Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Hurricane Activities

We ended up getting tons of rain and wind from hurricane Sandy, but thankful no damage to our home and no loss of electricity. So many people were not spared from the damage, and we just very thankful.

Our hurricane prep included lots of cooking, starting with the 25lb+ bag of apples!

I made about 2 gallons of applesauce in my crockpot and dutch oven! I made sure to make way more than last year because it was gone so quickly.

I also made up this homemade pumpkin spice latte mix, using the recipe on A Farmgirl Dabbles. They turned out really nice, although by the last day the spice flavor was a little too strong for me. My husband still liked it, but I'm more of the coffee snob between the two of us :)

My kids were SO excited to help make these fall leaf sugar cookie cut outs. I saw the idea on Home Cook'N Newsletter and knew I had to try it. You can buy the Wilton leaves and acorns cookie cutters from Amazon or a craft store like Michael's or JoAnns. I divided my dough into 4 and colored each orange, green, red, or brown (cocoa powder). The red turned pink when it baked, but otherwise these were fabulous!

For indoor activities, we put this big roll of paper to good use! (Thanks Aunt Sue!) Each child had their own sheet taped to the floor in the kitchen and they went to town with stickers, crayons, and more stickers.

This was such a blast that I know we'll be pulling it out again soon. AND, since they were occupied in the kitchen, it made my cooking much easier.

I also taped the paper into a rectangle in our foyer and drew a quick little road on it for the matchbox cars.

This became our new coloring spot also, and we added trees, grass, lakes, flowers, forests, and people! My kids loved looking through The Berenstain Bears and the Big Road Race to find other things that would be along the road for us to color!

We also enjoyed homemade peppermint marshmallows with our hot chocolate the morning after the storm. I use this recipe from Joy of Baking, and just subbed out peppermint extract for the vanilla. I've also made these by dipping in cocoa powder to make chocolate marshmallows. They are amazing, you really should try one!

Our big "burn off some energy" activity was racing! We used our large letter mat to make a "track" for each child. Then each race they had a different relay. They loved racing each other, running like crazy in the house, and the different activities kept things interesting and engaging. We took time in between races for drinks and to give them time to catch their breath too!
Some races they had to transfer a small item (a toy animal, something small) by carrying in a cup and then pouring into another cup at the end.
They crawled with matchbox cars for a race...
We also worked on fine motor skills: carrying a block and stacking it higher each time.
And carrying a piece of a puzzle each time and having to find the correct spot.

I hope you weathered the storm ok and enjoy trying out some of these indoor activities over the winter months!

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Giveaway Winners

Congratulations to the giveaway winners (Heather Jo, guitargirl, Sharon, Blair, and kguikema)! You have been email and your ebook should be on its way shortly! 

Thanks to everyone who entered, and remember that you can purchase 21 Days to a More Disciplined Life for just $0.99 today only, tomorrow the price will go up to $4.99.

I'll be back later today with another post in my book series :)

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Roasted Butternut Squash and Cauliflower Soup

Make sure to enter the 21 Days to a More Disciplined Life giveaway from Money Saving Mom. It ends today!!

Last week was our final CSA pick-up for the season, so I had some autumn veggies to use up (and I don't usually like cauliflower!). I took a little bit of inspiration from this recipe by Soup Addict, but I'm happy to report that my many edits turned out excellent!

So, here it is, my Roasted Butternut Squash and Cauliflower soup (with a few secret ingredients) :)
The Recipe:
1 medium size butternut squash, peeled and cubed
1/2 large cauliflower head, or one medium, cut into florets
olive oil
salt and pepper
2 quarts chicken stock
1/2 cup-1 cup apple cider
3 or 4 slices good quality sandwich bread, crusts removed and cubed
blender (immersion or counter)
optional bread and feta cheese for toppings

Preheat oven to 400. Fill a large baking sheet with the cut up squash and cauliflower. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Bake for 30 minutes, flip and test, bake for an additional 20-30 minutes.

While the veggies are roasting, saute onion and garlic in a large stock pot. Add chicken stock and apple cider. Transfer cooked veggies to stock pot and let simmer for 10-30 minutes (however much time you have!).
Add cubed bread and allow to soak into the broth. Then use an immersion blender (or work in batches in a counter blender) to puree as finely as desired. This creates a dense, textured, and uniform soup that is hearty and tastes like autumn!

Serve topped with additional cubes of bread and feta cheese, if desired. I loved how rich and thick this turned out. The squash and cauliflower flavors melded together perfectly, and the hint of apple cider was really nice. I'm totally not a cauliflower person and my husband doesn't usually do squash, but we thought this was amazing. Enjoy!

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

21 Days to a More Disciplined Life Giveaway

Money Saving Mom, written by Crystal Paine, is one of my favorite blogs. I love getting the scoop on freebies and high value coupons, but I most appreciate how she writes about setting goals, prioritizing, and making a frugal lifestyle fit your family's needs. 

I reviewed Crystal's book The Money Saving Mom's Budget last year. Crystal just released a brand-new ebook today called 21 Days to a More Disciplined Life. I have skimmed through a bit of this book, but have not yet gotten the chance to really dig into it. It's a easy read, like all that Crystal writes, and she makes you feel like she is coming along side you, the way a good coach does. She is encouraging and challenging at the same time.  

This ebook is available on Kindle (and you don't need a Kindle to read Kindle books; you can download Kindle for your computer!), and is also available in PDF format. Through October 26 you can buy 21 Days to a More Disciplined Life for just $0.99! After that the price will go up to $4.99. But, if you are willing to spend the $1 right now, here's your chance to win a copy of this fantastic ebook.

Win It!

I have 5 copies of 21 Days to a More Disciplined Life ebook to give away! To enter, all you need to do is leave a comment (it can just be 'enter me!') on this post. Be sure to include your email address so I can contact you if you win. The giveaway will end tomorrow (Oct. 24) at 9 PM Eastern.

Disclosure: I was given a free copy for myself and 5 copies to give away. All opinions are my own.

Friday, October 12, 2012

In my house this week...

I haven't been getting nearly enough sleep between staying up late for Orioles games and my kiddos not sleeping well in their newly shared room. But we are VERY excited to have something to cheer about in October as Baltimore baseball fans.

And for the most part the kids have loved sleeping in the same room.

We are also gearing up for a birthday party on Saturday as Will turns two.

I'm planning to make this funfetti cake from

And I'm using one of Will's favorite books for the decorating inspiration.

I woke up with no voice this morning and am feeling quite a bit under the weather. Parenting without a voice always makes for a challenge. But I'm resting up for tomorrow, enjoying watching a little extra movies with the kids (they love The Sound of Music), an plenty of audiobooks to save my voice.
Here's hoping for an Orioles win tonight and a lovely fall weekend to you all!

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Homemade Pizza: The Basic Recipe

We have a weekly pizza night at our house. Not only does everyone love pizza, it makes my meal planning a lot simpler to just eat it the same night each week.  Plus, pizza is one of those easy to order out meals, so making it at home helps us to avoid ordering pizza on a lazy day. 

It's so much cheaper to make myself, and while I won't pretend that I love when we do order out, I've gotten pretty good at making a decent pizza at home. Over the next several weeks I plan to share some of the different pizza recipes that I use. I get board of the same kind of homemade pizza each week very quickly. If we have the same kind too frequently I am much more likely to want to order out! So I rotate about 5 or 6 different pizza crusts and various toppings, although do cheese and pepperoni about every other week.

My basic pizza dough recipe comes from the Better Homes and Gardens New Cook Book Bridal Edition cookbook, one that I got when we were first married. I like this one because it doesn't need any rise time, so it's perfect for last minute nights. 

My Kitchen Aid mixer is a lifesaver with all the pizza dough I make!

And since this dough is really simple, I usually brush the whole thing with olive oil before I add the sauce and toppings. Then I sprinkle some garlic salt or other seasoning on the crust to add just a bit more life to it!

Pizza Dough
from Better Homes and Gardens

2 3/4 to 3 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 1/4 teasp. yeast
1/4 teasp. salt
1 cup warm water
2 Tbsp. cooking oil

Beat 1 1/4 c. flour, yeast, salt, water and oil in a mixer for 30 seconds on low. Turn up to high and beat for 3 minutes. Gradually add as much remaining flour as possible while still maintaining a soft, pliable dough.

Turn dough out on to a lightly floured surface and knead in enough flour so the dough is no longer sticky. I only knead for a minute, max. Let the dough rest for about 10 minutes, while the oven is preheating to 450 degrees. Make sure to place any stoneware in the oven while it is still cold.

Once the oven is heated, shape the dough into your desired shape using a rolling pin or hands. (Our pizzas are hardly ever perfectly round, and often end up rectangular :) they still taste great!). Make one large pizza or two slightly smaller and thinner crusts with this amount of dough. Place on pizza stone.

If desired, brush dough with olive oil and sprinkle with garlic/garlic salt. Top with homemade sauce and favorite cheese, plus pepperoni or other favorite toppings. Bake in 450 degree oven for about 13 minutes, or until cheese is browned. Allow to rest for 5 minutes before cutting to allow the toppings to set. Enjoy!

Friday, October 5, 2012

Giveaway winner + Marshmallow Recipe

The winner of the photo book from Shutterfly is Becca. You've been emailed! Thanks to everyone who entered.

Last week I finally got around to trying my hand at making marshmallows. My godsister has made them for us and they are out of this world. I got the recipe from her and found time one evening to whip these up. They are not hard, but take a little bit of time. Mostly the time is just waiting for the sugar to cook or the marshmallows to whip, so it's not too complicated.

Normally I'm a roasted over the grill type of marshmallow eater, not straight from the bag. But these marshmallow are so good that I'll eat them "raw" no problem! SO GOOD! We've had them roasted as well, and probably my favorite (thanks to the cooler evenings), in hot chocolate. Totally delicious.

There are a ton of recipes out there, but I've only tried this one from Joy Of Baking. I made vanilla and coated half with powdered sugar and the other half with baking cocoa to make chocolate. I can't wait to try some other varieties next!

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Be Selective! (Loving Books, part 3)

I  feel like I've learned a lot about how to encourage my kids to love books, especially great books, and I wanted to take a few posts to share some of my thoughts. Any time you delve into parental advice-giving it has the potential to be a nasty can of worms. So, I hope the book recommendations and thoughts on encouraging a love a reading are helpful. I'm not trying to make out like my way of doing this will work for everyone.

In Be Excellent! I talked about how not all books are equal. I believe it is important to surround your children with high quality books. But great books do not have a separate section in the bookstore or library; it takes some effort and critical thinking on our part to find them. So, how does one go about finding the gems amidst the stones?

When I finish reading a book to my children that we all really enjoy I run through a series of questions to think critically and analyze why. I’m so used to doing it at this point that it just comes naturally. 

Some questions might be: Were the illustrations particularly beautiful or unique? Or was it the plot? Picture books that make you think are a special treasure. Did the book flow well because of the rhythm and rhymes? Rhyming is a fantastic tool to help children anticipate and guess what is going to happen next. Perhaps it was a combination of several of these things. 

When we happen upon a great book, we usually check out a second by that author on our next library visit. Often, we have just found a new favorite set of books! Sometimes we end up only liking one book by a particular author. For example, we love Goodnight Moon and Two Little Trains by Margaret Wise Brown. But Little Fur Family? Not reading that one again! 

I’ve also found some great resources to help me locate twaddle free books. I love the extensive lists of great picture books through high school age in both Honey for a Child’s Heart and The Read-Aloud Handbook.  I recommend parents owning a copy of each. The Internets have a wealth of recommendations as well, although I’ve found that it requires a good bit more effort on my part to follow up on these books since anyone can post on a blog or review a book. 

It is really important to remember that you do NOT have to spend a lot of money on books to surround your children with excellence. We are also blessed to have extremely helpful and personal librarians who are great at suggesting new books. The public library is a fantastic resource, especially for moms with young kids. 

I am constantly logging on to the library's website to request books from other libraries in our system. This makes our time at the library so much more enjoyable (I can focus on playing with my kids and reading to them instead of needing to find some good books!) and I know that when I get home I'll have a few "winners" that came highly recommended. Word of mouth among parents is probably the best way to find great new books! When we discover a new book we love I find myself recommending it to many people.

How are you likely the book recommendations on each post? I hope you have been able to find some new favorites!

Favorite Fairytale and Whimsical Books

 Cinderella by Max Ellenberg
  This is our favorite version of Cinderella. Beautiful illustrations and a few twists from the iconic Disney version. Both my daughter and son love it.
Hans My Hedgehog: A Tale from the Brothers Grimm adapted by Kate Coombs
  This is a not-so-grim adaptation of a Brothers Grimm story. More fantastic illustrations and a longer story that is still great for little ones.
Grandpa Green by Lane Smith
  Follow the story of "Grandpa's" life through the eyes of his grandson...and his garden.
There's No Such Thing as a Dragon by Jack Kent
  I remember reading this book when I was little and now it has captured the hearts of my children. If there's no such thing as something, you can't tell it to get off the table!
Princess Hyacinth by Florence Parry Heide
  This poor princess has to wear a heavy crown to keep her from floating away. Perhaps fans of George MacDonald will find the story similar (I did!). Also brilliant illustrations by Lane Smith.
New York's Bravest by Mary Pope Osborne
  Of the Magic Tree House fame, this is a wonderful tall tale about Mose, a New York City fireman. My son says, "New Ork's Bravest by Mary Poke Osborne!"
The Opposite by Tom MacRae
  In the same vein as There's no such thing as a Dragon, this book features an uninvited guest. Very clever book and a favorite with my 2-year-old especially.

Too many more....I have to stop for now!

Part 1: Readers Are Made
Part 2: Be Excellent!

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