Wednesday, November 30, 2011

It's A Hard-Knock Life For Us

Not really.  They love to vacuum, and beg to use it whenever I have it out.  Tonight, the J-bird even did the steps with the attachment.  I knew I had these kids for a reason. 

Now, to teach them how to fold and put away laundry...

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Chef J-Bird

Cookin' up trouble since 2007.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Animals of the Nativity - UCC Style

 Instead of the traditional Christmas pageant, our church is doing something a little different this year.  Each Sunday of Advent, those of us with children are bringing them to church early to put on little costumes and do something fun at the start of the service, culminating in the "Moment With Children" that our pastor does before all the kids go back to Sunday School (or the nursery).  Today, the kids all dressed as animals and shepherds and decorated the sanctuary while the congregation sang Christmas carols.  Pretty fun.

 The J-bird dressed as a dove.

 And Miss V was one of the less celebrated animals of the Nativity....

 The dragon.  She fit right in.

 The kids all assembled in the narthex beforehand.  It was the general chaos you would expect. 

 That's one of the J-bird's favorite friends, S, standing on the left side of this photo of my children not pushing each other down for once.  She wanted to dress as a princess.  She also fit right in.

 I'm pretty sure the J-bird and Miss V were aware that messing with the ornaments on the Christmas tree wasn't their best idea.  No one seemed to care though, so I just made sure they were careful.  No ornaments were harmed.  This time.

 And then we processed in for the "hanging of the greens" (wreaths, bowls and candles)

 Miss V just followed the J-bird around, happy to be included.

 The J-bird had a blast, hanging with his buddy, L, who was wearing a gorilla mask.

 "Where're we going, Brother?  This sure is fun!"

 We sat down for a song and a welcome, and then the kids went up for their short lesson with the pastor.

 The assortment of shepherds, sheep, gorillas, bunnies, birds, rams, horses, panda bears, princesses and...ahem...dragons was pretty dang cute.

 They learned about the barn where Jesus was born and made animal noises to demonstrate the cacophony.  Not my optimal birthing conditions, but I guess you take what you can get sometimes.
And then all the little people went be-boppin' back to Sunday school, leaving the adults to a peaceful half hour of sermon and music.  We sure do love our church.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Oh, It Bears Repeating

I'm fortunate to sing with the band at my church that leads music once a month, and it's a lot of fun, in addition to being a great musical outlet for me, personally.   Two of our band members had birthdays this week, and since I don't need much of an excuse to bake, I whipped up some of my favorite cupcakes to take to everyone at practice.  These are chocolate, with a Nutella filling (I'm kind of on a Nutella kick lately) and chocolate fudge frosting.  I put a little chili powder in the frosting, but it didn't really come through, so I think I'll add more next time (as long as I'm not sharing them with children).  I thought they came out pretty well!

Here's the recipe for my favorite chocolate cupcakes, which I found on AllRecipes a long time ago and have adapted in many ways for different purposes:

  • 3/4 cup shortening
  • 1 2/3 cups white sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 cups water
  • You can also add instant coffee granules for a mocha flavor or some cayenne pepper for a spicier chocolate taste.  I like to add orange zest or vanilla bean sometimes.


  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Grease two 12 cup muffin pans or line with 18 paper baking cups. (I usually get 18 cupcakes from this recipe, and I like to fill the cups pretty full)
  2. In a medium bowl, beat the shortening and sugar with an electric mixer until light and fluffy. Mix in the eggs, one at a time, then stir in vanilla (and any other flavoring you might be adding). Combine the flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda and salt; stir into the batter, alternating with the water, just until blended. Spoon the batter into the prepared cups, dividing evenly.
  3. Bake in the preheated oven until the tops spring back when lightly pressed, 20 to 25 minutes. Cool in the pan set over a wire rack. When cool, arrange the cupcakes on a serving platter and frost as desired.
To fill these with Nutella, I filled the bottoms of the baking cups with batter, spooned in a little Nutella, then filled the cups the rest of the way with batter before baking.  I often sprinkle a tiny bit of salt on the tops of cupcakes before baking as well, which is, of course, optional.

Here's the frosting recipe, which came from Julie Hasson's "125 best Cupcake recipes":

1&1/2 C powdered sugar
3/4 C unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 C unsalted butter, at room temperature
Pinch of salt
Splash of milk

Put everything in a food processor with a blade attachment and spin it up.  Add more milk (or cold coffee...or chocolate cream liqueur...or whatever) if the icing is too thin, or add more powdered sugar if it's too thin.

I almost always have to double the frosting recipe to yield enough for 18 cupcakes, but I pipe the icing on fairly thick.  If you're just spreading it, you probably won't have to do that.

I think I've shared these recipes before, but YIKES it's a lovely combo - especially if you love chocolate.

So HAPPY BIRTHDAY to Jen and Bob from the band.  And to everyone else, go make cupcakes!

Friday, November 25, 2011

Four Turkeys

 Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday.  All the fun and togetherness of the gift giving holidays with none of the pressure :)  Plus, I love to cook and bake, especially now that I have TWO little helpers to make it even more special (and messy).  This was the first Thanksgiving since our very first one as a married couple that we haven't gone to someone's house or hosted friends for the feast at our house.  While we love to be with family or friends on this holiday, we had a fun time cooking and feasting, just the four of us. 

 The day before was a bake-and-prep day.  All the desserts (to be shared with some friends on Thanksgiving evening) and prep for some of the side dishes was accomplished.

 As well as some pumpkin spice scones for breakfast.  Yum.

 I made smaller batches of only our favorites - turkey (of course), cheesy mashed potatoes with gravy, green bean casserole, stuffing, and sweet potato casserole (so delicious - whipped sweet potatoes with a pecan and brown sugar topping).  And I bought rolls this year, instead of making them.  I don't regret it.

The J-bird never eats much.

 But Miss V's a chow hound, and she enjoyed a little of everything.

After the kids got up from their naps, Bailey and her wonderful mom, Amy and brother, Brent came over for dessert.  We love the Becker family!  We had pumpkin pie, pecan pie, Nutella s'more puff pastries and pumpkin ice cream.

 And Amy read the kiddos a story, "Ten Fat Turkeys".  As they sat down to read, the J-bird proclaimed,  "Now, we're going to read 'Ten Fat Chickens'!"  Ha!

Such a fun, laid back day.

And because it's good to focus on gratitude, I'd like to say that I'm thankful for lots of things - our little family, our wider, more extended family, our friends, our church, our home and neighborhood.  And I'm thankful that my kitchen is now CLEAN and that the 'fridge is stocked with leftovers, so I don't have to cook today.  I'm thinking NAP.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Makin' Pies

But this is sweeter.


The other night, as I was snuggling with the J-bird before he went to bed, I jokingly said to him, "WHY do you keep getting bigger?  I keep telling you to stay my baby, but you don't listen."

He tenderly put his little hand on my cheek and said to me, "Ooooohhh, I'm just a little boy, Mama.  While I'm a little boy, I'll still be your baby, but when I'm grown up, I won't.  But don't worry, Mama, don't worry; I'll still be with you.  I'll still be with you."

Haaaaaaaaah.  With the tears.  And the sweetness.

Of course, I realize that he won't be, because that's the way it works with children.  The little boy he was last night is already gone, replaced by the slightly older boy he is today.  Each night, I bid goodbye to the children I've known all day, knowing that the time is whistling by, performing its witchery, and that they'll be older in the morning, no matter how much I wish I could freeze them the way they are.  Before I can blink, My J-bird will be an adult. He'll probably marry someone who is mistrustful of mothers-in-law, or he'll move to New Zealand for his job or something.  I won't see him as much as I want to, and I'll miss him so much that I'll ache. I'm going to hold him close until he's ready to go though, and I'll remember that heartbreakingly sweet moment until I die.

Now, to find a way to make Miss V stay small....

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Time Out Bench

 So this is the thing I used to have by the front door for all of our shoes (recently replaced by the major, major upgrade from my mom).  I decided to make it into a Time Out bench.

 It wasn't made to sit on, so I needed to put in some supports in the middle.  I measured and cut some boards we had in the garage.

 Then I took off the top part of the bench.

 I drilled pilot holes and then screwed in the support.

 I put the top back on and installed the second support.  Then, I decided I didn't like it, so I took the top back off.

 I spray painted it aqua, and I ran red ribbon through the holes where the top had been screwed in.  I'm trying to decide if I want to paint "Time Out" on the seat, or not.  I probably will.

The J-bird is thrilled.  Miss V, on the other hand, seems suspicious of my true motives.  Perhaps she senses that she'll be spending some time sitting there after she turns 2?

Monday, November 21, 2011

Vintage Crafting

 The kids and I hit the children's book table at the library book sale in our town this week, and I bought them waaaaaay too many "new to them" books.  Actually, I don't believe you can have too many books.  Unless you're a hoarder or something, and you're building hallways out of them.  But we're not there yet, so I was glad to load up.

One of my best finds was this book from 1958, called "Make It and Use It".  It's a book of little crafts for kids, using household items, and it's utterly charming. (My mom sent me a modern version of this that I love.)

I'm not sure why I'm drawn to stuff like this, but I just love it.  :)

Sunday, November 20, 2011


 My 4 year old J-bird is wonderful, funny and loving.  He's also bullheaded, argumentative and contrary a lot of times, and I'm always looking for loving but still firm ways to get my point across, to discipline when needed, without spending the whole day threatening and yelling.  James and I have always tried to stress to our J-bird that when he chooses to do something he knows is wrong, he is choosing to have an unpleasant consequence.  And then my mom found this great idea on Pinterest, which I adapted slightly and have been using with pretty good results.

The J-bird and I sat down together and came up with some consequences, like "no computer time", "go to bed early", etc...  I wrote them all on slips of card stock and folded them, so he's not able to see which is which.  When he gets to arguing or throwing a fit or disobeying, I warn him that if he doesn't stop, he will choose a consequence from the jar.  If he persists, he picks one out, and that's the one we do.  It seems simple, but it's great, because it puts it all on him.  And it's working so far, which is awesome.  He's had two days straight without having to pick from the jar!

I paired this with a sticker chart for good behavior, which he totally loves.  It includes categories like "Being kind to V", "Getting ready for bed all by yourself" and "Obeying right away with NO ARGUING".  This way, there's a result for good behavior and a result for not so good behavior.  Mine is a boy who loves a system.  He likes structure and rules and knowing what's going to happen.  I, on the other hand, do not, but adapting my parenting to fit his personality sure beats spending all day tearing my hair out in frustration

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Long Live the Queen

 My mom is a champion gift giver, and "Christmas is coming" is all the incentive she needs to start scouring stores, catalogs and the internet for amazing things to bestow on the people she loves.  I don't remember ever making Christmas "lists" growing up, partially because I think that's kind of rude - I mean, she's not a delivery service, right?  And partially because my mother always got me better gifts than anything I could ever have come up with on my own.

That hasn't changed.  Even though I've repeatedly told her that she does NOT need to buy me stuff anymore, she continues to surprise me every Christmas with something totally awesome that I didn't even know I wanted until she gave it to me.

 Like this completely perfect bench for our entryway.  A place to store shoes AND a place to sit while putting them on?  Yes, please.  I had a little cheap-o thing that our shoes sat on and under (project using that coming soon), but it was constantly a messy disaster, and, to put our shoes on, we had to stand and hop on one foot or sit on the floor.  I'm going to go ahead and say that this is better.  When the box arrived, it had a picture of the bench on the outside, so Mom said to go ahead and open it.  Yay for early Christmas!

 A few days later, this wonderful shelf also arrived.  James and I got it all put together and installed the mounting system on the wall, only to find that the shelf was too wide for the entryway space.  We love, love, love the shelf though.... I put it in our upstairs hallway with children's chapter books on the shelves and photos of Miss V and the J-bird hanging from the hooks.  I love it.  Thank you, Mama!  You've outdone yourself again!