Yo Momma Monday: Tiffany McCauley of The Gracious Pantry

yo momma mondayAfter I had Cecilia, I got really interested in clean eating and living a clean lifestyle and one of my biggest inspirations was The Gracious Pantry. Tiffany’s recipes were simple, easy to follow, I didn’t have to search endlessly in a health food store for the ingredients and best of all – they were good! I was even able to trick my boyfriend into eating healthy. I learned about cooking from scratch from her website, and it forced me to slow down a little in the kitchen.

This is why I’m so happy to feature Tiffany in this week’s Yo Momma Monday!

Tiffany, 40, lives in Sonoma County with her son, whom she lovingly calls “Mini Chef” in her Facebook posts and recipes. She became a stay-at-home-mom soon after she found out she was pregnant, as her difficult pregnancy did not allow her to work much. She and her then husband had already planned on raising their son on their own, so that pretty much sealed the deal.

“The balancing act is always something I struggle with. The truth is, if you are giving your full attention to work, you will be lacking something in your mothering. And if you give your full attention to mothering, you will be lacking something in your work. So it really is a juggling act.

I think the most important thing you can do is forgive yourself for coming up short every once in a while. While most moms like to think they can do it all, it just isn’t humanly possible to actually do it all. So you have to focus on doing your best and forgiving the rest.”

Photo from Tiffany McCauley / The Gracious Pantry

Photo from Tiffany McCauley / The Gracious Pantry

Tiffany is a self-taught cook who says the most valuable lesson she could pass down to a beginning cook is that burning your dinner is not the end of the world. She assures that just because you burned it one time doesn’t mean you’ll burn it again. “You can’t give up because of one mistake,” she says.

“I also learned that when you start out with making a casserole and end up with soup, you don’t throw it away, you have soup for dinner! Cooking is a very creative thing. It’s an ongoing experiment. Evolve with the food you make instead of trying to make the food conform. You never know, you might end up with a new family favorite!”

Now that she is comfortable in the kitchen, she heavily involves her son in cooking, and says that she never questioned whether or not he would cook.

“And I think that is the very reason he loves doing it. It’s not a matter of teaching your kids something they already like, it’s a matter of teaching them to like something they absolutely must do to survive. Showing them that cooking can be fun. After all, the memories made in the kitchen just can’t be made anywhere else.

It’s really just a process of getting your kids involved with the everyday functioning of your life. They are definitely their own people, but when you function as a family unit, everyone needs to contribute in some way. Making time in the kitchen a regular thing is important. And I have found that most kids naturally gravitate towards cooking. They love learning about food and how to prepare it. It’s usually a naturally fun thing for them to do. You just have to present it the right way, and set things up so it’s not intimidating for them. 
 
For my little guy, that involved a stepping stool so he could reach the counter, an age-appropriate knife with careful supervision, and apron that was just for him, and even a special pig spatula that he got to pick out at the store himself. When you set kids up to succeed in the kitchen, you’ll find very little, if any, resistance.”
 
Kid-Friendly YoNuggets

Kid-Friendly YoNuggets / Photo Credit: Tiffany McCauley / The Gracious Pantry

Tiffany realizes the importance of teaching kids how to cook, and she says our society has become incredibly removed  from the very thing that sustains us.
 
“I’m finding that many grown adults these days were raised on boxed and packaged food from a freezer or on food that came through a drive-thru window. I know kids today who get three meals a day from a fast food restaurant. It’s a sad state of affairs. But that doesn’t mean we can’t fix it.

 
I think that teaching kids about food is the most important gift we can give them. Because it not only empowers them to feed themselves and their own families some day, but it also gives them power over their own health. Anybody who has health problems can tell you how important that is. Particularly when the life expectancy of our children is now getting shorter instead of longer. All you have to do is step back and take a look at the bigger picture where the health of our country is concerned to see why teaching our kids about real food is so critical.
 
Gone are the days when we could “trust” a large food corporation. And I would argue that those days never really existed. Because if you really dive into food politics at all, you’ll see that the stuff they label as “food” is actually very far from it. Our bodies were meant to run on food. Not food-like products. So it’s easy to see why health can go downhill so fast when you are not giving your body the fuel it needs.”
 
Tiffany talks a lot in her blog about how she dealt with body image problems through much of her life, something she learned from her mother. She says that the hardest thing is to not pass those problems down to her own child.
 
Photo from Tiffany McCauley / The Gracious Pantry

Photo from Tiffany McCauley / The Gracious Pantry

“It’s a constant struggle and sometime I fail miserably. When you have been raised to view your body a certain way, it’s a very difficult thing to change. Sometimes it feels impossible. I don’t think I’ll ever really get past it completely, but I am learning to respect my body for the things it does every day and appreciate it for what it can do.
 
I mean, this body of mine made an entire human being. That’s pretty impressive if you ask me!! But I do still struggle with body image. It’s not an easy thing to overcome, no matter how much I try to show it respect. I think becoming a mom has simply made me far more aware of how badly I can put myself down sometimes. Not wanting to pass that on to my child has been a huge motivation for me to overcome this.”
 
For Tiffany, the biggest change she noticed after adapting clean eating to her lifestyle was how clear her skin was.
 
“I also lost some weight and started to feel much better. I noticed I actually felt full after a meal instead of wanting more and more food. I later understood that it was because my body was actually getting the nutrients it needed. I chose this lifestyle because I believe that real food is the answer to many problems we face today. My own personal eating plan is constantly evolving to suit my needs, but it’s always based on real food.”
 
Clean Eating Blueberry French Toast Casserole. Photo Credit: Tiffany McCauley / The Gracious Pantry

Clean Eating Blueberry French Toast Casserole / Photo Credit: Tiffany McCauley / The Gracious Pantry

Before The Gracious Pantry, she had several other blogs, so she know she loved the blogging process. With this site, she wanted to track her own progress and share recipes she created.
 
“The best part about the blogging community is how small it really is. There may be a million blogs out there, but the community itself has sort of a “small town” feel to it. Once you start to grow, you get to know everybody and everybody gets to know you.”
 
Since starting The Gracious Pantry, Tiffany has also wrote a cookbook, which she says was a long and difficult process, but one that is filled with creativity and passion, one she equates with giving birth.
 
“You work really hard, sweat some, cry some, spend a lot of money, and in the end, you have this wonderful, amazing thing you can hold in your hands. You forget all about the difficult stuff and can’t wait to do it again! And at the end of the day, you are doing something you love and something you hope that others will love as well.”
 
Clean Eating Vegetable Basil Macaroni Salad. Photo Credit: Tiffany McCauley / The Gracious Pantry

Clean Eating Vegetable Basil Macaroni Salad / Photo Credit: Tiffany McCauley / The Gracious Pantry

She posts every other day without fail, because she wants to show people the endless variety of dishes they can make with real food. She wants people to learn that real food is delicious and to not be afraid of the kitchen. She also hopes people will learn that their health really will improve when they focus on real food and that cooking food does not have to take a lot of time, or money.
 
“The best compliments I get are the ones where people tell me that their lives/health/bodies have improved since they started cooking with my recipes. I think that sort of compliment is the most validating thing a health blogger could ever ask for.”
 
Her favorite recipe on her blog is the plum torte, and while she never posts a recipe that she does not like, she has had some fails – like a low carb brownie recipe that she is still working on. As for her favorite blogs and magazines, she likes iBlog Magazine and Will Write for Food.
 
“I tend to gravitate towards the blogs with the magazine quality photos. Really great photos are something I aspire to.”
 
Plum Torte / Photo Credit: Tiffany McCauley / The Gracious  Pantry

Plum Torte / Photo Credit: Tiffany McCauley / The Gracious Pantry

Now that Tiffany is in culinary school, she would like to host a cooking show in the future and to continue writing more books. “I’d also love to start teaching healthy cooking classes to kids. I’ve taught one or two and they are just so much fun,” she says. Her biggest advice for people who are beginning a clean eating lifestyle is simple: take it slow.
 
“Take it one meal at a time. Realize you WILL make mistakes. But the secret in success is using those mistakes. If you throw in the towel every time you goof up, you’ll never stick to anything. Using those mistakes to learn. A mistake isn’t the end of the world and it shouldn’t be the end of your healthy endeavors. Just keep at it. Success is found in perseverance. Come back to it again and again, no matter how badly you mess up.”
 
You can find out more about Tiffany and her recipes by visiting The Gracious Pantry. And for all you awesome moms out there, I still have two spaces left for a Yo Momma Monday feature so drop me a comment and connect with me on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Google + and Pinterest!

Yo Momma Monday: Tiffany Reese of Lookie Boo

yo momma mondayA while ago, a photographer friend of mine posted some photos she took of two adorable and stylish kids for her friend’s website. Through some serious social media stalking, I met Tiffany Reese, who runs Lookie Boo – a website dedicated to styling for littles, parties included.

Tiffany, 28, resides Roseville, CA and has lived in Northern California her entire life, although she moved around a lot growing up. She is the mama to those two adorable kids – Jude (4), Ruby (3) and is expecting baby #3 in February.

“We LOVE Roseville, its very conveniently located to things, the schools are wonderful and there is always tons of stuff to do with the kids.”

A stay-at-home mom, Tiffany was planning on going back to work full-time when Jude was two. However, just before his second birthday, Jude was diagnosed with Sensory Processing Disorder and was officially diagnosed with Autism last year.

Image from Tiffany Reese/Lookie Boo

Photo Credit: Ryan Doyle Photography

“With his special needs, I have needed to stay home longer and couldn’t be happier with the doors this has opened.”

After Ruby was born, Tiffany needed a creative outlet.

“I studied Fashion Design in school and since having children I had become obsessed with tiny clothing. I decided to start a blog combining my two biggest passions, fashion & my kids and Lookie Boo was born”

For Tiffany, the feeling of community is her favorite thing about the blogging world.

Image from Tiffany Reese/Lookie Boo

Photo Credit: Amanda Rose Photography

“I have lots of blogging friends I’ve met over the years now and I speak to some of them on a daily basis now. I’d say the aspect I dislike is the ego of some people you can run into, but that can exist anywhere I suppose.

I have too many favorites but my friend Morgan at the818.com really motivated me to start a “real blog” and has really mentored me along the way without ever asking for anything in return. She is the same person online and offline, she is brutally honest in a thrilling and hilarious way. “

Since her kids are anti-naps, Tiffany gets mos of her work done on her phone while she’s on the go, and when they are in preschool or after they go to bed.

“Summer is the most challenging time because the kids are home all day and we all just want to play and ignore my email.”

Image from Tiffany Reese/Lookie Boo

Photo Credit: Amanda Rose Photography

When Jude’s first birthday was approaching, Tiffany wanted an original theme, so she started styling her own parties. And with a name like Jude, a Beatles Themed First Birthday was the perfect fit. And totally awesome.

“The response was really great and I loved doing it so much, I just kept planning the next party. Now I’m styling for clients too, its so fun! I try really hard to base the parties around what the kids ask for now, for example Ruby’s most recent birthday she wanted a “flower kitten” party, considering how random it was, I liked the outcome.”

Through her blog and other outlets, Tiffany has been very vocal about her experience with Autism.

Honestly, I just want them to know that children with Autism come in all different “packages”. I can’t tell you how many times people have said, “He doesn’t seem Autistic”.

I think they usually mean it as a compliment, however I find it as an example of how ignorant we still are about Autism. I am still learning every day. I’ve so appreciated the connections I’ve made with other families online and in person.”

Ruby’s Spring Kitten Party / Photo Credit: Amanda Rose Photography

Tiffany says that her family’s sense of humor is what makes them unique.

“It is simply required in our household. If you scream and throw a tantrum, someone is probably going to mock you. If you poop your pants, we will all laugh together. That is how we handle the not so pleasant parts of life.”

And when they need to unwind…

“Usually I’d say drink straight vodka once a month but you know, I’m pregnant so now I just eat cookies. My husband Michael is a chef and is at his restaurant A LOT.

We honestly don’t get much time together and if we do, we like to spoil the kids or watch football. When I’m home by myself in the evenings and I want to unwind, I usually watch horrible television like Real Housewives and feel better about myself.”

Image from Tiffany Reese/Lookie Boo

Image from Tiffany Reese/Lookie Boo

While she would like to find some more affordable small businesses to support locally, her favorite stores in Roseville are H&M, BabyGap, Target, Old Navy and thrift stores. As for her parties, she partners with other Etsy shops and loves Shop Sweet Lulu, but still does a lot of DIY – especially for clients.

Tiffany opened her own store last year, but it proved to be too much for her family at the time.

“Once all my kiddos are in at least Preschool, I’m hoping to be able to dedicate more time to the site on a full time basis and hopefully have the income to hire staff as well. My ultimate dream of dreams would be to design a line inspired by and for my kids”

Meanwhile, she loves featuring kids on her blog, and says all the parents need to do is use #lookieboo on Instagram, or e-mail her.

“That’s my favorite part of my job!”

Image from Tiffany Reese/Lookie Boo

Her advice for new moms is to be gentle with yourself.

Sometimes you get all the things done and sometimes you sob into your wine glass at 10:37pm because you’ve had a hard day and you think you’re the worst Mom ever.”

And what does she hope her kids will learn from her?

“Love. To love others and themselves.”

Photo from Tiffany Reese/Lookie Boo

Photo from Tiffany Reese/Lookie Boo

Visit Tiffany’s website to find out more about her family and Lookie Boo! Know an awesome mom who would be perfect for this? Leave a comment here and connect with me on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Google + and Pinterest!

Beauty in the Blooming

Image from Melissa at Print Therapy

Image from Melissa at Print Therapy

In the summer of 2011, I lost the office job I had for over five years. Knowing that I did not want to get back into the world of workers’ compensation claims, I headed back to school to concentrate on my first and true love: writing. But as a writer, it’s hard to find decent pay, especially while you are still in school. So I started crafting more, hoping to make something that would sell. I was so focused on selling stuff in order to make a living, that I wasn’t fully involved in what I was making. Needless to say, it didn’t work out. The passion just wasn’t there.

So I got a little job at a local boutique and put crafting/selling on the back burner. After I found out I was pregnant in the spring of 2012, I left my boutique job and moved to Stockton, where I was introduced to the life of a stay-at-home-mom. I continued to going to school online, but I was also determined to make my own money. So I started selling anything I could, took on several freelance writing jobs and it was around this time that I started this blog.

I was falling behind in school because I was so busy trying to do a million things at once, and I ended up having to drop a lot of my gigs because I didn’t want to have to drop out of school. It’s funny, in every job I’ve had and in every resume I’ve filled out, your ability to multitask is not only a bonus, it’s almost necessary. But I found that in my real life, outside of the office, trying to multitask a bunch of things at once was not working for me.

A little while after my daughter was born, I enrolled in the Graphic Design program at Academy of Arts. I had watched the print industry decline further and further, and I saw the quality in writing decrease. I went to school for Journalism because of my love for writing, but I was finding myself falling out of love. So, before I quit it altogether, I changed my path to Graphic Design.

Still trying to make my own money, I picked up some more freelance writing jobs, somewhat started an art collective and started business with my friend. Apparently I did not learn my lesson about multitasking. With school and raising a baby taking up all of my time, I decided to let things go and focus on what I needed to in the moment. I decided to stop worrying so much on the future and just worry about the present. It’s hard, but it had to happen. My baby was growing before my eyes, and I wanted to be there. Not just around, but there.

So, I stuck with my school and my blog to still keep my hand in the writing game. And I could feel the difference in my attitude, and even saw an improvement in my relationship with my daughter. I was a lot more patient. I wasn’t constantly rushing around the house, and I was enjoying life a lot more. Except for when I was doing homework. Nobody enjoys that.

SONY DSCI found out I was pregnant again during the last week of school, so I while I was exhausted, my morning (aka all day) sickness did not come on till later, so I was able to finish school an even brought my grades up! I thought I would have all this time to beef up my blog, work on our house projects and get started on my business again, but my all day sickness hit me hard, and my baby was getting sick more often. This is when I ultimately decided to just focus on my health and the health of my family. To get as much rest as I could, and to use the couple of months I have on break to spend with my daughter.

Because a month after my next semester is done, our second baby will be born, and I will be back in school a couple weeks after that. So while I’m not writing as much, or doing everything I wanted to during vacation, I’m completely fine with just being a mom right now. With visiting family and watching my daughter learn how to say words and explore our backyard. With hanging out with my boyfriend on his days off, and not just asking him to watch her.

When I was pregnant with Cecilia, everything was so rushed and I was so worried about getting everything done on time. And now, I just want everything to go in slow motion. I’m taking my time on working on little projects for Cecilia’s room and waiting for the last minute to move my office/craft room to the space in the back. I’m decorating and working on our house when I can, and I’m crafting and making stuff when I get a chance. And I feel so much better than when I was trying to get everything done at once, and to be honest, I’m probably getting more stuff done. Isn’t it ironic, don’t you think?

SONY DSCThis post was part of the Beauty in the Blooming blog tour that was created by the beautiful Melissa at Print Therapy. You can check out her post here and you can find the blog tour on the Print Therapy site tomorrow. Are you taking some time out to focus on the present? Finding beauty in the blooming? Share in the comments and connect with me on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Google + and Pinterest!

Annual Day of Giving: Nonprofit Love

Image from Big Day of Giving

Image from Big Day of Giving

Since I got introduced to several local nonprofits while interning at a local paper in 2011, they have always held a special place in my heart. It was my time at Vox Sacramento that motivated me to organize a fundraiser for them and blog for them when I could. I loved that I could embrace my love of writing and get involved with my community at the same time.

Of course, my life got kind of crazy in 2012 when I had Cecilia and everything else was placed on hold for a while. Now that she’s nearing two, I’m getting back into the community because it’s something I’m going to encourage when she’s old enough. It makes me equally happy and proud that Sacramento is home to so many different art, education, health and community improvement organizations.

I know how the dedication these volunteers have for their organization/charity and I know that it’s incredibly rare that they are financially compensated for all the work they do. But that’s not why they do it, they do it because there is something pushing them each and every day to give back to their community and help where they can.

The annual BIG Day of Giving is a 24 hour event that takes place from 12 am – 11:59 pm on May 6, where nonprofits can raise an unrestricted amount of money for their organization. Halfway into it, and Sacramento has already raised over a million dollars for various local organizations. Amazing!

I like to do my part by sharing nonprofits that are both local and afar that are shaping an amazing community. You can visit BIG Day of Giving to make your donation for a specific charity, or you can pick from categories like “Arts & Culture,” “Community Improvement” and “Education.”

Here are some nonprofits that make me smile:

Image from 916 INK

Image from 916 INK

Founded in 2011, 916 INK is run by volunteers that get the youth in Sacramento more involved in the literary arts. They hold readings featuring work by children, encourage grade school students to make comics (which appeared at the Sacramento Free Comic Book Day) and also work with Plaid Zebra Films to make short films of the young authors. Pretty awesome work, eh? You can find out more about them by visiting Giving Edge and you can donate to them directly on Big Day of Giving. Check out all the stuff they do and get updates on Facebook.

Image from California Food Literacy Center

Image from California Food Literacy Center

Also founded in 2011, the volunteers at California Food Literacy Center educate the community about food and making smarter food choices that will lead to a sustainable life. They teach classes, partner with other awesome organizations like Sacramento Food Bank & Family Services and Soil Born Farms, and organize events such as the Sacramento Food Film Festival.  Donate to them directly on BIG Day of Giving and connect with them on Facebook.

Image from The GreenHouse

Image from The GreenHouse

Founded in 2002, The GreenHouse volunteers focus on the emotional, spiritual, intellectual and physical development of under-resourced youth and their families in North Sacramento. They encourage active involvement in the community and participate in neighborhood beautification projects. They just renovated their Clubhouse (for which they are holding a Grand Opening on June 13th) and they are hosting Kids at Heart – Community Awards Auction & Dinner – on Saturday, May 31. Donate to them directly on BIG Day of Giving and see more of what they do on Facebook.

Have a favorite Nonprofit you would like to share? Post in the comments and connect with me on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Google +  and Pinterest!