Friday, January 27, 2012

Do you know what's in our future?


Not a new one like this.  We wouldn't know what to do with a car that you don't put your feet through the floorboard to stop.  Brakes?  Newfangled.  CD player?  What's a CD player?  No, not new, but a minivan nonetheless.  We might even own our first car from this decade.  A minivan from this decade.  A soccerball-toting, cheerio-filled minivan.

We are not minivan people.

To accurately depict the level to which we have always despised the idea of owning a minivan, I give you these pictures of Ella when she was not yet two.

Hey all you kiddos out there. 

Word to my peeps!  I gotta message so listen up!

We don't want no minivans up in here.  I'm getting my groove on, fo shizzle!

Famous.  Last.  Words.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

And the verdict is in! We're having a...

We're very excited, if a bit surprised.  We all thought it was a girl. 

Ella talked to my sister on the phone recently, who asked her which she would prefer, a girl or a boy.  Ella said, "Well, I prayed during my naptime for a sister."  My sister said that a girl would be great, but another little brother would be fantastic, too.  Wouldn't it be great if God gave her another brother?  Ella was quiet for a minute and then said, "OOORRRRR, God could give me the sister I asked for."

Sorry kiddo. 

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Recipe - Orange and Dark Chocolate Biscotti

Biscotti is one of those things that seems really hard until you try it and find out it's actually really easy. You can quote me on that. It's profound.  Just think of biscotti as glorified cookies with one added step.


2 1/4 cups all purpose flour
1 1/4 cup white sugar
1/2 t. salt {double if you're using Kosher}
2 t. baking powder
Zest of one orange
3 eggs
1 T. vegetable oil
1/2 t. orange extract
1/2 cup chocolate chips {the darker, the better}


Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.
Combine all of your dry ingredients in a large bowl.  Include sugar in this mix.  I know, I know.  In baking, sugar is usually a wet ingredient.

Grate the zest of one orange into your dry ingredients.

Now swoon because it is so fragrant!

Make a well in the center, and put your eggs, orange extract, and oil into it.

Time to get dirty!  Start mixing with your hand.  It really is the best way to incorporate all of the dry into the wet ingredients while ensuring that your dough doesn't get too tough.  You could use a stand mixer if you're a wimp.  Bawk bawk bawk bawk bawk BAWK!!!  Um, excuse me.  Sorry about that.  Middle School flashbacks.

Mix in your chocolate chips and form the dough into two logs on your cookie sheet.  I would have used parchment paper if I had had it.  If you don't have it, either, make sure to grease your pan or you will regret it {insert a sinister voice here}.  There's very little fat to keep these from sticking.

I would have taken a picture of how to form the logs, but this is what my hands looked like.  Just pretend it's play doh.

Bake for twenty minutes.  The biscotti will spread on the pan.  If your biscotti is still a bit doughy at this point, that's okay.  Cut it carefully on the bias with a serrated knife and lay it on its side like this.

Put it back in the oven to bake for fifteen more minutes, turning halfway through.  Place your biscotti carefully on a cooling rack until it cools {duh}.  It will become stronger {and harden} as it cools, which you want, because it needs to be able to be held and dunked and not fall apart.

I thought I had taken a cool after shot on the pretty serving platter, but apparently I didn't.  Oops! 

Biscotti makes a wonderful gift.  Or enjoy it yourself with milk, tea, coffee, or hot chocolate.  Handsome Hero and I love these with coffee or spiced tea.  Ella and Jack love them with milk and hot chocolate, or hot cocoa-tea as they call it. 

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Out with the old, In with the new

When my parents came for Christmas, my mom was sick.  We still had a wonderful time, but she didn't feel like herself until the last couple of days.  In a normal visit with my parents, a lot would have been the same {coffee, talking, coffee}, but we would also have tackled a project.  We would have picked a location, like the laundry room or my craft closet, and worked on organizing it. My mom is a master of organization. While some of you would rather have a root canal, this sounds like fun to me! We actually have a great time doing it together, and the sense of accomplishment at the end is refreshing.

So while the big projects went undone, we talked over what could be done to improve the function of different rooms in the house.  One thing she suggested to me was that I replace my kitchen towels.  Does that sound weird?  Well, they're pretty awful, stained and kind of gross looking even when they're clean.  In a separate drawer, still waiting to make their debut, are three packages of new kitchen towels from Williams Sonoma that she gave me last year for Christmas.  I keep saving them, using the old ones because they work just fine and I don't want to ruin the nice new ones.  Tell me I'm not the only one who does this.

When Handsome Hero and I started thinking about it, this towel thing goes beyond the kitchen.  We have bath towels that perpetually stink, though I've tried using bleach, vinegar, baking soda, febreze detergent, oxyclean, etc.  I don't know how they got that way {I don't actually even know where they all came from; we've never bought towels}, but nothing seems to help.  They smell wonderful out of the dryer, but the first time you use them, they start to stink.  As if that weren't enough, many of them are torn and holey.  When we have guests, we have to check that the towels we are putting out for them are "good," which is relative, my friends. 

The worst part?  Last year, my mom {again} gave me a set of two beautiful and super soft towels that match our bathroom.  They still have the tags on them.  All of these towels of various kinds, each given by my mom, still have the tags on them.

We decided that this was ridiculous.  Towels aren't expensive enough to warrant living with the odor.  Our gameplan has been as follows.  Each time we use a towel and find that it is stinky, or realize it has holes or no binding, or if it is just really nasty to look at, instead of washing it, we put it directly in the trash.  I already have a rag pile, and Goodwill doesn't want them.  Trust me.

So far, we've thrown away five bath towels and  numerous kitchen towels.  It feels really good knowing that when you reach for a towel out of the shower, it will be a pleasant olfactory experience.  It is also nice to wipe Jack's hands off after a meal with a snowy white dish cloth {I have a couple that I reserve just for that}.

By the way, I don't know if it sounds weird that my mom got me dish towels or bath towels as a gift, but I LOVE it!  I enjoy receiving a nicer version of something simple that I wouldn't feel justified in buying for myself.  Some of my favorite gifts from Handsome Hero have been a beautiful apron and a tea kettle that matches my kitchen.  I think of him each time I use them, which is quite a lot.  Last year I bought my mom a pretty floral broom and dustpan for her birthday, and she loved them.  It makes sweeping a little less tedious when you have a pretty broom. 

Maybe that's just us.

Is it just us?

Monday, January 23, 2012

Climb Every Mountain

Soooo, I was checking on Jack in room time,

And discovered that he is now a climber.  I would like to point out a few things about this adventurer of mine:

1.  He found and put on his snowboots all by himself.  Over his footy pj's.  My little man.

2.  He is cautious, my Jack.  When Ella started climbing, it was terrifying.  Lots of precarious positions and impossible reaches.  Look at the forethought here!  Every drawer pulled out into makeshift stairs.

3.  In the second drawer is his coat.  I had laid it on top of the dresser, and he needed room, so he put it away in the second drawer instead of throwing it on the floor.  Jack doesn't like a mess.

4.  I already had my camera.  I promise I didn't leave him up there while I ran to get it!  Well, okay, I did, but it was literally only two steps away.

5.  He climbed up to reach his cell phone {an old one of H.H.'s}.  He was "talking to Daddy" on it.

Friday, January 20, 2012

You might be pregnant if...

You are buying produce at the grocery store and sign your name "Beth Lettuce."

That was last week.  The following all happened on Wednesday of this week.

I had just gotten Jack dressed, and was wondering what was weird about his outfit, when it suddenly dawned on me that I had just put his socks on his hands

A few minutes later we were heading out the door, and I couldn't find his mittens anywhere!  With single digit highs, he had to have mittens and I thought, "Well, it worked before," and got another pair of socks for his hands which he wore proudly for the rest of the day's errands.  I found his mittens right where I had left them as soon as we walked back in the door {sigh}.

Ella has been very helpful this week.  She even cleaned her room without being asked!  When I praised her for it, she said, "Mama, I want to clean the whole house for you!"  I wasn't about to turn that down.  Later, she was helping to load the dishwasher, and said proudly, "Mama, what do you do with such a good girl as me?"  Lots of hugs and kisses, little one.

I needed maternity pants.  Mine from my previous pregnancies are all too big, for which I'm thankful, but I don't want to buy more when this is our last pregnancy {unless the Lord has different plans, of course}.  My dear friend, Amanda, loaned me her stash and I was modeling my first pair in front of the mirror.  They were jeans that had decorative pockets.  Ella walked in and said, "Mama, I really like the pictures on your bottom!  It's like you're wearing pretty panties with legs on them!"  I wasn't sure if I should sachet out of there, or change my clothes in a hurry.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Don't get comfortable

My mom is an early-to-bed, early-to-rise lady.  She would read a book in bed for a few minutes and then go to sleep each night, often before we went to bed.  I don't know how it started, but at some point, I began to occasionally knock on her door and then go sit on the edge of her bed to say good night.  She would always say, "Don't get comfortable."  I would say, "I'm not comfortable."

And then we would talk for an hour. 

When we go home to visit, my mom and I still do this.  I would miss it terribly if we didn't.  I think it was a large part of why I didn't rebel much and why I still have a very good relationship with my mom. 

Now that I am a mom, I see how hard it must have been some nights to stay up and have some kernel of wisdom, but she never turned me away. 

Ella isn't coming in our room yet for talks, but she almost always wants to cuddle after our nighttime ritual is complete.  She'll say, "Tell me about your day" which means, "Tell me about my day."  Handsome Hero and I sometimes don't have the patience.  We are tired and have things to do.  We haven't spent any time together and sometimes just don't want to take the time.  But she won't always be wanting to cuddle.  She's going to grow up and I want her to feel that she can always talk with me.  Cultivating that relationship starts now, even if the subject matter doesn't seem important and we have "better" things to do.  It is an investment worth making.

I want Ella to grow up wanting to "get comfortable" the way I did.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

I'm just too tired

I'm just too tired to write today.
I want to go to sleep.
This baby that's inside of me
Makes me want to count sheep.

I'm not sure if I'll even nap
With two others to care for.
I might just rest and watch them play.
That's what I will be there for.

So please enjoy this lovely day.
I'd like to sleep right through.
I won't be able to, of course,
But I won't say Boohoo!


Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Recipe - Chicken broth from a rotisserie chicken

Do you ever get those rotisserie chickens from the grocery store?  We used to get them for $4.50 at Costco {back when we had a Costco near us - tear, sniff}.  Handsome Hero actually boned one and weighed the meat once to see if it was a cost effective purchase.  We got almost three pounds of meat, making it a bit cheaper than buying boneless, skinless chicken breasts, without the work.  Score!  Another cost saving bonus was that we could make chicken broth out of the carcass.

Here in Wisconsin, we only get rotisserie chickens on sale, and they're never as big at the grocery store as they are at Costco.  Still, I haven't figured out how to mimic that taste at home, so it's a little splurge I'll make occasionally.

I was surprised to learn that lots of people just throw the bones away after the meat is gone.  Don't do that!  Throw the carcass into a stock pot with an onion, some carrots, and some celery {keep the pieces big because it will all be discarded}.  I rinsed off my onion, quartered it, and put it in peel and all.  While it doesn't change the flavor, it adds a nice golden color.

Cover with water {don't fill the whole pot or your stock will be weak} and let it simmer for a couple of hours.  Or put it in the crockpot for the day and take care of the next step when you get home. 

When it's done, get a large bowl.  Pull the large solid pieces out with tongs or a slotted spoon, and then pour the rest through a strainer.  Let it cool to room temperature and then put it in the fridge overnight.

In the morning, the fat will have solidified and risen to the top.  Just skim this off and discard. 

Then use the broth in place of the canned stuff in your recipes.  If you don't think you'll use the broth within a week, pour it in 1 cup or 2 cup increments into sandwich bags and freeze.  I usually place these on cookie sheets or trays so they freeze flat and then zip them into gallon bags to prevent freezer burn.

Not the best example, but you get the idea.

If I have lots of broth on hand or if I don't have time to make it, I will put the carcass in a freezer bag and save it for a later time when I need it.

What can you use it for?  Well, pretty much every soup recipe out there uses broth of some kind, and I use it instead of water when I'm making couscous or rice {okay, I never make rice, but if I did, I would use chicken broth for it}.  You can use it to thin out and add flavor to sauces or gravies, too.  Just remember, as you cook it, the flavors concentrate, so don't season with salt until close to time to serve or you might end up using too much.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Recipe - Leek Potato Soup

This recipe is not mine.  It is, however, divine, and I wanted to share it with you.  It comes from Food Network's Alton Brown.  I love him!  I had never tried leeks before seeing them on his show, but will use them often now.

The recipe goes as follows, with my changes {based on what I had on hand} in parentheses:


1 pound leeks, cleaned and dark green sections removed, approximately 4 to 5 medium
3 tablespoons unsalted butter {you can use olive oil}
Heavy pinch kosher salt, plus additional for seasoning
14 ounces, approximately 3 small, Yukon gold potatoes, peeled and diced small {russets, or baking potatoes, worked just fine}
1 quart vegetable broth {I used chicken broth}
1 cup heavy cream {I used cream the first time and milk the second time, and there wasn't much difference}
1 cup buttermilk {if you don't have this, and I never do, add 1 T lemon juice to 1 cup milk and let it sit for ten minutes.  Voila!  Buttermilk.}
1/2 teaspoon white pepper
1 tablespoon snipped chives

Chop the leeks into small pieces.  If you have never used leeks, be aware they often have lots more dirt than is apparent.  To clean them, put cut leeks into a bowl of water and swish it around.  Let the dirt settle to the bottom.

In a 6-quart saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter. Add the leeks and a heavy pinch of salt and sweat for 5 minutes. Decrease the heat to medium-low and cook until the leeks are tender, approximately 25 minutes, stirring occasionally.  You don't want them to brown; just soften.

Add the potatoes and the vegetable broth, increase the heat to medium-high, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low, cover, and gently simmer until the potatoes are soft, approximately 45 minutes.

Turn off the heat and puree the mixture with an immersion blender until smooth. You could use a regular blender or food processor if it's what you have.  Stir in the heavy cream, buttermilk, and white pepper. Taste and adjust seasoning if desired. Sprinkle with chives and serve immediately, or chill and serve cold.

You know it might be good if your kids request seconds, and then thirds.

p.s.  Sorry I don't have a gorgeous "after" shot.  We were hungry, and, well, you know.  It is surprisingly hearty and filling served with just a crusty bread and side salad.

Friday, January 13, 2012

A Belated Christmas

Last week, I was planning on posting about my parents' visit over Christmas, but was having trouble uploading pictures and wasn't able to share.  Here, quite late, are my pictures of  Poppy and G.G.'s visit.

Within a couple of minutes of getting here, Poppy was reading to Jack, 

And Ella was snuggling into G.G. and promptly falling asleep.  This never happens!

They brought a U-Haul loaded with my past.  Yep, I've been erased from the family home.  All trace of me is now here in our house.  My childhood dolls, my wedding dress, the hutch my dad made for me when I was four.  I'm not bitter.  I'm not envisioning my mom doing the happy dance around their clutter-free house.  Not at all.  No tears have been shed over this.

Okay, actually I was excited to get some the the childhood things that I can pass on to Ella {I don't think Jack will be interested in Ginny dolls}.  It will be fun to have her enjoy some of the things I enjoyed as a little girl.

They also brought my grandfather's desk.  We haven't had a desk in a couple of years.  Our computer monitor has been sitting on a filing cabinet with an exercise ball as a seat ever since we moved here.  Very nice.

 Okay, it looks like Handsome Hero's not really working, and dad is about to be crushed, but I promise Dad WANTED to be on the bottom end.  And on that note, may I just say how impressed I am by how very strong my dad is?  What a man!  Sorry, Dad {his face is red}.

We decided to take it easy and wait few days before opening gifts.  It was a good decision.  Too much too soon is not good for little people.  So we played and read books and visited.  With coffee.  Lots of coffee.

Ella discovered that Poppy is a good wrestling buddy.  Did you know he used to wrestle?  But I think Ella gave him a run for the money.

This is a blast from the past.  We have tons of pictures of my siblings and I wrestling with my dad.  I think we might have won a couple of times, too.

Jack discovered a love for the train track this visit.

Who's going to play with me?

He also discovered that Poppy is a great playmate.

Oh, yeah.  That's right.  Look who's got Poppy now.

When we did open presents, he loved getting this hat.  It was a favorite.

He wanted everyone to try it on.  It was a community hat.

While he was at it, I got headgear, too.

After presents, we had a lovely turkey dinner.  My mom was sick during this visit, unfortunately, and fell asleep on the couch after we opened presents and while I began getting dinner ready.  She slept through me going, "Mom, I could use some help here!" and the fire alarm that followed.  Not to worry, no fire.  Just a little healthy smoke.

 I'm sporting my new necklace pre-alarm.

Poppy got lots of opportunities to read to the kiddos all of their new books.  It was really wonderful to see.  This was, outside of moving in all the stuff from the U-Haul, a very relaxing visit.  And since I am pregnant and wasn't allowed to lift anything, for me it was just a relaxing visit all the way around.

My dear Aunt Irene made each of the ladies these scarves.  I absolutely love this picture.  We all look good, which is hard to accomplish without a four-year-old in the picture.  I never realized how much I do look like my mom.  My sister has always been a closer match, but here, I see it pretty clearly.

Every time we see my parents, it is a wonderful time of fellowship, conversation, and coffee.  Lots of coffee.  We miss them terribly each time they leave, and look forward to the next visit as soon as the last one ends.  We love you, G.G. and Poppy!

Thursday, January 12, 2012

You know the term "Never Met a Stranger?"

We have always told the kids not to talk to strangers unless they are with us.  We don't want them to be really scared, but a little healthy fear is good, I think.

Jack has this down.  He won't talk to anyone.  No one will get information out of that kid!  At least until he learns how to speak legibly....

Accurate depiction:  Jack, tightlipped.  Ella, not so much.

Ella, well, that's another story.  Here are a couple of examples.

Ella and I were walking into a store and she greeted a random man walking past us.  Then she turned to me and said, "He's not a stranger, Mama.  I just don't know him yet."   

What?  Is this a birthday party?  No, party hats are everyday-wear in our house.  This is just how Ella licks a cake beater.

At the gym, I was putting Jack's shoes and coat on when I overheard Ella telling a lady nearby all about herself, her brother, the baby in my tummy, etc.  Then she said, "I have horses on my skirt.  Do you like them?  I also have a bear on my bottom.  See?"  This is true - the tights she was wearing do have a bear on the bottom.  Still, the term T.M.I. comes to mind.

Sporting her new "monoclears" that she got for Christmas.

Still later, we were playing in the play area at McDonalds {you've got to find somewhere for the kids to go crazy in the Winter} and Ella followed people around, telling them about herself.  It sounded like this:

My name is Ella, and my brother is Jack, and my mommy is going to have a baby in the summer, and I'm going to be five in March so that means I'm almost five but not really so I'm four-and-a-half.  Do you want to play with me?

Too close.  A little too close.

I am very thankful for a very friendly and innocent daughter.  I would not change her personality one little bit.  I'm also very sure we have our work cut out for us in correctly identifying to whom she should and should not speak.  And how much is too much personal information.

Jack:  How do you drive this thing?
Handsome Hero:  When did Jack start driving this thing?
Ella:  I think my tongue is pretty.  Don't you?

Oh, the awesome challenges of parenthood.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Upholstery FAIL

On Saturday, I found this chair on Craigslist for twenty smackers.  I think it's really pretty and the frame is in good shape.  The best part?  Only the seat to reupholster!

On Sunday, I went out to find fabric.  Because only the seat would be covered, I was looking for something a little flamboyant or wild.  I found lots that I liked, but decided on this number.

It was fun, funky, and it would work with the colors of the living room, piano room, master bedroom, and dining room, so I could move the chair around and it would look made for that space.  I couldn't beat that!  However, when I laid the fabric on the chair, it looked pretty bad.

Because this retro, vintage, '60's inspired fabric was going on a chair actually from the 1960's, it went from looking funky and cool to looking tired and dated.  Ella even looked at it and said, "It is not awesome, Mama." 

Sooooo, I returned it.  Did you know you can do that?  As long what you return matches the amount purchased, most stores will take back cut fabric.  I don't know how they make money on it, and I try not to do it often, but it's nice that you can when you make a mistake.

Another fabric had caught my eye my first time around, but I had decided it wasn't crazy enough. Now I realized it was perfect, because it was delicate and modern and vibrant, just what the chair and the room needed.

Isn't it cute?  I got a couple of extra inches so that I could center the birds on the cushion.

I like that it's light and airy.  Oh, and look what I snagged at Hancocks on clearance?  Check out that lampshade!  It has all the colors in the room, and I couldn't have bought a plain white one for the cost of this one.  I'm debating getting another one for the lamp on the other side of the couch.

The room isn't done {a work in progress is much more fun} but it's a far cry from six months ago! 

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Playing in the snow

On Sunday afternoon, I took these pictures of the kids taking a ride on the lawnmower with Handsome Hero.

What a cute family!

Last week on Sunday afternoon, I took these pictures of Handsome Hero and the kiddos.

A little different....

Ella was awesome helping her brother walk in his snowboots.

You can see on the trees how the wind was blowing during the snow.

Jack was a big helper to daddy.  I'm sure he was able to increase his shoveling time considerably!

Ella pulled Jack on his sled.  He really liked that for about four minutes.

Then Daddy got out the big sled and took Ella down the hill in the back yard.



Jack had no interest in going down the hill, so he stood on the deck with me to take pictures of the fun.

This is fun, Mom.

I'm trying to smile, but my face hurts.  It's cold!

That sledding looks fun, Mama.  I might be ready to try it.

In the end, he went for it.  Cautious, our Jack.

Ella gave them a running push and they were off!

It was a fun afternoon, finishing with steaming hot chocolate {doesn't every snow day finish with steaming hot chocolate}. 

The difference between last week and this week is startling.  We have 40 degree weather in WISCONSIN in JANUARY!  Ella thinks it's summer.

I love this weather!  I did not love the winter last year, and am happy for any reprieve.  I know bad weather is coming, and will probably hit with a vengeance, but I am very content this week to bundle the kids up in jackets instead of heavy coats, mittens, hats, scarves, and boots over their warmest clothes.