Thursday, February 16, 2012

A New Adventure

HELLO. HEllo. Hello. hello. hello...

Anyone still checking in here? It has been quite awhile since I posted anything. Life gets in the way...

But I wanted to check in and invite you check me out over at MoreThanMommies a new blog that I started with my best blogging friend: Janene from Pefecting Imperfection.  We are super excited about it and looking forward to the great things in store for us there and we hope that all of our readers will join us!

So follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and all that other fun stuff. You can do it all from the blog.  We would LOVE to hear what you think!

Monday, October 10, 2011

This is not a Cooking Blog but...

This is certainly not supposed to be a cooking blog! However, I see that my last post (almost a month ago) was all about my first try at once a month cooking and this post is going to be about my second attempt at it. 

I wish there had been some posts in between...but you see life gets in the way and that's why I am absolutely in love with this new way of cooking! Yes, it's a ton of work. Yes, it takes a lot of planning.  Yes, it eats up an ENTIRE day.  Yes, it is tiring.  BUT, the work is worth it.  The planning can save money on the food bill.  The time that I spent in the kitchen yesterday was busy and went by quickly thanks to some great company! And it is tiring, but it is a satisfying tired that ends with a fully stocked freezer and the most sound and restful sleep of the month! 

Some things I learned:

 I wish I had a double sink! It would make clean up a little smoother I think!  It's hard to cook and clean when the sink is being utilized for cooking and cleaning at the same time.

I feel really blessed to have paired up with Janene. I quickly realize that she and I have the perfect temperaments to work together well.  We are able to compromise and we are both easy going enough that when we run into a snag we agree on a course of action quickly and keep moving.  We know each other well enough to feel comfortable around each other, but not so well that we have nothing to talk about. It's been fun getting to know each other better. 

I am going to start a journal about our cooking day and how well my family enjoys the recipes we make.  Maybe one month we can compile our family favorites and cook them all again!

We had music playing for a good bit of the day, when the Steeler game wasn't on in the background and it was fun making our play lists and sharing our musical tastes together too!

So what did we cook this month??

For Breakfast: Homemade Applesauce--SO much better than the stuff that comes in jars!

Maple Oat Scones (tea anyone?).

Green Chili Egg Muffins--so messy! My husband reports that they taste wonderful after about a minute in the microwave, but that the muffin liner kind of sticks to them.

For Lunch: Pizza Muffins--these smell like pizza flavored Combos! But they have a slightly sweet taste to them. Dipped in pizza sauce they will be a good mid-day treat.

BBQ Baked Potatoes--they seem like they will taste good!

Beef Stew--a heartier version than last month I think.

And Black Bean and Salsa Quesadillas--Yummy!

For Dinner: Pepperoncini Beef Sammy's,

Pizza Casserole,

Eggplant Parm (really looking forward to this one!)

Shepherd's Pie--this isn't something I would typically make, so I'm interested to see how it goes over in our house!

Cream Cheese Chicken--looks simple and tasty. 

Crock pot Chipotle Lime Black bean Soup---this has a KICK!

We had four crock pots going at once!

Mexican Baked Penne

and Chicken Lasagna Roll ups!

 You can find the site we use to find grocery lists, recipes and instructions right HERE

 We started at around 9:15am took a short break for lunch and dinner and we were cleaning up by 7:30pm.  I hope to shave more time off this cooking day next month!  I am so grateful to Janene for pairing up with me!  Dinner is no sweat now!!!

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Dinner is Done.

For the entire month. 

What would possess someone to cook a month's worth of meals in one day? I became possessed by the idea of freeing up that dreaded dinner hour.  I became possessed with the idea of not having to rack my brain for dinner ideas and scurry around the kitchen trying to make a dinner that should take an hour fit into the 45 minutes that I actually could spare to get it on the table. 

I found the answer months ago when a friend introduced me to OAMM and I remember putting out a feeler on Face book about it.  I think some people where intrigued, but no one took the bait.  That is until one day last month when I got an unexpected message from Janene asking if I had been serious about my interest in giving it a try.

I had to think about it for oh....two seconds before I wrote back to say that I wanted to do it. I kind of thought it would be hard work.  But I also thought the rewards could be worth the effort and then some. My biggest concern was figuring out how to keep four kids occupied!

Cooking once a month is a good thing for the following reasons: 

You don't have to think about what's for dinner.

You don't have to mess around with mixing and pulling out ingredients and rummaging through cookbooks all early afternoon. Every. Single. Day. Of. The. Week.

You can feel confident that when handing the keys to the kitchen over to someone else, they can do better than pulling a prepackaged pizza from the freezer.

When you've had a busy day it is as easy as preheating the oven and popping in a pan.

If you prepare in the month prior to cooking, you can save money by shopping sales and using coupons!  We cooked our whole menu for less than $150 a piece and from that we each got 16 dinners, 8 lunches, 6 breakfasts (the breakfasts I have been using as grab and go, so it actually seems like more than 6!) That means feeding my family of 6 costs a little less than $5/meal.

'Twas the night before our Big Cooking Day!

These are as delicious as they look!

I was so nervous about these bags leaking! It was tough dividing our White Chicken Chili, Beef Stew, and Chili into those bags!

I cannot wait to dig into the black beans and rice. They smelled REALLY Good while cooking.

I think I'm in love with my Food Processor. It was SO under utilized before our big cooking day and WOW. I am in awe at that thing! Those perfect cheese shreds from the black beans and rice dish?  Under 2 seconds using this baby.

This was during the last third of our cooking day and LOOK! We are still smiling!

And the kids stayed out of our hair for the most part!

Some of our meals packaged and ready for the freezer!

I can't wait until next month!

Thanks, Janene!

Friday, August 19, 2011

What would J Q Do?

Primetime: What would you do?I am a non-confrontational sort of gal. At times, I think being this way saves me from a lot of arguments. But if John Quinones has taught me anything, it's that sitting idly by when you see something wrong is not always the best thing to do.

I know I shouldn't feel bad about voicing my opinions...especially here on MY blog, But I do believe the hot button issue I'm about to discuss may have some of my friends sitting on different sides of the fence and I want to remind those readers sitting on the other side of the fence from me: I still love you...even when you're wrong! :)

So with the disclaimer out of the way:

Let me tell you about the A-hole that almost ruined our ninth anniversary dinner...

It all starts at The Evolution Grille.

The waitress was friendly. The menu was exciting. The service was prompt.  The food tasted great. The Evolution Grille is worth a second, third, twentieth taste.  We were very pleased with that part of our dining experience.  We chose items that we wouldn't normally prepare for ourselves: Jim had the veal and I had the duck. We had an appetizer and dessert. We have spent more money on less tasty meals. Go there!

But if you prefer to eat your dinner in a place where you can loudly speak about your Winter home in Florida, discuss the people you know who study micro-biology, lament the end of your stay in Pennsylvania, reminisce about every single meal you have eaten in the place, tell your waitress about how great the OTHER waitress you had when you ate here was, and rudely, and again LOUDLY, complain about other patrons who are simply trying to have a lovely meal as well, then please be advised to stay home and annoy your pets, neighbors, and any other living thing with whom you come in contact.

The restaurant is small and I was back to back with the guests behind us. Jim was facing the front of the restaurant and had a good view of everything going on behind me. Honestly, hearing the conversations of guests around me is not a big deal, and at times can be fun!  When I go out to eat, I'm not expecting privacy. If I wanted privacy and peace and quiet than I would order food and eat it in the privacy of my home. I expect courtesy and act courteously when I am in a restaurant. I am in the process of teaching my young children how to behave this way in a restaurant as well. That means that I do, on occasion take my young children with me to restaurants.

There was a family that came in the restaurant toward the end of our meal (A grandmother, mom, dad, young son, and a high chair bound daughter) for what seemed like a special occasion (everyone had on their Sunday best). Shortly after being seated the young daughter let out a long shriek. Why? Perhaps she was tired, hungry, not capable of communicating her wishes with words. Whatever the reason, her mom seemed to get things in hand quickly. The episode was over in less than thirty seconds, but apparently not quickly enough for Mr. Winter Home who proceeded to do a 180 in his seat to glare at the family. As he turned back to his partner he loudly commented that HE thought the child needed to get some air (implying that she should be removed from the restaurant) and as his partner gently patted his hand and muttered something quietly (probably about making a scene or something) he loudly insisted that he would be letting his waitress know how irritated he was. He also made the comment that he was SO thrilled that he did not have children of his own.  Seriously, dude. Thank you for granting the rest of us that favor!

Maybe it's because I have young kids but my heart went out to the now-quietly-awaiting-their-food-family.  The kids were not running around the restaurant, standing on their chairs, stealing food from other patrons plates or misbehaving in any other way. The little girl had a mini meltdown for less than 30 seconds and that was just enough to set this jerk off and give him the right to ostracize this family and make a fuss that was now ruining the good time of other guests (namely Myself and Jim). I could see Jim's blood starting to boil and he was very close to saying something. He didn't, although I think he would have if the man pushed one more time.  We paid our check and left, and I made sure to give the family a smile as we walked out. The little girl returned my smile. She was perfectly behaved at the time.

Jim and I talked about the incident all the way to our next destination (an unromantic, but fun for us, trip to Linens and Things. Hahahaha)

I am kind of sick of hearing that young children should be banned from restaurants.  During a recent rather one sided discussion I was part of, one person made a comment that restaurants should, if not ban children, then at least create a SECTION for children and relegate families to that section as they used to do for smokers and non-smokers. She could see no difference between this issue and the smoking issue, as cigarette smoke, while annoying, did not personally bother her. HUH? After the fact, I thought of a comeback:  Last time I checked second hand smoke is a little more than annoying, it is hazardous to my health, whereas, my children are not going to kill you by merely enjoying a meal next you. 

Well, I'm paying good money not to have to put up with misbehaving kids.  I get it people. I'm paying for my meal as well as four overpriced helpings of mac and cheese, thank you. And when I am able to go out without my children I'm paying for my meal and childcare for my kids--I am not paying good money to sit next to a self absorbed loud mouth! The problem is really NOT the children, it's the parents who aren't doing everything in their power to teach their kids how to behave in public and it's the idiots who have all the answers and become obnoxious that ruin the restaurant experience for people. I should not be banished to eat every meal at home until my children reach their teens.

Here's a novel concept: JERKS should be banned from restaurants.

In the meantime, kudos to mom, dad, and grandma for teaching your little ones how to behave last night at The Evolution and to Mr. Winter Home, I hope you choked on your Almond Cream Cake. Believe me, the irony of YOUR poor behavior in a restaurant was not lost on me!

Thankfully, the situation didn't escalate but if it had, I hope that we would have made John Quinones proud.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Sticky Fingers, Livi

Yesterday we went school shopping at the Mills. With four kids? Yes, I'm daring like that. By yourself? Yes, I'm crazy like that.  We hit 5 stores, the food court, and then the play area and pet store too for good measure. Trips like this always begin with a good "talking to" in the van on the way there. It's more like manifesting destiny for me--if I say it, it will be true.

The "talking to" goes like this:
Well, girls, lets have fun today! We are going to do TONS of shopping. You need to stick by me so I don't lose you in the store. I would be very sad and cry if I lost you forever. Please don't whine, complain, fight or cry. If I hear anything like that we will do an about face in the store and go home. We won't be buying anything if that happens. Let's try to get the most for our money, look for signs that say sale! We don't want to waste our money! Ready for some fun? Okay team, BREAK!  (I say that last part in my head)

The shopping trip went well. I got shoes for all the girls and an outfit for each of them.  But somewhere something went awry. We were standing in line for what passes as Chinese food when something caught my eye in the bottom of the stroller. It was a cute little denim skirt that I had shown to Olivia in H&M. We didn't buy anything there, just browsed around with the intention of buying. 

But here was the skirt.

Excuse me, I said to the teen behind the counter. We need to make a return.

Livi, did you put this skirt in our stroller?

Yes! She said

You can't do that, Livi. That's stealing! We have to pay for things we want from the store! Do you want mommy to go to jail? I half expected her to say yes, because she says stuff like that now that she is a sassy four year old.   (Looking back, I think I was a bit harsh. I was embarrassed.  Jordan--cautious and sensitive child that she is was on the verge of tears. Ava--was busy admonishing Livi too. And Livi was a little stunned because I know she didn't intentionally try to steal that skirt. It was just a little mishap.) But I had to take the skirt  back and I figured it was a teachable moment.

When we walked into the store, there was no employee in sight. Great, I thought, they are scouring their video footage in the back trying to I.D. the shoplifting mother. Finally I found someone on the Grown Up side of the store. I approached her with my remorseful looking brood (you have never seen so many puppy dog eyes). 

I could have just walked back into the empty store, returned the skirt to its rack and gone back out, but this seemed too easy.  Shouldn't being caught stealing be less anti climactic than that?  I literally had to scour the store to find an employee to play a role in this cautionary tale. And when I did find her, I wasn't even sure what to do. This was a weird moment for me. What exactly do you say when your four year old unintentionally shop lifts? I don't even remember what I said but it was awkward. The clerk was caught by surprise too, but she was quite forgiving and played along with my idea about the "teachable moment." She accepted Olivia's sheepish apology and added an admonishment about getting in trouble with the police or some such. Olivia promised to never ever do it again, as did the other girls.

Glad that THAT unpleasantness was over, it was off to lunch where the memory of sticky fingers Livi was quickly replaced by sticky fingers of another variety, the kind that wet wipes can easily fix. mm...fake Chinese food.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Helping Hands and High Fives

The wheels have been turning around here as we begin to switch gears into a new (and hectic) back to school routine.   I had a light bulb moment a couple of weeks ago around the time that the girls were complaining that "we never have fun" and "we're bored."  We can't have fun around here because I have too much on my to-do list.  Now, normally I would say...put down the to-do list and play with the kids! Get outside and enjoy the fleeting Summer sunshine. The thing is, when I put down the to-do list the house turns to shambles...not just a couple of dust bunnies here and there. I mean comes-to-a-screeching-halt kind of shambles like: we can't eat dinner because there isn't any silver wear clean and mom I'm down to my last pair of clean underwear.  I don't like to see the house get to this point, the truth is, that if I'm not doing a load of laundry a day, running the dishwasher and picking up stray toys and dirty clothes then it seems like within 8 hours we are well on our way to the gears jamming around here.

SO on to my light bulb moment.  Why am I trying to do it all myself?  Jim has a few jobs around the house reserved for him, but he works many days well into the evening hours and many Saturdays too, so when he isn't here to lend a hand, all the household chores fall on me.  The kids pick up toys but I consider myself lucky if they get through it without an ever persistent whining and alternate threats and raised voice warnings on my end.  Many times I find myself just faster/easier/better when I do it myself, but I'm beginning to wonder if that's true?

Growing up we always had chores to do around the house, in fact we had a full blown chart/calendar that we followed to a T--we even had our own "off" day built in, where we could relax and slack off for the whole day.  The thing is, I always thought of myself as a teenager following this particular chore chart. Before my teenage years I have vague memories of a sticker star chart and clear memories of my Mom asking/pleading/bribing/threatening/yelling while I lounged lazily among an ankle deep wading pool of toys and whined.  (I feel like I am right in the middle of those days right now, but the roles are reversed).  I can't really remember when/how I learned how to do chores.  At some point I went  from shoving toys under my bed in one fell swoop, to washing and drying dishes and vacuuming and taking out the garbage on a regular basis. 

I was reading a few blogs last week and came across this post over at The Happy Housewife.  I thought, wait a minute! I have a 4 year old, 5 year old, and 7 year old. and I never thought to even attempt to ask them to do half the chores on this list!  Could my 4 year old pull clothes out of the dryer? Could my 5 wipe down the sinks? Could my 7 year old vacuum? There was only one way to find out!

I set about creating a list of chores that my girls would be responsible for each day and I told them that those 6 things would be their daily contribution to running the household: Making their bed, getting their dirty clothes to the hamper, picking up and putting away toys, setting and clearing the table for meals, and putting clean folded clothes in their drawers.  Then I creating a long list of extras. These I called Helping Hands. I won't list them all but here are a few: Feed the dog, Help with meal prep, Unload the dishwasher, Dust.  Every time they complete a Helping Hand from this list they are given a token called a High Five that is worth 5 minutes of computer time (they LOVE to play on the computer).  When they have accumulated at least 15 minutes they can cash out. We are in the development stage of this reward system. As we progress I think I will add other rewards that they can "buy". I'm thinking they can "buy" a meal out, or "buy" some extra time to stay up, or "buy" a day off from chores, or cash out at the end of the week for a small allowance etc.  I have to think it through some more.

So far, so great.  The girls have really surprised me with their enthusiasm! We'll see how it's going in a month! HA!

Friday, July 22, 2011

Before and After Photo Fun

So my love affair with my camera came to an abrupt halt a couple of weeks ago when one of the knobs started sticking. We sadly parted ways for awhile. I should be getting the camera back as soon as repairs are finished and the store says that I can come to pick him up. But in the meantime, what to do? I am working on a Project Life album and I am trying to take a picture a day. Without my camera I thought it would be difficult. I would again have to rely on my cell phone to capture my treasured memories...

I have to admit, I didn't like this idea at all. My phone takes pretty decent pics for a phone but problems with lighting and shutter speed aren't easily resolved with the phone. It's pretty much a one trick pony and often I'm left with an underexposed/overexposed, shadowy,and/or blurry image. BUT I have to make enter Picnik! I <3 this application so much! Thanks to my friend, Janene for introducing us! I use the free version and although I am tempted to upgrade, I find with some tweaking I can get some really satisfying results with the free version!

I thought it would be fun to show some before and after pics! Now, I am by NO means great at it! I just know what I find aesthetically pleasing and I try my best to see it in my mind's eye and then make it happen. I really know very little about composing a shot and I am just wrapping my head around fstops, aperture and all the other stuff that real photographers know a lot about.

Who knows if you will even find the pictures greatly improved after my editing in Picnik! I guess I just want to show the big differences between the before and afters so you can see for yourself that you can make a not so wonderful picture (even one taken with the camera on your phone) into something more interesting to look at...

Here's the first one:

This is a cute picture as is, in my humble opinion.  That smile is perfect! It's a little dark though.

Here's the after: I wanted to brighten it up a bit and give it a "glowy" look. I cropped it a bit and put the focus on Chloe's face. I also drained some of the color because I wanted the focus of the picture to really be her expression and didn't want any distraction from that.

And here we are side by side.

HA! This is fun! Here's the next one:
Here we have the morning sun blaring in from the window in the background, tragically overexposing the one corner of the pic and casting the baby into darkness. And look...she is so happy and giving that fake baby a kiss. It's so adorable and you can't really make it out so well.

Here's the after! I like it so much better.  Now the sun looks "glorious" and you can see Chloe just loving her baby so much. I messed around with the exposure to lighten up the baby and then used the "cross process" effect to give the pic some more definition.

Here they are side by side:
Better, right?

Okay, NEXT!
Here she is looking pretty.

Here's the slightly funky after. I wanted her to look like a china doll in this pic. So I went black and white and then let the pic fade through a little. Then I used focal B&W and focused on her cheek to give her a little color on face and lips.

Here they are side by side:

She does look like a baby doll in the after shot, doesn't she?

All right, here is the last one:
Aren't they cute? I love it when everyone is in a good mood in the morning!

Here's the after. I cropped it a bit, then I used the "Holga-ish" effect in Picnik which focused us on the girls a little better. Then I cross processed and added a 60's effect on top of that (minus the rounded corners).

And so you may compare:

So much fun...for me anyway (I'm a huge fan of the "before and after" in all it's forms!) Sorry if I bored everyone else!! :)


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