Sunday, June 16, 2013

Grateful for this Father's Day

This is probably the first Father's Day I haven't taken for granted. Last year, like every other I bought a card, rounded up my kiddo's and headed over to which ever meal my mom had planned to celebrate. Of course I gave my dad a hug and enjoyed watching him chuckle over the card I had selected, enjoyed the 2-ish hours with my family then headed back home to my normal routines.

Last year, as far as I knew my dad was healthy and I would have another 20-something days just like that. A few weeks after this typical Father's Day we learned my dad had cancer. He has spent the last year going to treatments and undergoing a few surgeries. I am elated to say so far so good and am optimistic that later this year he will officially earn the cancer survivor badge.

This year, while I still bought a card and am about to go to the usual gathering, will still give my dad a hug and perhaps on the surface it will appear just like last year, for me it will mean so much more. I can't say why some people get second chances and others do not but for those who have lost their fathers I promise not to take this day for granted.

A very Happy Father's Day to all of the men in my life. You help keep me sane-ish.




Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Pinterest Inspired Pink Party


Yes, I have created a monster. Ella turned 3 yesterday and about 2 months ago she started telling everyone about her pink birthday party with:

     • pink balloons
     • a big pink present
     • pink cake
     • pink candles
     • pink party hats
     • pink cupcakes
     • pink flowers
     • pink, pink, pink


I do love an excuse to have a party and I have to thank Pinterest for making Pink Princess Parties accessible to the average mom. I swiped some awesome ideas. Since Sunday was only a week after Mother's Day and we have so many little girls in the family, we had a Mommy/Daughter Pinkalicious Tea Party.

I found her dress on Zulily. If you haven't checked it out, you really should. Super cute clothes for kids at really reasonable prices. I think I paid $22 for this dress, $26 after shipping. It did take almost a month for it to come in though so order early.

Then I moved on to Pinterest for decoration ideas. Anna helped with almost everything. She made the lollipop tree and we filled different cups & jars with everything pink we could find.


I have been dying to try to make these tissue paper pompoms and yes, they are ridiculously easy and a cheap decoration. The large ones make 1 per pack of 10 sheet tissue paper - $1 at Hobby Lobby or you can make 4 small ones out of a pack.


Story of my life is that I work so hard making sure the party is going smoothly, I forget to take pictures. I really should task someone to be the photographer.

For the tables, I used simple pink plastic table cloths and a darker pink runner I actually had, but never used. The plates I purchased at Old Time Pottery years ago for a Pink Tea Party for Anna. They ran $1 each as did the glass tea cups which I dressed up with a pink flower. I didn't have enough tiered serving platters for each table so we improvised with a few trifle bowls topped with a silver charger plate. That worked well because we could fill one charger with the lunch course then another with the desserts and switch them out for an easy change over.


I did buy a set of paper lanterns (around $10) as a back up to the pompoms. I wasn't sure how they would turn out, but I recommend just sticking to the pompoms. We also made around 100 of the little pink flowers and attached 3 to a ribbon and hung them on all the windows & doors. Soooo easy. You get about 25 flowers out of a pack of tissue paper but the over-sized flower punch was $25. Knowing Anna, it will get plenty of use.


My menu was kid friendly: Mickey shaped Turkey & Cheese sandwiches, Chicken salad Croissants, Salame & Cream Cheese Roll-ups, Fruit, Mini Muffins, Mini Spinach Quiche and I had planned on PB & J but ran out of time and figured we had enough.

For dessert we had the sugar table pictured above, and at each table sugar cookies with pink sprinkles, brownies, rice krispie treats dipped in pink chocolate, mini cream puffs and chocolate covered oreos.

Beverages were chocolate milk, Pink Lemonade with Sprite to add a little bubbles and iced tea.

I had hoped the weather would have been nice and we would have gotten out the bounce house to burn off the sugar high, but that didn't happen.


We put out a basket with enough boas, beads, tiarras and ginormous diamond rings that all the girls could princess-ify themselves to their hearts' content. I think they all had a lovely time.


But by the end, this one was ready for a nap. (Yes, it is beyond time to lose the pacifier, but I am old and dreading that battle. One of the perks to being the youngest.)


Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Being Aware

I posted on Facebook a run in I had this past weekend that I think is a good reminder to be aware of your surroundings. Many people have shared it, which I think is great and I have really enjoyed all the comments and personal stories people have added. One comment has stuck with me which is why I felt compelled to post this entry.


"Don't be so scared all the time."

It was around 6:30 a.m. on Saturday and I was starting my long day off with a trip to a local Kroger to fill up on gas. The sun was still working its way up so not fully light out and things were pretty calm and quiet. As I pulled up to the pump, I noticed one other car. The man fulling his vehicle gave me a look as I unscrewed my gas cap. No biggie.

As I waited while my tank filled he asked me if I was from around here. I said, "yes," assuming he was about to ask me for directions. But instead he asked me if I would be able to come over to his car to see if I could recognize the dog in it. He had almost hit it in the road.

Without really thinking about it, I said no. It wasn't that I didn't want to help, but there are thousands of local dogs and the likelihood that I would know whose dog was in his car was slim to none. But even as I said it, I looked in his car from my position to see the dog.

I couldn't see a dog but he quickly added that it had short little legs and had been running all over the road. He mentioned that it looked like he had broken his chain.

I think I just shrugged my shoulders in a "sorry, I can't help you," sort of way and he got in his car and drove off. I watched his car as he did, and I never did see any sign of a dog. I did make a mental note of his appearance and his car because the entire conversation seemed off. As I watched him go, I realized there was no one around. No other cars at the pumps. Not a single car drove by in the 1-2 minutes of our chat. I looked at the window box where a Kroger employee typically sits, but it seemed to be empty (in all fairness, I didn't walk up to it to double check).

I literally got back in my car and used my phone to post the encounter on Facebook as a warning to other women just in case this guy was up to something funny. Many people said I should notify the police, so within an hour or so, I did. They said no one else had reported anything similar but thanked me for calling it in. I honestly felt a little foolish since nothing really happened, but was glad I did.

My gut told me something was not right. Maybe it is women's intuition but we all know when a guy hits on you in a creepy way. That is precisely how this felt. My biggest concern is that at 37 married with 3 children that is not the attention I want but a 14-24 year old version of myself thought any attention was fun and I would probably not responded the same way.

I have spent a large majority of my career working downtown. I am ridiculously familiar with being asked for all kinds of things and heard more lines of crap than you can possibly imagine. I must have one of those "I'm a sucker, come talk to me," kind of faces because I have literally seen people cross the street to ask me for spare change when there were plenty of other people closer to them.

I make a practice of walking with a purpose, head up, looking around corners, parking in lit areas and being aware of my surroundings. All things women are supposed to do. In my college years I put myself at risk on 3 occasions that I can think of. Fortunately nothing bad happened but on one of those times a woman confronting me actually stopped and said, "I can't do this to you. You are just a kid." I have no idea what she intended but am grateful to this day she didn't proceed.

None of those events changed who I am and the idea that I am scared is laughable. I just hope people don't confuse educating yourself on potential dangers, being aware of your surroundings, and trusting your inner voice when it says something feels wrong, with being scared. 

Monday, May 6, 2013

Stupid Simple Ideas

I have come up with a few ideas lately that are so simple yet so, "why didn't I think of this with my first two kids?" that I assume everyone else is already doing them. Just in case you aren't, I thought I would share.

Sprinkles make everything taste better. Ella LOVES pink. I noticed that she always asks for pink yogurt but then barely eats it. It took the yogurt companies putting packets of sprinkles on top for me to have my ah ha moment and now I keep a variety of pink sprinkles on hand for yogurt requests and she typically eats it all.

Since I figure that was a duh, here is how I moved on. She wanted a cupcake. I didn't have one, and although she is utterly spoiled, I was not about to make cupcakes to avoid a tantrum. Glancing around the kitchen, I spotted the bananas and had nothing to lose. Banana slices are sticky and sure enough, sprinkles stick perfectly to them. This new treat is one of her favorite desserts. If I am feeling extra fancy, a little dab of whipped cream and/or a drizzle of chocolate syrup and you practically have a banana split.




Locally, you never know what the weather on Halloween will be. One year it could be 80 and sunny, the next 35 with snow flurries. It makes costume planning for little ones a bit more challenging. This past year Ella went as Minnie Mouse. She had a super cute short sleeve dress but it was turning out to be one of the cold weather years. Rather than a coat, I opted to go with a black turtle neck and leggings. 

She had 8-10 really cute summer dresses that still fit her, probably wouldn't the next spring but it was too cold to wear. Ah ha moment #2. I went out and bought a few more turtle necks (2 white and a pink to be exact) then she wore her summer dresses through the winter with either leggings or tights and some stylish boots.

I did the reverse of that even when Anna was little. A lot of the cute little sun dresses would still fit a year later but they are too short. I pair those with some capris (or leggings from the year before that are really too short = instant capris) or shorts and they make super cute baby-doll style tops. Ella is probably officially a 3T but she is wearing some 2T and even a few 18 month dresses from last year. The ones that work the best are flowy with spaghetti straps. Of course that is assuming they aren't completely stained up after a season of wear and you still want to use them. Sorry I don't have any suggestions for little boys, though I guess the turtle neck could work for them too.

See, stupid simple. Please share if you have any of your own. I love simple.


Saturday, April 13, 2013

Sweet Science Fair Project

I absolutely hate science projects. I hated doing them when I was in school and I hate them even more now. Growing up, I was always able to do something that wasn't really a science experiment like once I took apart a phone and labeled the parts with a report on the history of the telephone and how it works. This time I had no such luck. Anna was required for her 5th grade, mandatory, science fair project to:
  • research a subject
  • form a hypothesis
  • conduct an experiment to test this hypothesis
  • analyze the results
  • write it all in a report
  • design a presentation
  • showcase it all at a science fair
Which we all know means I had to do these things with her kicking and screaming the entire way. Back in December we received a packet with step by step instructions of everything we needed to do. It included a timeline which if you did a little each week you would have it all completed in plenty of time with no cramming or stressing out to get it completed in April.

But what fun would that be?

She had to pick her topic back in December which was a pain in its self. I was looking for something easy, something I could understand, preferably something I had the answers to without having to do much research and something she could help with. Several arguments with Anna later we ended up stealing an idea from Alex. You see, he joined the science club at school and this basically meant he was in a group of 3 other students who met once a week (or a month, I can't remember now) to work on a science project for a competition. He was in a group with 3 girls and being a 13 year old boy, I don't get a lot of information out of him. I knew very little about their project but with the bits and pieces he gave I was able to plug together what I thought was the best science project ever.


Science, meet cupcakes.
 





















The idea is to test the effect color has on your perception of taste. Here is how we did ours:
  • We (I) baked 288 mini cupcakes all from white cake mixes (4 boxes). There were made exactly the same. I even used packaged egg whites from a carton so you couldn't say the eggs differed.
  • Then we (I) dyed 3 of the batters different colors, counting the drops of food coloring so they would each get the same. We had white, yellow, blue and brown.
  • We (I) made a large batch of white butter cream frosting and separated in into 4 groups and dyed them to match the cake colors.
  • That gave us 72 sets of 4 mini cupcakes one in each color for the test.
  • Anna took 20 sets to school with her so she could run the experiment with her peers
  • I took the rest to my office so I could run it with my peers.
My office was set up like this:



Here is the survey each respondent filled out:

 Given the research we did on-line I was actually expecting different results. Basically the adults for the most part figured out they were all the same flavors and the colors had little impact.

Of the 50 adults ages 30-60:
  • 1 listed each as a different flavor
  • 5 listed all vanilla except brown as chocolate
  • 5 listed all as vanilla but subtle variations on the type of vanilla
  • 3 listed one color as having a different flavor
  • 36 listed them all as the same flavors

Of the 18 students ages 11-12:
  • 14 listed them all as having different flavors
  • 4 listed them all as vanilla
A few even after hearing they were all vanilla insisted the brown was chocolate. 

During the research we learned after age 20 most people lose 50% of their taste receptors so I sort of thought the kids' taste perception would be less impacted by color than the adults. But we all know kids have a much better imagination and are hopefully more impressionable than adults so maybe that explains the findings.

Anna still has to finish writing her report and make her tri-fold for the presentation but I will say this was a pretty fun little experiment to do. Of course after I had already baked the cupcakes we found examples of the same idea on-line using yogurt or clear soda dyed different colors. That would have been so much easier but who doesn't love cupcakes?

As for Alex and his science group, we just learned that they were regional finalists for their project and won $1,000 in savings bonds. They are preparing for the next round to see if they make nationals. We will find out in May if they made the cut to go to Washington D.C. I haven't met the girls in his group or even seen their project but they have already captured my heart. Look out Ms. Stewart.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Lighter Side of Treats

I am still working on my New Year's Resolution to eat healthier (a few set backs along the way) but what is Valentine's Day without sweet treats? Since my co-workers and I are participating in a Biggest Loser competition, I didn't want to tempt them or myself but I can't pass up an excuse to play in the kitchen.

Luckily, Pinterest was loaded with low-fat dessert recipes. I decided to try a few as cupcakes. My co-workers, kids, their teachers, and Pete's co-workers all said they were great. I guess I just had higher expectations because I was disappointed. All the reviews said how amazing they were and the taste was good, but the texture was a little gummy. I'd rather save my calories for the real thing. But if you try them and find a way to avoid the gumminess, please share your discoveries.


Cream Soda Cupcakes

This was my first attempt. I took a box of white cake mix and added it to a can of diet cream soda. I did add 3-4 drops of food coloring because it was not quite as pink as I was hoping for. Stir until just combined and bake according to the package.

Some of these started to pull away from the wrapper and fell apart. I assume this is due to a lack of eggs in the batter.




Chocolate Yogurt Cupcakes

This one was apparently on Dr. Oz. I took a box of dark chocolate fudge cake mix, added one cup of water and one cup of non-fat greek yogurt. Stir until combined and bake according to the package.


Light Cream Cheese Icing
This frosting is a little runny: firmer than a glaze but not nearly as thick as a butter cream.

1 bar reduced fat cream cheese
1 cup fat free greek yogurt
1 small box sugar-free cheesecake instant pudding mix
1 small tub lite cool-whip
1 tsp vanilla
2-3 cups powdered sugar (I added this to try and thicken it up a bit)

Blend the cream cheese and yogurt together, add pudding mix & vanilla, lastly add in the cool whip, beat all until smooth, add in powdered sugar to taste. I had enough to do both sets of cupcakes because you couldn't pile it on or it would run off.


I also made some Red Velvet Cupcakes from a mix. That time I used a can of diet coke and added two eggs. They did not fall apart like the cream soda versions, but they still were a bit gummy.






Since I actually like Valentine's Day treats more than Christmas ones, I couldn't stop at just diet cupcakes. Pictured above are some pretty easy and quick treats that add big WOW factor.

White Chocolate Popcorn
Simply pop a bag of microwave popcorn (or a few if you want more) according to the directions. Melt a cup of white chocolate chips for each bag you pop. Spread the popcorn out in a large shallow dish lined with wax paper. Pour the melted white chocolate over the popcorn and stir (I prefer to use my hands) until all the popcorn has a thin coating. You can also add nuts, pretzels, candies, whatever you like. For this Valentine's version, I added pink & red M&M's, then drizzled the mixture with some melted semi-sweet chips and topped it all off with some red/white/pink sprinkles. Also chocolate to set. Once dry, break apart into chunks and serve.

Salted Hugs
Spread wax paper on a cookie sheet. Line up waffle pretzels on the sheet, top with a Hershey's hug. Put in the oven on low heat 10-15 minutes or until the hug is collapses when touched. Take sheet out of the oven and put an M&M on each smashing down the hug as you do. Let the hug set, then serve.

Chocolate Covered Oreos
I used a mold which you can find at Michael's or any craft supply store that carries Wilton products. Melt your favorite chocolates and follow the directions on the mold.

Lovable Peanut Butter Blossoms
To make this a Valentine Cookie, I simply rolled them in pink and red sugar instead of regular and topped with a chocolate heart instead of a Hershey Kiss.

1/2 c shortening
1/2 c peanut butter
1/2 c sugar
1/2 c brown sugar firmly packed
1 egg
2 tbsp milk
1 tsp vanilla
1 3/4 c flour
1 tsp soda
1/2 tsp salt
48 Hershey Kisses

Preheat the oven to 375˚. Combine all the ingredients (except the kisses) in a large bowl and mix at the lowest speed until dough forms. Roll dough into balls (about an inch). Roll balls in sugar and place on an ungreased cookie sheet.

Bake at 375˚ for 10 -12 minutes. While in the oven, unwrap about 48 Hershey Kisses.

When cookies come out of the oven, top immediately with a kiss and push firmly so the cookie cracks around the edges.



Thursday, January 17, 2013

Unsung Heroes

I, like the rest of America, mourned the lives lost after the tragic shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School. I am not sure words can truly express the waves of emotions that rattled me in ways I hadn't expected.

As a parent of elementary school children, I of course felt empathy for the parents of all the children at the school and especially those whose lives were cut too short. The thought of it occurring at the schools my children attend just takes my breath away.

As the daughter of a teacher and with several family members with careers in education, I mourned the loss of the adults and couldn't imagine the heart ache their families were going through.

Having lost a loved one, I know first hand the pain and stories like these are like a punch in the gut. Just a quick little jab as a reminder of what love taken feels like.

I had been wanting to do a post on this topic since it happened but I wasn't quite sure what I wanted to share. Jumping right into it didn't seem respectful on some levels. I didn't want to hop on the finger-pointing bandwagon or get into the gun debate.

As the stories of the brave children who helped protect one another and the adults who sacrificed themselves for the students came out, I knew how I wanted to address this devastating event but it wasn't until today that I knew how to express my thoughts.

My family has been blessed to have had so many fantastic teachers touch the lives of my children. When I look at my life choices, I have to give credit to stay at home moms. After a weekend with my kids, I am ready to go back to the office. I imagine many moms feel that way when sending their kids to school. So to think of these adults who spend day after day shaping and molding the lives of a room full of children, not their own, but wanting the best for them as if they were, is truly amazing to me.

While the teachers at Sandy Hook are in every way aspirational, I have no doubt each and every one of the teachers my children have and have had in the past, would have acted the exact same way without hesitation. Teachers are a special breed.

May 7th is National Teacher Appreciation Day, but in our area a local news/radio station hosts a Teacher of the Week recognition program. I am happy to say this week, my mom was their award winner.


I say this all the time, but it really is the little things that make the biggest difference. Thank you to the parent who nominated my mom. While of course I think she is the best, she is one of so many teachers who deserve to be recognized for their hard work, their care of our children and their passion for shaping our future generations. If you know of a special teacher who goes above and beyond, please don't wait to tell them or better yet, show them how much you appreciate everything they do.