Tuesday, December 17, 2013

How to Make a Felt Christmas Tree

You've probably all seen the different ideas on pinterest for felt activities for kids.  Last year I decided to make this Christmas tree in an effort to keep the twins (then 18 months) away from the real tree.  They loved it and still love it this year so I thought I'd pass this tip on.  All the pieces are detachable so you can move them around on the tree. They decorate it over and over every time they walk by.  Plus we haven't broken one real ornament this year since they have some other kid friendly decorations.  Other ideas I've seen are a dressable snowman or a Nativity scene.  If you have little kids/babies and 20 minutes of free time I would highly recommend making one of these! :)

 I don't really have a ton of instructions but maybe the picture can give you some ideas!  Here's what I did though:

What you need:
1/2 yard to 1 yd. green felt (depending on how big you want it)
other colors of felt  (I used red, yellow, blue and white)
cardboard backing (I used an old box...during Christmas we have plenty from Amazon)
ribbons, buttons, fabric scraps for decorating the ornaments
hot glue gun 

Instructions for tree:
I cut the cardboard into three strips that fit behind the Christmas tree.  I used three strips of cardboard instead of one so that the tree would hold its shape but could still be folded up for storage.   Cut the tree out of green felt and attach to cardboard with hot glue. 

Instructions for ornaments:
I made a yellow star, white garland and several round ornaments.  For the round ornaments I used a 3 in. round biscuit cutter and traced the circles on felt.  Then using a glue gun I attached buttons, ribbon and fabric for embellishments.  Just make sure not to add too many embellishments or your ornaments will be too heavy and not stay on the tree.  Also if your ornaments have a hard time staying on your felt board you can take a brush and scrub the felt so that it is slightly rough.  This will help it stick better for your kiddos.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Funeral Potatoes

It was recently brought to my attention that I had alluded to a funeral potato recipe on my blog a few times but never posted it! Such a tragedy! I'm sorry to have held out on you all for so long :) This recipe comes from my Mom's friend Vicki who is an excellent cook! She was one of my church leaders growing up and I can remember having activities at her house and getting to eat her yummy food.  I think my mom first got this recipe at an activity where they learned about Christmas traditions and we've used this for our Christmas night dinner ever since! We usually pair it with pork roast and chile plum sauce (also from Vicki) and you can check out the recipe for that by clicking here! I even have it pictured with funeral potatoes.  And the blog comes full circle...

Anyway, this is one of my butteriest, creamiest recipes I have...and it's also one of my most requested! It's delicious and also great to feed a crowd. This recipe has been used for fundraisers, girl's camp, and coming soon church Christmas parties.  In fact, they are called funeral potatoes because they are often served at funeral luncheons.  They take about 5 min. to throw together and they bake up in about 45 min.  Enjoy!

Funeral Potatoes
1 bag shredded hash browns
1/2 cup butter (melted)
1 can cream of chicken
1 can cream of celery
16 oz. sour cream
2 cups shredded cheddar
1/2 bunch green onion chopped

2 cups crushed cereal (I use corn Chex or Crispix)
2 T. butter melted

Combine all ingredients (other than topping ingredients).  Place potatoes mixture in a 9x13 pan.  Bake for 30 min. Stir slightly to allow the center to cook and spread evenly in pan again.  Combine crushed cereal with 2 T. melted butter and top potatoes.  Continue baking for 15 min. or until golden brown and bubbly.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Pumpkin Torte

I got this recipe several years ago from my friend Connie at church. It's like pumpkin pie cake! It uses a cake mix so it's super fast to make.  It also has a delicious streusel type topping that reminds me of the pumpkin muffins that Costco makes around this time of year.  Give it a try!

Pumpkin Torte
1 yellow cake mix (divided)
1/2 C Margarine melted
1 egg

1 Can Pumpkin pie mix (the kind with spices and sugar already in it)
2 eggs
2/3 C evap milk

1/4 C soft butter
1 C. Cake Mix
1 T cinnamon
1/4 C sugar
Combine crust ingredients and press into bottom of a 9x13 in. baking dish. Combine filling ingredients and pour over crust. Mix topping ingredients until crumbly, sprinkle over the top pumpkin mixture. Bake for 45 min at 375 degrees. Serve warm or cold (I prefer cold) with whipped topping.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Lazy Day Lasagna

So I have a great from scratch lasagna recipe that I will post at some point but this is my realistic lasagna recipe (a.k.a. the one I use on a regular basis).  It comes together quickly and tastes great. Other than the ricotta it's made with ingredients I usually have on hand.

Also, I think I've mentioned before that I usually try to have at least one meatless meal per week and this fits the bill nicely.  Very filling and the kids gobble it up.  So if you're having a busy day but don't want to get fast food somewhere give this one a try.

Lazy Day Lasagna
1 package no-cook lasagna noodles (I use Barilla)
2 eggs
1 (15 oz.) container ricotta cheese
1/2 cup parmesan cheese
4 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
2 jars spaghetti sauce (I use Ragu super vegetable primavera)

In a medium sized bowl combine eggs, ricotta, parmesan, and 1 cup of the shredded mozzarella. Spread 1 cup of sauce on bottom of a 9x13in. baking dish.

Layer 1:  4 no-cook lasagna noodles. 1/3 of ricotta mixture, 1 cup mozzarella, and 1 cup spaghetti sauce. 

Layer 2: 4 noodles, 1/3 of ricotta mixture, 1 cup spaghetti sauce

Layer 3: 4 noodles, 1/3 of ricotta mixture, 1 cup mozzarella and 1 cup spaghetti sauce.

Layer 4: Last 4 noodles topped with remaining spaghetti sauce and the last cup of mozzarella.

Cover casserole dish by tenting foil over the top.  Bake at 375 for 50-60 minutes. Remove foil and bake an additional 5-10 minutes to slightly toast cheese on top. Let rest for 10 minutes and serve!

Friday, November 8, 2013

Microwave white chocolate popcorn

So my sister made this recipe for New Year's Eve about 3 years ago and while I've thought about it with fondness I hadn't ever tried to make it.  So about a week ago when I was having a girls night and needed something sweet I decided to email her for the recipe.  You'll be so surprised at how easy it is! It's so yummy...give it a try!

Microwave White Chocolate Popcorn
1 bag microwaveable popcorn (butter flavor)
1 1/2 cups white chocolate chip- melted (I used Ghiradelli's)
1 cup mini M&M's

Pop popcorn according to package directions.  Melt white chocolate chips according to package directions*. Pour hot popcorn into a large mixing bowl and remove any unpopped kernels. Add melted white chocolate chips.  Stir, making sure to coat all popcorn evenly.  Allow to cool about 1-2 minutes and add mini M&M's.  That's it! Easy!

*If your white chocolate doesn't come with melting direction here's how I do it.  Place chips in a microwave safe bowl and melt at 50% power for 1 min.  Stir and microwave again at 50% power in 20 second increments until completely melted. Make sure to stir frequently to prevent burning around the edges.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Stuffed Mushrooms

So I love stuffed mushrooms in all varieties.  Here's a quick recipe I've been using for a few years.  We use it mostly as an appetizer but they would also be an awesome side dish. Cream cheese, garlic, mushroom deliciousness!

Stuffed Mushrooms
25 medium sized mushrooms
1 T. olive oil
2 cloves garlic (minced)
1 (8 oz) block cream cheese
1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
1/2 tsp. onion powder
1/4 tsp cayenne powder
3 T. butter
1/2 cup italian style bread crumbs

Wash and dry mushrooms and remove stems (but don't throw them away).  Mince stems and cook in olive oil over medium heat until softened (about 4 minutes).  Add garlic and continue cooking for 1-2 minutes or until garlic is fragrant.  Mix garlic mixture with cream cheese, parmesan, onion and cayenne powders.

 Stuff each mushroom cap with appx. 1 tsp of the mixture each, depending on the size of the mushrooms.  

Melt butter in the microwave and add bread crumbs.  Stir to make a coarse crumb mixture.  Dip each stuffed mushroom in crumb mixture to top.  Arrange mushrooms on a large cookie sheet and bake for 20 minutes at 350 degrees until filling is hot and water begins to form under caps. Enjoy!

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Chicken and Wild Rice Soup

So my family is pretty much obsessed with this recipe.  I've made it like a million times so I've decided to add it to my blog to spread the joy!  I found it on my friend Jenny's blog, What's on your Menu, but it's originally from Mel's Kitchen Cafe.  Click on their website names and check them out. This was the first recipe I'd tried from Mel's but I recently tried her french bread too and it was equally good!

I've tweaked this recipe every time I made it so the recipe below is the recipe I follow now. I changed it up a little by adding some extra veggies and using already cooked chicken.  I also switched some of the directions around to keep the corn tender and such. Finally, I couldn't find just plain wild rice at the store so I just make this with Rice-a-roni Nature's way.  Since that has it's own seasoning packet I leave out some of the seasoning she included in her soup.

This soup is loaded with veggies and is super filling.  I usually serve it by itself and call it a day!  It's also my go to soup now for people who need a little cheering up :) It's awesome the next day too.  Just use a little milk to thin it back down.  Give it a try!

Chicken and Wild Rice Soup
2 cups prepared wild rice
1/2 cup butter
1 sweet onion, chopped
3/4 cup celery, chopped
1 cup sliced carrots
1 1/2 cups sliced mushrooms (I usually just throw the whole container in)
3/4 cup flour
6 cups chicken broth
1 tsp. curry powder
1 tsp. dried mustard powder
1 (14.5 oz) can corn
3 cups cooked chicken (1 whole rotisserie chicken)
2 cups fat free half and half

Prepare wild rice according to package directions.  While rice is cooking, cut all your veggies.  In a large stock pot, melt butter and saute onion, celery, and carrots until slightly tender (about 8 min.).  Add mushrooms and continue to saute for another 2-3 minutes or until mushrooms are softened.

Add flour and mix until veggies are covered.  Whisk in chicken broth, making sure to smooth out any flour lumps.  Bring to a boil, reduce heat to medium low and allow to simmer for about 5 minutes, until thickened.

Add rice, curry, mustard powder, corn and chicken. Heat soup through and add half and half.  Serve immediately or allow to simmer for 1 hour.  I usually make this in the morning and then put it in my crock-pot for the rest of the day.  It's great no matter what you decide to do.  Enjoy!

Monday, October 28, 2013

Bruschetta Chicken Pasta

My kids love spaghetti but sometimes I get tired of the same old recipe everytime.  So I thought back to my previous life of living in a big town and eating at restaurants and remembered how I loved bruschetta pasta at T.G.I.fridays.  So I decided to make up my own recipe for it.  I combined my bruschetta recipe with some tomato sauce, pasta, and chicken and a new recipe was born.  My kids even loved it!

A few notes about the recipe: I had originally pictured it with angel hair pasta but I accidentally grabbed the wrong box.  So the pasta pictured is spaghetti noodles but I changed it in the actual recipe below.  I also would prefer sliced garlic in this recipe instead of minced, but in an effort to get my kids to eat it I minced it up.  If you can get away with sliced garlic...do it! If you want to add a little "fancy" to this recipe you can drizzle it with a balsamic glaze.  You can check out my recipe for balsamic drizzle here. Finally, the bruschetta can be made a day ahead  and refrigerated to save time when putting this recipe together. Give it a try!

Bruschetta Chicken Pasta
3-4 boneless chicken breasts (grilled and sliced)
6-8 roma tomatoes -chopped (the firmer the better)
1/3 cup fresh basil -chopped
2 cloves garlic (sliced or minced)
2 T. balsamic vinegar
1 T. olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
1 (8 oz) can tomato sauce
1 lb. angel hair pasta (cooked and drained)
shredded parmesan cheese 
balsamic drizzle (optional)

Begin grilling chicken (and keep warm). 

Meanwhile, chop tomato and basil.  Mix tomato and basil with garlic, balsamic vinegar, olive oil, salt and pepper.  Cover and allow to sit for at least 10 minutes to let flavors mix. 

Begin cooking pasta according to package directions.

In a medium skillet, combine bruschetta with tomato sauce.  Heat and simmer over medium heat for about 5 minutes. (Don't overcook the tomatoes).  Drain pasta and toss with sauce.  Top with grilled chicken, shredded parmesan, and balsamic drizzle if desired.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Fall Favorites: Halloween Fun

Sorry I haven't done a new post in a few weeks.  We are still working on switching my pictures over to my new laptop so that I can post easier!  But I've been cooking up some great new recipes so look for those soon.  Bruschetta Pasta, philly cheese steaks, and pumpkin bread...just to name a few!

In the meantime here are some link to some of the recipes I like to use around Halloween.  Most of them are super easy and my kids love them every year.  As they've grown older they also get excited to help make them all too. Have fun!

Monster Taco Salad
Lil' Smokie Mummies
Ghost Pie
Halloween cupcakes kids can decorate
Chocolate Caramel Apples

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Fall Favorites: Pumpkin Cream Cheese Muffins

Can't remember where I got this recipe but its always a favorite. They mix up quick and are easy to bake. You just put a dollop of the cream cheese mixture in each of the muffin cups and then the pumpkin muffin bakes up around it.  So it looks fancy without a lot of extra work! And I'm all about being fake fancy!

These were not overly sweet so feel free to add 1/4 cup sugar or 2 T. brown sugar to the mix if you want it to be more like a dessert. You could also try a streusel topping like at Starbucks! The possibilities are endless!

Pumpkin Cream Cheese Muffins
1 cup all purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
2 tsp. baking soda
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
2 tsp. pumpkin pie spice, or to taste
1 T.  ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp. salt
1 cup pumpkin puree
1/2 cup white sugar
1/4 cup canola oil
3/4 cup buttermilk
1 egg + 1 egg white
3/4 tsp. vanilla
1/2 cup whipped cream cheese (I just used regular and whipped it myself)
1 TB confectioners sugar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and spray muffin tins with nonstick spray. In a small bowl, mix 1/2 cup whipped cream cheese with 1 TB confectioners sugar. If you are using regular cream cheese...whip it by itself first and then add confectioners sugar. Set aside.

In a large bowl combine the flours, baking soda, baking powder, spices and salt and make a well in the middle. In another bowl whisk together the pumpkin puree, sugar, oil, buttermilk, egg, egg white, and vanilla. Pour the wet ingredient into the dry ingredients, being careful not to over mix.

Fill muffin cups 3/4 of the way full with batter mixture. Place a dollop of the cream cheese mixture in the center of each muffin. (I thought that I could just set the dollop on top and it would bake down in...but it worked better if I pushed the cream cheese down in the batter a little bit before I baked it)
Bake 25-30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into muffins comes out clean. Let cool for 10 minutes.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Fall Favorites: Pumpkin Donuts with Maple Glaze

This original post was from just a few months after the babies were born.  It was a crazy time of life and I think that's reflected in what I wrote! So as a special bonus I'm going to let you read the original intro in addition to the recipe. Here you go:

Sometimes since the twins were born, it seems like I have a daily fight with myself about whether or not I should have a donut. The fact that I rarely get a shower usually prevents me from going and getting one. So, today as I sat here feeding two babies and craving a donut, I got this idea that I could make myself a donut! Then I thought why in the world would someone with such horrible self control learn to make donuts. This can't possibly end well. But then I remembered I owed it to my blog readers to come up with new delicious recipes. And if I have to sacrifice and eat a donut or two then that is what I'll have to do. So you're welcome. All 5 of you!

I found this recipe on foodnetwork.com. It's from the Neely's who are a husband and wife cooking team that have their own television show. I saw them on another talk show once and they were hilarious.

These actually proved to be quite delicious. Fried dough tends to do that. They aren't, however, your typical light and fluffy donuts. They are pretty dense, much like an old fashioned glazed would be. For all of this small town's faults...we actually have a pretty delicious donut shop down the road from us. My family's favorites are the old fashioned applesauce donuts. These are very similar to that. In fact, if you substituted applesauce for the pumpkin puree and ditched the maple extract in the glaze...I'm pretty sure you'd end up with an awesome applesauce donut.

These were really easy to make but a little time consuming to fry them all up and dip them all in the glaze. Probably a weekend recipe in my opinion. Enjoy!

Pumpkin Donuts with Maple Glaze

Vegetable oil, for frying
3 3/4 cup flour
1 1/4 cup sugar
1 T. baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp. ground allspice
1 tsp. salt
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 egg yolk
1/3 cup buttermilk
3/4 cup canned pumpkin puree
3 T. melted butter
1/2 tsp. almond extract (I used vanilla)
1 recipe Maple Glaze (below)

Maple Glaze:
3 cups confectioner's sugar
1/4 tsp. maple extract
1/2 cup milk

Preheat oil in a large Dutch oven to 375 degrees. Whisk dry ingredients in a large bowl. In another large bowl, whisk eggs, yolk, buttermilk, pumpkin, melted butter and almond extract until smooth. Add the wet ingredients to the dry and mix thoroughly with a wooden spoon. The dough will be sticky.

Dust countertop and fingers with flour. Using your hands pat out dough to 1/2 in. thickness. Using a 3 in. cutter, cut out donuts. Use a 3/4 in. cutter for the donut holes. Gather scraps and re-roll. Continue cutting out donuts until all dough is used.

Fry donuts, in hot oil, until golden brown and crisp, about 1 min. per side. (as you repeat the process it seems to take less and less time to cook them through) Drain on wire rack over cookie sheet to cool. Once cool dip tops in maple glaze. Makes about 24 donuts.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Fall Favorites: Bow Tie Beef and Squash Skillet

I couldn't decide which recipe to do for Friday favorites this week so I'm doing two! One today and one tomorrow.  Enjoy!

I've said it before and I'll say it again! I hate recipes that require me to use half the dishes in my kitchen. This is a great pasta dish because it all cooks in the same pan.

I love squash and this recipe is loaded with it. They cook up nice and tender and my kids love the squash as much as the noodles! This is another Taste of Home find but I've changed around some of the quantities and directions a bit. I really like that you don't add any garlic or strong spices so you can really taste the fresh veggies. It's a great pasta for summer or winter!

It makes a good sized pot of pasta and since it's got veggies, meat and pasta all in the same recipe I often serve it by itself. Quick and easy.

Bow Tie Beef and Squash Skillet
1 lb. ground beef
1/2 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. pepper
3 cups uncooked farfalle pasta (bow-tie)
1 can (14-1/2 oz) diced tomatoes (drained)
1 can (14-1/2 oz) beef broth (apx. 2 cups)
1 can (8 oz) tomato sauce
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
2-3 medium yellow summer squash, thinly sliced
1 whole green bell pepper, chopped (apx. 1 cup)
1 cup shredded Parmesan cheese (divided)

In a large skillet, cook beef with salt and pepper until done. Drain. Stir in pasta, tomatoes, beef broth, tomato sauce, and Worcestershire sauce. Bring to a boil and reduce heat. Simmer, covered, for 10-12 minutes.

Add squash and green pepper. Recover and cook 4-5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Be careful not to overcook the squash or it will get soggy. Just cook until pasta and veggies are tender. Add 1/2 cup cheese and cook an additional 2 minutes or until cheese is melted. Serve and top with remaining cheese.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Parenting, Bullying, Sex and You

I've been thinking about this post for a while now.  I've gone back and forth about if I should write it or not. What I would say, how I would say it? I have been feeling weighed down by social media lately. That there is no portrayal of the good.  That there is too much emphasis on the bad. People posting horrible news reports, statistics, pictures of strangers who cut them off in traffic, etc. I don't want to start an argument. I don't want to sound naive or like Pollyanna. But I feel like being true to myself would require me to say something.  So here we go...

I know that there is a lot of garbage in the world.  I know that there are a lot of people seeking to harm others.  I know about bullies, pedophiles, kidnappers, pornography, etc., etc., etc. I know that I have to teach my kids to be smart and safe and to stand up for themselves. But I also know that there is a lot of good in the world. I know there are people who help others, who teach others.  People who have suffered abuse and have overcome and healed.  I know that if I want my children to be happy in this life I have to teach them about good, not just how to avoid the bad.

The media-driven world we live in has a tendency to paint the world as a horrible, dark and tough place, void of love or compassion. But, whether you believe in God or not, most people believe in some source of good or light. Hopefully all of us have felt a sense of peace from within (even if it was fleeting), have been helped by someone else, or have had moments of contentment between storms. I know that I can think of hundreds of stories of people helping me unload my shopping cart, or picking up something I dropped, or sending me an anonymous gift card in the mail, or cleaning my house, or making me dinner.  And I know other people have those experiences too but they maybe aren't as entertaining to put on Facebook as "let me tell you about the jerk I met in Target today...". And because today's population spends so time on Facebook it might start to feel like we've experienced more bad than good...simply because we've read about more bad than good.

As more and more articles make their way through my Facebook feed about protecting our children from pedophiles, immodesty, bullies, and pornography, I'm starting to feel like there are too many things to combat, that the world is too far gone, and that my children are never going to be able to turn out happy. I know it's not true based on my experience of good, but based upon the articles I read online I can see how someone might reach the conclusion that the world's headed down the crapper. So the question then has to be asked: how much time are we spending "experiencing" life, and how much of our time are we spending on social media? Are we giving equal value and time to our real life relationships as we are to what we read on Facebook, the news, etc.?

Now those who know me know that I read a lot of articles.  I love to read. I love to discuss. Parenting tips, self help, child birth, economy, health care, you name it.  I have an opinion and I'm willing to talk your ear off about it!  But here's the thing: experience trumps what I've read every time.  Sometimes my experience shows me that what I've read is correct, solidifying my position. But sometimes my experience will vary from what I've read (childbirth). At that point my experience (epidurals are awesome) trumps what I've read (if you have an epidural your baby will never find love and may become a serial killer).  So even though everyone else might be telling you this is the only way to raise your kid, or this is the article that will protect your family, or here's the “answer to life, the universe, and everything” you don't have to accept it as truth.  Because you might have to figure it out for yourself: what worked for them might not work for you, or they might just be a whackadoo. You never can tell. We've got to start learning from our experiences and the experiences of people we trust and stop putting all of our faith in things we read on the internet, even if they are written by people with Ph.D.’s.  My sister has a Ph.D. and she's awesome but sometimes she's just wrong...and I as the older sister must point that out from time to time ;) You're welcome! Anyway, to all of us, keep studying and learning but don't forget to talk with others, learn from them, and learn from our own experiences.

I understand the feeling of wanting to know everything that is out there to harm our children. I don't want my kids to be bullied, or abused, or see graphic images. I also don't want them to always walk around waiting to be attacked.  I think it's a balance.  Are we spending as much time telling our children about the joys of life as we are telling them about the dangers? I worry that in an attempt to better prepare our children for the cold, hard world we are actually turning them into cold and hard souls. That we are so worried about seeing the world through rose-colored glasses that we're actually making it impossible for our kids to see any joy at all. A great quote from L.R. Knost says: “It's not our job to toughen our children up to face a cruel and heartless world. It's our job to raise children who will make the world a little less cruel and heartless.” And so with that in mind...here are some problems with modern parenting that I've been pondering lately.

When I was a teacher my school had just started their anti-bully campaign.  It was interesting to me that the more the counselor came in to talk about bullies...the more my students seem to think they were being bullied.  Numberless fingers were pointed at one another, "you bully" became the new putdown, and every disagreement was a sign that bullies were taking over the school. So for the 5th graders, the take home message for them was: "Bullies are everywhere.  Anyone who disagrees with you is a bully. You will be bullied".  The other thing was that the leaders never addressed not being a bully yourself.  So my students would all get into arguments and assume that they were the one standing up to a bully.  It never occurred to them that they might be the bully in the argument! Same with the parents.  They'd all get together to talk about the anti-bully campaign but they would talk about the "bully" like there was some oversized orphan who hiked in from the train station just to bully their kids instead of stopping to realize that if there was a bully problem in our class then it meant one of their kids was being a bully. And they also weren't stopping to consider the fact that it wasn't just black and white.  They were thinking that you either are all the way a bully or all the way innocent. Very rarely, in my experience, was there just one giant thug who was a bully all of the time.  It was more a case of everyone taking a turn being a bully about different things.

So I'm not saying that we shouldn't teach our kids about bullying but I am saying that the method we are using doesn't work. Instead of trying to teach them all the horrible things a bully might do, why don’t we teach them what bully would not do. Teach them what a good citizen looks like so that they can see people for what they really are and know what they should be striving for. So that they can think “Is Johnny really a bully, or is he just having a bad day?"  When we only teach them what a bully acts like they tend to think everyone is a bully. Then they grow up to think that everyone is out to get them. I know people like that and their happiness is limited and their progression is stopped because they feel held down by others. They give away their power to others who they believe are doing them harm.  I don't want that for my children.  I want them to look for the good in people too.  So that when they do come across a bully they know how to handle the situation, they know that their reaction is more important than the other person’s action, and that no matter what other people may do to them…they are loved by someone! I want them to know that there are more people willing to build them up than rip them down.

I was also constantly amazed at what my students already knew about and were talking about.  Garbage video games where they were blowing people away.  Pornography they had found on their parents computer.  It was truly scary. I know that we have to talk to our children about these things so that they can hear it from us first and not from their peers.  But there is a lot of specifics about pornography that I don't even know about, let alone want my kids to know about.  And this might sound naive, but I really don't think that just because some kids in the class know all the specific terminology for this garbage that we need to teach all the kids that terminology.  I’ve lived a pretty healthy and happy life not knowing it and I think my kids can too. I know that there are a lot of websites and images out there dedicated to dehumanizing men and women.  There is a lot of cruelty out there. But instead of trying to protect our kids by telling them all the specific horrible ways that sex can be manipulated and ruined, isn't it more effective to teach them about what healthy sex and relationships are like? Then when/if someone wants them to do or watch something that isn't healthy they will know it is wrong.

It just doesn't make sense to me that we would introduce our kids to filthy words and ideas just so that we don't have to worry about other people introducing those words and ideas to our kids. Since we don’t know which one they might be introduced to we are going to fill their head with all of the hundreds of things it might be. So once again, I'm not saying we shouldn't warn them about the evils that are out there, I just think we need to spend equal time talking about the good side of things too.  So that they feel empowered to make correct decisions for themselves and they don't walk away from the conversation thinking sex is a horrible, dirty thing, because it isn't.  Also by talking openly and often about things, and speaking without fear, we can keep lines of communication open between our children and ourselves.  So that when one of their peers teaches them some disgusting word we never thought of they will be comfortable enough to come and ask us what it means instead of being scared that we are going to launch into a whole giant speech about other filthy words that they might also hear. Don't go to dark places in an effort to keep your kids away from them.  Stand clearly in the light and let your children follow you there.

The final parenting issue I want to talk about is trust.  I have read so many parenting articles about teaching our kids not to trust anyone.  It's a concept that I have a hard time with.  Obviously we hear heartbreaking stories of children being abused by the people they should have been able to trust the most.  I know that you can't always tell who might abuse or harm your child.  But the current solution to that problem seems to be, don't trust anyone around your child! Suspect your parents, your husband, you siblings, etc.  It just seems like such a hard way to live your life. I agree we have to be careful who we can trust but at some point, in order to live a healthy life, you are going to have to connect with people enough to trust them. I know this can be hard when we've had our trust broken before, but there are people who are worthy of trust. Let your experience and intuition guide you.  Don't withhold your trust from a deserving relationship just because you read an article online telling you about someone else who should not have been trusted. And furthermore, since we can't predict what a liar looks like, wouldn't it be more effective to teach our kids what a trustworthy person acts like?  Someone who deserves our trust helps us feel calm, won’t hurt us, doesn't ask us to keep secrets, etc.  Then when they come across someone who isn't meeting those criteria they will know to tell us about it. More heartbreaking than the abuse stories are the stories of victims who didn’t think they could tell anyone. Who stayed in their abusive situation because they thought others would judge them, no one could help. Because in a lot of those cases, people would have helped them! Had they been told, had they been trusted.  If the only message they are hearing is don't trust anyone, how will they know they can trust us to help?

I obviously don't want my children to be taken advantage of, but I also don't want them to walk through life thinking they are going to be attacked at every turn.  I just think it's a balance.  For as much as we are warning our kids about "tricky" people who want to hurt them, are we teaching our kids about the trustworthy people who can help them?  There is danger in living in extremes.  We can cripple ourselves just as much by not trusting anyone as we can by being too trusting.  While not trusting anyone might keep our children safe from harm, it may also hold them back from growing, loving, and being built up.

It terrifies me that no matter how much I study, prepare, and pray I can't keep my children 100% safe 100% of the time.  I certainly can’t keep them from feeling heartbreak or knowing sadness.  I know that for every way I can think of to protect my kids there is probably someone out there who could think of 10 ways to hurt them.  I understand these realities but yet I still have hope for my children.  I believe that there are people out there who will love them, defend them, and respect them.  I want them to know that I see good in the world, so that they can see good in the world.  I'd feel horrible that if through my attempts to educate them about the evils of the world I had planted the seeds of anger and fear in their hearts.  I know there are cold hard truths that I'm going to have to explain to my kids.  I know that there are cold hard truths they will learn about through their own experiences too.  It's part of being in this world.  But I also know I've had a lot of joy in my life and that they will too.  I've had family and friends who I could trust.  They've helped me get through situations where I've been mistreated by others whom I could not trust.  They've also been there when I've hurt others through my ignorance or miscommunications.  I've been loved. I've been forgiven.  I’ve been able to forgive.  I'm still learning.  I'm excited for my kids to be able to do all of those things too.

So I'm trying to be more balanced in my parenting.  I want my children to know good from evil.  So that means I have to teach them about both! I want my daughters to know that even though there are people who might abuse them, there are also people who will love them.  Even though there are murderers, liars, deviants, perverts, and bullies there are also heroes, helpers, teachers, counselors and lovers.  For every boy who might degrade women, there is also a boy who is willing to cherish them. Even though our world may be filled with distorted pornographic images of sex, I still believe it is also filled with loving couples with healthy relationships that can withstand the storms of life.  More than what we say, our children will emulate what we do. They will see the world how we see the world. Not how we tell them to see the world. Are we looking for the good? Or are we seeking for the garbage?! Are we teaching them to seek out the virtuous, the lovely, the things of good report, the praiseworthy?

More than just turning my kids away from wrong, I want to turn them toward right.  So they can be with the right people in the right places with the right timing. So that even when I'm not there to protect them they can protect themselves.  They can make better decisions because they understand WHY they are making those decisions. Not because they are scared of the worst, but because they are hopeful for the best.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Fall Favorites: Apple Nachos

Today's Friday favorite is Apple Nachos! Super fun and super fast.  My kids love to make these for dessert or for an after school treat. Don't let the name deceive you. The word apple might make you think "healthy" but these might as well be called candy nachos! However, that being said...who wouldn't love candy nachos!

Usually my older girls and I dip apples. They are super yummy but the recipe is a bit time sensitive (you have to keep it all hot and creamy and orderly...etc) If you have time and want to try dipped apples check out my caramel chocolate apples recipe.

Not only did the girls love eating them but they were also much easier for the girls to help with. I included ways to have your kids help in the directions. I also thought it was going to be less messy than dipped apples. And while it was a lot easier for them to eat, everything is messy when you are 2...so have your wet paper napkins ready! Yum!

Apple Nachos
4 gala apples (cored and slice 1/4 in. thick)
20 caramels (unwrapped)
2 tsp. hot water
2 cups mini marshmallows
2 T. butter
Assorted toppings (for example- chopped nuts, chopped up chocolate, mini M&M's, toasted coconut, Halloween sprinkles etc.)

While you are slicing the apples have your kids unwrap the caramels and place them in a microwave safe bowl. Microwave the caramels with the hot water until melted (about 1 minute 30 seconds). Meanwhile melt the marshmallows and butter in a small saucepan until smooth. While you are busy melting everything have your kids arrange the apple slices on a large baking sheet. Drizzle the apples with melted caramels and marshmallows. Have your kids top the apples with chopped nuts, chocolate, coconut and/or sprinkles. Serve immediately!

Thursday, September 26, 2013

How to Make a Weekly Menu Sign

So this last weekend I got to go help my friend Jenny at a Community Preparedness fair.  Jenny was running a booth on menu planning and cooking from scratch.  You can check out her blog at whatisonyourmenu.blogspot.com.

As part of the setup for the booth she asked me to bring a menu sign and I realized that I hadn't ever posted about my menu planner.  I made one for myself and have given several as presents as well.  Basically you can turn a cheap picture frame into dry erase board and because the background is just scrapbook paper you can change it to match any location or season.  My kids love to be able to see what is coming up for dinner and having it out in my kitchen reminds me to make my menu and stick to it!

It was super easy to make and I thought I'd pass on the idea to all of you! To make the same sign as the picture you will need:

12x12 picture frame
12x12 scrapbook paper of your choice
vinyl letters saying Menu and days of the week
dry erase marker

If you have a silhouette cutter, I'm working on being able to upload my template so that others can use it.  I played around with it for a while before deciding on the font sizes and styles. For the heading I used Rockwell Condensed and for the days of the week I use Kristen ITC. Play around and see what you like!

If you don't have a vinyl cutter other options would be to print the days of the week directly on the scrapbook paper or leave it blank and write in the days along with your menu every week. Using kitchen themed paper will still give it a menu feel and remind you to fill it in! I bought a whole pack of it for 5 dollars at hobby lobby.  It was on clearance and I've seen it in that section many times.  I'm not really sure what else you would use kitchen themed scrapbook paper for but it makes for some super cute menu boards so check the clearance section of your favorite craft store and stock up :)

Have fun! Go ahead and give it a try!

Friday, September 20, 2013

Fall Favorites: Healthy Apple Bran Muffins

It's hard to believe that I started this blog 3 years ago. Sometimes I can't even remember which recipes I have and haven't posted! I've been noticing this a lot lately as I've started to make some of my favorite back to school/cold weather treats. So on fridays I thought it would be fun to re-post some of my favorite recipes. Here's one we made earlier in the week! Enjoy!

I combined a few of my favorite muffin recipes to create one super recipe!  These muffins are sweetened by honey and applesauce so you don't have to add the cup of sugar that usually comes along with the word muffin.  They are also loaded with fresh chopped apples.  My kids gobble them up every time I make them.  If you want to make them a little sweeter you could use sweetened applesauce or add 2 T. of sugar.

Low-Fat Apple Bran Muffins (Yield: 1 dozen)
Non-stick cooking spray*
1 1/4 cups bran flakes
1/2 cup skim milk
1 cup flour (whole wheat flour works well too, I usually do half whole wheat)
2 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt
1 egg, beaten
3/4 cup unsweetened applesauce
1/4 cup honey
1 cup finely chopped apples

In a medium bowl combine milk and bran flakes.  Set aside and let soften into mush.  In a large bowl, combine dry products and make a well in the middle.  Set aside.  To bran mixture add egg, applesauce and honey.  Add bran mixture to dry products.  Stir just until moistened.  Fold in apples.  Bake at 400 degrees for 16-18 minutes.

*Note: Do not use pan liners as these muffins are really moist and will stick to the paper.  Instead use a non-stick baking spray with flour in it and spray down your muffin pan really well. 

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Peanut Butter Sandwich Kabobs

I've mentioned before how my girls love fancy food! (aka food with toothpicks or skewers).  So when I made this for lunch the other day they just about died of happiness! Plus they ate their lunch all gone.  They were super simple and fun to make.

Kids could definitely make their own.  I also thought it would be a fun idea to have a bunch of different possible ingredients and let kids choose what they wanted. Like a kabob bar! It would be a fun activity or snack at a birthday party too!

Peanut Butter Sandwich Kabobs
2 bananas (sliced)
1/2 cup blueberries
1 cup strawberries
2 prepared peanut butter and honey sandwiches (cut into 1 inch squares)
6-8 skewers

Prepare peanut butter and honey sandwiches and cut into 1 inch squares.  Alternate between sandwiches, bananas and berries to make kabobs.  Enjoy!

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Cornbread Casserole

 I got this recipe from my roommate Erica in college.   It's so yummy and the perfect side to chili, soups, etc.  In college we used to make this as the main course and eat it with a salad and call it a meal! I still do that from time to time :) It's also super kid friendly.

It's a lot like a spoon bread in that it is super moist and you will need a spoon or fork to eat it. Sometimes I just cut myself a piece and put it directly in the bowl with my soup. Give it a try!

Cornbread Casserole
1 box Jiffy Corn muffin mix
1 (14.5oz) can corn (drained)
1 (14.5oz) can creamed corn
1/3 cup milk (or buttermilk!)
1 egg
2 T. sour cream (or greek yogurt)
1/4 cup grated cheddar cheese

optional add-ins:
1/4 cup chopped green chilies
cooked and crumbled bacon

Mix all ingredients (except cheddar cheese) in a medium sized bowl.  Spoon batter into 8x8 baking dish.  Bake @ 350 for 45 min.  Top with cheddar cheese and continue baking for 5 more minutes or until cheese is melted and slightly toasty.  Enjoy!


Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Spinach Parmesan Orzo

Pinterest has introduced me to so many new awesome food blogs! It's great!  This week I stumbled upon Life as a Strawberry.  A lot of her recipes are more gourmet than my family is used to (goat cheese, fresh clams, etc) but many are also simple to put together and would still be appealing to a family. I want to try her 15 min. pizza dough, New England Clam Chowder and her root beer pulled pork sandwiches! Yum!

Anyway, I came across her blog because of her recipe for Parmesan Spinach Orzo.  It looked so good in the picture and definitely tasted as good as it looked.  You can check out her original recipe by clicking here or follow my adjustments below. I bulked up the sauce, switched out the green onion and added extra spinach and garlic.

This recipe was super fast to throw together.  I served it with grilled chicken and Parmesan crusted veggies. (see my veggie recipe here) So start to finish the whole meal came together with about 15 min. prep! Perfect! This recipe was a side and was the perfect amount for the 9 of us (5 adults and 4 kids).  With just a little leftover for lunch the next day.  Everyone loved it and the kids (and Alex) didn't even complain about the spinach ;) Also, just an FYI the leftovers were awesome the next day. Give it a try!

Spinach Parmesan Orzo
2 1/2 cups whole grain orzo
3 T. olive oil
1 tsp. onion powder
4 cloves garlic (crushed or minced)
3 T. flour
2 1/2 cups milk (skim worked great!)
2 cups fresh spinach (chopped)
1 cup shredded parmesan cheese (plus enough for garnish)
salt and pepper to taste

Cook orzo according to package directions.  Meanwhile, combine olive oil, onion powder, and garlic in a large sauce pan.  (Large as in wide, not tall. Make sure the sauce pan is large enough that the sauce can spread out...this will help with thickening later). Cook until garlic is fragrant and golden brown.  Add flour and form a roux. Add milk slowly, stirring constantly, making sure to break up all lumps.  Once smooth, reduce heat and continue stirring until sauce is thickened (about 5 min.) Add chopped spinach and allow to wilt in sauce (about 1 minute). Once sauce is desired consistency add parmesan and salt and pepper.  Drain pasta and add to the sauce. Stir to coat.  Top with extra parmesan and serve immediately.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Product Review: Polar Fitness Watch

I haven't done a product review in a while and thought I'd share some info about one of my new favorite toys! Alex got me a Polar Fitness Watch about a month ago for hitting my half way point in my weight loss goals.  I was pretty excited! I had been wanting a heart rate monitor for a while and this does that and a ton more.

So the system comes with the watch and a chest strap.  The chest strap is what keeps track of your heart rate while the watch stores and displays the information.  This watch keeps track of your heart rate, duration of your workout, calories burned, and is an actual watch. 

This watch is super easy to use! There are five buttons that help you navigate through the different pages, start and stop your workout, change your personal information, etc.  It also has a light up feature and is waterproof.

When you are first setting up your watch, a setup wizard will help you enter information about yourself such as age, weight, height, etc.  Based on these facts the watch can calculate your optimal heart rate zone and can use your heart rate to figure out how many calories you are burning during a workout.  By keeping your heart rate within the zone you can also make your workouts more effective!  

It also lets you start, pause and stop your workouts at anytime.  This is a great feature for me since I have 4 kids and often get pulled out of spin class to change a diaper and such. With that feature I can pause my workout, change the diaper, and then continue on when I get back. At the end of the workout it will display a workout summary for you that includes duration of workout and calories burned.  You can also access more information about your workout including how many minutes you spent in your optimal heart rate zone.  Another great feature if your workouts are often interrupted. You can also store your last 10 workouts which will help you track your progress and make improvements!

I was worried that the strap would be annoying but it really stays put and I often forget I have it on.  It's a very soft fabric and adjusts as big or as small as you may need. So far I've used this walking, running, weight lifting, in spin class, and doing insanity/various other workout videos. I've noticed a huge difference in my workouts by constantly monitoring my heart rate.  By staying in the middle of my zone I've been able to pace myself much better in spin which has resulted in a higher calorie loss! It's also helped me pace myself when running so that I've been able to build endurance.  When I started with this watch I could only run in 5 min. increments and now I've built up to running 2 mile increments.  I know that's not all because of the watch but it definitely helped!

So if you are looking for a great fitness watch I would definitely recommend the Polar Fitness Watch! Right now it's $61 on Amazon but often fluctuates in price so keep an eye out for some great deals!  

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Phineas and Ferb Party How to

 So, a few months ago I announced I was going to start blogging about party ideas and then I've only done one.  Oops! So here we go! We did this for my daughter's birthday --which was last December...my how time flies when I'm neglecting my blog! She started out wanting a Hello Kitty theme but decided to change to a more gender neutral party theme so she could invite the fellas. Anyway, our family loves Phineas and Ferb and so she decided to give that a try! It was a lot of fun and pretty quick to pull together so I thought I'd pass on a few ideas! Enjoy!

The Food
First things first...the cake! Since we usually have a friend party and a family party I try and have quite a bit of cake to go around.  For the actual baking of the cakes I just use a plain old box mix.  (I prefer Duncan Hines with an instant choc. pudding mix thrown in for good measure) As far as decorating goes I used two of my favorite tricks.  For the Phineas and Ferb cake I used stars to make a picture and for the cupcakes I threw a bunch of candy on it to make it look like something. Bam and done! The directions for both are below.

Perry the Platypus Cupcakes
2 dozen baked cupcakes frosted blue
1/2 cup extra blue frosting
2 dozen blue airhead candies
Orange wedge candies or orange circus peanut candies
2 dozen cream wafers
candy eyes (you can buy these at some grocery stores, on Amazon, or at party city)

Frost cupcakes. Place extra frosting in a bag and attach a small round tip.  You can use this like glue to hold your pieces together.  Refer to the picture above and follow these directions. Begin decorating by sticking the blue airhead straight in the cupcake and the wafer at a slight angle behind it. Use the frosting to secure the two together.  Cut the orange wedge candy into small triangular pieces for the beak.  Use the frosting to glue the beak and eyes into place.  Repeat for each cupcake.

How to draw a picture on a cake
Now there's not too much to Phineas and Ferb so I just freehanded this cake but with more complex characters I use the tried and true method below:

1) Find a picture you'd like to use (any cartoon character works fine)
2) Print the picture and trace the lines in frosting. Use the same color frosting as you used on the base of your cake.   That way if it doesn't turn out you can just spread it back into the cake and try again!
3) Turn the picture upside down onto your cake and press lightly allowing the frosting outline to stick to the cake.  Remember that your picture will be inverted so it works better if  your picture doesn't have words on it. If you want to use one with words just hold your picture up to the window so it's see through and trace it on the back of the page.  That way when you flip it on the cake the words will be the right way.
4) Using a small or medium sized star tip and firm frosting fill in your outline with the colors that you need.  
5) trace the outline of the shapes in black as needed for depth.
6) Fill in the background with stars too...use any solid color to really make it pop!

The Activities
1) Pin the hair on Phineas. Just like it sounds! Draw or print a large poster of Phineas minus the hair.  Make up some hair using construction paper or tissue paper or yarn.  Each kid gets a turn blindfolded and has to pin the hair in the right place.  The person who is closest wins!

2) Where's Perry? Get a Perry stuffed animal and kids take turns being it.  Whoever is it leaves the room and the rest of the kids hide it.  Then the player comes back in the room and the rest of the kids yell "hot" or "cold" while they try to find it.

3) Busted!!This is basically red light green light only if you catch someone moving on a red light you get to yell Busted! Just like Candace :)

4) Whatcha Doin' ? For this game everyone stands in a circle.  You ask the birthday kiddo "Whatcha Doin" and then they think of an action like "swimming".  Everyone in the circle then pretends to be swimming in place.  Then the birthday person asks the kid to their right the same question and everyone pretends to do what they are doing.  Kids keep asking to the right and following the leader. If they get really good you can add actions onto each other so that they have to do them all at once like pat their head, rub their tummy, jump on one foot, sticking out their tongue! :)

Party Favors
I'm kind of over the giant bag of cheapo toys that your supposed to send home from parties now. I do think it's good etiquette to send each guest home with a party favor but I just don't think it needs to be a big expensive bag of stuff.  So I usually try and think of a little something to send home that goes with the theme.  Here are a few little ideas I had for this party:

-Little purple bows that look like Isabella's for the girls. (you could even make your own)
-magnifying glasses
- secret agent hats
- Perry the Platypus craft (they make themselves)

So there you go! Let me know if you've ever done a Phineas and Ferb party and add your ideas below in the comments for others to try.  I'll end with a picture of my cute little 4 year old...who is almost 5 now! Happy Birthday (8 months ago) little girl!