"Writing is not necessarily something to be ashamed of. but do it in private
and wash your hands afterwards." --Robert Heinlein.

We've moved!

For the next two years (Summer 2014-Summer 2016) I'll be blogging our family's adventures in China at www.chinesemileposts.wordpress.com

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Art with Cookies as the Medium

I've just humbly been trying to find a sugar cookie that tastes great, not even worrying about how they look.  Everyday I come across more and more fabulous sugar cookie artists that blow me away.  I was that kid who tricked the church leader teaching us how to toll paint into painting my wooden Easter Bunny's eyes.  I can't pull off any of the art these people do, but I enjoy looking at it.  And Jed humors me by saying stuff like, "Yeah, wow, that's really great" every time I show him some new creation I've wandered across.

Here are just a few to check out:



Lover her Easter bunny cupcakes, and the bunny shaped cookies, and the cupcake cookies!


 Love her Scrabble tiles, cake, Star Wars, and "You Are Here" cookies among others.


the decorated cookie


Love her plaid cookies, melted snowman cookies, birdhouse, cherry blossom and donut.



And many, many more UBER creative and talented people who have blogs (and even those without blogs so I just don't know about them).  

Monday, March 28, 2011

Map Art

Jed LOVES maps.  (And therefore, so do the rest of us.)  I already have a sort of globe thing going on above our one bookshelf, so this seems perfect for our family. 

From Little Birdie Secrets guest posted here and originally here

This is going on my list of projects to tackle some day.  Or possibly, to make Jed tackle some day.  I seriously love it.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Book Report: Moon Over Manifest by Clare Vanderpool

Moon Over Manifest

Loved it.  It's 1936, Kansas, Abilene Tucker is sent by her father to live for the summer in the town he grew up in.  While she's there, she uncovers a mystery from 1918 in a box of letters and trinkets hidden under a floorboard in her room.  I don't want to give anything away, but Vanderpool does a wonderful job weaving together the two stories from two different times.  Oh, and it won the Newbery, more proof for how good it is.


And let me know when you've read it because I have a question.

Monday, March 21, 2011

The Greatest Sugar Cookie: Cookie 7

Glazed Sugar Cookie
I recently discovered that Leigh Anne at Your Homebased Mom did her own sugar cookie search a couple years ago.  This cookie was her winner.  I don't like almonds, or almond extract, so everywhere (in the dough and the glaze) that called for almond extract, I substituted vanilla extract.

Review: This cookie is delicious!  I could eat these for days at a time.  They were more chewy that the PW cookie I posted earlier.  But still, only 4 1/2 stars because they aren't really a roll out dough, and that's what this search started out looking for.  But when I want a simple, sugar cookie (that I'm not fancying up with cookie cutters), I think this cookie will be it.  I wish I had one now.


Menu

Monday: Apple Chicken Curry
Review: Good.

Tuesday: Chicken Tostadas
Review: Good.

Wednesday: Thai Noodle Salad 
Review: YUM!

Thursday: Hot dogs and baked beans
Review: Okay.

Friday: my frozen PW lasagna
Review: YUM!  (Although it is better the first day, not from frozen)

Saturday:  Slow Cooker San Francisco Chops
Review: YUM!

Sunday: Stamp of Approval Spaghetti Sauce
Review: Good!
   Dessert: Marbleous Chocolate Peanut Butter Cake with Salted Caramel Glaze
Review: YUM!  Especially the Salted Caramel Glaze.
or possibly Dessert:  Best Lemon Blueberry Bundt Cake

Monday: Baked Penne with chicken, broccoli and smoked mozzarella 
Review: Good!  I might leave out the sun-dried tomatoes next time, and I used regular mozzarella, not smoked.

The Greatest Sugar Cookie: Cookie 6



Review: These cookies are delicious!  They are more of a crisp sugar cookie, which is not how Jed and I like our sugar cookies, but we both agreed that this cookie was still very good.  It didn't get 5 stars because it's crispier than I prefer, and because it's not really a roll out and cut with a cookie cutter sugar cookie, which I guess is what I'm searching for.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Best Ever


It's a bag of Reese's Peanut Butter Cups just smaller than (about half the size of) the little tinfoil wrapped ones you buy... and they aren't wrapped in tin foil and a tiny muffin liner type wrapper.  They are probably about twice as big as the kind you find in ice cream with peanut butter cups, or the ready made Nestle cookie dough for peanut butter lovers.  I've been adding them to brownies (towards the end of baking time or they go a little weird) or just eating them out of the bag.  I love them!

I've bought them at both Target (candy aisle) and Walmart (check out lane).

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

15 Things

I'm not sure what I think about this article, entitled "Fifteen spots every kid should see before turning 15."  We're a traveling family.  But at the same time, I don't feel that to be a successful parent, I need to fly my kids all over the country to see the exact things on this list.  Especially when I'm not sure I ever want to fly on an airplane ever again the way airport security has gone.

Here's the list:
Grand Canyon (Ariz.)

Redwood National Park (Calif.)

Monticello (Va.)

The Freedom Trail (Mass.)

Niagara Falls (N.Y.)

The National Mall (D.C.)

Colonial Williamsburg (Va.)

Walt Disney World Resort (Fla.)

Independence Hall (Penn.)

Alcatraz Island (Calif.)

Ellis Island (N.Y.)

Yellowstone National Park (Wyo., Mont., and Idaho)

Fenway Park (Mass.)

Craters of the Moon National Monument & Preserve (Idaho)

San Diego Zoo (Calif)


I had been to 7 of the fifteen before I was fifteen (but barely, it was a month before my birthday when I flew east from California for the first time in my life, went to the National Mall, Fenway Park (because we're big Red Sox fans), Independence Hall and the Freedom Trail.  I can make that 8 if I substitute Disneyland for Disney World.  The only new thing I can cross of, as an adult, is Colonial Williamsburg, and I've revisited a lot of the places on the list as an adult.  These are great places, I hope I get to visit them with my family, but I hate anything that makes a parent feel like they need to spend thousands of dollars flying their kids across the country on vacations that, for the most part, the kid will be totally bored with at the time.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Running

Does it seem like every blog you read lately is about a blogger who among other things, also runs?  And runs races with friends wearing a sparkly skirt?  It's like ten years ago when all of a sudden book clubs took off and every woman you knew was in a book club.  I guess I'm just bitter because I don't run.  I don't have friends I could run with if I did run.  And I would never run in public in a sparkly skirt. 

I began my first semester of college immediately after high school graduation.  I signed up for a freshman English class, a class I can't remember... religion maybe, and Beginning Jogging.  I figured it would be an easy class, right?  It was called BEGINNING Jogging.  I was 18 and while I didn't run, I was still fit and capable.  Then I showed up to class.  Enter me, who hasn't had a PE class since freshman and sophomore years of high school, and even then, when we "ran" laps every Friday, I walked laps while gabbing with my friends.  Enter everyone else in BEGINNING Jogging, high school track and cross country stars.  Great.  Also, to mix things up, I went from living at 430 feet above sea level to living at 4549 feet above sea level.  And I'm pretty sure I've always had undiagnosed asthma. 

Sometimes we met as a class to discuss technique and healthy running habits.  We had to run independently outside of class on the days we didn't have class.  I could do that.  But then we also ran as a class.  This meant that I was literally an entire college campus behind the rest of my classmates.  The teacher would come and check on me and I'd assure him that I wouldn't get lost and could find my way around.  The most pathetic thing is I ended up later taking a health/PE combo class that eliminated the need for me to have ever taken the Beginning Jogging class.  Argh.

One of my goals last year was to run a mile without stopping.  I'm a fair weather runner, so I like it to be a nice temperature to run.  Which means that I didn't do so great with my goal since it was either way too hot, or way too cold most of the year.  For awhile I was running sort of regularly and got to where I could run about 1/2 a mile without stopping.  Then winter came.  Now that it's warmed up I've mapped out a route around my parking lot that's a quarter mile, so I can run it four times with the kids locked inside, alone but safe and with me in their view.  I tried it out the other day.  Asthma attack.  I tried again the next day.  Asthma attack.  It's so frustrating because running/jogging is the only form of exercise I have any patience for (and doesn't require coordination or ability that I don't have) and I'm finding myself unable to do it.  I had the thought this morning that I'll just have to walk and walk fast, but that seems so slow and I have no patience for that either.  At least it's staying light longer now so maybe the kids and I can get out on a walk together and I can wear them out for bedtime.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Cinnamon Chip Bread

I love the Cinnamon Chip Bread at Great Harvest Bread Company.  A few years ago, someone made this cinnamon raisin bread for a cooking class at church and I thought it was pretty close to Cinnamon Chip Bread.  I held on the the recipe, and finally, several years later (and after discovering cinnamon chips at a local fancy grocery store) I'm trying out the recipe.  The original recipe calls for raisins (I omitted them).  And I added cinnamon chips to the recipe.  Sorry I can't credit it... I'm sure it's from somewhere but all I have is a typed up handout from the class.



Cinnamon Chip Bread
1 package dry yeast (not rapid rise)
3 oz. water
1 1/2 TBSP shortening
1 1/3 cups warm water
4-5 cups flour
1/8 cup sugar
1/2 cup raisins (optional)
1/2 TBSP salt

1 TBSP water
1/4 cup sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
1/3 cup cinnamon chips

Dissolve yeast in 3 oz. warm water.  In a mixer, mix all ingredients together with half of the flour. Add raisins (if you are including raisins).  Add remaining flour and knead on a floured board until smooth and elastic, about ten minutes.  (I just put my mixer on the knead setting for about 10 minutes.)  Cover and let rise until double.  Roll out a rectangle (18x9).  Sprinkle with 1 TBSP water, 1/4 cup sugar, 1 tsp cinnamon and 1/3 cup cinnamon chips.  Roll up as a jelly roll and fold ends under.  Place in greased bread pan.  Let rise again.  Bake at 425 for 30-35 minutes.  Remove from pans and rub top with butter and dust with cinnamon/sugar.  Cool.  1 Loaf.

Easily doubled, I actually cut the recipe in half for me (and you) because I can't fit 9-10 cups of flour in my mixer.

Review: This is good cinnamon bread.  My rectangle didn't measure 18x9 because I skimmed that part and just read "rectangle."  Mine was probably 18x16 and that made it so I literally folded each end under so they met in the middle and doubled the height of my bread.  Then, because of that, it rose strange so I think the cinnamon would be more evenly distributed (and making a more lovely cinnamon swirl when the bread is cut into) if I'd had a smaller rectangle.  And I think next time I'll add more cinnamon chips.   Is it just like Great Harvest's?  No.  I haven't had Great Harvest Cinnamon Chip Bread in a few years, but it seems much more moist and cinnamon sugary.   But it's still yummy!

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Imperfection

I've been slacking on blogging lately.  30% because I'm busy.  30% because I have nothing to say.  10% because time moves too quickly and I don't realize that I haven't posted anything in almost a week.  And 30% because I'm a bit annoyed with blogs right now.

I love browsing other people's blogs.  Getting a peak into their lives and their homes.  But there are times when it makes me feel like I've just given birth and am now forced to sit through the Victoria Secret fashion show.  I feel inferior.  Of course not everyone only shows themselves and their families at their best.  I hope what I convey on my blog is a mostly truthful representation of who we are, but without showing you all the down and dirty or the we're so perfect aspects of our lives.  I hope that's what I'm accomplishing.  But I browse all these blogs and see their perfect houses, with their perfect matching furniture and uber-decorated cutesy stuff.  And they are all crafty and all bake well.  They all have perfect husbands and perfect children all spaced 2 years apart.  They go running.  Attend blog conferences.  All somehow know one another.  I'm obviously exaggerating with my "all." It's a rant, I'm allowed to.  And Cristin commented and reminded me that they are all like professional photographers, with cameras I can only dream about owning and Photoshop. Now I don't hate these people.  Or their blogs.  I still visit them daily and drool over their perfection.  But that doesn't really seem healthy, does it?

Sometimes I just want to see the real person.  I realize that one of the nice aspects of a blog is the anonymity.  And the be whoever you want to portray yourself to be.  But I also want to see real  people.  I want to see messy bedrooms or offices.  The unfinished basement.  Show me your messy desk.  Your clunker car.  Let me know that sometimes you are still in your pajamas at noon (I know I am).  The fact that you dyed your 8 year old's hair red (6-12 washes) for Halloween and it still hasn't washed out 5 months later.  Something that makes you more real to me.

And I acknowledge that there are real people out there in the blogosphere, telling their real stories, showing us their broken hearts.  I don't want to ignore them.  I guess it's just the real me who focuses on all the perfection and not on the realness.  I need to just feel happy for them that their lives are perfect.  As the saying goes, the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence.  And lately, I'm sick of looking at all that green grass.  Not that my grass isn't green.  But sometime it feels like NO ONE's grass is that green.  

So no one accuses me of only showing you my perfectness (Ha!), here is photographic evidence of my imperfections.
Top picture: I never ever let my kids play in the kid play area at the mall.  They are rarely allowed to play at the McD's play area, etc.  Not because I'm a germaphobe.  Just because they really annoy me and I don't have the patience for them.  This picture is from a couple months ago and is probably the first time Little Guy has ever played at the mall.  And only maybe the 3rd time for my big kids.  And it was Jed's idea.
Bottom left: My sons' room looks like this probably three times a day (if I bother helping clean up in the middle of those three messy times.  Otherwise, it just stays this way for days at a time.)  
Bottom right: Princess Sparkley's room.  This is a little worse than normal (the giant Rubbermaid container is usually under her bed).  She'll claim that her room isn't this bad normally.  She's been better lately, but this isn't unseen.

I also ignore my kids for long periods of time while I read books, blog, or hide from them (not really, I don't usually hide from them).  For instance, right now, PS is waiting to use the computer.  I told her it would be a minute, I needed to write a quick blog post.  It's now been about 40 minutes.  Bad mom.

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Menu

When I map out my menu for the week, I tend to plan through Monday because then I don't have to grocery shop first thing after the weekend.  So, I'm a little slow this week, but I'll recap for you.


Monday: Chuck E. Cheese's (an older couple in the ward invited to treat us to Chuck E. Cheese's so we could get to know another family with kids the same age as our kids that are supposed to start coming to church).  This is the first time I've gone to Chuck E. Cheese's since Princess Sparkley was a baby and we went with Brandon's brother and his kids.  I think.

Tuesday: Pork Tacos   And I used a crockpot (since I don't own a dutch oven) on high for 5-6 hours.
Review: Yum, except I'll salt it less in the future

Wednesday: Curry. 
Review: This didn't turn out as well as I'd have liked, and I don't have a link for the recipe anyway so I won't share.

Thursday:  Orange Cream Waffles (I tore this recipe out of a magazine who knows how long ago.  I can't find it online but it's a Florida's Natural grower's recipe.  I'll post it later if it's any good.  I just love Creamsicles and breakfast for dinner.)
Review:  Weird.  They tasted good, but were floppy and sort of soggy, which doesn't make for a good waffle.

Friday:  Crepes - As we're winding down the homeschool year (sort of) and have run out of health lessons, we've plugged in life skills (shoe tying, cake frosting, etc.)  This week is "cooking skills."  We've talked about cooking (the basics they already know from helping me bake for years) and today they each picked out a recipe to make this week.  Buddy picked crepes (I think because the crepes in the picture are filled with blueberries, strawberries and raspberries... a dream come true for him if he can manage to get all of these, and a cut up banana in his bowl of Cheerios.  He calls this Grandma's kind of Cheerios after my mom introduced it to him after Little Guy was born and she was visiting). 
Review: Although in retrospect, this should have been a healthy dessert rather than a meal.

Saturday: Baked Creamy Chicken Taquitos
Review: YUM!

Sunday:   Pioneer Woman's Lasagna  
(I've become famous for this recipe.  I made it for a family at church whose husband/dad was recovering from surgery.  This was the first non-hospital meal he had.  He then praised it from the pulpit to our small church congregation and then later to the larger area congregation.  He said it's the best lasagna he's ever had and he's been to Italy three times.  His wife has already gotten the recipe from me.)
Review:  I should note that I blend the stewed tomatoes so there aren't big chunks (otherwise my kids would not eat this).
Dessert: Princess Sparkley's recipe pick - Chocolate covered bananas
Review: I haven't tasted these yet, but I'm mad at Paula Deen.  First, she only calls for 1 TBSP milk and 2 cups chocolate chips.  I had to use at least 5 or 6 TBSP milk ( I lost count) and then the chocolate mixture was too hot.  And it was still thick and it was just a disaster.  Next time I'll just freeze the bananas and squirt Magic Shell over them, like this.

Monday:Thai-Style Chicken with Noodles
Review:  Not great.  Well, it had potential, but as is... not great.  Not enough flavor.  It was very similar to this recipe and all these reviews said the recipe was fabulous, if you tweaked the recipe the way they did.  So, next time I'll follow a bunch of reviewers tweaks (especially doubling or tripling the sauce). 
Dessert: PW's Angel Sugar Cookies  which I came across again here after originally making them from the PW cookbook I checked out from the library about a year ago.  Full review coming soon.

And because I went recipe crazy this week... more.
Tuesday: Pioneer Woman's Alfredo Sauce

Wednesday: Cheesy Chicken Empanadas

Thursday: Lemon Chicken


Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Identity

Several years ago, Mike Myers was interviewed on Live with Regis and Kelly* and he said something that has stuck in my mind for 5+ years.  He spoke about how his father, a Canadian from England, took offense when people asked him what he did for work.  Work was not who he was, it was what he did to support his family, and it was very American to be defined by your job.** 

I obviously don't have a career, but often times I feel like I'm defined, or I'm defining myself by small aspects of the whole.  I bake yummy desserts.  I read a ton.  I homeschool.  But is that all I am?  Sometimes I feel like it.  Am I okay with that?  I'm not sure.

What words or characteristics or likes do you think define you?  Are you okay with that definition?

*Perhaps even back when the show was Live with Regis and Kathy Lee, but I'm pretty sure it was once Kelly had replaced Kathy Lee.  And I'm pretty sure that it was Live with Regis, but I'm not positive.

**I'm paraphrasing here and taking huge liberties... with my memory, I'm lucky I remember who the famous person was.



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