Friday, January 30, 2009

Doesn't get much better than this...


...my husband is out on the town tonight with a beautiful, brown-eyed blonde who has a bubbly personality and truly sparkling wit and I encouraged the date. I have to admit, I can see why he's smitten.

Father/Daughter Dance - January 30, 2009

P.S. Notice the flip flops...Who cares if it is 24 degrees out? You can take a girl out of Southern California, but you can't take Southern California out of the girl.

The mall wasn't horrible today...

As I just posted on my other blog, I don't care for the mall. I used to love the mall. In fact, my dad used to say that I had been to every mall between the Valley and the Mexican border and he wasn't far from the truth.

These days, however, I avoid going to the mall for as long as I can. I've been putting today's trip off for a really long time, but I needed bobbins for my Kenmore sewing machine. I mean I really, really needed bobbins. (Un-spooling bobbins to switch thread color has gotten really old!) So, I packed up the kids and headed for the mall. Superman met us for a late lunch/early dinner and we made an occasion of it. (Food Court food is manna from heaven as far as my kids are concerned!)

The mall is a sad place to me these days. Today, it was practically devoid of shoppers when we were there. It is packed with stuff with we don't need and can't afford and it is screaming in desperation these days. Every store we walked through or by on the way to our destination had signs like "Everything $2" or "75% of original price" or "Clearance" or "Everything Must Go". It seems to stand as a sad testimony to the excesses of the past decade. I have to wonder if malls will disappear as the economic downturn lingers and online shopping surges. I can just picture these huge empty shells falling to ruins as the shoppers and businesses consign them to being institutions of our past.

Anyway, the reason for my trip was to go to Sears. So, we finished our food and headed for Sears. Once there, I splurged on two packs of bobbins and two packs of needles. (I know, I know, I am wild and crazy and pretty darned free with my money.) What I ended up getting, however, was far more than I could have hoped for. I got the opportunity to talk to the salesperson at Sears about my sewing machine without any pressure to buy more than I was. The store was just about empty, despite the crazy clearance sales that is apparently going on. Superman and the kids were in a different department, playing with the tools and the exercise equipment (seriously, who needs Disneyland?). This young man took the time to explain a few questions I had about my machine. These were things that people never had the time to explain before for a woman who wasn't there to buy a machine. (My machine was a gift, so I didn't play with it in a store before I received it.) It made the whole trip to the mall worthwhile.

As retailers wonder why people aren't spending money at their establishments and why online shopping has boomed, they should remember that people if people are looking only for a product, the price will be the determining factor, but if they're looking for knowledge along with the product, the internet doesn't deliver. It is the people that change the shopping experience. I still don't love the mall, but I sure appreciated the time this young man spent with me, patiently finding a machine similar enough to my own that his explanations made sense and even explaining why I would never need some other gadget because my machine could do it without it. It was a terrific experience and makes me long for the return of the mom and pop shops where people would explain things to someone who wouldn't be buying, just because they knew they were creating goodwill. As it is, I won't hesitate to head back to Sear if I need something else for my machines.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Look What I Just Made!

One of the things I wanted to try to make this Valentine's was little decorative towels...dish towels, bar towels, whatever you want to call them.


I found these white towels on clearance at Target and got some remnant fabric at Walmart, plus a little grosgrain ribbon, to embellish them. I traced on to the fabric cookie cutters to make the two different sizes of hearts and hit the sewing machine.

This is my first one, so it isn't perfect, but I'm sure happy with how it turned out. I tried be conscious of how the back would look as I was sewing. I think I did pretty well and the back looks fine. (I used white thread when I attached the ribbon. The contrast was cute.) What do you think?


Homemade Egg McMuffins...

So, by now you've figured out that I have a thing for McDonald's Egg McMuffins...I just do...they are the perfect amount of food for breakfast. Not too light and not too heavy. I just love them. Melissa, my bloggy friend, says her husband makes them for her as a special treat. That is so cool. On the off chance that what was so obvious to Melissa's husband might not be obvious to someone else other than me, I thought I'd do a little post dedicated to my beloved Egg McMuffins.

To begin, I have to admit, it didn't even occur to me that I could make my own Egg McMuffins until I saw a Back to Basics machine that makes them for you. (Yes, I am a rocket scientist!) Suddenly, a world of possibilities had opened up before my very eyes. I had to have it and it was beautiful! (Remember me? I'm the girl who, until more recently than I'd like to admit, didn't realize you could make pancakes without a box mix. Yeah, I'm that girl.)
Anyway, the only problem with that cool little machine is that it made the Egg McMuffins one at a time and that didn't work well for me with hungry children biting my ankles or knees or whatever. I was having to choose between putting them in the oven to keep them warm (and spending half an hour making 5 Egg McMuffins, or letting them eat them as they were done, which pretty much ended the "family breakfast".) So, I freecycled my Back to Basics machine to a lady with a husband who wanted to make them before he left for work at 4:00 a.m. and figured out how to do it myself.


It is pretty darn simple, really. You cook eggs in a little poacher I got at Target (I got two, for a family of 5), you have your slice of cheese, some kind of meat (Superman likes SPAM, so we always save a little for just these occasions), a little butter and your English muffins.


It is all in the timing. You've got to get your English muffins in the toaster before you start cooking your eggs, so they'll be done before the eggs are and you'll have time to butter them and lay them out before the eggs are done.


Butter your toasted English muffins, get everything laid out and plop your eggs on the muffin.

Bingo! You've made yourself an Egg McMuffin...you won't have a Diet Coke, but at least you can still be in your nightgown or pajamas...plus you won't have to worry if you can get to McDonald's before they stop serving breakfast!

(...it's the little things in life...what can I say?...)

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Progress!

I got two Valentine's Day items finished yesterday, so I'm ahead of my self-imposed February 1 deadline.

Buttercup's pajama pants came out super cute, especially with the little tiny bow I added to encourage her to wear them frontwards! (Now, let's just hope I put the bow on the FRONT...I just saw her wearing them and I am beginning to wonder...hmmmm.) Notice that I almost ran out of the thread I was using. I finished in the nick of time. (I keep offering Valiant and Superman some heart pajamas, but so far, they're holding firm in the conviction that they just don't need them!)

Pajama pants are so easy to sew, I encourage anyone who's wanting to start sewing to start with them. They are very forgiving, as you really don't have fit issues and they are instantly gratifying...people are wearing things you made! They've been a terrific way to get better at sewing.

The other thing I finished was the "easy Valentine's wreath" from Little Birdie Secrets. They have a little tutorial if you click on the link, but it was basically like making those tissue paper flowers we used to make in elementary school, except you use fabric and a styrofoam wreath form. It was super easy and it turned out really well. Superman was pleasantly surprised, I think, but I'll let you judge for yourself.

I think it looks really festive on our front door and it was exactly the kind of thing I was looking for, so I'm really pleased.

Now I'm ready to start embellishing some towels and making a ton of Valentine's Cards...and getting much closer to that February 1 deadline...

Monday, January 26, 2009

Invaders, Heat Packs, and Oops!

You can never be too careful with an unmade bed in this house...there is always someone willing to take nap! Look at what happened when I left my bed unmade because I decided to just put the sheets back on the bed after they made it through the laundry this morning. I came upstairs with an armful of freshly washed sheets only to find out my bed had been commandeered by bed sloths!...and with a fuzzy pink blanket! What is up with that? They even had the nerve to express outrage when I kicked them out to make the bed. I guess I'll just need to be more vigilant in the future...these things can become a habit!


Look at these heat packs I made! Each is filled with rice and a little bit (in some cases, too much!) essential oil. You put them in the microwave for a minute or so and they become radiant heat packs. I made pocket warmers, a bed warmer, and two other warmers that I'm told by Superman and Buttercup are "neck warmers". Now, I don't know about you, but my neck never gets particularly cold...I was planning on using them as foot warmers, but, hey, I can be flexible. Anyway, everything was made out of scrap fabric: the two solid color ones were made out of the extra sweatshirt material I had from making those nightgowns I told you about, the pocket warmers were made out of leftover fabric from little gift bags I made, and the bed warmer is from flannel I had leftover from making Buttercup some pajama pants. These are really, really cool and if you tend to be cold, I highly recommend taking the ten minutes to make one!

Now, for our reality check. Not everything goes smoothly at the Nagle household. No, it really doesn't. I decided it was time to wash one of the couch covers that we had dyed brown (Klippan from Ikea, just in case you were wondering). I decided it would be advisable to wash it by itself JUST IN CASE any more dye came out of the fabric, so I tossed the slipcover into an empty washer...or so I thought. I thought wrong! Look at what happened to one of my formerly white ski socks and one of Valiant's formerly white socks and one formerly white washcloth!

Monday, Monday, Jump and Run Day!

When my kids were little, there was a days of the week song that had "Monday, Monday, Jump and Run Day" and the kids and I still remember it...I like the idea of jumping right into the week.

Switching our dates to Monday morning helps both Superman and me start the week on the right track. (If I'm in my car in workout clothes and a parka and am not dissuaded by the fact that the temperature is reading -1 as I'm backing out of the driveway at 7:00 a.m., it must be love, right?)

Anyway, I was home by 8:30 a.m. and ready to start my day. Here it is 11:30 a.m. and the laundry is already done, a loaf of bread is on its final rise, the Red Fox has already put me through 45 minutes of working out (yes, 1 of my 5 I've committed to doing per week!), plants are watered (they're grateful), emails checked and answered, meat is thawing for dinner, the school day has begun and I'm posting on my blog. After lunch, I'll head down with the kids and we'll focus on the stuff they need me for until 3:00 or so and we'll be done with school. And there you have it, the recipe for an awesome day!

(I feel kind of like the old Army commercial that used to play all the time: "we do more by 6:00 a.m. than most people do in an entire day!") Like momstheword, I think the key to my days is getting an early start, no matter how much I don't like getting up early.

As for the rest of the week, I have the dinner menu set. I've decided to try something new...instead of specifically scheduling each day, I've asked Superman and the kids to each pick two suggestions for dinner and we'll spread them over the 7 day period. So, beginning today, these are on the menu for this week, with their tentative days:

Valiant's favorite gravy and rice with vegetables (Monday)

Lasagna with cheese bread (Tuesday)

Turkey Burgers with homemade french fries (Wednesday)

Pizza from scratch (Friday)

Garlic Cheddar Chicken (Sunday)

Mexican Night (Saturday)

Leftovers (Thursday)

Having all these dinners set in everyone's minds will help us from wanting to go out or running to go buy the stuff for some other meal. The kids and I are going to do the same thing for our breakfasts and lunches, too, so that should help us stay on track.

Finally, for anybody who's keeping count, I'm up to 10 Egg McMuffins in 2009. I think I should be embarrassed by that, but I just not. Last week really messed with my numbers, but I'm thinking I won't do so badly this week!

How I store unfinished projects...

I almost always have a few projects going simultaneously. It just seems to work out that way. With my "craft room" being a corner of our family room, I've found it vital that I clean up my projects if I walk away for any length of time. It took me awhile to find a system for cleaning up my stuff that allows me to dive right back into the project when I have a chance. Now that I have a system that works well, I thought I'd show you what I do.

First, I have the flat Ikea storage boxes (the ones you assemble yourself). I know they're cardboard, but they're tough. The boxes I'm using were originally in Buttercup's room to help her store pictures she drew, small little toys she'd collect, etc. I'm guessing these are about 7 years old and they still look pretty good, so the boxes really are terrific (and inexpensive!). The great thing about these Ikea boxes is that they come in a variety of sizes and colors, so they work well for different types of projects.

When I'm not working on any project, the boxes are in a nice little stack on my shelf. (I know I should probably label them every time I begin a new project, but I don't seem to have projects going long enough to make it worth my time.) Each project gets a separate box that I can pull out when I have time to work on the project. In each box, I place everything for that project...all in one place and all together!

Currently, I've got Buttercup's pajama pants, the Valentine's wreath from Little Birdie Secrets, and some Valentine's bar towels I'm embellishing. As you can see, all the stuff for each project fits in its box, so I never am scrambling for the elastic for the pajama pants or the glue when I have time to work on the wreath...everything is right there. When I am done working for that session, I just pack it all back up and slide it back on the shelf. By doing this, my projects are ready for me whenever I have the time to work on them...I don't spend a lot of time looking for missing elements, etc.

Maybe this was obvious to you and you already do this, and if it was, good for you! For me, however, doing this has made it much less stressful to work on my projects. For all you moms, this is a great way to lead by example...how many times have you heard your children protest that they can't clean up because they're RIGHT IN THE MIDDLE OF whatever it is they are doing? If they see you do it, too, they'll be much more likely to follow your example.

Do you have any clever ideas for keeping your stuff safe and organized when you aren't done with it? Do tell!

P.S. Have I mentioned how much I miss Ikea?

Sunday, January 25, 2009

New Features...

I just wanted to let you all know that I just added a feature to my blog to make it easier for those of you who don't receive blogs via feeders to subscribe to this blog. If you go to the main blog page, there is now a place for you type in your email address and automatically receive my new posts. If you're already getting this blog via email, please know that I am going to switch over to this new subscription system for you. Thanks!

These are not your typical Oatmeal Raisin Cookies...


Last night I made Dunking Platters , a recipe I got from my mom years and years ago...she made them when I was a child, so I have no idea where the recipe came from. They are ostensibly Oatmeal Raisin cookies, but I've never had Oatmeal Raisin cookies like these anywhere else. If you've ever had Laceys, they have a texture similar to those, but without the chocolate bottoms. They are not the thick, chewy cookies I think of when I picture an Oatmeal Raisin cookie. They are almost toffee-like. Now that I've completely confused you, check out the recipe below. All I can say is that these are really good!

Dunking Platters (Oatmeal Raisin Cookies)

Blend together:
1 cup butter melted
1 cup white sugar
1 cup brown sugar (firmly packed)
2 eggs
2 tsp vanilla
1 cup oats
1 cup cornflakes (measure, then crush)
2 cups raisins

In separate bowl, combine:

2 cups flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder

Add flour mixture to wet mixture and mix well.

Drop walnut-sized balls (I used my Pampered Chef scooper) onto ungreased cookie sheet, leaving plenty of space as these really spread. Bake at 350 degrees for approximately 11-12 minutes, until edges turn golden brown. Let cool for 5 minutes before removing from cookie sheet. Makes about 36...
[I suspect this recipe originally had nuts, but my mom was of the anti-nut persuasion and, being anti-nut myself, they aren't on my copy of the recipe and I don't have any idea what they would have been, or how much was called for. If you desperately want nuts, I'd wing it!]

Let me know if you try them...

Saturday, January 24, 2009

My Dream Machine...

Over the years, I have been incredibly fortunate and I have NO needs. Like anyone else, however, this girl can dream! This is my dream machine...

...isn't she beautiful? All bright and shiny and solid. Look at what she has under the hood:
  • 575 Watt Motor
  • Bowl-Lift Design
  • 6-Quart Polished Stainless Steel Wide-Mouth Bowl with Contoured Handle
  • Soft Start Mixing Feature
  • Direct Drive Transmission, All-Steel Gears, and All Metal Construction
  • Commercial Style Motor Construction
  • Includes PowerKnead Spiral Dough Hook, Flat Beater, and Stainless Steel Wire Whip
  • Elegant, Satin Pearl Finish
Look at some of the things she can do with all that horse-power:

"Equipped with a high-performance, professional-level motor, the Professional 600™ Series mixer can effectively mix up to 14 cups of all-purpose flour per batch. Powerfully churns through yeast bread dough and triple batches of cookie dough." [That doesn't even mention the pasta-maker attachment!]

Honestly, what is not to love about this baby? As you can imagine, such a well -equipped machine has a list price of $499, certainly not an insignificant amount. After many years of dreaming, I've decided I'd really like to make my dream a reality this year, so I've opened an ING-direct sub-account specifically for her. I figure if I put $25 from every one Superman's paychecks into this account, I can bring her home to live with us for Christmas! [I'm also trying to find more places I can trim the budget so that my dream doesn't interfere with any of our other goals.]

You know, if you haven't done it, ING-direct accounts are painless ways to save for things. They are free, and they let you have a number of sub-accounts so you can save for specific things. We have a Christmas account, a Car account, a savings account, and now, a Dream Machine account. (No, I don't get anything for telling you this...I just think it is an awesome way to save because it is FDIC insured and it is out-of-sight, out-of-mind savings.)

For now, I'll keep using my awesome Kitchenaid hand-held mixer, but I am sure dreams can and do come true...this year will be the year for my Dream Machine. So, what are you saving for? Dreams are a good thing...did I mention I'm already dreaming about 2010s Dream Machine?

Friday, January 23, 2009

My new end table...


Buttercup has been in gymnastics since September and is taking her natural flexibility to new places. Once he saw what she could do, Valiant decided she should earn some money by renting herself out as an end table as demonstrated above.

Hmmm...I don't think so. I was, however, impressed with how long she held the pose! (My back started hurting just thinking about it...oh, to be 9 again!)

Snickerdoodle Muffins - again!


Okay, so here's the deal. Every Thursday I make some kind of treat for Superman to take to work to share with his beloved team during their Friday meetings (he loves his team and wants them to have awesome goodies for these meetings...personally, I think he's using me to butter them up, but, hey, whatever works!). Anyway, back to the Snickerdoodle Muffins. These muffins are really, really, really good...enough so that Superman specifically requested them for this week's meeting. Since I made them again, I thought I'd take the time to post the recipe here (not just the link to my source for the recipe) in the hopes that it will encourage you to make these amazing muffins. I promise, they are worth making.

Snickerdoodle Muffins

2 sticks unsalted butter [I used salted, it is what I have...]
1 cup sugar
2 tsp vanilla [You know the drill, don't be skimpy on the vanilla!]
2 eggs
¾ tsp baking soda
¾ tsp baking powder
¾ tsp cream of tartar
¾ tsp freshly grated nutmeg [I used the stuff in the little jar]
1 and ¼ cup sour cream
2 and ¼ cups all purpose flour

1 cup sugar and 2 TBSP cinnamon mixed together in shallow bowl for rolling

1.Cream the butter and sugar until soft about 3 to 5 minutes. Add in the vanilla. Add in the eggs one at a time and mix until each is incorporated.

2.In a separate, mix together the flour, nutmeg, baking soda, and baking powder and cream of tartar.

3.Add the flour mixture and the sour cream alternately to the egg-butter mixture in the additions. Start with the flour and end with the flour. Scrape the bowl occasionally.

4. Using an ice cream scoop (I used the #16 scoop I got from the Cash n Carry- I use it for all my cupcakes and muffins--it is roughly 1/4 cup), scoop out muffin batter one at a time and drop into a shallow bowl filled with the cinnamon sugar mixture. Roll the muffin around in the mixture until it is covered completely in cinnamon sugar. Place muffin into a greased muffin tin (I used muffin tin liners).

Depending on the size of your tins, you should get about 12 to 14 muffins (I have standard tins and I got 17 the first time and 18 the second time I made them). Bake them for approx. 20-22 minutes in a 350F oven or until they are golden brown.


Seriously, if you make nothing else I tell you about, make these!

Thursday, January 22, 2009

The Red Fox - My Personal Trainer


You all know those Hollywood types have personal trainers and they're getting more popular with average people, too. Even gym memberships tend to include a certain number of sessions with a personal trainer as a carrot to get you in the gym and making progress so you'll keep up your membership. You just get better results if you have some accountability, someone pushing you to work harder.

Well, given all that, I didn't want you to think I am doing without a personal trainer, just because I'm using my home gym. In fact, I've worked out 5 days in a row because of my personal trainer...he's big, he's bad, and I don't want to disappoint him. He tells me he's the Red Fox and he keeps his mask on during our time together - kind of like the Lone Ranger - so I don't know his alias. I haven't really dug too deeply, though. I just keep pedaling. I figure if a superhero like him is willing to spend time getting my fanny in shape, I don't want to disappoint him. Now, I know you're jealous, but saving the world takes time and I don't think he can spare any time to accompany you as you work out. No, this one is all mine.

So now you know and whenever you think of me working out, now you have a really good picture of what I'm dealing with!

I am a lucky girl...[fixed posting error-sorry]


I just never got started yesterday...I did exercise (more on my "personal trainer" later) and the kids stayed alive, but that was about it. My case of the blahs was pretty severe and I was tired, so tired. Superman was off his game, the kids were cranky, my sister had the mother of all headaches, and even my dad called to say he'd had his worst day ever in the history of all bad days. That is pretty depressing. Maybe I was fighting something, I don't know, but I finally gave up, called it a day, and went to bed at 7:30, figuring I'd start over today.

Oh, what a difference a day makes! Superman headed off to work and I fell back asleep, but not for long. Superman called to say he'd forgotten something at home and, since he had to come all the way back home, would I like an Egg McMuffin and a Diet Coke? What?! Hooray! I bounded out of bed, told the kids to get up, "Daddy's coming home to have breakfast with us and he's bringing McDonald's!". I got my workout clothes on, made the bed, ran downstairs to do all the things I didn't do last night (put the dishes away, put the clean laundry away, clear off the counters...the usual!), brushed my hair, brushed my teeth and was ready for Superman when he walked through the door! It was a terrific breakfast...that man is my hero, truly!

But, wait, the gifts weren't over yet. I turned on my computer, and there were ELEVEN emails from Kate...ten were sending me mp3's of her favorite songs because I said I didn't know them and another one about maybe I needed bright colors around me to combat the winter blahs (yeah, I probably do!)...she sent me all of that while she had a blazing headache. That was sooo nice!

Finally, my sweet SIL took the time to send me an email during her trip to visit her family in Indonesia. (She somehow managed to plan a surprise visit for her mother's birthday...and pulled it off!) Anyway, I saw this amazing salt on Tastespotting and immediately asked her if it was for real. Even though she'd never seen it, she asked around an confirmed its legitimacy. Isn't that cool?

I feel so loved and cared for and have been reminded of my many blessings...my batteries feel recharged...I'm good to go! [I've already worked-out today!]

Tonight we're having this amazing Garlic Cheddar Chicken posted by Lisa Ann at Blissfully Domestic in April '08 (the chicken breasts are thawing as I type)...

Garlic Cheddar Chicken

1/2 cup butter
4 cloves garlic, minced
3/4 cup dry bread crumbs
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

1 1/2 cups shredded Cheddar cheese
1/4 teaspoon dried parsley
1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/8 teaspoon salt

8 skinless, boneless chicken breast halves - pounded thin

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C).

Melt the butter in a saucepan over low heat, and cook the garlic until tender, about 5 minutes. In a shallow bowl, mix the bread crumbs, Parmesan cheese, Cheddar cheese, parsley, oregano, pepper, and salt. Dip each chicken breast in the garlic butter to coat, then press into the bread crumb mixture. Arrange the coated chicken breasts in a 9x13 inch baking dish. Drizzle with any remaining butter and top with any remaining bread crumb mixture. Bake 30 minutes in the preheated oven, or until chicken is no longer pink and juices run clear.



Talk with you later...I'll have a few things to show you! (P.S. This picture is already two years old...where does the time go?)

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Color Combinations...how do you decide what to wear?


I'll admit it...I'm struggling with abject boredom and a case of "blah" today. I just can't get started, so I've been sitting here reading blogs I get and catching up on them (yeah, I do get way backlogged). Anyway, I was reading a little sewing on the side and she shared Wear Palettes with us all. Now, I only wish I could sew as well as she does, but that is what practice is for, right? Anyway, Wear Palettes puts up color combinations that you might not think of and makes them work. I thought it was fun enough that I put their widget up for a little while. I love the palette here and I really want the orange cape that is featured in December 15's photo--here. It is stunning, don't you think? If you are celebrity watcher, you can check out Wear Palettes VIP to see what fashionista's come up with.

So now you know, this is what I do on days that I am bored.

Blogs seem to remind me...

...that the world is filled with amazing people. I started reading blogs as an attempt to learn new frugal tricks and learn to cook more things from scratch...oh, yes, and I was trying to find a "put in a zipper" tutorial that actually made sense to me. The more blogs I read, the more entranced I was...people from all over the world (literally, not just figuratively) kindly share their knowledge and experiences "just because". Even the baby steps of things that so many people take for granted. Did a little deeper, and you find more than how-tos...you find "we care". The bloggers I've run into seem to really care whether or not the cake recipe turned out for you, or whether or not you were able to open the little download they provided. Bloggers I've read care that you are trying to save a buck, but have your home feel open and generous and welcoming. Finally, they care when people are having a hard time of things...when their challenges seem overwhelming or even life-threatening.

So, when Generations Gone By tagged me back with a "Your Blog is Fabulous award" (which was so sweet and kind and made me feel special), I decided that I would not list five more things I'm addicted to, but that I would feature four blogs that have inspired me, touched me, and renewed my faith in a meaningful way. These bloggers have supported people in ways that have touched my very soul. I urge you to check them out. (The fifth blog is just one that I absolute love and thought you might, too!)

C Jane Enjoy It - Jane (her name is Courtney, but she used to call herself Jane, or vice versa) started her blog as a way to deal with the challenge of infertility. Last August, however, her blog (and her life) were changed by the plane crash that critically injured her sister and brother-in-law (and took the life of the pilot friend). Suddenly, in addition to getting used to life as a new mother, she had 3 of her sister's four children with her, and she was trying to raise money for the medical bills and keep her sister's blog alive (NieNie), waiting for her eventual return to blogging. Her efforts on behalf of her family have been truly astounding and inspiring.

Bunny's Warm Oven - is a cooking blog, but recently they took to the internet to solicit help for a family who lost everything in a house fire. They remind me that cooking and learning are fun, but caring for others must always be part of our lives.

Tricia-Rinnea - is a graphics blog. She does amazing notecards, to-do lists, etc., and she is truly wonderful. Recently, she posted about her little cousin who is trying to raise $2500 in a diabetes event to send other kids to camp. You guessed it...he has diabetes, but his efforts aren't for him.. Her blog allows this little boy to make a bigger difference in other children's lives as he deals with a disease that even adults struggle to manage.

The Pioneer Woman - if you haven't read any of Ree's blogs, you're missing quite a treat. In addition to step-by-step instructions for recipes she makes (including photos!), Ree has a photography blog, confessions blog, home and garden blog, and homeschooling blog, and she keeps them all real. Her blog is hugely popular and she doesn't need an award from me, but I was so impressed with her reach: She outlined her family's support of two children through Compassion Intl a few months back, and a few weeks ago spread the word that some older children were seriously in need of sponsors. The response was so overwhelming, that Compassion Int'l's internet site went down and the phones went crazy. She had to remove the details for a while to give them a chance to catch up with the outpouring of support her request generated.

So, there you have it four amazing, inspirational bloggers I think you would enjoy. And, finally:

One Pretty Thing - One Pretty Thing is constantly working for us to gather DIY projects and creative ideas from everywhere and put them in one digest daily. She finds some of the most amazing stuff, from simple to complex, to the ones that just make you go, 'huh?'. Her blog illustrates just how creative people are and that we can do amazing things.

So, there you have it...five blogs that inspire me, albeit in different ways. All of them, however, illustrate the good in people and that make my spirit sing. Thanks for "listening" and I hope you'll check them out.

Erin

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

The Babies You've Been Praying For...

I'm sure you've noticed the two buttons I've placed on the right side of my blog, asking you to pray for two little babies. What you might not have realized is that clicking the buttons would take you to their mothers' blogs. Each of these babies was born in the last week (Baryden is 7 days old and Harper is 4 days old), and each is a first baby for their young parents who struggled with infertility before conceiving and each was born with unexpected life-threatening conditions. The call went out for desperately needed prayers and the response has been tremendous. I just wanted to let you know that both of these babies are improving and their parents are amazed by the outpouring of support they're receiving from strangers. If you want to read the latest on baby Harper, her current status can be found here. If you want to read about baby Brayden, his mom posted his one-week update here.

Catching up...

Just now getting to posting today, so it really will be random...

Valiant and I watched the inauguration today while we worked out. (The back of my legs, my butt, and the backs of my arms really hurt! I guess that is a good thing, right?) Did you watch it? As I explained to my children, the speeches, the parades, and the balls aren't what matters, what matters is that like him or not, we support the smooth transition of power in this country. It is calm, even if we disagree...that is something amazing when you actually stop to think about.

Ran some errands and went to Joann's while Buttercup was in gymnastics. I finally got some fabric to finish this simple Valentine's project from Little Birdie Secrets....I'm really excited to get started on it.

I had this amazing Pasta Fagioli crock pot recipe from Recipezaar cooking all day.

It will be accompanied by this amazing breadmaker Italian bread (you use the dough cycle and then just shape the loaves yourself) from All Recipes.

Dessert tonight will be these fantastic Snickerdoodle Muffins from Culinary Concoctions by Peabody.

If I had tasted the batter, I would absolutely confirm they are so good. Then, if, by any stretch of the imagination, I had eaten the top of a muffin fresh from the oven, I would cheerfully confirm that they are scrumptious. (Not that I would ever do those things!)

This is what my wall looks like these days. That cat seems to have moved on to the birds. Superman isn't certain we still have the paint for this room, so we might have to paint the entire room.

That's about it...oh, and Biggest Loser is on tonight...I LOVE Biggest Loser.

Monday, January 19, 2009

A Quick (I swear!) Sewing Project.


Buttercup and I like nightgowns.

Buttercup and I get cold in the winter in nightgowns. (Okay, more me than her, but still...she's cold more than the boys!) Our first three winters here in Eastern Washington, we glammed it up by throwing an over-sized sweatshirt over our nightgowns...it was a "look", let me tell you. This year, I got creative with...wait for it...an old, cute flat sheet and sweatshirts! Yes, I made us nightgowns that keep us warm and (for me are actually long enough) out of a sheet and two sweatshirts. (Look, if you're not tall, you have no idea how much tall girls dream of nightgowns that don't hit us mid-shin...or at the bottom of our knees! Trust me on this, this is a big deal!) This project cost me roughly $12 for two nightgowns! (Sweatshirts were $5 each, the trim was roughly $2 and I had the sheet!)

Here is what you do...

Cut your sweatshirts off below the arm holes, but don't forget sweatshirts (especially the inexpensive ones) shrink up a lot and allow for that. We were going for an empire waist, so we measured about three inches below the armpit.

Then measure the circumference of the sweatshirt bottom and double it--that is how wide you need to make the skirt fabric. Then measure from below your chest to the floor and the is how long you need your skirt fabric to me.

Sew two basting lines - low tension, big stitches - (careful to not cross) across the width of your skirt fabric, one half inch below the top of the fabric...using the basting stitches you work the fabric to be gathered enough that it is now the circumference of the sweatshirt. After you've gathered the materials so that you have a width equal to the circumference of the sweatshirt, sew the skirt into a tube from top to bottom.

Now, you can just attach the sweatshirt to the skirt, or you can get all trick like I did and add contrasting piping first. After that, you just hem it and you're done.

Still not haute couture, but we're warm!

What do you think?

Oh My Goodness, I Got A Blog Award!


Can you believe it? I can't, either! But, Momstheword gave me an award. I am so excited...I feel like Sally Field's, "You like me, you really like me!". Anyway, part of the award is that I must pass it along to five blogs I adore and list five things I'm addicted to. Hmmm...narrowing it down to five will be tough...

Okay, in no particular order, and in no way a complete list, here are some things I'm addicted to:

1. Diet Coke (on tap)...I've been wondering if I could get one of those little fountains in my own home and have the Diet Coke truck stop on by as part of its daily runs.

2. Egg McMuffins - you can read about it here.

3. Lip Gloss - weird, I know.

4. Reading - I love, love, love to read.

5. Malted Milk Balls - It can't be Whoppers (that is NOT chocolate they cover those in, what is that?), it has to be real chocolate...you can get them in the Brachs bins at the grocery store, but DON'T...I'll eat them all!

And five blogs I love:

1. 50s Housewife - she posts on so many different topics, she keeps me thinking...

2. Generations Gone By - she's a genealogist who posts on all things life, not just genealogy. I wonder if putting together the puzzles of the past keep her contemplating the present. Today's post is all about giving the best you have to your family, not just waiting for company to share your best.

3. LoveAphid - She truly keeps it random and I like that. She's just committed to 365 Days of Grace where she's listing five things each day that she is blessed by. (Plus she's my sister!)

4. 365daysofexercise - Melissa is bravely sharing her challenge to herself with us all...I'm so inspired by her.

5. Momstheword - I probably shouldn't do a tag back, but truly, her post today about Making your Home Sing illustrates so well why I enjoy her blog so much.

So, there you have it...Five of my favorite blogs...that is not all of my favorites, by along shot, but those are the ones who are inspiring me these days!

Please go check them out...you'll love them.

Early Morning Date!


I am a firm believer that married people with children need to remember that their children will grow up and live adult lives one day (if we do our jobs correctly), leaving those two people alone with each other once again. If you've spent 20 years being Mom and Dad and not ever being the Boy and Girl you used to be, then when the kids fly off to live their own exciting lives, you'll be left living with someone you don't really know any more.

This belief, however, runs headlong into my absolutely pathological refusal to take vacations without our children. You read that correctly...in 19.2 years of marriage, almost 18 years of parenthood, Superman and I have NEVER taken a vacation away from our children. I won't do it...I just, well, I just can't. (I don't think Superman wants to, either, but I accept full responsibility for this fact.)

So, that means we've had to be creative to get time together. We've been on dates to the park when we had just one baby, so we could watch him play and still be alone together. We've been on dates to the back deck when the kids are sleeping. When we both worked, we made sure we came home on the same train and considered that 30 minute ride every day to be our time together. Because we do it deliberately and consciously, these little times count for something. They add up. They are meaningful. They matter.

Now that the kids are older, we can sneak out for a dinner alone, or, since we're counting pennies and paying down debt, a breakfast date! These days we have a standing Monday morning date at McDonald's...we take two cars so he can head off to work and I can come home to my work...he's dressed beautifully because he's heading off to corporate America and I, well, today I'm in workout clothes so I can't renege on my workout commitment, but it still felt like a date! We talked about our hopes, our dreams, and weird things that pop into our minds. He told me I'm pretty, I told him he's awesome. He walked me to my car and gave me a kiss as he held the door for me. I told him to drive carefully and that I loved him. It was terrific.

You know what? After 20 years together, Superman is still my boyfriend...and I can hardly wait for our next date...

P.S. For anyone who is keeping track with Kate, I did, in fact, have another Egg McMuffin today, so that brings my 2009 tally to 6!

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Gym is back in my life...

If you're following along, you know I've been mightily resisting starting up with Gym again. He's just so demanding! Well, I was weak and I couldn't hold out any longer. I saw Gym this morning, but I didn't go alone. No, when sweet Valiant saw me suited up and ready to go, he got on his running shoes and joined me as I confronted Gym. (Wasn't that nice of him? That's why I call him Valiant...he'll be at my side, ready to face down anything!) After some serious negotiating, I settled on 24 minutes on the LifeCycle and Valiant did the same on the treadmill. It's not much, but maybe it will keep Gym happy!

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Pray for Harper



A little baby girl named Harper Brown Stamps was born on January 16 with a problem that quickly turned critical...her parents had been waiting for this little blessing for more than two years. Harper has been airlifted to a Children's Hospital NICU in Tulsa Oklahoma because the nearer Children's Hospitals were full. Harper's mother lost a lot of blood during the delivery and was unable to accompany her baby. Harper's daddy and his parents drove all night to be with his baby girl. This little baby and her family would so appreciate your prayers. So, please send a prayer their way.

Thanks!

Bad Kitty!



You know that saying, "Life is what happens when you're busy making plans"? Well, Superman and I spent part of Saturday Celebration breakfast discussing what we planned to get done today. We headed home cheerfully planning to jump right in. The we saw the wall of our dining room! One of our cats, Tuck, is quite adventurous and enthusiastic about the the playground he now finds himself living in. Unfortunately, it seems he has put on more weight than he's realized since we rescued him from the shelter in September. Fortunately, nothing on the shelf was damaged...the wall, on the other hand, can't take any more abuse. It looks as if Superman's plans have now been modified to include "drywall repair and painting"...

Yep, this is life!

Friday, January 16, 2009

Skiing!


The View from Chewelah Peak...

I love where I live. In the years since we left Southern California for Eastern Washington, I've grown to love my new hometown more and more with each passing day. Today, the kids and I headed off to one of the two local ski areas for an afternoon of skiing. (We actually have season passes, but we've not been able to get there until now!) The resort is so wonderful, we felt like we were visiting an old friend we hadn't seen in awhile. (We didn't ski last year because we bought the trailer and it was an either/or deal, so that means we haven't skied since 2007.) The people are friendly and happy to see you...it is truly a wonderful experience. Skiing without crowds, without hassle, and without a second mortgage on the house...what more could anyone ask? (Notice the lack of people in the pictures...this was a typical weekday!)

So, we started out warming up on the bunny slope and the kids convinced me that they were ready to hit the "real slopes" and we headed to Chair 4 to go to the top. (Isn't it gorgeous?) I knew we were in trouble when Buttercup called over from her chair (no, we can't share...they like the adrenaline rush from getting on their OWN chairs by THEMSELVES), "Wow, it is really high, isn't it?" That, my dear friends, was the beginning of the end. Buttercup, aka Fireball, has lost her mojo! I guess 9 turning 10 is old enough to suddenly become aware that you can, in fact, get hurt skiing and she, well, froze a third of the way down the mountain. We had tears, we had frustration, and we had a total inability to listen to our mother try to talk us down. "You can do this! You've done this so many times before. You are Fireball, remember? You are a terrific skier." No way, no how...she sat in a heap, sniffling and wailing at me that she "couldn't do it anymore!".

To make an incredibly long, painful story a bit shorter...they have these wonderful people at the resort called "Guest Hosts". Guest Hosts make sure their guests get down from the mountain...I never knew that before today! When the nice men in the "Guest Host" coats told her the EXACT SAME THINGS her mother had been telling her, she smiled her shy little smile and headed down the mountain. I do love where I live...and I love my local ski area...and I especially love two Guest Hosts named Chuck and Gary...

We're headed back next week...I wonder who is on "Guest Host" duty...

P.S. Valiant has been watching a lot of "Bond, James Bond" with Superman...isn't he so cool?

(These are pictures I took today. Look at the one taken at the top of the mountain...our area has been socked in fog lately...doesn't it look like a sea of clouds?...we were above them, basking in the sunshine!)

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Meet "Gym"...


This is a picture of "Gym", as Gym is today. Gym hasn't always looked like this. In fact, Gym and I have had an on-again, off-again relationship for close to 30 years. In my younger days, I would cheerfully head to Gym's house and spend hours there EVERY DAY. I'd do a few aerobics classes, spend time on the LifeCycle, play on machines and then do it all over again. Then I got more responsibilities and my time at Gym's declined, but didn't disappear...in fact, Gym moved and I got a new, fun place to visit. Honestly, at that point in my life, my social life seemed to be wherever Gym was. Gym was fun, I felt good when I spent time with Gym. This was definitely our on-again period.

Then I started seeing Superman and, frankly, Superman was a lot more fun to spend time with than Gym. Superman liked Gym well enough, but he didn't really want to spend any time with Gym. So, I'd see Gym in fits and spurts and it was fine. We weren't exactly broken up, but I really didn't see Gym much. Then Superman gifted me with Charming...I needed Gym, but didn't really enjoy my time with Gym. I was married, I had a baby and I had a job! Where was I supposed to fit Gym into my life. Valiant followed Charming and Buttercup followed Valiant. I was too busy for Gym and too busy to feel guilty for neglecting our relationship.

When Buttercup entered preschool, I started seeing Gym again. Oh, the exhilaration...I felt young, free, strong, and energetic. But that wasn't enough for Gym...whatever time I dedicated to Gym, it wasn't enough! The demands were endless..."you need to spend more time on the bike, a few more reps on the machine, why didn't you run today?, what do you mean you don't have time for a class?" Gym was never happy! Instead of feeling terrific, I felt inadequate. I wasn't capable of meeting the demands Gym was placing on me. I was definitely ready to break it off.

Then life intervened...I moved away from Gym. I was free!

But I was weak...and I let Gym move into my house! For a while, I was able to keep Gym under control, but pretty soon, Gym was demanding more than I could give. "What?! You only did 24 minutes on the bike? Why didn't you do 32? No work-out video? You know you have the time...obviously, you are a slacker!" So, I stopped seeing gym last July...it it felt good. Oh, I visited twice in September, but that was it...it was over.

That, I thought, was the saga of Gym and me...until now...

You see, it is starting up again...Gym's siren call is reaching out to me, "You know I'm good for you. You know you like me." Gym's seductive promises, "Come to me...I'll make you happy....I'll make your clothes fit better...you'll look better without clothes...you know you need me."

I think I'm weakening...I think I'll start seeing Gym again soon...just not quite yet.

[If you need inspiration to take care of yourself, I urge you to check out Melissa at 365 Days of Exercise. She has committed to do some form of exercise everyday for one year and is blogging about it. She's fantastic...)

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Valiant's Fleece is Done!

Phew! One more pinky promise fulfilled! This is Valiant's fleece. I used Simplicity #4324 to make it. I turned out okay, but I'm still only a novice. The installation of the zipper is the best I've done so far, but, overall, Superman's fleece (the second one I completed) is still the best.
I still really stink at zippers...there must be something I'm not understanding about putting them in. Valiant is pleased, however, and it should last him two years...I made it big. Buttercup is next in line for a fleece (she picked coral fleece), but I think I'll do her Valentine's pajama pants first. I need to feel a bit more successful before I tackle another zipper!

Costco...not the problem it used to be...

Over the last year, Superman and I have not only revamped our spending patterns, but also revamped our eating habits. The truth is that we love to go out to eat...fast food, mid-range, it doesn't matter, we love to go out. The other truth is, we can't afford it any more. We spent a small fortune turning our new house into our home as quickly as possible, because we felt under the gun. We moved here in September 2005 and we knew that by September 2008, Charming would be on his own, either in dorms or in an apartment. We wanted Charming to truly feel that this "new" house was his home...and it worked. All of us feel that this is our home. Now, however, it is time to pay for all that accelerated progress and that is what we've been doing.

I've been joking that I'm done with the house, so now I need to learn to cook. Another truth? It wasn't a joke. I've spent the last 2 years learning how to cook things from scratch. I haven't even begun to feel like a "cook", but, wow, have things changed. I cook tons of things from scratch...and the side benefit is that I feel more accomplished, more skilled, and better about what I feed my family. I am a far cry from the girl who was seriously stunned that you didn't need a box of pancake mix to make pancakes. (Yes, I really did express shock at that!)

So, how does that tie in to Costco? Well, this is how: I just spent $180.75 at Costco and the only things I bought that were made for me were vanilla ice cream and Nacho Cheese Doritos. What did I get: 50 lbs of bread flour, 50 lbs of all purpose flour, 25 lbs of sugar, one bunch of bananas, 20 lbs of ground turkey, 11 pork chops, 4 lbs butter, 2 gals milk, a huge block of mozzarella cheese (6 lbs) , a huge corn tortillas, 44 uncooked flour tortillas, 5 lbs of frozen organic corn, 5 lbs frozen organic green beans, 6 cans Comet and a 6 lb box of Bisquick. Do you know how many meals I will be making out of all these staples? A lot! It is so much more satisfying to know what goes in our food and NOT pay someone else to make it for me. The $180 I spent will go so much further than it would have with prepackaged food and it will feed my family so much better. So, that is why Costco is not the problem it used to be. I'm not tempted by the conveniences it offers...I see it as a way to feed my family better for less. It is the ultimate frugal store for me...how awesome is that!

Chores...



At 9 and 12 (soon to be 10 and 13), Buttercup and Valiant are certainly capable of doing basic chores around the house on a regular basis. I am a firm believer that they should take care of their personal spaces, contribute to the care of communal spaces, and help care for the furry, feathered, and scaled animals they so love. For the most part, they do a terrific job, but...I was getting really tired of hearing, "But you didn't tell me I had to do that today!" for chores they darned well knew were daily chores...things like putting their clean clothes away, feeding the animals, etc.

Last summer I came up with our chore lists that had chores they were responsible for on a daily basis and a weekly basis (hamster cage cleaning, lawn mowing, taking the cans out for the trash truck and BRINGING the cans back in). No longer could they say they didn't KNOW they were supposed to do x or y. I made them a bit more fun by adding clip art to the chores. After two weeks I decided they were working, so I printed out fresh copies and had them laminated...my plan was to use dry-erase markers, but they wouldn't erase! We use highlighters or water-based markers instead. The only problem? The kids kept losing their list and then, again, the dreaded, "I didn't know I was supposed to do that TODAY," came back.

My dear friend A has let me borrow her eyelet/rivet thing so I can make LollyChops awesome calendars and I was struck with inspiration. So, I punched holes, set eyelets, tied some ribbon, and now they can be hung in the same place every night...cheerfully ready for the next day! So, the kids might not thank A, but I sure do!

So, I still haven't been sewing...


After having my family room, in which a dedicated corner is my craft room, filled with children in excess of my own for more than three weeks (extended winter break due to snow), I had some OCD tendencies to engage in and tidied and straightened and rearranged and cleaned and am finally ready to sew today. I did do a few little things which I'll show you in another post (I haven't taken pictures yet!) and I, of course, cooked.

Night before last I decided to try this recipe/method from Shawnee at Delishes-Delishes for making home-made Real French Fries. It seemed weird, but it did give us what we wanted...fries that were crispy on the outside and fluffy on the inside. The trick has got to be the soaking and the frying twice. The entire family deemed it a keeper, even though I didn't peel the potatoes first. So, here is the recipe I followed:

Homemade French Fries

First peel (or not, depending on your preference) several Russet potatoes...however many you want. Cut them into french fries, and put them in a big bowl of cold water. Let them soak at least an hour. [Mine soaked for 2+ hours and I had no problems.]

After they've soaked, heat your oil to 350. No more, no less. I make mine in an electric skillet, if you have a fryer, that's great. Stovetop frying is touchier and more difficult to keep the oil at the proper temperature. [I used my fryer. I love that messy little baby!]

Dump your potatoes out into a colander while the oil heats and allow them to drain. If they're still pretty wet when the oil is hot, use a towel to dry them a bit more. Again...oil and water don't mix! Set out a cookie sheet covered with a couple layers of newspaper which in turn is covered with paper towels. The newspaper does a good job of soaking up extra grease. [I used a brown paper grocery bag.] Add some of the potatoes to your oil. Again, I can't tell you how many, just don't put too many in or the oil temperature will drop and you'll end up with greasy fries. Swoosh the fries around a couple of times to make sure they're not sticking together. After 3-5 minutes, the fries will look like this:

[This is my picture, not Shawnee's. I thought it only fair to show you what mine looked like!]

Pale, soggy and un-fried looking. That's fine. Just put them on the paper towels and move on to the next batch. Keep going until you've cooked all the potatoes. Now raise the temperature on your oil to 400 or 425. My electric skillet only goes to 400, so that's what I do, but the higher the oil, the browner your fries will end up. [My fryer says 375 is max, so I turned it all the way up!] Dump your french fries into the colander to free up your cookie sheet. Replace the newspaper and paper towels if necessary. Once the oil is at 400 [or at your maximum temperature], put your first batch of fries in the oil. Then start watching. After a bit, they'll start floating. Start watching for them to get nice and golden brown. Scoop them out of the oil, season and eat as soon as they're cool enough to handle.

There you have it, homemade french fries. We served ours a variety of ways...Valiant and Superman are ketchup men, Buttercup is a ranch dressing girl, and I liked mine with garlic and parmesan.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

What cats do in winter...


Bring the birdwatching indoors!
Posted by Picasa