Thursday, May 29, 2008

Taxi Crash Injures 3

This car accident was big news this morning. You can read the story here .

Chicago Tribune photo

Not only do I use Union Station myself but the crash occurred just around the corner from where I start my daily walk to work. I don't want to be draumatic - and thankfully no one was killed - but I guess I am thinking "there but for the grace of God go I" just a little bit.

A couple of thoughts crossed my mind after reading the news story. First, I note that the taxi cab passenger refused treatment; hopefully she/he didn't need it because she was wearing her seatbelt. Do you ever catch yourself NOT using the seatbelt when you are in a cab? I absolutely always use my seat belt in my own car but for some reason I didn't use it in a cab until a few years ago. That's when someone pointed out the irony of the fact that while I religiously use my seatbelt when I'm the driver I get careless when I am the passenger in the vehicle of someone that I have never met and have no idea just how good a driver they are. That really hit home for me and I've been buckling up in cabs ever since.

The second thought I had involves the fact that two innocent pedestrians were struck and injured. I have noticed that the pedestrians in Chicago sure get a chip on their shoulder when they are crossing the streets; they walk out in front of cars/buses/bicycle messengers assuming that all motor vehicles will yield to the almighty pedestrian. Well, maybe they will, maybe they won't or maybe they can't. I don't want to be on the losing end of the gamble that the person behind the wheel of a given method of transportation is 1) paying attention 2) has good use of all his faculties and 3) that his brakes/steering, etc work properly. I'd rather err on the side of caution, stop and wait my turn to cross at the corner when I have the light.

In the case this morning it sounds like the two pedestrians were just standing on the sidewalk and they were still struck by the cab. This brings me to my third thought. There are many, many times when I am walking through the city, to or from the train station, and I find myself in my own world and on auto-pilot. I really do not pay attention to anything other than the color of the street light. Sometimes I get to my office and I can't remember anything about my walk - I just put one foot in front of the other and arrive at work or at the train.

Having read about what happened to these people definitely will stay with me, at least for some time, and I will try and be much more engaged while I'm winding my way through our busy and unpredictable city streets.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Pudding Paints and Ice Cubes

Just a quick post tonight -

Here are two good ideas I recently found on Blissfully Domestic which I think are worth trying. One for "edible" paints made with pudding mix and the second for freezing little toys you already own into giant "ice cubes" and then taking them into the bath tub for playtime. Good way to convince your little ones to clean up after all that pudding painting!

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

No Pudge! Brownies

This was a long weekend and I deserved a treat last night. I wanted ice cream, but all we had was plain Breyers vanilla and nothing to mix with it. No root beer, no hot fudge, nothing. Until I remembered my box of No Pudge Brownie mix.

I'm going to admit that I am a bit of a cooking snob and I do not like to use mixes for anything, much less baking. However, I've managed to justify the existence of this particular product in my pantry. You see it comes with directions so that you can make just one brownie at a time (or of course you can use the whole box and make an entire pan of brownies, but that defeats the whole point of using this boxed mix for me).

Simply stir one tablespoon of yogurt (any kind - fat free or in my case soy yogurt is all I had on hand) into two tablespoons of the brownie mix, pop it in the microwave for one minute and voila! You have a single serving of a warm, gooey brownie.

I know just two days ago I was raving about my homemade brownies - and those are definitely better than No Pudge - but if I have a whole pan of brownies in my house chances are I am going to pretty much eat the whole pan myself. So, when you have no self-control like me the No Pudge mix is the way to go. The label even makes me feel good - "No Pudge" - with a name like that how can I possibly feel guilty about eating them?

Monday, May 26, 2008

Happy Memorial Day

My family is pretty young but we have established one family tradition - putting in the garden. It is something I really love and look forward to doing together every year.

It kicks off on Mother's Day, continues on my birthday (May 17) and if all goes well we wrap it up on Memorial Day weekend. It's hard to start much earlier than that since our Chicago weather is getting progressively weirder and harder to predict. So, if we are able to start digging and planting on Mother's Day weekend, I'm happy.

My little girl was very helpful this year - the first year she seems to really be interested in what is going on in the garden. She knows the difference between a crocus, a hyacinth and a tulip, nodded wisely when I pointed out the clematis buds (and counted them for me) and even found a displaced earthworm. I picked up the worm and we looked at him. The worm wiggled a bit and we talked about which end was his head and then he decided to show us which end was his bum in real time, live-action. Yup, he pooped on me. Twice.

It's truly amazing how much you can control your urge to shriek "EEEWWWWWWWW" and jump around furiously shaking the worm off your hand when your 3-year old is standing there watching you. You act calm and matter-of-fact and tell her "oh, that's no big deal. In fact, earthworm poop is GOOD for the garden, so it's GOOD that he's pooping!!" I think she half believed me, but she gracefully declined to hold the worm after that incident. Can't say I blame her.

So, she helped me dig around and as you can see she was very focused on her task. I can't help but notice her plumber's crack. Poor girl seems to suffer from that phenomenon a lot but at 3-years old it's cute, isn't it?

Whoops - I guess she noticed me back there snooping on her. Did you notice she has swiped her brother's little red plastic shovel? If it belongs to him, no matter what it is, it immediately becomes 1000% more valuable to her. It's interesting to me that she has always been very conscientious about cleaning up (don't get me wrong, I'm definitely not complaining!) since, while I like a neat and clean house, honestly it isn't in that condition very often. She is using her little broom from Appalachia (thanks Uncle Brian and Aunt Marylinda!) to sweep up the dirt after her task. I don't even know what the task was supposed to be, but I'm glad she is cleaning up after herself.

My little guy doesn't do much in the garden yet, but he did help us clean up for our cook-out yesterday. He loves to clean too - he took this yellow chamois thing and was wiping anything he could. Since he loves to climb what better thing to clean than the bathroom sink? Gives him a good excuse to climb on his sister's step-stool (he LOVES that step-stool). Look at the look on his face - doesn't he look guilty? He knows he isn't supposed to climb up there!

"OK, I'm just going to look busy and Mom won't notice I'm on the stool. Hmmmmm, I think I missed a spot there..."

"Mom, are you mad that I'm up on this stool? But how else can I clean this sink?"

"OK, I dropped the yellow chamois thing. Are you still mad that I'm up on the stool?"

"Pssssst! When all else fails, look pleadingly at your Mommy with outstretched arms. She'll forget everything. Trust me"

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Desserts for a Cook-Out

We had friends over today for a cook-out. We really like having people over but our house is pretty small (which is great for some things, but bad for entertaining), so it's always much nicer during the summer when we can have people over and sit outside.

Hubby manned the grill, our friends all brought side dishes and I made the desserts - brownies and carrot cake cupcakes. I tried two new recipes and thankfully both turned out nicely. I don't know why I do this to myself, but many times the first time I try a given recipe is when we are entertaining. This has blown up on me several times too so you'd think I would learn my lesson. Nope.
The brownies were fantastic and were really easy to make. Actually they were too easy to make - I will want to make them again and again and this recipe is simple and fast enough that I can do that whenever the urge for homemade brownies hits.

They were fudgey but not too dense - which is exactly how I like my brownies. I don't even want to think what they'd taste like warm with a scoop of vanilla ice cream... I found the recipe on and I followed the recipe as written. By the way, 1 1/2 c of chocolate chips is the same as a 9 oz bag.

The other recipe I made was a carrot cake, but instead of using a 13x9 inch pan I made it into 24 cupcakes - somehow having to use a plate and fork to eat dessert at a backyard cook-out doesn't seem to fit, especially when there are kids involved! I iced the cupcakes with my version of a cream cheese frosting that is excellent, if I do say so myself :-) It makes about 3 c of frosting so you only need 1/2 of the frosting recipe to ice 24 cupcakes.

Noelle's Cream Cheese Sour Cream Frosting

1 1/2 T unsalted butter
8 oz light cream cheese
1/3 c light sour cream
3/4 t vanilla extract
1/4 t almond extract
4-5 c powdered sugar

Beat butter, cream cheese and sour cream until creamy. Add vanilla and almond extracts. Gradually beat in powdered sugar until mixture reaches spreading consistency. Yield 3 cups.

The cake was good, but I have a feeling it will taste better tomorrow after the flavors have a little time to blend. I'll let you know! UPDATE - Ohhhhh yes, this cake was SO much better the next day!!! Next time I will make it one day in advance.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Movie Reviews "Awake" and "There Will Be Blood"

Two more movie reviews in 30 seconds or less...

There Will Be Blood - Set at the turn-of-the century. Daniel Day-Lewis is searching for oil and buying up land. His adopted son suffers for it. There is also an underlying moral/religious theme. We give it 4 stars for originality and DD-L is just a great actor.

Key Quotes:

N - "hmmmm, this is much better than I thought it would be. That title really put me off" (title does makes sense after you see the movie)
K - "I liked it. It was good."

Awake - Set in current day - thriller set around Hayden Christiansen's character suffering from "anesthetic awareness" (which is a real phenonmen and sounds absolutely horrifying). We give it 3 stars for originality and I liked the ending, but the acting/story was kind of hokey.

Key quotes:

N - "I really can't watch Jessica Alba. She kind of ruined herself for me by making movies like "Honey" and being quoted recently as saying she and her boyfriend don't use birth control because to them sex was "no big thing". (Unless you are living under a rock you know that she is currently very pregnant.)

K - "no way - you'd be screaming the whole time they were cutting you open. You couldn't narrate a movie" (as he was sitting there with his hand clenching the side of his head - very tense-like). He was really on the edge of his seat.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Steps to Becoming Debt Free

I love this recent post about becoming Debt Free on Blissfully Domestic.

I agree (and try to live by) each and every one of the 10 tips they list. It's not always easy but it's well worth your while. Check it out and let me know what you think!

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Broken Bits and Pieces

BK (before-kids) I used to have all sorts of hobbies - mostly crafty things; I just loved to make things with my hands. Cooking, mosaics, homemade soap, handmade paper, knitting, cross-stitch, etc. I seem to have an odd knack for tedious, detail-oriented work.

Now that I have two little ones all my hobby stuff is packed away in crates. But there is hope - at school they say my 3-year-old loves painting and doing art projects, so I'm hoping that she will be interested in doing some of my favorite crafts with me soon. It will be a big change since I used to do those activities all alone - and enjoyed the solitude lost in whatever project I was working on - but I look forward to giving it a try and embracing the change having a 3-year-old by my side will bring!

Here are a couple of pictures of three of my favorite mosaic projects. I guess you can say that I'm self-taught; one day I decided I wanted to try my hand at mosaicing and I had an ugly old end table that was a perfect candidate to have it's tabletop re-covered. I knew a tiny bit about tile and grout from helping on a bathroom re-tiling project. So, armed with that little bit of knowledge I went to Home Depot and bought some field tile, a few bull-nosed tiles (for the table edges), grout and Liquid Nails. I came home, spread it out in the middle of my living room (the beauty of living alone at the time!) and started breaking the tiles up with a hammer (put the tile in a paper bag first so you don't damage the finish). It was SO much fun picking through the broken pieces and fitting different combinations together - just like a puzzle.

I still have that table, but it ain't one of my favorites. However, I learned a lot (like always seal your grout - some of my earliest projects sadly have suffered due to my inexperience and now have yellow and dingy (dusty) looking grout). But I was able to branch out to some projects that I am really proud of, like these.

The Heart-Shaped Box (and my nod to Nirvana :-). This was the first gift I made for my Hubby on the first Valentine's Day after we became serious.

A lot of the fun when starting a new mosaic project is to see how the project presents itself. I remember I found the little wooden box (on clearance, of course :-) at Michael's so that narrowed it right down to "I'm making him a box" plus I like being able to make funtional gifts.

Next was trying to decide what to put on the box - I wanted something kind of love oriented, but it still had to be manly enough to give to my sweetie. I stumbled on the "love knot" idea after browsing through a book of nautical knots - this knot is really called a "love" knot in the nautical world. It was perfect! How much more manly can one get than a nautical knot?? I was still nervous when I gave the box to Hubby (well, just Boyfriend at that time) but he loved it and to this day it sits on his nightstand. Unfortunately, sometimes he uses it as a coaster but at least it's not stuffed in a drawer.

The Wedding Picture Frame - another gift to Hubby. I found the frame in the scratch and dent section at TJ Maxx (a fantastic place to look for chipped cups and plates that are perfect candidates to become mosaic tile. Also, nicked and dinged picture frames, little boxes, mirrors with wooden frames - all are possible mosaic projects!)

I found the "Love" stamp tiles from someone on eBay who actually mounted real cancelled Love stamps on to glass tiles. They are so unique and pretty, I just love them. I had so much fun mixing and matching the tiny colored tiles to the stamps, cutting the tiles into shapes, etc. I think this frame is really my favorite piece that I have ever made. Sadly it blew off a bookcase a few weeks back and you can see the lower right corner has grout that chipped out :-(

The Tray. I made this after we were married - I found the wooden tray (again) at TJ Maxx in the clearance section and thought it would be a great project since the wood was already finished (sealed and painted) which is a huge time saver and I even liked the color - an olive green that had a distressed finish to it. All I had to do was cover up the ugly Americana pattern that was etched into the bottom.

After brain storming and sorting through all my tiles for inspiration I came up with something that was perfect for a tray that you may use while entertaining - wine label tiles! This was another find from the same person on eBay. She mounted real wine labels on to glass tiles and I did the rest. I still have a second tray I bought (to make a coordinating pair of trays) waiting patiently to get its tile-makeover... oh, someday :-)

Free Stuff

Occasionally I get coupon mailers from stores - 99% of the time I toss these in the recycling bin but I always do a quick check because sometimes, depending on the coupon terms, it can end up being a freebie. I have seen these type coupons for Bath & Body Works, Sears, JC Penney, and even restaurants such as Stir Crazy, Buca di Beppo and Red Lobster.

For example, I "bought" these two bottles of shampoo from Bath & Body Works this weekend. They normally cost $7.50 each and were on sale 2/$10. The coupon that B&BW sent me was good for $10 off a minimum $10 purchase. Since I was careful to only select items that added up to $10 I didn't have to pay a dime, not even sales tax!

The trick (and this is important!) is to decide BEFORE you go into the store that you will not select anything that is over the required minimum purchase. Of course this is not what the B&BW company wants you to do, they want to lure you in with the coupon and have you spend money that you originally were not planning on spending in their store.

Unfortunately for them I refuse to do this and just make the minimum purchase to get my freebies. I also tend to buy basic toiletries like soap or shampoo, items that I would normally be purchasing anyways. It's tempting to go with a splurge like a special hand cream or lip product, but do I really need those? Nope and of course I risk finding something that I decide I can't live without and then go back and actually buy the items with my (ACK!!!) own money??

Between these type coupons from B&BW and getting free shampoo and hair products from the Walgreens monthly Rebate Club (see link below for my earlier post on that) I don't think I have actually paid for shampoo or hair products in YEARS and I'm A-OK with that.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

What is This?

This is in terribly poor taste.

It's absolutely disgusting, but it is so bizarre that I'm drawn to include it in this post.

Did someone really have to take a casting in order to make the mold?

Is it a gag gift?

Possibly a gift for someone with an "alternative" lifestyle?

Maybe a gift for the real A-hole in your life? Someone that you may want to send dead roses to on Valentine's Day. But why would I want to spend my money on something crafted out of fine Belgian chocolate to turn around and give to someone that holds that esteemed title?!?!

If you really want to know what this is, scroll down.

But beware, you may be sorry you found out.

****************Here we go****************

365 Ways to Make a Difference

I love my "Living Green 365 Ways To Make A Difference" calendar for a couple reasons - I get daily tidbits that remind me of various "greener" ways to live (and many of them I was not aware of) and (the best part) it has an on-line option so my calender is actually paperless! No pages to tear off and throw away everyday, I'm not cluttering up my desk with a paper calendar and my daily "green" tips are sent right to my IN box - what's not to like??

This was the page for May 8th; although I don't use mothballs (I have small children and a dog to be worried about) I had no idea how toxic they were. I also love the natural options for moth repellents.

"Mothballs contain toxic naphthalene or paradichlorobenzene; they should be disposed of only through a licensed hazardous waste handler or a municipal hazardous waste collection program. Avoid buying them in the first place by protecting clothes in closed bags. Also try these aromatic moth repellents: cinnamon sticks, bay leaves, or whole cloves wrapped in cheesecloth. "


“Thinking is easy, acting is difficult, and to put one’s thoughts into action is the most difficult thing in the world.”

—Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

This goes hand-in-hand with one of my pet peeves - apathy. People who don't care, are too busy, assume "someone else" will do it or "it's not my problem". It alternately makes me angry and sad. It also makes me a little crazy because sometimes I feel like I have to be extra vigilant about things to pick up the slack.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Gas and Oreos

This morning I was doing what I do every morning on the train ride in to Chicago. I read my newspaper (The Chicago Tribune - NEVER the Sun Times!!!) I came across two articles that I thought I would share with you.

The first one made me groan - it read "Chicago has highest gas price in U.S." which immediately made me think "I'm so grateful that I take Metra to work and do not have to drive." In fact, since I do take public transportation daily I only put about 5,000 miles per year on my car. Whew.

The second one was much less serious and something about it made me chuckle a bit. It read "Got milk? Crash strews Oreos over I-80". It reminded me about a client of mine that had a fire several years ago in their marshmallow production facility. I couldn't help but wonder if the place smelled like roasted marshmallows after they put the fire out... Of course I didn't share that thought with my client :-),0,49762.story

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Noelle's Crockpot Three Bean Turkey Chili

There was an episode of "Top Chef" a few weeks ago that contained a challenge for the chefs to make a healthy, easy-to-prepare meal for a family of four that cost no more than $10.

I enjoyed this challenge, but I especially enjoyed the aspect of trying to keep it under $10. I drive my husband crazy by mentally tallying up the cost of a given dinner (while we are eating) and telling him how inexpensive it was to cook at home and isn't so much better than going out to eat?!?! He is a good sport and plays along with me. That's one of the reasons I love him :-)

So, here is my first installment of "Meals for $10 or Less". A couple of notes - I usually use "house brands" for items like canned tomatoes or beans unless otherwise specified. I will assume that your cupboard is stocked with the basics, like seasonings and will not include them in the cost of making the recipe.

This chili recipe is one of our favorites - it tastes great, is low-fat, full of nutrition and is super easy to make because you throw it all in the crockpot. You can cut costs by purchasing your ground turkey on sale (freeze it if you don't plan on using it right away). A few weeks ago I came across a large selection of La Preferida organic canned beans (15 oz cans) that were marked down to $.35 a can. I have no idea why they were in the "Clearance" cart at the grocery store - the use by dates weren't until 2010 - but I didn't ask questions, I just bought all 19 cans! Hubby rolled his eyes when I got home, but that's what you gotta do when you are trying to be a Smart Spender - buy on sale and if you don't need it right away, store it (especially if it's marked down 75%!!)

Noelle's Three Bean Turkey Chili - $8.11
1 pound ground turkey $3
1 (28 ounce) can diced or whole tomatoes $1.35
1 (15 ounce) can kidney beans, drained $1.09
1 (15 ounce) can pinto beans, drained $.99
1 (15 ounce) can black beans, drained $.99
1/2 medium onion, chopped $.69
2 tablespoons chili powder
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/2 tablespoon garlic powder
1/2 tablespoon ground cumin
salt and pepper to taste

Place turkey in a non-stick skillet and cook until evenly brown; drain.

Inside of a large crockpot mix turkey, tomatos, beans and onion. Season with chili powder, red pepper flakes, garlic powder, cumin and stir well to combine all ingredients.

Cover and cook 8 hours on Low or 4 hours on High. Stir occasionally. Yields appx 8 servings.

NOTE: You can stretch this even further by serving it over cooked elbow macaroni or even spaghetti (and make your own version of "Cincinnati Chili"). Sometimes I will also chop up and add green pepper if I have it on hand.

My Birthday - Epilogue

The day didn't get any better for me after my Birthday post yesterday. In fact, it got worse and we (I) seriously considered cancelling our evening plans and just going to bed at 4pm. However, after many tears and much gnashing of teeth we decided to stick to the plan and go out to dinner as originally scheduled. The only difference was we cancelled the babysitter and took the kids with us.

While part of the tears/gnashing of teeth stuff came from being frustrated with their high level of neediness, tears, tantrums, etc yesterday it also came from feeling guilty and sad about wanting to have some peace and quiet away from them. Don't get me wrong, I completely believe and support that parents do need time for themselves, away from their children, but yesterday night that wasn't what I wanted and it was, after all, MY birthday. So we made our decision and prayed that we would be spared any wildchild behavior once seated for dinner.

We went to L. Woods which is part of Lettuce Entertain You restaurants. LEYE has consistently come up with great dining concepts in the Chicagoland area and this one doesn't disappoint, in fact it's one of our favorites. It is has a general noise level that nicely masks the sounds of child diners but it is still a nice enough place that your kid needs to behave well.

The kids were complete angels. In fact, after dinner two separate people commented at how well-behaved our kids were?!?!?! Oh man, I needed to hear that. Once you become a parent you do not know how much weight a little comment like that can hold, especially after the day I had had with them. If you ever see kids behaving especially well out in public please get the courage up to tell their parents - it takes a lot of consistent effort to teach your children manners and good behavior in public and most parents rarely (if ever) get that kind of positive reinforement from the general public!!

The food was delicious (see below for my daughter's 5 star rating on the mac and cheese) which much to our chagrin (and despite our efforts not to "dumb down" her palate) she insisted on having. My prime rib was perfect and Hubby raved over his cheddar-encrusted white fish.

My little guy concentrated on people-watching and munching on his matzo crackers, sweet potato, tofu and broccoli. He did not make one uncontented peep - I think he must have worked all of that out of his system earlier in the day.

My daughter was charming and (quietly) entertained us with her wit and funny moves, like putting her glasses on her head ("like Daddy") and just gazing at us, waiting for a reaction.

All in all, it was a really nice birthday dinner and was just what I needed to wash away the memory of all the unpleasantness that I was drowning in earlier that day. I think the two Ketel One lemon martinis may have helped too :-)

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Tony Award Nominations

This isn't something I can write about very often - one of our friends, Todd Rosenthal, is up for a Tony Award for Best Scenic Design of a Play. You can see all the nominations here

Todd is a friend of my husbands and was the best man at our wedding. In fact Hubby was kind of a mentor to Todd when he moved to Chicago years ago. Todd has done phenomenally well in the business, works constantly and is now being rewarded with a show that went to Broadway and is now up for a Tony. Pretty exciting and we are rooting for him!! Too bad his award category is pre-taped but they do air that tape in the live telecast.

For more on "August: Osage County", the play that got him to Broadway (which started at Chicago's Steppenwolf Theater) click here

It's My Birthday

It's my birthday today and I'm feeling sorry for myself.

I was looking forward to it, but after last week's not-so-great-Mother's Day (despite my sweet Hubby's best attempts to make it a nice day) I didn't set my expectations too high. I've learned that with two little kids you really can't make too many plans and you have to just go with the flow.

My little guy decided to give me the first "Happy Birthday" greeting of the day. At 1:00am. He kept moaning, writhing and crying until oh, about 2:25am. I changed his diaper, offered him some milk (and got a few good burps) but nothing seemed to keep him calm for more than 5 minutes. I finally gave him some Tylenol which seemed to do the trick so then I was kicking myself for not doing that sooner but I'm always hesitant to offer Tylenol since it's medicine and I don't want to give it to him unless he really needs it but when it seems to work after I have fiddled around for almost an hour trying other things I feel like an idiot.

I didn't want much for my birthday - just to maybe be able to sleep in a bit and work in the garden. I even knew I'd be doing the laundry as well, but that's OK - you can't take the whole weekend off birthday or not. Somehow things have gone off track, but what can you do.

Right now it's 2pm and I'm hiding out in the basement because my 3 year old is throwing a fit upstairs because she didn't like what I asked her to do. She is amazingly tenacious and has a powerful set of lungs - I know she is trying to wake her brother up from his nap just to show me who is boss... sigh... it's hard to believe that only 5 hours ago she smiled at me sweetly and said "Happy Birthday, Mommy!" and gave me the kind of hug that only a 3 year old can give. I'll try to focus on that the rest of the day.

Friday, May 16, 2008

If you have ANY hobbies or ANY interests you have to check out . You can search by Topics or City (just put in your zip code) and by the power of the internet BAM you are instantly connected with other people who share the same interests and better yet, have organized ways to MEET UP with each other (hence the name :-)

I found a knitting group that meets twice a month there and it's only 2 miles from my home. I would have never found this group or met any of these terrific knitters had I not found them on I have also found a group that is geared towards arranging group family activities as well as an outdoors group that arranges activities for adults and/or families.

My Hubby went on there to see if there was a group that he could go bike riding with and found that there was and also a few people interested in starting a Vintage Motorcycle group too. This was really exciting for him since he has a (surprise!) Vintage Motorcycle.

So check it out and if you don't find a group for what you like to do in your free time maybe you'd like to start one up yourself.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

How Does My Garden Grow?

I have a friend, Rebecca, that comes across the neatest things on the internet - she is the one that sent me this:

Teach your children where their food comes from with this ingenious product from Toyday. The clever design allows the developing plants to be seen right from sprouting to full harvest, making it an educational kit for all ages. The set includes three growing tubes, wooden stand, compost, seeds and full instructions to grow an onion, carrot and radish from the included seeds.Includes journal, to document the growing process.

I thought it was a great idea, but can't justify spending 7.99 (pounds, not US dollars :-) for it. However, I do try and get my daughter (and my little guy since he is now a toddler) involved in the garden. Last year she really enjoyed the cherry tomatoes we planted in pots on the deck:

This last picture captures my daughter's motto: "eat first, think later!" perfectly. I think she was a little surprised that the cherry tomatoes squirt when you bite into them.

And snap peas - she loved just eating them out of hand, right from the garden.

She was so enthusiastic and wanted to share with her Dad, but I think he would have preferred a salty snack, something that comes out of a foil bag versus some nice, crisp, organically grown veggies! I'm so proud that she actually considers fresh fruit and veggies an acceptable snack. I don't know how long it will last, but I'm grateful she is a good eater that way.

Oh, and how about this: a study from Colorado State University says that if you account for the material costs of producing vegetables for mass consumption, home gardening yields a twentyfold increase in value. Who knew?


“After you have exhausted what there is in business, politics, conviviality and so on—have found that none of these finally satisfy, or permanently wear—what remains? Nature remains.”

—Walt Whitman

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Homemade Graham Crackers

My little boy loves crackers - LOVES them so I started looking for something a little more healthy than whole wheat Ritz. I stumbled on this recipe for Graham Crackers on and they seem to fit the bill for healthy crackers. I was pleasantly surprised after I made them and they were actually GOOD! Good enough that Hubby and I agree that we would even eat them ourselves if we were in the mood for a light, crispy cracker.

Below is the original recipe to which I added my changes in yellow. Or if you prefer, here is the link right to Allrecipes.

Graham Crackers

1/2 cup shortening (I used Earth Balance spread with good results)
3/4 cup packed brown sugar (I reduced to 1/2 c since I use the cinnamon/sugar topping)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups whole wheat flour (I substituted 1/4 c ground flax seed, 1/4 c wheat germ and 1/2 c of oat bran for 1 c of the whole wheat flour
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup milk (I increased to 1/2 c)
Cinnamon Sugar (1 T white sugar + 1/2 t cinnamon)

In a medium bowl cream together the shortening and brown sugar. Stir in the vanilla. Combine the whole wheat flour, all purpose flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt, stir into the creamed mixture alternately with the milk. Cover and chill dough until firm.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F

  • Grease cookie sheets (or use a Silpat -which I highly recommend - or parchment paper and skip the greasing step).
  • On a lightly floured surface (or right on the Silpat), roll the dough out to 1/8 inch thickness.
  • Cut into rectangles (pizza cutter works great).
  • Sprinkle cinnamon sugar over them (It helps if you have a kitchen elf for this step. Notice the flour around her mouth. She thought I didn't notice that she was eating the flour)
  • Place 1/2 inch apart onto the prepared cookie sheets (not necessary if using a Silpat and rolling directly on it).
  • Bake for 10 to 12 minutes in the preheated oven, or until crisp. Edges will be golden brown. Remove from baking sheet to cool on wire racks (I let them cool right on the Silpat).
  • After allowing them to cool I broke the crackers apart along the lines I made with the pizza cutter, which worked great and was really easy.
NOTE: If crackers aren't crispy enough after baking put them back in the oven (after turning it off) and allow to sit overnight. This will dry them out and you'll have crispy crackers by morning!

Monday, May 12, 2008

Freecycle to the Rescue

It's been a rough month already - our digital camera broke, my little boy had back-to-back trips to the emergency room, property taxes are due next month, we spent $170 on my dog's arthritis medication (yes, my dog's arthritis medication which she needs to be on for the rest of her life). So, when the microwave went kaput this weekend I told my husband we'd just do without.

To me the microwave is a nice convenience, but not a necessity. I guess that comes from not having one myself until after I got out of college; however, my husband has had one since they first were on the market (and as big as chest freezers) so he was in a panic without it. The day after it broke he called me at work and told me "I don't think I can get around not having a microwave" - I could almost imagine his hands were sweaty and his stomach was in a knot - that's how concerned he sounded. Like a junkie looking for his next hit. It's a MICROWAVE for crying out loud!!! So I suggested we put a WANTED posting on Freecycle and see what happened. Within 24 hours we had a new (used) microwave in our kitchen. While it isn't as nice as our old one (or as powerful) it's a microwave and life can now go on. The lady that answered our post lived two blocks from us, can you believe it? I'll say it again: I LOVE Freecycle!

Warm Biscuit Bedding Company Giveway

Check out this link and her May 8 post in order to enter a giveaway for a $50 gift certificate to Warm Biscuit Bedding Company

They have some very cute stuff and I'm sure I could find a way to spend $50 should I win :-)

Hurry, you only have until May 16 to enter!

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Happy Mother's Day

In honor of Mother's Day...

10 Things I Have Learned During My 3 Years of Motherhood
10) Getting stuck at a train crossing can be fun - watching an 18-month-old's fascination helps you realize that the train is not an annoying delay but an amazing mechanical triumph.
9) You will say things that you never thought would come out of your mouth and you WILL sound like your own mother.
8) Nothing is better than a happy, snuggly baby that thinks you are the world and curls up on your shoulder.
7) Well, except a happy, exuberant toddler than drops everything and runs to you with complete abandon and joy when you enter the room.
6) Next to (God forbid) a terrible illness or death of a loved one bringing a child into your life is the most stressful thing you can do.
5) Potty training is a whole lot harder than it should be.
4) Seeing your child mirror your behavior can make you feel proud and it can make you feel ashamed. Do I really talk/behave that way??
3) You really can have enough love for more than one child and appreciate how similar or how different they are.
2) Seeing the love, wit and kindness that your child is capable of expressing can be overwhelming.
1) You can't control everything and nothing brings that home more than having a baby, so trust in God and have fun on the ride. Parenthood is a marathon not a sprint!

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Black Bottom Banana Cream Pie

I had forgotten how good this pie is! I made it again today for the first time in years. It was my mother-in-laws birthday and I wanted to surprise her with a twist on her favorite pie - banana cream. My recipes notes indicate I originally came across this recipe in the October 1998 issue of Cooking Light. It is an absolutely delicious pie and looks so pretty, but it's really not hard to make. Now that I've become reacquainted with it I'll be making it much more frequently!
Pastry Crust
- light and flaky, one of my favorite pie crusts
1 c flour, divided
3 T ice water
1/2 t cider vinegar
1 T powdered sugar
1/4 t salt
1/4 c vegetable shortening
  • Preheat oven to 400.
  • Combine 1/4 c flour, ice water and vinegar. Stir with a whisk until well-blended; this is a "slurry".
  • Combine 3/4 c flour, sugar and salt in a bowl. Cut in shortening with a pastry blender until mixture resembles coarse meal. Add slurry and toss with a flork until flour mixture is moist. Gently press mixture into a 4" circle on heavy duty plastic wrap; cover with additional plastic wrap. (I just use a zippered pastry bag which is so easy and works wonderfully).
  • Roll dough, still covered, into a 12" circle. Remove top sheet of plastic warp and fit dough, plastic warp side up, into a 9" pie plate. Remove plastic wrap and press the dough against bottom and sides of pan. Fold edges under and flute.
  • Line bottom of dough with a piece of foil; arrange pie weights on foil (I use a bag of dried black beans. However, after baking keep the beans to re-use only as pie weights since you can no longer eat them).
  • Bake at 400 for 20 minutes or until edge is lightly browned. Remove pie weights and foil; cool on a wire rack.
Black Bottom Banana-Cream Pie
1 (9") Pastry Crust
3 T cornstarch, divided
2 T sugar
2 T cocoa
Dash of salt
1 1/3 c skim milk, divided
1 oz semi-sweet chocolate, chopped
1/2 c sugar
1/4 t salt
2 large eggs
1 T unsalted butter
2 t vanilla
2 oz light cream cheese, softened
2 c sliced ripe bananas (abt 2 large)
1 1/2 c freshly whipped cream *
Chocolate shavings (optional) **
  • Prepare and bake Pastry Crust.
  • Combine 1 T cornstarch, 2 T sugar, cocoa and dash of salt in a small heavy sauce pan. Gradually add 1/3 c milk, stirring with a whisk. Cook 2 minutes over medium-low heat. Stir in chocolate, bring to boil over medium heat. Reduce heat to low; cook 1 minute, stirring constantly. Spread chocolate mixture onto bottom of prepared crust.
  • Combine 2 T cornstarch, 1/2 c sugar, 1/4 t salt, eggs, 1 c milk and butter in a heavy saucepan over medium heat, stirring constantly with a whisk. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and cook 30 seconds or until thick. Remove from heat, add vanilla.
  • Beat cream cheese until light (appx 30 sec). Add 1/4 c hot custard to cream cheese and beat just until blended. Stir in remaining custard.
  • Arrange banana slices on top of chocolate layer; spoon custard over bananas and gently smooth with a spatula. Press plastic wrap onto surface of custard; chill 4 hrs. Remove plastic wrap and spread freshly whipped cream evenly over custard. Garnish with chocolate shavings, if desired. Chill until ready to serve.
* To make fresh whipped cream: pour 4 oz heavy whipping cream into a chilled bowl, add 1 t sugar, 1/2 t vanilla and beat until cream is thickened and soft peaks form.
** To make chocolate shavings: using a vegetable peeler drag it across the back of a bar of semi-sweet baking chocolate until desired amount of shavings are created.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Bugs, Worms and Mommys, Oh My!

I surprised myself and did something the other day that I have never done before. It's not earthshattering by any means - I just picked up an earthworm and held it in my hand. That may not seem like a big deal, but prior to having a child I had absolutely no interest in touching one much less actually picking it up. I avoided touching them or any other type of bug, worm or spider. However, now that I am the parent of a little girl I'm determined to raise her not to be a scaredy-cat who only does "girl" things. So, if I have to grit my teeth and pick up a worm to try and ensure that my girl isn't afraid of bugs or worms, well then I'll do it.

So far, at age 3, I think she is doing pretty good! A few times she has come home from school and told us that she doesn't like thunder or doesn't like lightning and we know it's because someone at her school is telling her THEY don't like it. I know this because she and her dad have sat out back and watched lightning together and she has never been afraid. It's amazing how easily kids can be influenced, but the good thing is that we can influence her right back to "our" side! We tell her how mommy and daddy like thunder and lightning and it usually means rain is coming and the flowers and grass like the rain especially when they are thirsty. She seems to grasp that explanation and hasn't really complained about storms since.

This past weekend she and I were working in the garden and came across an earthworm. I pointed it out and before I knew it I had reached out and picked it up so she could get a better look. I was proud of myself - I still had a split second hesitation -but it was subtle enough that she was none the wiser.

She didn't want to hold the worm herself but she did tentatively touch it with one finger. Two days later I was working in the yard again and she walked over to me with her hand outstretched to show me a worm she had picked up all by herself! It wasn't an earthworm but one of those small, black worms that have a shiny look to them and curl up when they are trying to protect myself. To me those worms are a little more intimidating looking than a fat, pink earthworm, but she didn't seem to notice and she was fascinated that the worm was all curled up.

As a parent it was so cool to experience this with her because obviously she remembered that I had showed her the earthworm and although she wasn’t ready to actually hold that one, she found this little black one, picked it up and proudly showed him to me. We were able to have a little talk about why he was all curled up and that he may have been just protecting himself because he was scared or he was, well, dead. Almost on cue he uncurled himself and started wiggling around. It was a great parental moment for me and probably one that only other parents will "get".

Our camera is broken so I don't have any good pictures to post of this little mother/daughter event, but here are some pictures of the 17-year cicadas that emerged last summer. There was a lot of hoopla about that around here, and I wanted to capture the kids with the bugs. That was another time I had to hold back my squeamishness to actually pick up a cicada (it still makes me shudder thinking about it) and show my daughter that there was nothing to be afraid of (ewwwwww!!!!).

I even put one right on my (then) 4 month old baby boy so I could get a picture and show it to him when they come back and he is 17 years. Yup, that's the cicada over there on his ear - just inches from his mouth, his eyes, his little baby nose. What was I thinking?? I just hope he gets a kick out of it in 16 years.