Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Are you Ready for a Cooking Challenge?

I've been challenged by one of my new accountability partners to take part in her Christmas Baking Challenge - well she didn't actually challenge me, I just saw this on her blog and said to myself "Hey - you should do this!"  I thought I would share this with you as well - if you want link up - click on the "button" on the left side of my blog and it will lead you to the post where you fill in the "linky" info and be part of the whole deal!  Here's the basics (copied from her site):

Here are the finalized (and revised) details of the 12 Cookies of Christmas Baking Challenge. This is where the button will bring you if/when you post it on your blog.

To participate, please add yourself to the linky below (all the way below the post) with your post about the challenge and what level/goal you are setting for yourself. Be sure to steal my picture above to put on your blog post. And also add the button to your blog so we can get more participants! The more the merrier!

The challenge will run from December 1-December 31st, 2010. The challenge is to bake a variety of types of Christmas cookies, choosing from the categories listed. You may join at the "Baker" level, or the "Pastry Chef" level.

Baker Level: 6 varieties of cookies, 1/2 (3 varieties) that you have never baked before.
Pastry Chef Level: 12 varieties of cookies, 1/2 ( 6 varieties) that you have never baked before.

Here are the Christmas Cookie Categories!
1. Classic
(1 freebie that doesn't fit the other categories)
2. Chocolate or fudgy based cookies
3. Spicy cookies
4. Bar Cookies
5. Red and Green Cookies
6. Minty Cookies
7.Cookies with a Story
(an heirloom recipe, or a cookies that are a tradition in another country)
8. Cut-Out Cookies
9. Difficult to make cookies
(involves several steps, mixes, processes, or complicated decorations)
10. Made by kids
(you only assist in dangerous steps, no cracking the eggs!)
11. Fruity cookies
12. No bake cookies

Everyone completing their goal will be entered into a drawing for a giveaway. Separate giveaway for Baker and Pastry Chef level participants.
Tune in December 1st for information on how to post your blogs detailing (recipes, photos) your creations for the Challenge. Your blog posts MUST be linked/posted by midnight on New Year's Eve in order to count for your entry for the giveaway.

Each week will have a different set of themes for cookies (taken from the list). Extra entries if your cookies for the week match the pre-picked themes.

This means that I will be completing the Pastry Chef level..baking all the categories.
Of course, as host, I will not be a part of the giveaway, but I will enjoy seeing all the cookies you guys come up with!
And, I'm afraid I would just embarrass everyone with my cookie awesomeness if I were just a regular participant...I mean, I DID make THESE cookies one year. *yawn* ha ha! Don't hate, it's all in fun!

Now it's time to start perusing recipes and gathering those one of kind ingredients!

If you have a website for resources you would like to share, please post it in the comments (not the linky) section of this post.

Happy Baking!

So - I haven't completly decided what level - I'm leaning toward the Pastry Chef level just because I bake cookies every week anyway and I had already planned to bake lots of Christmas cookies this year.  Feel free to link up or just watch my blog and you can "steal" my recipes and see pictures of what I bake!

And if you are thinking that it is too early to think about this . .. think again :-)  This give you lots of time to plan, grocery shop, and get ready!

Homemade Birthday Card

Here's my first "crafty" post.  This is really not that original but it's an idea that came to me a few weeks back when I needed to get my husband an anniversary card.  Instead of running to the store, I decide to create one and in doing so I decided that I would start getting a little more creative with cards.  Plus I found that I was seeing the same cards over and over again and probably bought someone the same card a few times in a row! 

1 package blank cards/envelopes
(or card stock cut to size and envelopes)
Stickers or other decor items
1 picture of that person
(or if it is a wedding card, sympathy card, an appropriate picture)

1.) Cut the picture to size and mat it, if you want, than attach it to the front of the card.

 2) Than decorate  - I just included the date of the picture since it was recent.

3) On the inside of the card, write a note or choose a saying and decorate as you wish. 

And yes, it is that simple!!
I found a website that has some inspiration if you have trouble thinking of things to write (like me!)
I'm sure there are a million other resources out there to use too but this is the one I've used recently.

For this card (which was for my niece's recent birthday) I used a very current picture but you can also use old photos (how fun!) or use a photo from an event or some special time and include the story either on the front of the card or on the inside.  What a great memory!
And, as always, don't forget to fill the card with confetti before you mail it :-)

The cost of this is awesome:  I purchased a 25 pack of cards/envelopes for $5.00 which is only $0.20 a card plus the cost of getting the picture printed which is normally less than $0.20.  So $0.40 for a card is pretty good!

I personally tried doing stamping and could not make those creative cards like others send me - I don't know how they make them so beautiful with all those layers!  So I had to come up with something that worked for me!

Monday, August 30, 2010

Sweet and Sour Crockpot Pork

Yes, it is that time again - Monday!  Which means New Recipe day around here.  Thankfully, this weeks recipe was also a success!
Sweet and Sour Crockpot Pork

Serves 4-6

5 boneless pork chops
1 Tablespoon oil
1 can (15 oz) crushed pineapple (with juice)
1/2 cup green bell pepper, chopped
1/2 cup water
1/3 cup brown sugar
2 Tablespoons ketchup
1 Tablespoon quick-cooking Tapioca *
3 teaspoons soy sauce
1/2 teaspoon dry mustard
Hot, cooked rice

In a large skillet, brown pork chops in oil on both sides.  Drain fat.  Transfer to crock pot.  In a bowl combine remaining ingredients (except rice); mix well.  Pour over pork chops.  Cover and cook for 8-10 hours on low or 4-5 hours on high.  Serve over rice.

Yes, in the picture it looks really "saucy" but I found that it wasn't once we dug down into the rice. 

* I did not use quick-cooking tapioca.  It is used in this recipe as a thickener but when I priced it at the store a box did not fit into my weekly budget.  I used cornstarch instead.  I have a feeling that the tapioca would have made the sauce even thicker but it seemed fine with the cornstarch.
* I love crock pot meals that require very little work - I'd prefer not to even have to brown meat (whats the point in using a crock pot if you have to cook first?) but find that I like pork browned first so you get that nice crust. 
** I served this is with freshly steamed broccoli and garlic bread - it was VERY yummy!!

** This tasted very similar to sweet and sour pork; Chinese style.  The difference is that the pork is not breaded.  I have another recipe that tastes exactly like Chinese food but it calls for a lot more sugar so I think I prefer this one!  You could lightly bread the chops in flour before browning them to give them more of that specific flavor.

31 in 31 - Day 20

This is a face you seldom see . . .little Nate.  He is never serious, never!  If the camera is out, he is grinning from ear to ear just waiting for his picture.  If I"m not pointing the camera at him he comes racing from where ever he is at to get his picture taken.   How could this NOT be the picture of the day?

Teaching the Little Ones

I find it kinda funny how God brings things into your life at just the right time.  Since Josh was born, I had been searching online here and there to find a "curriculum" to introduce and incorporate in our day.  I never found anything.  I'm sure at the time God laughed and said "You want to add something ELSE to your day?" Now, when I actually have the time to write lesson plans, create teaching helps and actually "teach" - I have found a fantastic website.  We will be starting "school" after Labor Day.  (Even Nate!)  Now, don't panic - I'm not trying to get my kids reading by the time they are two or push them through school; instead this curriculum is a precursor to the author's older curriculum that is designed to help kids learn their letters.  Each plan covers two weeks and the majority of items (especially for Nate's age) are things you just incorporate into your daily routine.  She covers all topics - Literature (reading the same book every day for a week - kids love repetition!), Bible - a new Bible verse or, for the younger ones, a Bible story based on a rhyme, each week,  Nursery Rhymes, Speech and Vocab. (explaining every day things at bath time, meal time and play time), Indoor Games (for the 1 year old), Classical Music to listen to, Singing Children's songs, Exercising, Arts and Crafts (age appropriate) and even a foreign language. Plus sign language, Nature Study, Musical Exploration, Puppetry and Art Appreciation for the 1 year old.  The babies also get some baby massage thrown in!  Her suggestions/ideas/plans are so simple and just over all great ideas.  Plus - all of her lesson plans are free.  Yes!!!  Free!!  She gives ideas for literature but I am picking books off our own shelves and incorporating them; I got books from the library to help with some activity ideas, and I also plan on checking out the recommended book for Art Appreciation from the library as well (if I don't have it).  Most of the music you can find on youtube (either playing it that way daily or finding a CD to play) I also plan on "substituting" a Children's Worship CD in place of some of the lullaby's - especially for Josh since he loves music so much.  (He is shaking his booty to Jaci V. as I type this LOL)

I am starting Nate right out at the 8 month level but have decided to start Josh at the 18 month level for no other reason than it looks fun and will carry us through to March.  Than I'll move on with this same curriculum through Sept.  I may continue to use this or, I've also been looking at another curriculum to start with him a year from now. I believe kids should be kids - they will be in school for a long time - but we have alot of hours to fill at home and this particular "help" gives some awesome ideas and direction to use with kids.  Plus as with everything - use what you like and ignore the rest :-)


Feel free to check it out :-)

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Pork Loin Stuffed with Spinach

This is a recipe that Darryl found and made several years ago.  I'm not sure why I don't make it more - it's good and it really is easy!  When we both worked full time, Darryl always cooked Friday night -Sunday night so he found it fun to search for new recipes and most of them were good!!

Pork Loin Stuffed with Spinach

1/2 package frozen chopped spinach; thawed and drained
3 tablespoons margarine
1/2 cup diced onion
1 clove garlic
1/3 cup dry bread crumbs
3 pound pork tenderloin
2 tablespoons ketchup
1/4 cup orange juice
2 tablespoons teriyaki sauce
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Saute spinach, butter, onions, and garlic over medium heat until soft. Add breadcrumbs
Cut tenderloin in half (or butterfly it, depending on the size)
Stuff with spinach mixture.
And secure with kitchen twine
IN a bowl, mix ketchup, orange juice and teriyaki sauce.  Baste tenderloin with 1/2 of the mixture.  Sprinkle pork with cumin.  Place in shallow roaster and bake at 350 degrees uncovered for one hour.  Baste with reserved marinade and cook one more hour, covered.  Use meat thermometer to check for doneness (160-170 degrees F.)

1) Obviously, I didn't just cut mine in half, I butterflied it, twice, and than spread the filling across the piece of pork and rolled it up - it's prettier :-)
2) Because I made this for Sunday dinner, I pour all of the marinade over the pork roast and covered it.  It cooked while we were at church.  Next time - I would add some chicken broth to the pan to give it extra moisture (if cooking it this way instead of according to the directions)
3) I threw a few whole potatoes in the pan (like I do with a regular roast) so that dinner was basically all in one pan.  I think if I put chicken broth in for extra liquid - I would also throw Carrots in as well so the veggie
was also done at the same time.
4) Another great thing about this recipe is you can make it the day before and just have to put it in the oven before walking out the door to church.

31 in 31 - Day 19

One of the things I enjoy doing is Cooking . . .both savory and sweet!  When I "used" to work - I didn't have the time nor the energy to cook and bake like I do now.  Actually, I seldom baked because I didn't like taking up a Saturday or Sunday afternoon baking.  Same with cooking nice meals - I stuck to the 20 minute meals because there wasn't time to really cook.  Well, today I had to catch up on some baking since I didn't get a chance to go to the grocery store until Saturday night (Usually, I go on Friday evening and bake on Saturday but Darryl worked a double shift on Friday bringing him home later than normal!)  So, today's picture is of my baking :-)

In the back, the cookies are Lime Dime cookies.  (A recipe I saw on the old Martha Stewart show - I kinda miss her old show . . .I actually got quite a few ideas from her!-; than the bread is a Cinnamon Bread - Darryl used to take Pop-tarts in his lunch every day but we are switching to homemade "breakfast" foods for him to take so I found this recipe and tried it - ;  In the 8x8 pan are lemon bars.  I don't make them often but instead of making a big batch of cookies, I went for two small things (the lime dimes and bars); and finally a Strawberry Cream Pie.  Do you ever look at The Parade magazine that comes in the Sunday paper?  I found this recipe in there several years ago and tried it.  It is really good, really sweet, and really runny! LOL  I don't tend to make it for company because it isn't pretty once you cut it but it is pretty good.  Just as an FYI - my normal baking includes a batch of cookies, one dessert, and now, one loaf of bread or batch of muffins.

One last note - it was HOT today and spending hours in the kitchen makes me anxious for fall!! 

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Grocery Shopping Deals

Last week, my picture of the day was of a copy of shopping receipt because I was so excited I had come so close to my spending goal.  This week, my goal was to only spend $74.00 (my budget is $75.00 and I'm SLOWLY trying to get that lower but cutting back by $0.50 a week).  I did it - actually I BEAT it!!  My total today was $69.19!!!  I saved almost $25.00 between sales, coupons and some special deals.  YEAH!!  So I wanted to share a couple of my tricks - if you shop at Meijer. 

First, Meijer has a new program called mperks and you can find it at:

This is a brand new program - enter you cell # (that becomes your account #)  You than have access to coupons and can "clip" them; they are saved in your account.  When you go to Meijer, when asked for coupons, you can turn in your normal ones but than touch the Mperks button on the payment "box" and it will ask you to enter you account #.  Once you do that, that coupons are automatically taken off your total.  You will see it on your recent.  The only downside I see is that you don't have the coupon in front of you so you either just do it every time to make sure you use any coupons you have clipped or write down what you have specifically for that week.  I happened to snag a $5.00 off coupon that expired today so that helped my grocery total!  The one thing I don't know yet is how many text messages they may send, if any.  If you have unlimited text it won't be an issue but if you are like me, and don't, this may out weigh the savings.  Also, some phone plans will not let you use this service yet. 

Second, have you ever looked at Meijer Mealbox?  Basically, it is located on their home page ( http://www.meijer.com/home.jsp ); click the tab on the top of the page or there is another location near the bottom.  Once there, you can browse recipes which include sale and coupon items.  BUT what I like is the tab that says "Specials" - those are Meijer coupons.  Match them up to current sales and/or use them with Manufacturer coupons.  (Did you know that you can combine Manufacturer and Store coupons to double your savings???  I learned that just a few months ago after YEARS of using coupons!)  I did this today and got 5 Totino's Pizzas for $3.25. 

I know many of you have other store's you use; some of you even get to use double or even triple coupons but my choices are limited so when Meijer offers new deals I get excited :-)  Even if you shop there on occasion take time to check the coupons in both of these areas. 

And - despite the fact that beat my goal - next weeks goal will still be $73.50 - still moving in $0.50 increments until I reach a reasonable point.

Dill Shrimp with Angel Hair Pasta

Last fall I attended a Freezer Meal "workshop" and made several awesome meals.  This is one that I put together that day and am making again.  I used all of the meals I made during the two weeks after Nate was born along with a few other easy meals (like tacos, Spaghetti, and Take-out :-) ) to help make getting dinners on the table a little easier. 

Dill Shrimp with Angel Hair Pasta

In a gallon-size freezer bag, mix the following ingredients:
1/2 cup chicken broth
1/2 cup olive oil
4 Tablespoons parsley
4 Tablespoons sliced green onions
4 Tablespoons dill
2 Tablespoons Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon black pepper
2 teaspoon minced garlic
1 bay leaf
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 pound shrimp without tails, fresh or frozen, pre-cooked or raw
1 box Angel Hair Pasta

Seal bag tightly and "squish" gently to combine all ingredients and coat shrimp well.  Press out excess air, seal, wrap several times in saran wrap and label. Than place in freezer.  (If making the dish the same day, it does not need to be wrapped and labeled)

To serve:  Thaw shrimp and marinade.  Prepare angel hair pasta according to package directions.  Meanwhile, heat a skillet over medium-high heat.  Add shrimp and marinade to skillet and cook approximately 5 minutes until shrimp is heated through (pre-cooked) or until no longer opaque (if raw).  To serve, place pasta on a large, rimmed platter, spooning the shrimp and sauce over the top.

Notes:  I know it seems like a lot of dill - but it really isn't once you cook it - it adds just the right amount of flavor. 
** Pick up "extra" bags of shrimp when they are buy one get one free - this is a super simple recipe to throw together last minute. 

31 in 31 - Day 18

This picture really needs no words.  
I was laughing so hard when I got him up this morning I HAD to get the camera.  The amazing thing is - that huge yawn is after 12 1/2 hours of sleep.  He could have slept another hour if I had let him - if not more!  And yes, he has his blue jean diaper on too - what a stud!  (Apprently, he is also ready for another haircut . . .. )

Friday, August 27, 2010

Reading List - "Along the Infant Way"

For those of you who have read through my posts, you will have read my list of books that I want to read over the next 5 months.  The first one on the list was "Along the Infant Way" by Ezzo and Ezzo.  This is a book that was given to me when Josh was born but I had not fully ready it (I skipped to the bones and forgot the rest)  I really wanted to read it in order to be able to discuss it when other people spoke about it. 

I would give this book a "C".  I think the authors have some really good ideas when they talk about the importance of scheduling with your newborn/children.  I believe that a schedule set by the parent is so much better for everyone than one set by the children.  But I do feel he takes it a little too far.  He talks about not rocking your children to sleep; well, I must confess we rock our kids.  Now, Josh is old enough that he really wants to go to his bed to sleep but he enjoys that 15 mintues after his bath in the recliner with his dad.  But Nate still gets that last bottle with the rocking and normally falls asleep.  That is something I wouldn't give up no matter what author told me too :-)  Another thing with this book just as an FYI - he speaks a lot to women who choose to nurse.  Early on he states that it doesn't matter whether you bottle feed or nurse but throughout the rest of the book he gives most examples based on a nursing mom.  From someone who bottle fed, I skipped many sections in the book because they didn't apply. 

Should you read it - sure; but read it with a grain of salt (as you should with any book!)  Take away the truths that you can really use and throw the rest out :-)

That's just my humble opinion.

31 in 31 - Day 17

My picture of the day is my beets :-)  Yep - they are canned!  It was actually super easy.  It only took me a total of about 30 minutes to get them peeled after cooking them; If I could have done it all at once (instead of in 15 minute increments in order to keep the kids entertained too) I think I could have down all of it in about 1 hour and a half with that last half hour was just the second batch in the hot water bath so it wasn't really work.  ALl the lids popped so now I"ll wait a few days and than try them . .. hopefully they taste good ;-)

Thursday, August 26, 2010

"Love of My Life" by Jim Brickman

This weeks song is "Love of My Life" by Jim Brickman.  I purchased a Jim Brickman CD many years ago and just fell in love with the whole thing.  One of my favorite songs on the CD is this very one, sung by Micheal W. Smith.  I loved it so much, I used it in my wedding - Dan Bates sang it beautifully :-)  This time it REALLY is the first song on my music player so if you are on the blog and haven't muted your volume you should be hearing it soon :-)

31 in 31- Day 16

First of all, I am not a garage sale-er.  I seldom go because I find nothing . . .ever.  I decided today I would try again and this is what I got:

Now, bear in mind, I went looking for a couple outfits for my kids but came home with toys!!  I got all of this for $9.00.  Most of it is for birthday's/Christmas except the Piano - that Josh has already been playing  (The Cat is NOT from the Garage sale - she is just curious :-) )  I looked up the little V-tech Spin and Learn Top (in the front) and it sells for $15.00 - I paid $1.00.  I had been looking at getting that for Nate for his birthday!!  And I found a similar Sit and Spin that sells for around $30.00 - I got that one for $2.00.  Crazy???   I tried finding the piano but the sites all say that it is no longer available :- )

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Fun things to do with your Kids

I like to plan.  As a matter of fact, I LOVE to plan so planning some fun activities for our family to do is right up my alley!  I thought I would share a few things that we've done recently in the greater Grand Rapids area that you might want to enjoy too!  (For those of you not in this area - just do some searches on line - I know there are Splash Pads many places now and you may have some similiar options in your area that you've never explored!)

1) Millennium Park in Grand Rapids - This park has an AWESOME splash pad!  We visited a month or so ago and had a blast.  I love it because it is clean (the water is chlorinated), there is no sand, there is no deep water or waves for my kids to wander into and there are lots of things for kids of all ages to do.  Besides the splash pad, there is also a lake (it was once an old gravel pit) and a nice beach, lots of walking trails, picnic tables, and nature areas.  You only have to pay if you enter the swimming area - but can enjoy the picnic tables and trails for free.  A little history - my husband's Grandma lived across the street from this park - this area was all bought out at one time and used for gravel - she was allowed to live in her home until she passed away. I hear it is supposed get up in the 90's again this weekend - I think we might be making a trip back to the Splash Pad

2)  Frederick Meijer Garden - I posted a picture in my photo challenge of a sculpture from the gardens but for your kids - there is an awesome Children's Garden area.  There is a whole water "table" (it's huge) that represents the great lakes - you have to stand back and really look and you'll notice the states surrounding the great lakes and all of the lakes as well.  There is a cool waterfall for the kids to stink their hands into, a huge tree house to run around in with all kinds of neat cubbies to look into, a teepee, sand pit, and lots of walking trails with little creeks, birds, and a hedge maze to wonder through.  If you have never taken the time to go - I encourage you to do so.  We could have spend all day there and not seen any other part of the park.

3)  Local Parks - We found a great one in Lake Odessa but I know there are great ones in the Grand Rapids area too.  Just go and play with your kids, sit on a bench and relax while they play, and don't forgot to stop for a Dairy Queen Ice Cream too!

4)  The Mall - I know, what am I thinking?  Well, my kids enjoy those play areas.  I know - how unsanitary LOL  Well, my kids are healthy from all those germs!! :-)  On a HOT day, the mall is our option - we can have a nice lunch in the food court, play for awhile in the play area, and than walk around the mall before getting a pretzel. 

I have more places to visit . .. I'll let you know how it goes :-)

31 in 31 - Day 15

So, here it is day 15.  Isn't this ugly? LOL  Do you know what they are?  BEETS!!  I went to the farmers market on Monday and she had 3 quarts of beets; that's it.  I was "lucky" to get them since they usually sell out first thing in the morning.  Why beets?  Because I love pickled beets and that is one of my canning projects to complete!  I grew up with a mom that canned lots of stuff and her recipe for the beets were the best . . .granted now, as I read the Ball Canning Guide, I realize she got it right out of that cookbook! Anyway, I have tried store bought and cannot find any that taste nearly as good so I'm going to make my own.  My husband hates them.  So I really just would like to get 12 jars - one a month for me :-)  It will be interesting to see if the boys like them - if they do, I might have to try for 24 next year.  Anyway, right now the beets are enjoying my counter.  I haven't had a chance to do anything with them yet.  I'm aiming to get them down on Friday or Saturday . . .than you'll see another picture and they will be "pretty" :-)

31 in 31 - Day 14

I spend some time on Tuesday re-sorting the toys. This is something I try to do once a month.  Why? This allows me to check for any dead batteries, broken toys, and to match up pieces to the correct toy.  Personally, if a toy has batteries, they need to work or it is a wasted toy. I don't mind the noise - it tells me my children are enjoying themselves.  I do have a bag that I keep "dead toys" that need batteries and keep a list of what batteries I need so, when the budget allows, I can pick up a pack and put the toys back into circulation.  Josh is learning to put toys back in the "right" bins so I am also starting to work on labels for the bins as well but really, I don't care what bin toys go in, as long as they all get picked up before bath time :-) So my picture shows my organization and yes, it makes me happy!!

And for the record, it does actually bother me that all the bins don't match but I used what I already owned to save money. 

I did actually take this picture yesterday, on day "14" but never had a chance to post it due to company coming over. 

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Flylady 101

What is FLYlady?  Basically the FLYlady system is a way to declutter, organize, and clean your home based on routines.  I won't go into depth about everything since so much is available on the website but I will give some basics. 

Do you have CHAOS? In your home?  It will make you laugh when you read that CHAOS stands for "Can't have anyone over syndrome".  Isn't that funny?  It doesn't necessarily mean your home is in shambles just that you get that sinking feeling when someone drops by without notice or you find that you have an hour to get ready for company.  Yep, we've all been there!!  The FLYlady concept helps you be "15 minutes from company" which basically means that in 15 minutes or less your home would be company ready.  So what does "FLY" stand for - Finally Loving Yourself.  If we love ourselves, it will show in our homes.  If you are cleaning your home to please everyone else but you, you can't really enjoy it.  Instead we should be cleaning our homes in order to make them a sanctuary for us to enjoy on a daily basis! 

Now, when I started FLYlady I thought I kept a pretty clean home but as I read through her site and saw ideas and new concepts I realized I had some work to do.  By no means was my home ready for an episode of "The Hoarders" but I did have a lot of stuff I didn't need or use.  Over the past year to year and a half I made it my goal to totally declutter my home and I feel like I've almost succeeded.  I say almost because I have to finish up the garage (Cleaning up still from a recent garage sale) and my basement (which is 95% there just need to number the tubs and find homes for the last few things).  I went shelf by shelf, cupboard by cupboard and room by room and looked at every item.  I had basic criteria to follow - I would ask myself some basic questions 1) Do I love it - if not, it went in the donate bin or trash  2) Does it make me happy or would it make someone else happier? 3) Have I used it in the last year 4) Does it have a home (If not in the current room, does it have a home somewhere else or should it have a home)  Not hard questions, right?  WRONG!!  I felt guilty sometimes getting rid of things!!  On my last go through in each room this past year, I asked my husband to look around and tell me if he saw anything that needed to go and he always did.  Ironically, it was usually the item I felt guilty about and he help me out by saying "get rid of that thing!" LOL  As a disclaimer - when it comes to kitchen items I don't always follow the "year" rule.  I have a few party supplies like a Chocolate Fountain or serving platters that I may not always use in a year but I won't get rid of them because I do use them for parties.  When doing this decluttering - I have three big neon green buckets that I label "Keep" - which means it stays in the room and must have a home; "Store" - items I love/need but don't have room for; "Donate"; and than also a big trash bag.  FLYlady is not really big on the "Store" concept but I have a smaller house now filled with 4 people so I had to pack away some "pretty's" that someday I'll use again when I have more room!!  I love having a decluttered home and continue to work on keeping it that way and finding new and creative ways to keep things neat and organized.

This is basically the first step - even if you think your home is decluttered, take time this week to walk into every room; specifically look at every object/picture/item in that room on each shelf, wall, and flat surface; in each drawer and cubby hole.  Ask yourself if you really need it/love it/use it - if not donate it!!!  You may be surprised what you find.  (Or this may need to be a year long project depending on your home - don't feel bad, just jump in where you are at!)

One funny story on the "you may be surprised at what you find" - I was doing the final decluttering in my living room and in doing so I took all the pictures off the wals.  One was hung above our front door and when I took it down, half of the back of the frame was filled with a huge moth nest!!!!  It had hung there for 7 years . .. I was telling my husband about it and he said "There's a picture above that door?"  . .. and then when I told him it was one we had made on our Honeymoon he said "Really, we had that hanging up?" That shows you - we get used to stuff and don't even notice it EVEN when there are bugs behind it LOL (Ok the moth nest was empty - we had a small problem with moths about 4 years ago . . .we thought it was from the bird food we gave our pet  bird at the time  . but still!!)

Hope this helps motivate you to look at all your stuff and only keep what truly makes you smile :-)

Here's a link to the FLYlady website for more ideas or you can do this first step and wait for more from me :-)


Monday, August 23, 2010

Easy Chicken and Chese Enchiladas

Monday nights are "New Recipe" night in our house - I have tons of recipes I've pulled out of magazines or that I've just come across so I use Monday night to try them out.  (I will also plug in new recipes other nights but that is my "Theme" for Monday and yes, each night does have a theme . . it makes menu planning easier)  Sometimes these new recipes are total bombs (we are hungrey a lot of Mondays! :-) ) but tonight was a success so I wanted to post this recipe!

Easy Chicken and Cheese Enchiladas

1 can cream of chicken soup
1/2 cup sour cream
1 cup salsa
2 teaspoons chili powder
2 cups cooked, diced chicken
1/2 cup Monteray Jack shredded cheese
6 flour tortillas, warmed
1 small tomato, chopped
1 green onion, chopped

In a large bowl, mix the soup, sour cream, salsa, and chili powder; set aside. 
In another large bowl mix chicken, cheese, and 1 cup of the salsa mix
Divide the chicken mix between the flour tortillas; roll up and place seam side up in a 2 quart (8x8) baking dish.
Pour the remaining salsa mix on top of the tortillas; cover and bake at 350 degrees for 40 minutes.
Sprinkle the tomato and green onion on top before serving
(Serves 6)

** I did add about 1/2 cup of shredded cheese on top of the enchiladas because we love cheese :- )
** Next time I think I will also add chopped black olives on top as well
** You could also add about 1/2 cup of black beans, drained and rinsed, to the chicken mixture

I served it with Savory Rice (I was going to do the Skillet Rice Recipe I shared in another post but forgot to thaw out my Vegetable Juice!), Corn, and Biscuits with Homemade peach jam for "dessert".

31 in 31 - Day 13

Well, today was just a "regular" day.  I had the feeling this morning that I was going to have to search for a picture for today and I was right.  So I started looking for "things" - things that made my life easier; things I liked; things I thought were "perfect".  This is what I thought of:

This is a snack cup.  I just bought it this weekend thinking that it would make snack time a little easier.  I allow Josh to have his snack and juice while he is playing in the living room.  It isn't a big problem except China, the dog, likes to eat the snack out of the bowl when no one is looking; Josh always catches her and than falls on the floor in a crying heap - heartbroken that his snack is now gone.  PLUS he LOVES to "spill" the snack on the floor and than "rescue" it from the dog.  Well, I saw these and thought it would do many things like 1) Keep the snack in the bowl and 2) keep the dog out of the snack.  Well - nothings perfect!  First, Josh doesn't like sticking his hand through those rubber things so when he wants more snack he brings it to me and waits for me to push those things open so he can put his hand in . . snack time is supposed to be mommy free LOL.  Second, I watched China take the snack dish, hold it down with one paw, use the other to push the rubber things out of the way and use her tongue to get the snack out.  So apparently, it is dog friendly and not meant for kids!! 

Sunday, August 22, 2010

31 in 31 - Day 12

The funny thing about a "photo of the day" is that sometimes, you plan one picture and a totally different one just pops up :-)  I had taken a picture at the Alive concert today as my photo of the day since that is what we did today BUT than we stopped at Culver's on the way home for lunch and this picture literally had us falling off our seats laughing not to mention that this is only the 1st in a stream of pictures we took and the faces just got more funny.  I decided to post the first picture we took because that is what made us laugh to begin with - so enjoy and hopefully, if you've had a rough day, this will make you laugh!

Josh, after enjoying some Really Reese's Chocolate Custard from Culver's.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

31 in 31 - Day 11

Today we had a family day and went to Frederik Meijer Gardens in Grand Rapids.  Darryl and I have not been there together since the first year we were married when we went to see the Christmas Trees right after Thanksgiving.  We were shocked by how fantastic it was and can't wait to go back.  Currently there is a special exhibit by Chihuly.  So here's my picture of the day - a breathtaking glass sculpture.  When I saw it from afar, I actually thought it was a real plant. 

We also had a blast in the Children's garden - Josh could have seriously played all day in that area.  If you haven't been in awhile - you should really check out the Gardens especially while the Glass exhibit is there!

Friday, August 20, 2010

31 in 31 - Day 10

Today was grocery shopping day and I had a goal - to only spend $74.50.  Why that number?  Because my budget is $75.00 for everything - Toiletries, cleaning supplies, animal food/supplies, baby item etc.  Normally I am anywhere from $5.00-$30.00 over and I get very frustrated with myself!  So I took my coupons, bottles to return, and calculator and headed to the store.  In the end, I had to put a few items back by eliminating one "fun" item I had thrown into the mix for the week but otherwise, I got what was on my list.  This is where it landed:

In case you can't read it - it says $74.98 - I was $0.48 over . . had I double checked my "cheese" drawer before leaving home, I would have seen that I had one box of cream cheese so I wouldn't have had to buy 2 and I would have ended up being about $1.30 under!!  Oh well :-)  So very close!!

Rigatoni Bolognese

This is a new recipe I tried out on Monday and despite the fact that I had to substitute a few things it turned out well.  I did forget to take a picture at this point though!

Regatoni Bolognese
Serves 6

1 box (1 lb) rigatoni pasta
2 medium carrots, halved
1 medium onion, quartered
1 pkg (8 or 10 oz) whole mushrooms
2 cloves garlic, peeled
2 tsp olive oil
3 links Italian Turkey sausage, casing removed
1/2 teaspoon crushed rosemary
1/4 teaspoon each salt and pepper
1/2  chicken stock
1 can (28 oz) crushed tomatoes in thick puree

Cook pasta as box directs.  Meanwhile, put carrots, onion, mushrooms, and garlic in a food processor; pulse until finely chopped.  Heat oil in large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat.  Saute chopped vegetables 6 minutes.  Add turkey sausage and cook, breaking up clumps, 4 minutes or until no longer pink.  Stir in rosemary, salt, pepper and stock; boil 1 minute.  Stir in crushed tomatoes, reduce heat and simmer, covered, 5 minutes.  Spoon over drained pasta

My substitutions (sounds better than errors!):  I often read a recipe and don't comprehend it LOL  When I read "links Italian turkey sausage" I thought it meant breakfast sausage??  But realized as I was cooking up my maple flavored sausage links that they are not the same.  Oops!!  I don't care for mushrooms so planned to substitute yellow squash to use up some my Mother-in-law gave me but they were both bad . . .so my sauce had a little less veggies.  Finally, again, not comprehending, I bought pureed tomatoes not crushed tomatoes so I was missing the chunky tomatoes in mine.  Despite ALL of that - my husband and I both loved the recipe.  It's easy and pretty inexpensive as well!

40 goals by 40 - Update

Since it has been a few weeks since I posted my 40x40 list, I figured it was time for a little update.  There are a few that I'm working on currently.
1) Canning - I have canned Jam - Peach Jam to be specific; and some of it even turned out
2) Scrapbooking - I am working towards the goal of being current; in all honesty, my goal in January was to be current by year end.  I've made a lot of progress so we'll see!!
3) Owning a German Shepherd - We contacted a breeder back in May hoping to get one this month but were unable to save up the money yet; so we continue to be on each litter's wait list as I continue to save my change :-)
4) Finish my quilt - I just need to finish a small area of binding and I had hoped to get it done by month end but the project I'm forcing myself to finish before I start that - my library update - is taking slightly longer than planed.  I still have a week and half though! 

Instead of posting the full list on the sidebar; I"m going to post the updates - meaning I'll put the # and name and update it or mark it completed; hopefully you'll see that list grow!

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Mocha Frappe!!

If you know me - you know we (both Darryl and I) love McDonald's Mocha Frappes.  We've searched for a recipe that was close and this one is as close as I've come so far - it' is supposed to be the Starbucks version but I've never had a Starbucks Frappe so I don't know how close it is!

In a blender:
2 cups of Ice
1 cup of skim milk
3 Tablespoons sugar
3 Tablespoons Hershey's Syrup
3/4 cup of double brewed coffee, chilled (put twice the amount of coffee into the filter as required and brew)

Blend until all the ice is broken down and enjoy
This makes two large glasses!! 

Tips:  You can cut this in half to make one large glass instead - it works very well.
Also - change this up as much as you want.  I'm not a huge coffee fan so I don't double brew the coffee otherwise it is really strong (which Darryl LOVES  -- LOL).  Even when I cut it in half, I still use the same amount of chocolate.
You can also leave out the chocolate or use caramel instead
** Make sure the coffee is chilled/cold otherwise you'll just end up with a cold drink as the coffee will melt the ice!

31 in 31 -Day 9

This one caught me by surprise - I had just finished putting both boys down for a nap and was walking through the dining room when something caught my eye.  It was all these cars lined up on my piano!!  Apparently, Josh decided to play there while I was busy finishing up the peaches in the kitchen.  Notice they are all in a perfectly straight row?  Yep - that's Josh.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

This weeks song - If We've Ever Needed You by Casting Crowns (update!)

I originally posted this earlier this week BUT I learned a lesson - always listen to the song you put on your blog LOL  I had a friend say "that's a really fun song" which made me think . . .something isn't right because "If We've Ever Needed you" is a more serious song!  So, apparently the song listed as this in the player is not correct!  I've removed the obnoxious song that was on #1 and instead added a YouTube video with RIGHT song!  So if you want to listen to it, make sure and pause the player and than play the video.  I guess sometimes, you learn as you go!

This weeks song is "If We've Ever Needed You" by Casting Crowns. When thinking about a song for this week, I had about 4 in my head to chose from; so how did I chose?  Simply - this song I sang ever since I first starting thinking about it.  I sang it in the morning while getting breakfast, while in the car, while making jam - it just was always in my head.  I think it has a great message, it's a great reminder, and it's just a great song!  It is the first song on my Play list this week so unmute your computer and take a listen :-)

It's amazing what music does to different people.  I was reading another blog and she posted a song that made her cry - "Blink" by Revive.  The concept behind the lyrics is that everything happens in the blink of an eye.  When she hears that, her life plays like a little power point (remember when we used to say slide show?) in her head - meeting her husband, getting married, and now watching as her babies grow.  It touches her heart to the core.  When I hear it - it does nothing !!  Seriously, I've heard it many times and just always thought it was a peppy song and we needed to remember that life goes fast.  That's it.  So maybe you have a song that touches you - what is it and why?  Music is a great outlet and a great way for God to touch each of us - make sure your heart is always open - not just your ears! :-)

Simple Italian Skillet Dinner

Here's an easy dinner recipe for you to try - make sure and read the notes, tips and ideas at the bottom!

Simple Italian Skillet Dinner:
1 pound Italian Sausage
1/2 cup chopped green bell pepper
1 medium onion, chopped
1 14.5 oz can diced tomatoes
2 cups Vegetable Juice
1 1/2 cups instant rice
1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese

In large skillet cook sausage 4-6 minutes; breaking it up as it cooks.  Drain excess fat.  Add green pepper and onion; cook until crisp-tender.  Add diced tomatoes and vegetable juice; cook and stir utnil mixture boils.  Remove from heat and stir in rice.  Cover and let stand for 6-8 minutes or until liquid is absorbed

Tips:  I usually use regular white rice and just let it cook until the liquid is absorbed.  I have noticed my rice still has a "bite" to it so adding some water might be a good idea. 
Do NOT use brown rice - it takes much too long to cook (I tried it, not good!!)

Ideas:  This is a main course as it is but, we LOVE it with Tacos.  I leave out the sausage when I make it for Tacos and it makes a great spanish rice.  We put it right inside of our tacos - it is sooooo good!.  ALso, mix leftover taco meat into the leftover rice to make lunch the following day either by itself or on tacos shells. 

For spicey rice, choose the tomatoes with chilis - did this one too; not such a fan of burning my mouth off :-)

Note:  When you buy a can of Vegetable Juice (I just buy the Meijer brand - Vegetable Juice; not V8 or anything like that) There is enough in the can to make three batchs of rice.  I freeze the extra in 2 cup containers to use on future batches.  Makes making homemade "Rice a Roni" a breeze!

31 in 31 - Day 8

This made me laugh out loud.  My dog China was busy eating and than walked away.  Now, notice the empty bowl? But, look next to the mat on the floor??? Six pieces of dog food in the shape of her mouth??  LOLOLOL  She does stuff like this all the time - she'll carry one piece of food from the dish and drop it in the living room.  Than if we try to pick it up, she starts playing with it.  It's all fun and games until the latest crawler (currently Nate) gets it, that it's just a big soggy, mess.  YUCK!  So this falls into the "just for fun" category!

How are your pictures?  Have you taken the challenge yet?

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

My Favorite Cleaning Products

Since I indroduced some cleaning/organizing things yesterday I thought the next logical step is to show you some of my favorite things.  Don't get me wrong - I don't love cleaning but I do LOVE cleaning products!  I've been working the past 6 months not to keep buying random things but to figure out what I love and just buy that even though I also forced myself to finish up some things I bought that I didn't like. 

Starting from left to right:
1.  The Works Toilet Bowl Cleaner - nothing gets rust stains out better
2. Scrubbing Bubbles - I really like all scrubbing bubbles products but this is the new Extendi-Clean for the bathroom.  It really does seem to help the shower to stay cleaner longer
3. Iron Out - due to our extremely hard water which is  being treated by a water softener, we still get terrible rust stains in the tub (especially with 4 people taking at least one shower/bath a day sometimes two!) Nothing removes rust stains in the tub like Iron out; it really does wipe right out.  My disclaimer - you really need to wear a mask when using it . .. or just don't breath until you are done!
4. The Works - Yes, I have 4 things I use in the bathroom - I use the works more day to day to try and keep the Iron at bay.
5. Fabreeze Dusting Spray - It works great and it smells awesome!!
6. Windex - it is my go to All Purpose Cleaner - I use it daily to "Swish and Swipe" - I spray the toilet daily and wipe it down, and I spray the sink and mirror and wipe those down as well.  I also use it just for spot cleaning - it really works well.  It is also what I use to clean my stainless steel kitchen items
7. Clorox Anywhere - I use this in my kitchen.  I actually love cleaning with Clorox Clean up but because it has bleach in it and stains my clothes, I've switched to the Anywhere product. 
8. Glade Air and Fabric Spray - I love the smell of Glade :-)
Back row:
9.  Paper Towel - Yes, I still use paper towel for cleaning glass.  I've tried Micro Cloths and have yet to find one that I like.
10.  My Bucket - I keep all my cleaning supplies in it plus if I really need a bucket I have a great one
Front Row:
11.  Rubba Scrubba - It's a rubber brush that you can use anywhere - I use it mostly in my bathtub but it's also greate for spot cleaning the carpet or running along the baseboards to get animal hair out where the vacuum doesn't reach (It is  Flylady tool!)
12. Dusting Mitt - I've tired Feather dusters, rags, dusting clothes - but love this mitt.  I love that I can hold things in my hand and dust them. 

Just a few more :-)


My last three favorites:
1.  My Shark Steam Mop -  best thing I think I've ever bought for cleaning.   It's easy to use, heats up quickly and it doesn't matter if my kids crawl on the floor right away - it's dry and clean!
2. My Swiffer Sweeper Vac - ummm . .it competes with my Shark Mop LOL  I love how that I don't need a broom - it vacuums up all the little stuff and the cloth gets all the animal hair!.
3. And My toilet brush (who knew you could love it?) - It is a Rubba Swisha (also from flylady)  I like it because it is rubber so it dries quickly; it has a little piece that sticks up to get under the rim.  I clean my toilet daily - squirt a little dish soap or cheap shampoo in there and swish it around.  It makes a huge differance to do it daily!

Do you have favorites?  Maybe you'll inspire me to try something new - I'd love to get down to one thing to use in the bathroom but I haven't found a product that takes care of the rust like I need it to!

31 in 31 - Day 7

Decided to be random today and photograph the first thing that made think "peacefulness".  What a better picture than my sweet cat Misty sleeping in front of an open door with black-eyed susans in the background.  Just another view that I enjoy :-)

Monday, August 16, 2010

Cleaning and Organizing

This is kinda an intro post more than anything.  Several years ago I was introduced to a cleaning/organizing concept by a friend called "Flylady".  Really it isn't a concept but rather a person!  The Flylady gives all kinds of great ideas to help set routines for our homes so that we aren't constantly cleaning or have CHAOS ( Can't have anyone over syndrome) in our homes.  Over the years my plans and routines have evolved, changed, and grown based on my life at that point.  When it was just Darryl and I and we both worked 60 hours a week, I had one set up focused mainly around the weekend.  When we added Josh and I cut back to only 40 hours a week, (ONLY 40? LOL) my plan changed again but still revolved around most cleaning on the weekends since I didn't get home until 6;00 most nights and had limited time to get dinner on and spend time with Josh before he went to sleep.  Than, when I quit to stay home, I reworked my entire routine/cleaning concepts since I had more time.  One of the things that I'm able to do is weekly deep cleaning.  Each room in my home is assigned a week on a rotating basis throughout the year and it gets deep cleaned.  The Flylady divides our homes into 5 zones and assigns missions to the weekly zone - often the things we never get too.  (I found I didn't have time to get through my deep cleaning on weeks that she includes two rooms such as the laundry room and the bathroom so I broke my home down further.   I plan on including some deep cleaning lists and other cleaning helps.  If nothing else, maybe it will help you think of how to make your cleaning load lighter!

31 in 31 - Day 6

Today, the boys and I went on our weekly adventure.  I decided last week that once or twice a week we are going to go on an adventure so we can get out of the house while the weather is nice.  Normally Monday and Wednesday will be at home/outside days, Tuesday will be park days, Thursday will be our adventrue day and Friday's will walking day.  But, we had to go out this morning anyway so we made it our park day today.  We also made a stop at a great farmers market and got some more peaches plus went to Dairy Queen for lunch but this picture captures the moment, I think. 

Two brothers hanging out at the park. 

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Signature Photography Studios

This is another Photography Studio that I would recommend in the Belding area.  Barb is my Creative Memories "Upline" but she is also a fantastic photographer - she goes outside the box.  One thing she does is "Quick Clicks" - which are themed photo shoots.  She offers affordable optoins where she snaps the photos and than sends you the CD to edit and print but also offers packages where she edits the best of the best too.  I have seen her work and it is fantastic and we are signed up to get our pictures taken in October.  One of the great things is that you "own" your photos so you can post them, print them, whatever you want because you bought them.  So, feel free to check her out. 


(I know, I shouldn't list to photographers but they each do great work - depends on what you are looking for!! PLus there is enough distance between them that they really serve different areas !!)

31 in 31 - Day 5

We went for a walk tonight and this picture says alot:
1.  Josh is getting to enjoy his wagon
2.  Nate's first wagon ride - he was in awe
3.  A beautiful sunny day
4.  The humidty finally broke so we can actually GO for a walk and not die of heat exhaustion
5. Great family time
6.  And, if you look in the bottom right hand corner, even China got to go!

Saturday, August 14, 2010

The Dainty Daisy

I've been meaning to add a couple more links for you to check out - this is The Dainty Daisy.  It is an Etsy Shop "owned" by another member of the group Darryl plays in currently.  Betsy crochet's some really adorable pieces.  Check out her etsy shop or her blog to see some of the great things she makes or to place an order!

Southern Peach Cobbler

Last year, I discovered this recipe at a time when I had tons of peaches sitting around for the purpose of making baby food for Josh.  I decided to "steal" a few and try it out.  It was fantastic - too bad it was the tail end of peach season so I didn't get to make it again.  Well, peaches are coming in now so it is high time to make this cobbler :-)  Here's the recipe - enjoy!

6-8 fresh peaches - peeled, pitted, and sliced into thin wedges
1/2 cup white sugar (divided)
1/2 cup brown sugar (divided)
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
2 teaspoons cornstarch
1 cup flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons butter; chilled and cut into small pieces
1 cup boiling water
3 tablespoons white sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.  To peel peaches, place them in boiling water for 1-2 minutes; remove and plunge into ice cold water.  Skins will generally slide right off or remove easily with a peeler.

In a large bowl, combine peaches, 1/4 cup white sugar, 1/4 brown sugar, 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon, nutmeg, lemon juice, and cornstartch. Toss to coat evenly and pour into a 2 quart baking dish (I actually used an 8x8 pan).  Bake in preheated over for 10 minutes. 

Meanwhile, in a large bowl, combine flour, 1/2 cup white sugar, 1/2 cup brown sugar, baking powder and salt. Blend in butter with your fingertips or a pastry blender until mixture resembles coarse meal.  Stir in water until just combined.

Remove peaches from oven and drop spoonfuls of topping over them.  Sprinkle entire cobbler with the sugar and cinnamon mixture. 

Bake until topping is golden, about 30 minutes

Enjoy :-)

Tips:  I forgot that when I made this last year, I was going to double the topping mix - there are a lot of peaches under there!!  As with any recipe, I always recommend trying it the orignal way first and than tweaking it to fit your tastes.

I will be buying more peaches at this week and making this a few more times before the season is done

31 in 31 - Day 4

One of the reasons that this 31 in 31 day photo challenge interested me is because I kinda failed at another photo challenge :-)  At the beginning of the year, my Creative Memories Director challenged us to do a year of photos - meaning take one picture a day for 365 days and create a Pic-folio album.  Well, that lasted for about 1 week.  I like this one much better.  So here is today's photo:

Last year, right at the end of Peach season, I discovered a recipe for Souther Peach Cobbler and it was to die for!  On Thursday, the boys and I went to a farmer's maker and I picked up some fantastic peaches . .. with the sole purpose in mind of making this lovely dessert :-)  And, yes, it is as good as it looks! I will be posting the recipe as well so feel free to check it out! 

Can't wait until tonight to have a piece of this yummy dessert :-) 

Friday, August 13, 2010

31 in 31 - Day 3

Day 3 - Throughout the day, I spend time sitting in "my" recliner - relaxing, reading to one of my kids, feeding a bottle to the baby.  And this, is my view.  I love Willow trees - always have.  I find the "weeping" branches beautiful and would love to have a HUGE one where I could place a Hammock under neath the branches to relax in on a summer day.  Several years ago, we bought this try at 80% off from a local market.  Quite honestly, I didn't think it would survive.  The first summer, it got a few leaves but nothing major.  The second summer, I think it finally got leaves in July.  But now, several years later, it blocks the view from the road and it is so relaxing to see.  But there is more to this picture - notice the window sill?  The toys?  Yep - that is Josh's favorite play spot.  He lines up his cars and trucks, misc toys, books, anything he feels like up along that window sill.  The spill over to the arm of the couch, which is where he kneels for hours.  So beyond the view of the tree - I get the view of watching a little boy full of wonder as his imagination runs wild.  He's even warn the fabric through on the arm of my couch . . .but it's worth it to see "the view out of my window."

So, what's your picture for the day?  Let me know so I can check your blog!  (Or ir you don't have a blog and want to send it via e-mail let me know that too!)

Thursday, August 12, 2010

31 in 31 - Day 2

Ironically, I took a picture this morning that I had in my head of what I wanted today's picture to be; I won't say what it is because I might take it again on another day and add it :-)  Instead this one just "happened".  I took my boys on an adventure today - we went to a Farmers Market and than to the mall.  We had lunch together - Josh and I shared, Nate got his own applesauce :-)  Than we did some window shopping.  I took time to put $0.75 in one of those little kiddy rides - Bob the Builder; Josh was very intrigued.  Than we went to the "plastic food playground"!!  You know the one - in the middle of the mall with plastic eggs, bacon, and other breakfast foods for kids to climb all over?  We had gone one other time and Josh was extremly overwhelmed with it all but not today - as soon as we got in there, he took off to play.  The nice thing is that Nate is a HUGE crawler and he is pulling himself up on everything so he got to play just as much.  We all had so much fun - my 21 month old dare devil stood on things with shaky feet, jumped off of things with courage, and always came running back to me just to make sure life was good :-)  Seriously, I hadn't backed out of the parking spot when my little guy was out cold LOL  Wouldn't it be great to rest like that?  To sit down and have your eyes be rolling back in your head before you had time to know it was happening?  Most nights, I lay there for an hour or more - oh to be like a toddler :-) 

So here's my picture for the day - what's yours?  Let me know so I can check it out!!

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Song of the Week - "He Is" by Mark Schultz

The song I have chosen this week is "He Is" by Mark Schultz.  The first time I heard this song I just couldn't get it out of my head; now everytime I hear it, I crank the radio and recently picked up the soundtrack so I can work on it for a special.  I love the simple truth of "He is", "He was" , and "He always will be" - no matter what!!!  Not to mention that Mark Schultz is such an awesome singer and songwriter!  This song was not availabe through my player for now so I added it as a Youtube video.  When you go to play it, make sure and pause my regular player so you don't get dueling songs! (The players are at the very bottom of this blog so just keep scrolling!!!)

31 in 31

Recently I saw this idea posted on a blog that I follow (Living our Love Song) This blog is written by a woman who has faced a great trial recently and I have enjoyed reading blog - she is very honest and open about her life and the hurt they have felt but also shares the joy she is finding.  I was encouraged by her to incorporate this into my blog so here goes!  (Check on my list of blogs I follow to link up to her blog!)

The idea is to take 31 pictures over the course of the next 31 days and post them.  Now, I would LOVE to be a great photographer (it's on my list of 40 things to do before I'm 40!!) but currently I am limited by my lack of talent and my regular camera but that isn't going to stop me!  I am starting this challenge today - to look for that one picture each day that represents me; or stands out; or makes me think.  I want to LOOK for it , not just take it. When I am done, I'm going to take those 31 pictures and put them into a photo book . . I'm thinking about writing a story (now there's a challenge) so it can become one of the books my kids read too.  We'll see if that happens since I'm only so creataive!  But I also started thinking about other times this idea would be great:
1) The birth of a new baby - take one picture for the first 31 days of the new life and put them into a photo book to share
2) Graduation - take pictures the last 31 days before your child graduations (or YOU graduate) and place them into a photobook.  What a great way to remember all of the excitment from those last 31 days. OR your childs first 31 days of K-5???
3) Birthdays - either the 31 days before the birthday - ending with that shot with the cake or start with the birhtday and the first 31 days of the new "year".  I think this would be great for milestones - if you are turning 40 - take pictures of your last 31 days in your 30's. 
4) What about Christmas?  I decorate my whole house for Christmas over the course of November - so maybe the 31 days of decorating to show the transformatoin from "regular" to "holiday" - what a great coffee table book for the holiday??
5) Just the every day - aren't there always times we  wish we had taken more pictures - so start today and for the next 31 days, pick out that one shot, and create a memory of the next month. 

If you chose to take this challenge - make sure and post a comment so I can follow your 31 days too!!

So here is day one - August 11, 2010 - This picture is of my dog, China; my very scared dog who has no where to hide except behind this chair now that we keep more doors closed.  There was a HUGE storm this morning and she was just a shaking like crazy - this  picture just makes me feel so bad for her :-(

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Reading List

One of the things that I really enjoy doing is reading.  I grew up in a family where we read every day; TV wasn't a big deal until I was in Junior High but we always had books.  My dad read to me every day - the whole Little House Series, Heidi, and more so it is no wonder I still love to read.  My library used to be huge but I have had to narrow it down the last few years to make room for kids - I went from 6 book cases to 2!!!  I went through my shelves a few years ago and took out all of the books I didn't really enjoy.   Now I am currently "reading through my library" to decided if there are more books I don't enjoy.  For fun, I am reading Wanda Brunstetter currently - she writes a lot of books about Amish.  I have to be honest and say I think all of the books I have been here are going up for sale on Half.com (I sell a lot of books on Half.com) . . .they are ok but I find that they are pretty simply written and, now that I"ve read them 3 times, I don't think I really care to read them again nor do I want to add to the sets I have either.  But, I'm also challenged to get away from the "fun reads" and read some books that teach me something or are deeper, more difficult to swallow - no brainers are good but my brain needs to stretch first.  So, one of my goals is to read a book a month - amazingly right now, I have books on my shelf that fit this challenge category and that is what I pulled from - most of them are books I feel I "should" read even though I'm not thrilled about them LOL  So, here's my list!

1) Along the Infant Way by Ezzo and Ezzo - This is a book that came  recommended to me by many people.  When I had Josh - I skipped straight to the meat of the book to read about schedules but never went back and read the rest of it.  I feel like I need to for my own benifit and so I can answer other's questions about this book and the topic.  Even though I'm almost out of this stage currently, I think the info is still probably good!

2) Along the Toddler Way by Ezzo and Ezzo - I planned to read this book before Josh turned 1; well that didn't happen. Luckily it is a SHORT book!!  Wonder what I"ll learn?

3) Humor for a Womans' Heart by a Variety of Artists - I just thought that after the above two books, I needed to lighten it up.  My mom gave me this book and said it was funny.

4.)In the Sanctuary of Outcasts a Memoir by Neil White - I started this book and had to put it down.  Couldn't really get into it but again, my parents both said it is a great book; something totally differant than either read and they weren't too sure about it at first.  I'm going to take the challenge on it and see if I can get through it! This is probably the one I"m the most leary about so who knows??
5) Woman Leaving the Workplace by Larry Burkett - My Pastor's Wife gave me this book to read when I was struggling to leave work and all of the things it would mean - not because I didn't want to leave work but because of WANTING to leave and making it work on one income.  I meant to read it before I quit but just didn't have the time so there is no time like now to read it :-)

Now, I am not currently recommending any of these books since I haven't read them - I'm just making my list which will take me through December.  I'm already working on my next list and am a little more excited about some of those . . .but first I must read these so that is my motivation!!! 

My challenge to you is what are you reading to stretch yourself, stretch your mind, challenge yourself.  It is easy to read the simple stuff - the stuff that takes us to another place.  But what about the books that make you focus?? 

Monday, August 9, 2010

How I've changed the way I pack

This past weekend my husband and I went away overnight.  In the past, I had gotten into the bad habit of using either bags (those re-usuable cloth grocery bags or misc bags I had around the house) or baskets to pack our stuff.  I would start out with twobags thinking I could pack all of Darryl's stuff in one and mine in the other . . than I would add a third for toiletries . .. and forth for shoes . . .a fifth for snacks . . you get the idea.  Than, when we would get to the hotel or where ever we were staying, we looked like bag people hauling in all of these bags.  I got "smarter" after a while and used a laundry basket to put all the bags in (wow, doesn't that look impressive LOL)  Even though he has never said anything, I know my husband did not enjoy carrying all of that stuff nor how it looked when we walked in anywhere.  So this time, I planned.   I decided, I didn't care if I needed to take our big suitcase even for one overnight trip, it would look better to roll in one large suitcase than to carry in 24 little ones.  But, I was able to pack a bathroom bag and a carry-on size suitcase.  We even had room left over.  Usually I cannot use the bathroom bag because stuff will not fit so, I organized it this time around. 

First, I had two plastic containers that fit side by side in the bag:

Now, one of the containers, I use every day.  It sits on my "vanity" shelf in my closet and holds my make-up and such.  I added my contacts/glasses to it.  Than in the other one I put things like our deoderant, medication, shaving stuff and so on.  This keeps all of those little things together.  When we got to the hotel, I just pulled out the containers and placed them on the sink; everything stayed together so it made packing to go home easier as well.

Than, I used the space left around the sides and top to add those things that don't fit in the containers:

Things like my body spray, hair gel and body wash fit along the side, shampoo and hairspray slide down along the front (not visable in the picture) leaving room on top for hair burshes.  The only thing that I don't fit in this bag now is my hairdryer (yes, most hotels have one which works for most people but, due to my curls, I must use a diffuser which only fits my hairdryer!)  My hairdryer fits nicely into our suitcase :-)
What a differance taking time to pack neatly did for us this weekend.  This bag hooks over the handle of it's matching suitcase, which than rolls making transporting very easy.  My husband thanked me several times for taking the time to do this - he commented on how nice it was to not have to carry all of that stuff!!