Saturday, July 30, 2011

Big Breakfast.

It's Saturday.  And that can mean only one thing:  Big Breakfast.  It is the one day of the week that I put my whole heart into my favorite meal of the day. 

Growing up, my mother was master of the morning meal.  She believed in good hot food to start the day.  If I wanted cold cereal, I had to beg.  (Seriously, how awesomely backward does that sound?)  Volleyball practice at 7:00 am?  Mom was up at 6:00 am, taking breakfast orders.  Show Choir contest bus leaving at 5:00 am?  Mom was cooking at 4:00 am.  No matter what, we always had hot breakfast.  It is with deep fondness that I recall the aromas and visions of my mother's breakfast table. 

Pancakes.
Biscuits and gravy. 
Cinnamon rolls. 
Grilled cheese sandwiches.
Eggs fixed every-which-way-we wanted and toast.
And so on...

I am not as entirely amazing as my mother, but I still love to give my stellar family the best possible start to their day.  And this morning was definitely BIG BREAKFAST day.  Pancakes, sausage, blueberries, milk, and of course, coffee.  I admit that I haven't quite mastered Mom's pancakes (with those delightfully crispy, buttery edges), but they are still pretty darn good... and so easy. 

I only burned one today (which is definitely good for me) and the smoke alarm didn't even go off!  (Which may actually be a bad thing.  Mental note:  check smoke alarm batteries later.  Okay, not-so-mental note, but anyway...).  Flipping hotcakes, supervising the syrup bottle, and keeping stickiness confined to the table can be a smidgen distracting.  On pancake day especially, I wouldn't mind having a couple of extra arms.

I usually double or triple the recipe and freeze the leftover pancakes.  If I am careful to make them the right size, I can pop them into the toaster like an Eggo waffle and eat homemade pancakes all week!  And since I've got kids, there is nothing better than using a pizza cutter to quickly cut pancakes into bite-size pieces to get them on the plate in a hurry (because there is nothing worse than cold, floppy pancake).

I make my own pancake mix and store it in an air-tight container in the cupboard.  Most mixes available in the store contain unhealthy additives and hydrogenated oils, so this is a better alternative.  To make a whole-wheat version, substitute whole-wheat flour for white flour, and brown sugar for the white sugar.

Enjoy!

Pancake Mix

7 1/2 c. all-purpose flour
1/4 c. baking powder
1 T. plus 1 tsp. salt
2/3 c. sugar

1.  Combine ingredients in a large bowl.  Stir to mix thoroughly.  Store in an airtight container at room temperature.  Makes about 8 1/2 c. mix.

Pancakes (from Pancake Mix)

1 large egg, lightly beaten
1 c. milk
2 T. butter, melted or 2 T. cooking oil
1 1/4 c. Pancake Mix

1.  In mixing bowl, combine egg, milk and butter.  Add Pancake Mix and mix until dry ingredients are just moistened.  Batter should be slightly lumpy.  If batter seems a little thin, add more mix.  Makes about 7 standard-size pancakes.  Double or triple as needed.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Nice Things.

Someday, I will have nice things again.  Someday when the kids are grown and gone away.  Someday.

My husband and I lament almost daily over our dilapidated (yet still wildly comfy) couch and loveseat set.

We were young newlyweds, blinded by love and the freshness of new life together.  Not a bad thing I suppose, but nary a child was on the horizon and to be brutally honest, I wasn't even sure I wanted any.  (My, how things change.)  

So we settled on a huge furniture set (and by huge, I mean so entirely gargantuan that we didn't realize we would have to partially disassemble the couch to get it through our apartment door).  But it was such a beautiful sage green that I didn't care how or what had to be done as long as it was in my living room that evening.

9 years later.  One of our couch cushions has a large smiley face in hot pink Sharpie.  No problem.  Flipped it over.  Another cushion has hot pink nail polish dripped all over.  No problem.  Flip!  Then, there was the incident with the red popsicle.  Well, it really wasn't anything that a strategically placed pillow couldn't fix.  And then more nail polish in... you guessed it... hot pink.  And that's when we introduced the strategically placed afghan. 

I think its been about two years since we began the discussion of slipcovers.  Choosing the names of our children was easier than deciding on a slipcover.  And there they sit, imperfect as they may be (and honestly, there is no better place for a Sunday afternoon nap).

If I could do it all over again... two words:  Black.  Leather.

So someday...
when my sweet girls are beautiful women with families of their own,
and my house is hauntingly empty,
and every room in my house is clean at the same time,
and Lee and I have nothing to do but to stare at each other's wonderfully time-worn faces,
I will have nice things....
that will stay nice. 

And I will miss my girls.


"Don't you see that children are God's best gift?
the fruit of the womb his generous legacy?
Like a warrior's fistful of arrows
are the children of a vigorous youth.
Oh, how blessed are you parents,
with your quivers full of children!
Your enemies don't stand a chance against you;
you'll sweep them right off your doorstep."



Psalms 127.3-5 (The Message)

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Little Picasso.

As with many projects in my world, I have grand intentions that get sidelined by life for indefinite stretches of time.  This unnatural Iowa heat wave and my sickness as of late (from which I am finally almost recovered... almost) has afforded me loads of time indoors to tackle said projects with abandon.  (I even organized my medicine cabinet!  Woohoo!)

So the taming of the paper monster is officially underway!  I loathe piles of paper.  And they are everywhere.  Bills.  Receipts.  Schedules.  Forms.  Mail.  School work.  Newsletters.  Art work.  And on... and on... and on.  At times, I have been slow to embrace certain technologies, but my scanner is my new best friend.  I am in the process of scanning everything (and backing it up, of course, because I am smart like that).  Even the IRS accepts digital copies of tax documents and receipts!

I am a sentimentalist and like most moms I know, throwing away anything my child has made with their sweet little hands is like ripping out a piece of me.  But who am I kidding?  At this rate, I will have to rent a storage unit to keep all the notes and art they make me everyday.  Perhaps my girls are unusually creative and crafty, but something's gotta give.  So... I started scanning all of their memorable notes, artwork, and school work into .pdf and/or .jpg files. 

To be honest, at first, there were tears.  "Mom!  You're throwing my monster picture away???  I made that!  For YOU!!!  Don't you care anymore???"  Then, I showed my angels the technological wonder their fine mother had created.  As soon as they saw their work displayed on the computer screen and were informed that it could be printed out at any time or sent to Grandma through email or publicly posted to facebook at any time... they were more than thrilled.  Opportunities.  "We could be famous." 

And then it happened.  The deluge.  A plethora really.  "Mommy, scan this picture."  "Hey Mom.  I've got another one for you."  "Mother, I've written a complete dissertation on the theory of relativity."

I'm no longer certain if I have tamed a monster or created one because my "To Scan" pile seems significantly more daunting than it did a week ago. 

At any rate, here is a sampling:



Yep.  Its a beaver.  Impressive.



Hey, look!  Its me... and a beautiful rendition if I may say so.



Annnnnddd... this is mommy yelling.  And girls crying.  This was probably early in the morning before I had my coffee.


Oh look.  Its me again.  With a flower.  Happy pictures of mommy are a good thing.


And mommy again.  Love it.


Hawaii.  So much to see here.  Turtles.  Apple trees.  Babies.


Nap time is over.  So is my coffee break.
(Iced Starbucks Espresso... delish!)
Happy Tuesday.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Giddy.

8 days and counting.  I continue to fight a fierce summer cold  and I hope to be on the other side of it very soon.  I have consumed copious amounts of coffee to counter my ailments... sweet balm of Gilead. 

This morning, I again awoke in a congested stupor, stumbling down the stairs and into the kitchen for my beloved brew.  I propped myself up against the kitchen counter and waited...  and waited... and waited... but the familiar din of my coffee machine was strangely absent, replaced by an angry hiss. 

I retraced my steps in my feeble morning mind.  Filter.  Coffee.  Oh.  And then the light bulb.  Water!  You must add water to make coffee. 

It's mornings like these that require a sort of "pre-coffee" just to make coffee.  I'm not sure how that would work exactly, but I think someone should look into it.

Now that I've got my fix, I am ready to enjoy a beautifully lazy Saturday with my sweet family.  I am beside-myself-giddy that my grocery store has Starbucks coffee on sale for $7.98!!!  So first order of business... buy more coffee.  And filters.  Out of those, too.

Happy weekend, Everybody!!!




Thanks to www.freefoto.com for the awesome pic.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

In the quiet.

As a busy mom of 3, these moments do not present themselves very often, but here I am.  Five minutes of quiet solitude. 

This verse really made me smile today:

"God's Word is better than a diamond,
better than a diamond set between emeralds.
You'll like it better than strawberries in spring,
better than red, ripe strawberries."


Psalm 19.10 (The Message)

Better than red, ripe strawberries.  Mmmm... chewing on that thought. 

I see the bottom of my beloved coffee cup and I hear little feet on the stairs.  Its go time!  Off on a grocery adventure with 3 little ones on a blistering 115 degree afternoon.  Thankful for this pocket-sized oasis in my day.




Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Shenanigans.

So I was not planning to post this morning, but I just had to get something off my chest (no pun intended).  You may have heard by now of the imminent U.S. release of the Breast Milk Baby Doll.  It's a baby that.... wait for it... breastfeeds!

See it here:

http://thebreastmilkbaby.com/

Now let me be clear, I breastfed all 3 of my babies, two of them for 8 months and one for a full year.  I wholeheartedly advocate it when its possible, but understand its a personal choice for every mom... and that's totally fine with me.

This morning I saw a facebook post from my local news station about this doll.  There were only a few comments, but all were negative.  Of course, I felt the need to contribute and here is what I said:

"Not sure why anyone would be offended by this. Children mimic what they see anyway. I nursed all 3 of my kids and the older ones were always 'nursing' their baby dolls. They have dolls that do everything else... personally, I'm more disgusted by the ones that poop all over the place and stain my carpet."

And then the firestorm.  I didn't exactly start my day with the intent to incite controversy, but I am truly astounded by the flurry of mean, distasteful comments. 

Perhaps I am naive, but I simply cannot understand the angst so many feel against something that is so natural and nurturing.  For my girls, it would be strange to give a bottle to their baby dolls, simply because they did not witness it happening much in our home.  Would I purchase this doll?  Probably not, because my girls have done a fine job of make-believe up to this point. 

Some argue that its too sexual or wonder why the emphasis on breasts at that age?  What?  Really?  For girls growing up in a home where they see their mother breastfeeding a younger sibling several times a day, its absolutely not sexual.  Its dinner!!!  I am much more concerned that Walmart is marketing padded bras to my 7-year-old.  (Believe it. It is disgustingly true.)

Stepping off my soapbox for now... time for coffee #2.  (Sorry, I'm still a bit grumpy from this hot weather.)

Monday, July 18, 2011

Sweltering.

It's 10:30 pm.  It is still 86 degrees outside with a heat index of 102.  More of the same for the rest of the week.  I am not made for this!  Seriously, I am one of those people that could live quite comfortably in Alaska. 

Lucky for me, the a/c in our minivan is being characteristically tempermental.  I bravely ventured out of the house to take my girls to tumbling (only 2 blocks away) and then a quick trip to the grocery store (just barely across this little town).  Me and my sweet babies were swimming in sweat by the time we got home.

My menu for the week has been blown to smithereens by this weather event... no way am I turning on that oven!  We beat the heat with subs, salads and ice cream for dinner tonight.  Tomorrow, I'm thinking wraps or pitas, but then that would require another trip out in this mess.  Ay yi yi.

Please, forgive my grumpiness.  I am hanging in there, but until then, you can find me in front of the fan sipping an iced mocha.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Not-So-Extreme Couponing.

So I get it.  I have seen the show.  I have heard the banter.  I have tried to get into it.  Like really tried.  And I have been found wanting.  Perhaps I am missing something.  Am I intrigued?  Wholeheartedly.  Who wouldn't be interested in saving money? 

My husband would be the first to accuse me of being a frugalista and on occasion, a hoarder.  But I argue that there is a very fine line between frugalista and hoarder!  (I've seen that show, too, and it ain't pretty.  In my defense, I only save something if I already have a specific purpose in mind for the not-so-distant future, but as I so often do... I digress.)

Here is my take on the hoopla:

Priority number one.  It is more important to me for my family to eat freshly prepared, healthy meals than to serve cheap (or even free) food that is processed.  According to my hubby (who probably got it from someone else), "you invest in what you believe in."  I believe in good health for my family so food quality is not something I take lightly.  In light of soaring medical and insurance costs, I choose to do everything I can to prevent future health issues (and expenses!) for my family. 

That said, in my quest for coupons, I am finding that many of them are for highly processed foods that I wouldn't normally buy or personal products that I do not like or someone in my family has an allergy to.  I have been buying paper after paper, and clipped coupons until I was cuckoo.  Extreme savings?  Hardly.  More like moderate savings and let me further explain why.

I am frugal.  I love to save money and I have been doing just that for years.  Before extreme couponing.  I have already explained that I like to serve freshly prepared food for my family for health reasons, but there's more!  Its cheaper!!!  Its not difficult to prepare a better-than-restaurant quality meal for pennies.  Here are the ways I am saving money:

1.  Plan ahead.  I never go to the store without a plan of attack.  I plan a 2 week menu, taking all meals into account, including breakfast, lunch and snacks.  Piggyback meals, if you can (for example, cooking all the ground meat you need on Monday for use throughout the week).  I do plan meals based around what is on sale at my local grocery store.  I'll be posting more about menu planning next week.

After preparing a menu (which can be reused in the future!), the next logical step is to make your list. 

And here is where I start to save money.

I make my coupons work for me, I don't work for them.  I NEVER make a list from my coupons.  This only tempts me to buy things I don't need or won't use.  I am not saving money if I do either of these things.  After I know what I need (because of that handy-dandy list I just made), I look to see if I have a coupon for that item.  I do keep my coupons in a small organizer.  I don't usually buy a paper, but I collect coupons that come to me other ways like through the mail or from the store dispensers.  I like to print coupons right from my computer.  Sometimes if I know I need salad dressing, I'll opt to buy a different brand because I have a coupon for it. 

In other cases, however, there are certain brands that we really like or have to use because of allergies that are more expensive.  For those kinds of things, I look online at the manufacturer websites.  For example, my insanely picky 2-year-old (I am honestly surprised that she even grows) loves V-8 Fusion juice which I never deny her because I'm just thrilled that she will get servings of vegetables and fruit!  Its also quite expensive, but I can usually find a coupon to print from the manufacturer's website.

There are several coupon websites worth perusing for coupons.  I love being able to only print the coupons that I will actually use.  I am sure there other really great ones (feel free to fill me in!), but here's what I use:

www.redplum.com
www.smartsource.com
www.coolsavings.com

The following sites show match-up deals for coupons and grocery stores, saving you time.

www.cuckooforcoupondeals.com/ 
This one doesn't have my favorite store on it, but it does include Target, Whole Foods and Walmart

www.thegrocerygame.com
This one has a 1 month free trial and then the cost is $10 for 2 months.  Its far superior to anything else I have found and if you're serious about saving money, this website has a lot to offer for minimal cost.

2.  Take a calculator and pay in cash.  I tally everything up as I go.  Yes, perhaps I am old-fashioned and use my hot-pink calculator, but most phones these days include a calculator.  No excuses.  :)  Paying in cash leaves me no option but to stay on budget! 

3.  Shop the perimeter of the store.  Stores stock most of the processed junk (which is usually more expensive) right in the middle of the store.  All the fresh produce, dairy products, eggs, meat, etc are on the perimeter.  Most of what you need is right there!  I always start with these things when I do my shopping.

4.  Buy the basics.  Seriously, if I've got flour, sugar, salt, butter, eggs, baking powder, and baking soda, I can whip up any manner of things in no time.  Throw some ingredients in the bread machine for fresh bread at dinnertime or whip up piping hot pancakes for breakfast (I have a great recipe for pancake mix you can have ready and stored ahead of time!). 

5.  Prepare.  Go ahead and make all that yummy stuff you planned ahead for!  Raw, basic ingredients are so much cheaper (and healthier) than their processed counterparts.  We save so much money by making our own granola bars (see breakfast bars on the recipes page), chex mix, bread, rolls, cookies, salad mixes (how hard is it to wash and cut lettuce?)... everything really.  There will definitely be more to come on this.  I'll be sharing some of my favorite (and easy!) recipes.


This frugalista is just as busy as everybody else... trust me.  Scratch cooking and meal planning doesn't have to take a lot of time.  I spend 30 minutes max on my list and meal planning.  (Once you've got your menus and lists made you can copy and reuse them).  More to come on how I make it all work for our family!


Coffee break!  Starbucks Espresso Roast... mmmmmm.....

Monday, July 11, 2011

To market, to market...

to buy all kinds of things I've never heard of!!!

One of my favorite summertime activities is visiting our local farmer's market.  Its a Saturday morning ritual for me and my girls while my tech-nerdy hubby (Love you, Sweetie!) peruses the farm and country store next door in which we like to pretend like we belong.   (I am quite sure that the employees are staring at us, knowing we are city kids despite living in this small town for nearly 4 years and I am never sure I am appopriately dressed... like maybe I should be in overalls or something.  But I digress.)

Of course, there are the usual things I pick up like tomatoes, onions, potatoes and so on and so forth.  However, there is usually at least one curious item that I know nothing about and I am always eager to try new things.  I'll try almost anything once... almost.  If I can't find anything new, I love striking up a conversation with the growers to find out their favorite recipes or ways to use their favorite produce. 

So my farmer's market find for the week (and new best friend!)...

Garlic Scapes! 

In case you need a visual, here's a photo:




I bought some fresh garlic from this vendor and couldn't help but notice these green gangly things nearby.  I just had to ask.  Apparently garlic scapes are the tops of the garlic plant that will go to seed, but when cut off like this... they are a delectable addition for LOTS of things!  They can be used much like a green onions or chives.  The scapes are highly aromatic and have a slightly milder flavor than garlic.  I googled garlic scapes and legions of recipes leaped onto my screen (yes, they were that awesome... leaped!).  I am especially interested in sauteeing these babies up in butter and adding some mushrooms... yet to happen, maybe tonight!

I decided to add some chopped garlic scapes to one of my favorite recipes, Veggie Lasagna, and the results were supertastic (yes, results this amazing deserve a made-up word)!  So here's the recipe (which thanks to my good friend, Teena, has pretty much been a staple at our house for years!):



Veggie Lasagna

(Low-fat)

1 28 oz. spaghetti sauce (any flavor)  (I like mushroom sauce, of course!)
6 lasagna noodles (cooked or the oven-ready kind)
1 15 oz. container fat-free cottage or ricotta cheese
2 c. shredded mozzarella cheese
1 10 oz. package frozen chopped spinach (thawed and squeezed dry)
½ - 1 c. shredded carrots
1 c. sliced mushrooms
1/2 c. chopped tomatoes
2 chopped garlic scapes (optional, but amazingly amazing!)

1. Mix cottage cheese with spinach and carrots. Set aside. Grease 13 x 9 inch pan.
2. In pan, spread 1 c. spaghetti sauce. Then place 3 lasagna noodles. Next, spread cottage cheese mixture, then, veggies, then spaghetti sauce, then 1 c. mozzarella cheese. Repeat, except wait to add the top layer of mozzarella cheese during the last 10 minutes of baking time.
3. Bake at 375 degrees for 1 hour.

(Great recipe to freeze for later!!!)



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