Tuesday, January 22, 2013

The Clean-Up Woman

As much as I hate doing the majority of the household chores, I am terrible at assigning chores and holding the boys accountable.  I've tried charts and incentives, but never stuck with any of it to make it work.  I live in the fairytale where kids just do what they're asked to do, because it's what they're supposed to do.
Well, last week I went onto their "wing" of the house and had my usual anxiety attack.  It happens every time I turn the corner that leads to their hallway:  chest tightens, breathing becomes short and labored, beads of sweat start forming, heart races….you get the point.  No matter how many times I warn and threaten, they refuse to keep their things picked up off the floor of their bedroom and bathroom.   Often, I even close their doors so I don't have to see it.  There's no avoiding the problem when we're rushing out the door and someone can't find their __________.  
What did I do?  I collected everything in a trash bag.  The next time they came looking for something, I announced that I had a collection of things that I found on the floor.  If they wanted or needed anything from my collection, they would pay me $1 per item.  They earn money for their grades on their report card and have saved up quite a bit of birthday and Christmas money as well.  So, I think this really hit home. Who knows, maybe I've finally figured out a way to help them clean up their messes!

Monday, January 21, 2013

Homemade Playdough

Have you ever made homemade playdough?  You should!  With a few common ingredients found in your pantry and 10 minutes, you'll be whisked right back into your childhood.  I whipped up a batch this week for Baby A, and it reminded me of the countless number of batches I've made with the boys.  Of course you can buy it, but making it yourself is a great way to incorporate a bit of science, math, language, cooking and art-of course.

I use a simple recipe that needs to be cooked on the stovetop, but there are many that don't require cooking.

You will need:

homemade playdough

1 cup flour
1/2 cup salt
1 cup water
1 Tablespoon oil
2 teaspoons cream of tartar
Food coloring by drops

Combine all ingredients in a saucepan and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly until a soft ball forms.  Knead until smooth.  Allow playdough to cool.  Store in an airtight container for a few weeks.

homemade playdoughOf course I made pink.  Is there any other color for the family's only girl?  Baby A was a little reluctant to get messy, but I modeled making shapes and it kept her pretty entertained.  I look forward to making many more batches of homemade playdough with my favorite girl.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Hot! Fresh! Popcorn!

vintage popcorn cart I finally got this baby up and running!  I've been shopping around for a vintage style popcorn cart and finally found this one online at Costco.  It was my kind of Black Friday deal!  No need to wake up early and wait in long lines when you can just point, click and have it delivered to your doorstep.
When it arrived, it required minor assembly.  I'm proud to say that I assembled (and re-assembled)it myself.  I don't do assembly! We got it all set up and the kettle didn't heat up---major bummer!  After several calls to the manufacturer and a few weeks, a new kettle came in the mail and VOILA!  It worked like a charm!
We all love it and it will make the perfect addition to our theater room. Hopefully we can start the renovations on that project later this year.  Until then, we'll be popping lots of corn!

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Friday, January 11, 2013

Sign of The Times

Since the Connecticut school shooting last month, I've had several "real" discussions with my kids about safety and making good choices.  I've never been one to sugar coat things or mince words, but considering how crazy the world is becoming I certainly can't afford to now.
We've talked about everything from emergency plans to underage drinking and driving.  I've reminded them how many bad decisions result from either disobedience, impulse control or drugs.  I'm also quick to point out how some of their "minor" bad choices/behavior will look in another ten years.   We all make mistakes, but when those indiscretions become habits, those habits can develop a pattern.  In many cases, especially these days, there's no chance for a pattern to develop;  one poor decision and it's a done deal!
Ultimately, they will make their own decisions, but I will know that I've warned and prepared them.  I think it's sad to see them lose their childhood innocence so early, but the world is a much different place from the one in which I grew up.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Food, Glorious Food!

No, I have not turned the blog into a food blog!  I'm just really enjoying cooking (and eating) these days.  It's no wonder my pants are shrinking! Here are some of my latest concoctions. 

Granola Bars: The Pioneer Woman (This woman rocks!)

Tomato & Herbed Goat Cheese Pizza

Chocolate Chip-Pecan Cookie Nightcap


Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Chicken Bellagio (Cheesecake Factory Copycat)

For Sunday dinner I wasn't prepared to reheat a freezer meal and was in a pinch to get something on the table quickly.  We paced the aisles of the grocery store arguing about trying to agree on a meal.  That's when I remembered this super easy, delicious pasta dish that I order at the Cheesecake Factory.  $12 spent on ingredients and 30 minutes later, we were eating.  While I LOVE The Cheesecake Factory, I think our entire grocery bill was around the price of our tab for dinner there  AND we didn't have to suffer through the hour long (at least) wait that you're guaranteed to be subjected to.

Here's my version:


4-6 thinly sliced chicken breast fillets
2 c. panko bread crumbs
2 eggs
1 c. flour
1/4-1/2 c. pesto ( I use Classico)
1 lb. cooked angel hair pasta
4-6 slices prosciutto
salt and pepper to taste
canola oil
3 Tbsp heavy cream (optional)

1.  Boil angel hair pasta according to directions.  Drain and set aside, but reserve pasta water for reheating.

2.  In three separate shallow dishes place flour, whisked eggs, and bread crumbs.  Season chicken with salt and pepper.  Dip each breast into the flour for a light dusting, then the egg wash and finally the bread crumbs.

3.  Heat oil in skillet.  On medium high heat, cook chicken 3-4 minutes on each side until crisp and golden brown.  Cook in batches of 2.  Drain cooked breasts on a wire rack and place in warm oven while remaining batches are cooked.

4.  Heat up the reserved pasta water to a gentle boil.  Submerge the pasta briefly to reheat.  Remove and drain.

5.  In a medium sized bowl, combine pesto and cream (if using).  Make more or less sauce depending on how much you like pesto.  Add warm pasta, tossing to coat. 

6.  To assemble layer a bed of pasta, top with chicken breast, prosciutto and top with arugula.  

**If you're feeling adventurous, sprinkle a smidge of grated cheese (parmesan or swiss) between the chicken and prosciutto.


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Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Styling the Built-In (After)

styling a built in
I did it!  I rummaged around the house and found enough to liven up the built in bookcase in our family room.  I'm not surprised that I had the goods, rather I'm surprised that I can check something off my list so soon.  The fun thing about  recycling and up-cycling is remembering the story and history of the items.  A favorite Christmas card photo turned canvas print, a basket passed along from a friend who no longer had use for it and discount store finds all work together to create an eclectic look that says "home".  

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Favorite 2012 Project: Faux Brick Wall

In the fall we finally decided to tackle decorating the boys' rooms.  This was the first real project in the house since we moved, unless you want to include  taking care of a new baby.

The boys were bored with white walls and wanted their spaces to show more of their personalities.  I retrieved Pinterest boards and made  trips  to Ikea and Lowe's .  Then the real fun began.  My hubby was home for the week, so I had high hopes.

Well, needless to say I got tired before half of the work was done and   (thankfully) I came to my senses before I spent too much money on accessories.  Certain elements just didn't come together as I'd envisioned, so I'm still in the process of making a few changes.  

One thing I won't change is the faux brick wall that I painted in MC"s room.   I literally came up with the idea in the 23rd hour!  We hadn't even bought supplies.  I  Googled a quick how-to and cut a template from a poster board I had in my craft cabinet.  It took nearly two days to sponge all of the colors on, but I think the brick really makes his music themed room pop.

 I also did an exposed faux brick section on another wall.  I was too lazy  chicken to use plaster and  give it a true 3-D look, but I'm still happy with the results.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

2013 Projects--Before

Project 1:  The Built-In
Now that Christmas decorations have been put away, I'm on a mission to style the built in bookcase in our family room.  I've never really liked built-ins, but this one really needs some personality.  My goal is to style it without buying anything new.   I'll post after pictures when I'm done.  Wish me luck!

Project 2:  The Hallway
The boys' hallway is always a heap of sweaty hoodies and smelly sneakers.  I'm determined to organize (and decorate) it, so it's no longer an eyesore.  I pinned a cute DIY entryway bench and shelf on Pinterest.  Shortly afterwards I found this Pottery Barn bench at my favorite local consignment shop.

Since they still needed a place for jackets, backpacks and winter accessories AND I couldn't find a shelf that I liked, we headed to Lowe's to get supplies for building. Armed with a cut list and plans from ana-white.com, we spent about $40.  An hour later my hubby was done.  We are NOT the handy, do-it-yourselfer types and he assured me this was very easy. This weekend I'll paint it, attach a few hooks and hang it up.  Just in time for school on Monday

Friday, January 4, 2013

Be Prepared: Freezer Meals

$250.00 and two days of cooking resulted in two fully stocked freezers! Freezer meals for two weeks made the whole ordeal worth it!  I will really enjoy my efforts this time next week when we're knee high in homework and the hubby's working late.  I plan to do this once a month and hopefully it will also help us cut our ridiculously high food expenses.

This month's menu will definitely include:

Chicken Pot Pie

Chili, Pulled Pork, Beef Stew, Chicken Tortilla Soup

Chicken Enchiladas, Lasagna & Chicken Spaghetti !

Tips and Tricks:

Prep casseroles and freeze without baking.
All meals should be completely defrosted before cooking/reheating to serve.
(I usually just move them to the fridge the night before.)
Potatoes don't freeze well.
Freeze chicken pot pie filling without the crust.  Add it before baking.

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Thursday, January 3, 2013

Picture Perfect

MAGAZINE SUBSCRIPTIONS I'd love to blame my obsession with "having more" and "doing better" on the multiple magazine subscriptions that I peruse monthly.  The mere fact that I've received as many as seven monthly magazine subscriptions at once screams obsession, but I digress…

With the flip of each page I'm drawn into perfectly decorated and organized homes, well dressed and behaved children, beautiful meals and stylish wardrobes. Never mind the fact that every bit of the magazine is staged and styled.  Month after month, I forget that minor detail.

 Those perfectly whipped mashed potatoes are, perhaps, not even real potatoes.  That picture perfect family, walking hand in hand down the path at sunset just met before the photo shoot.  Maybe their "authentic" smile has more to do with acting experience and the idea of cashing in a paycheck at the end of the day.  This year I want to focus on being content without becoming complacent.  There's a fine line.  I can't promise that I'll give up my magazines (I'll need a 12 step program ); I enjoy stepping out of reality and seeing fresh ideas, but I will try to keep things in perspective.
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Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Fluffy Goodness

I finally attempted something I've wanted to do for years…..

making homemade marshmallows.

The recipe was incredibly easy and the reviews were mixed.  I secretly think some people missed the artificial factor.  The rest of us loved them!  They were light, fluffy and oh, so sweet!

They were the perfect addition to our hot chocolate bar on Christmas night!

fluffy goodness, recipe here
(Warning:  It makes a ton, so be prepared to share!) 

Gingerbread cupcakes

Hot Chocolate Bar

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Welcome 2013!

December was a whirlwind!  Parades, decorating, gifting, cooking (lots and lots of cooking), and the Elf on the Shelf, all kept us very busy!  Here we are enjoying our last few days of Christmas break.  In my mind I've taken down all of the Christmas decorations, cleaned, washed and planned a strategy for finally getting organized.  In reality, I'm sitting here in my pj's nursing a cup of coffee.  I gave up on writing resolutions years ago, but each year I try to summarize my outlook for the year into a motto or theme.  I didn't put much thought into it this year, but I think it's pretty safe to just stick with the basics:  'Don't Quit' and 'Walk in Love'.  If I can master those two in the next 365 days, I will have arrived!

Happy New Year!!

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