Friday, December 31, 2010

So Many Possibilities!

I'm very excited.

VERY.  VERY.  VERY.  Excited.

After half a year of "unschooling" Chaos, the Type A Mama in me couldn't resist fretting about his evaluation in April.  Doing the odd workbook isn't real school work.  Playing outside all day isn't school work.  Watching Phineas and Ferb reruns is DEFINITELY NOT school work.  So, I pulled up a list of "first grade skills" and began reading over it.  Whoa- what an eye opening experience!  Chaos has completed 2/3 of the list of skills.  (I honestly was worried that he'd even pass Kindergarten- he's so stubborn about doing anything schooling related.)  He's right on track, exactly where he needs to be.  The best part of this is that HE'S TEACHING HIMSELF.  Sure, I step in and offer a bit of guidance, but for the most part, my little mad scientist is learning what he wants to learn at his own pace. 

The Husbeastie and I talked it over, and Chaos will be starting some additional activities.  At the moment, he's involved with the local home school co-op (they have monthly events like PE, science, art, and volunteering and social opportunities) and Boy Scouts.  He's been asking to join 4H ever since we went to the County Fair last fall.  We're also starting him with jogging- that boy can run ALL DAY LONG.  I have a suspicion that he's a natural free-runner, but I'm not encouraging him to leap fences and cars.  (I already hear complaints about him and flower beds when he's tracking animal scat trails- EW!)  We're talking about swim classes but we're holding off on that until pneumonia season is over.

I love watching my bigger wee man play.  He's so creative (but don't let him know I said that!) even if he's horridly loud.  The kidlet has never heard of quiet play time.

I'm looking forward to the year ahead!

12 for 12- It's Not about Resolutions, it's about Results

Earlier this week I mentioned that I'd be changing twelve things each month.  Some of these things directly improve my or my family's life.  Some of these things indirectly change our lives.

January's Changes
  • Swap to reusable grocery bags- I have a ton of these bags.  Sadly, I'm guilty of never having them at the moment I'm at the grocery store.  So, my goal is to get these in the van and start using them.
  • Begin drinking diet sodas- Note the word "begin".  The plan this month is to swap some of the full sugar soda that I drink for sugar-free versions.  I'm thinking this will happen something along the lines of 1 sugar free soda for every 2 full-sugar sodas I drink.  I hope in later months to introduce more change.
  • Write a bi-weekly menu- I do this often, but with fibromyalgia, I'm rarely certain which days I'll be able to stand long enough to cook a full meal.  So, I'm going to start writing a fibromyalgia based menu of meals that require minimal prep or prep than can be done sitting or broken into smaller sessions.
  • Use lotion- I have the world's driest skin.  It breaks out in weird rashes and spots from being so dry.  I buy expensive lotion... and never use it.  That's a real waste of money and skin cells. 
  • Zone Cleaning- I've tried FlyLady and I've got to say... it doesn't work for us.  (It assumes that the other members of the household CARE that the house is clean or dirty.)  However, zone cleaning has always worked well- I just stopped doing it when we moved because I took forever to unpack.  Now that I'm unpacked, Zone Cleaning will be restarted again.
  • Establish a writing schedule- I've pared back from 60 hours of writing per week (mostly for others) to a manageable 2 hours per day.  I'm going to develop a better writing schedule and begin planning ahead.
  • Eat Lunch-  I rarely eat anything I cook.  Even worse, I end up grabbing a soda for lunch and forgetting to eat until dinner.  So, in January, I will eat lunch.  Plain and simple.
  • Brush my hair- I confess, I'm a clean person.  I shower daily (sometimes several times a day).  I always wear clean clothes.  But, yeah... most the time I don't have time to brush my hair.  It's longer than ever now and is such a pain to brush with all the curls and thickness.  Most days I can get away with it.  But, once in a while, I get a knot and then don't have the time to take care of it.  I wear a lot of buns and ponytails.  So, brushing my hair WILL happen.
  • Use an alarm clock-  I wake up currently when the kids wake up.  I want to get back on a sleep schedule, though.  So, the alarm clock (which is unpacked) will be plugged in.
  • Clear off the counter tops- I'm guilty of letting dishes dry on the rack overnight.  No more.  I will have clean counter tops every night.
  • Label everything- This is huge for me.  I'm one of those weirdos that LOVE to label things.  I'm going to label as much as I can get away with before my Husband stops me.

More changes to come in February.

So, what changes are you  looking forward to in the New Year?

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

My Twist on A Figgy Pudding

     Thanks to Disney Channel's Phineas and Ferb, children all over the US are becoming familiar with a most unusual holiday tradition: the Figgy Pudding.  Chaos must have asked me at least 5 times to make him a figgy pudding before I finally relented.

     When I saw Kitchen-Play's menu for the month, I knew exactly how I wanted my Figgy Pudding to taste- spicy, sweet, fruity, rich with a savory and salty bite.  Kitchen-Play is a site where each month a sponsor offers bloggers the opportunity to create a themed menu based off their products.  Then, the challenge goes out to food bloggers around the world to create your own version of their menu items for a change to win some fabulous prizes.  I'm such a food-geek anyway, this was right up my alley.  This month's sponsor of Kitchen Play is a spice emporium of the sort that makes my jaw drop and my taste buds drool.  Seriously, I've spent HOURS browsing their online shop and I'm trying to figure out where I'd put all the spices; after all, I can't live without most of them now that I know where to locate them!

     Inspired by the amuse bouche course of Spiced Cake Bites Topped with Cardamom Goat Cheese and Maple Bacon that was created by blogger Wasabi Prime, I give you Figgy Pudding Cake Balls.
Kind of looks like a little bird hunkering down.  Even on desserts I go kawaii!

Figgy Pudding Cake Balls with Cardamom Cream Cheese Glaze

Ingredients for the Pudding:
2/3 cup milk
1/2 cup dried figs
peel from an orange
1/2 inch knob of peeled ginger1/2 cup dried apricots
1/4 cup dried currants
3 crispy strips of bacon, drained well 1 cup brown sugar
1 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup dark molasses
1/4 cup maple syrup
1/3 cup of vegetable oil
1 cup of pumpkin puree
3 eggs
3 1/2 cups of AP flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
1/2 tsp ground black pepper
pinch of salt
2 batches of Cream Cheese Glaze

Ingredients for Glaze:
4 oz of cream cheese
4 tablespoons of unsalted butter
2 cups of icing sugar
1 egg white
1/4 tsp ground cardamom

 In a small sauce pan, combine the dried figs, orange peel, and ginger with the milk.  Place over low heat and bring to a simmer.  Cover and let sit for 10 minutes.  Strain, reserving milk for later.  Place ginger knob and orange peel into food processor and pulse until finely minced.  Add in figs, apricots, currants, and bacon and pulse in five second increments until diced.  (You do not want this to be mush!)  In a mixing bowl, combine sugars, molasses, syrup, vegetable oil, milk, eggs, and pumpkin.  Combine until smooth.  Add in flour, baking soda, pumpkin pie spice, and pepper and combine until smooth.  Stir in diced fruit and bacon.  Pour into a greased spring form pan.  Bake in a 350 degree oven for one hour (or until toothpick inserted comes out clean.) Cool for thirty minutes before crumbling into small pieces.  Mix in glaze 2 tablespoons at a time and combine until the texture is like lumpy modeling clay.  Using a small scoop, portion out the Figgy Pudding into small "balls".  Chill or freeze balls for at least two hours before glazing.

To make the glaze, cream together the cream cheese and butter. Add in the egg white.  Slowly mix in the powdered sugar and cardamom and mix until smooth.

Household Hint Wednesday: Portioning Soap

Every Wednesday, I'll bring you a simple tip to make your life a little easier.  Some of them are downright ingenious and others so basic you'll be slapping your forehead wondering why you haven't thought of it already.  (Or, maybe you have!)

My son HATES showers.  Being 6, I fully expect this phase to pass when he discovers dating, but until then, I tolerate all manner of excuses on why he "can't" take a shower.

His biggest excuse lately: I'm out of soap! 

My son, while detesting showers, loves BUBBLES.  He uses as much soap as possible to get as many bubbles as his brief stint in the shower allows.  I've watched as he's gone through an entire bottle of body wash in one bathing.  He just doesn't understand how much soap he's allowed to use.

The solution: A discarded medicine cup.  This holds about a tablespoon of soap.  He fills the lid with soap, then pours that onto his wash cloth for bathing.  Any soap left in the cup is his to play with AFTER he's clean.

Chaos is pleased with being able to bathe without maternal interference and I'm pleased that I don't have to turn into the Soap-Nazi.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Who Says Dinner Needs to be Complicated?

I love that I can toss together dinner in mere minutes.
Teriyaki Glazed Pork Chops, Broccoli tossed with Garlic-Ginger Oil and Furikake, Jasmine Rice with Quick Carrot Pickles

Total time to cook dinner: 35 Minutes.  (To be honest, it would have been less, but I was side-
tracked by kids.)

Monday, December 27, 2010

The New Year is Bringing Changes

There is nothing wrong with change, if it is in the right direction.
-Winston Churchill

So, the first thing you'll notice is that my site has changed.

This has inspired me to try some other changes.  So, for the next year, I'll be making 12 changes per month for 12 months!

These changes are things that impact myself, my family, my environment, and my relationships with others.  I'm hoping that by accepting change I can make some moves in the right direction.

These are NOT resolutions.  I've found in the past that resolutions fail.  My life is simply too flexible due to the mass amounts of chaotic activity for resolutions to have time to work.  These are changes that I'm going to just do.

Reminds me a bit of Yoda- "There is no try.  Do.  Or do not."  (I'm certain I horribly mangled that quote, but the gist is still there.)

See the Changes- They are Happenin'...

The changes are happening as we speak.

I'm aiming for New Year's Day to be finished with a great number of the new design.

Seriously, after 8 years of writing for other people, this will be MY blog.

I also have to squee a bit- my baby boy got me a 14mp camera for Christmas.  (And Santa got me a tripod!)  Hubby's agreed to grab some work lights with "true sunlight" bulbs and some muslin and set me up a portable photo studio of sorts.  I'm excited to see the quality of my photos improve.


I've been coding and programming almost as long as I've had a computer.

And, you know what?!?  I JUST- as in JUST NOW- thought to google the phrase "How to ...." when it comes to blogging.

Le Sigh...

So many tips, tricks, and shortcuts.  Things that have been taking me weeks to do, reduced into short tutorials.

So, beginning January 1st, expect new things as the changes continue.

This old dawg is learning some new tricks.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010


I'm working on a new blog template. 

Sorry for the utter madness and chaos, but things will be getting better as I go.

I estimate a week before all the bugs are worked out- give or take a few days for the holidays.

Thanks for your patience,
The Management

Sunday, December 19, 2010

This cute little fellow was created by Chaos a few years back.
Published with Blogger-droid v1.6.5

I love putting little birds in unexpected spots on the tree.
Published with Blogger-droid v1.6.5

Published with Blogger-droid v1.6.5

Thursday, December 16, 2010

A Quick Joke

My Mother-In-Law started it.
I tell one little joke and she laughed so hard she peed her pants... literally.  (I ended up mopping the floor since I was the indirect cause.)  She did a few other things too, but I'll be nice and not mention them.

Ever since, I tend to face a lot of situations with humor.
So tonight, while in a battle of wits with my husband (the poor unarmed bastard!), I came up with this little gem:

Cthulu and Schrödinger's cat both managed to get into the same taxi in New York.  It being late at night, the cabbie asked if they minded sharing.
In reply, he hears a loud slurp from the back seat.  The tip of a tail is poking out of Cthulu's mouth.
"Why'd you do that?!?!" shrieked the cabbie.
"It's ok," Cthulu shrugged.  "Schrödinger's cat is dead."

Yeah, it's a bit geeky... but I think it did the trick.  Hubby hasn't found a comeback quip yet.

Published with Blogger-droid v1.6.5

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

I Fought the Flu and I Won

On Wednesday night, Chaos woke me up with the phrase every parent hates: Mommy, I throwed up.

Then he used the only phrase I hate more: Mommy- I didn't make it to the bathroom...
*face palm*

So, after tossing a sick six-year old in the tub (at THREE IN THE MORNING) I cleaned his room and an hour later got back in bed.

At five, my husband yells upstairs: Morgana- you've got to get up!  He's throwing up!

*double face palm*  Yeah.  Hubby doesn't deal with "teh sick" very well- no matter who it is, he panics.  The only good news with it being Chaos sick was that it wasn't the Hubby being sick.  THAT is a Jabberwocky I hate facing down.

I clean again...head back to bed.  And you've guessed it... repeat performances every hour or so until I get up for the day.
Hubby was nice enough about it once kidlet's stomach settled.  Kiddo slept.  I was sent back to bed.  Hubby and Doc watched Price is Right re-runs that we taped.

I woke up a couple of hours later feeling better.  Since Chaos was feeling ok, I ran out to the store to pick up some soup and stuff.  It was cold.

The rest of the day was pretty boring; TV watching, cleaning, kids in bed...  Hubby and I stayed up to watch a movie.

I went to bed and felt my ribs ache.  I'm no stranger to bronchial infections so I found my inhaler *just in case*. 
I couldn't sleep.  I tossed.  I turned.  It was too hot.  It was too cold.  My bed was uncomfortable. 
I finally get up to stretch--- and then it hits.

Yeah.  I had "teh sick".

Hours later I had an enforced day off.  I was weak.  I was sweaty.  I could barely lift my glass to take sips of water.  Hubby was truly panicked.  Then he accused me of whining.  ME?  WHINE?  Holy crud- PukeMan... I NEVER whine.

Next day I woke up feeling, not better... but better.  I could move again.  I wasn't nauseated non-stop.  I was still tired, still sore, still weak.  But, it was an obvious improvement.

Then I chanced a look outside.  Hubby was home from work awfully early.  (He's on nights this week.)  My Mommy-senses went all tingly.

Sure enough... Hubby's got "teh sick".
He called me whiny.  Let me tell you about Hubby's brand of "neediness":
-"Can you rub my back?"
-"I'm thirsty..."
-"Can I get some more medicine?"  (And no- he can't.  He's on medication that means NO cold meds)
-"I'm gonna be sick..."
-"I'm thirsty..."
-"Can you make me some soup..."
-"Are there any popsicles..."
-"I didn't make it to the bathroom..."
-"Don't eat near me."  (Umm... the dining room is all of TWO FEET from the living room.)
-"Can you keep the kids quiet?"

My response to him: "Can't you just go to bed and stop leaving your whiny ass prints on the couch?"

Sigh.  There's a special place in hell (somewhere near Rachel Ray, I'm certain) for people who beat their sick husbands silly with cast iron skillets.  And since I have no desire to end up anywhere near there (or near Rachel Ray for eternity), I'll put the frying pan away and just smile and nod.  And go get him another popsicle.  And fluff his pillows.  And adjust the volume on the television...AGAIN.

And count down the minutes until he's well.

(And, for what it's worth, he's feeling a little better now.  So I suppose I should stop picking on him in my prose.)

Saturday, December 11, 2010

The "S" Word and Other Traditions

My Husbeastie is the love of my life.

I can say that right now, at this moment (and well, every moment for the past 8 years that I've known him) without any hesitation whatsoever.
My scruffy Nerf-herder-  Isn't he just adorable and cuddly looking?

My first husband... heck, even my first boyfriend- I was crazy about.  But, all those relationships are totally boring and pale next to how goofy I feel when I catch my Hubby looking at me.

Tonight, we got to discussing the upcoming holidays- which is like a two week long series of mini-festivals at our house- and I finally just had to ask, "Sweetie, why do you hate Christmas shows so much?"

He pointed out that a good chunk of the Christmas movies are about spoiled people who decide they're dissatisfied with their perfect life, try to do something stupid or selfish, then learn a "life lesson" and get exactly what they want in the end.  I thought about it... yeah.  He's right.

Turns out, my Hubby isn't too big on the holiday season in general.  I mean, we've made Thanksgiving our tradition, but the holidays after that are kind of dumb in his mind.  Now, by no stretch is my husband a Grinch.  He loves that the kids are so excited and filled with wonder during this time of year.  No, it's worse- my husband has no family traditions to bring to the table.  He feels very overwhelmed by the whole idea of the holidays.

My childhood, while incredibly poor and miserable for me, seem incredibly rich in comparison to my Husband's.  He's an only child.  I, on the other hand, am the baby of the family- a family I might add that my Mother was one of seven children- who all went on to have many many kids. So, while I might not have gotten a ton of toys or went out to fancy restaurants ever, I had the tradition of family and friends to spend the holidays with.

Then there's the "S" word.  Yes, folks, I'm talking about Santa.  I was allowed to believe in Santa as long as I wanted to.  (And I've never really stopped believing.)  Hubby was barely five when he became disillusioned.
He assures me that he's happy to have the kids believe as long as possible.

This takes me back, though, to our first Christmas together.  I remember how incredibly overwhelmed he was by my super-pregger nesting instinct taking over.  We didn't have a ton of money, but I decorated my little heart out.  I made him sit and watch White Christmas with me over and over again.  I sang at the top of my lungs.
Then Christmas morning came and he had no clue why there was a stocking filled for him. 

"Santa came and left it for you!"
He sat there kind of puzzled before looking through the loot.
Poor Husbeastie- I know traditions are not something he's used to.
But, he's a good sport about the traditions we've forged for our family: wearing PJs and watching Polar Express, eating Jambalaya on Christmas Eve, leaving an empty chair at the dining room table to welcome any unexpected visitors... the apple and orange that are always in the toe of the stocking.
He even helps me put up the tree.  Sometimes.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Things I Love: Food Network Store and My Half-Sheet Pans

     Confession time:  I drool over kitchen gear the way a child drools over the holiday window displays at a toy store.  More than once I've been asked to stop loitering when passing the local restaurant supply.  So, to say that I spend a lot of time surfing cooking gadgetry online is a bit of an understatement.  (In fact, after Ravenwood Fair on Facebook, it's probably my second biggest obsession.)

     I remember when the Food Network store went online.  I'd spent weeks before that scouring the internet for certain dishes and utensils I'd seen used in various shows.  (I particularly loved Alton Brown's salt cellar and Nigella's measuring cups.)  The Food Network store, which is obviously based as a companion to Food Network's website gave me a place where most of these items could be found- in one place! 

     While glancing through it today- in a blatant attempt to find holiday swag to suggest to the Husbeastie- I came across a familiar item.  In fact, with the Cookie Caper only two days behind me, I have to admit it's VERY familiar since I pulled it out of the oven no less than 80 times.
Baker\'s Half Sheet Pan with Storage Lid
This, for the record, is NOT a cookie sheet.  It's a half-sheet pan.  This one happens to come with a lid, an idea I find highly appealing.

      It seems as if I've been asked a lot of questions recently about baking and making cookies.  A LOT.  I never thought it was that difficult (if you were a mad chemist like myself) to come up with cookie recipes that really worked.
     However, it became quickly apparent that the most common question on everyone's mind is: Do you use some high tech cookie sheet?  

Well, that is certainly a fair question. 

The truth is, I've tested almost every cookie sheet on the market at some point or another.  Things promising non-stick, air-filled layers, even heating, and NASA-space-technology have all been tried and tossed on the wayside.

I use half-sheet pans.  In fact, I use the half-sheet pans shown above (long ago purchased from the then-new Food Network store with a great discount code).  I don't just use them for cookies, though.  I use them for EVERYTHING: drip pans for pies, individually quick freezing items, baking brownies and layers for cakes, to line fridge shelves on meat market days, a tray to catch glitter when I craft... so many uses.

-multi-taskers: These pans are amazing for just about every use I've ever put them through.
-even cooking:  The shallow 1-inch rim helps stabilize the pan and reduce warping.  Warping is the bane of bakers because it causes uneven cooking patterns.
-Easy to clean: hand wash them or toss them in the dishwasher... they'll take a beating. (And hand-washing is the preferred cleaning method.)
-Durable:  My oldest sheet pan I bought over 8 years ago.  It performs just as well as the newer ones from only a few years back.

-Get Ugly Fast:  I hate to say it, but gunk gets baked on easily- especially in the corners and the backside.  However, from my years in a professional bakery, I know that the baked on ugliness in NO WAY affect performance of the pans.
-Size:  Typically, I'd put this under pros, however, if you live in a place with a tiny oven, these may be a bit too large for you.  However, you can also purchase these as Quarter Sheet Pans which fit in even the smaller ovens.

So, if you're like me or plan to become the family's Cookie-ista, a serious investment in half-sheet pans will go far.


Chaos and the Homemade Cards

Chaos LOVES getting mail. 
He's obsessed with the mail man's arrival every day.  And he's crushed when there is nothing for him. 

Every year, I sign him up for Kids Crafts Weekly's International card exchange.  In it, you are assigned 10 other families to send cards to.  The trick is that the cards MUST be handmade BY THE CHILDREN SENDING THEM.

So, normally I buy blank cards and let him decorate them. 
This year, we decided to see what we had around the house.

We started with a standard size filing folder.  (I have a huge amount of these because I'm addicted to procrastinating about filing things away.  No, seriously?  Ok, I use them for home schooling to make lap books.)

Step 1) Since a folder is already folded, he cut the excess side off.

Step 2) He cut the "card" side of the folder in half.  This gave him two square shaped cards.

Step 3) Decorate the cards.  He chose to just use a rubber stamp, but I offered him a chance to use glitter, glue, draw his own pictures, etc...

Step 4) The finished project.  He stamped in two contrasting colors.  Some cards got more stamping, some cards less.  But, since this was a made-by-kids-only project, I'm not complaining at how odd some of the cards looked.
Once that was done, I made some simple envelopes from paper from my office supply stash and we mailed them out. 

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Operation Cookie Caper: COMPLETE!

This is what 40 dozen cookies look like.  (Ok, this is only 37 dozen because the last 3 dozen were in the oven still.)  For size reference, this is my largest laundry basket.

And just for fun- this was the kidlets' lunch today: Ginger and Peanut Butter Shimmers with Veggie Crisps and Mandarin Oranges.

Mandarin Ginger Tea Cakes

I wish I had a witty story for this recipe.  Really, I do. 

However, the truth is that I was running out of supplies for the Cookie Caper baking.  So, I improvised with what I had on hand: cream cheese and tiny little clementine mandarins.  Even worse, when writing the recipe, I had a total mental moment and wrote down the wrong leavening ingredient... then I followed my own recipe.  So, instead of the crunchy and thin orange-flavored gingersnap I was hoping for, I ended up with these lovely, delicious cakey bites of clementine goodness.

Mandarin Ginger Tea Cakes

8 oz cream cheese
8 oz butter-flavored shortening
2 c. dark brown sugar
1/2 c granulated sugar
4 eggs
2 seedless mandarin oranges
1/2 tsp ginger
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp black pepper
1/4 tsp white pepper
1/4 tsp salt
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
5 cups flour

1.  Preheat oven to 325F.  In a food processor, pulse oranges until very finely processed.  You will need 3-4 tablespoons of pulp and liquid.  

2. Cream together cream cheese, shortening, sugars, eggs, and spices.  Add orange pulp and juice and continue to cream until the mixture is light and fluffy.

3.  Mix in flour and baking soda.  Mix well to combine.

4.  Scoop onto parchment paper lined cookie sheet.  Bake 16 minutes or until bottoms are golden.

Note: This is a double recipe!  If you use a tablespoon sized cookie scoop, this should make approximately 8 dozen cookies.

Filling that Annoying Negative Space and Upcycling an Old Calendar

I'm not the best at the whole "Decking the Halls" concept- I admit it.  I haven't spent the holidays in the same place in 17 years!  In all honesty, I doubt we'll be in this house for the next Yule either.  We have the problem of most couples- we're perpetual renters.

We've lived in hotels, motels, relatives' homes, and small rental places ever since we've been married.  Before that, I was also a bit of a gypsy.  I've even spent a holiday season at Boot Camp!

So, now that we're in a cozy little cottage (even if it's not permanent) I'm trying to make it cozy for the kids.  I've got a bunch of projects that I'll be showing throughout the month.
The Cottage the day before we moved in.  Look how peaceful, how unsuspecting... ahhh- the poor neighborhood!

I have this giant fireplace mantel that was driving me nuts.  It wasn't a small or cozy sized mantel like the one in the dining room:
See- the dining room mantel is such a much more manageable size.  It's perfect for a charcoal sketch of Sango-kitty's fat bottom!  (And it looks fabulous with the lights on!)

It was huge!  So, I hung some wreaths.  But, those were pretty boring all alone.  Plus, it left this huge gap between the wreaths.  I left it alone.  I just wasn't ready to think about it, I suppose.
Such is the poor photography of using a cell phone camera.  Can you guess what was on my wish list for the holidays?  By the way, mind the gap! (The VERY BIG OBVIOUSLY UGLY GAP IN BETWEEN THE BORING WREATHS!)

I moved on to other projects around the house.  I set up the classroom (another post for another time) and I came across an old calendar from the local Chinese restaurant.  I nearly tossed it out before I caught sight of the blank backside of it.  "Hmmm," I thought to myself, "the size is right... the scale is ok... and I suppose storage wouldn't be a problem..."

I decided to turn my trash into a banner to fill that gap on the wall above the fireplace.
Step 1: Gather Supplies- old scroll style calendar, newspaper, pencil, paints, brushes

Step 2: IN PENCIL, sketch out your phrase.  I chose the word JOY simply because I'm too lazy to spend all night sketching in other letters.  If you have stencils, this is your time to shine.  I didn't have stencils so I did some complicated math in my head that involved counting the number of stitches in the scroll and dividing to find the height of each letter.  My letters ended up 40 "stitches" high with ten "stitches" between.

Step 3: Fill in your letters.  BE CERTAIN TO PUT NEWSPAPER UNDER THE CALENDAR!  Don't worry about getting smudges outside the lines.  We'll take care of that.

Step 4: Remember those smudges?  Use a contrasting color to outline the letters.  Instant smudge-away.

Step 5: If you have any empty space at the top or bottom (I had 22 "stitches" on both ends) you can fill it with another doodle.  I didn't feel like taking a long time sketching out the original partridge motif I was imagining, so I stuck with some simple geometric designs that worked well with the scrolls stitching.

Step 6: Hang it up and enjoy it.  I'm rather pleased with how well it worked out.  I'm planning on putting a smaller pine swag on the top to hide the nail, but I've got to admit- it fills the ugly negative space and makes the wreaths look a bit more interesting.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Cookie Capers- Oh My!

Every year in Wheeling the local Easter Seals has what they call the Cookie Caper.  Basically, this is a giant bake sale where people pre-order a dozen cookies.  The cookies are supplied by home bakers, like myself.

Easter Seals is a program that offers rehabilitative and assistance programs to children with disabilities.  All three of Doc's therapists (physical therapy, occupational therapy, and speech therapy) are associated with Easter Seals.  He works with them at NO COST to me through various grants, funds, and other assistance programs.

Since they do so much for us- and don't ask for a penny from me- I like to help them out with their bake sale.  If there's one thing I can do well, it's bake!

I've spent the morning making triple batches of The Big Tex.  I used a smaller cookie scoop (I normally use a full sized ice cream scoop) so that I could make more cookies per batch of dough.  Don't worry though- these cookies are still pretty large.  Instead of the usual five inches across, these cookies are about 2.5 inches.

And, since Doc- my biggest cookie critic- hasn't complained, I'll assume I made another perfect batch.

24 dozen down... 16 dozen to go!

The Little Tex

The 23rd dozen out of the 40 dozen cookies promised to the Easter Seals Bake Sale.
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Cold Hands, Warm Heart Swap

About a month ago, I signed up for The Cold Hands, Warm Heart Swap that is being hosted by Sandy a la Mode and Much Love, Illy.

The Cold Hands, Warm Hearts Swap is a swap created to keep your hands warm as Winter approaches and the weather gets colder.  It’s also a way for bloggers to make new friends across the blog-world.  Doesn’t your heart get warm when you make new friends?  Your package should include a pair of gloves AND any other items you think your partner would like!  You can never have too many pairs of cute gloves and who doesn’t love getting some extra unexpected goodies in their packages too?  Please make sure your package is made from the heart!

Who wouldn't want to participate in something that fun?!?

I was partnered with Aime, a truly talented jewelry designer from Sense and Sensibility.
I was so excited to see her package on my doorstep!  (After all, I'm always excited to see anything that isn't a bill or a note with the words "your son" and "flower bed" in it!)
The Box!  Part of me wondered if she had ever met my Mom, but no... my Mom uses FAAAAAAAR more tape.

Is that Reese's?

The Loot: A Lovely Nubby Scarf, Scented Candles, and Reese's

Look at the lovely Nubby Scarf!  It's so WARM!

I've had the joy of wearing the scarf out and about several times now- it's been snowing here since last Thursday.  I received several compliments on it last night during Chaos's Cub Scout meeting.  It looks amazing on me and makes my skin look all dewy and young.  (And this Mama of four will take a youngish-looking face any day!)

Thanks Aime!

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Today Has Been Happening:

Happening #1: My youngest didn't take his diaper off before I woke up this morning.  Diaper ON= no puddle.  Of course, it helps that after discovering that he'd stripped naked last night that I put his diaper on backwards.  He's very frustrated with that because he can't find the tabs to pull them off.  I then, of course, had to teach Dad how to diaper a child backwards.  Number of diapers the Husbeastie has changed since the new rule went into effect: Zero.  Such is life.

Happening #2: is in the midst of their 12 Days of Geekmas.  I've got several more articles to write in that series, but as filler (and to kill time), I've been posting the geeky equivalent to the 12 Days of Christmas song.  I need to post Day 6 today- and I should just go ahead and write and auto-schedule the rest of the days for publishing.  A few Dear Cthulu-Claws posts to write as well, then I should be done with most of GC writing for a week or two.

Happening #3: I have been involved in the Cold Hands, Warm Heart Swap this year.  I'll have a post on it later, but I received my package from my swap partner- Aime over at Sense and Sensibility- today.

Happening #4: A month or so back, I entered into a Cookie and a Story contest over at MyFirstKitchen.Net.  To enter, we needed to send her a memory of when we baked cookies.  My entry was accepted as a finalist.  Each day this month, the site will be featuring one of the finalist's stories.  Today, they are featuring my cookie baking memory!  Later this month, the polls will open for voting.  The person that the fans vote as the winner will get a lovely kitchen prize pack.  I'm really honored to be chosen as a finalist.

Happening #5: I saved over 80 percent on my grocery bill with coupons today.  I didn't need much from the store- I ended up spending less than $10 total for a full cart of items that included soda, ice, ice cream, snacks, and toddler items that I would normally have never bought.  Most of the coupons were for free plus overage items and most of them stacked with store coupons so I ended up getting a lot of merchandise for free.  Add in several catalinas that took $2 each off my grocery bill, and it added up some nice savings.

Happening #6: I broke out my new-in-box Foodsaver vacuum sealer that I bought on clearance for $19.  I was so excited to be putting it to good use finally.  Now that I know how easy it is to use, I can easily see myself hitting up the green grocer holiday sales for fresh green beans and broccoli to blanch and freeze.  Fresh is so much cheaper than frozen, but sadly, won't get used in a timely manner unless I manage to only buy what I'm going to use that day.  So, with the vacuum sealer in use now, I can take advantage of a lot more sales.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Friday, November 26, 2010

Oh What Fun!

There's nothing quite as nice as peanut butter cups and a really good glass of white wine.

You know, no matter how I think about that, it sounds awfully low brow. 

Thanksgiving went well.  Personally, I was exhausted.  I've been suffering from some serious insomnia the past few months, and it caught up with me this weekend.

On Monday I'd started a massive cleaning project.  I got about 3/4 of the way through and then was forced to stop for Cub Scouts.  The problem with me stopping any project before completion is that I rarely pick it back up.  Once we got home from Scouts, I had just enough time to get the kids fed and ready for bed.

Tuesday, I worked on project some more.  I didn't get very far.  Doc has a rotten cold and he's been clingy.  So, I'm having to stop constantly to pick up and coddle a cranky toddler.

Wednesday, the Hubby woke me up at 6 when he came in from work.  I'd fallen asleep at 5:30.  He was in a good mood and insisted on going out for pancakes and shopping.  Later, fortified by French Toast and Sausage, I let him talk me into a trip to Target and Walmart. 
We went home, dropped Hubby off and then I ended up going grocery shopping.  Yes- the day before Thanksgiving is possibly the worst day to be at a grocery store in the US.  Even crazier, I was out of EVERYTHING.  So, two kids in tow, I head into the grocery store.  Three carts and five temper tantrums later, after dodging crowds and apologizing to five people for my son running them down with a grocery cart, I finally managed to get to the check out line.  It took two clerks to help me load the car.  Oddly enough, though, the folks in line behind me were impressed with my coupon use: I saved over 700 dollars.  Still not my record, but it's a nice chunk of change back.
By the time I got groceries unloaded, the kids in bed for nap time, and then the groceries unpacked, I was ready to call it a night.  However, we had guests coming over in less than an hour and I still had cleaning projects to finish.  So, I resorted to ordering pizza while I cleaned the house.
After the guys left, Hubby and I got the kids dressed and headed out to Waffle House.  It's midnight by this point, Thanksgiving morning.

Waffle House is an anniversary tradition for the Husbeastie and I.  When we were married 7 years ago, it was Thanksgiving.  We went into Houston, Texas for our honeymoon and nothing was open.  NOTHING.  We'd declined my Mom's offer to pack us a picnic since we'd thought there would easily be a place open in Houston.  Nothing.  We ended up at Waffle House.  We were there first customers the entire day.  It was 8 pm.  They were so glad for the interruption to their boredom, when they found out it was our wedding day, they brought us a whole pie.  Ever since then, we go to Waffle House on Thanksgiving. 
(We celebrate our anniversary on Thanksgiving rather than the actual date simply because we met on Thanksgiving and were married the next year on Thanksgiving.  It has more sentimental value than just saying, "Oh, we were married on the 27th...")

We got home at 2 in the morning, tucked the kids in bed, and then sat watching a movie for a bit. 
I had an alarm set for 8 so I could get up and cook.  I didn't realize that Hubby came in and turned off my alarm when the kids woke up early.  I ended up sleeping until 11.  It was so nice, but I was sooo sick.  My child shared his cold with me. 

Once the cold meds kicked in, I was more than happy to cook.

A few friends showed up later to eat with us then, after they left and the kids were once again in bed, another movie was watched.  I went to bed at 4 this morning and I woke up at 9 feeling AWESOME.  For the first night in weeks, I slept more than 4 hours. 

Now, I'm headed up to bed to see if I can repeat the experience.  I'm hoping for 6 hours tonight.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Towers of Midnight

  After waiting a year for the latest Wheel of Time book to come out, you'd better believe I was at the book store when it opened.  I read it as much as the kids would allow and finished it in about 9 hours.  

Chaos, in an attempt to get more TV time and not be sent to bed, brought the book out.  He told me that if he could read the book to me, then he'd get to stay up late... and get a new Hot Wheels track.

This was too good of an opportunity to pass up.

Sure.  Although I normally don't negotiate with terrorists, I figured I'd give him a chance.

He stumbled through the first word.  I didn't mind.  He actually was reading, even if it was poorly.
The second word was easy.  It was one of his sight words.
At the third word, he threw his hands up, shut the book, sighed dramatically..."I'm NEVER gonna get new Hot Wheels tracks..."

Inside I'm proud of my kiddo for trying.  And something tells me he might just get that Hot Wheels track---under the tree, of course.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Toning Down Thanksgiving

Normally, since Thanksgiving is the Anniversary, we have a big blow-out bash.

This year, I'm surprised to find that no one is objecting to my idea of toning things down a bit.  Instead of 20+ dishes, I'm only going to make about 5 or 6.

I thought for certain I'd hear from the Hubby about not making a ham AND a turkey.  When I mentioned that I'd rather just have a turkey, he was all, "Sounds fine to me..."

Bah- why have I been killing myself with a lack of sleep for the past five years just to turn out a giant dinner?

So, dinner this year will be:
Honey Brined Turkey with a Ginger-Stout Glaze
Green Beans with a Warm Bacon Vinagrette
Sourdough and Kielbasa Dressing
Horseradish Mashed Potatoes
Cranberry Gelee
Pepper Gravy

I'll also probably, depending on how many "orphans" I have RSVP poke through the cabinets/pantry/freezer to see what else I can cobble together.  After all, I'm pretty sure I'll make a pie and cookies-I always do.  I know that I also have the ingredients on hand for cheesecake.

Eh.  I'm actually kind of relieved.  I'm still fighting bouts of weakness from the blood poisoning, so, while I'm up and running again, my batteries get low really quickly.

On the other side of things, I've discovered that 90 percent of my gift needs will be met at Toys R Us Black Friday sale.  I'm not a happy camper.  I hate hate hate shopping at TRU.  I hate commercial crap and lines and plastic toys.  But, everything on the kids list (excluding the guinea pig) is on sale at TRU... if I can get in line early enough. 

So, most likely, I'll be going to TRU immediately after Thanksgiving dinner and spending the entire night shopping there and waiting for our paycheck to hit at 2 am.


Friday, November 12, 2010

The Holidays are Here Again

I keep asking Husbeastie to move the giant TV out of the living room.  It's supposed to be in the bedroom since we already have a TV in the living room.  (Personally, I HATE having a TV in the bedroom- I grew up watching one too many horror movies.)

I need the corner the TV is in to place the tree this year.
TV is on a large dresser... that needs to go into the dining room to act as a buffet.
However, to make it more confusing my photography equipment and a giant Sun server are currently occupying the area in the dining room where the dresser will be going.

(Yeah- I seriously need to unpack.  However, I'm putting it off since we're planning on moving in February or March.)

I start my decorating on November 21st.  I know that's a bit early- but it was one of the worst days of my life.  Three years ago, I lost a baby on November 21st.  Since life moves on, but my heart skips a beat that day, I try to keep the day as positive as I can.

I'll put up the tree, hang the stockings, put the wreath on the door...
I don't do a ton of decorating- just enough to raise my mood.

Then there's Thanksgiving.,,

  This Thanksgiving marks my 8th Thanksgiving with my Hubs.  We actually met on Thanksgiving, 8 years ago.  It also marks our 7th wedding anniversary.  Yep- we got married the next Thanksgiving after we met.
So, Thanksgiving is kind of a big deal here. 

There are some traditions we keep- there's always a cherry pie.  ALWAYS.  I'll share the story of that later this month, especially since it was the beginning of the rest of my life.
I always make my own cream of mushroom soup.  I'm convinced there's a special place in hell, right next to porn stars, for people who use canned cream of mushroom soup.
I grew up with cornbread stuffing- he grew up with bread stuffing.  I make both.
I grew up with chocolate sauce on turkey.  He thinks I'm nuts.  So, I make chocolate sauce to prove how nuts I am.

Then there's Waffle House.  Yeah- I know, it sounds weird.  We go to Waffle House every year for our Anniversary.  The day we got married, we left for our honeymoon and it became obvious that nothing was open... except Waffle House.  We've gone to a Waffle House every year since then.

Yule is approaching as well.  I'm struggling with the kids' list this year.
I know Evil and Brie are going to get clothing, books, and probably a gift-card from me.  Evil really wants a bento box.  Brie really wants to learn Japanese.  I might go ahead and pull a j-list order since I can also pick up some stuff for the Husbeastie from them.
Husbeastie wants a bass guitar.  This is the man that has NO musical experience outside of playing Rock Band a few times.  Other things he's asked for include a bottle of cognac, some vodka, and parts to upgrade his computer.  At least he's reasonable.  I'll throw in socks and underwear just because I always individually wraps socks and underwear for everyone to confuse them.
Chaos says he's asking Santa for a skate board and a guinea pig.  Um... I already can't get him to clean the litter box... why the heck a guinea pig?  He'll probably get some Hot Wheels and clothes too.
Doc has only just started noticing the TV.  From commercials he pays attention to, I'm thinking he's getting some more large blocks and possibly a trike.  I just think he's a bit young still.
Me?  No clue.  I asked for pots and pans.  Hubby will get me gloves, scarf, and a hat.  He always does.  (I also lose them almost immediately as I chase a kid through the cold...)  He'll probably also get me a pair of toe-socks.  I love toe socks!  Last year he got me fluffy pink ones.  I ask for a necklace with a long chain every year... still haven't gotten it yet.  (I've got a huge neck.  I need like a 24 inch chain.)  Last year he found a 20 inch chain... and Chaos broke it the first time I wore it.  I know I'm getting my ears pierced again since they've grown up somehow.  I don't know- I really wish I were one of those girly girls that could come up with all sorts of girly things to want.  I'm more a practical chick.  Give me a pot, a pan, a new whisk... eh.  I'd honestly be happy if he'd just ask someone to come over and unpack for me.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

A Day Off

As a Mom, a writer, a chef, and the all around Jane-of-All-Trades for my house, I rarely ever get time to sit on the couch and just veg.
Today, I just took the day off.

I'm still Mom.  I'm still writing.  I'm definitely cooking.  But, I'm not pushing through a schedule for once.
I sent Chaos to nap.  Doc fell asleep.  And I cleared the couch off.  I picked up all the toys.  I pulled out my pile of mending.  And I just sat.  Sewing, I've discovered, is about the only activity I don't do while standing.  Heck- I multi-function so much that I catch up on knitting during nature walks with the kids.  Today's mending pile had two stuffed animals and a shirt in it.  The stuffed animals were nothing- a quick seam repair and they were back in the respective toy boxes.  The shirt, on the other hand, is a real pain in the rear.

Hubby is a big guy.  He's 6 foot 4.  His shirts are expensive.  So, we loved it when his company gave him a stack of high-quality company logo shirts two years ago.  The killer came when the company was bought out.  Hubby kept his job, but under a new company name.  All his shirts became unwearable to work.  So, after doing a clothing inventory, I came to a quick conclusion- either I buy him a stack of new shirts or I find a way to remove the company logo. 

Guess what I'm doing today?  If you said "picking apart embroidery," you'd be right.

I love using a seam ripper--- except on machine embroidery.
Grrr.  It's taken me close to three hours to get the first letter off.

Hopefully, I can use this as an excuse to sit and have some me time.  (Hopefully I won't get faster at it, either!)

Tuesday, November 9, 2010


I just dropped a note to Wil Wheaton to ask if he'd be interested in helping with the blog-a-thon.

Oh- the impertinence!

I should be flogged for even dare approach him.

You know, being impertinent has it's merits.  I'm feeling brave suddenly.

Another Project least I'm excited about this one.

Last year, for GC's holiday feature, I came up with the notion to host a 12 Days of Geekmas feature.  So, for 12 days, each of the Chicas wrote a holiday themed post- most of them were gift suggestions.

Afterward, we weren't horribly happy with the format of it.  I admit, it was amusing but pretty much not in the spirit of Geekmas.

This year, I proposed that we use the 12 Days feature as a blog-a-thon.  Let's raise awareness for someone else with a cause close to the GC's heart.

The proposal passed.  The GCs are all writing their own take on holiday articles- some sentimental, some flippant, some gift lists... 
And now I'm lining up promotional content.

(As if I weren't busy enough between Captain Chaos and Doctor Anarchy...)

But, GC is a website very close to my heart.  I've enjoyed writing for it for the past year and a half.  There's something oddly comforting in knowing that despite my whole "June Cleaver with a dicebag" persona, that I'm accepted by some really feministic women.

I love that my organizational skills are being put to good use for a good cause.

As a side note, my Husbeastie, after looking over my notes made the crack that I needed to "start a Non-Profit Organization." 
Why haven't I ever thought of that?  I do have a save the world complex, and I love volunteering and working on causes.  Why not take on a cause or two that are underrepresented such as infantile scoliosis support or Lead Toxicity Emergency Aid?

So, I'm seriously playing with the notion. 

Sunday, November 7, 2010

You've come a long way, baby!

Tonight, Chaos and I gave Doc a bath.
Big Brother Chaos is super-protective of Little Brother Doc.  He insists on helping with everything for Doc from changing diapers to playing, even filling sippy cups and trying to read books to him.

I know- that shouldn't be a special thing, but it is.

Doc, has what his therapists describe as "sensory delays and issues".
This is Doc.
When Doc turned 13 months old, he got sick with a horrible sounding cold.  Since he'd had pneumonia once before, I took him into the ER to be checked out.  They did a chest x-ray and told me he had bronchitis, then sent me home with some medicine.  Three days later, we were back into the ER again- his bronchitis had gotten worse- he was gasping for breath.  Another x-ray happened.  While waiting for the result, the nurse came in and gave him a breathing treatment.  A few minutes later, two doctors walked in and quietly shut the door.
My son had severe scoliosis.  My baby- my wee little man- was most likely having breathing issues because his lungs were being crushed by his rib cage's rotation and spinal curve.
I was in a bit of shock.  I'd noticed that one side of his rib cage seemed to be at an odd angle to the other.  I'd even seen the curve on his spine, visible through the skin.  But, every doctor I had look at it told me there was nothing wrong- it was the position he sat in, or the direction he was looking, or some other excuse.
Within days I was being seen by the family GP.  She called in a referral to a pediatric orthopedic specialist.  He saw us two days later. One glance at my son's back and he ordered new x-rays.  He sat and played around on his computer screen measuring bone angles and determined that Doc needed treatment- ASAP.  He outlined all the options: surgeries, waiting it out, bracing, and EDF casting.
Without blinking I voted for casting.  (I hadn't been sitting on my butt doing nothing while waiting for the appointment- I'm a researcher.)
Corrective casting is safe, non-invasive, and fairly effective.

There were risks, after all, Doc had to be fully sedated.  I wasn't allowed in the room for the procedure.  And then there was the cast itself- it couldn't come off until it was time to change it out.
Imagine, going MONTHS without being able to feel his sweet, squishy little baby body in my arms.  Instead, all hugs were to a hard, itchy cast.
Doc waking up from his first cast.  Poor kidlet- he was so scared by the changes.  He was a real trooper, though, and was up and at 'em within a day.

I found a great online support group for infantile scoliosis.  They really helped keep me grounded.
I knew from others' experiences it could be years before we saw results.  We might not even see results at all.  We might end up needing to choose corrective surgery.

Imagine my surprise when, after only 4 months, his correction was sufficient to move on to a removable brace! 

Now I can hug his squishy sweetness all the time!  One day into his 2nd cast, he took his first steps!  He started trying to talk.  He started laughing- without coughing at the end of it.  He jumps and plays and scoots toy cars along.   

However, back to the bath at hand...
When I first got the diagnosis, I contacted the local Early Childhood Intervention people.  I didn't think there'd be issues with my little mister, but I wanted to advocate as early as I could.  After several assessments- we were assigned an Occupational Therapist, a Developmental Therapist, and a Physical Therapist.  Doc was about 5 months behind developmentally.  It was discovered during this time that Doc has his sensory issues- bathing was a BIG fight.  He wouldn't even touch water (or anything non-fluffy) with his hands.  Baths were few and far between- typically we'd end up sponge bathing him with a damp cloth while he screamed in panic.
The OT has been working to get him used to water and past his sensory issue with it since May.  And, I admit, she's made progress.  Little did I realize how much progress was made.
Tonight, since his face was smeared with peanut butter and bread crumbs, I filled up the plastic tote we've been using during therapy as a stand in bathtub and put it in the floor.  I cringed, waiting for the usual screams to start.

HE GOT INTO IT ON HIS OWN--- WILLINGLY and EXCITEDLY.  He didn't want to get out.

He let me wash his face.  He let me splash his hair.  He didn't panic, or scream, or tantrum.

I could cry.  Such a little thing, but I couldn't begin to imagine that it would actually ever happen.

Maybe, one day soon, I can hear that his scoli is completely resolved.  That would be amazing.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Missing in Action

I know, I know... I haven't written in a while.

Remember the whole tooth ache thing?
Yeah- I developed some sort of minor blood poisoning... that totally kicked my rear and kept me on it.  Today is the first day I've gotten off my rear in what feels like forever.

And already, I'm so tired that I can't sleep.
Sadly, it's been so bad on the whole lack-of-energy-front that I'm sick of pizza and take-out and I don't want to go out to eat again any time soon.  
Today, with a bit of help from the Husbeastie, I managed beef stew and fresh bread.  Don't get too excited- the stew used a seasoning kit and the bread was from dough I froze last month... so, in a way, it was all pre-made food.

I've got plenty lined up for the weeks ahead- and I WILL be posting.  (Just as soon as I can stand up long enough to make something that isn't pre-packaged.)

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Going Japanese-Random Photos from my Facebook Uploads

Rabbit and Chick Bento: I made this for the kidlets lunch a while back.  The couldn't even wait for me to finish placing things fully because they were "starving".  Chick'n nuggets with carrot beaks and sesame seed eyes, Rabbit-nutella shimmer (what we call a sandwich here) with radish ear and nose, edamame, and grapes.

Inarizushi- I made these for the Hubby's birthday bento.  He was pulling an all-nighter at work and I wanted him to feel loved.  And yes, he ate ALL of these in one sitting.

Rice Bowl: Seems like when Hubby goes out of town, kidlets and I eat simpler.  Rice with radishes, negi, tamago sheet, and a ginger flower.  Under the veggies is some of my homemade kale furikake.  The potstickers were homemade since I'm allergic to most of the ones on the market and have pork, ginger, kale, and negi,

Robo-bento- Chaos wanted a Robot Shimmer for lunch.  So, there's a PB and Honey shimmer with apples, edamame, and raisins.  The robot has some carrot decor on it and was painted with a little blue food pen.

Beef rice bowl: Hubby went out of town again.  Rice tossed with kale and radish sprout furikake, topped with miso braised beef, and slightly pickled negi and carrots.  Topped with a little more sesame seeds for crunch.

We eat a lot of Japanese food here.  A lot.  It seems funny to me sometimes that my pantry next to the stove is almost entirely stocked with Asian condiments, especially considering I grew up eating Mexican and Cajun cuisine almost daily.  And while I still make a killer batch of enchiladas, I reach for the shoyu, mirin, and rice wine vinegar at least five times per week.  I keep miso in the fridge to make a quick cup of soup.  (Me- the girl who can't drink hot coffee because it's weird- actually makes a cup of miso soup two-three times per week.)  And I can work miracles with ramen and udon.

Mmmmmm.... udon.

I know what I'm having for dinner tomorrow.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Everyone else was doing it.... Sort of.

I live on one of those streets that Norman Rockwell painted about.
Neighbors on all sides, you can tell what season it is just by looking at any porch on the street.
In July, American flags and pots of red, white, and blue flowers litter the facades of every house.  (I myself had bunting draped out and bright red salvia planted everywhere.)
September saw bushels of apples creeping on to the scene as everyone prepped for the block party.

And now?  Now the very Autumnal colors- yellows, rusty reds, oranges- of mums and pumpkins are finding their way to the front stoops.  Ghosts and scarecrows peek out from the hedges and wreaths of fall leaves are on every door.

Every door and porch, that is, except for mine.

My porch is currently littered with bike parts, sports balls, scooters, and roller blades. 

But today I started a few projects (that are low energy since I'm still recovering) that are sure to bring my porch up to standard before the throngs of Trick or Treaters eagerly make their way to my yard in search of the perfect store-bought sugar fix.

Introducing Kitty-Boo!

Currently, Kitty-boo is peeking out from the area under my mail box.  This weekend, he'll be joined by several pots of mums, some mini pumpkins, and a spider or two.

And then there's the Boo Crew:

I know right now they don't look like much, but these milk cartons are the beginnings of a ghostly path luminary set.  Anyone with a toddler knows how much milk you go through in a week.  By Hallow's Eve, I should have another 10 to 12 ghosts joining these guys on my walkway.  Weighted down with gravel, a lighted tea-light inside, these fellows should be a cheerful greeting in my front yard which is seriously lacking in street lights.

I've got more Halloween projects still to come- stick around and watch!

Craving Some Home Comforts

     I'm a Native Texan. 
     See the capitalization on the word "Native"?  That's a big deal to me.  I was born in Texas and lived there for most of the first 20 years of my life.  That makes me a Native.
     Texas is very much it's own little world.  There's a deep sense of pride that Texans feel that I've never quite seen anywhere else in the world.  
Living in Texas is nothing like what a lot of people expect it to be.  I've heard a number of stereotypes since I've traveled that make me kind of scratch my head wondering if people really think that about Texans.
For example, I grew up in an area that was heavily forested.
 (Yep... like looking out the window at my Mom's house...)

Notice, it's not a desert.  No cacti and tumbleweeds.
Sure, we had ranches in the area, but I certainly didn't grow up on one.   
No, I didn't own my own horse.  (In fact, I've only been on a horse about ten times in my entire life!)
I don't think I've ever owned cowboy boots.

I did, however, grow up eating a lot of tortillas and beans.  In fact, my Grandmother (on my Dad's side) was Hispanic so I ate a lot of Mexican foods.

Probably one of my favorite foods to make on these chilly Autumn days is Tortilla Soup- which, oddly enough, my Grandmother NEVER made for me.  I had it for the first time when I was 21 and I was hooked!  It wasn't long before I was working on my own recipe to make the very best tortilla soup ever.  My version has a mild spice and tender shredded chunks of chicken surrounded by a hearty broth that just makes the tongue happy.  A scoop of fresh queso fresco (yes, I MADE cheese!!!) and a wedge of lime to squeeze over the top just add another layer to this amazing meal.

Tortilla Soup

1TBS vegetable oil
1/2 bell pepper, diced
1 small onion diced
1 jalapeno diced (remove the seeds for less heat)
2 cups of tomatoes (fresh or tinned)
2 bay leaves
2 tsp salt
1 tsp black pepper
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp coriander
1 cup of corn tortillas, cut into thin noodle-like strips
3 chicken thighs
1/2 cup of beer (use a Mexican ale or lager!)
2 cups chicken broth
limes for garnish

Sweat all of the vegetables in the vegetable oil.  When softened, add spices and half of the tortillas, stir to combine.  Add in chicken thighs and liquids.  Cover and continue to cook on low for 40 minutes or until chicken is cooked through.  Remove chicken and shred.  Return shredded chicken to the pan.  Add in remaining tortilla strips and simmer for 15 minutes.

Serve hot with lime wedges.

(I also like to add a bit of fresh cheese, sour cream, and jalapeno slices to mine and dip crunchy fresh tortilla chips into it.  My Hubby seems to prefer it plain with cheese and lime.)

Monday, October 11, 2010

Derailed- by a Tooth Ache!

I'm not the most, how to say, observant person when it comes to my own health.
Don't get me wrong, if I have a cold, I'll take something for it.  I groom myself (even if I go a bit too long between haircuts...), exercise a bit and remember to put on clean socks.
But, sometimes my kids- ACK MY KIDS!!!- take over my life to the point that I put off things for myself.
I scheduled a routine dental appointment in March of 09.  And then, when one kidlet got ill, I moved it to April of 09.  Then we got evacuated from our home and spent a month looking for a new home so I moved it to June of 09.  Then another kidlet had to fly cross country for a wedding and I didn't have the funds.  So, it got pushed back again.  And again.  And again... until I stopped really thinking about it very much at all.  I mean, I brush and floss regularly.  I use mouth wash.  I chew sugar-free gum... It can't hurt to let it go a few extra months... right?

Apparently, and I'm hanging my head in shame, I was wrong.  I'm not wrong often (at least not in Hubby's earshot) but this time I was WRONG.

I got sick with a bad cold over the weekend and my tooth started aching.  I figured, "Hey, I'll wait until Monday and go get it checked out."  On Sunday night I ended up in the ER with an abscessed tooth that was giving me blood poisoning.  *face palm of shame*

So, needless to say, I did see a dentist today... and instead of the nice pleasant cleaning I was hoping to need... I got oral surgery and a lecture about neglecting myself and strict orders for a few more days of bed rest.

So- an entire weekend of cooking projects- derailed.

But, this is probably one of my favorite times of the year and the projects I've got lined up for the next few weeks are exciting and awesome and in some senses too darn cute to talk about up front!

So, I will see you again soon with more fun and tasty treats, tricks, crafts, and tales of my life as a Stay-At-Home Geek!

Sunday, October 3, 2010

The Big Tex

Just how big is The Big Tex?  These chocolate chip cookies are large enough that you need a bowl of milk if you intend to dunk them before eating!  Crunchy with a semi-soft interior, a secret ingredient lends smoky heat to the chocolate- deepening the heartiness of my favorite go-to cookie.

I actually make three batches of The Big Tex each week- my family and friends seem to inhale them with ease.  Even the pickiest of eaters can't stop at just one!

The Big Texas Chocolate Chip Cookie
makes 18 cookies
2 1/2 cups of all-purpose flour
12 ounces of semi-sweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup of unsalted butter
1/2 cup of butter flavored shortening
3/4 cup dark brown sugar
3/4 cup granulated sugar
2 eggs + 1 egg yolk
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp salt
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp chili powder
1 tsp instant coffee powder

Cream sugars, shortening and butter in a large mixing bowl.  Add in eggs and continue to cream until light and fluffy.  Mix in vanilla, salt, chili powder, and coffee powder.  While mixing slowly, add in flour, baking soda, and baking powder.  Once combined, add in chocolate chips.  Chill dough for 30 minutes.  Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.  Using a standard ice cream scoop, place six cookies at a time onto a parchment lined baking sheet.  Bake cookies for 17 minutes.  Remove from oven and cool immediately on a cooling rack.