Thursday, January 31, 2013

Sometimes We Fall Short

Do you ever get that feeling that sometimes your day/week/month was a bust?  That's how I'm feeling about January this year.  I had high expectations for the month, especially in the kitchen, but they just didn't pan out.  This was not a healthy month in our house and given that I spent a third of the month dizzy and not feeling like myself at all, I think I'll go ahead and cut myself some slack.  It's only fitting that we wrap up this month with illness:  our oldest appears to have strep throat and our daughter will be having surgery tomorrow to put in her second set of tubes and have her adenoids out.  I am praying that February goes a little more smoothly!

While February is a short month, it's also very busy for us.  We will be celebrating our oldest kiddo's sixth birthday, taking a week-long vacation, and prepping for baby #4's arrival in, gasp, less than ten weeks.  I am not feeling like time is on my side right now, but I suppose it will all work out in the end.  For someone who is an organizer and planner, this is definitely an uncomfortable feeling!  Ultimately, my goal is make February a memorable month.  Ironically, our kids have been begging to go on a vacation and go to the beach, so it will be fun to surprise them (the morning that we're leaving!) about our vacation.  I pray that everyone gets healthy in the next few weeks and we'll enjoy our last vacation as a family of 5!

Next weekend we'll celebrate our son's birthday.  He wants a Chicago Bulls theme and has requested a basketball jersey cake of his favorite player.  I am hoping that this will be an easy task, but I guess time will tell!  Instead of hosting a party where we have to serve a meal, I wanted to simplify a bit and just serve cake and ice cream, as well as "concessions."  I plan to make some Queso and serve with chips for nachos, popcorn, BBQ wienies in the crockpot, and have some fruit and/or veggies.  Sounds simple enough, right?  I'll serve the popcorn in little box containers I have leftover from last year.  I found those at Hobby Lobby and knew they'd come in handy again!  Party City had cheap Bulls dessert plates and napkins (with his favorite player on them!) and I'll pick up some red and black dinner plates and utensils for cheap at the Dollar Tree.  This is a party on a budget, since unbeknownst to him, our oldest will be celebrating his birthday in Florida this year!

While things may not always work out as I had hoped, I am optimistic that February will be a good month.  I will head to my Happiness Project journal tonight and set my goals for the month.  I hope to be able to report a little more progress, but if not, then it just wasn't in the cards!  Do you have any goals you'd like to achieve this month?

Monday, January 28, 2013

Comfort Food Monday!

Quick post today.  We have a lot of baking to do, but I am procrastinating.  Today I am focusing on breakfast foods to put in the freezer:  banana chocolate chip muffins, banana bread, and lemon bread.  I am so hungry and can't wait to dive into some of our goodies!

Given our dreary weather today, I thought I'd share with you one of my favorite recipes from my childhood.  It doesn't look pretty, but it tastes delicious!  We always called it mashed potato casserole, but most know it as Shepherds Pie.

Shepherds Pie

1 pound ground beef
1 can tomato soup
1 can cut green beans
Cooked instant mashed potatoes (make amount to serve 4-6)
Shredded Colby Jack cheese

Brown ground beef.  In a bowl, mix ground beef, soup, and beans.  Put in casserole dish and top with potatoes.  Sprinkle cheese on top (the cheesier the better in my opinion!).  Bake at 350 degrees for 30-35 minutes, or until bubbly.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

February Book List

Since next week already marks the end of January, I decided I should work on creating my booklist for February and get them on reserve at the library or purchased.  I'm not big into buying books, but there are some that I cannot get through the library and others I feel would be a good addition to my small adult book collection.  Some are worth multiple reads!  Thank goodness for an Amazon gift card that I received for Christmas.

My goal for January was to read six books.  While I've met that goal, there are two books on my list that I haven't finished yet, but hope to finish soon.  I found a new fiction author that I really liked and I got my hands on a few more of her books, so I couldn't resist!  I read Emily Giffin's Something Borrowed earlier in the month and added Something Blue and Baby Proof to my January reading list.  They were great and I can't wait to read some more of her books next month!  I also read my first book by Sarah Jio, Blackberry Winter, and enjoyed her style as well.

This month we are heading south on vacation, so I'm hoping to find some time to relax and read in the warm sun!  Once again, I have a mix of fiction and non-fiction books on the list.  My goal for the month is six books again, so we'll see how it goes!  Here's the list:

The Violets of March by Sarah Jio
Love the One You're With by Emily Giffin
I Thought It Was Just Me (but it isn't):  Making the Journey from "What Will People Think?" to "I Am Enough" by Brene Brown
Grace for the Good Girl:  Letting Go of the Try Hard Life by Emily P. Freeman
Undaunted:  Daring to Do What God Calls You to Do by Christine Caine
Peace is Every Step:  The Path of Mindfulness in Everyday Life by Thich Naht Hanh


Friday, January 18, 2013

It's Friday! Celebrate the Weekend With This Cake!

Life around our house has just not been the norm the past few weeks.  Now my husband is down with a nasty virus and I'm praying my turn isn't next (though I wouldn't mind being stuck in a room by myself all day to sleep and read!).  Luckily he tested negative for influenza, but it is awfully similar.  I'm hoping we can have a feel-good week around here soon!

Next weekend is his birthday.  We don't do much for our birthdays anymore (which is lame, I know), but I will cook him one of his favorite meals and make a cake with the kids' help.  This year we'll probably make something simple, like chocolate cake or cupcakes, and put some frosting and sprinkles on top.  Back when we were in college, I used to make him this cake for his birthday.  I haven't had it in years, but it is so delicious!  If my kids would eat it, I would make it this year, but the simpler the better for them!

Happy Friday!

Better Than Sex Cake

1 package Devil's Food cake mix
1 can sweetened condensed milk
1 jar/bottle caramel ice cream topping
1 container Cool Whip
1 package Heath Bar pieces (optional)

Bake cake according to package directions in a 9x13 inch cake pan.  Let cool for about 5 minutes.  Poke holes in cake with a round-handled wooden spoon every couple of inches (if you don't have one, use a fork).  Mix together sweetened condensed milk and caramel in a bowl.  Pour over top of the cake and let sink into the holes, making sure to cover completely.  Spread Cool Whip over top of cake.  If desired, sprinkle Heath Bar pieces on top.  Keep in refrigerator.

*After typing this all out, I must find an excuse to make this!

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Cranberry Chicken

I have been so thankful to be back near my parents again.  My mom has spent a lot of time at our house the past week, as I have not been feeling well with some pregnancy issues.  After some blood work and my routine trip to the doctor, we've come to the conclusion that I am having trouble with low blood sugar, iron, and blood pressure.  Add into the equation a teething toddler, illness, and many nights of little sleep and my body decided to let me know it had had enough!  Mom to the rescue!  She's spent many days and even a few nights here when my husband has been gone.  She's made us yummy food (homemade chicken soup...Yum!), grocery shopped, played with the kids, and helped pick up the house.  I could not be more grateful for all of her help.

This is also the reason my posts have been less frequent.  Today I thought I'd share a recipe with you that is one of my husband's favorites.  It's a nice twist on chicken and probably a recipe you haven't seen before!

Cranberry Chicken

1 8 oz. bottle Catalina salad dressing
1 16 oz. can whole berry cranberry sauce
1 package Lipton onion soup mix
4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts

Mix together salad dressing, cranberry sauce and soup.  Mix well.  Add chicken breasts and transfer to a glass baking dish.  Bake at 350 degrees for 30-45 minutes covered.  Uncover and bake 15-30 minutes more.

Usually we serve with this with a side of rice and spinach.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

How Much is Too Much?

My goal for the month was to read six books (see January's reading list) and am happy to say that just halfway through the month I am onto number 4!  This month was split between non-fiction and fiction, which is how most of my months will look.  I've mentioned before that 2012 was my "dive into non-fiction" year and I honestly can say I have been missing out for many years!  I'm not into historical reading, but more on topics that I find thought-provoking and relevant to today's life.

This past week I read 7:  An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess by Jen Hatmaker.  The author chooses seven areas in her life (and her family's) and focuses on cutting back on each for one month.  Some were admittedly a little extreme, like only eating seven foods or wearing seven articles of clothing for a month, but others were much more practical, like spending and stress.  Once again, I found myself thinking of how we live and the small things we could change that would not only make a difference in our lives, but others as well.

The book is a fun, easy read.  The author's style made me chuckle and it was far from "preachy."  Much of this is tied to her faith, which I enjoyed, and her honesty about the way they live their lives and how she came to realize how much excess "stuff" they really have is easy to relate to.  I think we can all agree that we live in a society where many feel like they need more, more, more or must have the newest and best item out there.  The question, though, is does it really make us happier?  

I have no intention of following in her footsteps by creating such a drastic project, but there are some areas of our life that I'd like to make small changes to.  Like most people, we have too much "stuff."  Our house could use a good overhaul, even though we moved not long ago and parted ways with many items.  Most of the time we donate our items to Goodwill and move on without giving it much thought. One point that she made, however, was to actually connect with people while giving items away.  For example, instead of dropping them off at Goodwill, take your items to a shelter or organization where you may actually interact with the people who receive the goods.  It may be a little extra work, but may help us realize how lucky we truly are and give us the opportunity to see first-hand how others live.

Another area that I'm always working to improve upon is food.  Unfortunately, food manufacturers are allowed to add some many additives and junk into what we eat, that it is important to mindful of what we are eating and feeding our children.  I do my best to navigate the grocery aisles and find the healthiest choices, but there is always room to improve.  Since moving, I haven't been able to find a good place to buy organic produce or meat that is not pumped full of hormones and other junk.  I would like to work on that a bit more and adjust our grocery budget to do so.  We've already cut way back on what we feed our kids for snacks and cut-out most processed food you'd find in the freezer section, but there are products that we buy that appear to be "healthy" that really aren't.  This will forever be an ongoing project.

These are just a few examples of what I'd like to accomplish.  There are more, of course, but I don't have time to share them!  If you read the book, I'm sure you'll come up with some projects, however big or small, of your own.  It's definitely worth the read!

Friday, January 11, 2013

Date Night? What's That? Bring it Home!

In my mind (and out loud), I always say that my husband and I need to have more date nights.  Please note I did not say want, I said need.  Time away from the kiddos is important to every marriage.  It's just hard to make it work a lot of the time.  There's the childcare, the money, oh, and the energy it takes to go and actually do it.  With three young children and one baking away sucking all of my energy out of me, going out seems like quite a hurdle to overcome.  So, it's time to get creative and bring the date night home.

Here's an example of a date night idea.  Let's start with dinner.  This could include the kiddos or not, depending on your preference.  If I had to wait to eat until all of my kids were snoring away, I would be starving and crabby!  So, for the purposes of this date night, dinner will be with the munchkins.  Luckily I have a wonderful (this word barely touches the surface of how good this is!) recipe that our entire family devours:  Portobello Stuffed Shells.  Yum, yum, yum!  Pair this with a side of salad and bread and you're set.  You could also make a nice little dessert (or have your husband stop for a few slices of pie) and have a restaurant night at home! 

Once you've had dinner and put the kiddos to bed, it's time to find some activity to enjoy together.  To each his own in this area, but our date night would either include a movie (which I'd probably fall asleep during) or a game.  We like to play Scrabble and I hate to admit that I have lost the last two times we have played.  It's got me motivated for another round!  The best (and maybe most important) part of the night, though, would be to actually sit down and have a conversation.  Check in with each other and see how things are going.  It's definitely something we don't do enough, because it feels like we never have enough time!  

Go on!  Have a date night at home (and let me know how you like this recipe!).  Happy Friday!

Portobello Stuffed Shells

2 packages Portobello mushrooms (finely chopped)
1 c. whipping cream
1 1/2 c. shredded Mozzarella cheese (divided)
2 scallions (finely chopped)
1 package shells
1 t. chopped garlic (once again, I use the stuff in the jar!)
1/4 stick of butter
Jar of favorite marinara sauce (I use organic Barilla tomato and basil )

Cook shells.  Saute mushrooms, scallions and garlic in butter.  Add salt/pepper to taste.  Scoop mushroom mixture out with slotted spoon and put in bowl.  Add whipping cream and 1 cup cheese to liquid in skillet.  Simmer and stir.  Drain and rinse shells in cold water.  Stuff shells with mushroom mixture.  Pour whipping cream sauce over shells.  Pour marinara sauce on top and sprinkle with remaining 1/2 cup of cheese.  Bake at 350 degrees about 30 minutes until cheese is melted and shells are warm.      

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Daring Greatly: A Book Review

Not too long ago I shared a book with you that I loved.  It was called The Gifts of Imperfection by Brene Brown.  I loved this book so much I bought a copy for myself and for a gift to give a female at our annual family Christmas gift exchange.  I haven't revisited the book yet, but I did read her most recent book that my husband bought me for Christmas:  Daring Greatly:  How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead.   

It was my first book of 2013 and I think I started off the year with a great choice!  One chapter that I found to be particularly interesting pertained to parenting.  Brene Brown has spent over a decade doing research on shame (among other things) and it's amazing how this can really effect our lives.  One of the main points that I took away from the chapter was to separate the child from the behavior.  This was a good refresher from my education years ago.  We all have moments (probably daily!) where our children make choices that irk us.  How we react to these moments, though, can really shape how our children feel about themselves both now and going forward.  It was a good reminder to think about how I phrase my words when I am upset/correcting my kids.  Rule of thumb:  "Name, you have made a bad choice/decision (insert offense)."  We could follow that up with, "How can you fix it" or "What could you do differently?"  

I'm not going to lie, the words, "You are naughty" or another shameful word has come out of my mouth plenty of times.  I will definitely be making a conscious effort to improve the way I relay my message to my kiddos.  I don't want them to feel ashamed that they can't do something, for example tying their shoes or making it to the potty in time, but I want them to feel good about their effort and give it their best.  This really just brushes the surface.  You'll have to read the book if you want to learn more!

Shame really fills a large space in our society.  It happens at home, school, work, and organizations with our family, friends, and strangers.  We're a competitive society and putting down others' efforts is the norm.  We try to "one-up" others and make ourselves feel good about our decisions and circumstances.  The list goes on and on.  Sometimes it takes concrete examples, like those given in the book, to make us realize how common it really is.     

The last point I'd like to make about this book involves risk-taking and creativity.  The author points out that many times we don't even make an effort to do something we really want to do, because we are afraid of how it will be received by others.  How many of your dreams have you squashed because you were afraid to share them with others?  How many thoughts do you keep to yourself because you are afraid you will be shut out by the one you share them with?  I'm sure you could think of several examples in just a few minutes.  On the flip side, how many times have you shut someone else down?  Just something to think about!

I really can't recommend this book (and the other) enough.  They will both make you think and perhaps strive to make some simple (or not so simple) changes in your lives.  In a society where we beat ourselves up or get beaten up by others on a daily basis, I think we could all use a little insight and motivation to make some changes.  While I've given each book one read-through, I will definitely be reading them again in the near future.  There is so much good information to process, that it's worth a second look!       

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Comfort Food: Chicken Pot Pie

Just a quick post today!  There are times when comfort food recipes come in handy.  Whether it be a dreary day, a meal for a new mom or family who needs assistance, or just because you feel like it, this recipe is a good one for any occasion.  Not too hard to put together and yummy!

Chicken Pot Pie

1 carton Pacific Foods organic cream of chicken soup
1/3 cup milk
2 cups chicken, cooked and cubed (I recommend Rotisserie!)
1/2 cup shredded Mozzarella
Any herbs (thyme, parsley, sage)
Frozen veggies to taste (slightly thawed):  green beans, peas, carrots, potatoes;  I just dump in to make enough filling
Frozen pie crust

Mix together soup, milk, chicken, herbs, and veggies.  Put in pie crust (place on cookie sheet for less mess).  Bake at 400 degrees for 40 minutes or until bubbly.  You may want to check it around 30 minutes and place foil over top if pie crust is getting too brown.  Sprinkle cheese on top near the end of cook time and cook until melted.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Easy Sunday Meal: Ribs!

Happy Saturday!  It's been a lazy day around our house thanks to a 4:15 A.M. wake-up call (no, we do not have a baby in the house yet!), but sometimes a lazy Saturday is just what the doctor ordered.  The Princess had a play date this morning with her two little girlfriends from preschool and was not a happy camper when it was time to go!  My husband took our oldest son to our alma mater's basketball game today.  He was so excited to go (all decked out in basketball gear with a sign to cheer on the team).  I love his enthusiasm and love of the game!

We've been discussing our 52 Kind Acts Project a lot the past few days and I plan to update that blog later on.  If you'd like to check that out, I am including some service activity ideas that even the youngest kiddos can help out with!  I really can't stress enough how awesome I think this project is going to be for our kids and family.  It will teach them a lot about helping others and show them that even small, thoughtful gestures can make a big difference.

I planned our menu this week and am taking advantage of a decent meat sale:  ribs.  This recipe is so easy and yummy (and one of two easy rib recipes that I use)!  Ribs used to intimidate me, but not anymore!

Easy Ribs in the Oven

Rack of baby back ribs with bone (or more if needed)
Salt, pepper
Bottle of favorite BBQ sauce

Line a large baking sheet (I like to use a jellyroll pan) with a piece of aluminum foil large enough to cover pan twice.  Line the foil with a piece of parchment paper.  Place ribs, meat side up, on parchment paper.  Season with salt, pepper, or any spices to taste.  Fold the parchment paper and foil over the ribs and seal tightly on all sides.  Bake at 300 degrees for 2 1/2 to 3 hours, until ribs are tender.

Remove from oven and peel back foil and paper.  Brush on BBQ sauce.  Return to oven uncovered and cook another 20-30 minutes, until sauce is brown and thickened.

Friday, January 4, 2013

2013 Goal #4: House Projects! First Up: Kid Activities and Craft Area

One of my other goals for this year is to complete one house project a month that have been on my "to-do" list (may since we moved in or shortly after).  Some may be larger undertakings than others, but I am hoping that come 2014 we've complete 12 projects that will make our house a little more "homey."  I think we will feel quite accomplished if we succeed at this task!

My kiddos love anything to do with arts and crafts.  If I would let them, they would play with Play-dough, paint, and all things messy every day.  They also love to color and do "projects."  The old teacher in me loves to provide activities for them to do and I am fortunate that I can go to my storeroom and pull a folder for any season and most topics young kids love and have plenty to keep them entertained.  I go in spurts with this, though.  This year I'd like to make sure that I have at least two projects for the little ones to do each week and I am going to create a space specifically designed for messy and crafty fun.

Let's start with the space.  Right now I have a small two-person table set up in the kitchen.  Ever since we moved in, I have envisioned using one of the rooms in our house as a place for the kids to do their art and craft activities, as well as storing all of the materials.  The room I am using has wood floors, so it makes it a bit easier to clean up.  I finally splurged (thanks to some Christmas money the kids received) and purchased a large rectangular table and four colored chairs from Discount School supply.  They will finally have plenty of space to work.  I already have a little Closet Maid cabinet with a few shelves inside to store their paper, crayons, and miscellaneous supplies that I don't mind if they get into unsupervised.  I plan to have my husband hang a few shelves in the new room to put supplies like paint, play-dough, glue, scissors, shaving cream, and other materials that they can't have unless they are supervised.  I saw an idea on Pinterest to use dish drying racks to store coloring books and crayons, so I am hoping to utilize this idea for the coloring and activity books that they have that reflect their current interests.  To round it off, I want to create an area to display their masterpieces.  My goal is to have this all complete by the end of January.

If I can get organized, I'd like to take some time on Sundays to put together the materials I will need for a few easy projects for the little kiddos to do each week.  They love to make things and show them off to their dad and grandparents when they come over.  I must admit, our wall of creations reflects where we are in life.  We may not have a lot of professional art pieces on our walls, but we have plenty of original creations by the kiddos!

Today we decided to celebrate the last day of winter vacation by having a gingerbread day.  I pulled out a few old activities that I thought they would enjoy and we will top it off by baking gingerbread cookies this afternoon.  My older two did a simple dot-to-dot that I found online as well as a glyph activity coloring parts of a gingerbread man by answering questions and selecting a color.  I had picked up some foam gingerbread cut-outs at Target from the dollar bin awhile back, so they can decorate those, too.  They love the story of the Gingerbread Man, so they were quite excited to spend a day on these activities! 

Gingerbread Glyph Activity

Decorating Cookies

Cutting Out the Gingerbread Men



Thursday, January 3, 2013

2013 Goal #3: Food Bucket List

I love to cook and bake for my family.  I also love to try new baking recipes and am always looking to add some new, no-frill meals to our dinner rotation.  Over the course of the year, I have added a handful of recipes, but I am always on the quest for more, especially those which are quick and do not contain a bunch of processed fillers.  

To support my love in the kitchen, I have created a food bucket list for 2013.  Currently, I have 20 items on my list but many of them are sweet treats.  Yesterday I focused on adding dinner meals and will continue to do so until the healthier options outweigh the unhealthy!  I must admit, though, there are so many delicious looking recipes out there for cupcakes, cookies, cakes, and candies these days, that it may be hard to do.  Lucky for me, my husband bought me a candy thermometer for Christmas, so I can test out some of these delicious treats!  I'll let you in on a few treats from the list:  salted caramel chocolate cupcakes, donuts, and crockpot lava cake.  Yum!! 

I hope to have success with my dinner recipes and will happily pass them along if I do.  Today I thought I'd share my recipe for lasagna.  I like to think of it as a "no-frill" lasagna, because there aren't many ingredients and you don't bake the noodles!


1 box Barilla no-cook lasagna noodles
1 pound ground beef or turkey
1 jar ( 45 oz.) Prego
1 beaten egg
2 cups cottage cheese
3 cups Mozzarella cheese
1/2 cup parmesan cheese

Brown meat.  Grease bottom of 9x13 pan (I have the best luck with a glass Pyrex pan).  Spread a thin layer of spaghetti sauce on the bottom of the pan.  Mix remaining sauce with meat.  Place noodles on top of sauce (I usually use 3 1/2) and top with half of meat mixture.  Repeat and finish with a layer of noodles.  Mix together beaten egg, cottage cheese, Mozzarella cheese, and parmesan cheese and place on top of noodles.  Cover with foil and bake at 375 degrees for 45 minutes.  Remove foil and continue to bake 15 minutes or until bubbly.

*If you prefer, you could layer the cheese mixture as well, but I just add it all to the top and it works well!


Wednesday, January 2, 2013

2013 Goal #2: Reading!

As I mentioned in my previous post, I thought I'd share a few of my New Year's goals with you this week.  I try to make goals in many different areas of my life to try to create some balance.  I like to incorporate these goals into my yearly Happiness Project and keep track of my progress each month.  I have found if I break my goals up by month I have more success than simply stating what I'd like to do in the course of a year.

In addition to our family kindness project, one of the biggest goals I have is to read 52 books in 2013.  This was also my goal for 2012 and I was thrilled (and a bit surprised!) that I achieved my goal.  Instead of just reading fiction, I branched out to non-fiction as well.  I was pleasantly surprised with the books that I read and have found a few topics that I really enjoyed reading about.  Finding more books pertaining to those topics has helped me to begin to create my 2013 bucket list of books to read.  I consider my love of reading to be an "escape" of sorts, as well as an opportunity to provide me with some thought-provoking information.  As a second part of my reading goal, I'd like to find a book club to join this year.

Today I thought I'd share with you my January picks.  As you can see, it's a mix of fiction and non-fiction.  The non-fiction books focus on parenting, personal growth, and cutting down on excess:  all topics which I am currently quite interested in.  Maybe you've read some of these or have some suggestions that fit into these categories.  I'd love to hear about them!  I will make sure to pass along any positive recommendations once I've finished them.

January Book List:

Daring Greatly:  How the Courage to be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead by Brene Brown

7:  An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess by Jen Hatmaker

Teaching Tolerance:  Raising Open-Minded Empathetic Children by Sara Bullard

Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids:  How to Stop Yelling and Start Connecting by Dr. Laura Markham

Blackberry Winter by Sarah Jio

Something Borrowed by Emily Giffin