Saturday, February 28, 2009

It is game night again!

Can you believe it is already Saturday again? This time around, I made Irish Soda Bread and have carrots and Ranch dressing, as well as almost an entire home-made pizza for our friends. I'll give you the recipe for the Irish Soda Bread later in a different post, but for now, I wanted to share the recipe for these amazing scones I made earlier today. (Yeah, it was that kind of day...)

This scone recipe comes from the Tomato Lady at Little House in the Suburbs and it is definitely worth trying. I put the recipe below, but if you haven't stopped by the Little House in the Suburbs, you should...those ladies are full of all kinds of useful knowledge. As for the scones, honestly, I could not believe how easy these were and they were so good that I haven't even tasted them with butter yet!
Home-made Scones
[This is Tomato Lady's tip of using frozen butter...try it, it really worked!]
Note: For the best result, if you know you are going to be making this, say, for breakfast the next morning, freeze the butter in advance. Take it out before you start to mix up the other ingredients and grate it on the coarse side of a grater. Pop it back in the freezer while you mix up the flour and leavening and prepare the milk & egg mixture. If you want to make these up on the spur of the moment, go for it. It will still be excellent without freezing the butter.

Ingredients:
1 3/4 c. all-purpose flour (or whole wheat pastry flour or a combination of the two)
1 T. plus 1 tsp. baking powder
3/4 tsp. salt
2 T. sugar (you can leave this out with good results) [I kept it in]
4 T. unsalted butter
1 large egg
milk
1/3 cup raisins or other dried fruit, nuts, or chocolate chips [I used raisins]

Directions:

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.

Combine flour, baking powder, salt and sugar (if including).

Lightly beat the egg in a large measuring cup that shows ounces. Add enough milk to the egg to equal a total of 5 oz.

Take the grated butter from the freezer and cut it into the flour with a pastry blender. When it resembles breadcrumbs, add in the milk/egg (reserve 1 tsp. to brush on the tops) and stir gently to combine. Add raisins (or add-in of choice) and stir them in. Work the dough as little as possible.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and give the dough a few folds. Here's another opportunity for individual preference to assert itself. You may pat the dough into a round and cut it into wedges. Also feel free roll or pat in out about 3/4 in. thick and cut it into biscuit shapes with a cutter or cut it into squares or diamond shapes with a knife.

Place on ungreased baking sheet. [I used my Pampered Chef pizza stone.] Brush tops with reserved milk/egg and bake for 10-11 minutes.

I've been wanting to make scones for the longest time and this recipe seemed to be right up my alley. I am so glad I tried it. Next time we're having blueberry scones! I'm also going to remember that "grating frozen butter" tip for other recipes...it was that much easier. Let me know when you try them, I'm eager to know what you think.


Friday, February 27, 2009

Not quite how I imagined it...

Since Charming worked two jobs and had a night class last night, we celebrated his birthday today. Included in this celebration is always the homemade cake as requested. Charming and Valiant are just about complete opposites and birthday cakes were no different. Both like yellow cakes, but Valiant likes chocolate frosting and Charming likes white frosting. Where Valiant likes just "a little bit of frosting, Mom", Charming says, "I want a LOT of frosting, Mom." So, I tried, I really, really tried...and, well, it didn't go so well. The top of the cake kept sliding off the bottom...I even put uncooked spaghetti noodles in to add stability, to no avail. So, while the cake tasted good and, from one angle, looked okay...
















...this is what it really looked like!















How sad is that?

Uh-Oh, I think it finally happened...


I think I might possibly be a grown-up. I really think it might have snuck up on me.

How did this happen? More importantly, when did this happen? I don't know, but I think I've discovered some indicators that it was happening. I know this is going to be difficult to believe, but for the second time in as many weeks, I've had the opportunity to go to Target and shop and I didn't want to because there is nothing I need or want. Honestly, we don't have the money for shopping (birthday season is a cash-drain), but that has never stopped me before. Is it possible that I've finally broken myself of the "shopping for entertainment purposes" habit that has long stricken our country? But wait, that is not all.

There have been other clues of this transformation, but I hadn't pieced them all together until now. Get this: I'm not interested in new clothes because the clothes I have are fine. I don't really care to see what the new "colors" are because my house feels "done" to me. I don't care if anyone thinks I look skinny or fat or cute...it really doesn't matter. Even lip gloss doesn't provide the thrill it used to. Even having a favorite gloss go through the dryer (fortunately caught in the vent and not bleeding onto all the clothes - phew) didn't send me to the computer to order a new one, nor did I ask Superman to stop by Nordstrom's on the way home (oh, did I mention it was one of my Bobbi Brown glosses, not one of my $1.98 glosses?) to get a new one. Even being in downtown didn't tempt me to stop by and get one for myself. Lastly, did I mention that I was excited to have baby carrots and ranch dressing for snack yesterday? No Nacho Cheese Doritos for me...I wanted the darned carrots! Can you believe it?

All of this seems to point to me actually being a grown-up and I just have one question:

How is this possible if I am still only 27?! Okay, I'll go as high as 35, but that is it...no higher!

Chocolate Chip Banana Muffins

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After a week and a half of computer issues and getting back to basics, life has finally settled into a pattern, birthday season and all. Since today is Thursday, it was time for me to whip up another batch of something wonderful to send to work with Superman for his team meeting Friday morning. (I actually forgot to make something last Thursday and had to send them with....store bought cookies! I know, I know. The shame!)

This week, however, I remembered ahead of time and held on to three past-their-prime bananas so I could send a batch of my Chocolate Chip Banana Muffins, a recipe I got from my best-friend-K-who-didn't-follow-us-when-we-moved-1300-miles-away-can-you-believe-it. The great thing about this recipe is that it is so easy and forgiving. The first few times I made these, I didn't realize that I had messed up the recipe and was using 1/3 cup sugar instead of the 2/3 cup sugar the recipe called for and they turned out wonderfully. (To me, that is darned forgiving!) I've also made them with half all-purpose flour and half whole-wheat flour and, again, they turned out beautifully. My only tip with these muffins is to be certain you don't overcook them. You don't want them tan when you pull them out of the oven, you want them blonde with golden highlights!

Chocolate Chip Banana Muffins

2 cups flour
2/3 cup sugar (remember 1/3 cups works, too)
1 Tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt

1 cup milk
1/3 cup butter melted
1 egg beaten
1-2 bananas chopped/mashed
1 cup chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line muffin tins (or spray with non-stick spray). Mix together the first four ingredients (flour, sugar, baking powder, salt), then add milk, butter, and egg and mix. Add banana and mix thoroughly and then stir in the chocolate chips. Scoop into prepared muffin tins. Bake for 20 minutes or blonde with golden highlights - remember don't over cook or you'll get a too-dry muffin. (Adjust time if you are using mini muffin tins.) Let cool (just a little because they are so good warm) and serve.

I'm always trying new recipes calling for bananas because they're so inexpensive and I always end up with a few that no one will eat. No matter what new ones I try, I always come back to this one.


Thursday, February 26, 2009

Just Because I Can...

Happy Birthday, Charming! You were about 18 months old in this picture... (18 months/18 years...get it?)

P.S. Gotcha!
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Eighteen Years Ago Today...


I became a mother. My world changed in ways I couldn't have imagined and wouldn't have believed. This boy helped me to become the woman I knew was there. I had two more children after this first born, but it is this child that made me a mother that rainy February day in 1991. Today that little baby is an adult by any measure. He's been an amazing child to have the privilege to raise. He caused me to stretch and reach to levels I didn't know existed and I am better for the experience. He moved into campus housing in September, and since he's been at the dorms, I've seen the man in him slowly emerge. His walk is different, the way he stands is different, and his confidence is growing by leaps and bounds. His path hasn't been an easy one, but I've never wavered in my faith that he would triumph. This is the boy who walked before he was 9 months old, carried on serious conversations when he was three, and graduated from high school and junior college 4 months after he turned 17. This boy-child of mine has been chomping at the bit to be an adult since he was twelve years old, when he informed me that he resented being "subordinate" to me. (Um, okay?) This child has been letting me know since the moment he was born that children are only on loan to us and whatever time we have with them is temporary and a blessing to be cherished. I've been preparing myself to let him fly away for so long, I'm glad to see that he's not wanting to fly too far too soon. Oh, I know it is coming...he's already planning to move overseas in another year and a half. I'm sure I'll cry, even as I pat him on the back and wish him Bon Voyage. For now, though, I want him to know: He's an amazing human being and I am proud to call him my son.

So, Happy 18th Birthday, Charming! We love you and are proud of you and know you're journey will be an exciting one.

And, because I know you're reading this, just make a note of this: The "old man" you call Dad had not yet turned 22 when I first met him. Yep, he was only 4 years older than you are now when he changed the history of the world by insulting me. Who knew how far those poorly chosen words would take us? As you feel hesitant or unsure, just remember, mistakes aren't always a bad thing and he hasn't always been Dad...he used to be a kid who said stupid things, too. The lesson here? Time flies...enjoy the ride!

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Northwest Museum of Art & Culture

Well, we finally made it to the MAC, after 6 months of trying to fit it into our schedule! Despite the fact that the day dawned grey and rainy (that's okay, at least it wasn't snow!), despite the fact that we had two meltdowns (tears and angst, sigh!), a lipstick managed to go through the dryer (darn it!), and more RSS Feed problems with Outlook (grrrrr!), we made it!

We bought a family membership for the year ($50 - what a deal) and met a few of the homeschoolers. In addition to the static exhibits including Native American history and wildlife of the Pacific Northwest, there is currently a quilt exhibit featured at the museum (Kate, you'd so love it!) and the kids spent some time on the interactive displays.

Valiant played at the computer a bit more than Buttercup (isn't his design awesome?), then they both moved over to the blocks and created some quilts. I got to have some adult conversation and it was awesome! We capped it off by picking up Superman from work and bringing him home with us. All in all, it worked out well and I'm glad we've finally gotten on our schedule. (See, all that discipline pays off!)

Despite a few bumps along the way, it was a good day and I'm really glad we didn't let the weather deter us. I love homeschooling and the ability it gives us to schedule field trips like this into our schedule. Rain or shine, we'll head back two weeks from today.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Tuesday, Tuesday, touch your shoe day...and other random musings...

So, first things first...Blogger tested my feelings of being blessed by making it impossible for me to post any comments on any blogs, anywhere, yesterday. (Superman told me, however, that Google had bigger problems than Blogger and that the entire Gmail network crashed yesterday. So, see, I am blessed!) Then Microsoft Outlook 2007 decided to add to my frustration by manifesting a "known, but unacknowledged" glitch (that means they totally know there is a problem, but they don't feel like dealing with it yet) in the receipt of RSS Feeds, so I didn't receive any of my feeds yesterday. Borrowing a phrase from Superman's place of employment, after Superman got home from work, I threw the problem into "escalation" and required status updates every 15 minutes until the situation was resolved to my satisfaction.

(Okay, not really. I said, "Honey, my Outlook isn't working right and I can't read any of my blogs and I can't comment on the blogs that I remember the URL for and, well, could you fix it for me?" That approach seems to work much better than throwing it into "escalation and demanding constant status updates".)

So, today will be a catch up day. Thus the random picture of Buttercup and Biscuit...too cute for words. Who knew I'd learn to love hamsters? Weird, I'm telling you.

Things are going well with my re-dedication to being a disciplined mom. The kids are happy, I'm happy, and Superman is happy. The house is clean, the chores are done, and the schoolwork is done. We have craft time, movie time, wood shop (yeah, Superman handles that), and video game time (again, Superman's arena). Melissa, we've exercised both days this week and are on track to get to our ideal of a five-day workout week. (We'll accept 4 from ourselves, but are shooting for 5.)

Unfortunately, I still think I have a discipline problem here. It seems to me that Sam I Am is really being defiant and ignoring the whole "these towels are where the cats sit on my bed" thing.What do you think?

Last night, to say thank-you to Superman for getting my computer fixed (again), I made Brownies from scratch, which then turned into Brownie Sundaes (warm brownies, vanilla ice cream, and hot fudge sauce). This recipe is super easy and all you need to do is make sure you keep Baker's Unsweetened Chocolate on your shelf and you can whip up brownies in half an hour.

Brownies

2 sticks of butter
4 oz of unsweetened chocolate (this is four of those little squares)
4 eggs
2 cups of sugar
2 Tablespoons of Vanilla Extract
1 Cup of Flour

*handful of chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350. Grease 9 x 13 pan. Melt butter and chocolate together. (I melt the chocolate first, on medium heat in the microwave, then add the butter for the last minute. This way, I don't burn the chocolate - and, yes, this is the voice of experience talking - burnt chocolate is gross!) Beat eggs and add sugar slowly until smooth. Add vanilla, chocolate, and butter and mix well. Fold in flour, mixing until just incorporated. Pour into pan.

* Sprinkle a few handfuls of chocolate chips across the top of the brownies if you want or frost them when you're done or eat them plain, whatever suits your fancy that day. Last night, I sprinkled the chocolate chips across the top.

Bake for 28-35 minutes or until pulling away from sides of pan. (I've found that I need to cook these until the edges look over done to me or "perfect" according to Superman.)

This is definitely one of my favorite recipes and I've been using it for years. The fact that it is so simple and uses nothing exotic makes it perfect for those last-minute desserts or the need for a perfect thank-you.

Try it, you won't be disappointed.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Feeling Blessed...

How often do you stop and consciously think just how blessed you are and have been, regardless of your current circumstances? Do you often look around and feel fortunate to have your life? Do you love your life, warts and all?

The past few weeks I've been quite introspective, thinking about what I'm doing well and what I'm not doing so well. I've dealt with some of my own failings as a parent. I posted a painfully honest post about the realities of growing up in my family on the blog I share with my sister. If you read it without knowing me, you might think I was whining and, truthfully, I can say with all sincerity, I wasn't whining. Getting to know my little sister has brought many leftover feelings to the forefront of my mind. I've been revisiting them, trying to be scrupulously fair to all the people involved and concluding, despite all the fairness I can muster, that things were seriously messed up.

Despite reaching that conclusion, however, I wouldn't change a thing about my life. Why? Because every unanswered prayer, every unfulfilled wish, every broken road, brought me to this moment. A moment in which I can say I am truly, truly blessed. I am surrounded by love on a daily basis. I have a husband who moves heaven and earth to provide the opportunity for me to be at home to better care for him and our children. He has provided for me an absolutely lovely home in which I live. My children are growing into people I admire and like, independent of my relationship with them. My neighbors enrich my life in ways I can't begin to count. My extended family is as peaceful as I can ever remember it being. I've been given an opportunity to be the big sister my little sister seems to need, giving me and my children a connection to family we haven't had and truly need. If I don't know two of my brothers, well, I do know that they have wonderful lives that keep them fulfilled.

Our lives aren't perfect and I know this. Yes, we have bills to pay. Yes, the economy stinks. Yes, I have acne and grey hair and a butt that is much bigger than it was ten years ago. So what? Dust happens every day. So does laundry and dishes. So what?

It is easy to chronicle every thing that is wrong with our lives, but do you ever stop to think about how much is right with your life? Just how lucky you are to be where you are right now? I know no one's life is perfect, but I, for one, am exceedingly grateful for the life I have right this minute.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

It's Game Night!


Did you know? Every Saturday night, we host Game Night at our house. Why, you might ask? Well, when Charming headed off to live in the dorms at one of the universities in our town, we wanted to being a new tradition, a way to keep our adult children in our lives without being overbearing or intruding in their new "grown-up" lives. At the same time, we wanted to respond to the changes in our world as well as the firming up of our own values and teach all our children that you can have a terrific time without spending money. Thus, the birth of Game Night. Game Night is every Saturday at 7:30 p.m. (thus, we are not providing dinner). All the neighbors are invited, as are Charming and any of his friends who want to come. Depending upon the size of the crowd, the younger kids might join us for the games we play, or they might head on downstairs to play their beloved video games. The girls might head to Buttercup's room to watch a "chicklet flick" or play with their American Girl dolls or the hamster or whatever. Sometimes the boys and girls mingle and sometimes, well, they don't (cooties, you know).

As for food and beverages, we provide some baked good that I felt like making (guess who's getting thick chewy oatmeal cookies tonight?), as well as big bowls of popcorn. We have water, tea, and coffee...no sodas or punch or anything. I don't go buy anything for Game Night, ever. We just serve what we have. Sometimes our friends bring more stuff and sometimes they don't...either way is fine with . The whole idea is that this is casual, low-key, easy, and inexpensive.

We tend to play Five Crowns, but we've tried Quiddler, Catch Phrase, and Pictionary with much success. There is no pressure for people to come each week, we've just tried to let them know the door is always open. Honestly, whether the crowd is big or little, we just have fun. We started this in September and here we are in February and still going strong. For being such a new "tradition" our family already counts on it every week and are already wondering how we'll be handling it when camping starts up again. (Duh, see you at the campsite!) I hope we're still doing it 10 years from now.

So, if you happen to be in the neighborhood, Game Night starts at 7:30! Come on by!

What is not to love?


What is not to love about a man who is this prepared to clean? Just look at how well-trained he is!

This is how Valiant suited up to tackle cleaning his bathroom. Man, I love this kid!

Someday (in the far distant future) he's going to make an awesome husband...I hope his future wife appreciates him! (Completely random, I know!)

Friday, February 20, 2009

Oatmeal Raisin Cookies


Well, I haven't been baking much, but these cookies gave me an excuse to play with Minnie. This recipe is for the thick, chewy oatmeal raisin cookie that I like (very different from my awesome Dunking Platters). They are not too sweet, which is a nice change after two months of holiday eating. These cookies come from Deb at the Smitten Kitchen and you can find her original post here. Give them a try when you're wanting a not-too-sweet treat.

Thick, Chewy Oatmeal Raisin Cookies

1 cup of butter - softened (two sticks)
1 1/3 cups of brown sugar - packed
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract (oh, please, why do recipes always say 1 teaspoon - I always use more!)
1 1/2 cups of all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 cups oats
1 1/2 cups raisins
1 cup chopped walnuts (um, I left these out, as always!)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a large bowl, cream together butter, brown sugar, eggs, and vanilla.

In separate bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt. Combine with butter mixture, then add oats, raisins, and nuts (if you're using them!).

Deb said to put them on parchment paper, but I just used my Pampered Chef scooper and put them on an ungreased cookie sheet. Bake for 12 minutes or until bottom looks golden and the tops look not quite done. Leave on the cookie sheet for five minutes before transferring to cooling rack.

These are such a nice change from the super sweet baked goods we seem to eat from November to Valentine's Day. Give them a try.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Loved the way this turned out...


As promised, here is a picture of Valiant's birthday cake. I wanted festive without frosting overload (he's not a big frosting man), happy without juvenile or girly (13-year old boys and frosting roses don't mix), and I think I achieved it with this cake. He "ordered" yellow cake with chocolate frosting, so I had no leeway there. The dots, however, were a surprise, so I had free reign. I made a batch of Royal Icing, made it up in different colors, and squeezed it out onto wax paper in circles of varying size, then I let the icing get hard in the refrigerator and used a spatula to pull them off the wax paper and stuck them in the frosting. Easy peasy and not a frosting flower in sight! What do you think?

Everything is coming up DORKY!

What happens when you combine children who have access to your label maker and a husband with a wicked sense of humor? You get this:

A printer that has been identified as "I'm a dork" ....


...and a husband who ran with it and identified the printer with that name on the network!

Then, of course, you then get to hear things like, "Hey, is anything coming out of "I'm a Dork"?" or "I'm a Dork isn't working. Where's Dad?" or "Hold on, I need to go get it off I'm a Dork!"

No, Junior High never ended at our house!

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Standing down...

The military has a term that has made its way into our home courtesy of Superman, who served in the Army before I knew him. It is "standing down". Basically, as I understand it, what it means is to simply stop acting and reassess the situation before you. Yesterday in the Nagle household, we needed to stand down. Things weren't going well and I needed to honestly assess why. Mindfulness was desperately needed. Some of the causes were obvious and some weren't so obvious. In my honesty, I need to also admit that some of the conclusions I reached were personally painful...areas where it was my own lack of follow through and consistency that were causing the problems.

I believe that positive change requires honest assessment, even when it ends up making me look or feel badly about the role I am playing in any given situation (in this case, there was definitely some of that). So, after a painful night of introspection and study, I woke up this morning with a plan to tackle the situation and I thought I'd share it with you.

First, though, my assessment of the situation, including how I've created most of the problems myself.

The truth of the matter is I have failed to provide a strong enough example of personal discipline during the past month and a half. The Nagle family is always faced with the urge to live life as one big party from Thanksgiving to Easter because we go from Thanksgiving to Superman's birthday to Christmas to New Years to Valentine's Day to Valiant's birthday to Charming's birthday to Buttercup's birthday to Easter. It really is five months of parties and celebrations. Add to this the irregular school schedule their friends have during this period and you have a recipe for chaos...which we've been living in. How do I add to the problem? Too often, I have given in to temptation to sleep a little longer, go out a litte more, play a little more, and the quality of our days has reflected that decline in my standards.

The chores my children are supposed to do haven't been getting done in a timely or quality manner. Oh, the decline wasn't all at once, but it has gone on long enough that the lack of results is telling. If the chores matter enough for me to assign them, then they need to matter enough for me to give consequences when they don't get done well...or at all...or under duress...or, I'm embarrassed to say, they've fibbed and said they did them when they didn't and cried the "I forgot about that one" cry. This is where I have failed them by accepting what should have been unacceptable.

Valiant is 13 now and, honestly, needs me to be holding him more accountable, not less, if he is going to become the man we see in him and the man he wants himself to be. In order to hold him accountable, though, I must hold myself accountable or my credibility is shaky (see, we're uncomfortably back to me). He has academic goals he wants to meet, but the work has to be consistently dedicated to those goals regularly or they will fall to the wayside. My lack of consistency can hurt him and his future.

Finally, I remembered why I stopped exercising. It was too difficult to get exercise in along side of homeschooling and caring for the home and the family. Work seems to cease while I clean up, shower, and get dressed after exercising and the rhythm of the day never seems to recover. Instead of feeling good about taking care of myself, I end up feeling like it messes up the whole day.

So, that was assessment of the current situation. In a nutshell...we've become lazy.

Remember, though, I said I woke up with a plan, and here it is, 1:40 p.m. and the plan has been implemented.

First thing, I set an alarm and got up this morning at 8:00 o'clock and got the kids up at the same time. Then I immediately got on my exercise clothes and had them do the same things, followed up by bed-making. We met downstairs and had breakfast (oatmeal, if you're interested). As soon as breakfast was done, I informed my children that all their chores were to be done. Yep, first thing...and they were done with minimal attitude (perhaps raising my voice last night lasted through until the morning!).

Then we went to the school room and had a meeting which I began...with an apology. You read that correctly, I started my academic meeting with my homeschooled children by apologizing. I apologized for failing to be a good leader. I apologized for failing to inspire them by my example. I apologized for letting them come to believe that the things I want and hope for them are not important enough for me to pursue with consistency and dedication. Then, I told them it was time for us to change how we do things from the beginning of the day to the end of the day.

And together we worked out a new schedule which takes into account Monday malaise and Friday's eagerness to be done. We've taken into account our desire to start joining the homeschool group at the MAC every Wednesday afternoon. We've taken into account the kids' desire to be done in time to play with the "afterschool" time their friends have. We've taken into account PE, art, and history, as well as science, typing, Spanish, spelling, reading, and math. PE will now follow computer time, which makes perfect sense when you think of the desire kids feel to move around after sitting still for an hour. Lunch will follow PE and showers and our desk time will happen after lunch. Serious cleaning will be limited to Mondays and Fridays and a little less schoolwork will be scheduled for those days.

Finally, from myself and from them, I will not accept excuses, prevarication, or "fibs". I will not have a sliding scale of expectations. We have some serious ground to regain with some hard work ahead of us, but these kids are worth the very best I have to give and as long as I behave as the mother they deserve, we'll be fine.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Today feels like a Monday...

After a three-day weekend that included a much anticipated birthday, today is definitely feeling like a Monday. The high point here is that Superman felt the same way, so I got two dates this week, rather than one! (For anyone who's counting, I've now had 16 Egg McMuffins in 2009--I've definitely slowed down since the January feasting!)

Since I homeschool Valiant and Buttercup, I've found Mondays can go one of two ways: 1) If everything stayed relatively calm and relaxed over the the weekend, the kids just sail into their school week; or 2) If everything stayed in a high state of chaos for the weekend (like with a much anticipated birthday), schooling barely gets started, as the chaos of the house must be put in order before their minds (and mine) can be calm and focused. Guess which kind of faux Monday we're having today?

So, while little schoolwork has been completed, the bathrooms are scrubbed, the bedrooms cleaned, Valentine's day decorations are removed, three loads of laundry have been done, Valiant (oops, excuse me!), the Red Fox and I have exercised, the dishwasher is unloaded, the furniture has been put back in position after some much needed carpet cleaning got done before bedtime last night, and we are all finding our groove.

Because it is, in fact, Tuesday, this is going to make for a tough week...I don't modify the weeks based on decisions like this...the schoolwork still gets done, just at a different pace. (No matter how busy Superman's weekend was, his work has to get done, so the kids might as well get used to those expectations for them now.)

Since I'm playing household clean-up, I though you might enjoy some interesting posts from some blogs I read. Go check out Lara's post at The Lazy Organizer...she's made some interesting changes in her diet and shares her results with us all. I admit to being intrigued. She's also the one who gave us all the link to this amazing (cautionary?) story about plastic from Discover Magazine's May 2009 issue: The Dirty Truth About Plastic. Pretty Organizer at Pretty Organized Palace has some terrific tips to get a lot done with minimal effort in this post. Finally, Mary at Owlhaven.net saw her first child married on Saturday and has a post about the clever things they did to make it special and frugal at the same time. The real value in the post, though, is the love you "hear" as you read her description of her daughter's wedding day. It will bring tears to your eyes (in a good way!).

For now I'll leave you all with that, while I continue to restore order and harmony to my home. (But I'll be back later tonight to show you Valiant's birthday cake...I tried something new and exciting and it actually turned out well!) Until then, have a terrific Tuesday-that-feels-like-a-Monday!

Monday, February 16, 2009

Being Mindful...


I've been thinking a lot about living life in a mindful fashion these days. Maybe it is my growing awareness that the time has been passing as I acknowledge my children aren't babies anymore or maybe it is the thought I've been putting into my own life as I talk with others about their lives, but whatever its source, the word that I keep coming back to is : Mindful.

Quite simply, being mindful means being deliberate and conscious of our actions and choices and owning those actions and choices, even when the results aren't ideal. Whether we're talking about spending money, caring for our physical bodies, caring for our spiritual selves, finding balance in our home lives, keeping the house, raising children, working, or whatever, I think we must be mindful of our actions.

To me, living in a mindful way means taking the time to think about what I am doing and why I am doing it and what I hope to accomplish from doing whatever it is I choose to do. Being mindful means I can't do things just because I've always done them that way. Being mindful means I must do status checks on the various aspects of my life to make sure that I am on the track to accomplish my goals. Being mindful means I take the time to balance out conflicting wants and needs and come to some compromise deliberately, having taken into account as many factors as I can. Finally, being mindful means that I recognize "stress" is simply an indication that change is required somewhere.

Momstheword posted today about balancing work/chore/family needs and how everyone comes up with a different balance. While her post was directed more towards parenting goals, the idea of balance is universally applicable. To me, the best balance is the one that you've come by mindfully, deliberately, where you've acknowledged that you can't do everything you'd like and you prioritize the things you want and need to do and cobble them together to make a life that works for you. It is when we feel overwhelmed by demands that we know we're out of balance and not being mindful and we need to revisit the way we do things to regain that balance.

Being mindful allows us to translate stress into change and, ultimately, peace and balance.

Stress is just an indicaton that something needs to change. Being mindful means I don't just throw my hands up in despair and let things remain stressful. If something has become a source of stress, then I need to be mindful to determine how my life has gotten out of balance and make changes to address that change.

There is no one-size-fits-all lifestyle or formula. We all have different needs and wants that must mesh with the other members of our lives. It is only by honest assessment that we can keep things in balance.

One bloggy friend admits that she's going to cut back (by one day) the number of days a week she works because she's discovered adding that one day this year threw everything out of balance. Yes, I'm certain the extra money was good, but the price has been too high for her and her family.

Another friend is changing the way she manages her household because the stay-at-home patterns don't work for a now-working-out-of-the-home mom. Maybe she'll have to compromise on cleaning standards or maybe she'll need to cook a little less from scratch. All these areas will need to be tweaked until she gets it right.

On the flip side, my sister is still defining her goals as a stay-at-home because she's never had the luxury to be home before. She doesn't actually have a fully-formed picture of her well-cared-for home because she's almost always put her compromises in the home category. Last year, however, it all became too out of balance for her to live with and home needed to be tended to and work had to move to the back burner. While I have no idea what her well-cared-for-home looks like, I am certain that before she's done, she'll try and discard many combinations of priorities before she settles on the one that brings balance to her and her family.

As for me, when I decided to homeschool my children, our homelife was turned upside down and every single thing I did had to be reconsidered. I was never alone...it was like having toddlers again. Suddenly, instead of a few solitary hours every day to get the house clean and the chores and errands done, I had to schedule it around the homeschooling. Exercising? I had to do it when the kids are doing their computer work. Errands? Done after the kids were done with their work. Like shaking a sand sculpture, its taken adjustment to get it just right and even "just right" only lasts for a little while and a new pattern emerges. There is no perfect pattern...there is only what works. Now that Valiant (oops, I mean the Red Fox) exercises with me, I have to make certain the time we spend exercising doesn't interfere with his schooling. As their interests change and the demands on our time changes, I am constantly making adjustments.

The one thing these women (and I) all have in common is that they are being mindful of their lives, aware of the influences at work, and figuring out how to balance everything in a world where nothing stays the same.

Are you mindful? How do you decide how things get done? or NOT done?

I have another teenager now!


I can't really believe it, but it is true. Today is Valiant's 13th birthday! I can't believe how the time has flown. It seems like just yesterday that he was my beautiful little baby and now he's (as he tells me) "a Man". (Wasn't he just the prettiest baby?) We feel so proud and blessed that Valiant is our son. He's strong and caring, he's honorable and philosophical. He already tries to live his life in a mindful manner. He's creative and funny, keeping us in stitches most of the time. He's always stretching and growing in ways that surprise us. He adores his little sister and his older brother and tries to be there for them in any way he can.

Happy Birthday, Valiant! We love you and think you're amazing!

Saturday, February 14, 2009

I don't think he cares about the rules...


Because we have three cats who all, at various times, seem to love my bed, I have put towels at the foot of the bed to protect the comforter. The cats have all learned to sleep on the towels. (Trust me, you move them often enough, they'll get the idea.) Sam I Am, I Am Sam ("Sam"), however, has always moved to the beat of a different drummer and decided the rules don't apply to him. Obviously, he's decided touching the towel is good enough.

Friday, February 13, 2009

When saying "No" is going to start a war...


...or...it is a good thing parenting isn't a popularity contest.

Superman and I have come to a decision that is going to make Valiant (especially) and Buttercup extremely unhappy. I might even be so bold as to say that are going to be angry, rail at how unfair we are, how out of touch we are, and how generally how unreasonable we are. There will be tears and foot stomping, but to no avail...we have decided and that is going to be that.

What will this epic battle be over? Something simple, really. We have decided that we will not let the children spend any more of their money (gifted or hard-earned) on Webkinz - period. Why? Because after careful consideration, the Webkinz business model, like Pokemon and YuGiOh before it, is in direct conflict with the values we are trying to instill in our children. Namely, more is not always better, just because something is popular doesn't make it worthwhile, and buying something today just because it won't have be available tomorrow isn't a good enough reason.

Webkinz is a worldwide phenomenon. Webkinz is also, in my opinion, a racket that my children (and millions of other children) cheerfully throw their money into. For those of you lucky enough to not know about Webkinz, let me explain how it works: You have to buy a certain type of stuffed animal (a Webkinz) to get a code that allows you to play an online game. Once you are online, the more animals you have, the more access you have to the game. Then, to add to the mix, they have web-only animals (that's right, no toy) that cost just as much as one of the stuffed animals that give you more and a different access to the game. The kicker? The stuffes animals cost between $8 and $16 EACH. After Christmas, my children used a large portion of their Christmas money to buy these Webkinz - do the math, they each have four or five of these things - and, at that point, I put a stop to it. Enough is enough, I thought, we're done. Well, here we are, less than two months later, and they need more Webkinz and we're going to tell them "no".

Now, don't get me wrong. Up to a certain extent, I am completely in favor of spending a small percentage of your income on entertainment and I am not going to decide for you what entertainment you choose (obviously, within reason). At this point, however, winter is almost over. Internet time is winding down, and I think this is a poor use of their money. So, Valiant is going to pull the "it is my birthday card" because he'll be 13 on Monday and Buttercup is going to pull the "friends are doing it, too" card to no avail.

When I'm tempted to give in, I'll just remember that my job is not to be their best buddy, their nicest friend, or a generous aunt. No, my job is to raise capable adults who have the skills to lead adult lives, even if the journey isn't always fun. It is a good thing parenting is not a popularity contest because I don't think I'll get anyone's vote this weekend.

So, what do you think?


(Uh-oh...I think this might be another soapbox moment.)

My sister has decided she wants to be a Stay-at-Home-Wife and her husband is totally on board with that. They are able to afford to have her stay home, if they cut back a little and they're both willing to do that. The problem (as she sees it): They have no kids. So, she feels she should be doing something valuable with her time and feels guilty for wanting to stay home. When we talked about this, so many things struck me at once that I had to ask you all your opinions.

1) Why isn't it valuable for someone (gender irrelevant here) to stay home and care for the home?

2) Isn't part of the problem with "home" these days is that no one has the time to care for it?

3) Doesn't everyone function better in a well-run home?

4) Why does she have to have children to make this choice more "legitimate"?

I've talked with Superman about this dilemma and we both agree that there is tremendous value in someone being home and actually, mindfully, caring for the home. I worked full-time for the first ten years of our marriage and I won't deny that there was a huge adjustment to be made when I came home full-time. It wasn't always easy, and like my sister I often wondered if I were not actually making a valuable contribution, but it was worth it. From being better organized and better fed, to being more self-sufficient and making a better use of the household's resources, we think there is tremendous value in having someone "managing" the home.

My sister and her husband moved into a new house in a new town in August or September and they both started working at new jobs immediately. Guess where all their energy and focus was directed? Not at home. Fast forward a few months and my sister had quit her job and run smack dab into the holidays. Guess where her focus was? Not really on her home...instead it was more on "pulling off the holidays when she felt like a crazy person". So, here we are in second week of February and she's begun to relax. She sees tons of things that need to be done in her house and actually starts thinking she can get them done. But, alas, then the ugly voice begins again: "You should do something important, something valuable. Go make some money instead of WASTING your time here."

When did having a well-run home become a waste of time? Or, even more absurd, when did it become accepted that she should be in charge of a well-run home and devoted to full-time employment? Why isn't being home, caring for your home and your community, an admirable pursuit?

Finally, why does she have to have children to want these things? No, I'm not being naive...I understand that many people think children are an "excuse" to stay home. No, they add a lot of work to the job of keeping a home running and many, many of us take years to figure out how to make it all work. I would have loved to have been home for a few years before I had children...instead, I did at-home training to learn to care for my home. It wasn't that long ago that no one would have expected her to go to work after she got married. (Yes, I know also that in many cases she wouldn't have been allowed to, but the point is, the time she would have been at home was considered too important to lose her contribution.)

Why would it be more legitimate for her to work full time for money she doesn't need, to buy things she doesn't need, so that she doesn't have time to care for and do the things she (and her husband) really want to do? When did this become the way things are done?

So, what do you think? Should my sister go back to work? Should she feel good about staying home and turning this new house into their home? What are your thoughts? Let me know...

Thursday, February 12, 2009

The Last Batch of Valentine's Cards

Here is the last of the Valentine's Cards from the card swap. As you can see, all the cards I received in exchange for my cards were beautiful. I'm mailing cards today, so hopefully they'll arrive in time for Valentine's Day. (If not, they'll be a special treat in Tuesday's mail - remember, there is no mail on Monday.) I hope they've helped to put you in the Valentine's mood and inspired you to try your hand at something crafty, no matter how modest your efforts (trust me, mine were modest offerings!).

Traditional Beauty
This first card is Superman's Favorite. From the first moment he saw it, he just kept talking about how pretty it was. I think he likes the more traditional nature of it, but maybe I'm just putting words into his mouth. Anyway, the transparent ribbon adds the perfect touch of elegance to this traditional little card. It is not too much and not too little.

The funny thing? It turns out that we have these exact stamps, so now I have new inspiration to go with supplies I already have.

Shimmery Elegance
These little notecards are so beautiful in "real life". All the scrolls you see (forgive the weird camera angle, I was trying to get the scrolls to show without the flash wiping them out) are all shimmery metallic and the little heart shaped brad is just the right touch of "jewelry" to complement the silver ribbon. The Tiffany's blue cards are set off so well by the black frame highlighting the scrollwork. These cards are just perfect.
In addition to an understated Valentine's card, I think these cards would make awesome engagement cards, wedding cards, or just intimate notecards.

Absolutely Perfect
This last card is, I think, my favorite of the bunch (at least for this moment because I can't seem to make up my mind about any favorite for more than two minutes!). The raised lettering separated by little rhinestones is so tasteful. The contrasting red ribbon with the little charm hanging off the bow is so cute and the stamp art is so well done. Combine all that with the red, black and white color scheme and this card is just perfection, at least to me.
The sentiment on the inside of the card is not too mushy and not too silly. Again, I think it strikes just the right note: "Love puts the fun in together, the sad in apart, the hope in tomorrow, the joy in the heart." Seriously, what is not to love about this card. (I know, I said that about all of them...so sue me!)

None of the cards I've shown you today, however, are signed, so I have no idea who made them. I would love, love, love to say thank-you to the wonderful people who obviously put so much thought and hard work into these cards. While I was proud of my contributions to the card swap, it is obvious I have a lot to learn. I am humbled by the talent displayed by these cards.

Think Thrift Store shopping really isn't good enough?

I think it is time for you (and me) to think again! Look at how my dad and my step-mom decorated their condo in Mexico. This is their vacation/weekend home and they wanted to love it, but they didn't want to spend a ton of money on it. Over the past two years, my step-mom has been on a mission to make it feel "just so" and I think she's accomplished her goal. They made it look like this using ONLY stuff from thrift stores, consignment shops, yard sales, and estate sales. I mean it. Every stick of furniture, every accessory, every thing you see is "new to them" rather than "new". What struck me when I saw these pictures was how beautifully everything fits in their Mexican Casa theme. This doesn't scream "garage sale", either. Instead, it says, "Bienvenidos!" which is exactly what they wanted it to say.I need to be really honest here. I am very, very new to shopping this way. While I've always loved hand-me-downs, I've never gone out of my way to head to thrift stores, etc., to find the things I want.

Over the past few years, however, I've used eBay and Craig's List and gotten some clothes for my kids at thrift stores. While I don't need or want anything in the way of furniture, when I do, I'm definitely going to start haunting thrift stores, consignment shops, and the like to find what I want. The way I think of it, I know that I donate awesome, awesome stuff that I just don't need anymore, so why wouldn't I think other people would do the same thing!

Unfortunately, it seems I have only one problem...since they live 1300 miles from me, it is not going to easy to get my step-mom to help me in this process!

Believe it or not, I'm not really into...

"Hallmark" holidays, like Valentine's Day. Whether or not someone brings me flowers and candy or doesn't, is really irrelevant. Superman shows me loves me all year long and I would never be foolish enough to put too much stock into one manufactured day. Having said that, I have a ball creating things and all these "important" holidays are a terrific excuse to stretch my comfort zone and try new things. With that in mind, I fell in love with these Pottery Barn knock-offs that No Fuss Fabulous created. Click over to see their version. Aren't they terrific?

Of course, I had to try my hand a making some of my own. Since NFF had a tutorial, it was that much easier to convince myself I could do it. This is how far I've gotten so far. They aren't quite done: they still need the names attached and I need to actually make one for Charming, as he will be here Saturday morning, so I want him to have one, too. I also need to add velcro to the closure to hold them closed (the binder clips are helping the crease set until I have the velcro attached).


These will be on the back of their chairs at breakfast Valentine's Day. I'm having the kids make Valentine's for each other and will put them in these little envelopes and Superman and I have little trinkets to put in them, as well. I think they are just so fun. What do you think?

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Please Pray for Veiyah...



Veiyah Karg is a tiny little baby with some very serious problems. Born 9/25/08, little Veiyah shared her mother's womb with Aderah Psalm, who did not live to be born alive. Veiyah was born with serious heart conditions and an extremely rare condition which results in her stomach and her liver being on the wrong side of her body. She's truly fighting for her life. Today, she had open-heart surgery that did not go as well as anticipated. So, please pray for Veiyah (and her entire family) as she faces these challenges. (If you want to read her entire story - so long for such a young life, click on the button.) Thank you for keeping her in your prayers.

P.S. You might have noticed that I removed baby Harper's button from my blog. Little Miss Harper is doing beautifully and has been home with her family for the past two days.

Little Brayden is still struggling and has not yet been able to go home. His parents are most appreciative of your prayers and prayers for the other little babies in the NICU with Brayden.

More of the Valentine's Cards from the swap...

Here are four more examples of the cards I received via the card swap. As you can see, every single card I received was absolutely gorgeous and I could not pick a favorite. So, in no particular order, look at these cards!

Understated Elegance
I have no idea who made these elegantly understated cards, but I wish you could see them in real life. I don't know if you can tell, but the card on the left has a torn paper strip on top of striped paper. The card maker used chalk (I think) to highlight the edges and it is just so beautiful. The card on the left is accented by a big button above these words "other things may change us...but we start and end with family". Isn't that an amazing saying? I just love it (and believe it.) The words both are done with rub-on letters.
If anyone knows who made these cards, please let me know. I would love to say thank-you...they are absolutely lovely.

Retro Cutie Pie
This little red combo is retro perfection. It was the work of Shean at Diary of an Unconscious Mind. It is an awesome combination of retro stickers, printed ribbon, and textured stickers, all accented by metallic gel pens all on a deep red background. The sentiment inside reads: "This Valentine is twined around with hopes that gladness will be found within the happy heart of you on this day and all days, too." Honestly, it is just a sweet confection and I know just who I'll be sending it to.
You don't think the fact that Shean's last name is Valentine has anything to do with her affinity to Valentine's Day, do you?

Notable Notecards
Look at these pretty little notecards. Don't they put you in the mood for spring? I honestly think I'll be saving these for springtime notes, rather than Valentine's. Again, unfortunately, I have no idea who made them, but they are gorgeous. What looks like line drawn flowers is actually a cool stamp. On the blue background, they remain uncolored, but on the little cards they've been filled in with water colors. They're both accented with ribbon and the purple card has little black brads on blue ribbon while the blue card has the addition of a gingham ribbon on top of the blue ribbon.
Since these notecards are blank on the inside, I'll have no problem using them however I choose. Again, if anyone knows who made these, please let me know, because I want to thank their creator.


Spring Fling
Finally, look at this card that we've dubbed "Spring Fling". Doesn't it just put you in the middle of a meadow in your mind? This card was made by Chermonblie at He calls her "Lemon Pie". She obviously had a ball making this card...it is just so joyful. You can't read it in the photo, but above the "grass" the saying is: "If I had a single flower for every time I think of you, I could walk in my garden forever. - Claudia Ghandi". Isn't that just so cool?


So, do you see why I said this card swap was an awesome thing? I think you should head on over to any of these blogs and check them out. While you're at it, check out Little Birdie Secrets to see all the neat ideas those little birdies have!

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Brown Sugar Pound Cake and the Mixer has a name.


Okay, so I've been eagerly making new things (a new mixer wants to try new recipes, just in case you didn't know) and I tried a terrific recipe last night. Brown Sugar Pound Cake...doesn't that sound fabulous? I got this recipe from Elizabeth's Edible and you can find her post on it here. More good news? It originally came from Cooking Light magazine. How awesome is that?

This is a "grown-up cake" that is not too sweet. Superman and I both agree that would be perfect with a hot tea or a hot coffee. (T in NC, this is definitely a tea-time cake!) I can't decide if I should add a light icing or glaze the next time I make it...I'm leaning towards doing so, but we'll see. Make this cake if you want a not-to-sweet, but-just-right kind of cake. Because it is a pound cake, it is dense, so a little goes a long way...you feel like you really ate something. As you can tell, I really liked this cake. Let me know what you think of it...

Brown Sugar Pound Cake
(adapted from Cooking Light April 2000)

Cooking spray (for your pan)

3 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup butter (softened)
2 cups light brown sugar (packed)
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
3 eggs
1 cup fat-free milk
1 tablespoon powdered sugar (for top of cake)

Directions:

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Spray bundt pan with cooking spray and set aside.

In medium bowl, combine flour, baking powder and salt. Whisk together well and set aside.

In mixer bowl, cream butter until light and fluffy, then gradually add brown sugar and vanilla. Add eggs, one at a time, mixing thoroughly after each one. Add half the flour mixture and mix, then add the milk and mix, and add the final half of the flour mixture and mix.

Spoon batter into the bundt pan and bake for 65 minutes or until toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Let cool ten minutes in pan and then flip out onto cooling rack.

Sprinkle with powdered sugar and serve.

Notes: I followed this recipe exactly and it turned out beautifully.


And, now, I know you've all been dying to know (okay, mildly curious, but still!):

Please welcome Minerva to the family! "Minnie" is her nickname already and we are thrilled to have her. Thanks to everyone who gave us hints as to her name, but she definitely perked up with momstheword's suggestion of Minerva. So, Minnie it is!

Valentine's Cards

I'm so excited! You might remember that I participated in the Valentine's Day card swap hosted by Little Birdie Secrets and I got my batch of cards yesterday. They are so pretty and so varied, I just love them. During the next few days, I'll show you the cards I received so you can see what clever ideas people have. Whenever possible, I'll include a link to the blog of the person who made the cards, but in some cases, they remained completely anonymous, so I have no way to say thank-you! That is really a shame, because these are some beautiful cards!

So, without further ado, here are some of the cards I received in exchange for the cards I made:

This one is by Sweet Pea and Beans Etsy Shop, where she sells stationery and invitations. Check her stuff out at: www.sweetpeaandbeans.etsy.com. I don't know if you can see it, but she sewed a fabric heart onto the cardstock on top of ribbon and netting. It is so pretty. I love the tropical print of the heart fabric and know just who I'm sending the card to. (If you don't feel like making your own cards, head over to her Etsy shop and pick up some of the stuff she's got ready for you.)


Here is Buttercup's favorite card. This one was made by Chris at This is Chris Now. I don't know where she found the time to make such beautiful cards - she has two teenagers and triplets! When you look inside, it says "Sweet", to complete the sentence started on the front of the card: "You Are So....Sweet". The center of the flower is a little brad and each one of the little circles on the green paper is accented with glitter. The sweet little ribbon on the bottom adds just the right touch to the whimsical papers she chose.

I loved this card. I don't know if you can tell, but the pink heart in the center of this card is like corrugated card board...it adds an awesome texture to the card, especially combined with the silky white ribbon and the glossy embossed "Celebrate" below. Both are raised off the card surface, for that three dimensional effect. Unfortunately, I have no idea who made this card, but I'm trying to find out, so I can say "thanks!".

The last card I'm showing you today was the favorite of the neighbor girls, who oooh'd and aaaah'd over all the cards as I pulled them out. The inside of the card reads "Love puts the fun in together." The decorated envelope was just perfect. Both were made by Tami at Heart and Rose and it is just so pretty. When I read Tami's blog, she admitted that she, too, stepped out of her comfort zone to do this swap (phew! I wasn't the only one!) I'd say she did a fabulous job. This card actually didn't photograph as beautifully as it looks in "real life" . The striped paper has a slightly metallic sheen to it, and the hearts are all on the foamy things that bring them away from the card's surface, adding more dimension that the camera picked up. Also, the little black heart has hand-applied red dots to its edges to add a little oomph. Finally, the tiny grosgrain ribbon is the perfect accent and keeps it from being too austere.

Aren't these cards just beautiful? I feel so blessed to have been part of this card swap. I'll show you more of the cards I received tomorrow, but I thought you'd love a peek now.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

"Not Me" Monday, Menu Planning, and Cake!

Happy Monday! My cold is gone and I am ready for a terrific week!


"Not Me" Monday

McKMama at My Charming Kids does a thing called "Not Me" Monday, where we talk about things that we would never, ever have done. After this weekend, I decided I would have to participate, so here goes...

I did NOT drive two adorable little girls to Walgreen's and drive away with two little girls playing with Flarp (which, for those of you uninitiated, is fart noises in a can - you push your hand in this squishy stuff and the displaced air bubbles caused by that movement make fart noises, loud fart noises)--I would never have done that, even if they had spent their own money and I'd had nothing to do with it. Nope, not me. And, if even if I'd had a daughter whose Flarp didn't work, I would not have insisted Superman drive her back so she could exchange it for a working can. I definitely did NOT do that. I also didn't let Valiant shove money at Buttercup so he, too, could have Flarp (since she was going back anyway). I would never have condoned that! Nor would I have called Superman on his cell phone to pass along the message that one of the neighborhood dads called to say his boy needed an orange can of Flarp (as opposed to the pink and green that were also available) since everyone was buying out the Flarp supply at Walgreens. Finally, I did NOT tell Valiant to just call Charming (who was heading over for Game Night) to ask Charming to stop at Walgreens for yet another can of Flarp because somehow, even after all that, only four of the five kids involved had the requisite can of Flarp. Nor did Charming tell me that the man at Walgreens remembered his little sister in there buying Flarp and giggling up a storm with her friend. I was not involved with anything like that. So, to sum it all up, I did NOT have a house full of Flarp and, therefore, fart noises for Game Night. Not me!

I did NOT spill an entire 48 oz iced tea all over myself and my bed first thing Sunday morning. I would never have done something as stupid as that. Can imagine how terrible that would be? Why if I'd done that, I would have to wash the sheets (which had been changed Friday), the comforter, my nightgown, and an extra blanket. Not to mention just how cold iced tea would have felt running from my waist to my back and puddling under my backside! So, I definitely DID NOT spill an entire iced tea all over myself and my bed.

When Buttercup asking what was for lunch, I did NOT point her to the bag of Doritos on the kitchen counter. I would never do that, because that would not be a nutritious lunch for my child. Not me, I absolutely did NOT give my daughter Doritos for lunch at 3:30 p.m.! I also would never have let the same child play PacMan and Frogger on my Facebook account. (Nor did I tell Superman how to play PacMan, Donkey Kong, etc., on Facebook. As if he's not on the computer enough as it is!)

So, there you have it, my "Not Me" Monday post...I know none of you can imagine me doing any of those things, so I'm glad I got that cleared up.

Menu Planning

Here is this week's dinner menu. As I mentioned before, the menu does not have assigned days, but these are the things we will be having for dinner this week.

Ham Hocks and Beans (my dad's recipe...yum!)
Chicken Fajitas
Baked Potatoes with yummy toppings
Spaghetti with meat sauce
Cheeseburger Pie (from the Bisquick box--Buttercup's request)
Pizza
Leftovers Buffet - take whatever is left from all that food and call it dinner one more time!

If anyone wants any of the recipes for these things, just let me know and I'll post about them...I might post about them anyway, but this way you'll be certain to get any recipe you want.

and, finally, let them eat cake...

I needed to find something else to make that would give me a reason to use my new mixer, so I tried this Butterscotch Finger Cakes from Joe at Culinary in the Country. I honestly have no idea why they call it Finger Cakes, because it was just a 9 x 13 cake...no finger necessary. This cake was really good, receiving an "Oh, this really good" from Superman and a lot of "wows" from the kids. (Really, with results like that, how can your argue?)

Butterscotch Finger Cakes (Adapted from King Arthur Flour)

For the cake batter
2 1/2 cups cake flour
2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup milk

16 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
(we only have salted, so that is what I used)
3/4 cup brown sugar, packed

1/2 cup granulated sugar

5 large eggs
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 teaspoon almond extract
(I didn't include this - don't like almond)

For the frosting

1/3 cup butterscotch chips

8 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened and divided
(again, I used salted)
1 1/2 cups confectioners' sugar, divided
1 tablespoon milk, if necessary

To prepare the cake batter

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.


In a medium bowl, whisk together cake flour, baking powder and salt.

In a medium mixing bowl, beat together butter and sugars until light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, mixing until well combined after each. Mix in vanilla and almond extract. Mix in the dry ingredients, alternately with the milk, beginning and ending with the dry ingredients.


Scoop the batter into a 9" x 13" baking pan coated with nonstick spray - spread the top smooth with an offset spatula
(I have no idea what that is!).

Place into the oven and bake until a toothpick placed in the center comes out mostly clean with a few moist crumbs attached, about 25 to 30 minutes. Remove from the oven and cool on a rack for 10 minutes.


Loosen cake from the sides of the pan and set a piece of parchment paper on top of the pan. Place a cooling rack on top of the parchment and pan - turn the cake out, remove the pan and let cake cool completely (do not flip cake top-side up).

To prepare the frosting
In a microwave-safe bowl, add butterscotch chips and 4 tablespoons butter - heat on medium-low power until the butter melts. Stir until chip are completely melted and combined. In a large mixing bowl, add remaining 4 tablespoon butter and 3/4 cup confectioners' sugar - mix until smooth. Pour melted butter mixture and remaining confectioners' sugar - beat on medium-low until smooth. If the frosting looks too thick to spread, mix in the milk. Spread frosting evenly over the cake.

If you have a cake comb, use it to create the waves in the frosting on top.
(Um, what is a cake comb?)

Makes 25 to 30 servings.


This was an easy "from scratch" cake...I thought it would be too sweet with the frosting including the butterscotch chips, but it was just right. (Also, if you wanted to frost the sides, you would need more frosting than the recipe makes.) It was both a kid and grown-up pleaser...this is another recipe I'll be making again, even if I don't know why they call it Butterscotch Finger Cakes.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Our maiden voyage! (Sorry - updated!)



Yes, I finally figured out what I was going to make first with my new mixer. It was a tough decision. Last week's cookies were such a disappointment, I wanted to be certain that today's pick was a good one. So, for the maiden voyage of the Kitchen Aid mixer that Superman surprised me with (I'm still squealing on the inside!), I decided to make these awesome Simple Chocolate Drop Cookies from Heather at HomeEc 101.

As you can see, Valiant was an awesome sous chef to help me (and play with the new mixer) today and his assistance made it all the more fun. (Everyone has been so excited. They've been impatiently waiting all of 24 hours for me to try out the mixer...it is definitely a family affair!)


Simple Chocolate Drop Cookies

1/2 cup butter - softened
1/2 cup brown sugar - packed
1/4 cup granulated sugar

1 tsp vanilla (okay, I never measure, I just pour)

1 egg

1 cup all purpose flour

1/4 cup Special Dark cocoa powder (I used regular Hershey's Cocoa)

1/2 tsp baking powder

1/8 tsp salt
A couple of handfuls of semi-sweet chocolate chips (see Note)

Directions:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Cream the butter and sugar together at medium speed until fluffy (roughly two minutes). Add egg and vanilla and stir until just combined.


In separate bowl, mix together the flour, cocoa, baking powder, and salt. Add to batter mixture and mix gently until just combined. (This is where I threw in a few handfuls of chocolate chips.)

Spoon by rounded tablespoon (I used my Pampered Chef scoop) onto an ungreased cookie sheet. Bake for 10-11 minutes.

Notes: Since I didn't have Special Dark cocoa powder, I added a couple of handfuls of semi-sweet chocolate chips to make certain the flavor was rich enough. Other than that I didn't make any modifications to the recipe (I did double the recipe for game night...I got 30 cookies out of the double batch). I must say, these are terrific and, as you can see, the kids agree! (Don't mind the tough one - he wasn't going to smile.) The other great thing about this recipe is that it uses stuff I always have on hand, so I can whip them up whenever. Give them a try, you'll really like them.

One last note I just had to share with you. The Armchair Housewife found a radio station that plays Big Band era music with online streaming and was kind enough to share the find with us all, so I've been enjoying the Big Band sound for the last two hours...it is amazing. It reminds me of the times we would visit my grandparents and my grandpa would have this music on in the background. It is so fun...click here and push "play" if you want to listen on your computer.

(Thanks again, Superman, I love it!)