Tuesday, February 25, 2014

The Pink Invitational and Unite for Her

This past weekend we attended the Pink Invitational meet in Philadelphia, a very special gymnastics competition which raises money for the Unite for Her organization.


Monday, February 24, 2014

Motherly Traditions

We have a lot of fun traditions in my family, but one of the most special to me is one my mom started, that I hope to be able to carry on one of these days.

My mom had this beautiful statue that I just loved when I was little. It depicts a mother rocking her new baby, and standing behind her is her older daughter, who is rocking her baby doll.

It plays Turn Around (Where are You Going?). A song I loved so much from listening to it my whole childhood that I sang it to both my children when they were young.

My sister also loved it and we used to jokingly argue over who'd get to keep it "one day". My mom promised us that she'd get us one of our very own when we became mothers.

Fast forward 17ish years, and my mom is in the hospital with me, watching as I cuddled my brand new baby boy. She pulled out a box, excited to surprise me with a gift. And the first words out of my mouth the second I saw the box were, "Is that my music box!?"

 (me and my Little Man - about an hour after a C-section lol)      

LOL She thought it would be a huge surprise and was stunned I'd remembered. :) But it was one of the first things I'd thought of when I'd found out I was pregnant. I'd wondered if she'd remember her promise :) My sister also got one. My mom bought them when we were still little girls and saved them all those years.

(the song it plays - Turn Around)

I'll be getting one for my daughter, to put away for that "someday". I hope I can find the same one...if not I'll get as close to it as I can. It's one of the sweetest traditions I could pass on.

(me and my tiny Little Miss)

Do you have any special traditions you'll be passing along to your children?

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Salsa Chicken - Easiest Recipe EVER

I'm up against a deadline, with edits on my new book due TOMORROW *eep!* We also have gymnastics practice today and tests for tomorrow to study for. Which means I need a super easy dinner that my kids will actually eat (because I have no time for bribery or coercion tactics tonight).

Someone tweeted this recipe to me several months ago and it quickly became one of my kids' favorites. And since it's probably one of the easiest things I've ever made in my life, it's one of my favorites too :D

Here's what you need:

4-6 chicken breasts (I use frozen - you could also use thighs)
A jar of salsa
taco seasoning

Put the chicken in the pot, sprinkle with salt and pepper

Pour half to the whole jar of salsa over the top (just get them nice and covered, you generally don't need the whole jar)

Sprinkle 1 to 1 1/2 Tbsps of taco seasoning over the top

Crank it on high for 5-6 hours. I'll check it out 5 hours in and see how tender it is. Once you can easily shred it, do so, then let it go for another 20 mins or so.

Serve over rice or use for tacos or nachos. My kids like to add lettuce and cheese on top and scoop it up with chips like gourmet nachos.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Fruit Smoothies

I am a huge fruit nut so smoothies are right up my alley. As usual, I go as simple as possible :)

You'll need:

Frozen fruit (whatever you'd like - I usually use the tropical mix or strawberries and blueberries from Sam's Club)
Milk (can also use yogurt or water for a thinner consistency - I like to make mine thick like milk shakes)
Honey or Agave nectar

I tend to eyeball stuff like this rather than measure so the measurements are a guesstimate...

I take about 2 cups of frozen fruit
1/2 to 1 cup of milk (depending on desired thickness)
1 tablespoon of honey or agave nectar (or two rotations around the blender as I do it - do this to taste, depends on how sweet you want it) ;-)
a splash of vanilla

Blend up and enjoy!

To make it a little extra special, add a dollop of whipped cream to the top :)

I'm Proud to be a Bookworm but...

I could use a maid LOL

My poor hubs cringes whenever I pick up a new book, especially if that book is the first in a series, because he knows nothing is going to get done until I'm finished :D I do try to do the "one more chapter" thing, but often I "one more chapter" myself into the wee hours of the morning, unable to do anything, including sleep, until I've read every last word :)

I guess as addictions go, it's not too bad. My starving and naked family might disagree though (as they kick a path through the destroyed house) :D

I've learned over the years that if I have anything I need to accomplish, I must do it before I start the book. I catch up on laundry, dishes, spruce up the living space, and do whatever else needs doing, and THEN I sit down and lose myself in the pages. I will take cooking breaks, but I'm usually stirring whatever's in the pot with one hand and holding the book with the other :D

How do you deal with your bookworm tendencies?

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Lasagna Cups and Cucumber Salad

Lasagna Cups

These are super easy to make and are so fun :) You basically take regular lasagna fixings but instead of using noodles, you are going to use wonton wrappers.

Just take regular lasagna filling -
Meat sauce (I go as easy as possible - browned hamburger, spaghetti sauce and seasonings to taste)
Cheese - I used ricotta and mixed it with shredded mozerella, can also use cottage cheese
  1. Take the wonton wrappers and layer one in the bottom of the muffin tin (I wanted more coverage so I used two and placed them kitty corner to each other so each of the four corners was pointing up)
  2. Add your meat sauce and cheese filling
  3. Another wonton wrapper (I just used one here, sort of lay it over the top and tuck it in)
  4. More meat sauce/cheese, etc until you reach the top (I think I got 3 layers in). 
  5. Then a bit of meat sauce and shredded cheese on top. 
  6. Bake on 375 for 20 mins. 
They are easy to eat by hand if you let them cool a little And I didn't have any problems with them sticking to the pan even without any kind of spray.

For the cucumber salad pictured above:

This is one of my husband's favorites (he's the one who makes it) :D It's super simple and sooo yummy.

You'll need:
2 med cucumbers
2 large seeded roma tomatoes
1 med red onion
1/2 green bell pepper

The dressing:
1/2 cup mayo
1 tsp dill
1 TBSP parsley
4 TBSP sugar
2 TBSP white vinegar
1 tsp season salt

Chop the veggies into bite-sized pieces and toss in a bowl with the dressing. It's amazing over salad or just eaten on its own.

How to Make a Flag Cake

Fourth of July Flag Cake:

Make your favorite white cake recipe and grab some food coloring. You'll need 4 cakes total (you can use any shape...I did rounds) - 1 white cake, 2 red cakes, and 1 blue cake.

Cut the white cake and 1 red cake in half. Take one half of the white cake and layer it between the two red halves (with frosting).
Like this:

I use this handy little tool to get the layers even (though I was in a rush when I did this cake so it's not as neat as usual) :)

Then - take the blue cake and the remaining red cake and cut a hole in the middle of both (you might want to cut the red cake in half first, just so it's the same thickness as the other red layers). I placed a saucer on them to cut around so they would be the same size.

Take the blue cake ring and layer it on top of the white and red layers. The blue circle leftover can be discarded or given to the kids to hold them over until the rest of the cake is done ;-)

Then take the other half of the white cake and cut a circle out of it. Frost the top of it.
Put it inside the blue ring.

Then take the circle from the red cake and place it on top of the white circle inside the middle of the blue ring.
Like this (the white circle is beneath the red):

Then smother this baby with frosting and decorate however you'd like. We just wanted to eat it so we didn't get fancy ;-D

Cut it open and you've got......

We All Scream For Ice Cream...Bread!

Yep, I said ice cream bread. It's ridiculously easy ya'all and it's yummy! I found the recipe on The Hungry Housewife (through Pinterest, of course) and my kids went crazy over it :)

This is what you need:

2 Cups Ice Cream, any flavor, softened
1 1/2 cups Self-Rising Flour (If you don't have self-rising (I never do) just add 1 1/2 tsp baking powder and 1/2 tsp salt for every cup of flour (sift together).

Annnd, yep, that's IT! :)

Preheat your oven to 350. Spray and flour a loaf pan, or line it with parchment paper.

Mix the ice cream and flour together until just combined. Smooth it into the loaf pan and bake for about 45 minutes (or until a toothpick comes out with just a few crumbs).

Then enjoy!!

We used Neapolitan ice cream - next time I'd probably use something with a stronger flavor. The bread was a bit bland, but still a nice yummy treat :)

DIY Laundry Soap

I found a recipe for homemade laundry soap on Pinterest (originally from the Being Creative To Keep My Sanity blog) and decided to give it a try. And I LOVE it. It costs about $20 to make and lasted me almost 5 months. The lady who originally posted this recipe said it lasted her 9 months. That's just phenomenal! My clothes smelled wonderful and they got just as clean, if not more so, than with regular detergent.

Here's the ingredients:

One 4 lb 12 oz box Borax (2.15 kg or 76 oz)
One 4 lb box Arm & Hammer Baking Soda (1.81 kg)
One box Arm & Hammer Super Washing Soda 55 oz (3 lb 7 oz)
Three bars of Fels-Naptha soap (shave them using a hand held cheese grater - I tried to use a food processor...this did NOT work well for me but others have said it works okay for them) :)
Two small containers of Oxy Clean or store brand Oxy Clean (you need about 3.5 lbs total (1.58 kg) (this is optional but I added it))

I found all of these items at Walmart in the laundry aisle. I also added some laundry crystals for the scent.

I lined a box (or a bucket would work) with a garbage bag and mixed everything together.
The Fels-Naptha bar shavings look like grated cheese but they dissolve great, 
even just washing with cold water.

I found this glass jar at Walmart for about $7 to hold it all.

It only takes a tablespoon or two per load, so this lasts a very long time. The plus side to making this...it makes your house smell INCREDIBLE for several days :D

Monday, February 17, 2014

Indiana Jones Birthday Party

My son hit double digits today :(  He's getting way too big too fast! He wanted to do an Indiana Jones birthday party so I got busy googling and found a ton of awesome things to do :) I promised my family a blog post so they could see how it went :D Unfortunately, I didn't get many pictures lol It's hard to play photographer with a bunch of 10 year olds running around! But I did get a few and got some prep shot pics.
I found a lot of great blogs with awesome ideas, but the one we followed the most was HERE (I believe the blog is called Four Little Monkeys...I can't see the blog heading for some reason). So, here's what we did for our party :)

The Invitations:
I found a pic of an old map, downloaded the Indiana Jones fonts, and printed these out. Then I burned the edges a little, rolled them up, and tied them with twine. They turned out really cute!

Upon Arrival:
I made a CD of Indiana Jones music and had it playing and each child who came got their archaeologist on ;)
I made these easy Indy satchels out of brown felt and printed out a paper label (I found a blog that shows you how to print on fabric but I didn't get that fancy. I just sewed the paper right to the bag). 

And each child got an Indy fedora. I found these at Oriental Trading Company. They are New Year's Gangster hats - but I just pulled the New Year's band off and spray painted them brown. They worked great!
The Games:
Our group of archaeologists had seven missions to complete (pared down from nine - the party could have easily lasted another hour with all the fun stuff I found to do, but we stuck to the seven missions) :)
Each mission was preceded by watching a clip from the movies. I created a DVD that had an intro highlighting a skill an archaeologist must have followed by the clip followed by their Mission Assignment. The kids LOVED this :)

#1: An archaeologist must know where he's going
Clip - the scene when Indy is flying and it shows the plane flying with the red line traveling along the map
Mission - Discover where Indy is going

I did have a very nice world map but I put it someplace safe, so had to make this one at the last minute :D
I found an image of an old plane, printed it out, glued it onto some cereal box cardboard to make it stronger, and these were our Pin the Plane on the Map markers.

The kids had to get it closest to the big red X over Egypt that marked where Indy was going to find the treasure.

#2: An archaeologist must be quick on his feet
Clip - The famous scene from Raiders of the Lost Ark with Indy replacing the golden idol and then running from the boulder.
Mission - Grab the idol before the boulder gets you!

This was our idol (thanks to Target's Halloween decorations and a cheap bottle of gold spray paint) :D
We placed this on the stairs and the kids had to replace it with a bag of rice before the "boulder" (my exercise ball, manned by my husband) bounced down the stairs and hit them. The kids had a blast with this one - I think some of them purposely went slow to get hit lol

#3: An archaeologist has to be handy with a bullwhip
Clip - I found a great montage on youtube of a ton of Indy with his whip scenes set to the song "Whip It". 
Mission - Take down the bad guys with your bullwhip!

So, I found out how to make bullwhips out of duct tape and they are AWESOME. However....I decided a bunch of 10 year olds hopped up on sugar running around with working whips might not be a good thing :) So, we used the one my son got for his Halloween costume and they took turns.
I lined up some action figures on a table outside and they had 10 seconds to knock them all down. They did surprisingly well!

#4: An archaeologist has to learn to use the weapons of the natives to defend himself
Clip -  Natives shooting at Indy with blow darts
Mission - Perfect your blow dart aim!

We gave the kids blow darts (big straws) and had them shoot spit wads at a target outside :D Tons of fun!
(I don't have a picture of this one, but I'm checking with the moms who were there and will update if anyone has one)

#5: An archaeologist should know how to fly (and land) a plane
Clip - Indy and his dad in the plane when his dad shoots out their tail end
Mission - Get your plane on the landing strip without crashing!

I made a simple "landing strip" out of cardboard and duct tape and found these great foam planes at the dollar store (each child got to keep their plane). Whoever made it closest to the X won :)
The kids were thirsty at this point so they came in and got a drink. I'd planned on doing the "you've been poisoned" bit and having them search through balloons to find the antidote but cut due to time. We did a modified version later on though :)

#6: To find the clues, an archaeologist must conquer his fears!
Clip - Indy with the snake in the plane and again finding the Well of Souls and seeing the snakes. We had the scene from Temple of Doom with all the bugs but decided to cut it due to time. We actually ended up cutting this entire game because the treasure was found a little early lol
Mission - Get past the creepy crawlies to find your clues!

#7 (we ended up skipping 6 and going to half way through 7): An archaeologist needs to know how to read a map
Clip - Indy in the map room with the Staff that showed where the ark was buried
Mission - Assemble your map to find your treasure!

We had planned on having them search through some slimy stuff (spaghetti and fake bugs and snakes) to find pieces of a map that they'd have to piece together to find the treasure, but as the treasure was spied a bit early, we skipped this.

The blog we found these ideas on built a model of their house out of Legos and rigged up a laser pointer staff that shown into the room where the treasure was hidden. I really wanted to do this but ran out of prep time.
So, I showed them a clip of what they were looking for - the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark when the open the ark (minus the sort of gory parts, just the shots of the arc) and then sent them into the yard to get it (they'd already found it earlier).

This was their treasure:
It was much more gold-looking in the sunlight. Just a cardboard box with vague angel shapes and paper towel rolls for the  handles spray painted gold and packed with candy :)

Then they came back for a final clip:
Message - Well done archaeologists! You've found your treasure! You must be hungry! An archaeologist has to eat strange foods when he is in other countries.
Clip - the "snake surprise" scene from Temple of Doom
Followed by the message - Enjoy Your Treat!!
But wait!! (Clip - Indy being told by Lao Che that he'd been poisoned, and he holds up the blue antidote) You've been poisoned! Quick, find the antidote!!

They all ran to the kitchen and grabbed their antidote bottles and had some cake :)
(Food table)
The Cake:

I found this AMAZING cake online HERE. Mine didn't turn out as well, but it was pretty dang cool :) The boys loved it. And, following the Snake Surprise clip, I hid a few gummy snakes and spiders inside the cake :D

Each boy went home with his satchel, hat, a ton of pinata candy, his plane, and a goody bag with gummy mummies, gummy spiders, eyeball gumballs, gold chocolate coins, plastic snakes, spiders, and scorpions, and a glow in the dark "crystal" skull. (All purchased very cheaply - definite perks to having a party like this around Halloween time) :)

The party was a blast! I just wish I'd been able to snap more pics :)