Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Toys, Toys, Everywhere Toys!

With four kids, sometimes I feel like the toys have taken over the house. My two youngest girls share a room, and Bethany and Connor each have their own bedroom. Their bedrooms were really getting out of control with all of their stuff, so earlier this year Chris and converted half of our basement storage area into a playroom for them. That way we could remove a lot of the toys from their personal spaces and consolidate them together in a shared space. So Chris put up some drywall and painted. We bought a couple inexpensive rugs for the floor. And we found a great deal on a huge used shelving unit. The playroom is a big step in the right direction, but keeping toys organized is still a challenge. Here are some tips for keeping the toys under control.

  1. Encourage your kids to donate or sell toys they no longer play with. We have donated quite a bit to our local Salvation Army, as well as a pregnancy aid center for mothers in need. Also, we have a garage sale once or twice a year.
  2. Clean out the playroom and kids' bedrooms while they're not home or distracted with something else. Don't get me wrong, they should definitely help keep their things clean and organized. But sometimes the only way that broken toy is going to make its way to the trash is if it mysteriously disappears when no one is looking.
  3. Utilize all available space. High closet shelves can be used for things that don't come out very often. Under the bed storage containers are great for toys that get played with often, to keep them close at hand and out of the way. Hang baskets from the ceiling for stuffed animals, use wall space for book shelves, and use over the door storage solutions.
  4. Re-purpose what you have. Those storage bins you used to use in your pantry might be perfect for organizing art supplies. Old milk crates can hold dress up clothes. Use your imagination before you throw anything out. If it can hold something somehow, it can surely be used to organize your kids' stuff. 
  5. If you can't buy new stuff for organizing, look for deals on Craig's List and at garage sales. That shelving unit we bought used for the playroom is name brand and solid wood - and we got it for a steal! We also bought a used loft bed for Bethany's bedroom at a bargain basement price, and that has helped tremendously in organizing her space.
  6. Realize that your kids don't need a billion and one toys. Buy your kids meaningful gifts that you know they'll love, and encourage others to do the same. They would rather have one awesome thing that they really want and that will get used often, even though it might cost the same as 10 mediocre toys that will probably be lost under the bed in no time.
  7. Rotate toys. When we get a box of toys out that the kids haven't seen in awhile, they have so much fun! It's like they just got a bunch of new stuff, when really it's just been in a storage box in the basement or in a closet. Use big plastic storage bins and stuff them where you have extra space - the attic, the garage, the basement, or a dark corner of a closet. Every couple months switch them out. 
  8. Keep like things together to make clean up easier. All the trains can go in one box together, actions figures in another, and so on. That way your child can easily put toys back where they go without any confusion.
  9. Establish rules. We have a rule that toys have to be put away before getting something else out. Our kids also need to help each other and work together when cleaning up the toys. What's gonna work? TEAM WORK! That's our cheesy chant when cleaning up. 
  10. Don't put off until tomorrow what can get done today. This is a lot easier said than done. Like all families, we are super busy and often running from one thing to the next. But it makes life so much easier, if the toys are quickly put away now rather than waiting until later. Because when we wait until later, what generally happens is more stuff gets piled on top of the stuff that didn't get put away yesterday, and so on (...and on and on...).
Keeping the toys organized is definitely an ongoing struggle for us. But it feels so good when everything is put away where it should be, and everyone can find what they're looking for! I'd love to hear any tips you have for keeping your kids' toys neatly organized! Please share!

Hot Wheels has a new toy out called Wall Tracks. They look really fun, and they take the tracks to the wall to keep clutter off the floor! 

I wrote this blog post while participating in the SocialMoms and Hot Wheels® blogging program, for a gift card worth $40. For more information on how you can participate, please click here.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Meatless Monday! Week 3

Thanks to the good people at Harmony Valley, I've been nudged to try something new - Meatless Monday. This is the third Monday in a row that I've used Harmony Valley vegetarian meat substitutes to prepare dinner. 

The first week, I made vegetarian meat balls with Harmony Valley Vegetarian Hamburger Mix and mixed with pasta. 

The second week, I made homemade pizza from scratch and topped it with browned and crumbled Harmony Valley Vegetarian Sausage Mix. 

This week, I made breakfast sandwiches for dinner. First I made some baking powder biscuits. These are very simple and quick. I use a recipe from my trusty Betty Crocker cookbook.

  • 2 cups flour
  • 3 teaspoons baking powder (if using self-rising flour, omit)
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup shortening
  • 1 cup milk
  1. Mix together the flour, baking powder, and salt. 
  2. Cut in the shortening with a pastry blender or two knives.
  3. Add milk and stir until soft dough forms (it will be sticky).
  4. Drop by 12 spoonfuls onto greased cookie sheet.
  5. Bake at 450 F for 10-12 minutes or until golden brown. Immediately remove from the cookie sheet.
While these were baking, I formed the prepared Harmony Valley Vegetarian Sausage Mix into small patties and browned them for a few minutes over medium heat. When the biscuits were done, I made the eggs. I simply whisked together four eggs and a little milk, poured them into a non-stick skillet, and when the egg began to form around the edges I used my spatula to separate it into sections and flipped each section over as it was ready. The consistency is sort of that of a flat omelette. There is no method to my egg cooking, but the eggs come out well for sandwiches this way. I cut each biscuit in half horizontally, added a sausage patty, some egg, and some cheese.

Chris went out for the evening before dinner was ready, so he didn't get to try this. The kids seemed to like it. Connor had seconds and then finished Mathilda's. Nobody complained. No one noticed that they were not eating real sausage. I personally didn't love the flavor of the sausage, but it wasn't bad. I'm not sure if other spices can be added to it to alter the taste a little, but it would be worth playing around with it. Most importantly, I felt good feeding my kids a healthier breakfast sandwich. I would eat it again, it just didn't have any of that savory sausage flavor that I was looking for.

All in all, I've been pleasantly surprised by my adventures in meatless cooking. I'm especially pleased that my kids haven't complained or even seem to have noticed the absence of real meat. I wonder what I'll make next Monday...

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Weekend Rundown

Did you have a good weekend? Did you do anything exciting, or enjoy a relaxing weekend at home?

Friday night I went to a bachelorette party for Chris's cousin's future wife. It was fun catching up with family, but I'm not much of a drinker so it was a pretty early night for me. That's where I received the compliment that made me squirm and blush. When I got home I watched Bridesmaids. I thought parts were super funny and some were over the top and difficult to watch (trying on dresses in the bridal shop! OMG!). But overall it made me sad! I felt so sorry for the main character, Annie. Everything was going so terribly wrong for her, sometimes it wasn't funny - it was depressing. But overall, I liked the movie and I'd recommend it.

Since we're trying to eat healthy and everything, I made yummylicious monkey bread for breakfast on Saturday. Okay, sooooo not healthy (although I did use organic butter, sugar and brown sugar!), but really delicious! I try to cook breakfast for the kids at least once a week, and monkey bread is one of their favorites. It's a little time consuming but very easy to make. Connor offered his assistance. It's definitely a good recipe to get the kids involved in the kitchen. The directions I use are printed on the four pack of Pillsbury Biscuits. 

Monkey Bread

  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 4 cans (7.5 oz each) Pillsbury refrigerated biscuits
  • 1/2 cup butter, melted
  • 3/4 cup packed brown sugar
  1. Grease or spray 12-cup Bundt cake pan. (I don't have one, so I use a round sponge cake pan, but it really doesn't have to be round - two loaf pans would work too, or something else with higher sides).
  2. Mix granulated sugar and cinnamon in 1-gallon bag (I just use a bowl). Cut each uncooked biscuit into quarters, coat each piece in the cinnamon sugar mixture, and place in pan. (Coating the pieces and putting them in the pan is the job I assign to my kid helper). Mix butter and brown sugar on low heat until melted, and pour over the biscuit pieces. 
  3. Bake at 350 F for 40-45 minutes or until golden brown. Cool 5 minutes. Turn upside down onto a plate. Serve warm.
If you've never made monkey bread before, you have to try it! You won't be disappointed, and neither will your kids!

The kids made an obstacle course out of Legos for our pet toad, Jumper. He hopped through it like a good little sport... 

...even climbing the stairs, sort of...

...I hope he wasn't too freaked out by the creepy Lego guys...

It made me feel warm and fuzzy to see the kids all working together on something, and Jumper was probably happy to have something to do besides sit on a rock all day long. Or maybe he was really ticked off about it. I guess we'll never know. But it was fun for the humans, and that has to count for something, right?

On Saturday I also happened to have an epiphany. I'm not sure how this has escaped my notice all these years, but I realized that Connor's eyes are the exact same color as his hair. Being that he's a red-head, this strikes me as slightly unusual. No, he doesn't have demon eyes - more amber colored. See?

Later on we went to church with my mom. The kids were really good, even though Mathilda started loudly asking if it was "almost over now" toward the end of mass. Our church is really close, right in our neighborhood, so we can walk, which is nice; especially on beautiful autumn days like this was. When we got home the kids played outside for awhile and Bethany had a friend come over to spend the night. I received a package with a cool new toy to review on Saturday too, so the kids spent some time playing with that and testing it out. I'll post more about that soon, but it was a Tonka Ricochet Tricksters R/C, and it was way fun!

I went through my closet trying to find something to wear to Chris's cousin's wedding next weekend, and am pleased to report that one of my top choices still fits me (thank you Jesus). I couldn't zip my first pick, but I'm just not going to dwell on that. 

On Sunday Bethany went to the mall with her friend to get her ears double pierced while I went to Appleby's for lunch with my mother-in-law. We chatted and ate, then dropped the leftovers off at my house and picked up Bethany to do a little shoe shopping. Our purpose was to find shoes to match the dress my mother-in-law is wearing to the wedding, and we unfortunately did not succeed in our mission. However, I found shoes to go with my dress, and Bethany got some new shoes too. 

I love sparkly, shiny things...

For dinner I made the kids Hootenanny, a recipe that Shannon from Life After I Dew pinned on Pinterest and was appealing because of it's simplicity. It's basically a big oven pancake, and delicious sprinkled with a little powder sugar and drizzled with syrup. Who doesn't love breakfast for dinner once in awhile?
It may not look pretty, but it's good!

  • Blend together 1 cup of flour, 1 cup of milk, 6 eggs, and 1/4 teaspoon of salt.
  • Poor batter into a greased 9x13 pan. 
  • Top with 1/2 stick melted butter - but don't mix the butter into the batter.
  • Bake at 400 degrees F for 25 minutes

Now I'm off to do some Sunday night laundry, read some of my book, and call it a night. I hope everyone has a great week!

MichiGal Week in Review

Have you missed any recent posts on MichiGal? Take a few to catch up...this week I'll be adding a Weekend Rundown, which I may start doing every Sunday night/Monday morning; I'll continue Meatless Monday; I'll share a book review and giveaway of special interest to moms of tween girls; and much more! 

  • Your Bottom is Safe in This House (Unless It's Your Birthday)  Do you spank your kids? I feel like I'm in the (vast) minority because we don't. Tell me what you think...
  • Meatless Monday! Week 2  I fooled my family yet again, using Harmony Valley Vegetarian Sausage Mix. Do you have any favorite vegetarian recipes?
  • Measurements  I can't believe how big my babies are getting, and I'm lamenting the loss of our wall where we marked their growth at our old house. Do you measure your kids with pencil marks on the walls?
  • So What! Wednesday  I linked up with Life After I Dew again for So What Wednesday.
  • Summer's Over, But Outside Fun Isn't  We've been trying hard to make sure our kids get lots of outside fun and physical activity. What are your kids' favorite outdoor activities? How do you encourage them to have fun outside even when the temperature drops?
  • Thursday Thankful Round-Up  I have so much to be thankful for, how about you? What are you feeling especially thankful for lately?
  • Healthy Food Fight!  Our family is trying to eat healthier. Aetna is sponsoring a Healthy Food Fight recipe contest, you should check it out for cooking inspiration!
  • Can You Take A Compliment?  I received an incredibly nice compliment, and it made me so uncomfortable I could barely stand it. How about you, do you accept compliments easily, or does it make you squirm to hear people tell you nice things about yourself?

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Can You Take a Compliment?

Last night I was at a party, and just as I was about to bow out, say my good-byes and make my early escape, a woman sat at a table with my mother-in-law and I. A conversation started, and before long Chris's mom couldn't help but bring up four of her favorite people - her grandchildren - otherwise known as my kids. This woman looked at me and said, "You have four kids? How old are you?" And so it began.

I told her that I'm 36 and she was incredulous. Now mind you, she had had more than a few drinks. So her judgement and vision were surely off. But nonetheless, she spent the next 10 or 15 minutes going on and on about how young I look and how I should be in a Dove commercial. And that God gave me a special gift and I should use that gift as a means to make my real dreams in life come true. Her compliments were sweet and sincere, and honestly I can't remember the last time I was so kindly complimented by someone I don't know. 

And...I was so uncomfortable I could barely sit there and listen to her. I spent much of the time she was talking to me giggling like an idiot and I'm sure I turned 10 ever darkening shades of red. I have a hard time taking any compliment with a straight face, much less one that goes on and on like this one did. I thanked her several times, and busted out of there as soon as I politely could. 

So...can you take a compliment, or do you get uncomfortable like I do? Why is it that some of us have such difficulty gracefully accepting a compliment without feeling somehow unworthy of it? 

Friday, September 23, 2011

Healthy Food Fight!


As I've mentioned, we've been trying hard to eat healthier in our house, and to have a healthier lifestyle in general. That's why I've started doing Meatless Monday, and why Chris and I have been trying to have daily fruit smoothies. We're also trying to:

  • limit red meat to one meal per week
  • use turkey products when available (hot dogs, bacon, ground turkey, sausage)
  • avoid high fructose corn syrup
  • eat whole grains
  • eat more vegetables
  • avoid nitrates in processed meats
  • eat as many natural and organic foods as possible
  • Chris is trying to eliminate pop from his diet (I only drink pop maybe a couple times a month) (if you're not from Michigan, please note that "pop" is the word us Michiganders use to refer to what the rest of the world calls "soda")
  • exercise more and in general be more active (and encourage our kids to be more active too)
Of course it's not always easy. Cooking from scratch and avoiding processed foods takes a lot of effort. Buying natural and organic foods is often a lot more expensive than less healthy options. Changing habits is really hard. But when Chris found out he's got some health issues he needs to address before they get serious, and I started to realize none of my freaking clothes fit me comfortably, well we decided we simply have to do this.

Because I think this an extremely worthwhile effort, and because I think everyone should make a commitment to eat healthier, I'm teaming up with SheSpeaks to help promote the Aetna Healthy Food Fight. Aetna is a diversified health care benefits company trying to get people across the country to eat healthier. They are sponsoring a healthy recipe contest, so if you have a healthy recipe that could be a winner, it's not too late to enter (Pomona and Dallas regions are now closed). Semi-finalists will compete in events throughout the U.S. The winner from each region will win a trip to New York City to compete in the Final Cook-off, judged by Bobby Flay! And the grand prize winner will receive $10,000 worth of groceries donated by! Locations and dates are as follows:
  • Pomona, CA 10/1-10/2
  • Dallas, TX 10/15-10/16
  • Atlanta, GA 10/22-10/23
  • Philadelphia, PA 11/5-11/6
Please visit for more information about the contest and event details. Even if you don't want to enter the contest yourself, you should visit the website so you can vote for your favorite entries, and get some healthy cooking inspiration!

Is your family making an effort to live healthier too? What are you doing to improve your diet and lifestyle? And please let me know if you decide to enter the Healthy Food Fight recipe contest! 

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Thursday Thankful Round-Up

It's thankful Thursday once again! I'm thankful...

  • I finally tried Zumba, it didn't kill me, and I can still walk the next day!
  • Some of my friends came over for breakfast at my house a few days ago, and I had a great time catching up with them. 
  • Lucy did really well at the dentist today and has no cavities.
  • Lucy made sure she got presents for all her siblings at the dentist- a Diego toothbrush for Mattie, a Spiderman sticker for Connor, and toothpaste for Bethany.
  • Lucy didn't complain when we went straight to the fruit market after the dentist, and she happily helped me with my shopping.
  • I overheard Connor giving Lucy a little lecture about why she has to be nice to Bethany.
  • Connor and Bethany both got into catechism classes with lots of kids from maybe they won't be moaning and groaning all year about going to class every week.
  • Chris happened to find a great deal on diapers while he was out today...$3.19 a pack for Huggies Little Movers!
  • My friend Angela gave Chris free passes to go see a movie tonight.
  • Chris's mom took the kids shopping and got them lots of new clothes for school.
  • When the zipper broke on Connor's new jacket, the store let me return it and I found him another jacket for the same price that he likes just as much.
  • Lucy is getting the hang of using a mouse, and she can navigate the PBS Kids website on her own. 
What are you thankful for this week?

Summer's Over, But Outside Fun Isn't!

This summer, I made a concerted effort to get my kids to play outside more. I thought it would be more of a challenge, but now they don't even need me to nag them to get outside. We bought a small swing set on clearance, which helped, and a small pool from Craig's List, which also helped. We started giving Bethany and Connor a little freedom to go for walks around the block, which seems to  make them feel very grown up and makes them want to take lots of walks around the block. Summer is now officially over (boo hoo!), but that doesn't have to mean the end of playing outside. The weather is cooling off a little bit, but it's still been quite nice outside most days. As it starts to get colder, getting the kids outside might be more difficult, but I'm going to continue to encourage them. 

We're lucky because we live on a cul de sac with very little traffic, so we feel comfortable letting the kids play outside even if we're not outside with them constantly. We also have a decent sized backyard, and we provide them with stuff to do outside. Our garage is full of bikes, scooters, and a big red wagon. There's two basketball hoops on our driveway - one pint sized for the little ones, and a big one for the older kids and grown ups. Most days there's a big tub of sidewalk chalk on the porch, and there's always several bottles of bubbles around and a couple of jump ropes. They like all this stuff, but they also like just running around, looking for bugs under rocks and practicing cartwheels on the grass. Another thing they really enjoy is taking our dog for walks. 

This year, as the temperature drops, I'm going to have them get bundled up and get out there and play with all their stuff for as long as they can. This is going to be a challenge for me because I hate being outside in the cold. Like really HATE it. But I have to learn to deal with it so I can set a better example for my munchkins! When the leaves fall, we'll have them help with the raking (which will of course lead to jumping in piles of leaves!). When the snow falls, it might kill me but I'm going to get them outside to play in that snow. There are snow men, snow forts, and snow angels to be made! And they're not too young to start doing some shoveling either! Maybe enjoying the snow will help me not be so depressed during the long, dark and dismal months of Michigan winter.

I want my kids to be active now so that it will be easier for them to stay active as they get older. I want them to be fit and healthy. I want them to love the outdoors and appreciate nature. September 24, 2011 is Nickelodean's 8th Annual Worldwide Day of Play, and Clorox2 is a sponsor. Do yourself and your kids a favor, and take the Clorox2 Play 2Day pledge to play outside! Visit the website at today and take the pledge!

I wrote this blog post while participating in the SocialMoms and Clorox2® blogging program, for a gift card worth $40. For more information on how you can participate, click here

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

So What Wednesday

I'm linking up with Life After I Dew for So What! Wednesday.


  • So What! if I looked like a total uncoordinated fool at my first Zumba class tonight? (looked like one...because I AM one...)
  • So What! if I scarred Bethany and Connor for life by scheduling their physicals at the same time, with the same doctor, and making them don paper robes which really, really embarrassed them?
  • So What! if I need the impending pressure of company coming over to push me to clean my house?
  • So What! if my living room is full of band equipment until Chris's next practice?
  • So What! if I tricked my family into eating vegetarian meat substitutes twice now? Guess what? They liked it!
  • So What! if I'm going to a wedding next week and I have no idea if there is a single dress in my closet that still fits me? I'm too afraid to actually try anything on to find out for sure!
  • So What! if my kids' alarm is set for earlier than mine everyday?
  • So What! if I slept until noon last Saturday? Noon! I had the house to myself, which is of course the only way that would ever be possible.
What are you saying So What! to this week?


This morning I took Bethany and Connor to the doctor for a check-up. Bethany is going to be starting basketball soon, and needed a physical in order to play. Neither of them have been for a well visit in quite awhile, so I figured I might as well get this over with.

I guess I'm kind of an idiot. I think of everything in terms of "how long is this going to take me?" and "what is going to be the easiest way for me to do this?", and I need to remember that sometimes I need to use some common sense instead. At 10 and 8, Bethany and Connor would rather not go for check-ups at the same time, in the same room. Duh. They had to get undressed and put on paper robes. Bethany was sobbing. I made each of them turn around while the other was changing, but they were both uncomfortable. Bethany would rather see a female doctor. Duh. There are at least five or six women doctors at the practice we go to, so this is not a big deal. But I took the first appointment I could get at the time I needed, and it happened to be with a male doctor. I just wanted to kill two birds with one stone and not have to make two separate trips to the office, and get it done as soon as possible. So... I didn't think of these details - minor to me, major to them. After the tears I felt like a giant turd, then Connor was giving me looks of death. I was doing everything I could to make them laugh and cheer them up, and I think they were fine by the time I dropped them off at school, but I really should have thought that through a little better.

Anyway, when the nurse did the weighing and measuring we found that Bethany is tenuously holding onto a 1 pound and 1/2 inch advantage over Connor. Since they were about one and a half and three, people have been mistaking them for twins. I wonder how soon it will be before Bethany's little brother is towering over her.

From the time Bethany, Connor, and Lucy could stand up on their own, we used to measure them on a piece of molding in the doorway between the kitchen and dining room at our old house. Oh my gosh it makes me crazy sometimes that we didn't rip that molding out and bring it with us when we moved. All those pencil marks, measuring the growth of our babies...such a simple thing but I really wish we had it. When we were leaving the doctor's office this morning, I suddenly felt so melancholy, and thought of that piece of wood - a little tangible reminder that my kids really were little bitty once upon a time. I could cry thinking about it. 

Since it's driving me nuts knowing that those pencil marks are gone forever, it occurred to me that I could try to re-create the measurements. Buried in boxes and files and baby books around the house, I have lots of slips of paper from well visits to the pediatrician through the years, papers that note height and weight. I'm thinking about compiling them and making a sort of growth throughout the years chart. We can start new, in our new house. (never mind we've lived here for over two years...)

Monday, September 19, 2011

Meatless Monday! Week 2

Last week I did my first Meatless Monday post, and today I'm back at it again. As I mentioned last week, Harmony Valley provided me with some of their vegetarian meat substitute products to sample and review. 

This week I used the Harmony Valley Vegetarian Sausage Mix and made a pizza from scratch for dinner. I used a recipe I love from the Betty Crocker Cookbook.

Italian-Style Pizza Dough

  • 1 package of regular or quick active dry yeast (2 1/4 teaspoons)
  • 1/2 cup warm water (105-115 degrees F)
  • 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon extra-virgin or regular olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon sugar
In large bowl, dissolve yeast in warm water. Stir in half of the flour, the oil, salt, and sugar. Stir in enough of the remaining flour to make dough easy to handle. Place dough on lightly floured surface. Knead about 10 minutes or until smooth and springy. Grease large bowl with shortening (I used spray). Place dough in bowl, turning dough to grease all sides. Cover and let rise in warm place 20 minutes. Gently push fist into dough to deflate. Cover and refrigerate at least 2 hours but no longer than 48 hours. (If dough should double in size during refrigeration, gently push fist into dough to deflate.)

Move oven rack to lowest position and heat oven to 425 F. Grease cookie sheet or 12-inch pizza pan with oil. Press dough into a 12-inch circle on the pan. Press dough from center to edge so the edge is slightly thicker than center.

Then I brushed some olive oil onto the crust and sprinkled with Parmesan cheese. Next I lightly spread some natural canned pizza sauce onto the crust and topped with mozzarella cheese (a little less than a 2-cup pouch). I prepared the Vegetarian Sausage Mix as directed on the package, and then browned it in a non stick skillet. Lastly, I sprinkled the crumbled Vegetarian Sausage Mix on top of the cheese, and baked the pizza for about 20 minutes.

Once again, I didn't tell anyone they were embarking on a Meatless Monday meal. And no one noticed. Everyone gobbled it up. I told Chris later and he was really surprised. I think the Vegetarian Sausage Mix tasted more like real meat than the Vegetarian Hamburger Mix I used last week (I made meatballs with it). However, maybe it was just the particular recipes I used. The hamburger mix seemed to me to have a little bit of an after taste that I didn't notice with the sausage mix. 

I have quite a bit of the cooked sausage mix leftover, so I think I'll try adding some to egg frittatas this week. 

Thanks to Harmony Valley Foods for providing me with these samples and encouraging me to try something new! 

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Your Bottom is Safe in This House (Unless It's Your Birthday)

My kids have never been spanked, not one of them, not once, not ever. Before any of them arrived Chris and I decided we would raise our kids without spankings. Or smacking, or washing mouths out with soap, or other pain or humiliation invoking punishments. As parents, I'd say we've often found ourselves doing things we never thought we'd do, but this one is important to us and we've stuck with it.

I am fully aware that a lot of people don't agree with our choice. In fact, I'm not sure I personally know anyone who does. In all honesty, I have to admit there have been times when I have been SO tempted to give one of them a spanking they would not soon forget. But it is always when I am so mad I can't see straight. When I'm thinking clearly I have never thought hurting or humiliating my children would be the best way to discipline them. 

I know a lot of people think that kids who aren't spanked are spoiled brats who have the run of the house and are allowed to get away with anything. If you know me and my kids in person, maybe you think this about them and have never told me, but I doubt it. They're not perfect, yet we have high expectations for them. They are fully expected to be well-mannered, respectful, and kind. Sometimes they need reminders, but I think they're pretty darn good kids. Am I biased? I hope so. I'm their mother, I should be. They need someone to be biased in their favor. But I'm not blind. They get in trouble. Now and then they get yelled at, if they really tick us off. They get privileges taken away and they get long, boring lectures which they'd probably do just about anything to avoid. 

The truth is, I feel guilty enough when I lose my temper and yell. I feel like the worst mother ever. Maybe there are some days when my my kids would agree with that sentiment. But I don't ever regret the decision not to spank, and I'm so very thankful that Chris is with me 100 percent. 


Thursday, September 15, 2011

Thursday Thankful Round-Up

It's Thankful Thursday again! This is what I'm thankful for this week.

  • I'm thankful that Mattie and I got to hang out with my friend Julie and her little girl Chloe yesterday. We had so much fun, and Mattie didn't stop talking about Chloe all day long.
  • I'm thankful that I met up with my friend Angela and her little boy at the mall play area today.
  • I'm thankful that I bumped into another friend while I was at the mall.
  • I'm thankful I got some Target Dollar Spot stuff for 70% off. Woo hoo!
  • I'm thankful that our church has a FREE basketball program and Bethany is going to participate.
  • I'm thankful that I think I finally (maybe) figured out (sort of) how to take part in Twitter parties.
  • I'm thankful that Lucy is so sweet she opted to use part of her birthday Toys R Us gift card to get Mattie a book about the potty, to help her learn about using the bathroom.
  • I'm thankful that today was the 2nd day in a row of no tears at kindergarten drop off! 
  • I'm thankful that all four of my little monkeys were drawing together after school today. 
  • I'm thankful for homemade raspberry muffins from my mother-in-law.
  • I'm thankful that I somehow got a free subscription to Woman's Day magazine (can't remember how) and I got my first issue in the mail today.
  • I'm thankful that my kids all really like their new teachers.
What are you thankful for this week?

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Wishing Well Wednesday

This week I'm wishing for...

  • A successful school year for Bethany, Connor, and Lucy
  • A tear-free drop off at school tomorrow morning
  • A new haircut (soon...)
  • Mathilda to FINALLY get interested in using the potty
  • Motivation to clean, organize, and exercise
  • Chris to figure out how to fix our bathroom sink so we don't have to hire a plumber (he's trying!)
  • A kidney match for my cousin
  • More beautiful weather 
  • A job for Chris that he loves
  • A pedicure...even though summer is over
What are you wishing for this week?

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Tween Shopping

My darling Bethany has always been particular about clothes. As soon as she learned to dress (and undress...) herself, she was changing her clothes non-stop. She went through a phase of nothing but dresses, a tomboy phase, an 80's retro phase, and a mismatch phase, just to name a few. 

The older Bethany gets, the pickier she gets about her clothes. She has definite ideas about what she wants to wear, so much so that I really don't like to buy her clothes anymore unless she is with me to grant her seal of approval. Shopping at certain stores is becoming important to her too. I took her back to school shopping a few weeks ago at a particular store she requested, and started feeling a little sick to my stomach as I noticed most of the other shoppers were teens. Bethany is only 10. As I pointed out to the salesman who asked why I had purchased her jeans at a different store, she is still too small to even fit into any of the bottoms sold at this store. However, she wants to grow up so badly - almost as much as I want her to remain a little girl! I know that's normal, but it makes me sad too. The tops she chose were entirely appropriate, so I can't complain too much. I just wish she wasn't so darn anxious to be a teenager.

Soon we will be shopping for kids outerwear. Sorry to remind my fellow Michiganders, but winter comes too soon in the mitten state. Often I make the mistake of keeping myself in denial for too long, and then when I'm finally forced to shop for coats and boots (say, because of a sudden blizzard or 30 degree temperature drop), there's nothing left to pick from. I hope I can find something that pleases my little fashionista, since she doesn't have the benefit of hand-me-downs as her younger sisters do. Connor doesn't really care what he wears, as long as it's not pastel and can more or less fall into the categories of cool and comfortable.

Do you already have coats and boots ready for the inevitable? Or do you wait until the last minute, and end up running into 10 stores to find something in the right size that your child will actually wear?

Monday, September 12, 2011

First House

When Chris and I bought our first house back in 2000, we were over the moon. We had been renters, and we couldn't wait to have our own place to fix it up exactly as we wanted. Since I grew up as kind of a vagabond, it really meant a lot to me to truly have a home of my own. We both had full time jobs, and after working all day long we'd happily (seriously!) spend hours stripping wallpaper, painting, and chiseling brown cork (that had been glued on circa 1979) off the walls. A labor of love, that's what it was. 

Once we had our home, we knew we were ready to start a family. I mean heck, we already had a dog and a cat, why not add a baby? (And then a second dog while 6 months pregnant - not the smartest move we ever made.) We loved that house. I remember being so content.

Well, hindsight is 20/20, right? If only...we had been smarter with money and just waited to buy a house until the bottom fell out of the real estate market. I suppose I don't regret anything, because if we had waited to buy a house maybe we would have waited to have a baby too, and then maybe we wouldn't have the family we have today. But jeez Louise! People buying their first homes right now - at least in Michigan - have it made!

We're in a better place now (literally and figuratively), and everything worked out in the end. Are you thinking of taking advantage of the real estate deals available right now? If you're in the military, or have served in the past, I hear that VA mortgage rates are particularly good right now. There are many loan facts you need to know, so make sure you do your research! Also make sure you clearly outline what you want and need in a house, and don't compromise too much on the important things because it's a buyer's market. There's definitely no need to over-pay for a home that doesn't even meet your needs. 

Happy house hunting!

Meatless Monday! Week 1

We're trying to eat healthier around here. Although I don't think we have the worst diets, there's definitely a lot of room for improvement. For awhile now I've been trying to avoid high fructose corn syrup and sodium nitrates (found in most processed meats, like lunch meat and hot dogs) as much possible, cooking and baking from scratch more often, and buying more all natural and organic foods. This is a big job and not always easy, but little by little we're doing what we can. We found out we have some health issues we need to work on, so improving our diet has become a bigger priority.

Recently, Harmony Valley gave me the opportunity to try their vegan meat substitute products, and I thought, "what the heck?" I've had them sitting in my kitchen for awhile now, and I've been a little nervous to try them. I thought the beginning of the school year was the perfect time to kick off a month of Meatless Mondays, and tonight was the first.

I went to the Harmony Valley website to look for recipe ideas, and the one I chose for tonight was vegetarian meatballs, using the Harmony Valley Vegetarian Hamburger Mix. 

Before starting, I prepared the Hamburger Mix by mixing it with cold water and refrigerating it for 15 minutes, as the package directions stated. I prepared and baked the meatballs as directed, and also made rotini. When the the meatballs and rotini were finished cooking, I drained the pasta and added it to the baking dish with the meatballs. I also added half a jar of Private Selection Organic Marinara Pasta Sauce. I topped everything with a bag of shredded mozzarella cheese, and put it back in the oven until the cheese was melted.

All in all, I was pleasantly surprised. I didn't tell anyone that the meatballs were actually meatless. Chris thought they were made with turkey (I fessed up to him after dinner). Everyone ate them except Lucy. I could definitely tell the taste was different, but I don't know if I would have noticed as much if I hadn't known it was a meat substitute. I feel good that we were eating a healthier alternative to beef, which is what I would generally use to make meatballs.

Any vegetarians out there, or anyone who cooks with meat substitutes? I would LOVE to hear your tips, tricks, and recipes. How do you make a meat substitute taste less like a meat substitute? I will be doing Meatless Monday for the next three weeks and I would love some suggestions! I will be using the Vegetarian Hamburger Mix one more time, and the Vegetarian Sausage Mix two times, so please share your best ideas!

Special thanks to Harmony Valley for providing samples to me for review purposes. I was not compensated in any other way, and the opinions expressed are 100% my own. I'm glad to have this opportunity to try something new!

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Five Years of Lucy

Today we celebrated Lucy's 5th birthday. It was a quiet day at home. We had a few guests over for dinner and cake. Lucy seems to be coming down with a little cold, so she turned down a piece of the chocolate cake with pink frosting I made at her request. It was canned frosting, but who can blame me after TWO failed attempts at cooked frosting?? I will not try that again until I have a candy thermometer.

Anyway, I already wrote a little about Lucy's birthday, but here are some pictures and Lucy-isms in honor of her special day. 

When we found out we were expecting Lucy, my grandma was very ill. She passed away before we found out Lucy would be a girl, and that she would be named Lucille after her. Her middle name is Margaret, after Chris's grandma on his mom's side.

Being born right at the beginning of the school year, one day before Connor started preschool and one week after Bethany started kindergarten, Lucy was on the go from the day she came home from the hospital. She was two-months old when she had her first airplane trip and her first visit to Disney World. Although she was not a great sleeper (putting it mildly), it never really bothered me. She was sweet and cuddly and happily went along with anything. I can't explain how she just didn't stress me out, but she didn't. I was so happy to have three beautiful and healthy children. She effortlessly fit right into our family.

Lucy is...sweet. She loves hugs and kisses and cuddle time. She has a vocabulary that blows my mind. She loves books, puzzles,video games, Barbies, and princesses. She loves to help me cook. She is generous and loving and enjoys watching sunsets and dancing. She's also emotional, heartfelt, and oh-so -stubborn!

Now Lucy is in kindergarten, and I can hardly believe it. She is such a joy in our lives, and even though she's a big kid now, she will always be my baby girl.

Happy Birthday, Lucy Margaret!

What 9/11 Means to Me

Yes, I remember what I was doing 10 years ago today. I was home with my new baby; Bethany was not yet a month old. Chris was at work and called to tell me to put the news on. As I was on the phone with him, I watched as the second tower was hit. It was a scary time to be an American. I remember feeling shocked and violated. I remember my heart breaking for all those who were missing or dead and their grieving families. But although I was sad as I sat watching the never-ending news coverage, nothing could take away the joy and wonderment of being a new mother.

I also remember what I was doing five years ago today. I was giving birth to my beautiful girl, Lucille Margaret. I was introducing Bethany and Connor to their brand new baby sister. I was stressing and feeling guilty because I was going to be missing Connor's first day of preschool the next day. I was feeling overwhelmed and overjoyed, because the two can definitely co-exist in the very same moment. I was holding my precious baby and trying to believe she was really mine.

When I tell anyone Lucy's birth date, the response I get is usually one of sympathy - such a sad day to have a birthday! But to me, September 11th is a day representing the introduction of Lucy into our lives. It is a happy day in our family. Because Lucy deserves that. Celebrating our daughter's birth on September 11th doesn't take away any of the horrors of that day 10 years ago. But it is a reminder that life goes on, life continues to be beautiful, and that our blessings in life are never ending.

Today I will bake a birthday cake and welcome guests into my home to celebrate Lucy's 5th birthday. I will wrap presents and sing "Happy Birthday". I will hug Lucy tight, kiss her sweet cheeks, and cherish her. I will quietly remember the tragedy of September 11, 2001, but I won't let that memory diminish the joy of Lucy's special day.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

My Box of Goodies

Today I received a Naturals Vox Box from Influenster. I am so excited to have the opportunity to try all of the products over the next month and tell you all about them! Who doesn't LOVE getting free stuff? Natural products that are free are even better!

When I've had a chance to try everything out and really form an opinion, I'll post write a review post and let you all know what I thought of each item in my Vox Box.

Here's what I got:

  • WEN By Chaz Dean Sweet Almond Mint Cleansing Conditioner (retails for $29.95 when sold in set - I only received this item)
  • Derma E Very Clear Problem Skin Cleanser (retails for $15.50)
  • The Natural Dentist Pleasant-tasting Healthy Gums Antigingivitis Rinse (retails for $6.99)
  • Juice Beauty Conditioning Lip Color (retails for $18.00)
  • Food Should Taste Good All Natural Tortilla Chips (retails for $1.29)
  • Jason Natural Pure Natural Soothing Aloe Vera Hand Soap (retails for $9.49)
  • Probar Halo Snack Bar (retails for $1.59)
  • Avalon Organics Nourishing Cherry Aloe Lip Balm (retails for $2.99)
That's 8 items - $65 worth of stuff - I am fortunate enough to get to try out. Stay tuned in about a month or so to see a follow-up report!

Thursday Thankful Round-Up

As always, I have so much to be thankful for!
  • I am thankful that my children have had two parents to love and care for them since the day they were born.
  • I am thankful for my mom, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins and all the wonderful times with them as I was growing up. Each of them has made a huge impact in my life in his or her own way.
  • I am thankful that my mom didn't give me up for adoption, even though that's what the nuns at the hospital thought would be best for a young, unwed mother back in in 1975.
  • I am thankful that Lucy loves kindergarten enough to want to stay all day, even though she is still half day for now.
  • I am thankful that so far today we haven't had any tears or arguments about staying at school all day.
  • I am thankful that Chris's mom and step-dad came over this morning to take the kids to school, so I didn't have to wake Mathilda up. And that when Mathilda did wake up, she and I got in my bed and snuggled until it was time to get ready to pick Lucy up.
  • I am thankful that my mom came with me last night to the kids' Open House at school, because that place was a mad house and difficult to navigate with four kids.
  • I am thankful Chris had the opportunity to visit his brother in Florida this week.
  • I am thankful Chris is coming home today!
  • I am thankful that even though it's rainy and dreary, it's not terribly cold.
  • I am thankful that when we bumped into Connor's 2nd grade teacher (from last year) at the Open House last night, she had lots of wonderful things to say about him.
  • I am thankful for the great products I have to review in the coming weeks! And that I get to share some of them with my friends.
What are you thankful for this week?

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Kindergarten Conundrum

Day number two of school has ended and Lucy still wants to stay all day. I cannot stand this new trend of full day kindergarten. I know it's convenient for parents and the kids are taught so much more now than back in 1980 when I was in kindergarten, but these kids are so little. What is the rush for them to grow up?

There are a total of three kids, including Lucy, who are enrolled half day. She is the only one in her class. Today I was talking to one of the other moms and she said her son is already bugging her to switch him to full day also. She said she is hoping to hold off at least a month.

There was an Open House at school tonight, so I had an opportunity to talk to Lucy's teacher more about it. I wanted to know exactly what Lucy is missing, besides lunch and rest time. Well, she's missing recess, art projects, hands on activities, some specials (art, music, p.e. - the one she misses will change regularly), and assemblies. Basically all the fun stuff she was looking forward to in kindergarten. I feel like the system is set up to manipulate me into sending her to school full day.

Some might think the problem is mine and I'm just babying my daughter. But I know her; I know how tired she gets after a lot of activity, I know how emotional and inconsolable she gets when she's over tired. I have successfully sent two kids off to kindergarten in the past (one half day, one full day), and I even have one more to go in a few years. Five years ago, this wouldn't have been an issue. Now all of a sudden I'm a strange breed of mother who doesn't want to send her not-yet five-year old to school all day long.

What I'm thinking, of course, is that it's not fair to Lucy to make her miss all this stuff. It's not fair to make her be the only one in her class who is not getting to make projects and play on the playground. I hate that I'm being pressured like this. I thought it was nice that the school gave us the choice to sign Lucy up for half day, but now I'm beginning to see that it's actually not much of a choice.

I want Lucy to love school, and I think if we don't switch her she's going to not love it. I've told her we'll give it a couple weeks of going to school every day and see how she's doing, and then we'll discuss the possibility of changing over to full day. But at this point I don't think we'll be able to see our way out of it.

Books Are Your Friends

I love books. I love holding them, loaning them to friends, borrowing them, reading them, re-reading them, and looking at them. When I first heard of Kindle and other e-readers, I never really thought I'd be interested because of my love for physical books. mind is beginning to change. I will always love real books, and I will always buy them and keep them on my book shelves. But there are certain times when a Kindle would be so convenient. When traveling, it would be so nice to not lug heavy books around. I could conveniently carry Kindle editions for myself and all four of my darlings without taking up valuable space in my carry-on or killing my back. If I finished a book while away from home, I could simply go online on my Kindle and buy another book. 

There are many other times when I'd love to have a Kindle too. I could easily keep it handy in my purse for all those times when I unexpectedly have time to kill. Doctor appointments, waiting for the kids after school, and on and on. Carrying a heavy book around "just in case" gets quite cumbersome, but a Kindle would be a breeze.

So, while I'm loyal to books, I could easily see myself becoming a Kindle convert. The new Kindle 3 is super small and light-weight - just 8.5 ounces! And BzzAgent is giving me a chance to possibly try it. 

What about you? Are you sticking with paper books, or are you already on board with a Kindle or other e-book reader? What is your opinion of the new electronic age of reading?

So What Wednesday

I'm linking up to Life After I Dew for So What Wednesday.

  • So what if we chose half day kindergarten for Lucy, and that she is one of only three kids (out of three classes) who leave school before lunch. What is so wrong with half day kindergarten????
  • So what if I am having a really hard time being positive lately?
  • So what if my feelings can still get hurt even though I'm a grown up?
  • So what if the 2nd day of school isn't even over yet and I'm already over it?
  • So what if I love chocolate milk as much as my kids? (And ice cream, for that matter.)
  • So what if I'm sitting here writing a blog post despite the million and one things that need to get done around my house?
  • So what if I was briefly addicted to the Restaurant Story app on my iPod touch? I'm over it now, no need to contact Intervention.
  • So what if I think it's really cute that Mathilda calls Mickey Mouse "Yep Yep", and I even encourage her to do it instead of correcting her.
  • So what if thinking about what to cook for dinner every night gives me brain strain?
What are you saying So What to this week?