Camping, Apple Picking and Amelia Island

The end of summer and the beginning of the school year has brought a lot of fun activities our way. The air is a bit cooler and we are able to get out more. Recently, we took all three children camping for the first time at Jellystone Campground in Marion, NC. We had a wonderful time!! Unfortunately, I forgot the camera. :( It was awesome though!! I highly recommend it for families with young children. We spent Saturday afternoon swimming, going down the water slide and playing a family version of "Survivor." Gabriel and I also went kayaking. There was a dance Saturday night and Cadence was the center of attention. We left pretty early on Sunday, but the trip was awesome and we will definitely be back.

We also recently went apple picking with Jon, Christy & their kids. This has become an annual tradition for our families. The kids really enjoy picking apples. We went a few weeks early this year, so the selection was a bit slim, but we still stocked up. Of course, we took advantage of the wonderful scenery and took some pictures of the kiddos in the orchards. Thanks Jon for the first one. Amazing.

Last weekend I attended the National Association of Bankruptcy Trustee's conference at the Ritz Carlton in Amelia Island, Florida. Chris came down with me and, even though I was in class for a good portion of the weekend, we had a great time. I was really bad about taking pictures, so the first two are stock photos from the hotel's site.

When we arrived on Wednesday evening, our room wasn't ready, so they upgraded us to an ocean front suite. No complaints here, of course. :)

On Friday afternoon, it rained for several hours. We went up to our room to get ready for dinner. I stepped out onto the porch to call to check in on the kiddos and was barely able to make out a faint rainbow. We could see the entire thing. It was amazing. My point and shoot camera doesn't do it justice but, trust me, it was beautiful.

On Saturday afternoon, we went out with my boss and his family on their boat. This, of course, is when my camera decided to die. We passed a barge with a crane that appeared to be dredging the bottom for something. We passed the same barge on our way back in and on top was a small airplane! Turns out that it had crashed into the water the day before. The pilot is fine.

The weekend seemed to fly by. The classes were very informative and I learned a lot. The dinners at night were beautiful and we had fun meeting new people. I think my favorite part of the trip though was the mornings. We had to get up early every day and God painted us the most beautiful sunrises to watch while we enjoyed our coffee.

Love and Soccer

I mostly post about current events, but I thought I'd step back in Hall~Smith Family history tonight:

Once upon a time, I was a single mom. I had signed my then-3-year-old daughter up to play soccer for the first time. I knew nothing about soccer. I didn't even know if the shin guards went on the inside or the outside of the socks! Anyway, the coach had been trying to contact me for three weeks to no avail. Recently separated, I had changed my cell phone number and he was calling the old phone which was no longer in my possession. I didn't receive his messages until less than a week before Cadence's first game. I was in a panic. She had missed every practice and was about to start playing soccer with no instruction whatsoever and I didn't even know what side of the socks the stupid shin guards went on!

I remembered that a friend of a friend of mine used to play and had also coached kids' soccer. I sent him a very awkward message that was something like "Hi. Remember me? Can you teach my kid how to play soccer?" To my surprise, he accepted immediately. Then I thought, "Hmm... I hope he doesn't get the wrong idea." At this point in my life, I had sworn off men entirely. They all sucked. If Angelina Jolie could raise a flock of children on her own than, by God, so could I (this was back in the pre-Brad days).

He came and gave Cadence a few pointers. Then he asked if he could come to her game. Of course! He came to her next game and the game after that. One game night he showed up with a crock pot of chili that he had put together because he said he could imagine how crazy dinner was for me to put together on game nights - especially with a pre-schooler and a baby in the house. It was then that I thought, perhaps it was I that had the wrong idea. This guy seemed pretty amazing. He came to every game she played that season. In fact it was after one of those games, four years ago tomorrow, that he kissed me good night. The rest is history.

Cadence's first soccer game

Make Ahead Dinners - Casseroles

Our family is always on the go. In addition to school and work, during the week we have soccer practice for Cadence and Gabriel and voice and piano lessons for Cadence. I am also training six days per week for a half marathon in November. We have very limited time to spend together in the evening so we make the most of that time. In order to maximize the time that we have together, we try to plan ahead as much as possible when it comes to dinner time.

The first thing I do is plan my menu for the week. I have a dry erase board on my refrigerator where I write each day's meal along with my training schedule and any other events that are coming up that week (soccer practice, school project deadlines, etc.). It is a great tool! The kids can look at the board and figure out what we are having for dinner each night. This keeps that constant "What are we having for dinner?" question from coming up 438298490384 times during the week. Also, I've found that if the kids are prepared for what will be served they are less likely to say "I don't want that!" 38395 times during the week.

Now for the actual meals. There are so many types of make ahead dinners - too many to fit into one post, so today I will focus on casseroles. I try to focus my meals around my couponing. I do not like to have to go to the store to pick something up that I didn't pay for with a coupon and/or find on a really great sale, so our menu always varies greatly depending on what it is in the freezer.

This week I have pork chops, so one of the dishes that I will be pre-making is a pork chop casserole recipe that I found on I'll still need to heat up a veggie and make some rice, but that takes no time so I don't mind. When pre-making a casserole, I line my bake ware with a sheet of aluminum foil, assemble my casserole and pop it in the freezer. Once it is frozen, I remove it from the freezer and pop it and the aluminum foil out of the casserole dish. Then, on an index card or piece of paper, I write the reheating instructions as well as which casserole dish I used when I froze the dinner. I wrap the casserole up in plastic wrap and attach the card for easy reference later.

Each morning I check my menu board. If that night's dinner was a frozen pre-made dinner, I remove it from the freezer and unwrap it. I find the casserole dish that I have listed on the card, pop the frozen casserole back into the dish, cover it lightly and leave it out to thaw. After work the casserole is thawed enough to bake. I follow the baking instructions on my card and viola! dinner is served.

The aluminum foil method is especially helpful if you do not have a lot of bake ware and can't stand the thought of throwing away money on those disposable pans. The cleanup is fairly simple as the majority of the mess stays on the foil.

When planning your dinners, I definitely recommend using the ingredient search on I can't begin to tell you how many times I've looked in my kitchen and thought I had nothing for dinner and wound up making a delicious meal out of things I already had.

Here are some links to a few great casseroles that I would suggest as make ahead dinners for your family:

Chicken Florentine Casserole
Pizza Pasta - Great for picky kids. We used turkey pepperoni
Baked Spaghetti - This one is a bit different than traditional baked spaghetti. It was a tad bland to me when it came out of the oven, but some red pepper flake spiced it right up and it was quite tasty.
Delicious Chicken Casserole - Cadence loves this one!
Baked Ziti

Next time, we will discuss crock pot dinners.

Our Summer

I have been very slack about blogging this summer - probably because we've spent so much time doing other amazingly fun things! Here is the recap.

For 4th of July, I made two sets of yummy grilling-out-themed cupcakes. One was corn on the cob and the other was hamburgers. They were a big hit!

The weekend after the 4th, we traveled to Canada to visit our family up there and to celebrate my mom, my aunt Judy and my step mom's birthday. We were so glad to be able to spend some time with everyone. We had a wonderful time relaxing at my dad's; visiting extended family and swimming at my aunt and uncle's house; visiting Marineland; and, spending the day doing the touristy things around Niagara falls. I even got to meet two of my mommy friends in person on the trip. One lived close to where we were staying and we detoured on our way home to visit the other.

Cadence rode her first real roller coaster on this trip. She LOVED it! I was so proud. It was a very nostalgic moment for me. When I was almost exactly her age, my mom coaxed me onto Dragon Mountain for the first time. At that time, Dragon Mountain was the world's longest and tallest steel roller coaster. Those titles have since been taken by newer coasters, but Dragon Mountain is no joke. It is over a mile long at 5500 feet. It has 4 loops, 2 tunnels and a cyclone. Cadence rode it three times!!

Liam is growing so quickly. It seemed like he started the summer as an infant and now he is thinking about growing into a toddler. I'm still not ready for that.

A few weeks ago, we took the kids to a Drive game. We told them that we were going and the first thing that Cadence said was "Do we get the room again?" Apparently we spoiled her by having a private box during her first baseball game. There was no box this time, but there was a playground nearby and that seemed to make up for it.

This was the first year that I let Cadence pick out all of her own clothes for school. She did really well and was happy with her choices. Hopefully, this will limit the arguments in the morning about what she wants to wear versus what I want her to wear. ;)

Over the last year or so Cadence has become very close to her friend Skylar. Cadence was very happy to spend the last evening of summer vacation at the pool with her.

The next day she was off to second grade. Gabriel starts kindergarten next year. I can't believe how fast they grow!!