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It made a real impression on me when my first child was born, just how oblivious I’d been to the innumerable exhortations about new parenthood we’re regularly lambasted with from all sides and sources our entire lives. I’d always thought I understood exactly how hard it was on new parents just by hearing and witnessing family and friends go through this rite of passage over the years, not to mention the additional perspectives, as far-fetched as they may have been, provided by the occasional sitcom or sappy movie. That’s just the way it is, and that is why I’m still stumped as to how this message could have been so catastrophically lost on me. It wasn’t until I found myself trying to sit up, head bobbing, a baby at my poor breast in the dead of night for the fifth damn time that reality finally called my bluff. Suddenly, I was in the thick of it and I fully understood what everyone had been trying to tell me. Now that I actually felt it, I understood it, and this actually ended up being one of my very first parenting lessons.

I learned in those dreary, blurry first days of new mommyhood that, yes, while being a parent may now give you access to all that emotion and clarity that you’d only ever had the privilege of tuning out before, it could never be- under any circumstances- a substitution for experiencing the real thing with your own little. As empathetic as you may be and as much as you can logically understand what a parent is going through, it will always still be, far and away, completely foreign to you once you’re going through it yourself. These were some of the thoughts furiously running through my mind as I drove up to the elementary school last week to drop my little man off for his first day of pre-school.

 

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All summer long I had found my thoughts stubbornly turning to that date on the calendar- the first day of school. I was ambivalent, I was nervous, I was excited, I was absolutely everything. Now here’s where that first lesson came in handy because I refused to be blindsided again, dammit. My newfound appreciation for firsthand experience allowed me to walk into this scenario with the full knowledge and understanding that there was to be no script for this moment; the way someone else felt about it and conveyed it wasn’t necessarily going to be reproduced for me that day. My husband and I followed every drop-off instruction to a tee, gave our boy one last look over, and then we all took the walk to the school’s doors.

Standing next to all the other moms and dads around me, I kept marveling at this transition, at just how momentous it actually was. For the first time, I wouldn’t be a part of every single minute of my son’s day. When he walked in, my position would be to stay behind. To let him go on alone. What a foreign concept to me. As a dedicated stay-at-home mom, I’d been responsible for his well-being and safekeeping at all times from the moment he was just a tiny little body swaddled next to me in the dark of night four years ago until now. For the first time since I first laid eyes on him, it wouldn’t be up to me how he spent the next few hours, how he was feeling, or what he wanted. He would have to begin the incremental process of speaking up for, and learning to look after, himself. This was a big step for him, one that demanded a lot of confidence and trust on his part. Though I knew what he was capable of, he didn’t seem too convinced of his own abilities those first few mornings.

 

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The very same thing was happening for us parents too, however. This situation was demanding a tremendous amount of trust from us as well and I’m sure more than a few of us were standing there with doubts on our own minds. We would have to reconcile this new step in our children’s lives with the fact that the very same incremental process was being asked of us, the difference being, we are expected to just take it in stride. I guess entrusting someone else with your child’s care is supposed to be easy? This was what the first day of school truly asks of you. People tell you that you should be proud, that he’ll have fun, and that it’s all okay. Others still, tell you that you have to let go eventually. While all of these might technically be correct, they were still overseeing something very important, they were negating natural emotions as if they don’t even matter. But they do matter.

Every adjustment in life requires a period of transition, a path to acceptance, and time. Everyone needs time. So, with this in mind,  I chose a better way to make peace with this change. I chose to feel community with the other moms for whom this was their first too. We may all be decades into our own list of firsts in life, sure, but this was a first for us all nonetheless, and it was just as momentous as all of the other firsts we’d experienced in our lives. I decided that my role in this milestone shouldn’t be discounted, but embraced, understood, and accepted. So now here we are, with his first week of school completed and his first piece of artwork hanging like a trophy on our wall at home, a little handprint next to a poem, but more importantly a craft we didn’t make together- a present for my husband and I. We’d all made it through our first week of pre-school together.

 

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Now that we’re past the hump of back to school blues, it is on to new territory in our home. This new terrain of having a school-age child has come with new routines, new habits, and many adjustments for us all, not the least of which is getting out of the house on time each and every single morning during the school week. As my personality dictates that I constantly be in pursuit of efficiency, I immediately commenced my search in that endeavor. I began compiling a few tips, tricks, and items to help us tackle the morning routine and get through the day. In so doing, and being the sentimental organizational junkie that I am, I was immediately drawn to a few ideas right off the bat. They all brightened my mood this past week just as much as they eased my load.

 

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I absolutely adore these little lunchbox notes I found over at papercrave.com. Now, granted I am a sucker for all sorts of paper and stationery, there was just something about these little guys in particular that stole my heart on sight. Something this adorable being specifically geared towards something other than my Project Life scrapbooking or greeting card stash? Sold! These little gems harken back to the good ‘ol days of receiving actual real mail from people in your real mailbox. I, for one, can still remember that feeling of excitement at getting a letter from my pen pal, or reading about someone’s travels on a beautiful little postcard.

It’s a feeling that is hard to replicate these days as email tends to fail at mustering the same thrill. It was in this spirit that I tucked these into my boy’s lunchbox a few days this week. While my little man might still be too young to read the sweet message, he is actually the perfect age to appreciate an unexpected colorful surprise from mom during snack-time. Provided as a free printable, they are available to all of us Mama Bears. I know I will be stocking up on these for the days to come as well as scavenging the internet for holiday themed options for the wonderful seasons ahead.

 

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Being back in a school environment conjures up all sorts of old memories you’ve probably forgotten all about. The familiar little songs you thought you’d never hear again, the admonitions like “Stop, Drop and Roll,” that were once drilled into your head, the classroom birthday parties you used to enjoy so much, and the labeling. Wait, what? Yes, that’s right, the labeling. In the same vein as “criss-cross apple sauce,” not everything is the way it used to be, requiring some minor updates on your part. These days, a label with your child’s name on it is required on all of their belongings. At least around our neck of the woods it is. And I mean everything. As in, even on the spare pair of socks you’re asked to keep in their cubby. Therein lies the question.

How, oh how, to go about this task without straight-up defiling the duds you so lovingly bought, as visions of well-dressed children danced in your head? Frankly folks, if my choices were to lay sadly between hideously drab solutions of the plastic variety and the indiscriminate nature of those big black permanent markers- I think I’d rather take the lost item. That’s why I think Brenna Berger over at Paper & Ink has the right idea. Sure, you’re going to need a couple of supplies and a little elbow grease to make these whimsical fabric labels, but you’ll be rewarded with these absolutely precious name tags in return. I find something beautiful in their quaint simplicity. As an added bonus, when the inevitable hand-me-down time arrives, you will be blissfully free of any unsightly permanent reminders of these labeling days.

 

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I knew, with the advent of pen drives in college, that although CDs had just become near obsolete, I might one day be able to breathe new life into all those plastic discs stacked neatly in that mini bundt pan. So imagine my elation when I stumbled across this time-saver right here on I Heart Organizing while on my virtual travels recently. As a Mama Bear trying to implement Montessori principles wherever I can in my child’s life, I relish any opportunity to allow him to flex his independence muscles. This is one such opportunity. Now, he can put together his own outfits for the week as I’m working on putting away my own mountain of clothes. Check out the updated version in the link above that utilizes cereal box cutouts instead of CDs for yet another take on this fantastic idea!

 

If you can count yourself among the ranks of those whose home recipe stash is chock-full of every conceivable mealtime staple, you are lucky as hell. Go right now and thank whomever it was that saw fit to endow you with this delightful trove- as I instead sit here enviously perusing the internet, searching, scrolling, and clicking in an attempt to fill that void in my own life.

Luckily for me and others in the same predicament, the world wide web lends itself perfectly to this task. At the click of a button, thousands upon thousands of delectable takes on every recipe known to man are laid right out in front of me to either replicate as is or to tweak to my heart’s content. Quantity is definitely not the problem here. The real trouble is in trying to weed out the good ones. There simply is no shortcut available for sifting through the plethora of dependable sources and covering as much virtual ground as possible in your quest to find “the one.” The fail-proof recipe that will permanently end your search.

Preferably on the first try.

I have found myself in these shoes quite a few times. Usually for American culinary classics which I did not have the pleasure of growing up on, but have come to love. Born and bred on a steady diet of arroz con frijoles and every pasta imaginable, I have always had a vacancy of one sort or another as far as American comfort food is concerned. One that has repeatedly brought me back to the drawing board over the years. This was exactly the position in which I found myself a few years ago right around this time of year.

 

The Mama Bears Chocolate Pecan Tart Pie Fall Thanksgiving RecipePinThis

 

It was the cusp of autumn, when summer was just getting ready to desert us and the idea of fall was just starting to look appealing. In fact, all things fall were beginning to look appealing, including pecan pie. And thus, another recipe search got underway. Not just any old recipe would do, however. I wanted to find the recipe to end all recipes. The one so good it would become my forever “go-to” and eliminate the need of ever having to find a replacement through another arduous digital quest.

As so often never happens, one such recipe made itself immediately available for my viewing pleasure.

Chocolate pecan pie, it said. One look and I knew. My search was over, I had found my finishing move. Salivating shamelessly, I was off to the grocery store to get everything I needed to bake the pie of all pies. It wasn’t until much later, as I was lugging my bags into the house, that it dawned on me. I’d never bought a pie pan. Ever. That kitchen essential was still sitting smugly on my to-do list.

Deflated, I felt ready to throw in the towel. I wasn’t about to load my brood into the car for a second trip to the store that day. What could I possibly make out of this heap now? I wondered, my enthusiasm quickly waning. Then, my ingenuity making a hasty comeback, it occurred to me that I could simply use what I had on-hand to make it my way from the get-go. Pretty ballsy move for a novice, I know, but I was desperate. I refused to let this latest Whole Foods tab be in vain and thus, a chocolate pecan tart was born instead.

 

The Mama Bears Chocolate Pecan Tart Pie Fall Thanksgiving Recipe

 

The first thing you’ll want to do for this recipe is pull your tart pan out of your cabinets with a whopping grin on your face- a grin born out of the pure unadulterated joy of knowing what is to come. You can use any shape and size pan you like for this tart, just make sure you give yourself enough room for the crust to come up the sides of the pan when rolling it out. I personally use a 9 1/2-inch round stainless steel pan.

Now it’s onto the routine task of rolling out your dough without pissing yourself off, which I unabashedly fail at every time. I know I’ll eventually get over it, but for now, the finicky nature of dough gets old real quick. Every. Single. Time. You can make your own or use store-brought crust for this recipe, whichever you prefer. Just remember to flour your rolling pin as well as your surface and keep moving that dough!

 

The Mama Bears Chocolate Pecan Tart Pie Fall Thanksgiving RecipePinThisThe Mama Bears Chocolate Pecan Tart Pie Fall Thanksgiving RecipePinThis

 

Once your dough is rolled out with a few inches to spare all around, settle it gently into the tart pan, pressing lightly up the ridged sides. Trim off excess dough by rolling your pin along the top of the pan and then place the pan onto a baking sheet. Slide the baking sheet into the refrigerator to keep it chilled while you prepare your filling.

You can begin pre-heating the oven at this point, setting it to 350 degrees.

 

The Mama Bears Chocolate Pecan Tart Pie Fall Thanksgiving RecipePinThis

The Mama Bears Chocolate Pecan Tart Pie Fall Thanksgiving RecipePinThis

 

Now to prepare your chocolate. I suggest chopping it up into smaller pieces as this cuts down your melting time significantly. Use whatever melting method you prefer, but I like to go with a double boiler. To make one, just place your chocolate into a heat-proof bowl and set it over a small pot of boiling water. Make sure the bottom of the bowl doesn’t actually come into contact with the water.

Keep stirring pretty regularly as the heat of the double boiler slowly and evenly melts the chocolate. In just a few minutes you’ll have a velvety smooth, shiny pool of perfection in the center of your bowl.

When completely melted, put the chocolate aside.

 

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Grab a fresh bowl and crack your eggs into it. Whisk well and then add the corn syrup, sugar, vanilla, and salt. Whisk again. When fully combined, slowly pour in your chocolate, stirring continuously until fully incorporated.

Now your filling is ready. Get your tart pan out of the fridge and pour the filling into the chilled crust. It should come up to just about the top of the crust edge so be careful not to spill over! Now it’s just a matter of adding the pecans. You can lay them right on top in any arrangement you like or you can even give them a rough chop and drop them right into the filling.

When you’re ready, slide the baking sheet into the bottom rack of your oven and bake for an hour, rotating halfway through.

 

The Mama Bears Chocolate Pecan Tart Pie Fall Thanksgiving RecipePinThis

 

When the time is up, pull the tart out of the oven and resist the urge to devour it upon sight in all of its perfectly golden, slightly jiggly, chocolatey glory. And don’t worry, the puffiness you see will go down as it cools. You should ideally allow it to cool on a wire rack for three hours or even overnight, but I’ve never made it past two to be quite honest.

This chocolate pecan tart is a crowd-pleaser that never fails to deliver. The addition of chocolate introduces an entirely new (and wonderful) dimension of flavor that has just the right amount of sweetness. It works especially well for those occasions that have all the makings of a simultaneous kitchen and nervous breakdown because it doesn’t have to be served right away- even demanding a few hours to itself before serving! Perfect for baking morning-of or even the night before.

I hope you enjoy this favorite as much as my family and I do! It’s great as is or paired with the best vanilla ice cream you can get. May it be a comforting addition to your fall lineup and maybe even make an appearance at your table this Thanksgiving! Above all, I hope it becomes a staple for you too- a classic American recipe to add to your collection.

 

The Mama Bears Chocolate Pecan Tart Pie Fall Thanksgiving RecipePinThis

The Mama Bears Chocolate Pecan Tart Pie Fall Thanksgiving RecipePinThis