Establishing a Bedtime Routine (that works!)

The studies are done and the results are in:  Children with healthy sleep patterns have higher IQ’s and perform better in school.   

(It’s true, you can google that!

I have a follow-up theory to that:  Parents who have children with healthy sleep patterns are happier people.  I’m not sure there’s a ton of scientific research to back that theory up, but I’d be a grouchy mess if I didn’t have a few hours of quiet at the end of each day.  Establishing a bedtime routine is easier than you might think, even if you’re starting late or completely new to following a bedtime ritual.  Kids like the comfort of routine and it’s never too late to start!

Taking bedtime from a battle to bliss isn’t a big mystery, but it does require a solid routine, consistency and a strong resolve to not give in.  Establish a routine and stick with it.  It’s worth it!  It’s important that you develop your routine around your family’s needs.  Make it work for you.  Write it down.  Post it on your bathroom mirror.  Do whatever you have to do but be consistent.

Here’s a peek at our current bedtime routine(s).  It works for our family.  You can borrow it, you can tweak it, you can completely overhaul it.  Totally up to you.  Depending on the age of your little one(s), you can incorporate their last feeding (baby), one last trip to the bathroom (toddler), journal time (older child).  The key is, it has to work for you and your family.

For my little twins who are 4 years old, my goal for getting them in bed with lights out is 7:30pm.  We start our bedtime rituals at about 6:30pm with a bath.  As long as they are out of the tub by 7:00pm, we’re on track without having to rush.

  •  Bath Time
  • Jammies
  • Brush Teeth
  • Story Time:   I always read one story, sometimes a few.  My only rule here is that they must be still and quiet during this.  We all pile into bed together for the story.  It’s a fun time to cuddle and calm down before bed.
  • Prayer:  I pray over each of my children every night.  As a Christian Mom, I believe that modeling prayer out loud to our children teaches them how easy it is to talk to God.  I’ve personally seen that each of my kids have developed a very natural prayer life.
  • Song:  I’m not claiming I am a great singer by any means, but singing to my little ones makes me feel kind of like a rock star.  It’s a sweet part of bedtime that everybody looks forward to.  Sometimes I take requests and sometimes I share my favorite old-timey hymns with them.  Often, they all sing with me and that makes this Mama’s heart soar.
  • One Last Trip to the Bathroom
  • Bed:  Tucked in, hugged and kissed, reminded to stay in bed and sprinkled with sweet dreams.

Easy as pie.  Right?  Well, most of the time.  Here’s the hard part.  You must look at this like a business transaction once they are in bed.  No refunds or returns (with the exception of sickness).  Stand firm.  It’s bedtime.  Bed is where they need to be.  Be prepared with consequences ahead of time for when they test you.  (Notice I said “when” and not “if”.)  Well rested children are happy, healthy children.  If your little guys are having a hard time falling asleep at night or you feel like they are just nocturnal by nature, consider the environment in the hours leading up to bedtime.  Watching TV, playing on a computer, hand-held devices, sugar, caffeine too much stimulus can make it harder for your little ones to wind down enough to fall asleep.

For my older twins (who just turned 10!) it’s pretty much the same, although, of course, they have a later bedtime and some quiet time before the lights go out.  They still join us for story time and the song, which I think is magical considering their age.  I give them about half an hour in their beds with the lights on so they can quietly talk to each other, read or write in their journal.  Having that little bit of time being quiet and in their beds helps them wind down but also it gives them some time to talk about their day with each other.  I suspect that when they are older, those nightly talks will be cherished memories.  I go in and tell them goodnight, do hugs and kisses and prayers and turn their light off.

That’s it.  Kids in bed.  Lights off.  Seacrest out.

It’s still early enough in the evening to clean the house, pack lunches for the next day, finish the laundry, start the dishwasher, make a cup of coffee and enjoy the rest of the night!  (Or, make that cup of coffee and fall asleep in the chair.  Whichever. No judgement here.)






How to Make a Surprise-Inside Cake

Say Goodbye to Ordinary Cakes.

Gone are the days of cakes with only cake inside.

It turns out, you can put nearly anything into a cake…even a SHARK…and it’s easy to do!

We take SHARK WEEK pretty seriously around here.  We are equally enthusiastic about dessert.  This post is dedicated to sharks everywhere…and desserts…although mainly sharks…and desserts.Shark Week Cake

Lately, I’ve been seeing all these amazing “reveal” cakes.  It started in July with a cake that had a flag baked inside.  I mean, wow.  It didn’t stop there, either.  I saw checker board cakes, piñata cakes, cakes with names baked inside for crying out loud!  HOW DO THEY DO THAT?  All I could think was there must be some sort of special, top-secret cake mold circulating out there amongst the most privileged and talented bakers.  That prompted me to begin my quest to learn the art of baking a cake with something surprising inside and I’m not talking about eggshells! 

I did my research (a.k.a. Pinterest) and have been  anxiously waiting for just the right occasion to try my hand at this magical art of cakeology.  It was imperative that I try this.  I needed one magnificent day of celebration to debut my un-tested theory of how to accomplish such a feat.  Instead of one day, I was gifted with an entire week.  A holiday that I nearly overlooked until it snuck up on me like a stealthy great white stalking it’s prey.  SHARK WEEK.  Eureka!

I set out on a search to find a shark-shaped cookie cutter, I picked up some brightly colored cake mix and blue frosting and I started out on my quest.  The result?  Borderline Fabulous.

My next obstacle quickly presented itself.  Do I keep this mysterious cake phenomenon discovery to myself or share it with the world?  My friends, this information is too valuable not to share.  This will change the way you look at cakes…forever.

(I used Pillsbury “Funfetti” cake mixes and Frosting.  The colors are really vibrant and they come in smaller “cupcake” size packets.  They ended up tasting really good for a mix and had the consistency of a sponge cake.)

I mixed up the purple cake batter and baked in a square pan, slightly larger than the pan size recommended because I wanted a nice, large cake that I could easily cut the shark shape out using my cookie cutter. Bake according to package directions (or just a few minutes less than the recommended time since this cake will be baked again once inside the blue cake).  Cool for 5-10 minutes on a wire rack in the cake pan.  Invert directly onto a cooling rack and refrigerate for a few hours.Shark Week Cake

If you have a rounded top, level your cake by using a serrated knife and lift off, leaving a pretty uniform cake layer.  Using your cookie cutter, cut out as many shapes as you can fit from this cake.Shark Week Cake


Prepare your next cake pan and mix up the batter for the cake that will be on the “outside”.

Shark Week Cake

Pour just enough of the “outside batter” on the bottom of the prepared pan to cover it.  Line up your cut-outs and position them tightly touching each other in your pan.Shark Week Cake

Carefully, pour your “outside batter” around the cut-outs and spread evenly over the top.Shark Week

Bake according to package directions.  Cool in pan on a wire rack for 5-10 minutes.  Remove from pan and finish cooling completely on a wire rack before decorating.

Shark Week CakeI felt like a little kid with a secret as I decorated this cake with my kids today.  They had no idea that this was no ordinary cake.  I giggled all throughout dinner (tuna casserole, again a nod to shark week).  I was so nervous as I made my first cut into the cake.  I had been imaging the shrieks of shock and amazement I would hear from my family all evening.  Would there really be a purple shark inside?  Was that even possible?  I’m no cake wizard, but, by golly, as that first piece of cake was cut away, there, swimming in a sea of blue cake and frosting was the most feared predator in the sea.Shark Week Cake

Cheers and cries of pure joy filled my kitchen.  Once I stopped making all that racket, I could hear that my kids were equally excited.  Success.




Beating the School Morning Rush

…and Taming the Mommy Monster.


rush school morningsSomething mysterious happens in my house on some mornings.  It’s not pretty.  I’m not proud of it.  Somewhere in the rush of trying to get everybody out the door to school, I transform into a complete Mommy Monster.  I’m talking Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.  I hear myself snapping about hair being brushed and lecturing about dental hygiene “…you’re going to have those teeth for the rest of your life…”.  It’s terrifying.

I go to bed at night as a pretty normal, fairly easy going Mom.  I wake up happy.  I’ve been a morning person most of my life. I have literally done cartwheels out of my bed in the morning.  I’ve even been known to wake my kids up by singing to them.  To further emphasize this point, my college roommate doesn’t eat eggs because of me.  She was the opposite of a morning person and my cheerful knocking on her door in the mornings to let her know that I had made her breakfast led her down an ugly path of lies and deception.  She would hide out in her room pretending she couldn’t hear me.  It was a sad situation.  (I love you, Roomie!) 

My Mommy Monster persona leaves me feeling guilty all morning and starts my tender hearted children’s day on such a sour note.  I try my best to change the mood I’ve set on the drive into town, but I always know that I could have done better as I’m watching them walk into school.  I have found a few ways to make our morning rush less harrowing.  They are probably pretty obvious, but I know that with as busy as life gets with two sets of twins I sometimes forget to employ my meltdown prevention tactics.


Most of this happens the night before.  I’ve noticed when I follow these simple (although sometimes time consuming) steps, our mornings look a little more like a Disney movie and a little less like a scene from the Titanic when the ship is going down and people are pushing each other overboard to get a spot on a life raft.

  • Develop a bedtime routine and stick to it.  Sleepy people move slow and are ill-tempered.  Having a consistent bedtime routine is a must.
  • Set out everybody’s clothes– including socks and shoes- the night before.  Simple time saver, especially when you have little ones who like to help pick out their own outfits.
  • Have all bags (school bags, diaper bags, gym bags, lunches) packed and ready to carry out the door.
  • Be thinking about breakfast.  I know this might sound silly, but when you’re cooking for a small army of people breakfast can take a long time.  Know what you’re having for breakfast the night before.  Prepare it if you can.  I have a few go-to breakfasts that I can put together the night before.  My kids love oatmeal and I have a great recipe for an oatmeal casserole that can be prepared ahead of time and baked in the morning or even baked ahead of time and reheated.  I also make oatmeal in the crock pot that is always a big hit.  For those mornings that just don’t go as planned, keep an emergency quick breakfast on hand.  Granola bars and yogurt are easy and quick and not a nutrition disaster emergency option.


Even with careful planning and preparation, people are people and sometimes meltdowns happen.  I try to remind myself that probably nothing that happens is going to lead to the end of the world.  Do I love the idea of my kids waltzing into school with their hair not brushed?  No.  But, it’s not the end of the world.  Do I feel like insisting on zebra patterns not being worn with polka dots?  Yes…but again, life goes on.  I sometimes need to remind myself to pick my battles and let the rest go.  Even being a few minutes tardy to school won’t stop the Earth’s rotation.  That one is a little harder to swallow and I could write for a day and a half about teaching children the importance of punctuality.  However, is a tardy slip really that much worse than a morning of yelling and hurt feelings?  For me, I think my relationship with my kids ranks higher than making the first bell on time.  But seriously, teeth brushing is non-negotiable.


Hopefully some of my strategies will help you tame the morning beast and get out the door on time.  I’d love to hear what other techniques you use to help beat the morning rush.



Baked Oatmeal Casserole

oatmeal casseroleOatmeal Casserole that your kids will not only eat, but they will ask for seconds.

My grandma has a saying about oatmeal and I never make oatmeal without thinking it.  “Oatmeal sticks to your ribs.”  My grandma is probably the wisest woman God ever created so I am positive that this statement is 100% true.  I started feeding my kids oatmeal when they were itty-bitty and I’ve never stopped.  I vary the way I make it so they don’t burn out on any one way, but I have learned two important facts concerning my kids and oatmeal:  1.  If there’s fruit in it, they will eat it every time.  2.  If there’s chocolate involved, they will ask for seconds.  (Mind-blowing, right?  It’s like I’m a child whisperer.)

This casserole is so versatile and can easily be modified to fit the tastes of your family. It can also easily be made gluten-free just by  using gluten-free rolled oats.  It does take 30-35 minutes to bake, but I love a breakfast that I can put in the oven and let it cook while we are getting ready in the mornings.  You can even mix it up the night before and refrigerate it until your are ready to bake it in the morning.  It even heats up well (in case you don’t have 4 starving kids at your breakfast table like I usually do!).


  • 2 cups rolled oats
  • 1/3 cup brown sugar
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 cup walnut pieces (optional, of course), divided
  • 1 cup berries of your choice, fresh or frozen, divided
  • 1/2 cup chocolate chips, divided
  • 2 cups milk
  • 1 large egg
  • 3 Tbs butter, melted
  • 1 Tbs vanilla extract
  • 1 ripe banana, peeled and sliced


Preheat oven to 375.  Spray a 9×13 pan with cooking spray or oil.

  1. Mix together the dry ingredients in a large bowl.  Adding only 1/2 of the walnut pieces, berries and chocolate chips.  (Save the other half to add to the top in step 3.)
  2. In a separate, large bowl, whisk the wet ingredients together.
  3. Pour the dry oat mixture into your 9×13 prepared baking dish.  Sprinkle the top with the remaining half of the nuts, berries and chocolate chips and arrange the banana slices on top.
  4. Pour the milk mixture over the top and gently shake the baking dish to help the liquid settle through to the bottom of your pan.
  5. Bake 30-35 minutes or until the mixture is set and the top is nicely browned.  If you’re not on sugar police duty, you can sprinkle some extra brown sugar on top, but with the fruit, chocolate and sugar already in it, it isn’t really necessary.



Apple Cinnamon Oatmeal in the Crock Pot

Have the butler fetch you the morning paper and a hot cup of coffee.  Breakfast is waiting for you.  No butler?  With this apple cinnamon oatmeal cooking in your crock pot, you won’t notice he’s missing. (Of course, you’ll have to make your own coffee.)

Let me set the scene for you:  It’s early morning.  You wake to the sound of birds chirping outside your window and the smell of hot, fresh, apple pie.  You have a smile on your face before you even open your eyes.  It’s going to be a good day.  Ahhhhh.

apple cinnamon oatmealThis is apple cinnamon oatmeal is so simple and so good.  I just made it.  Seriously.  I literally just went into my kitchen and emerged 5 minutes later knowing that breakfast will be ready when the kids wake up in the morning.  It’s oatmeal that tastes suspiciously like apple pie.  It’s pure genius.  Break out your crock pots, it’s breakfast making time.



  • 2 apples
  • 1/3 cup brown sugar
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 2 cups old-fashioned oats (or steel-cut, if you’re fancy like that)
  • 4 cups water

*optional add-in’s: raisins, walnuts, vanilla protein powder


  1. Core and cut the apples into bite-sized chunks and put into the bottom of your crock pot.
  2. Top with brown sugar and cinnamon, distributing evenly on top of the apples.
  3. Add the oats.
  4. Pour in the water.  Do NOT stir.
  5. Cook on low overnight.



How to Make a Cake Banner

cake banner

7 Simple Steps to Making Your Own Personalized Cake Banner

I’ve been seeing pictures (on Pinterest, because I’m addicted and I have soooo much free time) of cakes with these perfectly cute flag banners flying proudly on them proclaiming things like “Happy Birthday” or “Congratulations” or “I not only pulled together this amazing party and baked this delicious cake but I also hand-crafted this cake banner!”.  Okay, so I made that last one up, but honestly, who has time to make a banner for a cake?  The answer?  You do!  Seriously.  I thought it was going to be time-consuming and a huge pain in the cake batter, but it turns out that it only took a few minutes once I had my game plan in place.  It’s the perfect, personal touch to really drive home how amazingly talented you are.  And, it’s super easy.  I promise.

I started by gathering my supplies.  I used scrapbook paper, a rotary cutter and a mat,  sewing thread and a needle, a thumb tack and a cork board, a marker for writing my message, and a few cake pop sticks.

*You could absolutely use fabric instead of paper, scissors instead of a rotary cutter, fancy printed letters instead of a permanent marker…no rules here.  I just want to give you the basic idea and then it’s up to you to let your creative imagination run wild.

1.  Decide on the size of the flags and cut them out.  Consider cutting a few extra for spaces between words.

2.  Using your thumb tack (and something like a cork board for support), pierce a tiny hole in the top corners of each triangular flag piece.cake banner

3.  Add your lettering to the flags.

4.  Cut a length of sewing thread (or embroidery thread or bakers twine) twice the length you want the banner to be.  I doubled my thread because I thought it would have a nicer look and I wanted a little hang-off of each side.

5.  Thread your needle and get to work, checking the order of your letters so it ends of saying “Happy Birthday” and not “Drippy Bath Hay”.  I “sewed” mine so that the thread was behind each flag instead of in the front, but that’s a personal preference.cake banner

6.  Get your cake pop sticks (or wooden skewers) and using a pair of scissors, notch a small indentation around the top of your sticks.  I just held the stick in my scissors with a bit of pressure and twisted it around in a circle.  This is just a valley for the string to sit in after you tie it on so that it doesn’t slid down.cake banner 018

7.  Center your flags on your thread and tie the ends to the support poles. Viola!  Your banner is ready to be inserted into the cake – or meatloaf, I suppose.  No rules, remember?  Use your imagination, be creative, go wild.

cake bannercake banner





oreo cakeIn case you’re wondering about the cake, it’s an Oreo Cake and I’ve included the recipe. It’s rich, it’s sweet, it’s cookies and cake.  How could you go wrong? 





Oreo Cake

oreo cakeThis Oreo Cake is da-bomb.  Okay, well I’m not really cool enough to use the phrase “da-bomb” but you get my drift.  It’s sweet, it’s creamy, it’s chocolaty and it’s a snap to make.  It’s been requested by all of my kids for their birthdays and I recently made it for my mother-in-laws birthday.  It’s good.  It has over 700 reviews and a 5 star rating on Kraft’s website.  700 people can’t be wrong.  If you’re my personal trainer, please avert your eyes. oreo cake


  • 1 pkg. (2-layer size) devil’s food cake mix
  • 4 oz. Baker’s Semi-Sweet Chocolate
  • ¼ cup butter
  • 8 oz. Cream Cheese, softened
  • ½ cup sugar
  • 2 cups thawed whipped topping
  • 12 Oreo cookies, crushed


Heat oven to 350 F

1.  Follow package directions on cake mix in 2 (9 inch) round pans.  Cool in pans for 10 minutes.  Invert onto wire racks and cool completely.

2.  Microwave chocolate and butter until butter is melted.  Stir until chocolate melts and set aside to cool slightly – about 5 minutes at room temperature.

3.  In a mixer, beat the cream cheese and sugar until well blended.  Stir in the whipped topping and then gently fold in the crushed cookies.

Putting it all together (the FUN part):

Start with one cake layer on your cake platter (or plate).  Evenly spread cream cheese mixture and top with remaining cake layer.

Pour the cooled chocolate/butter glaze on top, being careful to not let it drip down the sides.  This layer will cool into a nice hard chocolate top.  You can add more cookies on top to decorate but you must do it before it hardens completely.

Keep refrigerated.

Recipe from:  Kraft Recipes



What Is It Like Having Twins, You Ask?

photo- coffee- okayest-mom

As a mom with two sets of twins, I’m constantly being asked what it’s like having twins.  The best analogy I can think of to describe it is this:  Having twins is like sprinting a marathon– a never-ending, cross-country, up-hill both ways in ten feet of snow – marathon where stopping to rest isn’t an option.  (Heck, moms with newborn twins are lucky if they get a shower or a bathroom break.)  Of course I don’t really tell people that, because I don’t want to seem like I’m whining or complaining but that doesn’t make it any less true.

Usually, when a mom with one baby asks me what it’s like having twins, I say something like, “It’s probably just like having one baby.  I do all the same things you do, I just do them twice in a row”.  I don’t know that I actually believe that, by the way.  There’s a secret element to twins that most people don’t ever think about unless they have them.  Life with twins almost demands adhering to strict schedules, hyper-organization, forward thinking and planning for practically everything, super-human multi-tasking abilities, complete selflessness, and a strong immunity for the need to sleep. Whew.  Yeah, it’s takes all that, and coffee.  Disturbing amounts of coffee.  *Note:  Moms with infant twins who are breastfeeding have to settle for cold, decaffeinated coffee that we made 4 hours ago and never had a chance to drink.  See?  I really wasn’t kidding about complete selflessness!

Photo- Keep Going you're doing great!I’m going to state the obvious and follow it up with some less obvious observations.  Twins are a lot of work.  Remember the marathon analogy?  I’ve never actually ran a marathon, but I’ve seen them and what really stands out to me is the number of people positioned throughout the route that are there supporting and encouraging the runners.  There are people holding signs that say things like “Keep Going”.  There are people standing by with water and protein bars to help re-fuel the runners when their energy is low.  That’s like having twins, too.  Twins draw attention because, well, they’re awesome.  People will run to hold a door for you while you’re carrying two babies around.  Complete strangers will sing your praises.   You instantly turn into a super-mom in other people’s eyes.  I suspect you don’t even have to be a really great mom to earn that title with twins.  I think just surviving earns you an honorary cape.  I’m not sure if moms of singletons get to experience that level of support in quite the same way.  I get reminded everyday of how special my children are and how blessed I am as a mother – by people who don’t even know me!  Having twins is like running a marathon in the way that people are lined up, cheering for you, encouraging you, offering you nourishment (sometimes literally in the form of food!) and holding up “Keep Going” signs.  And just like completing a marathon, having twins is a badge of honor.  (It kind of rocks.)

Moms with twins have two excellent reasons to lose sleep and two beautiful faces to adore.  Sure, the work load is double, but so are the rewards.  Even when things are bad (picture two screaming, colicky babies and a husband deployed overseas) they’re good.  Better than good.

So, what is it like having twins?  It’s probably just like having one child.  I do all the same things you do.  I look on in amazement at how incredible my little one is, overwhelmed with the purest, unconditional love for this precious gift that God has blessed me with.  I just do it twice.


Get Organized, One Puzzle Piece at a Time

Quick Tip to Organize and Store Puzzle Pieces

We’ve all been there.  You’re cleaning up toys and you find one, lone, renegade puzzle piece.  It’s staring at you, challenging you to make the next move.

You consider your options.  You can:

  • use your super powers to decipher which puzzle it belongs to and return it to the correct box.
  • solve all the puzzles you own and see which one is missing a piece.
  • set it “aside” for now, silently vowing to find its rightful place later.
  • chuck it and then pretend to be sad when your little puzzle-making mastermind discovers that Mickey’s left ear is missing.

Here’s quick and simple tip to keep all those puzzle pieces organized and easily identifiable. This is especially helpful if you have more than one child doing puzzles together.  Bonus?  It turns clean up time into a sorting game that even little bitty guys can help with.

0161.  The first time your little genius solves a new puzzle, flip it over and write a number on each piece (or let your little one color the backside of the puzzle with a marker).  As long as all the pieces have the same marking on the back, it really doesn’t matter what you use.

2.  Decide how you want to store the puzzle (in the box it came in, in a plastic baggie, etc.) and mark the container with the same number or color that you used on the back of the puzzle pieces.

3.  Done.  Save your super powers for more important matters.





One Pan Ziti


This is an incredibly tasty pasta dish that makes clean-up a breeze because it’s all cooked in one pan.   It’s easy, it’s quick, it’s kid friendly and it’s delicious!


  • 1 lb Italian sausage
  • 4 cloves of minced garlic
  • 1/4 tsp red pepper flakes (adjust according to personal taste of course, but even my little guys loved this)
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • 1 (28 oz) can crushed tomatoes
  • 12 oz Ziti pasta
  • 3 cups water
  • 3/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
  • 1/4 cup fresh basil leaves finely chopped (optional)

To Make:

  • Brown sausage in a large skillet. (I used my Rachel Ray 3-quart, covered sauté  pan and it was exactly the right size!)  Add the minced garlic, red pepper flakes and cook, for an additional 1-2 minutes, stirring frequently.  Salt and pepper, to taste.
  • Add in the tomatoes and simmer for 10 minutes.  Stir in the uncooked Ziti pasta along with the water.  Bring to a boil; cover and reduce heat to low and simmer until the pasta is cooked through, approximately 12- 15 minutes.
  • Remove from heat.  Stir in the Parmesan and heavy cream.  Sprinkle with Pile on the mozzarella.  I zapped mine under the broiler for just a few minutes until the cheese was brown and bubbly, but if you don’t want to mess with the broiler, you can just stick the lid back on the pan for a few minutes.
  • Garnish with basil, if desired.



You can serve this with a green salad on the side or some delicious crusty Italian bread.  Even alone, it’s sure to be a success!

Buon appetite!”