As I’m writing this, our Monday is predicted to complicated by a winter storm. Two to four inches of snow is being predicted with the added bonus of it being in the morning which leaves me wondering if we’re going to have our first snow day of the year in mid-November.

In our backyard, we have an ornamental pear tree. What makes this tree special, is that it holds its leaves and colors the longest meaning it’s bright, cheerful leaves are often visible through a snow storm.

snowytree

It’s a little later in the fall now, and the leaves are fading from red to brown and orange and soon the leaves will be gone and the tree will be studded with cardinals and blue jays and sparrows and chickadees waiting for their dinner.  In the spring, the tree will unfurl itself and bud and blossom.  It’s beautiful in bloom, but I think I like it better as the last hold out in the fall.

 

The Menu Plan

Monday-Crock Pot Turkey Chili and cornbread

Tuesday-Baked Honey Mustard Chicken, crash hot potatoes and veggies

Wednesday-Baked Ziti with Spinach, garlic bread and salad

Thursday-Slow Cooker Chicken and Dumplings

Friday- Homemade Pan Pizza 

Saturday-Ranch Cheddar Chicken, Couscous and Veggies

Sunday-Slow cooker short ribs, mashed potatoes, whiskey glazed carrots

So, I don’t really like chocolate that much.

I know, it sounds crazy, but it’s true  I can take chocolate or leave it.  It’s not something I need to have or crave.  I like it.  It’s not like Brussel sprouts or cabbage or anything, but I just don’t care about it very much.  I never did.  Even as a little kid.  But, there was one thing I did like.  White chocolate.  Every year, my Mom made sure the Easter Bunny brought white chocolate for my basket.  Some years, she had to work pretty hard to find it, but it was always there.

And, that’s pretty much still the case.  I prefer white chocolate to milk/dark chocolate.

And, I also like a good cup of cocoa on a cool night.

With the cool weather FINALLY taking us over and a late lunch under our belts, Big Daddy and I came home from the store with popcorn and the ingredients to make white hot chocolate.  Then, we settled in, snuggled up and had an impromptu movie night!

The white hot chocolate got RAVE reviews and one batch made three adult sized servings (or 2 adult servings and 2 kids servings).
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White Hot Chocolate
Author: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 2-3
 
Ingredients
  • 2 c milk
  • 2 c fat free half and half
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 6 oz white chocolate
  • whipped cream
Instructions
  1. Add milk, half and half, vanilla and chocolate to a saucepan. Slowly warm the drink over medium low heat, being sure to stir to keep the chocolate from sticking to the bottom. Do NOT allow to boil! Warm and stir until you’re happy with the temperature and then serve with a dollop of whipped cream.

 

Instead of the cookie, you could holly jolly up this recipe by serving with a candy cane or peppermint stick!

 

My sewing machine has been been giving me longing looks from across the playroom. I’ve been in this phase of…well…brain overload. I want to do everything! I want to do everything so badly, it paralyzes me a little bit and I end up playing Candy Crush because there’s not enough hours in the day to satisfy my brain.

I knew I had to break the seal and that I wanted to sew something simple, but I really don’t like sewing things I don’t think are useful and it’s hard for me to find small projects that I actually find useful.   I don’t need any more small bags for things and I’m loathe to “waste” my fabric on things we won’t want and won’t use.

So, when I saw this adorable pin from Made to be a Momma, I knew it was just the right project to break me out of my crafty slump.

This is also an amazing project for small scraps of that favorite, hard to find, hoarded fabric that you can’t stand to part with, but can’t come up with a project for.  I used my long hoarded Amy Butler fabric and since it just took small strips, I felt okay cutting up a couple of my favorites for this project.
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Start by measuring your journal.  Add .5 to .75 to the length of your journal to account for seams.    For my large journal,  I cut two pieces of fabric that were 10.5 inches by 2.5 inches.  For my small journal, I cut my fabric to be 9.5 inches by 2 inches.

Cut a third piece of fabric to be your pen pocket.  Mine were cut at 5 inches times whatever width I had cut for my journal. You’ll also need to cut a piece of elastic that is as long as the cover of your journal itself. You want it to be a little bit short, so it will actually stretch across your journal and hold things in place.

Finish off the top of your pen pocket…I folded my edge down twice, ironed it to hold it in place and then stitched it.

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You don’t have to fold it down twice to finish it, but it makes sure you don’t end up with ravel-y ends.

Now, you make a fabric sandwich.
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Your first two pieces of fabric should be laid out as shown. Your elastic should be laid out on top and your final piece of fabric should be laid out wrong side facing up to complete the sandwich.

From the top, it will look like this.
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From the bottom, it will look like this.
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I used a pin along the bottom to hold all my layers together. Starting at the top, unpinned corner, sew down the long end of your strap. I sewed both long ends first, being sure to sew carefully to make sure all three of my fabric layers were caught up and that my elastic was not. I finished by sewing across my pinned bottom.

Turn your strap inside out…
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And it will look like this (through the magic of television the fabric magically changed…OR I reverse engineered it incorrectly the first time and made a second to be sure I did it the right way).

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Use something long and pointy to poke out your corners and then iron that sucker flat. Then, carefully fold your top edges inward…

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And feed in the loose end of your elastic. This is a good time to adjust the fit on your journal to make sure you have a nice, snug fit. Sew carefully across the top making sure that all loose ends stay tucked inside and et voila!

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It even holds your place for you! It’s so polite!

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While sewing this project, it came to me that this would be a GREAT way to make your own adorable autograph book for a Disney trip! If you have kids that are into autographs, this would be a great way to use a nice quality journal (like a moleskine) and using Disney themed fabric, you could both hold your pen AND hold the book’s place for characters to sign!

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Those autograph books clutched in the children’s hands? $20/piece and I am not kidding. There weren’t enough pages, so we had to buy a SECOND autograph book at $10/piece so the girls could keep on collecting autographs. A classic moleskine? 9.99. Add into that, the special pens (at $3/piece) and…well…these journals would be as nice and a lot cheaper.

A little more than four years ago, Big Daddy and I departed on a new adventure.    We moved five hundred miles away from our little white house in Illinois and moved to small town Ohio.  Big Daddy set up an office off of the living room and began to telecommute full time.  The telecommuting years have been very good for me.  Having Big Daddy available to me all day has done so much to heal my anxiety.  It gave me the time to work with a therapist and start to work myself out.  My confidence has returned.  I’m pretty sure I’m not just going to drop dead and yes, I’m totally serious about that.

Big Daddy has become my true helpmate these past four years.   He does breakfast and brushes tangled hair.  He watches Baby Bee so I can volunteer with Littlebit’s class.  He goes to day time conferences with me. A few times, we’ve been able to sneak away for a weekday breakfast.
telecom
Our little girls don’t know a Daddy that leaves the house to go to work.   Baby Bee actually gets a little…weird…when Big Daddy isn’t at home.  In their world, life means always having a mommy and a daddy at home.    It’s an opportunity that most people never get to have, but…

There’s always a but, isn’t there?

But, life moves in seasons and the season of Big Daddy being at home full time, all the time has ended.

It’s one of those bittersweet moments.  It feels like a rite of passage, in a way.  Big Daddy is moving on to something bigger and better and his world will get a little bigger than it has been these past four years.  It’s something he needs and it’s a time in our lives where the travel his new opportunity will entail won’t be so difficult.   The doors that are cracking open are exciting.  It’s a big step forward for Big Daddy in his career and, we’re so lucky that when he’s not traveling he’ll still be at home. With us.  With me.

I’m sure there are people who think Big Daddy is a little bit insane for giving up his good at-home gig and they probably think I’m just as insane for encouraging him to take this new opportunity.  But, I didn’t marry a static creature.  I married a very dynamic man with an amazing mind.  He’s driven and ambitious and an extrovert and the very best person I know and I knew that he needed to spread his wings some.

But, just a little bit.

We’re happiest together.

Good luck, Big Daddy.  Not that you’ll need it.

 

The Menu Plan
MondayPork Fried Rice
Tuesday Shake and Bake chicken, rice and veggies (Look, maybe shake and bake is cheating a little bit, but it tastes good, isn’t totally unhealthy and it’s fast and sometimes that’s fine)
Wednesday Turkey Taco Lettuce Wraps and Spanish rice
Thursday Sloppy Toms
FridayShrimp Scampi
SaturdayDinner Out
SundayCrockpot Beef and Noodles

Have I sung to you, yet, my ode to cast iron?  Cast iron cookware is the most used item in our kitchen.  Hands down, in fact, our favorite skillet, this ten inch one, given to me in perfectly seasoned condition by my Daddy who knows I get it, sits on our stove and is our go to pan.  It’s perfect for eggs, wonderful for bacon and marvelous for grilled cheese.   If your just starting out and are low on funds to stock your kitchen, cast iron is the way to go.  Why?  It’s fairly inexpensive, for starters, and it’s so versitle.  We own a dutch oven, a large skillet, a medium skillet and a large, two burner griddle.   Cast iron is stove and oven safe, so it reduces your need for casserole dishes and baking pans.

Baking pans?

First, let me talk to you about how to care for your cast iron.  They may seem intimidating, but a well seasoned pan will require little care.  If you wash your pan, soap won’t damage it, but you MUST dry it well and oil it to prevent rust.  Stubborn, stuck on food can be easily boiled off on the stove.  We don’t soak our cast iron!  If you feel as though you have damaged your seasoning, simply coat generously with oil and bake it in the oven.  My Dad says a badly rusted pan can be restored by tossing it in a fire

Also, if someone breaks into your house, I’m pretty sure you could knock them out with a well timed blow to the head from a cast iron skillet.

But, back to cast iron replacing casserole dishes and baking pans.  The answer to that is yes.  Two weeks ago, I featured Skillet Apple Pie, baked in my trusty cast iron skillet and when I saw this recipe for a cast iron skillet brownie, I had to try it.

This, gooey, decadent brownie is fudgey and rich.   In fact, it was too rich for the Princess who really isn’t a brownie person. But most people don’t have a problem with fudgey, rich brownies so if you’re one of those people, this recipe is for you.

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Cast Iron Skillet Brownies
Author: 
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 8-12
 
Ingredients
  • 1 c sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 c flour
  • .5 c cocoa powder (not hot chocolate powder, dutch process or unsweetened cocoa powder)
  • 4 tbsp butter
  • .5c heavy cream
  • 8 oz chocolate chips (I used mini semi-sweet)
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 350.
  2. In a medium cast iron skillet, melt the butter over medium heat. Once melted, mix in the heavy cream and chocolate chips and stir until melted and smooth. Allow it to cool while…
  3. In a mixer, cream together sugar and eggs. Add melted chocolate mixture and mix until incorporated. Mix in flour and cocoa and pour back into the cast iron skillet.
  4. Bake for 25 minutes.

 

This isn’t about mommy wars. I have no desire to write about them or participate in them anymore. It’s been a handful of years since I made decisions about how I’d feed a baby or diaper them or vaccinate them. You realize as time passes that those decisions that once seemed so massive really don’t mean a lot in the scheme of things. Breastfeeding won’t help your child be a good student (yes, I know about the IQ thing, that’s not what I mean), cloth diapers won’t help your child memorize multiplication facts and vaccinations won’t pay for college. I know that keeping a baby alive seems like a pretty big problem, but in reality, when faced with issues like dating and drugs and sex those early days decisions seem almost blissfully easy.

I’m on social media. Of course. And, articles about parents make the rounds among my friends. For a few months last year there was a cycle of odes to parents on iPhones/smart phones. Anonymous parents were being maligned for being on the phone while their child played at the playground.

“Pay attention to your KID” those articles screamed.

Then, came the rebuttals.

“You don’t know that person! You can’t tell me what to do!”

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Recently, I wrote about a blogger who wants to know “what your excuse” is regarding fitness.

Lately, I’ve come to an interesting conclusion.  This is my life, too.  It’s the only one I get.  And, while I chose to be a mother and love being a mother, I don’t get a chance at another life after my kids are grown.  This one, regardless of length, is all I get.

It’s all you get, too.

I’m not saying this to be morose. I’m not telling you to carpe diem. I’m not saying to seize every moment because OMG you could be dead tomorrow.  What I’m saying is that you need to remember that this life is your life, too.

Go ahead and say that out loud for a minute.

This life is my life, too, and it matters as much as my child’s and as much as  my spouse.

That’s right.  Your experience is just as important as your child’s and just as important as your husband’s.

Do you hate going to the playground?  I do.  I detest it.  I still go, but I find a safe place the kids can play without my having to follow them around like a hawk and I browse the Internet or play Candy Crush.  I understand that someone who doesn’t know me might be watching me and judging me or thinking I’m a lazy bugger and maybe you reading are thinking this too, but what I’m telling you is this is my life, too.

And, I get to be whatever Mother I want to be.

I’m a Flylady drop out, but there’s one thing that I took from her that I actually still use.   I guess I’ve kind of bastardized it, but here it is.  “If it doesn’t bless you, don’t do it.”  Too small clothes in your closet that make you feel guilty?  Toss them.  Hate baking?  Buy cupcakes and send in with the kids.  I don’t really do the “blessed” thing, but more of a “If it doesn’t make you happy, don’t do it.”  Now, of course, I don’t like cleaning toilets.  That doesn’t make me happy, but I do it because, well,some things you have to do, but you know what I’m talking about.

If it makes you happy to wear sweats and yoga pants every day, do it.  Who are you hurting?  If you like dressing up every day?  Do it.  Crafty?  Rock on.  Not crafty?  Buy it.  No one cares.  Love cooking?  Embrace it.  Hate cooking? No one every died from eating spaghetti three nights a week.  Feeling judged on Facebook?  Block them.  Overwhelmed by Pinterest?  Don’t visit.  You don’t need banners and perfect little flags for your child’s birthday cakes, but if you want them?  Do it.   There’s no need to be miserable, personally.  Be the Mother you are.  Your kids and partner will thank you for it.

 

 

As of writing this, I have just under 40 books to read in the next two months to try and meet my goal of 100 books in 2014.

I’m thinking I’m not going to make it.

But, I’m okay with that. Really. The average American only reads 17 books a year and I’m way ahead of that curve.  I read 14 books in the month of October.  So, which were my favorites?

ivan

The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate.  This book won the 2013 Newbery Medal and it’s obvious when you pick it up why that happened.  Ivan is a Gorilla who lives in his domain at the Exit 8 Big Top Mall and Video Arcade.  Ivan has three companions, a stuffed Gorilla that he calls Tug after his lost twin sister, a dog named Bob who sneaks into Ivan’s cage to snuggle and Stella the elephant who has her own very sad story.  Stella suffers from leg problems that carry over from her circus days when she was treated cruely.  Stella is forced to perform three shows a day and Ivan is on display.  The Exit 8 Big Top Mall and Video Arcade starts to go underwater and the owner buys a baby elephant, Ruby.  Stella is so happy to have a baby to care for, but her health fades and she dies (and her body is dumped into a dumpster with a forklift).  Ivan promises Stella that he’ll find a way to keep Ruby safe and Ivan, who is so very  smart and more than a little bit artistic hatches a plan to get he and Stella out of the Big Top Mall.

I found this book left me feeling very emotional.  Ivan and Stella both recounted the awful stories that led them being taken from their homes and put in captivity.  Ivan and Stella are so easy to relate to and it’s easy to see them in the behavior of other elephants and gorillas.  It’s easy to see Bob in other dogs.  It was just such a well written, lovely (although sad!) story.

Scholastic puts the reading level of this book at 3.3, and while that’s true from a language perspective, I’m not sure younger readers would do well with this book. The interest level is stated as being from 3-5 and I think that fifth grade would be a better age to read this book.  Stella dies.  Her family was murdered.  Ivan’s family was murdered.  Ruby is hit and hurt to try and get her to perform.  It would be tough for a sensitive kid and, admittedly, I cried more than once.

 

Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline

I ended up really conflicted about this book.  The story is about two women; Penobscot Indian Molly Ayer, who is getting ready to age out of the foster care system and who has had a REALLY crappy go of that whole experience and Vivian Daly, a now very wealthy woman who lives in a huge estate.  Vivian and Molly have a lot in common in that Vivian was an orphan as well and made her way west on an Orphan Train when she was just 9.

That’s Littlebit’s age and the fact that this was so common ripped the breath out of me more than once.

The book tells an entwining of Vivian’s life as she winds through three families and Molly’s as she does community service in Vivien’s house.  The problem with this story, really, is Molly.  I’m sorry to say that, but Molly is quite one dimensional and boring and the only reason I really can recommend this book so highly is the telling of Vivian’s story, which I think is really worth reading and thinking about.  Vivian is a wonderful character and her story was enough on its own.  Why am I recommending it?  Even with my annoyance at Molly, I think Vivian’s story was something that challenged me and I think those sorts of stories are always worth reading.

Wave by Sonali Deraniyagala

Sonali Deraniyagala’s husband, two sons, mother and father were killed in the Boxing Day Tsunami in 2004.  This story is Sonali’s journey through grief and it is brutal.  But beautiful, too, if that makes sense.

Sonali’s account of the tsunami is very brief, told with the chaos she must have felt at the time. Somehow, she manages to catch a hold of a tree and that is what saves her life.  The story takes about her decent into alcoholism, the harassment of the Dutch family who rented the home of her parents and her slowly trying to rebuild her life without those she loved the most.  I can’t say I enjoy reading books about grief and I certainly don’t read self help books about grief, but books like this one (and “The Year of Magical Thinking” by Joan Didion) speak to me in a way I find I need sometimes.

 

 

 

 

 

October kind of went out like a wet sneeze and a shudder.  We had great weather for Trick or Treat on the 30th.  It was cool and dry, just the right kind of weather for tromping up and down the streets for candy.

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However, the bounty of good weather ended Friday night as Big Daddy and I endured the last football game of the season.  It moved from drizzle to rain the entire time.  We made it to half time and got to see the Princess march for the last time this season.  She’s sad that it’s over, but I can’t say I’m too sorry about having our Friday nights back.

The frost has been heavy and while we should see one more warm day this week, the cold is settling in.  I don’t really mind, of course. I consider November and December to be in my wheelhouse.

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The Menu Plan

Monday
Easy Crock Pot Cream Cheese Chicken Chili

Tuesday Dinner with my Grandpa. <3

WednesdayCajun Chicken Alfredo

ThursdayCrockpot Chicken and Stuffing

Friday My cousin is coming in from out of town, so I’ll hold off on a decision until I hear from them when they’re going to be here.

Saturday Baked Sweet and Sour chicken

The days are getting cooler and Halloween is done.  Sometimes the season feels a little bit in limbo, to me.  The leaves are off the trees and Christmas is beckoning me, but it’s too early to give myself all the way over the Christmas, yet.  The autumn decor has been up for a month, at least.  But, this is the time of year when I start to wrap myself up in my home.  During the summer, I give over to minimalism that the hot weather seems to demand.  Extra decor is stripped from the house.  The banisters are bare.  The surfaces are clear, but as winter comes on adding in all the little extras seems to make the house feel warmer and more cozy.

This bread is definitely a warm and cozy bread.  Inspired by the Amish friendship bread that makes the rounds every now and then,  this bread is dense, cake-y, moist and delicious.  It’s a good fit for an after dinner treat or perfect warmed in the microwave for a hot breakfast.   It takes simple ingredients, most of which you probably have on hand, and churns out two loaves (one to eat warm and one to eat the next day).  Have plenty of your favorite butter or spread on hand, it’s best drenched with butter.

The original recipe is from Redfly Creations, but I made a few small modifications to better suit our tastes. Enjoy!

Amish Cinnamon Bread
Author: 
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
 
Ingredients
  • 1 c butter, room temperature
  • 2c white sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 4 c of flour
  • 2 c buttermilk
  • 2 tsp baking soda
  • .5c sugar
  • 3 tsp cinnamon
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees and grease two loaf pans well
  2. Cream together butter, 2 c of sugar and eggs
  3. Mix in flour, buttermilk and baking powder.
  4. IN a separate bowl, mix together .5c of sugar and cinnamon.
  5. Spoon ¼ of the batter into each loaf pan.
  6. Top batter with cinnamon sugar.
  7. Top cinnamon sugar with remaining batter (1/4 in each pan).
  8. Using a knife to swirl the cinnamon sugar through the dough.
  9. I set my timer for 45 minutes, initially, but ended up baking the bread for 55 minutes. Start checking your bread at around 40 minutes because bakeware and oven temperatures can vary your results.

 

We have been overrun with perfect autumn weather.  It’s probably due to global warming and I feel bad about loving it so much considering it could beause there’s a dire global environmental problem, but…well…the weather has been amazing.  We spent this weekend to be sure the girls were clear of the Hand, Foot and Mouth disease that we had dealt with over the last week.  It was a good thing to have to be at home.  We got to rest and relax.

And tie up some loose ends.

Of course, a lot of the fun supplemental Halloween activities took place last week when we were quarantined and I always feel bad when we miss out on that stuff because the kids love it so much.  I had these little boo bombs planned and knew that we had to give them a go to try and win back a little bit of our missed fun.

These little boo bombs are so easy to make and really inexpensive. We only needed to buy baby powder and made sure to save our eggs from breakfast a few mornings. The most difficult part of this task was cracking the eggs carefully to preserve the egg while making a big enough hole to let the egg out.

Growing a Jeweled Rose has a great tutorial, so I wont reinvent the wheel. The process is pretty easy; fill your empty egg shell with baby powder, blue some tissue paper over the top to seal the powder inside and then let the kids loose on the driveway.

The Princess threw them as hard a she could, Littlebit liked to run into her throw and Baby Bee went freestyle. The girls liked them so much they came in to make more bombs with the egg rejects.

You can also mix crushed chalk in with the baby powder to color your smoke and I think we’ll give that a try next summer.