a beautiful state park, and we all took turns making dinner for one another.

Of course I volunteered for Monday 🙂 #MondayNightDinnerParty

I wanted to do something that would be relatively simple and healthy that could be tailored by each person according to their dietary preferences (one does not eat meat, one does not eat dairy, etc.) I went to the grocery store in hopes that something there would inspire my menu, and discovered that baking potatoes were on sale. Score! I decided to do a Baked Potato Bar, and it was a huge hit!

Here’s how I did it, from start to finish:

Grocery List:

12 baking potatoes

1 package of fresh chives

1 yellow onion, sliced

1-2 c sliced mushrooms

1 can of chili (I used Amy’s Organic Chili with Vegetables—not spicy!)

1 package frozen or fresh broccoli crowns

1 package of shredded cheddar cheese

1 container sour cream

1 container of spreadable butter

coconut oil

salt & pepper


Preheat oven to 400.

Scrub each of the potatoes clean and pat dry.

Scoop out a teaspoon or so of coconut oil, rub it all over your hands, then rub each potato all over with the coconut oil. Get more oil on your hands as needed. Place potatoes in a baking dish or cookie sheet, leaving room between each potato. Poke each potato with a fork two or three times if you want to (I do because my mom always did, but I’m not sure what purpose it serves!) Liberally salt and pepper the potatoes in the pan.

Bake for 60-90 minutes. (Note: there might be some smoke at first as some of the oil burns off the potatoes. That’s normal and will stop unless they’re actually on fire!)

Meanwhile, heat a skillet to medium and add about a teaspoon of coconut oil. Sautée your onions until clear, then add the mushrooms and continue to stir/sautée them until they’re cooked. Remove from heat.

Steam your broccoli (stovetop or microwave, your choice).

Warm the chili just before serving (again, stovetop or microwave).

Chop your chives.


Set out the toppings, buffet style. I left the sour cream and butter in their store-bought containers, but if you wanted to get a bit fancier, you could, of course, put them in nice bowls. I did set out the cheese, chives, chili, and onion-mushroom sautée, but left the broccoli on the stove so it would keep warm.

Set out the potatoes.

Set out a stack of plates and a jar of utensils.

Call everyone to dinner.

This menu is especially appealing to kids, because they love to fix their own food! It was so fun to watch each of them get creative with what they put on their potatoes.

This menu is especially appealing to adults, because there was zero whining or negotiating about who would eat what or how much. Oh, and also it turns out adults like to have the freedom to fix their potatoes the way they like them too 🙂

NOTE about using coconut oil:

I am pretty much obsessed with coconut oil these days. I use it on my body, on my kids’ bodies, to brush my teeth, and for cooking. I love how it smells and how it tastes, but note that it does add a definite flavor to your food when you cook with it (at least, the kind I buy does). So if folks in your midst don’t like coconut, or have coconut allergies, substitute olive oil, which is what I used for baking potatoes for years.

NOTE about baking potatoes:

I like the skins crispy. Some people like them softer. If you prefer softer potato skins, wrap them in foil before baking. Otherwise, leave them just oiled, not foiled, and they’ll be deliciously crispy. 

ANOTHER NOTE about baking potatoes:

This would also work well with sweet potatoes! Perhaps you’d choose different toppings, but sweet potatoes or yams make great baked potatoes as well, and add a bunch of good nutrients to boot!

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Y’all, this is one of the simplest, crowd-pleasingest menus you could do. There is almost no actual “cooking” involved! It’s mostly prep! And you could easily involve your kids in the prep if you wanted to (mine were too busy running around with their cousins this time, but other times, they’d be right there with me, chairs pushed to counters).

What would you add to the menu? Do you have favorite baked potato toppings I didn’t include?


What Does it Take to Fill Your Cup? (Some Thoughts on Self Care)

It is difficult to adequately express how dramatically life shifts when you become a foster parent, especially if you have no prior parenting experience. The stress of the emotional roller coaster, the unknowns, behaviors, and demands of foster parenting can really take a toll. One piece of data I’ve heard is that foster parents often burn out after around two years.

One of the most important things we need to do as foster parents (or any parents, really) is find ways to attend to our own needs so that we have something to give others. You can’t care for others if you’re not caring for yourself! (It’s the old “put your oxygen mask on before trying to help someone put their mask on” rule).

In this video, I’ll share some of the ways I take care of myself so that I can care for others. In the interest of full disclosure, it has taken me the better part of three years to figure out what I needed to do in order to be at my best for my family and the children who join us temporarily! It’s easy to get overwhelmed on this journey.

What are some of the things that fill your cup? Please share your thoughts, tips, and questions in the comments below!