Wednesday, December 30, 2009

chicken delicious

This is a super quick crock pot recipe. Even my self-proclaimed noncook, sister-in-law, Wendy, could make this. And it's well...delicious!

4 - 6 chicken breasts
1 can cream of mushroom soup
1 can cream of celery soup
1/3 cup dry sherry or white wine
celery salt
lemon juice
parmesan cheese (oops, not pictured)

Rinse chicken breasts and pat dry. I used the frozen kind from Costco, so I skipped this step. Also, I only use two because that's what we'll eat. Season with lemon juice, salt, pepper, celery salt and paprika. As you may see from my supplies, my celery salt was mysteriously missing from the cupboard. Celery seed works just as well.

In medium bowl, mix mushroom and celery soups with sherry.

Pour over chicken breasts. Sprinkle with parmesan cheese. Cover and cook on low 8 to 10 hours or on high 4 to 5 hours.

Serve chicken and sauce over hot cooked rice. The kids love this meal. During dinner, Stephanie looked at me and said, "Mom, this is delicious." Hardy-har-har, funny girl.

This recipe came from Best-Loved Slow Cooker Recipes.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

christmas may be over, but you're still gonna hear about it

For the past several years, I have tried to incorporate as many handmade items into gifts as possible. This year, I found a fun craft at the last minute. I found some cute bird ornaments to hang on the outside of the  family gift baskets.

Determined to make this part of the gift giving experience, I drug the girls to the craft store ~ yet again. They seriously roll their eyes and groan when they find out where we are going! But this time they were going to doing the craft themselves, so they were pretty interested in going shopping.

We needed glitter. We splurged on Martha Stewart brand (it's glorious - by the way). We needed sheet music. We were lucky enough to find a hymnal at a thrift store. We used all the Christmas song pages for this craft. The pages of the hymnal were a little too *new* looking, so I dunked them in cinnamon water to stain them a little.  After I made the cinnamon stick votive candle holder, we let the leftover cinnamon simmer on the stove for many a day. The water was a nice dark brown.

When Heather saw me ripping the pages out of the hymnal she was shocked and mortified. She wondered what on earth had gotten into me that I would deface the hymnal in such a manner. She was sure Jesus would not be happy with me in the least. That is until I assured her that, yes, these are church songs. But no, this is not the Bible and it would be ok. She was glad to realize she would not have to save her mother from the firey depths just because I tore some pages out of a hymnal.

This craft ended up taking much longer than I expected. Since there was glue and glitter and mod podge involved, there was a lot of drying and waiting time.

We had such a nice time with this project. And the kids did a fabulous job with their ornaments. Heather may or may not have glued one of the songs on the bird upside down. One of Stephanie's bird's wings may or may not be upside down as well. I think they turned out pretty gorgeous.

They were thrilled that their ornaments would go to members of the family. They will get a kick out of seeing their ornaments on various trees next year. So if you were at Grandma & Papa's on Christmas Day, your ornament was made by these two lovely ladies.

Every year we buy the girls an ornament. We try to buy something that represents who they are or what they are interested in at the time. I still had not found the perfect ornament for them. When we did this project, I made sure there were two extra. I decided that two of the ones I made would be for their yearly ornament. Hopefully when they are older and show their ornaments to their children, they will remember what a fun time we had making these.

For instructions on making these you can visit Living the Swell Life.

Monday, December 28, 2009

wii wish you a merry christmas

Posts have been few and far between in the last week because I've been busy with last minute preparations. There were presents to finish, crafts to do with the girls, and goodies to make. I have a lot to share with  you, so we'll take it one step at a time.

First off, Christmas morning.

Early in December, the kids wrote their letters to Santa asking for a Wii for the whole family. Santa shocked them both by sending Greg and I a letter in the mail. We had never received a letter from Santa before, so they were really worried about what this could mean. We assured them that it couldn't be too bad because the return address said it was coming from the "Nice List Division." Greg and I read the letter privately and told the kids it had confidential information and they'd just have to wait until Christmas morning to read it.

Still hoping Santa would come through, they set out cookies and egg nog for Santa. They set out carrots for the reindeer. Silly Mommy forgot to buy the cool kind with the greens still attached, so those reindeer had to settle for baby carrots. Heather heaped the plate with two carrots for each reindeer.

Christmas morning, Santa threw them for another loop. Sitting on top of their filled stockings was an envelope that instructed them to wake us up before opening the envelope. We had two confused girlies on our hands. This was completely out of character for Santa! Inside the envelope was this message:

You're getting older and smarter, this is true~
So I've planned a little scavenger hunt for you!

'Round and 'round she spins,
Something sweet mixed within.

First they checked the blender. Nothing. Then they checked the mixer.

I hope so far you're having fun,
Because a major award has been won.

Santa obviously knows that watching The Christmas Story is a time honored tradition in our family. The movie is frequently quoted and referenced. This Christmas season cannot officially start until the annual viewing of the movie. So with a little prompting, the kids looked in the ornament of the crate with the leg lamp inside.

I see you going really fast,
With these on your feet ~ you whizz right past.

This turned out to be his toughest clue. Even after they figured out it might be their skates, they had to look twice before they saw the paper.

Mary and Joseph had a babe,
In swaddling clothes in a manger He lay.

I didn't put up the big nativity set this year (why?) so they had to figure out which of the smaller ones held their clue.

I see Hannah, I see Alex, and I see Miley,
Look below them and see what you see.

Getting close.

And score!

Santa brought the Wii after all. Not only did he bring it, but he set it up and created a Mii for each member of the family. Way to go, fat man!

Of course we had to play a couple of games right away. See the time on the television? Our kids are quite considerate and do not get up at o'dark thirty on Christmas morning. They at least wait until a respectable early hour. They always have.

We moved on to many other fun presents. These kids are a constant crack up, I tell you!

The kids are very fond of the jammies they got from Kim and Brent! They paired them with the funky knee socks Santa brought in their stocking. High fashion, right here.

The kids got a couple of handmade presents as well. About a week before Christmas I saw an idea online to make a recipe book (or file) for kids to collect family recipes in as they grow up. So I created digitally scrapbooked divider pages for each category (17 categories). I printed the 8x10s at Walgreen's, mounted them on an 8.5x11 paper, then laminated them. Their books are identical except for the binder color and the picture on the front and spine. They have both shown an interest in cooking, so I thought this would be perfect for them. They love it.

I also made them the journal cover and travel tissue cozies they've been begging me to make for them.

We had a wonderful Christmas morning ~ although we did have to tear them away from the Wii to get ready to go to Grandma & Papa's.

Oh, and the letter? Santa just wanted to let us know that he saw how good they've been all year and was going to bring them the Wii. He thought we might want to tell grandmas, papa, aunts and uncles about it in case they wanted to buy them some games for Christmas. Boy howdy, did they!

menu plan monday ~ december 28

There are a lot of weeks when I make a menu plan and do not completely stick to it ~ for whatever reason. Sometimes I don't feel like making what's on it when the time actually comes. Sometimes I think of something else I'd rather eat or something else that's a little quicker.

Last week, I completely stuck to the plan! Totally unbelievable. See what can happen when I don't have to work?

This week we'll have:

  • BBQ beef sandwiches (from left over roast we had last week)
  • lasagne
  • shredded beef tacos
  • hamburgers and black eyed peas
  • white bean chicken chili
  • breaded chicken and mashed potatoes
  • chicken caesar wraps

I'm trying a few new things this week. We'll see how it goes. Maybe I'll have some new recipes for you.

Check out other menu plans at

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

what's for dinner?

Greg calls us on his way home from work. Every time he asks, "What's for dinner?" Sometimes I am prepared for that question with an acceptable answer. Sometimes he gets a smarty pants answer. Sometimes he gets met with the dreaded, "I don't know." Last night we were done with our conversation, just about to hang up, but he had not asked me. I was in shock. Here, I actually had an answer and he wasn't going to ask. Only seconds away from the actual disconnected line he throws in there, "Hey, what's for dinner?" I knew he wouldn't let me down.

This week we'll pretend to be organized and plan on eating:

Check out more menu ideas at

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

i should have known better

I once again reign victorious in my own kitchen. Determined not to be beaten by marshmallow and chocolate chips, I turned to my good old friend The Southern Living Cookbook.

She has been my trusted friend through many a culinary quandary. Some of my most complimented recipes come from her yellowing pages. Year after year she has never let me down, yet I overlooked her completely in favor of the flashy charm of the internet. I had the information I needed well within reach, but I snubbed her for a new and decidedly fickle friend.

The fudge recipe she was so willing to share with me turned out this time. It was even easier to make than the failed pile of poo I got last time. I asked her if I can share her secrets with you and she loyally obliged.

Fast Fudge

2 cups sugar
2/3 cup evaporated milk
1/2 cup butter
12 large marshmallows
few grains of salt
1 (6 oz) package of semisweet chocolate morsels
1 cup chopped pecans
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Combine first 5 ingredients in a large saucepan. Cook over medium heat until mixture comes to a boil, stirring gently; boil 5 minutes, stirring constantly. Remove from heat.

Add chocolate morsels to marshmallow mixture, stirring until melted. Add pecans and vanilla, stirring well. Spread evenly in a buttered 8-inch square pan. Cool and cut into squares. Yield: 2 pounds.

A couple of quick notes:

  • 2/3 cup evaporated milk is NOT the whole can
  • 6 oz of chocolate morsels is NOT the whole bag

You are going to have to measure.

My brother gave me the cookbook a l.o.n.g time ago. It is by far my favorite cookbook and the first one I  check for a recipe when I am not blinded by the Internet. It has a copyright date of 1987. Clearly we were toddlers when he gave it to me. :)

It is also important to note here, that Greg tasted the fudge and mentally measured it against his grandma's fudge. In that arena I was not so victorious. He told me to just ask her for the recipe. But hey, it set up this time - mostly.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

for the second year in a row

I did it! With time to spare too! I met my goal to read 32 books in 2009. Now I need to start thinking about my goal for 2010. Do I dare let my students help me choose the goal?  Last time I trusted seven year olds to dictate my future, they picked the larger of the two goals I was contemplating. Can I be that stupid brave again?

The list of books I read in 2009 is in the side bar. After January 1st, they will be gone ~ making room for the new list of books.

How many books did you read this year? What's your 2010 goal?

Monday, December 14, 2009

cinnamon stick candle holder

Today we are making this cute cinnamon stick candle holder. It is certainly a holiday item, but for some decor, it could be a year-round item. For our house, you'll probably see this year-round. I cannot take credit for being the brilliant genius behind this ~ I saw it on the 'net somewhere. Lost track of where.

To get started to you will need: a glass candle holder with straight sides, cinnamon sticks, ribbon, hot glue, and scissors (not your good sewing ones). But, Andrea, those are not scissors in that picture! Right. I tried using the wire cutters to cut the cinnamon, then moved on to the scissors. They work better.

The glass candle holder came from the dollar store. The ribbon was 98 cents as you can see. The most expensive part of this project was the cinnamon at about $5.50. I got mine from the bulk section at the grocery store. My candle holder is about three inches tall because that's what I was able to find. You can use any size and any shape.

Hold a cinnamon stick up to the glass to measure for your cut. I made mine just over the top of the glass, but you could leave some glass poking up at the top. You could even just have the cinnamon sticks going halfway up the glass. Whatever suits you. Cut the cinnamon stick, then use that one to measure the others. Or I guess you could use a ruler, but why be complicated?

Run a bead of hot glue along the back of the cinnamon stick & glue it on the glass, making your way around the glass. My glass was angled a little bit, so the cinnamon sticks did not butt up next to each other. If the glass had been completely straight up and down, I would have made them all touch nicely.

When you are done, you will have a hot mess from cutting the cinnamon. My cinnamon sticks did not have any aroma until I cut them. Then, that beautiful cinnamon filled the air. We put all the nubby left overs in a pot, covered them with water and simmered them on the stove to fill the house with the scent.

Here you can see that not all the tops are perfect ~ kinda rustic.

Tie the ribbon around the middle with a bow or just a knot. The ribbon is not secured, so you can use a holiday one now & change it later.

Pop in a tea light and you're good to go. This one is a cinnamon spice tea light.


menu plan monday - december 14

There are a few repeat items on the list this week from last week. Heather requested stuffed bell peppers last week, but the store didn't have any green bell peppers ~ not one! We never made it to another store, so we didn't have them. Also, I give myself every liberty to veer off the menu plan path. Last night I didn't feel like making anything on last week's list, so I made chili. I know. Quite a rebel, I am. Better watch out for me!
  • potato cheese soup
  • honey garlic pork chops & fried rice
  • pizza pancakes (This sounds interesting, doesn't it?)
  • chicken delicious
  • chicken enchiladas
  • stuffed bell peppers

For other menu plans, visit

Friday, December 11, 2009


It seems like these two lovlies spent their day waiting. Waiting, first, for breakfast. I got them up at the time we normally get up for school to get ready to have breakfast with Grandma & Grandpa Smith. Instead of having breakfast as part of their normal routine, they were asked to wait until we made our way across town.

After a very nice breakfast, I forced them to wait again. This time they waited for me to be done shopping at Michael's.

And then they waited for me to be done at Joann's ~ while I waited a millennium to have my fabric cut.

Finally, they were subjected to the longest wait of all. The wait for Chris to pick them up on her way home from work for a sleepover at Aunt Wendy's house.

Three-thirty could not come soon enough.

Chris called to tell me Gavin was asleep in the car. So we waited for her on the porch. They turned their wait into fun.

It was during this wait that I relished the last few moments of my day with these babies. During this wait, I just let myself be in the moment, not minding if the wait was just a little bit longer.

Sleepovers mean I get some time just for myself. I can read, sew, sleep, blog, watch a movie, or whatever and not worry about what I need to be doing for them. They get a break from me and I get a break from them. They can bicker in somebody else's company.

But as soon as they are gone? I can't wait for them to come back!

Oh, I am full of contradictions like that.

But next time you are waiting, slow down and pay attention to what there is to see while you wait. You just might see two sillies goofing off with their mama. Or you might see some other kind of wonder. Open your heart and look.

Now. If you will excuse me, I have some Christmas crafts that won't wait.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

she's a comedian

Last night, Greg managed to scam some foot rubs out of the girls. So he was laying in bed having his feet rubbed. For a long time the three of them were blah, blah, blah talking while I'm trying to ignore them because I was reading. Stephanie started to sing a Christmas song I'd already heard her sing about eleventy thousand times earlier in the day.

So I shushed her.

Greg told her to pick a different Christmas song. She sang a few more, then:

G: Why don't you sing a Hanukkah song?

S: (totally straight-faced) I don't know any. We're not Hanukkan.

Well, alrighty then.


This morning, Greg forgot the key to retrieve his delivery truck keys. He called me at 5:10 (that's a.m., people) to tell me this and ask me to bring it to him. So I roused the children from their sugarplum slumber to take a little drive ~ in the cold, cold, darkness. Nobody got dressed for this venture, we just put coats over our jammies.

When we dropped off the keys Greg asked me if I was going to stop and get the kids donuts since we were out so early. I know I gave him the have-you-lost-your-everloving-mind look. Then he took a good look at me, at my clothes, and said, "Oh, I see. Nevermind."

Nevertheless, I drove that car right for the donut place. Stephanie was the most normally dressed of the three of us. I pulled up right in front of the door where I'd be able to see her. I gave her money and a verbal list of four types of donuts to ask for. I asked her to repeat the list to me and somehow jelly filled was in her list. But jelly filled was not in my list. I told her no and repeated the list, ticking them off with my fingers as I went. She again repeated the list, ticking off her fingers now too. Again jelly filled. No! I told her if she came back with jelly filled donuts I'd spank her!

Good thing for her there were no jelly filled donuts in that box!

Greg thought this was hilarious when I told him when he called us today. He thinks she was messing with me on purpose.



Just to set things straight ~ we asked Stephanie who celebrates Hanukkah. She looked at us like we were daft when told us that Jewish people celebrate Hanukkah. Just had to check. Oh, and the kids got foot rubs out of the deal too.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

yes, right, it's not monday

It's not Monday, but grocery shopping is today. Better with a plan, right? This week we plan to eat (in no particular order):
  • homemade pizza
  • stuffed bell peppers
  • tacos
  • crescent chicken
  • honey garlic pork chops & fried rice
  • chicken & noodles

Go see what others are eating at

the one where rereading and following directions becomes important

Yesterday, in order to save my family from the *Helper* in a box for dinner after dance class, I made something in the crock pot. When we were on our way home, Greg made the rice. I made this Italian chicken recipe that I noticed while online. I picked up the cream cheese during our Target trip and all was good. I poured in the dressing, cubed the cream cheese, and threw it in the crock pot with the chicken.

Before we left the house, I noticed that the cream cheese was not really melting and becoming saucy, so I just stirred it a little. Still a little lumpy. No matter, it will look like the picture by the time we get home.

Um, yeah, still lumpy when we got home. Oh, well, it will taste fine. Looks aren't everything, right? Except that the cream cheese was a little strong. And the gravy was not as creamy as I thought it should be. When the kids were done and out of the room, Greg and I discussed the issues we had with dinner. We brainstormed and decided that adding a can of cream of chicken soup would cream it up nicely and tame down the strong cream cheese flavor. And I was thinking that if I mixed everything up before dumping it into the crock pot it would look a whole lot nicer.

Go read that recipe if you haven't already!

Apparently I have good instincts on how to fix a recipe, but cannot read a recipe correctly the first time. Maybe I should have double checked that recipe when it came time to make it!

This is the second recipe in less than a week that I've messed up. Remember the fudge? I might be starting to have a complex.

make your own mailing envelope

Need an envelope real quick? Today we are making 9" x 5.5" mailing envelopes that are way more fun that plain white ones. They don't break the bank, either. Plus, I bet you have a few pieces of scrapbook paper you bought in those big packs that you haven't used just yet. Am I right?

Choose a 12" x 12" piece of scrapbook paper. Lighter colors work well for writing right on the envelope. If you use a darker color, you will need to write the address on a white address sticker.

Other supplies you will need are scissors, adhesive, paper cutter, and a stylus (or popsicle stick). Optional supplies include a corner rounder.

Score your paper at 3" and 8.5" going one way. Turn the paper the other way and score at 1.5" and 10.5". Since I don't have the fancy score thingy by Martha Stewart (ahem, Santa) I just use my paper cutter and my stylus. You can use a popsicle stick for scoring as well. Or even more novel, use a scoring blade if your cutter has one.

You should have 4 score lines total. Can you see them?

Cut out the rectangles in each corner.

Fold on all the score lines. Fold over the largest sides - with the 3" piece on the bottom (or first). Put adhesive on the edge of the wider piece (3.5" side) and fold that one down too. I use double-sided tape and it has worked well in the past. Use whatever permanent adhesive you like.

Now you will have two short sides still unfolded. I like to cut off 1/2" of the next side that will be adhered. You don't really have to, though.

Before sealing the third side, I like to use the corner rounder to snip the four corners that will show when the envelope is closed.

Seal the third side with your favorite adhesive. Again, put it next to the edge to make sure it doesn't get snagged during mailing.

Ta-da! What a cute envelope. Think about how much more cheerful the recipient will be getting mail in a fun envelope! Think about how cheerful the mail people will be when they handle such cuteness.

Now just fill your envelope and use the adhesive to shut the fourth flap.

Another way to treat the corners is to angle the edges. I usually just eyeball this, but you can be more exact if you want. Measure about 1/2" in from the corner and cut diagonally toward the fold/opening of the envelope.

How about an earth and sky collection?

Sending birthday or congratulations greetings?

Go ahead, make the mail a little more fun!