Sunday, August 31, 2008

It's a Bundt Cake...Oh, A Bonk :)

That title will only be funny if you have seen My Big Fat Greek Wedding...which I'm sure most of you have.

Chocolate Bundt Cake

1 package Devil's Food Cake mix
1 package chocolate instant pudding
4 large eggs
1 cup sour cream
1/2 cup warm water
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 1/2 cup chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees, pam bundt pan. Mix cake mix, pudding,
eggs, sour cream, water, and oil in bowl. Mix for 1 minute and scrape
sides. Beat 2-3 minutes, then fold in chocolate chips. Bake 45-50 minutes
at 350 degrees. For muffins, bake for about 20 minutes instead.

Applesauce Bundt Cake

1 yellow cake mix
1 small package vanilla pudding mix
1 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp cinnamon
1 cup applesauce
1/4 cup vegetable oil
4 eggs
1/2 cup water

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and grease bundt pan. Bake for 38-43
minutes (check box). Sprinkle with powdered sugar.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Maple Town Becomes Calico Critters

When I was little, my sisters and I played with little animal toys that lived in a town called Maple Town.

We had the Maple Town animals and some of the toys that came with them, but my mom made each of us one of our own houses with some matching furniture and other accessories.

This little house is awesome because the roof folds back and the front of it zips down to make more floor space.

Aren't these little animals so cute? Personally, I think they are better than let's say for example Barbie dolls. Although I really don't have anything against Barbie dolls, I just think that animals are a little more kid friendly than super model dolls. Also, it might be because when I was little I was a little bit jealous that all my friends had beautiful Barbie dolls and I had to play with animals. Now that I'm a mom, like most of my parent's other rules that I used to not like, I now see the wisdom.

When I was living with my parents last Fall, my mom and I got out a lot of our old toys and got them all cleaned up. I took home my portion of Maple Town: my purple house, furniture and accessories, and the raccoon family. The awesome ending to this story is that Jane loves playing with these Maple Town toys and house. She'll sit for up to an hour sometimes make believing with this cute little animal family in their cute little purple home.

Anyway, with the help of a friend I just found Calico Critters online at They don't make Maple Town anymore, but this is pretty much exactly the same cute!

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Get Organized!

I got this good idea from my sister-in-law Heidi when I was visiting their family in May. They have two little girls like we do and their girls share a room. I was helping them get dressed one day and I opened up their closet to get out some play dresses and saw that Heidi had their closet organized so that the bloomers that went with the dress were hanging on the hanger with the dress.

I came home and immediately reorganized my girl's closet in this way and it has been great. It is a very simple change, but it has made a big difference. Another thing I do with my girls clothes that hang in the closet is I hang Maren's clothes on white hangers and Jane's clothes on pink hangers. I mostly do this for Brad's sake, to help him know which clothes go with which girl more easily and he appreciates it... :)

This got me thinking about some of the other organizational ideas that I use that others might find interesting. In our house, even though we have three bedrooms, we have a lot of stuff! This forces us to get creative on how we use our space.

Brad thinks this one is the best idea since Cinnamon Toast Crunch. I was having a hard time fitting his shirts in the drawer of our new dresser, so I started rolling his shirts up and they fit much better. Brad loves it because he can easily see all of his shirts and he doesn't have to dig through a pile of them and then mess up the pile when he has to pull one from the middle or the bottom of the stack. I'm quoting him, "I can't believe my mom never thought of this..."

Don't forget to use up the space underneath the crib. These shallow under-the-bed tubs on wheels fit very well and you can stack them one on top of the other.

I found this little set of drawers at Costco and it is perfect for holding all of my sewing and scrapbooking stuff. It is also on wheels which is great because as you can see I keep my sewing machine on it so I can just wheel to wherever I want to sew. Since I don't have a room yet that I can dedicate to my projects, this portable little table and drawers is perfect.

We still have lots of VHS tapes even though they are going out of style and take up a lot of space. Anyway, because it takes up all of the space in our entertainment center we have now moved all of our DVD's into a huge CD/DVD case...

Here they are...this has worked great, and it takes up much less room than with the DVDs in their cases.

We don't have a coat closet, so I had Brad hang up a closet rack in one of our storage closets that now doubles as a coat closet.

Well, there it is...I would love to hear any organizational tips any of you guys have!!

Our current dilemma is we are thinking about getting a small piano, but it really doesn't seem like it would be able to fit anywhere. We're putting our brains together and I'm sure we'll come up with something...

Sunday, August 24, 2008

What's For Dinner? - The Dinner Menu Solution

So, although I love to cook, I found myself only making real organized meals for dinner like once or twice a week. This bothered me so I sat down and tried to figure out the underlying reason why that was happening.

The first thing I realized is that there are just going to be phases in life when real dinners don't happen very often. Some of these times may be when you have a new baby, when people in your family are sick, when you are traveling or preparing/recuperating from a trip, or when school or work schedules get in the way...but at the time I was trying to get this figured out none of those things were happening in our family. I knew it had to be something though...

I finally figured it out...the problem was that I didn't have a plan and in my life I need to have a plan. The problem was it would get to like 5 or 5:30 at night before I would start thinking..."ok, what am I going to make for dinner?" Here's the thing though, it's not like I had never seen the idea of making menus and shopping lists and charts and caledars etc. It's just that those ideas just didn't work for me.

Well, I'm proud to say that I have found the method that works great for me and my family and I decided that I ought to share it with you all in case one of you is searching for a way as well.

What we do is we have our dinner tub. I thought about all of the meals the I like to make and I probably thought of about 30 or 40. Then I put them on slips of paper and put all of those slips into the tub. Then, as a part of Family Home Evening, we plan out our week and one of things we plan are our dinners. Jane gets a kick out of this because she gets to help, Brad likes that part too. So Jane and Brad draw out slips of paper and I have the calendar and a pen and I fill them in when we find winners. This way if they pick one we just don't feel like, or maybe one that we don't have all of the ingredients for we can just put it back in the tub. Once we have our four or five dinners picked out for the week (some nights we have dinner plans and we usually don't pick out dinners for Friday and Saturday nights due to date night and other unpredictabilities and we usually eat Sunday dinner at the Ellertson's house) we move on in FHE.

I couldn't believe how much this helped me cook more. It seems simple, but it makes a world of difference. This way if I do need to go grocery shopping I can look at dinners for the week and see what I need to get. Also, in the morning I check the calendar to see what I will be making for dinner that night and I can plan what time I will need to start and if there are any parts of it that will require special preparation. It also has just the right amount of variety and flexibility that it is a realistic method. It has been so awesome and I would recommend anyone finding theirselves in a similar predicament to at least give it a try.

Here are some of our favorite dinners in the tub:

Chicken Croquets
Chicken Parmesan and Angel Hair Pasta
Potato Bar
Chicken Fajitas
Chili with Ground Beef and Corn Bread
Mexican Lasagna
Hawaiian Hay Stacks
Spaghetti with Ground Beef
Taco Salad
Pork Roast
Special Breakfast
Honey Chicken
BLT Sandwiches
Ham and Potatoes
Chicken Noodle Soup
Chicken Enchilads

This method has also inspired me in other areas of our lives. Meaning I have made more tubs since experiencing the success of the Dinner Tub. I have a tub for choosing hymns for FHE and a tub for Primary songs. A couple of the tubs that I want to make are for helping choose what movie in your collection to watch on movie night and an activities tub if you and your kids are having a hard time deciding what to do or if your kids are bored and they think there is nothing to do. I just think sometimes we end up doing the same things over and over because it's hard to think of and then decide on other things. We all need a little inspiration and motivation to try new things and be creative. I think this might be just the thing...

Saturday, August 16, 2008

It's All a Big Hoax

So, I'm pretty sure that potty training is a hoax...

I got a free potty training DVD in the mail from Huggies and it is pretty great! Jane and I sat down and watched it together and she really liked it. It inspired me to hit potty training hard this week. Needless to say, it was pretty unsuccessful. This little conversation will pretty much sum it up for you:

"Jane it's time to go potty!!!" said mommy in her most enthusiastic and optimistic voice.

"NOOOOOO!" said Jane in her most dramatically sad voice.

"But Jane, aren't you a big girl now? and big girls use the potty." mommy rationalized with her 2-year-old.

"I not a big girl..." said Jane miserably.

"Well then, are you a baby?" questioned mommy.

"No, I not a baby." Jane answered matter-of-factly.

"Well then Jane, what are you?" said the confused mommy...

"...I'm Jane." Jane answered simply...and that was that.

Despite that, I'm just joking about the hoax thing, I know potty training is not a hoax...I'm just a little frustrated is all. It takes a lot of patience to clean up pee all day long. Especially when you forget that your little potty trainer is wearing big girl panties and you let her play on your bed and before you know it you have pee on your pillow. Bummer...

If only there was some place that you could send your kid for a week and they would come back potty trained, kind of like you can send away your pets to get house trained...

We're going to take a little break and begin again with renewed efforts and enthusiasm in a couple of weeks.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Pizza Crust Recipe!

Pizza Crust

1 cup warm water
1 tsp sugar
1 Tbsp yeast on top of water
1 tsp salt
2 Tbsp oil
2 1/2 cups flour

Mix/knead until smooth. Let it rest for 10 minutes.
Roll out onto greased pizza pan. Spread with sauce
and toppings. Bake at 450 degrees for 12 to 13
minutes or until crust is light brown and toppings are
bubbly. One batch of this dough makes 2 small or 1
large crust. This recipe also doubles well.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Thanksgiving in August?

Yes, that's right...a couple of nights ago we had Thanksgiving dinner right in the middle of August.

We did it with Brad's family for FHE on Monday night and it was so much fun. We all contributed parts of the meal and I was in charge of pumpkin pie. Now, my family never really had traditional pumpkin pie for the holidays. We always had what my mom entitled PUMPKIN PIE SUPREME.

While I was making this on Monday the smell was driving me crazy it was so good. It was also made me want to sit down and watch a Christmas movie or something, even though it was 90 degrees outside.

I've had lots of requests for the here it is:

Pumpkin Pie Supreme

1 cup sugar

1 tsp. salt

2 tsp. cinnamon

1 tsp. nutmeg

½ tsp. ground cloves

4 eggs

3½ cup pumpkin (29 oz. can)

1 can evaporated milk

Topping: 1 pkg. yellow cake mix, 1 cube butter

Directions: Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Whisk all ingredients together thoroughly.

Pour into non-greased 9x13 inch pan. Cover with dry cake mix. Drizzle melted

butter over the top of cake mix. Bake at 400 degrees for 15 minutes, then at 350

degrees for 45 minutes. Serve chilled with whip cream.

Lara also made an apricot pie with the apricot pie filling that she made during our apricot phase a couple of weeks ago and it was delicious...

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Never Say Never

I was reading a friend's blog and she wrote about how she always said that she would never take her kids to Chuck E. Cheese, but she took their little girl and she had a great time. It got me thinking about how there are several things that I always swore I would never do with my own kids that I have started doing...and that there is no shame or blame in that...

For example, the old me used to say, "no Teletubbies (Jane and Maren love it and love to watch it at Mema's house), no Barney (one of their favorite books is was a gift), and no kid leashes (I lost Jane for the first time in Wal-Mart last week and it was SO HORRIBLE, even though it was only like a minute and a half. I'm getting her a little back pack leash the next time I go to the store so that I can tie her to the cart if she wants to get down and walk around.).

No Chuck E. Cheese was also on my list, though I don't feel very passionate about it. I guess you should Never Say Never, especially before you have a parental perspective... I'm sure this will keep happening all down the road.

Friday, August 1, 2008

All Things Apricot

It seems that we tend to do what our mothers did...I have fond memories of my mother canning all of the fruit and vegetables from our backyard. I also know that Carol (Lara and Brad's mother) has done lots of canning in her life...

Lara and I have been canning all things apricot over the past couple of days...

Here's the process:

Here are the FRUITS of our labor:

We still have tons of fruit on our rockin' apricot tree even though we have already picked all that we can handle and some other people have come and gotten some as well. We don't have a ladder so there are a lot of good ones near the top. Anyway, the point of all of that was to say please come and help yourself to whatever is still on our tree, but bring a ladder if you can...


Apricot Jam

4 cups blended apricot (somewhat chunky)
1 cup crushed pineapple (drain juice)
1 package pectin
1/4 cup lemon juice
3 1/2 cups sugar

Bring first four ingredients to a rolling boil on high and then add sugar.
Bring back to a rolling boil and let boil for one minute. Then immediately
ladle into clean jars and put on the lid and ring tightly and securely.
Turn it upside down on a towel and the heat of the jam will seal the jar.

This is a modified recipe with the addition of the crushed pineapple.
This allows you to add less sugar...we end up cutting the sugar from
the original recipe in half. Yeah!

Apricot Syrup

4 cups of liquefied apricot
1/2 cup honey
1 1/2 - 2 cups sugar

Mix all ingredients together and bring to a boil. Allow to boil for 2 minutes and
then ladle into clean jars and put on the lid and ring tightly and securely.
Turn it upside down on a towel and the heat of the jam will seal the jar.

Apricot Pie Filling

8 lbs of fruit (peach, nectarine, apricot)
7 cups sugar
2 cups Clear Jel
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
1 3/4 cups lemon juice
1 tsp almond extract

Wash peaches or nectarines, peel peaches and cut fruit into 1/2 inch slices.

To prevent darkening, place fruit in ascorbic acid solution (this can be found right next to the canning supplies in your local stores, it's in a small green canister); drain well. Measure 24 cups fruit. Set aside.

In a 8-quart dutch oven or pot heat about 6 cups water to boiling.

Add 6 cups peach slices; return to boiling. Boil for 1 minute.

Using a slotted spoon, transfer peaches to a large bowl; cover.

Repeat with remaining fruit, 6 cups at a time.

Drain water from the pot.

In same pot combine sugar, Clear Jell, cinnamon and nutmeg and stir in the 4 1/2 cups water.

Cook over medium-high heat, stirring constantly, until mixture thickens and begins to boil.

Add the lemon juice; boil 1 minute, stirring constantly.

Stir in the almond extract.

Immediately add fruit, stirring gently to coat.

Heat for three minutes.

Spoon hot fruit mixture into hot, clean, sterile quart size canning jars, leaving 1-inch headspace.

Remove air bubbles, wipe jar rims, and adjust lids.

Process filled jars in a boiling water canner for 30 minutes.

Remove jars from canner; cool on wire racks.

Makes 6 quarts (enough for 6 pies).

To use pie filling: Spoon 1 quart filling into a pastry lined 9-inch pie pan. Dot with 1 tablespoon butter or margarine. Cut slits in top crust; adjust top crust. Seal and flute edges. Cover edge of pie with foil. Bake in a 375 degree oven for 25 minutes; remove foil. Bake 25-30 minutes more or until pastry is golden.

No Fail Pie Crust

5 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp salt
2 cups shortening
1 egg
1 Tbsp vinegar plus ice water to equal 1 cup

Combine flour and salt in large bowl. Cut in shortening until mixture is crumbly with lumps the size of peas. Combine egg and water-vinegar mixture. Gradually add to flour mixture, adding just enough to form a workable dough. Divide dough into six balls and flatten slightly. Wrap each flattened disk in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 20 minutes. Remove one disk from refrigerator at a time and roll between floured squares of waxed paper or on lightly floured board to 1/4" thickness and diameter about 1" larger than pie pan.

To bake blind (single crust, no filling), preheat oven to 425 degrees. Fold dough in quarters and transfer to pie pan. Trim and finish edge as desired and prick entire surface with tines of fork. Refrigerate for 10 minutes. Method 1: Remove from refrigerator and line prepared crust with waxed paper. Fill about half way with pie weights, dried beans, rice, etc. Bake for about 10 minutes then remove waxed paper and weights and cook an additional 5 minutes or until golden brown. If necessary, shield the edges with foil if they are browning too fast. Method 2: Remove from refrigerator and bake for 10-12 minutes. If the crust begins to bubble in the oven, prick lightly to release. Cool completely begore adding desired filling. Yield: 12 single crust pie shells.

To bake a double crust pie, preheat oven to 350 degrees. Fold one crust in quarters and transfer to pie pan. Refrigerate bottom crust while preparing filling and top crust. Prepare filling as desired. Roll top crust in same manner as bottom crust. Fold into fourths and cut slits to vent. Remove bottom crust from refrigerator and fill with prepared filling. Transfer prepared top crust onto filling and trim edgers and 3/4" lager than pie pan. (Optional: Brush bottom edge lightly with milk to guarantee seal.) Fold top edges under edges of bottom crust and finish edge as desired. Bake as directed for desired filling. Yield: 3 double pie crusts.