Tuesday, December 31, 2013

The Resolutions We Make...and Break

I don't know about you but like rules, I believe resolutions are meant to be broken. Year after year, we enthusiastically make these resolutions (Lose weight! Quit smoking! Save money!) only to lose nothing but steam come Valentine's Day (all that chocolate..) Now, I'm all for self improvement, but without all the added pressure of doing it for the sake of New Years. Instead of focusing on what we can't do, maybe we should focus on what we can. Maybe volunteering, being more patient with our kids, cooking healthier and being a better friend should top our lists. For me, I hope to savor the small moments with my kids, slow down and allow time to pass without feeling like we need to cram more in. I want to snuggle longer, give more kisses and dole out compliments more often than I give time-outs. I want to try new recipes, let my kiddos help more in the kitchen and keep my home company-ready. I hope to be a better wife, putting my hubby first and making our marriage a priority. One way or another, I want to connect with my man weekly, whether with an official date and a babysitter or simply on the couch with a glass of wine. Lastly, and most importantly, I want to connect weekly, daily, hourly, with my heavenly father. I want to be in a constant state of prayer, and spend more time in the word. I know that alone will help me accomplish all that I want in the next year. Be safe and make it a Happy New Year!
What will you do differently in 2014???

Friday, December 27, 2013

The Calm After the Storm

Do you ever feel like Christmas goes by way too fast? Like you wish you could have squeezed in one more party, shopping trip, baking session?? Well, once you have kids, it only speeds up. This year, I was determined to slow down, enjoy one activity at a time and just savor the moments with my little ones. It didn't stop the clock but it allowed me to focus on what the season is really about...family, friends, creating traditions and really celebrating the birth of Christ. This year we established a few first traditions (light-looking in the car with Del Taco, baking and delivering cookies to neighbors..) and enjoyed a few old favorites (visiting Santa at Bass Pro Shop and going out for burgers on Christmas Adam, the day before Christmas Eve..) I tend to be a high energy, on-the-go person and this year was no exception but I did my best to stop and smell the roses because when the gifts have been unwrapped, the decorations put away for next year and the toys have all been opened and strewn about the house, I want my kids to remember the time and togetherness as a family. So while you plan for the year to come, make those resolutions and no doubt get organized from the chaos, be sure to reflect on what matters most. Your family, time spent creating and upholding traditions and seeing the look of delight on your kid's faces as they play with their Christmas bounty, those are the moments to relish. Next year can wait.
"Be happy for this moment. This moment is your life." -Omar Khayyam

Thursday, December 19, 2013

It's Cookie Time!

Gather 'round you friends of mine. We're Wilderness Girls and it's cookie time, it's cookie time! Anyone else remember that song from Troop: Beverly Hills?? No?? Ok, moving on...
It's the time of year where folks everywhere are baking and buying treats, no guilt allowed. It's Christmastime, after all!! So as if you really need yet another reason to make some more, I suggest baking batches as gifts. Have you gotten all your Christmas shopping done but still want a "little something" for that neighbor, teacher, mail-carrier?? It's not too late! A couple weeks ago, my kiddos and I (but mostly I...) baked and packaged cookies to take to our neighbors. It was a fun activity, the kids had a blast walking the neighborhood to deliver the goods but mostly? The takeaway from it was that it turned out to be such a blessing to us to surprise our friends and remind them we love them. It's something I plan to do every year (You're welcome, friends!) So here's what we made. Maybe it's time for a bake-off of your own!


Chocolate Mint Cookies:
  • 2 sticks butter, slightly softened
  • 1 cup powdered (confectioners) sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 2-1/2 cups flour
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  •  1/2 cup white chocolate chips, melted
  •  Crushed candy canes

  • Combine all ingredients except the white chocolate and roll into small rounds. Bake 8-10 minutes at 350 degrees until just done. Let cool then melt white chocolate in microwave for 30 seconds and drizzle over cookies, sprinkling tops with crushed candy canes. Super festive and addicting!! (Do this with store-bought dough for an even easier and faster treat!)

    Peanut Butter Oatmeal Bars:

  • 2 sticks butter, slightly softened
  •  3 cups flour
  • eggs
  •  1 tablespoon baking powder
  •  1 cup rolled oats
  • 1 and 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  •  2 1/2 cups peanut butter
  • Combine all ingredients and press into a 9X13 inch baking pan. Bake at 350 degrees until edges are just starting to brown, about thirty minutes. Allow to cool COMPLETELY before cutting into squares.

    You can package your treats in cookie boxes, tins, baskets, paper bags...the possibilities are endless! Just be sure to stock up on pretty ribbon, waxed paper and cellophane and you'll be all set. Get creative and get crackin'!

    Monday, December 16, 2013

    Bagel Me!

    Since it's no secret how much I love Starbucks and bread, it should come as no surprise that I discovered Starbucks freshly toasted bagels with cream cheese and it's since become a slight obsession. It's something so simple yet sooo good. I don't know if it's just that someone else is preparing it, but once I get a whiff of that fresh and warm goodness, it's all over. Crisp on the outside, chewy in the middle and toasty on the edges, bagels just speak to me. Now, I have a major sweet tooth as well so the humble bagel sat on the back burner for a while, being ignored in favor of coffee cakes, scones, and the like. And now I have harder decisions to make. Try the Cranberry Bliss Bar or just stick with the bagel? On my birthday, I enjoyed one of these bad boys and of course, it got me thinking...could I, should I, try to make bagels at home?? Is that just too crazy? Maybe. But I tried anyway. At five a.m. one morning when my family was all still asleep. I recommend tackling this recipe when you actually have time for it, not on a school day when you'll be scrambling because you need at least two hours, thanks to that darned yeast. So finicky, won't let you take any shortcuts! So here's the recipe I tried and I have a few tips for you so yours will turn out better than mine:
    - Don't allow the dough to rise on the oven..I thought this was a great idea until I realized the high heat almost melted the dough, making it really sticky.
    - Boil for at least two minutes on each side. Don't rush this step or the bagels will disintegrate into the water.
    - Again, allow enough time for the dough to rise both times.
    - Be sure to have an abundance of fun toppings such as cream cheese, butter and jams, if you can wait long enough to slice and top them. Not speaking from experience or anything, but you just might be tempted to inhale them straight from the oven, burning your hands in the process. Enjoy!!!
    Homemade Asiago Cheese Bagel Recipe - just like Panera! | howsweeteats.com


    Tuesday, December 10, 2013

    Holiday Hassle

    I love to decorate and prepare for the holidays but nothing is more of a hassle than trying to declutter, decorate, shop and make sure everything is in its place for family and company. But with a few simple shortcuts, you can have a festive home, cross items off your to-do list and keep your sanity in tact. With Christmas quickly approaching, I am trying to slow time, create memories with my kiddos and indulge in as many seasonal activities as possible. Tree lightings, parades, parties, shopping...it can all get overwhelming if you let it. So pick your favorites, have fun and get going! We already saw Santa, made Christmas cookie deliveries and have begun watching our favorite Christmas movies. Busy? Yes. Fun? Oh yea. Nothing beats this time of year and I try to instill a love of tradition in my children. As they grow, I hope they remember and cherish all we do as a family. Here are a few tips to enjoy the holidays and stress less:
    - Shop early, often and online if you can! Jot down gift ideas as soon as you think of them and order as early as possible. Also, consider getting everyone the same gift such as pajamas or a delicious gourmet treat.
    - Choose a couple places in your home to decorate and focus there. Instead of cramming every spare space with holiday decor, focus on the bathroom and entryway, for example, lighting a few candles, hanging some garland and calling. it. a. day.
    - Take family photos early and order Christmas cards online.
    - Decide what activities you really want to participate in and which ones you can live without. You don't have to say yes to every invitation, especially if it will cause more stress to attend.
    - Order large quantities of one gift, like See's candy, for teachers, babysitters, and neighbors.
    - Ditch the guilt! Not everything has to be homemade, perfect and right on time. Store bought treats and gift cards can be real time savers.
    I hope you are enjoying all that Christmas has to offer. The goodies, get togethers and memories you create with your family are priceless. Enjoy the buildup and then relax on Christmas morning relishing in what the holiday is really about, the birth of Christ!

    Wednesday, December 4, 2013


    Few things in the food world excite me as much as freshly baked bread. It's a weakness of mine. There, I said it. I will not, cannot turn it down. From sweet to savory, I don't discriminate. A few of my favorites hail from Mrs. Knott's Kitchen, The Islamorada Fish Company and Macaroni Grill. Slathered with butter, hot from the oven, it's irresistible. I've made and copied many versions over the years but thus far, none has rivaled the most recent. Eager to try something new for Thanksgiving, I gave a recipe my sis passed my way a whirl. Boy, was I happy I did. As I was mixing, kneading, allowing to rise, cutting and allowing to rise yet again, I'm ashamed to admit I did have the fleeting thought "I'm so buying frozen dough next time". And then I tasted them. And so did my family. The rolls were the first to go and I have already made them again to accompany a batch of soup. So here's the recipe and I insist you try it immediately, following it to a T (I stress this since I have the tendency to take shortcuts for the sake of time...not worth it!) Oh, and I used regular flour...

    Monday, December 2, 2013

    A Day in the Life (Mommy Needs a Drink)

    No need for an alarm clock, I awaken nice and early at about six to the sounds of kids, my eyes feeling like they might bleed. Through a haze, I make my way downstairs for coffee, sweet coffee. I take kids potty, get them dressed and then finally, blessedly, pour my first cup of the day. Between breakfast demands, getting laundry going and emptying the dishes, among other chores, the morning goes by fairly quickly. Kids are settled, playing nicely so I sit down to check e-mail.
    "Mommy!!!" Hmmm...interesting timing. I trudge upstairs to put out a fire. One called the other mean and someone needs a snack. Back downstairs I go in my next attempt for quiet time but now I have a monkey on my back. Literally. And he's pulling my hair and trying to climb on my shoulders while repeating "I want peanut butter jelly."  So lunch is made, served and cleaned up. Park sounds good. Maybe they will burn some energy and be tired later?
    So off we go. They run and play and I stroll the perimeter, enjoying a few minutes of quiet. Hands in pockets, walking. This is kind of relaxing. Wow, they are being so nice. As I make my way around the playground, they ask for more time. "Keep going, Mommy. Five more minutes. Don't watch us." Wow, I'm lucky today! They are playing sweetly with the other playground kids, digging in the dirt. Making a cake or whatever. I almost feel guilty for being so impatient earlier. I vow to be kinder. And then as I come a little closer, I notice the extent of the mess. Under their nails, in their hair. They are caked in dirt. And where did the water come from? Oh, I see one of the park kids got hold of a soda can and has been filling it at the water fountain. Nice. So now it all makes sense. The little bastards! Grrr. Well, they are dirty now so we stay a little longer, until it gets chilly and I have to pee.
    Once home, I declare mommy time. Twenty minutes on the treadmill should be no big deal...right?? Netflix to the rescue! I let them pick a show, get them settled on the couch with a snack, their drinks and hop on, door ajar so I can see them. OK, I'm going. Jogging slowly, breathing in and out. Stress slowly melting away when...
    "She just got going at a moderate pace", one must have whispered to the other..."Mommy!!!" they yell. "What is it??" I holler back. Can't make it out so I keep going when crying ensues. Hop off. Go inside. Put out fire. Hop back on. Put out next fire. This goes on for about fifteen minutes while I squeeze my mile in. Show's over. Time to make dinner.  I figure they can help, keep their little hands busy.
    Cutting board, veggies, kids on counters. Pull out meat, spaghetti, sauce. Get water boiling. I decide to make cookies for dessert. "No fingers in dough, guys", I say calmly. Reasonable enough. Or maybe not because I repeat that another six times or so just while stirring. Dough flings, splatters. Cookies make their way into the oven and pasta goes into boiling water. Someone dumps sauce on the counter. Another dips their fingers in it, wipes it on their shirt. Breathe in. Take kids off counters and set them up at kitchen table so I can finish up. Breath out. Crack open a Diet Coke, wishing it would be acceptable to pour in some rum.
    "Mommy, Logan is messing up my picture." Take a big gulp, stir pasta.
    "Logan, stop". So he grabs scissors and attempts cutting for a few minutes, just enough time for me to brown meat. "Mommy, he's putting the scissors in his mouth."
    "Logan, scissors out of mouth." Break up pieces of the meat with a wooden spoon.
    Check on spaghetti.
    "Logan, scissors out of mouth!"
    Strain spaghetti.
    "LOGAN, SCISSORS OUT OF MOUTH!!!" I grab the scissors and put them up. Crying, lots of crying. Slam said wooden spoon on stove. Gulp Diet Coke, grab crying boy and console for a minute or so until he wriggles out of my arms and goes back to table to torture sister.
    "Mommy, he's bugging me! Go away, Logan!" she wails.
    Ahhh man, where is my hubby? He better be on his way. Is it too early for wine??
    I put out some veggies and dip, they dive in. Once again, I go back to dinner. Open freezer, pull out garlic bread. Take out cookies, put bread in. Mmm...cookies smell good.
    "Mommy, may we have a cookie please??" ask my blue-eyed cherubs.
    "After dinner."
    "Please, Mommy", they whine.
    "After dinner."
    "But Mommy, we're hungry."
    Hubby arrives, rum goes into Coke. Dinner is served. Kids bathed, teeth brushed and off they go with Daddy so I can finally, finally finish my darned workout (why do I even bother?? I haven't sat all day so surely I'm burning calories...)
    Off to bed they go and I change into jammies, flop on the couch and relax. An hour later, kids kissed and checked on and I'm out like a light, sure to face the same madness tomorrow. Wouldn't change it for the world...