Posts Tagged ‘Motherhood’

Our Thanksgiving Feast

Tuesday, November 30th, 2010

I hope everyone had a wonderful holiday! It was so wonderful to take time off from the blog and get ready for the holidays that I think I just might have to do that the week of Christmas too! I am having a hard time getting back in the swing of things now that I have had that time off though.  I did a lot of crafting, cooking, and tackling some of  our holiday shopping & chores. It was definitely not a vacation, but it was really nice to get to spend more quality time in the evenings with my family.

Our Thanksgiving feast this year was really special because I got to have both sides of our family together for the big dinner. Pictured above were the beautiful crafts that my children created at school that adorned the kid’s table this year. I have to say, with beauty like that, who needs to splurge for fancy centerpieces!

We started the day off with the annual Thanksgiving Day parade. The kids really seemed to love the parade this year and the Rockettes were a huge hit with Emily.  Next year I am hoping to incorporate this Thanksgiving Parade Bingo into our annual traditions!

This year I was in charge of the turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy, pumpkin cornbread, the cheese ball, and the punch. I tried to make as much as I could ahead of time, but left the turkey, cornbread, and gravy for last. This year, I opted for two turkey breasts instead of the whole turkey since no one is really a big fan of the dark meat. I had thirteen pounds of turkey breast and only had enough for a sandwich leftover. Now I am craving leftover turkey sandwiches so I am thinking I am going to make another one just for us to enjoy now that the festivities are over.

These turkeys did turn out great, but I will admit that I am still learning about turkey roasting. I watched a lot of Martha Stewart Thanksgiving episodes before I made these birds! I will share the recipe with you next year for another idea for your Thanksgiving recipes.

More importantly though, I got to spend time with my family!

My brother & sister.

My husband’s side of the family (mom, dad, sister-in-law, & us)

My mom & dad.

My grandma & mom.

My grandma-in-law, sister-in-law, & my mother-in-law.

My sister’s family (my nephews, sister, & brother-in-law)

My little family.

I hope you had a wonderful holiday too that was spent with those you love! We are excited to share more ideas for the holiday season and ways to enjoy simple celebrations on a budget!  I will be dusting off lots of our older entries and sharing more on our Facebook page as we prepare for the holidays!

A Family Day at the Pumpkin Patch

Thursday, October 14th, 2010

It is my favorite family day of the entire year. Pure and unadulterated pumpkin loving and picking for the entire family. My heart practically bursts every year that we get to do this together and this year was no exception. This year though my heart was just bursting and my eyes were all welling up as I saw my kids in the same exact spots as just two years ago. Yes, they looked completely different than they did before. They had to duck in places that used to easily slide under. They reached spots that they couldn’t reach before. Taking them was a whole heck of a lot easier. We all seemed to enjoy it more than the time before.  Family fun was even more fun this year.

It is bittersweet to watch them grow.

Happy and a little sad all at the same time.

Family Travel: Exploring Wilmington, North Carolina

Tuesday, September 28th, 2010

I got the opportunity to travel to Wilmington, North Carolina for a trip with Homewood Suites by Hilton to explore the family-friendly attractions and budget-friendly travel that you can find there. The trip was hosted by Homewood Suites in conjunction with the Wilmington/Cape Fear Coast Convention & Visitor’s Bureau. I had no expectations for what to expect from the trip, other than the opportunity to have a little getaway and I was thrilled when the company said that I could bring along a guest. Unfortunately, the kids had already started school and  my husband would need to stay with them. It is rare that I get to share a trip with anyone else so I was excited to bring my best friend along for the weekend. Who could turn down a girl’s weekend that is all-expenses paid?

We set off for Wilmington and got to stay at the beautiful Homewood Suites by Hilton Wilmington Mayfaire which was a short 5 minute drive to Wrightsville Beach. I have stayed at a lot of hotels over the course of the years with my business, but I have never stayed at a hotel that offered more amenities to their guests than this one.

Room rates start at $120 a night and the company admits that they are not the cheapest in town, but that they do strive to offer the best service and the best amenities for their guest.  I am used to paying for my internet, some dry cereal for breakfast, and paying for any extra frills that I might desire so I really was genuinely shocked by what the hotel offered.

All of the rooms offer a full kitchenette that includes a full-size refrigerator, a two-burner stove, cooking utensils/tools with service for four,  and a dishwasher. For no additional charge (other than the actual price of groceries), you can call ahead and have them stock your refrigerator for you before you even arrive for your trip!

The hotel offers a free huge hot breakfast seven days a week and a bigger bonus for family’s on a budget, was a “Manager’s Reception,” dinner Monday through Thursday for free, that included a full delicious dinner, a kid’s buffet for dinner, and wine/beer for the parents while you are staying there.  As an example of the dinner choices, two of the offerings the nights we were there were tortilla-crusted tilapia and home style meatloaf including two side dishes. I have never been to a hotel that offered a full dinner and full breakfast  for free for its guests and this is available at any of the Homewood Suites locations.

The rooms also offered DVD players and (for no charge)  you could select a family-friendly movie to watch with your kids. Baskets of cookies were available for a free late night snack and a free coffee & tea bar were always open. These little inclusion are the things that I love to look for in hotels especially when it comes to keeping my children entertained and fed well.  The coffee bar is a tired vacationing parent’s dream and it is the first time I have actually loved coffee at a hotel.

Other important inclusions were free wireless internet, grills on-site if you wanted to grill for your lunch, and they even had a little putt-putt golfing for the kids near the pool and hot tub that didn’t cost an extra dime.

Yeah, all of that starting at just $120. I figure just the breakfast, kitchenette in every room, the family entertainment, and the free dinner with beverages would really help to keep our family on budget.

If you were wondering just how pale I am, this picture speaks a thousand words. I was really missing my giant beach umbrella, but used the shadow of my friend Becky and an expert tuck and pull to allow my dress to keep me covered at the beach. I always chant to myself that someday I will be a beautiful old lady and everyone will envy my pale skin… at least that is what I like to tell myself!

In all seriousness the beach was simply stunning and I loved dipping my toes in the water and collecting shells for the kids while enjoying the peacefulness of the ocean. It was beautiful and it was so nice that it was only minutes from the hotel!

The Wilmington/Cape Fear Coast Convention & Visitor’s Bureau were so gracious to allow us the opportunity to explore Wilmington’s family-friendly offerings. We toured the Battleship North Carolina, The Children’s Museum of Wilmington, the Cape Fear Serpentarium, a horse drawn tour of downtown Wilmington, North Carolina Aquarium Fort Fisher, and sampled delicious seafood chowder at Michael’s Seafood, took two boat tours of the beautiful beach, downtown shopped, and enjoyed all of the town’s offerings.

I can’t wait to share with you more as it gets closer to vacation season about my experience in both North Carolina and Orlando for some fun ideas for family travel. I will say that of the places we visited, I loved the Children’s Museum of Wilmington and the North Carolina Aquarium Forth Fisher the absolute best and can’t wait to revisit them for a trip with my own family. The enthusiasm of the employees was enchanting and I know that we could spend a whole day just visiting these two spots alone.

I have to say my favorite part was just getting the opportunity to relax! We spent an evening window-shopping in the Mayfaire shops, grabbed a delicious pizza one night, popped popcorn and watched silly girl movies like, “Fame,” and ate ice cream cones. I loved everything about Wilmington and can see it as a new destination for our family!

In full disclosure, while I was there, I found a new place to write and will be joining the SuiteTrip website for the next few months (through Homewood Suites)  to share ideas on budget-friendly travel and ideas for making travel enjoyable as a family. I can’t wait to share more ideas with you there! It was an unexpected new freelance job that I am really looking forward to!

Disclaimer: We were invited by Homewood Suites in conjunction with the Wilmington/Cape Fear Coast Convention & Visitor’s Bureau. for an all-expenses paid trip to experience Wilmington, NC  and share with our readers about our experience. All-expenses paid means that our travel, hotel stay, visits to area attractions, and food were covered by the company. We will receive no other additional compensation for this particular project and are asked for our honest opinions without any further obligation. To find out more about how things work here at MomAdvice, please feel free to visit our official Disclaimer page!

Where is your favorite family vacation spot? Where is somewhere you would like to explore? Feel free to share!

Back-to-School Celebration Feasts With Recipes

Monday, August 30th, 2010

I hope you will allow me the beauty of indulging in my endless brag book of photos of my children. There is nothing like the freshness of a new year, a new opportunity to do better, a new opportunity to be better, new teachers, new friends, and the same old sappy mom who won’t stop taking your picture. Ah, some things just will never change!

Emily is all tutus, ballet shoes, and anything purple, pink, or sparkly. She is wildly dramatic, has the sweetest little voice in the world, and is fiercely independent. She plays pretend for hours with her Little People and in her little doll house.

This year she was off for her last year of preschool. My heart just aches when I think that next year my little baby will be going off to kindergarten. I am savoring this last year together more than I can say.

Ethan & Emily started on two different days this year and so we  had two fun-filled celebrations for each of them. I have never cooked so much in my life, but they each got to request their favorite main dish and a favorite dessert to celebrate their big day at school. I look forward to having one giant celebration next year to celebrate them both at once, but I might have to make an investment into another celebration plate to make that happen!

Emily’s celebration request was a taco bar and chocolate cupcakes with pink icing. I have a feeling you are going to really love this celebration dinner because it is thrifty and absolutely delicious!

This taco meat is the best taco meat in the world- truly! The mixture of tomato sauce and chicken broth take away the beefy taste and give it just the right hint of flavoring. Since my kids can’t handle the heavy spices, we modified the chili powder to 1 teaspoon and skipped the cayenne pepper.

Beef Tacos (Courtesy of  The America’s Test Kitchen Family Cookbook)

1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 onion, minced
3 garlic cloves, minced (I use a tablespoon of the bottled minced garlic)
2 tablespoons chili powder (adjust to your personal taste)
1 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon oregano
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
Salt
1 pound (90 percent lean) ground beef (or use a higher fat beef and rinse the meat)
1/2 cup smooth canned tomato sauce
1/2 cup low sodium chicken broth
2 teaspoons cider vinegar
1 teaspoon light brown sugar
8 taco shells

Heat the oil in a medium skillet over medium heat until shimmering. Add the onion and cook until softened, about five minutes. Stir in the garlic, spices, and 1 teaspoon salt and cook until fragrant about thirty seconds. Stir in the ground beef and cook, breaking it up with a wooden spoon until no longer pink, about five minutes. Stir in the tomato sauce, broth, vinegar, and sugar until thickened, about ten minutes. Season with salt to taste. Divide the filling evenly among the taco shells and serve passing any desired accompaniments separately.

Make-Ahead Version: The filling can be fully prepared, cooled, covered tightly and refrigerated for up to three days. Reheat over medium-low heat, adding additional water to adjust the consistency.

These cupcakes. These cupcakes. No words. The cake is moist  and gets its beautiful texture from a few pantry ingredients and a little boiling water. The batter looks like a watery-looking mess and turns  out to be the most delicious cupcake I have ever made in my life! The cake was moist and flavorful. Use a batter bowl or a ladle to scoop the watery batter into the lined cupcake pan.

Moist Chocolate Cupcakes (Courtesy of The Farm Chicks)

1 cup sugar
1 cup brown sugar (not packed)
1 3/4 cup flour
3/4 cup cocoa powder
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
2 eggs
1 cup milk
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 tsp vanilla
1 cup boiling water
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Fill muffin pans with 24 cupcake liners.  Sift dry ingredients into a mixing bowl.  (I recommend a batter bowl to easily pour the batter into the cupcake liners).  Add eggs, milk, oil and vanilla.  Beat with a mixer for about two minutes, occasionally scraping the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula.  Add the boiling water, and beat, just until blended.  (Don’t be alarmed – the batter appears watery).  Evenly ladle (or pour) the batter into the liners.  Bake for 20-25 minutes, until the center of the cupcakes springs back when lightly touched.  Cool and frost.

I am not a fan of heavy frostings, in fact, I don’t even really like buttercream frosting. That being said, this frosting is my favorite frosting in the world. It is light, delicious, and reminds me a little of marshmallow fluff. It is not a decorator frosting, but decorating isn’t important if the frosting tastes like heaven. For the perfect little swirls on top of your cupcakes,  you can use a Ziploc bag and cut the corner to pipe the frosting on top or use a 2D tip that is gathering dust in your baking supplies and hasn’t been used since that last batch of Snickerdoodle Cupcakes. Get ready for a good old-fashioned mind-blowing frosting perfect for the frosting-haters.

PS- Be sure to break out your stand mixer for this or be like me and forget to do it and update your Facebook profile, tweet a bit, watch a You Tube video, secure a new freelance job, and do this all while simultaneously beating the crud out of those egg whites. Yeah, that really happened.

No Cook 7 Minute Frosting (Courtesy of Food.com)

3/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 cup boiling water
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
3 unbeaten egg whites
food coloring

Mix sugar, cream of tartar, vanilla and egg whites. Add boiling water. Beat on high til mixture forms peaks (like meringue) approx 5-7 minutes.

My sweet boy was ready to head off to second grade. I know many of you have read my site for many years. I still can’t believe that I have been doing this since he was only a year old. For many of you, this kid has been growing up right before your very eyes!

This year it is all Pokemon and Bakugan and, more recently, a lot of the magical Harry Potter. We started the tradition of reading the series together at night before he goes to bed. When he bursts through the door he begs for another chapter. One of the naughtiest thing he does is hide books under his pillow to indulge until the wee hours of the night. He reminds me so much of my bookworm self.

Ethan’s celebration feast was my homemade spaghetti and meatballs, homemade bread sticks, with the new family favorite…peanut butter balls.

Homemade Spaghetti & Meatballs

For Sauce (sauce recipe adapted from AllRecipes Dinner Tonight Cookbook):

3/4 cup chopped onion (we omitted because we don’t like onions)
5 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup olive oil
2 (28 ounce) cans whole peeled tomatoes, undrained
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon white sugar
1 (6 ounce) can tomato paste
3/4 teaspoon dried basil
1/2 teaspoon black pepper

For Meatballs (this recipe will make enough for a double batch, half to eat and half to freeze):

1/2  cup plain bread crumbs
1/2 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
4 large eggs, lightly beaten
2 tablespoons whole milk
2 tablespoons ketchup
1 1/2 cups grated Romano (or Parmesan)
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1  teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 pound Italian turkey sausages (remove the casings)
1 pound ground beef

To make sauce: Saute onion and garlic in 1/4 cup olive oil until onion is translucent. Stir in tomatoes, salt, and sugar. Cover, reduce heat to medium-low and simmer one hour and thirty minutes. Stir in tomato paste, basil, 1/2 teaspoon pepper, and meatballs and simmer thirty more minutes. Gently break apart the tomatoes with the back of your wooden spoon.  Five to ten minutes before serving, add in your meatballs and then serve over a big bowl of your favorite pasta.

To make meatballs: In a medium bowl, stir together the bread crumbs, parsley, eggs, milk, ketchup, Romano cheese, and the salt and pepper. Add the turkey & ground beef, then gently stir to combine. Make your meatballs the standard size and put them on a baking sheet. Bake at 400 degrees for ten to fifteen minutes. When done cooking, drop in the baked meatballs for a few minutes. This will be just as delicious with a lot less mess and fewer calories.

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I add a 1/4 cup of extra flour to make sure  the dough is sticky, but not too sticky. I cover the whole cookie sheet with plastic wrap and pop it in my fridge until our dinner hour. About a half hour before our dinner, I pull it out of the fridge and let it rest on the counter while our oven preheated.

Homemade Bread Sticks (Courtesy of Chocolate on My Cranium)

Dissolve:
2 TBSP sugar and 1 TBSP yeast in 1 1/2 cups warm water

Add:
3 cups flour and 1/2 tsp. salt. Mix and knead for 5 minutes with your stand mixer (using the dough hook)

Let rest for 10 minutes. Melt 1/2 cube (4 TBSP) of butter in a bowl in the microwave and pour into a 11×17 pan (jelly roll pan). Place dough into pan then lift and turn over so that both sides of the dough are covered in the melted butter. Press dough into pan. Sprinkle with desired seasonings (I love the Italian Cheese Blend cheeses and a sprinkle of garlic salt all over). Let rest 15 minutes. Cut into strips with pizza cutter. Bake at 350 for 20 minutes or until golden brown. Recut with a pizza cutter and serve.

Our dessert was courtesy of last week’s notebook at The Southern Plate. I halved the recipe just to see if my kids would love these. The results were delicious and satisfying. The oats combined with the peanut butter and the dried milk create a dense stick-to-your ribs treat perfect for after-school or as a yummy snack before bed. My husband said they reminded him of cookie dough. I will definitely be making these again!

In fact, the bread sticks and chocolate cupcakes were both featured in our notebooks (and were notebook experiments) which is why notebook day is my favorite day of the week. We have gained so many family traditions and meal ideas from it. I love experimenting and being inspired daily by bloggers.  You all are wonderful!

After all of that, I collapsed into a puddle of endless dishes combined with a puddle of pure exhaustion. It didn’t matter though because I am so proud that we have these moments to cherish forever!

Do you have any special traditions for celebrating the back-to-school season? I would love to hear them!


Slushie Filled Celebrating

Wednesday, March 3rd, 2010

Slushie sloshing toasts were made to our new-to-use house and to our amazing kids who approached the renovation as though it were a new adventure each day. Dust everywhere? Let’s write our names! Wood in the way? Let’s pretend it is a hurdle. No couches? Let’s jump on pillows and make forts.

It is the resilience of my children that I admire most and that makes me proud to be their mom. It is that problem-solving and one-big-adventure thinking that I need to embrace in my own life. What if I used that same thinking and approached life situations this way? Wouldn’t my life be just a little grander?

A slushie sloshing toast to this new way of thinking! Bring on the adventures!

Life… Under Construction

Wednesday, February 17th, 2010

Renovations are going on and my life is resembling nothing of itself since this started. I have never been more out of schedule with exercise, reading, eating, living, wanting to be alone more, or further off budget with our eating plans.

Everything is covered in a film of drywall and I have been writing SOS messages in the dust on my furniture.

I am told that this will be almost all done  on Friday. Minor things will need to be done the week following, but we will have a few little things happening this week… like… floors.

I am so thankful the crew is running on time and under our budget. My continuous rants about not having a single dollar extra to pay them must have worked.

I am grateful to friends who let us crash their houses all day and all evening, family who helped us survive the weekends by letting us stay there, and my husband who must be questioning my sanity every day when he comes home to me this last week.

I don’t know how people survive this longer than two weeks. Despite my posts planned on, “how to survive a renovation,” the only advice I can offer is, “Expect the unexpected and go with the flow.”

I am officially the crazy lady in her pajamas drinking dusty coffee and talking about how  tight money is all of the time.

At least I wear my pajamas with chic boots to avoid touching the plywood flooring.

We welcome our old life back soon!

Red Carpet Bunco & a Cast of Great Recipes

Monday, January 25th, 2010

I can admit that Bunco, for me, is one of life’s delicious little pleasures! Our group has been rolling the dice for years now and every year we add more fun girls and make the most of this one day together each month.

When I think about it, I get a little misty-eyed. We have lost members as they have moved to other areas, we have gained new friends as we add new people to the group, our children have grown, new babies have been added to the mix, we celebrate each other and our accomplishments, and love each other when things are not going well. These women have been one of those steady things in my life that I know I can count on and I feel blessed to love each of them. Whether we are rocking it out in our old bridesmaid dresses, enjoying a night of 70′s fun, having tea for charity, or being decked out as retro housewives, we find a way to celebrate together once a month!

When Degree contacted me to see if I would be interested in hosting a red carpet evening for the SAG Awards, I immediately thought of my Bunco Babes and how we could make this a fun night together.

I feel so spoiled with my site sometimes and I feel so blessed to get opportunities like these. I look forward to spoiling my friends and family when I can incorporate them into these events and I invited my Bunco Babes group over for a night of pampering and fun.

Degree gave us $100 for our food and drinks, a $100 Macy’s gift card for a red carpet dress for myself, another $100 Macy’s gift card to raffle off to my girlfriends, and scheduled a manicurist to come to our event and give us all manicures. We truly got the red carpet treatment!

I love getting ready for the parties and pulling everything together for our theme. We set up a manicure station on the lower level with oodles of magazines and cream puffs so that the girls could truly be pampered while they had their manicures.

The upper level was decorated with fresh flower bouquets, a red tablecloth (that I already owned), and a little bit of sparkle from the Valentine’s section of a local superstore.

We are usually chasing after our dice since the tables can be slippery so I found pieces of felt for a quarter and attached a little chipboard saying to each of them that could be centered on each table. These will be traveling to the next house and kept with our Bunco kit of supplies for the hostess. I was pretty proud of those.

I had no success at Macy’s finding the perfect red dress for the event so I opted for my favorite little black dress and found a red shrug to go over it. These flats were perfect since I was on my feet fielding the ladies down to the manicurist and subbing for everyone while they got their nails done. I found these at Marshall’s for $24.99 and thought they would be practical and fashionable while hosting the event!

We all loved our manicures and felt so glamorous after our red carpet nail treatment. All of the ladies got to choose a different shade of red for the evening.

This ring (pictured above) got more compliments than my dress and was a $4.20 purchase over at Forever 21. I love how it adds a little sparkle to my hand without breaking the bank.

Bunco is all about the food and I did take a little store-bought help since I had a food budget. I bought two trays of meat lasagnas ($10.99 each) and two large boxes of cream puffs for the manicure station and dessert table ($14.99 each).  Everything else was homemade though and everyone really seemed to enjoy the food.

In the spirit of red carpet deliciousness, these were the award-winning, red carpet-worthy dishes that rounded out the menu!

Roasted Green Beans

2 pounds fresh green beans (or a bag of frozen fancy green beans)
1-2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons minced garlic (I use the bottled garlic to save a little time)
Salt & Pepper
Zest from one lemon (save the juice for later)

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Grab a jelly roll pan and dump green beans on the pan. Sprinkle seasonings, lemon zest, and garlic over the green beans. Drizzle the olive oil over the green beans and then toss with your hands until they are all coated with the seasonings and zest. Spread out in a single layer and slide your cookie sheet into the oven. Roast fresh green beans for 20-25 minutes and roast frozen green beans for an additional 10-15 minutes. When they are done, pull from the oven and put them on a serving platter. Squeeze the lemon juice over the top (from the lemon you zested) and serve.

Spunky Spinach Dip (courtesy of Gooseberry Patch Cookbook)

2 cups salsa (approximately one standard size jar)
2 cups Monterey Jack cheese
8 oz low-fat or fat-free cream cheese, softened and cubed
10 oz frozen chopped spinach (thawed and drained)

Mix ingredients together in a mixing bowl. Stir well. Place in a microwave-safe bowl and heat until cooked through. If baking, cook at 350 for 20-25 minutes (double your cooking time for a double batch) in an oven-safe bowl (covered). Serve with your favorite dipper! I served this with fresh celery sticks and fresh carrots to balance out the heaviness of the lasagna.

Bacon & Ranch Cheese Ball

2 (8 ounce) packages of low-fat cream cheese, softened
1 package of Ranch dressing mix
1 cup cheddar cheese
5-7 strips of bacon cooked and crumbled (or buy prepackaged crumbled bacon)

Mix all of the ingredients together with a mixer until they are incorporated. Shape into a ball and roll in a plate of shredded cheese. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for two hours. I served this with assorted pretzel crackers.

Classic Orange Chiffon Cake (Courtesy of The Cake Doctor)

5 large egg whites

1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar

1 package yellow cake mix

3 large egg yolks

3/4 cup orange juice

1/2 cup vegetable oil such as canola, corn, safflower, soybean, or sunflower (I used canola oil)

1/4 cup thawed frozen orange juice concentrate

1 teaspoon grated orange zest

Glaze:

2 cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted

3 tablespoons orange juice (I had to use 5 so you may need to increase this)

Place a rack in the center of the oven and preheat oven to 325 degrees. Set aside an ungreased 10″ tube pan. Place the egg whites and cream of tartar in a medium mixing bowl. Beat with an electric mixer on high speed until stiff peaks form. Set the bowl aside. Place the cake mix, egg yolks, orange juice concentrate, oil, and orange zest in a large mixing bowl, and with the same beaters used to beat the egg whites, blend with the electric mixer on low speed for one minute. Stop the machine and scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula. Increase the mixer to medium and beat for two more minutes, scraping the sides again if needed. The batter should look well blended.

Turn the beaten egg whites out on top of the batter and with the spatula, fold the egg whites into the batter until the mixture is light but well combined. Pour into the pan and place int he oven.

Bake until it is golden brown and springs back when pressed with your finger for 48-52 minutes (Mine took 48 minutes).  Remove the pan and immediately turn it upside down over the neck of a glass bottle to cool for one hour. Run a knife around the edge and invert it onto a rack and then invert it again on a serving platter so it is right side up.

For the glaze, place the confectioners’ sugar and orange juice in a medium mixing bowl. Blend with an electric mixer on low speed for one minute. Spread the glaze over the top and side of the cake. Let the glaze set for 20 minutes and then serve.

Side Note- After you measure out 1/4 cup of the thawed orange juice concentrate, prepare orange juice with the remaining concentrate by adding half as much water as the package directs. Use this orange juice in your cake batter and glaze.

Bunco Punch

ICE RING:
Orange slices
Lemon slices
Lime slices
Maraschino cherries
Cherry juice or red food coloring
Water
Metal ring mold

SIMPLE SYRUP (Prepare ahead) :
3 c. water
3 c. sugar
Combine, boil and cool.

PUNCH:
Simple syrup, chilled
4 c. chilled cranberry juice
3 c. chilled bottled lemon juice
2 c. chilled orange juice
2 c. chilled unsweetened pineapple juice
2 qt. chilled ginger ale
16 oz. rum or vodka or wine or champagne

Create your ice ring by throwing in the citrus fruit slices and then pouring in the jar of cherries (juice and all) Top the bundt pan off with water and then freeze overnight.

To serve: Unmold ice ring into punch bowl; add juices and liquor; add ginger ale.

This makes approximately 30 (6 ounce) servings.

The very famous radio superstar, Amy Watson from Cat Country, won the raffle for the $100 Macy’s gift card. She is having a baby next month so I can think of no one who deserves a little pampering and fun shopping more than her!

It was such a fantastic night of fun and a great kick-off to another great year of Bunco with my girlfriends!

Degree  is offering cool prizes daily and a chance to snag product coupons. Be sure to visit their site for more information and a recap of the red carpet fashion that was spotted at the SAG awards.

All Knitted Up: The Republic Hat & Cupcake Hat

Tuesday, December 1st, 2009

Double pointed needles have terrified me ever since I started knitting. About a year ago, I recorded a couple of episodes of Knitty Gritty that went through the in’s and out’s of double pointed needles. I can’t tell you how many times I have watched those same episodes over and over again.

For some, these are easy to learn. For me, this took a good few weeks of work to finally get the hang of it. I think I was intimidated more than anything. Knitting with three needles is so awkward to me, much like my first days of learning to knit were. For most hats though, they are a necessary evil and one that I was willing to tackle to move on to some fresh new projects.

I wanted to share with you a few of my latest hat creations that I am so proud of. I learned many new techniques through these hat projects and I can’t wait to share them with you!


Pattern: Cupcake Hat (@ Chili Con Yarne)

Needle Size: US 6 Needles

Yarn: Bernat Lemon Berry & Bernat Dark Pink Cotton Tots Yarn (clearance section of Hobby Lobby for $2.81 a ball!)

Notes: This hat took two tries before I figured out the sizing that I needed. There is such a thing as checking gauge, but I had already went two needle sizes down on the pattern so I figured I was safe. It turned out, I was wrong. The first one turned out to be a hat more appropriate for a 7 year old rather than a 4 year old. Lucky for me, my best friend has a daughter who is just that age so I am going to give her the first one.

To make the sizing perfect for my daughter (who must have a very small head or I knit extremely loose), I switched my needle sizing to size 6 (the original pattern called for size 8 needles) needles and decreased the cast on stitches to 72. That turned out to be the perfect size with this yarn and for my sweet little girl’s head.

I learned so much from this pattern. The thing I was extremely proud to have learned was how to make bobbles. I found a fantastic You Tube tutorial and used that to create this hat. I had also never made a pom pom before and that was super fun and easy! Below are the tutorials that I used to create this hat!

We love it so much that now I want to make another one in purple for her. A girl has to have great choices for her winter wardrobe and I absolutely love this cute hat!

Pattern:The Republic Hat (available in the right side bar as a free download in PDF from Nik’s Knits)

Needle Size: US 8 Needles

Yarn: I Love This Cotton! yarn in Vintage Teal & the bronze flower button was found at Hobby Lobby.

Notes: Again, I did not check my gauge (are you seeing a pattern here?) and figured out that I need to go down two needle sizes for every hat pattern I make. It seems the Clark family has small heads or I am a really loose knitter. Thanks to the adjustable button closure though, I just pulled it in tighter to adjust to my head sizing. In my opinion, thanks to this cute adjustable brim, this is an absolutely perfect hat for a beginner because you can tuck it in if you need to.

I loved this pattern so much that I decided to make a second one in winter white in the same I Love This Cotton! yarn (available for $2.99 a skein) at Hobby Lobby.

Here is my second hat made with the size 8 needles (instead of the size 10 above) and I cannot stop wearing it. Every single time I wear it someone asks me where I bought it. For my friends that know me, they ask if I will make them one. I have two more to create before Christmas for a couple of special people in our family. I love this hat to death and can’t say it enough that it is the perfect hat pattern to start with because it is super easy to NOT get those stitches twisted with the garter stitch brim.

3 Things That Helped Me With Making Hats

1. Bamboo 16″ Circular Needles- These are an off-brand of bamboo needles, but had a wider cord than the kind that you buy in the store. This helped me so my stitches didn’t get twisted. Circular needles are expensive in the store ($8.50 per needle set). These were $24.98 for all of the sizes 0-15! What a steal! I applied my Swagbucks towa
rds Amazon gift cards to score these for free.

2. Bamboo 9″ Double Pointed Needles- Again, these are an off-brand needle and they were extremely rough so they held my stitches really well. As a beginner on these, these rough double pointed needles were key for me to get the hang of it without dropping stitches. It was a lot cheaper to buy these as a set and I did apply my Swagbucks towards the Amazon gift cards so I didn’t have to dip in my pocket to pay for them.

3. A Better Ring Marker- I was using the kind that you just slipped over the needles and was finding that I was losing my starting stitch marker for knitting in the round. My mother-in-law gave me the kind that slip onto the yarn and I put that at the beginning of my round. It was key to not losing my place and helped me stay on track with my pattern!

Below are a few tutorials that I used that helped me with these patterns! I hope they will help you as much as they have helped me this last month!

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OavaQ3Eeulc]

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zsbPr0Tn1ZA]

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xoQ_HHeJM44]

Me Time: Making Your Reading Time a Priority

Tuesday, October 6th, 2009


I have been really trying to devote more time to reading in the evening instead of watching television. I have the tendency to become a television junkie when the new fall season starts, but this year, I seem more interested in reading. We have a fantastic library system and I am definitely cashing in and spending some time under my favorite cozy quilt to get some reading done.

Setting up a book basket in our front room just for me has been a great way to incorporate reading back into my life. I visit the library for a little me time every other week and stock up on great reads. With borrowing from the library, there is no guilt if I decide that I don’t like a book… I just return it for the next unfortunate soul.

Many times I hear from people that they don’t have time to read. I have found that I can usually carve a little time out for just about anything in my life, but I have to make it a priority in order to make the time for it.

Take advantage of reading windows- Reading for me is carved into that tiny window of time between getting one child off to school and then the other. I find a window when we have time with the television off and the kids are spending their quiet time reading or drawing. Another window is generously given to me by my husband when he completes the kid’s evening routine and I disappear on the couch. These tiny pockets of time are how it works for me now. I look forward to having bigger windows of opportunity in the future, but I crave these little pockets of time for me!

Join or start a book club- My book club has been the biggest motivator to read at least one book each month. Being in a group can challenge you to read books that you would have never read before. I look forward to my book club each month and I love the books that I have totally loved that would have never made my reading list.

Turn the television and computer off- I know it is hard, but if I keep the television and computer off in the evening, I know that I can spend that time reading instead. Find a quiet space in your home that is television and computer free and designate that as your reading spot. Encourage your other family members to do the same!

My scaled down social networking probably has not boosted traffic to the site or made me the social media maven I sometimes wish I could be, but boy, do I feel a sense of satisfaction when I read a book!

Create your own book basket- Who says book baskets are just for kids? Fill a basket up for yourself and make a regularly scheduled date with yourself to visit the library. Put it on the calendar and savor those moments of peace choosing great books to read.

Do it for your kids- When my kids see me digging into my book basket, they want to dig into theirs too. Think of what an incredible example you are when you are showing them how much fun it is to read. It is through your example that they will learn a love of reading!

Read what you want- We have enough pressures on us as mothers, but to be pressured to always be reading award-winning books doesn’t have to be one of them. If your life is full of stress and chaos, a good chick lit book might be just what the doctor ordered. I like to read one heavy book and one light book and alternate them. When my children were smaller all I wanted to read was something that would make me laugh. No matter what you read… just keep reading!

What if you don’t have a great library system? Well, there are some great reading alternatives out there! Here are a few book resources that I have gathered for the book lovers of the world:

GoodReads or Shelfari- I use GoodReads to keep track of all of the things that I am reading or plan to read. I am not good about remembering the books I have read or that I would like to read in the future. This site helps me keep track of my impressions of books and keep my bookshelves fully stocked with the books I am really interested in reading. I love to keep a pad of paper with me in my purse or make notes into my cell phone when I am at the bookstore so if I happen upon a book I am interested in, I can jot down a note so I can pick it up at my local library.

BookCrossing- This site offers a fun way for you to clear out your bookshelves. The idea is simple, but so fun. Just put a tag within your book to track it and release your book into the wild, which just means leave it somewhere where someone else can find it (coffee shops, doctor’s offices, schools, etc.). When someone finds a book with a BookCrossing ID number in it, they can enter that code into the site and report where the book has moved to. It is a fun way to track where your books have traveled and see how far they can go.

Library Elf- This program helps you keep track of your library materials so you won’t get socked with late fees. Elf is an Internet-based tool for keeping track of what’s due, overdue and ready for pickup. Reminders are sent when the user wants it — before items are due (up to seven days advance notice, weekly notice or everyday reminders). For my local friends, South Bend is not currently participating, but the Elkhart Library is. The basic membership to Library Elf is free.

Frugal Reader, Paperback Swap, & Bookmooch- Just three of many sites where you can exchange books for free. You simply sign up for a membership and list the books on your bookshelf. You can then browse the books from other members and make a request to receive a book. When you are done with the book, you can list it back on the site or keep the book. New members start out usually with credits to get started on exchanging books. The more you ship and share, the more credits you recive to get more books.

Bookins- This is another great site where you can not only swap books, but also movies. Their system will automatically arrange for shipments from you to one member and from a third member back to you, and so on. You never have to contact anyone, there is no bidding, and there are no hassles of dealing with different traders and personalities for each exchange. The shipping charges are always a flat $4.49 for the service. You can keep what you get or exchange it again when you are done.

SwapSimple- This is a site where you can list textbooks, books, games or DVDs. Begin by listing what you have to be available to others. Right when you list an item, they will figure out what it’s current market value is, and award you 20% of it’s value up front for your use. You g
et the remaining 80% when you send your item to another swapper. This means you can list items, and get items immediately!

Amazon’s Free Kindle Downloads- For those that have moved towards the electronic books, Amazon has books available to download for free through February 28th. Be sure to snag these books and save!

I challenge you to bring reading back into your life- even if it is the teeniest pane of a window and even if the literature is lighthearted and non-award-worthy!

These are a few of the books that I have been working on these last two months…

The Penny Pinchers Club by Sarah Strohmeyer

I absolutely adored this book. If you are a Sophie Kinsella fan, you will really love this book and the hilarity that ensues.

Kat is an assistant to an interior designer barely making any money at all. She doesn’t seem to notice that she is spending more money than she has until she is faced with the stunned resolution that her marriage is falling apart.

On the advice of her lawyer, Kat is advised to begin saving a minimum of $500 a week to build a nest egg for herself so that she can handle the financial blow of the divorce and beginning to live on her own.

She joins the local Penny Pinchers Club and vows to stop shopping and start saving to reach her financial goals. She learns important lessons in bulk shopping, saving on her electric bill, and how much sweet rewards are savored when only enjoyed occasionally.

The life lessons build up to a great finish where Kat makes a discovery about herself and who she can be through her penny pinching efforts.
The Pretend Wife by Bridget Asher

This was a really great chick lit book about a woman who offers to be a pretend wife to her old college flame. Elliott’s mother is passing away and she is worried that her son will not be taken care of when she dies.

In a drunken pact, Gwen and her husband Peter, decide she can be his pretend wife for one weekend for his mother.

Of course, the old feelings resurface and Gwen has to choose between her predictably normal marriage and falling in love with her whole heart.

There is a great little twist at the end and it is a fast read that I devoured in two days!
The Last Bridge by Teri Coyne

It has been a long time since a book kept me up all night, but I could not put this book down. Just as a warning, the book does have rough language and abuse in it. If you can’t handle that sort of thing, just skip over this one!

“The Last Bridge,” jumps back and forth from the past and the present, sharing the difficult life of the main character Cat. Cat suffers through terrible emotional, physical, and sexual abuse at the hands of her father and escapes by sketching a comic book version of herself escaping “The Hand” of abuse.

She begins a relationship with a boy named Addison who loves her unconditionally. Although Addison cannot protect her from the abuse of her father, he makes her feel beautiful and loved. There love is a secret one as her father’s abusive reign will not allow anyone else to love his daughter.

She escapes town, leaving with a huge secret, and returns as a grown women after learning of her mother’s suicide. She is faced with all of the people from her past and her life is falling apart from alcoholism and the year’s of brutal abuse she has endured. She is now faced with discovering a cryptic goodbye note from her mother, the demons of her childhood, and all of the people who could not help her out of that abuse.

I don’t want to give away any of the plot because what makes this book so great is the many twists and turns that I did not expect. If you are a Jodi Picoult fan, I think you will appreciate the unexpected twists and the descriptive use of language that Coyne uses. Her knack for storytelling will immediately suck you in.

I felt like I was on a roller coaster ride, but I had to know how it would all turn out. An excellent read and I can’t wait to read more from this author!

The Secret Life of CeeCee Wilkes by Diane Chamberlain

I have never read a book by Diane Chamberlain, but if this is any indication of her writing style, I am permanently hooked on this author.

This book focuses on a sixteen year old girl who has lost her mother and seems to be very alone in the world. She works as a waitress and waits on the table of a handsome young man who sweeps her off of her feet. Despite their age difference, he seems to be very taken with her and she is head over heels in love with him.

He makes a confession that he is on a mission to release his sister from jail for a wrongfully accused crime. He asks her to partner with him and his brother to free their sister from jail. All she will have to do is to sit with the senator’s wife, whom they plan to kidnap, as bait to get the local senator to agree to release their sister.

The crime goes completely wrong and forever alters the path of CeeCee Wilkes. She is forced to change her identity and lives with a horrible secret of what has happened during that fateful night that she assisted with the kidnapping.

This one had me on the edge of my seat and I could not put it down until I knew what had happened. It is one of the best books that I have read in a long time and I would highly recommend it!

The Weight of Silence by Heather Gudenkauf

Two families awaken to find their daughters missing in a small Iowa town. The girls are inseparable best friends, both vanishing into the early morning light without a trace.

The two girls become fast friends as Calli suffers from mutism that is brought on by a traumatic event from her childhood. While Calli is unable to talk she finds her voice at school through her best friend Petra.

When the girls go missing, both family’s lives are intertwined as they search for their daughters and a case of the whodunit leaves you guessing throughout the book.

Do you make time to read? What are some books you have read lately that you could recommend?

And Then There Was One…

Thursday, August 20th, 2009




Her face is pressed against the window and tears are rolling down her face. “I want to go to school. Why can’t I go to school?” Gently I tell her, “Sweetie, you can go next year, I promise.” For one entire month, this was part of our morning routine, as her brother would ride away on his school bus.

We would talk about what her perfect first day of school would be like when that big day came. “I will have a flower dress. I will have flower shoes. I will ride a flower bus. I will have a purple backpack.” We would play pretend school and talk about what she would learn.

To Emily’s delight, her year is finally here. I drove all over town to find her flower dress, her flower shoes, and her purple backpack. I couldn’t find a flower bus to drive her in, but everything else was exactly as she envisioned it.

As we pulled up, my eyes filled with happy tears for her. This was her big day that she had waited for. As I opened her door and leaned in to grab her backpack, she put her two hands on my cheeks and said, “Mommy, I will be right back!” It was a voice I did not recognize. A voice of a little girl who has suddenly become independent. A girl who won’t always hold my hand, who has to get in her seat by herself, a girl that would rather wear her clothes backwards then let her mom assist her.

My big girl grew up and her big eyes were filled with delight when she arrived. There were no tears and barely a nod in my direction as I left.

Yes, this was her day and my day too. We worked hard for this day.

And then it was just me, in a house by myself. I have not been alone in my house like that for over three years. It felt strange and very quiet to be alone.

A new stage in my motherhood journey is here.