Monday, December 31, 2012

A New Project!

2013 is almost upon us!  It seems unbelievable to me that another year has passed, but the saying, "The days are long, but the years are short" certainly holds true for me.  Soon my oldest will be turning six (yikes!) and we'll be adding another little one to the brood.  Our lives have really been nothing but chaos for several years, but I wouldn't change it for a thing.  With another year approaching, I've spent some time thinking about some improvements I'd like to make in many aspects of my life.  While not all are for sharing publicly, over the next week or so I will let you in on a few of my goals for 2013!

Today I am excited to share with you one of the biggest undertakings for 2013:  a kindness project.  At heart, I really have a passion for helping others and teaching our children the importance of service.  I know I have posted about this before, most recently in light of the tragedy that occurred in Connecticut, but I have decided to officially create a family service project for the upcoming year.  It has been affectionately been coined, "2013:  52 Acts of Kindness."  The best part?  We are inviting you and your family to join in on this wonderful adventure.  To make this project easy to follow, I have created a separate blog that I will update weekly, as well as a Facebook page to keep connected and to allow the ideas to flow.  

I know that we are all busy and feel like we have no time to take on one more thing, but think of how wonderful it would feel to focus on helping others once a week.  Your act of kindness doesn't have to take up a lot of time nor does it have to cost a lot of money.  There are thousands of ways to help others and choosing what to do will be part of the fun and challenge of this project.  Perhaps it will draw you closer to your family and make everyone appreciate what you have more.  

Make sure to check out the blog for the project, subscribe so you can follow along, and share your ideas either on the blog or Facebook!  Let's all work together to make a positive difference in our communities in 2013.  Happy New Year!!!   

Saturday, December 29, 2012

New Year's Eve Appetizers

I'm ashamed to admit that we don't really do much for New Year's Eve anymore.  Perhaps once the days of rising early with the kiddos pass we'll get into the spirit again, but until then I guess we'll just have to be content with hanging out at home.  Last year we hosted a small gathering with some of our friends who also had young children.  It was fun:  we gathered around 5, visited and ate while the kiddos played, had an early celebration complete with poppers and confetti, and had called it a night by 8:30.  The kids had a blast and we got to enjoy some social time, too.  I haven't seen midnight on New Year's in awhile, but I always DVR it and watch it the next day.  Lame, I know, but true!

In my opinion the best part of New Year's Eve is....the food!  I haven't put together a list of what I'll make this year, but I thought I'd share a few appetizer recipes that we've had in the past:  Queso, BBQ wienies, and stuffed mushrooms.  While the first two are ridiculously easy (and yummy!), the mushrooms take a bit more time but are worth it!  


*This can be made in the microwave or using a Crockpot

Large block of Velveeta
2 cans of Rotel diced tomatoes and chiles

Chop up Velveeta and add Rotel.  Microwave for two minutes.  Stir.  Continue until all is melted.  If using crockpot, follow same instructions, but cook on low until melted.

BBQ Wienies

Lil' Smokies
Bottle of your favorite BBQ sauce

Drain wienies.  Place in a crockpot with BBQ sauce.  Cook on low until heated through.  Serve.

Stuffed Mushrooms

10-20 medium to large mushroom caps
1 T. butter
2 T. green onion
1/4 T. Worcestershire Sauce
1/4 c. soft bread crumbs (canned)
1/4 c. shredded cheese of choice (parmesan is good)
2 T. water
salt and pepper to taste
1/4 lb. ground pork or pork sausage (chopped finely)

*You can omit the ground pork and use sharp cheddar cheese for a different twist

Wash mushrooms quickly under running water; drain on paper towels and pat gently to dry.  Pull stems from mushrooms and chop finely.  Brown and drain sausage.  Set aside.  Melt butter in a skillet over medium-low heat.  Add chopped mushrooms stems and onion.  Sauté until tender.  Stir in Worcestershire Sauce, bread crumbs, cheese, and pepper.  Add pork.

Sprinkle salt over mushroom caps and fill with sautéed mixture, mounding over the top.  At this point, you may cover and refrigerate up to 24 hours.  Before serving, put 2 T. water in a shallow baking dish and arrange stuffed mushrooms in dish.  Bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes and serve hot.    

Friday, December 28, 2012

The Aftermath of Christmas

Phew, we made it through our "Christmas Marathon!"  The presents are unwrapped and somewhat put away, the pile of laundry is depleting, and the majority of the cookies have been consumed.  I must say waking up in our own home on Christmas morning may have been the best gift.  It was wonderful to spend the morning with our kiddos and watching them open their gifts.  I love the age that they're at, because they open a gift and then want to look at it or play with it.  We took our time and though we didn't spoil our kids rotten with mountains of gifts, they were thrilled with what they received and I haven't heard any complaining about what they didn't get.  Wonderful!  Needless to say, they have been busy playing with their new loot.

My husband and I considered this our "trial year" for establishing how we'll handle the holidays now that we're at home.  We learned a few lessons along the way and have decided that next year we need to get home earlier from our parties, set our cookies out before we go to our Christmas Eve gathering, and perhaps do church on Christmas Eve.  All-in-all it was a success.  Everyone is tired, but hopefully we'll get back to a normal routine over the next few days.  I am praying that we avoid the illnesses that we were exposed to, because I'd rather not spend the next week sick or nursing sick kiddos.  If there is one thing I could go without during the holidays is the sharing of nasty germs!

We did have a few mishaps along the way.  The worst:  The Princess wanted some Zsu Zsu Pets after seeing another child receive them at a birthday party.  I found them on clearance (for a deep discount!) at Kohls and we gave them to her.  While unpacking them, there is a sticker on the bottom that states "Keep away from hair."  I told her that she needed to keep them on the floor and away from her hair, but what do you know?  A few minutes before we were heading out to my in-laws on Christmas she is screaming and crying.  I knew what had happened before I saw her.  The Zsu Zsu Pet was stuck in her hair...extremely stuck.  After spending ten minutes trying to free the dang thing from her hair, I gave up and cut it out.  Nothing like an impromptu haircut on Christmas Day.  Luckily it wasn't much and her hair is so long you can't tell.  I hope the lesson was learned, but I fear that I will be cutting another Zsu Zsu Pet out of her hair someday soon!

Now it is time to switch gears and think about the future.  I am not big into resolutions, but rather goal-making for the New Year.  I have been giving a lot of thought to this and hope to have everything put together over the next few days.  The state of the economy is making me a little nervous, so finding ways to cut some costs will definitely be included in these goals!

Friday, December 21, 2012

Holiday Desserts (That Aren't Cookies!)

This year I am bringing dessert to my grandmother's house for Christmas Eve.  Since we will be sharing our cookies as well, I wanted to make some desserts that weren't rich.  I decided on a berry trifle and a frozen lemon lime dessert.  I thought I'd share those with you today in case you are looking for something a little different this holiday season.

Berry Trifle

One angel food cake
1 large container Cool Whip
1 large package instant vanilla pudding

This is best made the day of your event, as it tends to get soggy if it sits too long.  Make angel food cake (or buy one!).  Cut into small square pieces.  Make pudding per package directions and set aside.  Wash and cut up all fruit.  Layer cake, berries, pudding, and Cool Whip in a clear, round glass bowl (I have a large, flat-bottom bowl I like to use).  Repeat until you have used up your ingredients, reserving a few berries to put on top of the Cool Whip on the top layer.  Dish out with a spoon.

Frozen Lemon Lemon Lime Dessert
(from Taste of Home)

1 1/2 c. graham cracker crumbs
14 T. butter melted, divided
1 1/4 c. sugar, divided
1/2 gallon vanilla ice cream, softened
1 quart lime sherbet, softened
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1/4 c. lemon juice

In a large bowl, combine the cracker crumbs, 7 T. melted butter, and 1/4 c. sugar.  Press into an ungreased 9x13 pan.  Freeze until firm.  In a large bowl, combine ice cream and sherbet until mixed.  Pour over crust and freeze until firm.

In a heavy saucepan, combine the eggs and remaining sugar.  Stir in the lemon juice and remaining butter.  Cook and stir until mixture reaches 160 degrees and coats the back of a metal spoon.  Cover and refrigerate until cool.

Spread over ice cream mixture.  Cover and freeze for 3 hours or overnight.  May be frozen for up to two months.

Just before serving, remove from the freezer and cut into squares.


Thursday, December 20, 2012

More Time to Bake!

Since we had a snow day today, I've spent a lot of time in the kitchen baking some cookies that I hadn't planned to make!  I have to admit, my cookie stock this year is dominated by chocolate.  I'm going to make some gingersnaps and sugar lollipop cookies over the next few days to try to balance it out a bit.  I did finish up my Oreo Truffles this morning and just have to dip my Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Truffles later today.  On a whim, I made some Hot Cocoa cookies this morning.  It took a bit to get them right, but in the end they turned out mighty tasty!

Today I thought I'd share the Oreo Truffle recipe with you.  While they aren't difficult, they take a bit of time.  The chocolate dipping is always the most challenging part for me!  

Oreo Truffles

1 package regular Oreos
1 package cream cheese (I used the reduced fat and it worked fine)
1 package Bakers Semi-Sweet Baking Chocolate

Twist open Oreos.  Scrape filling from the middle and put in a bowl.  Place cookies in a Ziploc.  Beat cream cheese and Oreo filling together until creamy.  Finely crush Oreo cookies in the Ziploc and add to filling mixture.  Mix together.  Roll into balls and chill for at least an hour.  (This time I chilled first and rolled into balls. If the other way isn't working, try that route!).  Melt chocolate per package directions.  Dip balls and place on wax covered cookie sheet or jelly roll pan.  Let set and refrigerate.  If you want to get fancy, you can reserve some cookies and sprinkle on top before chocolate is set or drizzle chocolate on top.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

New Traditions and Christmas Morning Breakfast

This year we will be spending our first Christmas morning at home.  I am beyond excited!  Since we always had to travel so far, we always had our Christmas at home early and then took off on our "tour" of Christmas.  While we always made our Christmas celebration day special, it just never really felt like Christmas since we were sometimes celebrating up to a week early.  I am thankful to be close enough to family now that we can have Christmas morning with our not-so-little family in our own home and still be able to spend time with both of our families throughout the holidays.  I have always missed not being able to wake up and enjoy Christmas morning at home and felt like we were missing out on these family moments, so our inaugural year will be extra special.

When I was young, we went to my grandparent's home on Christmas Eve and then spent the entire day at home on Christmas.  It was so wonderful to wake up, open our gifts, and then have brunch with my other grandparents.  Since our kiddos are so young and believe in all of the Christmas magic, I am thrilled we can start some traditions in our own home.  I don't think the timing could be better, because our kindergartener now understands dates and realizes that Santa makes his stop at our home sometime while we're sleeping between the 24th and the 25th.  I'm not sure how I would have explained his early visit this year.  He is very excited that he will be stopping at our house during that time this year.  Christmas is just such a magical time for the little ones that I am looking forward to having this time with my family.  I think this is one of the great joys of parenting and I am going to love making these memories in our new home.  I can't wait to work our "magic" and watch the kids' reactions that morning.

I am sure our children will be up and at 'em early, which is good as our church service on Christmas is at 8:30 in the morning!  I hate to admit this, but we have not gone to church on Christmas Eve or Christmas in years, because we've always been running from one place to another trying to fit everything in.  This is one wonderful change I am looking forward to!  I thought that I would have a light breakfast treat ready for them to eat quickly before church and then when we return we can have a nice breakfast that we can prepare while they check out their new gifts.  I chose to make our favorite banana chocolate chip muffins in cute Christmas papers early and will freeze them to pull out the night before Christmas.  These muffins really are so delicious.  I could eat them all day (and sometimes do!).  When we return from church, we will have homemade waffles (my husband's specialty), scrambled eggs with cheese, sausage links, and fruit.  Since I'm sure they'll have juice with their muffins, I think we'll treat them to hot chocolate with breakfast.  This is making my stomach rumble!  

I really can't wait to wake up, turn on the fire, and enjoy the morning my husband and kiddos.  These are the moments we will always treasure and this year will be extra special in my book!

(The recipes are linked in this post to previous posts.  Enjoy!)

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Taking Care of Our Corner of the World Part 2: Our Community

Thanksgiving and Christmas seem to be a time when many of us focus on helping others.  There are endless food and toy drives, as well as opportunities to donate warm winter clothing to those who may be in need.  This is the time of the year when we tend to offer our support to those in our community, and perhaps around the world, who are much less fortunate than us.  It may come as second nature to many of us to participate in these activities, but are we taking care of our community the other ten months out of the year?

In this part of my series on caring for our corner of the world, I would like to reflect on how we can better take care of those in our community.  Once again I find myself thinking about what we currently do and in what areas we could improve upon.  When I think of helping my community, my first thought is of those in the area in which I live who are struggling to make ends meet and in need of basic survival staples.  Perhaps this is what many of you think of as well, and while this is very important, maybe we should be looking even closer to home:  our family, friends, and neighbors.

In this day and age of "hurry up and go" and technology, I feel like we've become much more disconnected to those around us.  Instead of picking up the phone and speaking to someone, we send an email or text.  Birthday cards and handwritten letters have often been replaced with electronic cards, Facebook or other social media wishes, or emails.  At times it feels like we've lost the ability to effectively communicate without the use of technology.  I know I am guilty of this, but it is something that with some organization and conscious effort, could easily be changed.  How simple would it be to go through the calendar at the beginning of the year, write down your family and friend's birthdays, and have a stack of cards ready and waiting to be mailed?  Including a little note would be a wonderful gift for those important people in your life!  

When we talk with our family, neighbors, friends, and co-workers are we really listening?  Everyone struggles and has their ups and downs, but are we willing to listen and offer help if necessary?  Not long ago I was struggling and feeling overwhelmed (not to say this doesn't happen at least once a day!) and just not feeling like myself.  One day I got a text from my dear friend from college asking if everything was okay.  She had picked up that I wasn't acting like myself and I couldn't have been more relieved to have someone to talk to.  It's the little things that make a big difference.  Our exchange made me realize that things were a little "off" in my life and gave me the push I needed to express those feelings I was holding inside.  How often do we miss these cues in other people or brush them off as nothing.  Maybe a simple, "Are you okay?" could make a huge difference in someone's life.  A few weeks ago after a Kansas City Chiefs football player killed his girlfriend and himself, Brady Quinn sat in a press conference and made this wonderful point (take a listen, it's worth it!).

Taking a look at our bigger community is very important as well.  What could we do to help out those who are in need?  I read a thought-provoking book called You Can Buy Happiness (And It's Cheap):  How One Woman Radically Simplified Her Life and You Can Too by Tammy Strobel.  Much of this book talked about our society's obsession with "stuff" and how removing some of this clutter in our lives can be very beneficial.  By no means would I ever claim that I would even consider being as radical as her in this adventure, but I think there were many valid points that encouraged me to think a little about how we could change.  I'm sure we could all go through our closets and find clothes that we've hardly worn (or maybe even ever worn?) and donate them to those in need.  The same would apply to toys, books, household gadgets, etc.  Perhaps we could take the money that we may spend on unnecessary things and instead buy food or clothing to donate throughout the year.  Time is a precious commodity, but if we could find some every week or month, could we find causes near and dear to our hearts and volunteer our time and physical presence to really make a difference?  Many, many kids struggle with literacy, school, socializing, and quite frankly feeling like someone cares about them.  Could we find some time in our busy schedules to help them?  There are always opportunities on United Way's website (look in your local area) to help.  Could we all challenge ourselves to go out of our way this year to find some volunteer opportunity to donate our time to?

This post only begins to touch the surface of what we could do.  There are many worthy causes we could assist in our community:  the homeless, sick, military, under-priveleged , elderly, etc.  What touches you and what will you do to make a difference?  I know that one of the areas I am passionate about is literacy and children.  This year I plan to challenge myself to find a way to get books into these kids' hands.  A lifelong friend of mine and I are working together to explore a way to help in our local community.  It would make me so very happy if our idea came to fruition.  

For those of you who are parents, don't forget to encourage your children to think of others and involve them in service activities.  If possible, take them along when you volunteer.  Have them make cards for sick neighbors, friends, or family.  Take them to the store and have them assist in buying food, clothing, toys, or books for others.  What a wonderful way to instill a lifelong love of service.  Let's help out the community, large and small, in our corner of the world!  This is the perfect time of year to set some goals and follow through on them!        



Monday, December 17, 2012

Taking Care of Our Corner of the World Part 1: Our Home

The events that transpired on Friday are indescribable.  Words like horrific, tragic, and terrifying don't even begin to touch the surface of what happened.  Innocent lives taken at a place that is to be safe, fun, and filled with learning should simply just not happen.  Unfortunately, this is the reality of the society we live in today.  Where have we gone wrong and what can we do as parents to try to right some of the wrongs in this world?  It's a very loaded question that I certainly won't pretend to have the answers to, but I've sat and thought a lot about this over the weekend and have decided to reflect on some of my thoughts.  I know not all of you may agree with some of the things that I have to say, but that's okay.  To each his own.

A friend of mine posted a wonderful thought on Facebook that day.  To summarize, she said that she often felt overwhelmed that she wasn't doing enough to make a difference in the world.  I think this is something that most of us can relate to.  The next statement, however, is what is truly important and an idea that we should all take to heart.  She said, "A wise friend told me to focus on my corner of the world."  Simple, but powerful.

This is the statement that I have given much thought to this weekend.  As a parent, the obvious place to start is our home.  Our children need to feel loved, safe, important, and that we have time for them.  In our society, it seems that most times we are all in a rush to get somewhere or get something done.  I know that I am guilty of this at times, but it is a part of my life that I feel we can and have changed.  Nothing is really more important than greeting my children in the morning by simply saying, "Good morning!  How are you today?"  Our mornings are busy, but it sets a tone that yes, you are loved and I care about how you are doing.  I also think it's very important to sit down and eat dinner as a family.  If both my husband and I cannot be there, then at least one of us should be sitting with our kids and facilitating talk about our day, concerns, and interests.  Finally, we make it a point to put each kiddo to bed independently.  We sing to them, say prayers, listen to any problem that may come up, kiss them good night, and of course, tell them we love them.  I feel like if our lives are too busy to engage in these simple activities, then we need to reevaluate how we spend our time.

I know this may be an area that ruffles some feathers, but it's just our belief.  I have mentioned this before, but the one area that my husband and I have discussed at great length is how we will handle activities outside of school with our children.  We believe that our kiddos should have the opportunity to explore their interests, but within reason.  It seems that all extracurricular activities have begun at such a young age, that we forget that back when we were young, kids weren't playing organized sports at 3.  We were playing with our toys at home.  For me, many activities didn't begin until the magic age of eight.  I feel like our society has become so focused on being the best that, at times, we forget about what's developmentally appropriate.  Parents spend a great deal of time (and stress themselves out!) running children from activity to activity and at events that it takes away from time to just slow down and be together as a family.  We offer activities to our kids and let them explore their interests, but it's within moderation.  One activity at a time with breaks in between.  This is especially important to us, because we have a large family and want to be fair, but not have our lives completely booked up with no time for spontaneous fun!  Just an example:  our oldest son just finished up a basketball session.  He played seven games over the course of eight weeks.  After the holidays, another session begins, but we will not be participating.  Instead, we have told him that instead of playing basketball, we'll be taking them to other fun activities that we can't do if he's playing, since it's in the middle of a Saturday.  I think our kiddos will turn out just fine not being involved in an excess of activities!

The other aspect of home is our marriage.  It seems that once we have kids, it becomes difficult to balance our lives.  Our kids tend to be the focus and our marriage and taking care of ourselves can take a back seat.  I know this is something that I struggle with:  how to divide my time and still feel like I'm adequately taking care of everyone, including myself.  This is an area of my life that I hope to greatly improve upon in 2013, though it will be even more challenging since we'll be adding another little kiddo to the brood.  I want my children to know that they are important, but not always the focus.  It's pretty pathetic when our kids are surprised that my husband and I would actually be leaving them at home and doing something together!  Definitely something to think about:  more date nights!  It is my hope that my husband and I can model what a loving relationship looks like where respect is given to each other.  Setting a good example at home can go a long way in how our children will treat others.  

To close for today, I'd like to recommend a book that a dear friend of my told me about last year.  It is called The Power of the Praying Parent by Stormie Omartian.  When I first got it, I picked it up and read several chapters.  We even used it as a focus for our mom's group at church.  In time, though, I set it aside and haven't given it much thought in awhile.  I've pulled it back off the shelf and hope to work through the book and the study guide over the course of the next few months.  Parenting in this day and age is scary and maybe this book will help in easing some of that anxiety and fear.  Maybe it will invite some conversation between your spouse or friends and help us to understand how we can better ourselves as parents.  

The old saying is true, "It takes a village to raise a child."  Perhaps we can look inside ourselves and really evaluate what may need to change in our lives to ensure that we are giving it our all.  This extends outside of our homes and into our communities.  That's what I hope to think about today and reflect on tomorrow.  May all of your children be safe today and always!  

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Christmas Crafts

I've updated my Pinterest page with some new Christmas crafts for the kiddos.  I finally got around to making the felt Christmas tree and they made one round of ornaments.  It was a big hit!  We've also made a candy cane using cut up construction paper to glue onto a candy cane printout and a paper bag Santa Claus puppet.  They have loved playing with that!  I updated it, also, with our paper plate wreaths.  I am hoping to make some cute ornaments with craft sticks sometime soon to post.  They would make cute grandparent gifts!

Today I am trying a new sugar cookie recipe.  They are supposed to taste like the Lofthouse cookies you buy at the store, but due to our son't peanut allergy, we haven't had them in years!  I'm hoping they're close, because I love them and they would be so easy to do for any of the holidays!  If they turn out as I hope, I'll be sharing that recipe soon.  

The Princess has her first preschool holiday program tonight.  I'm not sure that she'll do anything but stand there, but it will be fun just the same.  I am making a very early dinner of BBQ chicken drumsticks in the oven.  They are pretty delicious!  Hope everyone is having a great week.  I'm sure you're busy getting everything done for the big day! 

Oven Baked BBQ Chicken Drumsticks

Chicken Drumsticks
BBQ sauce
Olive Oil

Line a pan with parchment paper.  Place drumsticks on pan.  If desired, pat on olive oil, salt, and pepper.  Bake in oven without any sauce at 400 degrees.  After 20 minutes, brush on BBQ sauce (I normally use Sweet Baby Rays, but your favorite or homemade works!) and put back into the oven for 25-35 minutes, until chicken is no longer pink.  Spoon or brush sauce every 5 minutes until done.  

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Some Christmas Book Favorites (and a New Cookie Recipe!)

I have been so busy with the holidays approaching that I've been neglecting the blog for a few days!  Today I thought I'd share with you a few of our favorite Christmas books, as well as a new cookie recipe I tried on Saturday that was delicious (and easy!).

Today our kiddos are receiving a few new Christmas books for their advent bag activity.  This year I was excited to purchase Pete the Cat Saves Christmas by Eric Litwin, because all of the other Pete the Cat books have been a big hit in our house.  A few of our other Christmas favorites are Christmas in the Manger by Nola Buck (this is a board book), Moosteltoe by Margie Palatini, The Grinch Who Stole Christmas by Dr. Seuss, Hurry, Hurry Have You Heard? by Laura Krauss Melmed and Who Is Coming to Our House? by Joseph Slate (also a board book).  We have many more books that the kiddos love to read, but these have stuck out this year!

Saturday I decided to take a stab at a Rolo-stuffed cookie and opted for a chocolate crackle with a roll stuffed inside.  They were delicious!  I can't wait to share them with our families.  Yum!  Today I thought I'd share the recipe with you.  They were quite easy to make!

Rolo-Stuffed Chocolate Cookies
From Two Peas & Their Pod blog

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 t. baking soda
1/4 t. salt
3/4 c. cocoa
1 cup butter, room temperature
1 cup sugar
1 cup brown sugar
2 eggs
2 t. vanilla
Bag of Rolo candies unwrapped
Sugar (for rolling to dough balls in)

In a medium bowl, sift flour, baking soda, salt, and cocoa.  Set aside.  With a mixer, cream butter and sugars together until smooth.  Mix in eggs one at a time.  Add vanilla next.  Beat until mixed.  Slowly add flour mixture to sugar mixture and blend well.  Take a spoonful of dough and wrap around Rolo.  Roll into ball and then roll in sugar.  Place on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper and bake at 375 degrees for 7-10 minutes.  Let sit on sheet for an additional 3-5 minutes.  Place on wire rack to cool completely.

All rolled up


Friday, December 7, 2012

One of My Favorite Cookies: Gingersnaps (Edited to Correct Error!)

Just a quick post today!  It's been a busy day picking up the house, cleaning, and wrapping presents.  These days everyone has decided to abandon their naps, so getting things done has become a little trickier!  Thankful there are a lot of cute Christmas shows on tv!

One of my favorite Christmas cookies are Gingersnaps.  I forgot them in my original list I posted earlier this week.  Usually either my mom or I bake them, so we'll see whose list it makes it onto this year.  I thought I'd share the recipe with you.  They are delicious and chewy (not crunchy!).  


2 c. flour
2 t. scant baking soda (just a little less than 2 t.)
1/2 t. cinnamon
1/4 t. ginger
3/4 c. butter
1/2 cup white sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 egg
1/4 c. molasses
*extra white sugar in a separate bowl for tops

Cream butter and sugars.  Add egg.  Mix.  Add dry ingredients and stir.  Mix in molasses last and stir until mixed well.  Roll into balls, roll in sugar, and place on parchment-lined cookie sheet.  Flatten with a fork.  Bake at 350 degrees for 7-8 minutes.  Remove from oven and let stand on the cookie sheet to bake a bit more to avoid getting too crispy (if chewy is what you desire).  You may need to tweak the baking time depending on your preference.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Charitable Giving (and Another Cookie Recipe!)

'Tis the season to load up on gifts for the whole family, but my husband and I think it's equally important to load up on gifts for those who cannot afford them.  I can't imagine how sad it would be for a child to get nothing for Christmas.  It's heartbreaking to think about, but each year we do as much as our budget allows to help others.  While I love to buy for my own children, it really is a special experience to buy for those you don't even know.  

This year we are doing our book family service project.  We ended up purchasing around 60 books and I am very excited about all of the children who will get a new book to call their own.  We will also be donating new toys to Toys for Tots.  I think this is a great program and so "user-friendly," so to speak, because there are drop sites everywhere.  I ordered some items online, but found some great deals on games at Target today that I couldn't pass up.  I hear they are in need of items for older kids, so it's a great opportunity to get some fun games at a good price for that age group.

This year, for the first time, we will be giving some donations as a gift.   Feeding America has a program where you can buy specific foods, so that's what we plan to do.  If you would just like to donate money, though, today your dollar equals three, because for every dollar you donate, Bank of America will donate two more.  What a great way to make your donation go further!  My mother-in-law is buying a goat for all of the grandchildren this year.  A goat, you say?  She is purchasing a goat for a family in Africa.  They can then have milk, cheese, and yogurt.  I think it's a cool lesson for our kiddos!

There are other ways to help out in your community as well.  A teen group at our church and another youth program were in need of cookies for bake sales to raise money for their causes, so given my love to bake, I happily contributed to those!  There's always the Salvation Army bell ringers, too.  My kids love to put money in those pots!  Just hop online and I'm sure you'll find plenty of opportunities for your family to participate in this holiday season and beyond if you so desire.

As promised, I'll include another cookie recipe.  This one is new for me this year.  I made a practice batch last week and tweaked it a bit to make it a little tastier in my opinion.  They may not be the prettiest cookie in the world, but they are yummy!  One of my baking tips:  I always use parchment paper to cover my cookie sheets when baking.  Much less mess to clean up!

Hershey Kiss Surprise
Adapted from the recipe found on the Dip it in Chocolate blog

1/4 c. butter
1 bag semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 can sweeten condensed milk
2 cups flour
1 t. vanilla
Hershey mini kisses (found in baking aisle with chocolate chips)
Powdered sugar
*in lieu of powdered sugar, you can drizzle chocolate on top instead

In microwave, melt butter and semi-sweet chocolate chips.  Cook at 30 second intervals on 60% power stirring each time, until melted and smooth.  Stir in can of sweetened condensed milk.  Add flour and vanilla to make a stiff dough.  Shape 1 level tablespoon around two mini kisses, rolling into a ball.  Roll in powdered sugar.  Bake at 350 degrees for 7-9 minutes.  Cookies may crack on top to indicate they are done, but may not always.  Don't overcook!


Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Cookies! Sweets! My Christmas Treat List

As you know, I love to bake.  Christmas is the perfect excuse to bake away and try some new recipes while I'm at it.  This year my cookie and sweet list includes some new additions I plan to try out.  I am hoping for some good results, but if they are not suitable for others, I guess we'll be stuck with the mistakes...shucks!

So, here is my for-sure cookie list:

Snicker doodles, Andes Mint, Hershey Kiss Surprise, Waffle Iron Turtles (no, these do not have nuts!) and Frosted Sugar Cookies

My "maybes:"

Rolo-stuffed Chocolate Chip, Rainbow Lollipops, Marshmallow Surprise, and Colorful Swirls

My sweets (if time permits):

Oreo Truffles, Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Truffles, Cake Batter Truffles, Rolo-stuffed Brownie Truffles   

Today I made my husband's favorite cookies:  Andes Mint.  If you are looking for a delicious chocolate cookie recipe that has a little minty twist, this is the one for you.  It's easy and if you roll them the size of a walnut you'll get about 5 1/2 dozen and they freeze wonderfully.  I should mention that when I bake, I have become very partial to Land-o-Lakes unsalted butter.  If you can't find that, stick with an unsalted butter and add the amount of salt that is required in the recipe.

Andes Mint Cookies

3/4 c. butter
1 1/2 c. brown sugar
2 T. water
12 oz. milk chocolate chips
2 eggs
2 3/4 c. flour
1/2 t. salt
1 1/4 t. baking soda
Bag of Andes Mints

In a medium saucepan, melt together the butter, brown sugar, and water; stirring occasionally.  Add the chocolate chips and stir until melted.  Let stand 10 minutes to cool.  Add the remaining ingredients and combine to form a dough.  Chill dough at least one hour.  Roll in walnut-sized balls.  Bake at 350 degrees for 8-9 minutes.  After you take them out of the oven, place half of an Andes Mint on top of each cookie.  Let melt a bit and then spread over cookie with a toothpick.    

Monday, December 3, 2012

Comfort Food Monday

We've had better Mondays around this house.  My husband is not feeling well and my back, which has been a pain in my rear end for years, has decided to act up at this most inconvenient time.  I guess it's time to take a day "off" in a sense.  We've spent a lot of time this morning doing puzzles and coloring.  I think a movie is in store for this afternoon, as well as our Advent day #3 project:  a paper plate wreath.  

Today I want to share with you an awesome recipe for Chicken Tetrazzini.  It is delicious and a wonderful comfort food.  We first received this meal as a "Mommy Meal" when we had our daughter and it has been in the rotation ever since.  Enjoy this one!

Chicken Tetrazzini with Peas and Mushrooms

1 7 oz. package of vermicelli (I normally use thin spaghetti)
3 cups chopped, cooked chicken (a few chicken breasts works!)
1 cup Parmesan cheese
1 can cream of mushroom soup
1 jar Bertolli Alfredo sauce (I normally use the mushroom)
8 oz. fresh mushrooms, cut up and sauted (or you can just use canned, too)
3/4 c. frozen peas, cooked
3/4 c. chicken broth
1/4 t. ground pepper

Make pasta according to package directions.  Stir together chicken, 1/2 cup parmesan cheese, soup, Alfredo sauce, mushrooms, peas, broth, and pepper.  (To get all of the sauce out of the jar, pour broth into it, shake around, and pour in the bowl).  Stir in pasta.  Put in lightly greased 9X13 baking pan.  Sprinkle with remaining parmesan cheese.  Cover with foil and bake at 350 degrees for 35 minutes or until warm and bubbly.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

What's for Dinner?

What a busy weekend it's been, so we're making two dinners tonight:  one for my husband and I and one for the kids.  That leaves us with plenty of leftovers for tomorrow night and lunches.  It's one of those "take it easy" dinner weeks!  I love them, especially when they're budget-friendly, too.  

Here's our line-up for the week:  
Sunday- Vegetable Beef Soup and Spaghetti Pie
Monday- Leftovers (Woo-hoo!)
Tuesday- Taquitos
Wednesday- Fish sticks and fries
Thursday- Breakfast for dinner night:  french toast and scrambled eggs
Friday- Homemade pizza night
Saturday- Movie night:  popcorn and apples this week!

I thought I'd share the spaghetti pie recipe tonight.  I've made a different one for years (and will share another time), but this one makes a bit more!

Spaghetti Pie
(Adapted from the Happy Housewife blog)

1 box spaghetti noodles, boiled and drained
1 pound ground beef or turkey
1 jar spaghetti sauce (I use the medium-sized Prego jar)
1/3 cup parmesan cheese
1/2 cup mozzarella cheese

Brown meat and boil noodles.  In a large bowl, mix together noodles, meat, sauce, and parmesan cheese.  Pour into 9X13 baking dish.  Bake covered at 350 degrees for 20 minutes.  Sprinkle mozzarella cheese on top and bake another 5 minutes uncovered.


Friday, November 30, 2012

It's Friday!

What an exhausting, long week after that fun-filled, too much food-filled one last week.  This next month will be incredibly busy and filled with a lot of fun activities, so I am hoping to get some energy back!  In all of my pregnancies, I have had anemia and am beginning to think it's effects are setting in once again.  Perhaps if I go out and get those really awesome (sarcastic tone) iron pills, I'll get some pep back in my step again.  It's worth a shot!

Tonight we had a fun evening:  pizza, Charlie Brown Christmas, and ice cream.  The kids enjoyed a special treat and tomorrow they will wake to find their first Advent sack.  Since we have decided to make Saturday evenings a fun night for the kids with a movie and child-friendly dinner, our first sack includes The Polar Express dvd that we like to pull out this time of year.  We'll pair that with some hot dogs wrapped in crescent rolls with cheese, some apple slices, and veggies, and all will be good to go.  Easy for this mama and a big hit with the kiddos.  

I can't believe that tomorrow is already December.  Christmas will be upon us before we know it and then time to start prepping for Baby #4.  Time sure does fly and the kiddos are excited about being able to countdown these last twenty-five days until Christmas.  We will be spending a lot of time talking about the meaning of Christmas and that it is important to give and not just receive.  We have many wonderful books about Jesus' birth and will make sure to read one of them each night in addition to their other Christmas picks.  Some of our books for our family service project arrived today and I look forward to showing them the big pile once they all arrive.  I think we ended up with around 60!  Awesome!  

Hope you all have a wonderful weekend!


Thursday, November 29, 2012

My Life Is a 3-Ring Circus

These days I feel like I'm living in a 3-ring circus.  To say that things around the house have been challenging may be an understatement.  I currently have children at three difficult ages:  2, 3, and 5.  I'll explain a little bit why I feel this way and then when I'm done I'll share one of my favorite Christmas cookie recipes.  Ending things on a sweet note is always good!

Nothing seems to be going well around the house right now.  The little guy has decided that he is the most independent person in the household.  He insists on doing everything himself and unfortunately there is a big difference between wanting to do something and being capable of doing something.  I'm all for him putting his shoes on by himself, but most of them are too tricky and when I try to help all hell breaks loose.  He can't go around in Crocs all winter...too bad.  In addition, he wants to dress himself, open the door, get his own food, etc.  He is constantly throwing temper tantrums when we run to the store or I put him in his carseat.  It just never ends and it's getting exhausting!  Now we've added the ability to crawl out of the crib, open his bedroom door, and even dismantle the child-proof lock we have over the door handle to get out of his room.  What a circus!

The Princess has decided to boycott naps...again.  I don't think she's really ready for this, because by 4:00 in the afternoon the meltdowns begin.  Come bedtime she is a hyper-maniac and always the drama queen about this or that.  Our evening dinners have become not-so-enjoyable due to the tiredness from her and her older brother and I'm about ready to serve food at 4:30.  If she would sleep all night and go straight to bed, I may be okay with her dropping the nap, but it's just not the case.  To add to it, she's become quite the sassy-pants who pretends to not hear 75% of what I say.  Ugh...

Then there's the oldest guy.  I was just not ready for the personality changes that have come with kindergarten.  Prior to going to school he was such a sweet boy and almost always listened to us.  He rarely talked back or shot me dirty looks, but boy has that changed.  I'm not fond of these new behaviors and am trying to find a way to work through it.  It makes me very sad and I just want the sweet boy back that I had a few months ago.  

Really, this is all very tiring and deflating most days.  Mama needs a break (and kids to cooperate during nap time so that I can at least have an hour of peace during the day to recharge for the rest of the day).  I know that this, too, shall pass, but the daily challenges seem about unbearable some days, especially when I've been woken up at night by at least one of the kiddos.  Sometimes I just have days where I want to drop them off somewhere, take a nap, and go shopping without a care in the world.  I know this isn't motherhood, but a girl can dream.  This isn't meant to be a woe is me kind of post:  just a place to vent and I'm sure I'm in good company in feeling this way.  At least you know you're not alone!

As promised, I'll share one of my favorite Christmas cookie recipes:  Snickerdoodles.  I have some in my freezer right now and I'm about ready to dive right in!  Who needs lunch when you've got cookies?


1 c. butter
1 1/2 c. sugar
2 eggs
2 3/4 c. flour
2 t. cream of tartar
1 t. soda
dash salt

2 T. sugar (red and green is festive!)
2 t. cinnamon

Cream butter and sugar.  Beat in eggs.  Combine flour, cream or tartar, soda, and salt.  Add and mix.  Chill dough.  Roll in balls the size of a walnut.  Roll in cinnamon/sugar mixture.  Place 2 inches apart on ungreased cookie sheet (I use parchment paper to have less mess).  Bake for 8-10 minutes at 400 degrees.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Christmas Series Part 2: Advent Activities

For the past several years, many moms in one of my mom's groups have done an advent calendar and different activities for each day.  To date, we have never done more than open a window on the calendar or move the candy cane on our snowman.  I thought I'd take the plunge and get creative this year.  I do not have a cute calendar to use, but found an idea on Pinterest to make bags for each day and put a surprise in each one.  I may cheat and reuse my bags and my tags won't be nearly as cute, but the kids will still love it I'm sure!

This is the list of surprises I have decided to include in their bags this year.  We'll see how it goes and I may tweak it next year!  I think it sounds like a lot of fun and I hope the kids enjoy it!

Advent Bags

1.    Watch the Polar Express
2.    Make cut-out cookies
3.    Wreath craft
4.    Candy
5.    Write letter to Santa
6.    St. Nicholas Day:  Christmas shirts and coloring books
7.    Christmas CD (Laurie Berkner) and go look at lights
8.    Watch Charlie Brown Christmas and have popcorn
9.    Cut down Christmas Tree and Food Basket Donation
     10.   Christmas book and read by the fire
     11.   Make a Santa puppet
     12.   Make and send cards to those on the church list
     13.  Candy
     14.  Pizza and hot chocolate
     15.  Make cinnamon ornaments and Snowman movie
     16.  Toys for Tots drop-off
     17.  Christmas stickers
     18.  Christmas shape grilled cheese and tomato soup dinner
     19.  Make grandparent gifts    
     20.  Picnic by the tree  
     21.  Read Christmas stories by the fire with flashlight
     22.  Decorate gingerbread cookies 
     23. Christmas at Grandma and Grandpa’s house
     24. Gingerbread pancakes and Christmas at Grandma   
     25. Christmas at home!!

Monday, November 26, 2012

Comfort Food Monday

We made it through our Monday.  Back to school for my oldest guy and by 6:00 we were all beat!  Once the initial bedtime whines were handled, everyone drifted off quickly.  I think I'm shortly behind them.  Nothing like crawling into bed on this cold night with a good book and hopefully getting a good night's sleep!  I hope I don't have any late-night visitors, but I won't be holding my breath.  

Today, as you know, was Cyber Monday, but this year I didn't purchase much since I've already done so much of my online shopping already.  I did take the opportunity to use my Kohl's cash to purchase toys for Toys for Tots.  I spent about an hour stewing over what to buy and finally decided on four:  the Laugh and Learn picnic basket (we love!), Polly Pockets Just Horsing Around set, Melissa and Doug car transporter, and a Fisher Price magical tea set.  Hopefully they will help make some little one's Christmas a little bit brighter.  One of my favorite parts of Christmas is buying gifts for those in need.  We're going to take that a step further this year and give a donation as a gift for a few people.  I'll comment on that in a post down the road.  

Since it's Monday, I wanted to share an easy recipe with you.  I'm out of crockpot recipes again, so I thought I'd share one of my favorite childhood casseroles that definitely fits in the "comfort food" category:  Tator Tot!  This was a staple in our home growing up and I'm trying to get my kids on board with it!  It is still one of my favorites.

Tator Tot Casserole

1 lb. ground beef
1 can Golden Mushroom soup
1 can french style green beans
1 can mushrooms (or saute fresh)
Tator Tots
Shredded Colby Jack cheese

Brown ground beef and drain.  In a bowl, mix ground beef, green beans, mushrooms, and soup.  Pour into casserole dish.  Top with tator tots and cheese, making sure to cover the top.  Bake at 350 degrees for  30-35 minutes.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

'Tis the Season! Ideas for Kid Crafts Part 1

We can officially kick-off the holiday season!  Woo-hoo!  We are slowly decorating the inside of our house.  I am finding a home for everything in our new place and I am looking forward to adding some new touches to our Christmas decor.  My husband worked outside on the lights today and we discovered we need some more of those, too!  The kids are itching to get a tree, but we are going to hold off on that for a few weeks.  We plan to cut one down this year and I want it to last until Christmas!

I have been making lists of fun activities I'd like to do with the kids.  I am going to shoot for three craft projects a week and have plenty of coloring pages, mazes, and dot-to-dots available as well.  They are so excited about this time of year and it will be fun to do all of these projects now that they are a little bit older.  I thought I'd share a few ideas I have for this week and once we get them made, I'll post them on Pinterest and link to it from here.  For some reason, I cannot get photos to post correctly anymore and it's a bit frustrating!

I think this week we'll keep our projects fairly simple.  I plan to have the kids color a santa and glue cotton balls on for a beard.  We are also going to make Rudolph.  I found this idea on Pinterest, but plan to use a toilet paper tube and glue our pieces on it.  We are going to round out the week making felt ornaments for the felt Christmas tree I am going to make.  I hope the kids will have fun decorating it with their homemade ornaments.  I may even get crazy and pull out the glitter! 

All of these projects are simple and inexpensive.  I know the kids will love to start decorating the house with "their decorations."  I'm already planning next week's activities and can't wait to share my ideas with them.  I have nearly completed my Christmas shopping and am excited that I should be able to reach my goal of baking, crafting, and doing other fun Christmas activities with the kids instead of scrambling to get all of the items on my list.  Should be a very fun month!!  



Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Dessert...the Most Important Part of a Thanksgiving Meal!

Today I am making desserts for our Thanksgiving feast tomorrow.  I am bringing pumpkin bars and a cherry cheesecake to my in-laws.  Thought I'd share my cheesecake recipe.  It's always a favorite (and, ssh, so easy!).  Hope everyone has a wonderful Thanksgiving!

Cherry Cheesecake (No Bake)

Graham cracker crust
8 oz. cream cheese, softened
1/3 c. sugar
2 t. vanilla
8 oz. Cool Whip
Can of cherry pie filling (or other desired topping)

Beat softened cream cheese with a mixer and gradually add in sugar until well mixed.  Add vanilla and beat until smooth and mixed in.  Fold in Cool Whip.  Spoon into pie crust and refrigerate until firm.  Spoon cherries on top.  Enjoy!

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Thanksgiving Food...Yum!!

Short posts this week, as I'm busy getting ready for the holidays!  I just wanted to share a few recipes with you that would make a great addition to your Thanksgiving feast!  One of my favorite sides growing up was cheese corn (or some call it scalloped corn).  The only time I ever make it is for a holiday meal and my mouth is watering just writing about it!

Cheese Corn

1 can creamed corn
2 T. sugar
2 T. flour
1/4 t. salt
1/2 c. diced Velveeta cheese
2 beaten eggs

Mix in order given.  Bake in greased casserole uncovered at 350 degrees for one hour.

*This is easily doubled or tripled!

It seemed that my mom always had frozen fruit salad in our freezer growing up.  It's a yummy sweet side dish that is usually loved by adults and children alike!  You can make these ahead of time and pull them out when needed.

Frozen Fruit Salad

8 oz. cream cheese
3/4 c. sugar
Small or large can crushed pineapple, drained
10 oz. strawberries and juice
8 oz. Cool-Whip

Beat cream cheese and sugar.  Add drained pineapple and strawberries.  Fold in Cool Whip.  Put in cupcake wrappers or pan and freeze.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Crocking Monday Returns!

For this week, Crocking Monday returns.  I tried a new crockpot recipe the other day and thought I'd share it with you.  My husband declared it a keeper and I agreed!

Crockpot Scalloped Potatoes and Ham

3 lbs. potatoes, peeled and sliced (sliced medium thickness)
1 cup chopped onion
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
3 cups cooked diced ham
1 can cream of mushroom soup
1/2 cup water

Combine potatoes, onion, cheese, and ham in crockpot.  Mix water and soup together in a bowl and pour over top of potato mixture.  Cover and cook on high for 4 hours, or until potatoes are tender.  Gently stir before serving.  

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Busy Week? Make-ahead Dinner Option

With Thanksgiving approaching, I'm sure the week will be busy for many of you.  I am looking forward to seeing our little Thumper tomorrow, as we have our twenty week ultrasound.  We are going to take our two older kiddos along so they can "see" the baby.  We haven't told them yet, but I think they'll be excited!  I'm also kicking off some holiday baking this weekend, both to freeze and to take to Thanksgiving.  I love this time of year!

In case you are short on time this week, I wanted to share a delicious chicken casserole recipe with you that can be made ahead of time and popped in the oven an hour before dinner.  I received this as a Mommy Meal when we had our daughter and it's been a keeper!

Cheesy Chicken and Noodle Casserole

2-3 cups cooked chicken (I usually use two chicken breasts and make that enough)
2 c. grated cheddar cheese
1 can cream of mushroom soup
1 can cream of chicken soup
8 oz. package uncooked macaroni rings (I buy Barilla Cellentani)
1 tsp. chopped onion (I omit)
2 c. milk
1/2 t. salt
*add peas and/or mushrooms if your family likes them!

Mix all ingredients together and put in a 9x13 pan; refrigerate at least 6 hours; bake at 350 degrees for 1 hour.  Enjoy!

Friday, November 16, 2012

Christmas Series Part 3: The Gift of Reading

As you may have figured out by now, I love to read.  One of my "Happiness Project" goals this year, was to read at least 50 books.  I haven't counted how many books I've read to this point, but if I haven't reached my goal yet, I'm darn close!  While I love to read fiction books, this year I have stepped out of my normal reading comfort zone to include several non-fiction books.  I have enjoyed reading these very much and as the year has gone on I have been developing a big personal project that I hope to begin to tackle after the holidays (yes, even with another baby one the way!).

Reading is a wonderful activity for any age and this year we are giving the gift of reading to everyone on our list.  We put a lot of thought into the books we purchased and I hope that the recipients love them.  I think that books are a wonderful gift for children and I know our young ones love to receive them.  In our house, the philosophy is "you can never have enough books."  While I do not purchase many books for myself, we do add to our children's collection just about every month.  I love Scholastic book orders and stock up throughout the school year.  For my personal reading, I utilize the public library and the kiddos enjoy checking books out from there as well.  I have yet to upgrade to an E-reader, though I seriously considered it a few months ago.  Maybe that will happen next year, but for now I'm happy holding a real book!

Each year we participate in the Giving Tree from our church and I always make sure to include a book with each gift.  There are many alarming statistics out there about children from low-income households and their access to books.  It saddens me that there are many kids who have never had their own book and believe it or not, have never seen a book before entering kindergarten.  In this country, there is simply no excuse for this.  We have participated in many book drives in the past and love to donate books to charity.  

This year, I'd like to take it a step further during this holiday season, and make it a family project to see how many books we can provide for those in need.  This is where we need your help!  I have set up a donation button through Paypal and will take whatever money is donated, plus some of our own, to purchase books for those in need.  It can take as little as a dollar to buy a book and I think it would be amazing for our children to see what we could do.  I have coined our project "For the Love of Reading" and would like to collect donations between now and November 27th to ensure that I can get the books ordered and delivered with time to spare.

I am working with a friend to extend this effort further, but that will take some time.  For now, I'd love your help in making some child's holiday a little brighter.  Stay tuned for updates on this project!  I told you I was a stay-at-home mom with big ideas and I think this effort could make a big difference in communities!