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Christmas Ideas Week 6 - Photo Books for Grandparents

>> Wednesday, November 30, 2011

I always swear I will be mostly done with Christmas gifts by this point in December, but no matter how early I start and how hard I work, I never am.  Maybe one of the reasons is because I always make a year-in-review photo book, and I want to include November, so that means I can't finish it until early December anyway.

I know I've probably worn you out on my photo books, but I have to share them one last time.  I started making a year-in-review/scrapbook type digital photo book 6 years ago after my oldest son was born.  My husband is lucky enough to have 3 grandparents still living, and one set of great-grandparents.  In all, my kids have 2 sets of grandparents, 3 great-grandparents, and 2 great-great grandparents.  How lucky is that?  I lost my last grandparent over 4 years ago, so I think it's pretty amazing that my kids are blessed with so many. 

It does make Christmas a little hard though, because all the afore-mentioned grandparents and great-grandparents are lucky enough to have alot.  And although they are all so gracious and excited when it comes to accepting gifts (we could wrap up anything and give it to them and they'd fuss over it), you always want to give someone a gift they really like.  To address that, I came up with the idea of doing this scrapbook and ordering multiple copies for each set of grandparents.  With the exception of my husband's parents, all of them live some distance from us too, so they miss alot during the year.

They love the books, and there is no way at this point that I could get away with not doing it.  There would be major disappointment.  They all love to show their friends the books, and even though it's not really a novel idea, their friends (who are usually grandparents themselves) all seem to love the books too.  An added benefit is that I get a yearly scrapbook for us because I order myself a copy.  This time of year, I am always struggling to finish it and wondering why I had this brillant idea, but truthfully without the deadline I would probably not finish them and then I would forget to record alot of our memories.

I make my pages in Photoshop with digital scrapbooking materials, but you can create a book much quicker with Shutterfly or any of the companies that make photobooks.  For the first 3 years I made 12x12 books through Shutterfly and loved them.  Last year I found a groupon deal for Picaboo and made 8.5x11 books.  I saved alot of money that way and although I like the 12x12 better, I can't turn down over $150 in savings.  I'm doing a similar book this year through another company, again a groupon deal.

I try to do a summary for each month and put my pages in chronological order.  Then sometimes (depending on how sappy I'm feeling!) I write a little letter at the beginning or ending.  Here are a few pages from last year and this year.  Some are 2 page spreads shown together, some are single pages.


Mommy Guilt

>> Monday, November 28, 2011

I am not a perfect mom.  No matter how hard I try on the outside to make it appear that I "have it all together", I'm a real person and that means I do make mistakes.  One of the biggest lessons I've been learning since becoming a parent is about Mommy Guilt.  I haven't talked to any mom who hasn't experienced this at some point.  Some men probably experience something similar (or "Daddy Guilt") but from my experience it's not nearly as strong as what a mom feels.  It can really drag you down.

I experience it most when I am working too much on my side business.  After all, I quit my job so I can stay at home with my kids.  What good is "staying home" when you are working on work and not spending time with the kids?  Or when I have stuff that I NEED to get done, so I let the kids watch too much tv.  And I realize that it's almost dinner time and I haven't even actually played with my kids that day.  Or, when it's dinner time and I realize I have absolutely nothing planned for dinner.  Or when my child doesn't behave as we have taught them and I get embarrassed about it.  Or, or, or...the list could go on and on.

Why is this such a big deal?  Why should it matter if my child messes up or my house is dirty or if we have ramen noodles for dinner?  I'm not sure if it is society or my own personal pressure on myself that wants me to have a perfect life with perfect kids, always eat healthy, have a perfect balance between work and play.  It's probably a lot of both.  I'm an oldest child, so I want to make things perfect.  I'm a leader and when the kids don't follow, I get frustrated and lose my temper.  I yell too much.  I send to the kids to their room too much.  I don't get as much of a break (or me time) and I want.  I don't get as much sleep as I need.  I have so many things on my to do list that I don't feel like I'll ever get it done.  I have 3 kids who just need, need, need.

Don't get me wrong, I love my kids and my family.  I just don't know why I put so much pressure on myself.  Why do I have to feel like it's always my fault?  Who cares if the house is spotless?  Who cares if it takes my child a little extra time to learn an important life lesson like sharing or playing nice?  Who cares if I don't serve a balanced meal all the time.  I love my husband and my kids, with their flaws and all.  I'm not perfect and neither are they.  

This holiday season, I want to take time to enjoy my family, imperfections and all.  I want to slow down and take the extra time to be patient with them, to teach my children the way I would want to be taught.  To  not focus so much on the material things of the season, but spending quality time with them.  To tell them and show them that I love them no matter what.  To apologize to each of them for not being the type of mom/wife I want to be, and then let all the guilt go. It will be a continual process, and one I will never fully master, but I have a feeling that it's one of those important life lessons that I need to learn.


Christmas is Coming!

>> Sunday, November 27, 2011

Christmas will be here before you know it!  I don't have my Christmas shopping finished, and I don't usually participate in Black Friday shopping because we are usually out of town.  This year, we stayed in the Cincinnati area, but I wasn't one of the crazy people who stayed up all night or got up really early.  I did go to a couple stores on Black Friday, but it wasn't until after lunch and I only hit a couple of stores that were not in major shopping areas.  I was pleasantly surprised that the things I went for were still in stock and that the stores weren't crazy-busy with people.  I think I timed it right!

Anyway, I just love the Target commercials this time of year.  Hallmark commercials make me cry.  New car commercials just irk me for some reason.  But the Target ones just crack me up.  Here's my favorite one for the year.  Probably because when we were kids, we liked to press all the buttons on the singing toys and then quickly exit the aisle.  I'm sure the workers hated us. :)


My husband, the baker

>> Saturday, November 26, 2011

I love to bake.  Desserts, casseroles, breads...anything that requires an oven.  So much so that I have an at-home bakery business.  My husband is an electrician.  He can figure out pretty much anything with wires. Computer systems, electrical systems, fiber optics, fire alarms.  He loves that stuff and actually even teaches at a local trade school.

While my husband is great with wires, he doesn't bake much.  Mostly because I love to do it and he just gets in my way when he is in the kitchen.  For Thanksgiving this year, his aunt usually makes a butterscotch pie.  This year, she wasn't able to make it to the Thanksgiving festivities, so he decided to make the butterscotch pie himself.  At 10:00 at night.  After a long day of getting ready for house guests and working.  And after his wife said he could do it but she wouldn't help.

He found a recipe online that sounded good.  Except reading through the directions, he had to ask me to define a couple of terms.  Like "tempered eggs" and double boiler.  It was going to be a long night.

So, the directions said, "In top of double boiler, combine brown sugar, cornstarch, salt and milk".  He read the reviews at the bottom and saw that if you didn't have a double boiler (or in his case, didn't know what one was) you could use a pan over medium heat.  He took that literally and heated the pan up to medium heat for a few minutes and added the brown sugar.  POOF.  The sugar went up in a cloud of smoke and the entire house smelled like burnt sugar.  I don't know how, but our fire alarms didn't go off.  Guess he will have to check and make sure they are working correctly!

Anyway, needless to say, I ended up helping out a little.  But it tasted good (although several of us were banned from trying it because we were laughing too hard during the entire process).  Maybe now my husband will have a little more appreciation for my job in the kitchen?!

If you are interested in trying the recipe, here's the recipe we used.  We also added whipped topping to it (but you could also do meringue) and butterscotch chips and a crushed butterfinger candy bar.  Enjoy!

Photo: Charles Schiller; Styling: Lynn Miller

Grandma's Butterscotch Pie


  • 1 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 4 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 cups milk
  • 2 egg yolks, beaten
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 (9 inch) pie crust, baked


  1. In top of double boiler, combine brown sugar, cornstarch, salt and milk. Stir and keep stirring until it thickens.
  2. Mix in egg yolks, stir and keep cooking until it thickens.
  3. Remove from heat, and add butter or margarine and vanilla. Keep stirring.
  4. Pour into cooked pie crust. Bake at 400 degrees F (205 degrees C) for 5 minutes or until brown.


Christmas Week 5: Elf on a Shelf Ideas

>> Monday, November 21, 2011

I skipped a week or two of our Christmas countdown, but I'm starting again with some Elf on the Shelf Ideas. 

If you're not familiar with The Elf on the Shelf, follow the amazon link to read all about it.  It's a very cute and fun family tradition.  And a great way to remind your kids to be good!

Elf on the Shelf

I've seen tons of great Elf on the Shelf ideas lately, so I thought I'd compile some here.  I am not very creative with our Elf on the Shelf, so I'll be using many of these!

-Paint kids' noses red while they are sleeping and leave a note near the elf saying "Go look in the mirror".
-Place the elf in a toy truck or in barbie's car riding next to her.  Or in a bed in a dollhouse.
-Leave the elf in a small pile of flour on the counter making snow angels
-hanging from the ceiling

-upside down in a bag of candy or chocolate chips
-on the edge of the toilet
-on the shower head
-typing on the keyboard of the computer
-hanging from a ceiling fan or light

For more ideas, search "elf on the shelf" on pinterest!


Butternut Squash Ravioli with Brown Sugar Butter Sauce

>> Saturday, November 19, 2011

I'm sure by now Beth has given up on me!  Things are so crazy for us right now.  We have so many thing going on and 2012 is going to be a huge year for us. 

I have a super quick and easy recipe to share for now.   My husband and kids wouldn't touch this with a 10 foot pole -- entirely too weird for them.  But I think it's really, really good.

I bought the butternut squash ravioli at Costco.  While the ravioli is boiling (according to package directions), make the sauce:
1/4 cup butter
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup parmesan cheese, grated is best but I had shredded
1/8 tsp cajun seasoning
1/8 tsp sage
1/8 tsp nutmeg

Melt the butter and brown sugar together over low to medium heat.  Cook for a minute or so until it gets a little thickened.  As you can see in the photo, my heat was entirely too high and my sauce "seized up" so go low on the heat here.  Take the sauce off the heat and stir in the spices and cheese.  You many want to start with a little less of the spices and adjust according to your taste.  Stir the drained ravioli into the sauce and this will thin the sauce a little.

I made half this amount of sauce and about 8 ravioli pieces and thought it was more than enough sauce.  So you'll have to play with the amounts depending on how much sauce you want.  I tried to go light on the sauce.  You could also add some bacon or toasted walnuts to this.


Wish List for Santa

>> Tuesday, November 15, 2011

This year, it seems like everyone is skipping Thanksgiving and going straight to Christmas.  I guess we are guilty of that on the blog as well because we've been doing Christmas posts already!  But, it seems like in years past that Thanksgiving weekend was the kick-off to Christmas...decorations in the store, starting the holiday shopping, Christmas music on the radio.  But this year, most of those holiday markers were already here on November 1st.

Like a lot of you, we got the Toys-R-Us catalog in the mail as well as the Target toy catalog.  I typically glance through the catalogs and then recycle them the same day.  This year was different, though.  The boys saw the catalogs and Tyler (the 4 year old) started flipping through the pages and pointing out things he wanted for Christmas.  Which made Ryan (the 2 year old) start doing the same thing.  Tyler pretty much points to everything and he's not really specific.  He likes the expensive electronics but in reality knows nothing about them.  He's played on a couple of DS's, but not for more than just a couple minutes, as we haven't gotten any of those expensive things for him because the two boys are still so destructive at this point.  Ryan would be happy with anything, but he consistently points to the trains...he's in love with anything Thomas!

This past weekend, I had a lot of cake orders, so my husband got the kids out of the house for me so I could concentrate and knock them out without staying up all night.  So where does a man take his two boys for an evening of fun?  Bass Pro Shops, of course!  The one in Cincinnati is really cool and has a huge fish tank in the center of the store that the kids just love.  Anyway, they have a Christmas setup there.  I've never been, but Steve took them last year and they've had a blast both times.  I think he mentioned coloring, shooting, decorations, etc.  And of course, Santa!  They do one free photo with Santa (and you can order more photos there if you like or online later), so of course the boys had to have their photo done.  After standing in line for a while, this is Ryan on Santa's lap.

It's hard to tell in the scanned version, but he is less than thrilled.  Steve said he wasn't scared, but that his expression didn't change the entire time and he didn't ask Santa for anything.  Tyler also decided to be stubborn and didn't want to get his photo taken.  So, they went to look at a couple things that Steve wanted.  He just got a cross bow this year and needed a few things for it, so they went to the hunting section.

Well, in true Tyler fashion, after walking away from Santa, he suddenly wanted to go visit with Santa.  So after Steve picked out the stuff he needed, they headed back down and stood in line again.  This time, he marched right up to Santa and sat on his lap.

Can you see that grin on his face?  Priceless.  Anyway, after the photo, Santa asked him what he wanted for Christmas.  Tyler's response?  "A gun with a bullet and a scope."  Santa laughed and said that he had come to the right store for that and he told Steve that it was the best request yet this year.  Gotta love my boys :)



>> Monday, November 14, 2011

This year, Thanksgiving is going to be drastically different.  It will be the first Thanksgiving that my husband and I have ever spent at home.  I have not been at home for Thanksgiving since my family moved when I was 10, and I don't think my husband has ever spent the day at home.  But this year, Thanksgiving has been moved from Mansfield, OH (where my husband's side of the family is from) to the west side of Cincinnati at his parent's house.  Which means we actually get to spend the night in our own beds and we don't have to pack for a long weekend!  Can you tell I'm excited?!  Don't get me wrong, I love his family and spending time with them, but it will be so nice to only have to drive 30 minutes and not feel like I have to pack for an army.

So, there are lots of my facebook friends that are posting things they are thankful for each day.  I've never done that before, but I thought it was a good idea and decided just to write one post with the things I'm thankful for.

1.  My husband.  We have our ups and downs, but I know he will always be there for me!
2. Tyler.  He's such a special 4 year old and it's so much fun to watch him learn new things and become as much "like daddy" as he can.
3. Ryan.  My fearless 2 year old.  I love that he still needs me sometimes and that he still likes me to hold his hand when he falls asleep.
4. Molly.  My sweet baby girl.  It's so much fun getting to know my sweet baby and see her do so many firsts.  It's bittersweet knowing that she's the last one.
5. My parents.  They aren't perfect, but they are such a great example to me and are wonderful grandparents to the kids!
6. My in-laws.  Not everyone can say that they absolutely enjoy being around their in-laws, but I can.  They truly are my second parents and the kids adore them as well!
7.  My home.  Not the physical structure, but the atmosphere that we have that makes our house a home.
8. My husband's job.  His boss is truly his friend and it's wonderful working for a family that you can trust and know that they think about your best interest as much as their own.
9. Health.  Our family has been blessed with being healthy.  I have a chronic illness (Type 1 diabetes), but really it could be much worse.
10.  Being able to stay at home with the kids.  We've made a lot of sacrifices to go from 2 incomes to 1, but it's all been worth it!
11.  My cake business.  It's a creative outlet and helps me keep my sanity!  Plus, it gives me some extra money to feed my DIY addiction.
12.  My MOMS Club.  Sometimes being a mom is tough.  I mean, a lot of times, being a mom is tough and it's great having a group of women who understand!
13.  My Church.  It's small, but they feel like family.
14.  Me time.  I don't get much of it, but when I do get some time to myself, I get recharged and feel more able to deal with my daily demands.
15. Wonderful neighbors.  Life in suburbia often means not knowing your neighbors.  But I feel blessed that we know who are neighbors are and we do things with them and hang out with them.
16.  My siblings.  Sara who is in the Peace Corps right now and I miss her so much!  Katie who is due with baby #2!  Amy Jo who is growing up way too fast!
17. Laughter.  My kids provide lots of this for me. Life is never dull and I'm glad we can laugh together.

on the lighter side...
18. Vanilla and cinnamon.  The best 2 ingredients to bake with!
19. Maternity clothes.  Yes, my youngest is 14 weeks old but I'm still wearing some of my maternity pants.  Time to get serious on my diet and exercise plan.
20. Our van.  Yes, it makes me feel old, but it is practical and we all fit!
21.  Facebook.  Well, not really FB, but the fact that it allows me to virtually connect with people I haven't seen in years!
22.  A baby who sleeps through the night.  Enough said. :)
23. Radio stations who don't start playing Christmas music until AFTER Thanksgiving.  Sheesh.
24.  Diet Pepsi.  Because I stay up WAY too late and my kids get me up WAY too early.  And because I hate coffee :)


Soup Recipes - White Chicken Chili and Loaded Potato Soup

>> Sunday, November 13, 2011's been a busy couple of weeks!  Sorry about the lack of posting around here.  You know I've been really busy because I haven't been on or on my google reader for about 2 weeks!

The weather has been really day there's frost on the ground and the next day is nearly 70 degrees out.  But this time of year, I really love to have a nice warm bowl of soup.  My two favorite soups?  White Chicken Chili and Loaded Potato Soup.   Both are are a creamy soup, so they aren't super-healthy, but they are quick and easy and tasty.  Despite what a lot of my friends think, I don't like to spend all my time in the kitchen.  I love a good meal, but I don't want to spend all day making it.  After all, I do have 3 kids who need my attention, a dog and a house to clean as well.  Who has time to slave away in the kitchen all day on one meal?!

Creamy White Chili
*Serves 6
1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1 medium onion, chopped
1 1/2 teaspoons garlic powder or 2 cloves fresh garlic, finely minced
1 tablespoon oil
2 cans (15 1/2 ounces each) Great Northern Beans, rinsed and drained
1 can (14 1/2 ounces) chicken broth
2 cans (4 ounces each) chopped green chilies (if you like less kick, add just one can)
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 cup sour cream
1/2 cup whipping cream
Fresh cilantro, for garnish (optional)

In a large saucepan, saute chicken, onion and garlic powder (or fresh garlic, if using) in oil until chicken is no longer pink. Add beans, broth, chilies and seasonings. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat; simmer, uncovered, for 30 minutes. Remove from the heat; stir in sour cream and cream. Garnish with fresh cilantro, if desired. Serve immediately. This is especially good served with tortilla chips.

Slow Cooker Option: In a medium round slow cooker, place 1 pound chicken breasts (fresh or frozen) without cubing them. Add the chopped onion, garlic powder, beans, green chiles and all of the spices. Do not add the sour cream or whipping cream yet! Reduce the chicken broth to 12 ounces (about 1 1/2 cups) and pour in over the other ingredients. Stir the mixture around a bit to incorporate the dry spices. Cook on low for 5-7 hours (if using frozen chicken you'll cook on the longer end of that spectrum, fresh chicken will cook in less time). Remove the chicken to a cutting board and shred in bite-size pieces. Stir back into the slow cooker. In a small bowl or liquid measuring cup, whisk together the sour cream and whipping cream  until smooth. Whisk the cream mixture into the crockpot with the other ingredients. Let the soup cook until heated through. Serve.

*Note:  I combined the two methods and sauteed the chicken, onion and garlic in the oil and then transferred it to the crock pot and added the remainder of the ingredients and cooked it over low for 4-6 hours.  About 30 minutes before serving, I added the sour cream and whipping cream.


O’Charley’s Baked Potato Soup
Yield: approximately 12 large servings.
3 lbs. red potatoes
1/4 C. margarine, melted
1/4 C. flour
8 C. half-and-half
1 (16-ounce) block Velveeta cheese, melted
White pepper, to taste
Garlic powder, to taste
1 tsp. hot pepper sauce
1/2 lb. bacon, fried crisply
1 C. cheddar cheese, shredded
1/2 C. fresh chives, chopped
1/2 C. fresh parsley, chopped

Dice unpeeled red potatoes into 1/2-inch cubes. Place in a large Dutch oven, cover with water and bring to a boil. Let boil for 10 minutes or until 3/4 cooked.

In a separate large Dutch oven, combine melted margarine and flour, mixing until smooth. Place over low heat and gradually add half-and-half, stirring constantly. Continue to stir until smooth and liquid begins to thicken.
Add melted Velveeta. Stir well. Drain potatoes and add to cream mixture. Stir in pepper, garlic powder and hot pepper sauce.

Cover and cook over low heat for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Place soup into individual serving bowls and top with crumbled bacon, shredded cheese, chives and parsley.


Pumpkin Cookies with Cream Cheese Icing

>> Saturday, November 5, 2011

I made these cookies this week and they were so good!  To me, they were definitely a "fall" cookie and would be perfect for Thanksgiving.  Or just to make and eat all by yourself.  :)  This batch definitely makes enough to share, though!  These are a cake-y cookie and would also be good to make into whoopie pies (2 cookies back-to-back with the icing in between, like an oreo!).  I actually preferred these cookies without the icing...tastes like a pumpkin pie with a cake texture!

I followed the directions exactly except I used some frozen pumpkin I had in the freezer.  The key with using fresh or frozen pumpkin instead of the canned stuff is to strain it and puree it really good.  I used our Magic Bullet, but you could also use a food processor.  If you visit her blog, she has lots of great photos of the entire process!

Pumpkin Cookies:
1 Cup Shortening
3 Cups Sugar
2 eggs
Mix in:
1 large can pumpkin (30 ounces)
Now add:
1 tsp. vanilla
5 cups flour
And then add:
2 tsp. cinnamon
2 tsp. nutmeg
2 tsp. baking soda
2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
Now, bake @ 350 for about 10-12 minutes. Let cool & then ice using the following Cream Cheese icing.
Cream Cheese Icing:
2 (8 ounce) packages cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup butter, softened
Gradually mix in: 2 cups sifted confectioners’ sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Blend until smooth. Store in the refrigerator after use.
Recipe courtesy of Allison @


More Christmas Cookies

>> Friday, November 4, 2011

I love Christmas cookies!!  One of my favorite parts of the holiday season is making cookies.  I do have a few types that I make every year; unfortunately my recipes for those are in storage right now.  Having a tiny little apartment kitchen is going to be really hard this Christmas.  I found most of the recipes online though.

Here are some cookies that I make and love:

Chocolate Mint Dreams I tried these at a cookie exchange a few years ago and they quickly became a favorite for me.  The cookie itself is very velvety.

Jam Thumbprints  I was never really in love with Jam Thumbprints until I tried this recipe from the Barefoot Contessa.  I think all the butter plus the coconut on the outside makes the difference.  Another one I tried at a cookie exchange.

Cranberry Bliss Bars  I usually make a drop cookie with cranberries and white chocolate.  Last year my sister-in-law and I tried this recipe, which is a copycat recipe of Starbucks' cranberry bars.  I really liked it and will make it again instead of the drop cookie. The citrus zest really adds to the flavor.

Seven Layer Bars  Also known as Hello Dolly bars.  I make these every year, they are my mother-in-law's favorite cookie.  And they are so easy!

Chocolate Caramel Thumbprints:  This one is my "signature" cookie.  I actually use a recipe in a book, but from what I remember this is the recipe.  These cookies are definitely more labor intensive than some, but they are so good and pretty and unique.  I never have to worry about duplicating someone else's cookie at a cookie exchange if I make these.

Those are pretty much my standards I make every year, and then I try to pick a few new recipes to try.  Here is one that looks worth trying:

I love peppermint and chocolate together, and these are so pretty: (Click link below photo for recipe)

I can't wait to try some of Beth's.  I had the candy canes at our MOMS Club cookie exchange last year and they were really yummy!

Happy Baking!