I'm a little behind...

I've been catching up on old posts, so make sure you scroll down.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

33 Things in my 33rd Year (or my Happiness Project)

For 2015, my 33rd year on earth, I'm taking a page from Gretchen Rubin's The Happiness Project. I separated my 33 goals into months of the year, each month having a theme. I'm hoping this will keep me focused and on track, rather than letting the year get away without me like it has lately...

Two of my goals will go all year long:
1: Read 15,600 pages (about 52 books, averaging 300 pages each)
2: Blog at least once a week (to avoid becoming months behind)

And here are the rest of the goals:

January: "Be Healthy"
3: Find a dermatologist and schedule an appointment (skin cancer runs in the family)
4: Exercise 5 times a week
5: Lights out every day at 9pm
6: Eat 3 servings of veggies a day

February: "Be Loving"
7: Complete the Dating Divas love calendar
8: Sight-see with Jaime (hopefully to a place we've never been)
9: Speak quietly, with love

March: "Family First"
10: Print photos for Bree's photo collage frame in her room
11: Make a Family Home Evening board
12: Turn off all electronic devices for 24 hours

April: "Sew a Home"
13: Finish my Mt.-Everest-sized pile of sewing/mending projects
14: Fix living room curtains (kids destroy everything)
15: Cover entry bench cushion with cute fabric
16: Make a curtain to act as an office "door"

May: "Cultivate Talents"
17: Sing every day with voice lesson CDs
18: Learn a new cooking method
19: Finish a blog book

June: "Make Memories"
Go camping with the family
Scan and digitize old photos

July: "Introspect"
Journal at least weekly. Real, meaningful journaling. This could be part of blog posts or not, depending on the nature of entries.
Spend 15 minutes a day on actual scripture study

August: "Friendship"
Coordinate a girls' night
Deepen a friendship

September: "Economize"
Don't eat out for the month
Rotate and replenish food storage (learn how to use it all!)

October: "Have Fun"
Do projects with kids, especially ones they come up with on their own
Host a Choctober party

November: "Be Grateful"
Keep a daily gratitude journal from November 1st until Thanksgiving
Listen to good music every day (trash on the radio while driving kids to school doesn't count)

December: "Give"
Plan an anniversary surprise for Chad
Don't buy myself gifts for Christmas :)

Yes, the months at the beginning of the year are a little more goal-heavy. That was intentional. And I'm allowing myself flexibility if I want to work ahead (or behind).

Monday, December 29, 2014

#21: Famous Dave's Bread Pudding

With the year almost gone, I set out to accomplish one last VERY important goal. I needed to attempt to make Famous Dave's bread pudding. On our first visit to Famous Dave's (delicious BBQ) we were treated to a complimentary dessert: bread pudding. I haven't been exposed to a lot of bread pudding in my life, so I wasn't sure what to expect. Well, this dessert blew me away. The only trouble is, by the time you finish your delicious dinner, you don't have any room left for dessert. So I decided to try to recreate this dish at home. I found a copycat recipe online, complete with Plantation praline sauce. I was pretty sure our kids would not be interested in eating it, so I saved the recipe for a time when we'd be together with other adults who would appreciate the dessert. Today, hanging out at my parents house, I finally put the recipe to the test. And we all agree that it is a huge success.
  • 1 loaf cinnamon swirl bread (I used Cinnabon brand, since that's all I could find)
  • 2/3 cup golden raisins (I omitted these)
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 4 cups milk
  • 2 cups heavy whipping cream
  • 1/4 cup vanilla extract
  • 8 eggs (beaten)
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon 
    1. Coat bottom and sides of 13-by-9-inch baking pan heavily with butter.
    2. Tear bread into 1-inch pieces. Mix with raisins in bowl. Lay bread mixture evenly in prepared dish, turning crust side down, as this tends to burn easily.
    3. In bowl, whisk sugar, milk, whipping cream, vanilla, eggs and cinnamon until blended. Pour over bread mixture.
    4. Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
    5. Place baking dish in larger 4-inch deep baking pan. Add water to reach halfway up side of dish. Bake in preheated oven 1 hour, or until all liquid is absorbed and custard-like.
    6. Remove from water bath. Let stand 20 minutes.
    PRALINE SAUCE (I cut this in half and it was plenty, but you may want extra on hand for ice cream, etc., because it is freakin' delicious)
  • 3 lbs. light brown sugar (about 3 1/4 cups packed)
  • 1 1/2 cups heavy whipping cream
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 2 1/2 cups sour cream
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
    1. In small saucepan, heat 1/2 cup of the butter until melted.
    2. Add pecans and mix well. Bring to a boil.
    3. Cook until pecans begin to change color. Mixture will foam up.
    4. Add remaining 1/2 cup cubed butter and mix well. (This will cool pecan mixture and stop the cooking process.) Remove from heat.
    5. In a separate, large saucepan, combine brown sugar, whipping cream and cinnamon and mix well.
    6. Cook over low heat until blended, stirring constantly. Increase heat and cook until mixture comes to 230 degrees on a candy thermometer (temperature is crucial to final consistency of sauce).
    7. Stir in pecan mixture. Remove from heat.
    8. Add sour cream and vanilla and mix well.

    Tuesday, December 2, 2014

    Mason's Latest

    On our way home from school yesterday:
    Mason: "Mom, I met a girl today who I want to be my girlfriend someday."
    Me: "Oh yeah? What's she like?"
    Mason: "She's, like, in 6th grade. She's SO beautiful. She has blond hair."
    Me: "Is blond hair your favorite?"
    Mason: "Yeah! She's the most beautifulest girl in the whole world....well, except for you Mom."

    Also, on a completely unrelated note, I have grossly underestimated the rate at which my children would lose their sweaters and hoodies. We're not even officially into winter yet. Heaven forbid it dips below 50 degrees here...THEN they'll be sorry.

    Saturday, November 29, 2014

    Thanksgiving Tradition

    I has become a tradition for our family to take pictures together on Thanksgiving. Just in time for sending out Christmas cards. They are, in fact, the only pictures I took on Thanksgiving. I blame the 85-degree weather. It's just unnatural. But the photos turned out cute.

    Happy Thanksgiving! 2014

    Saturday, September 20, 2014

    4th Time Already?!

    This year we participated in the Annual Walk for Down Syndrome for the FOURTH time. Somehow time has flown, and we are pretty well-versed in the special needs arena.

    We've gone from dazed first-timers:

    To old pros:

    And we've had a bit of fun along the way.

    And Lincoln's Heroes is still going strong:

    Rock on Lincoln.
    Saturday, September 20th

    Wednesday, September 10, 2014

    Grape Jam

    I'm not a fan of grape jelly--the kind from the store that spreads about as nicely as stiff jello might.

    But grape JAM, made of concord grapes from a local friend's garden. THAT is delicious.

    My family has become accustomed to homemade jam. It's my own fault, really. I usually make enough jam to last us through the winter. But I dropped the ball last year, and my kids complained when all we had was store-bought raspberry jam. We ate a lot of peanut butter and honey last winter.

    This year, I decided would be a good jam year.

    Armed with a box of grapes from my friends back in Globe, I got to work. Grape jam takes a little more work than something like raspberry. But it is worth it.

    Wash your jars, and place them on a cookie sheet in the oven on its lowest setting, to keep them warm. Put your lids in a small saucepan with water, and heat over low heat (it should be just on the verge of simmering). Place a cooling rack or a towel on the counter near your stove.

    Step 1:
    After washing the grapes, put them in a pot with a cup of water, and bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer for 5 minutes (if some of the skins slip off, don't stress, just throw the whole mess in--the skins provide the beautiful color so don't leave them out).

    Step 2:
    This next part is what separates the men (jam) from the boys (jelly). You'll want one of these babies:
    It's my mom's heavy duty Champion juicer, and it has many uses (including grinding the wheat for the bread that I grew up on). I used it to squeeze all that grapey goodness out of my fruit, while removing the seeds...
    So I'm left with a thick, wonderful slurry of grape puree. Not grape juice--that's what we'd use if we wanted jelly. But we're making jam, folks.

    Step 3:
    Combine 6 cups of grape puree with a box of Sure Jell (I use whatever type of pectin I have on hand, but I pay attention to the directions: measurements do vary).

    Step 4: Bring to a rolling boil, then add 7 1/2 cups of sugar (this needs to be pre-measured in a separate bowl so it can be dumped in all at once).

    Step 5: Bring to a rolling boil again, and boil for exactly 1 minute. (Sometimes I use an oven mitt; this stuff is super hot and can splatter)

    Step 6: Take the pot off the heat, stirring for several seconds to ensure the jam doesn't scorch while the boiling subsides. Take your hot jars out of the oven, and place them on your cooling rack or towel. Ladle or pour the hot jam into the jars, leaving only 1/4 inch at the top (sometimes I break this rule, and skimp a little; it still works out fine).

    Step 7: Wipe off the rims of the jars with a clean damp cloth to remove any jam that may have dribbled. Place the hot lids on the jars, and screw the rings on tightly. Flip the jars upside-down, and set a timer for 5 minutes. This will keep the rubber on the lids nice and hot, forming a seal (No, I don't do a water bath, and yes, the FDA would be shocked. But hey, what worked for my grandmother works for me.).

    Step 8: After your 5 minutes are up, set your jars right side up, and allow them to cool undisturbed. Before long you'll hear random happy little popping sounds that will mean your lids are sealing.

    This stuff is SO delicious. I've also made strawberry and raspberry jam, but I find myself reaching for the grape most often. I am finally converted to the almighty peanut butter and grape jam sandwich... but only if it's my homemade grape jam.

    Sunday, August 31, 2014

    End of Summer Snapshots

    The kids are back in school, and I've been having trouble finding a groove during these endlessly hot summer days. Weeks go by in a blur. But there have been a few memorable highlights:

    1 and 2: Ward pool party! This was officially the first time I have worn a swim suit in front of everyone at church. I was not super-comfortable, but I'm glad we went, because the kids had a blast. It was fun to have the whole swim park reserved just for us and our friends!
    3: NES. Nintendo Entertainment System. As in, the one I played when I was a kid. We still have one that functions, and Mason chose to play it for his one-on-one time with Mommy this month. Super Mario Brothers, the original. I hadn't played it in YEARS, but it's funny how it all came back to me.
    4 and 5: Before and after. I always wait too long in-between haircuts. I like to keep it short, especially during the summer. When it gets long enough to put in pig-tails, I say enough is enough. I had bid on and won a haircut from a friend in the ward at a Young Women fundraiser months ago, and put it to good use. It turned out to be one of my favorite haircuts ever.
    6: Bree is getting more interested in helping out in the kitchen. And she's capable of more than just stirring now. Salsa-making was the perfect opportunity for her to practice her knife skills (especially because they were just getting thrown into the food processor anyway!).
    7: I've been talking about wanting to start up a Cookie Day sort of group here for a while. Chad kept encouraging me, and I finally did it. I called it "Amateur Chef," since the show "Master Chef" was my chief inspiration. For our first meeting, I chose to make homemade ravioli. I had never made fresh pasta before, and I didn't have a pasta rolling machine, but we just went for it. It was delicious! We filled the ravioli with ricotta, parmesan, and fresh basil, and topped it with my quick and easy pantry marinara sauce. It was such a fun learning experience, and it felt good to have started something so worthwhile.
    8: Apparently Pokemon is still a thing. And it is crazy-popular at Bree and Mason's school. Mason would come home every day talking about Pokemon cards. And he'd occasionally bring home cards that his friends had given him. He was obsessed. It became a problem. The cards were becoming a major distraction at school, and he got colored down a few times for Pokemon-related issues. So we banned Pokemon. He was not allowed to have cards at school, and we made him give back the cards that he had brought home. He was pretty crushed. But he is nothing if not resourceful, and I started finding homemade Pokemon cards around the house. Complete with pictures, their names, and vital stats (weakness, powers, I don't know, etc.). Pretty adorable.
    9 and 10: I've been trying to go running on days when I don't join my girlfriends at the park for workouts. On this particular Saturday, Mason was awake before me, and when I came downstairs dressed for a run, he asked if he could come with me. My first instinct was to say no. Running can be valuable alone time for me. But I ended up saying, "Yes, but you have to keep up. I'm not stopping for you." Mason has a track record for lagging behind on walks or hikes, but it is certainly not due to a lack of energy; it's usually because he's bored or lacks motivation. This time, he was alone with Mom, which is one of his favorite things ever, and we chatted a bit as we ran. He didn't lag at all. In fact, he could have easily outrun me.
    11: Lincoln continues to surprise us with new words and signs that he has learned at school. (Recently we discovered that he had learned to identify several colors.) This picture was taken at church, when he started pointing to letters in a "Friend" magazine and naming them. I could not believe my ears. I then pointed to the letters, in a different order, and sure enough--he KNEW them. Amazing.
    12: I LIVE in flip flops 8-9 months out of the year. And I am all about comfortable shoes. I have become completely addicted to Crocs flip flops. I can stand in them all day without my feet hurting. Crocs recently came out with a sequined version of my favorite style. When a sale came along, I jumped on it. Money well spent.
    13: On August 5th, Chad had surgery on his left shoulder to repair a torn labrum. He's not sure how he injured it; a basketball game a few years ago is one possible culprit. And since then, it's bothered him off and on, and certain exercises had become increasingly painful. Under the knife he went. Luckily he had a ton of sick leave saved up, and we've been paying into short-term disability for years, so we have been able to cash in on that as well. He's been home and in a sling for three and a half weeks, and it's getting old. At least the surgery was on his non-dominant hand, but still...there are only so many things you can do with one arm. We were at Home Depot on this particular day, buying supplies for a future project...
    14 and 15: We took the kids to Petco one day, just for fun. Chad's been itching to buy a bearded dragon for a while, and he's been looking around for the best prices on heat lamps, food, etc. But we spent most of this visit to Petco just looking at the animals. This particular parrot was awesome. I have a strict "No birds in my house ever, ever, ever" rule...but I have to say: that this little guy made pet birds a little more appealing. Lincoln parked himself in front of the glass, and this bird walked right over to him, and started playing with him...bobbing its head, waving its legs into the air, weaving from side to side. It stayed there as long as Lincoln did. Lincoln was in love. If the bird hadn't cost $600, I might have taken it home with us.
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