Friday, December 31, 2010

Goodbye 2010...Hello 2011

I love the feeling of the new year beginning.  The feeling of wiping the slate clean and starting over.  Like most people, the new year brings for me fresh ideas and inspiration.  That feeling that I can make this new year anything I want it to be.  2010 was a year of self discovery for me.  It was the year of moving on after such a great loss & learning to live my life again and in a new way. 

I am feeling a desire to do more and tap into my creative side.  Whether my creations be food, crafts, art, photos or all of the above.  I want to take little adventures and explore Oklahoma.  I want to spend time in a cabin in the woods and take pictures of nature and my kids.  I want to learn to knit and play the piano.  I want to learn to use my new camera! {Thanks again, Allen.}  I have several business ideas buzzing in my head, but being here for Garrett is my first priority during the if those ideas are do-able, great.  If not, one day way too soon, Garrett will be in school & I will have more time to pursue business ideas.  {I cannot even think about him going to school without freaking out.}

I want to take gardening to the next level now that I, somewhat, know what I'm doing.  I want to eat as organically and locally as possible.  We will be getting a Whole Foods soon and I am so excited to see it.  I've never been in one and I am picturing a grocery store utopia.  I want to learn to can food and raise chickens.  I want to learn to make more types of breads, like french breads and baguettes.  And I am very excited to make eating homemade food convenient.  I have a ton of ideas in my head and have been trying some things out.  I can't wait to share it all soon. 

I have personal goals too.  Things I want to do to improve myself inside and out.  Like so many people, I STILL want to lose weight.  I do not care about being a certain weight or size.  I just want to feel good in my own skin, like the way I look in my clothes and feel strong and energetic.  I want to take care of my body now so that it will work for me when I'm older.

2010 Year End Review
* Garrett turned 2

* Sydney turned 6

* I turned 32

* Allen turned 33

* Allen & I had our 9 year anniversary

* Sydney started all day Kindergarten

* We decided our family was complete

* We learned to eat organic & cook from scratch

* We grew our first garden

* We simplified & cut back on our spending

* We started paying off debt

* We stayed home A LOT

* I changed my hair like 5 times

* Allen grew a woolly beard

* We started going to church

* I exercised pretty consistently

* I started blogging

* I stopped using any over the counter meds, other than the occasional Tylenol or Ibuprofen.  Instead, I started treating colds with humidifiers, netti pots, gurgling salt water, homemade chicken noodle soup, lots of water & rest.

* We switched many of our household & hygiene products to non-toxic versions {Tom's, Burt's Bees, Seventh Generation, & lots of vinegar}

* I loved these bands:
The Avett Brothers
Band of Horses
Fleet Foxes
Kings of Leon
Bon Iver
Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros
Local Natives
Passion Pit
Arcade Fire
The Black Keys
Florence & the Machine
Camera Obscura
She & Him
Cat Power
The Joy Formidable
The Middle East

I can't wait to see what the next year brings for us!

This is the look Allen gives me when I take pictures of
us doing totally random things in public.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Christmas Traditions

We have a lot of great traditions we do every year at Christmas.  I really love this time of year & I love making it fun for the kids.  Christmas is the only holiday that I really decorate the house too much. I love the way our living room looks this time of year.

We spend lots of nights snuggling on the couch having movie nights & drinking hot chocolate this time of year.  Of course, our favorite Christmas movies are "Christmas Vacation" & "A Christmas Story".  I also love "Emmet Otter's Jug Band Christmas".  I need to get it on DVD so my kids can grow up watching it too!

Allen always makes the outside look fun & festive.  He's a little bit of a Clark Griswold!

This is what our entrance looked like last year.

We always go to our favorite pizza place, The Hideaway.  Then drive around looking at Christmas lights on the huge houses in Nichols Hills.  I like to look in the windows to see how the "other half" live. ;)  {from the car of course, not like in the bushes!}  We drive through our local park's light display about 5 times in December because it's so fun to the kids and it's close to home.  We also always drive by the awesome light display at Chesapeake Energy.

I always give the kid's a gift to open on Christmas Eve...and it's always new pajamas. 

I have this mailbox for a decoration and a few years ago I snuck a little surprise in there for Sydney.  So now it's a tradition that I randomly sneak little surprises in the mailbox for the kids.  They love running to the mailbox to see if there's anything in there.  And it's always a great bribe for good behavior..."if you don't straighten up I can guarantee there won't be any mailbox surprises for a few days." 

We always make a gingerbread house.

And my favorite, we always make Christmas sugar cookies.  It's a long & messy process, but so fun & worth it!  This year I got smart.  I've already mixed up the dough & put it in the freezer.  So when we're ready, we can make them on a moments notice. 

Sugar Cookies
1 1/2 c butter, softened
2 c sugar
4 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
5 c flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt

In a large bowl, cream together butter & sugar until smooth.  Beat in eggs & vanilla.  Stir in flour, baking powder & salt.  Mix everything well & cover.  Chill dough for at least one hour or overnight.

Pre-heat oven to 400.  I take out half the dough and put the rest back in the refrigerator.  I find it works best to break it into two parts because after a while, the dough gets too warm & is harder to work with.  Roll out half the dough on a floured surface 1/4 to 1/2 inch thick.  Cut into shapes with cookie cutters.  Place cookies 1 inch apart on un-greased cookie sheet.  Bake 6 to 8 minutes.  Let cool completely.

For the icing, I just make it up as I go.  But it goes a little something like this:

1 stick butter, softened
Add powdered sugar & mix until you get the consistency & sweetness you like.  If you like it thin, add a splash of milk.

Then to make fun colored icing, place some icing in three different bowls.  Leave one white, add green food coloring to one and red food coloring to the other.  Ice the cookies when cooled completely & top with Christmas sprinkles.

P.S. ~ Santa loves these cookies!

And lastly, we always listen to Elvis on Christmas morning while we open presents. 

When I was a kid, my Dad played this album every Christmas morning while we opened presents & I have carried on that tradition since Sydney's first Christmas.  Our favorite song is "Santa Claus Is Back In Town".


Sunday, December 19, 2010

Caramel Popcorn

Pre-heat oven to 300. 

Pop the popcorn according to instructions.  I make my popcorn the old fashioned way on the stove.  Sydney had fun watching it POP!


It's much more cost effective to buy kernels & pop them on the stove.  This is how much it made today & I just covered the bottom of the pan with a layer of kernels.  Just be sure to add a little melted butter & salt to the popcorn right after popping.

Take out any un-popped kernels, put the popcorn on a cookie sheet & put in oven.

To make caramel sauce: {recipe from a Mom at Sydney's school}

3/4 c brown sugar (compact)
6 tbsp butter
3 tbsp Karo syrup
1/4 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 tsp baking soda

In a saucepan, mix together brown sugar, butter & Karo syrup.  Heat on med-high heat, stirring frequently. 

Once it starts to boil, don't touch it.  Let boil for 5 minutes. 

Take off heat, add vanilla & baking soda.  Stir & pour over top of popcorn on cookie sheet.  Put back in oven for 15 minutes.  Take out, stir, then put back in oven for 5 minutes.  Take out and pour on wax paper.  Let cool & enjoy!

You could make popcorn balls, but I cut the top off a large baggie, filled it with caramel popcorn & put a red twist tie on it.  I put a cute Christmas tag on it and we gave it to our neighbor, Peg.  Peg is my walking buddy & the kids are crazy about her.  It's great to have great neighbors.

This was my first time making caramel popcorn, & it seemed like I had too much popcorn & not enough caramel sauce.  So next time, I will probably double the sauce or cut the popcorn in half.  But it still tasted great.  It was the perfect combination of sweet & salty.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Toy Organization

I like things organized.  Always have, always will.  My Sister used to try to annoy me by moving my perfectly aligned remote controls on the table or tilting a picture on the wall.  My Sister would not be able to find her remote controls, but mine would be lined up from smallest to biggest.  It's pretty funny how opposite we are.

Anyways, the toys in my kids' rooms have just become a cluttered mess & it's been driving me crazy.  I finally have a toy organization system that I love & my kids love.  I've looked at these before, but thought they were too pricey.  Until Target marked them down to $38!  I bought one for each room & it is really nerdy how happy these have made me!


These organizing bins are made by Circo, and clearanced at $38, are perfect for organizing all the little stuff in the kids' rooms.  Sydney and Garrett love them because everything is where they can see it.  And guess what, they have done a better job cleaning up their own rooms because clean up is so much easier now.  Bonus!  The colors matched their rooms perfectly!

Here's Sydney's toy closet before and after.


Removing all the baskets & containers full of little stuff from the closet freed up space for the bigger, obnoxious stuff. 

I forgot to take before pics of Garrett's room.  Go figure.  Here's all his little cars, tractors & random toys organized in their little bins.

And the kids had fun decorating the boxes they came in. 

Assembly was a piece of cake.  Each one only took me about 20 minutes.  So for any organized mom going crazy over the toy clutter consuming their kid's rooms, I highly recommend these!  Just wait until they go on sale again. ;)

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Mmmm...Cheese Ball

This cheese ball is one of my go to appetizers for parties. 
Cheese Ball
1 pkg cream cheese
1 tsp pimento (drained)
1 tsp chopped green bell pepper
1 tsp chopped red bell pepper
1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp lemon juice
1 c grated cheddar cheese

Mix together & roll into a ball.  Then cover in chopped pecans.  Serve with crackers or bread.

The red & green peppers give it a fun Christmas look.

I made this for our "Thanksmas" party with our friends this last weekend.  We always get together in between Thanksgiving & Christmas & do a gift exchange with the kids.  I meant to take a picture of the cheese ball and my pepper poppers, but totally forgot.  I forget everything these days.  I think my brain is just too busy storing all the important information, like brush the kids' teeth, Sydney's school program is at 2:00, show & tell is Friday & she needs to bring something that starts with K, pay the  mortgage, and so on.  So I forget little things like taking pictures of my cheese ball.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Happy Holidays!

Look at this adorable video of Sydney & Garrett that my Sister {Barefoot Studios} put together!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

John Lennon ~ "Instant Karma"

Don't Throw Those Crayons Away!

Now that it's getting too cold to play outside here in Oklahoma, we Moms have to get creative.  This is a fun project I did with Sydney one time & she loved it.  And chances are, you have everything you need to do it right now!

1. Gather up all those old broken crayons & put them to good use!  Tear all the paper off & break the crayons into small pieces.

2. Place pieces in a silicone baking mold.  The silicone molds work great because you can heat them in the oven & the crayons pop out easily.  You can buy them in tons of cute shapes too.

3. Bake at 200 degrees until the crayons have melted. 

4. Let the crayons cool completely, then stick in the freezer for a few minutes & they will pop right out of the mold..

You can turn old crayons into so many fun shapes & colors.  Mix the colors for a fun tye dye look.  Or make solid colored shapes.  These would make great gifts paired with some coloring books & packaged in a cute cellophane bag.  Perfect for classroom gifts.  And perfect to entertain restless kiddos when it's freezing outside.  And hello....can we say cheap???

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Indie Princess

Just found this and had to share.  It's Passion Pit's "Sleepy Head" mixed with clips of Snow White.  Which is pretty perfect since that's one of Sydney's favorite songs on my ipod & she loves Snow White!  She thinks this is pretty cool!

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Eating Organic & Buying Local...Life Changing!

A couple of years ago, I frequented fast food, drank a lot of Coke, ate a lot of processed foods & ate out a lot.  I fed Sydney frozen chicken nuggets, frozen pizzas, Easy Mac, Eggo waffles & hot dogs.  We ate store bought bread, Pasta Roni, made Pancakes from Bisquick and had lots of boxes of "food" in the pantry.  I bought gigantic frozen chicken breasts from Sam's & gigantic packages of ground beef at a very affordable price.  I paid around .78 cents for a dozen of the whitest, most perfect looking eggs.  I bought produce that had a mysterious waxy feel & just didn't taste great & I would wonder how I was supposed to enjoy eating it when it had no flavor.  I never exercised & I was 70 lbs heavier.  I hate saying that...but I'm always honest here. 

In January of 2010, I took the first step to changing my life and changing the path I was sending my kids down.  It started with a simple baby step of buying a container of organic yogurt.  I had never really liked yogurt, but this yogurt tasted different.  It tasted creamy and I could taste actual flavors.  It didn't leave a weird aftertaste on my tongue.  I was at rock bottom in my life after losing my Dad and I was desperate for a new outlook on life.  So I decided to learn everything I could about food, chemicals, organics, etc.  It was like opening the door to a world that had always existed, but I never knew it was there.  And once I crossed over, I knew it was where I belonged.  The more I read, the more I was convinced. Then I watched "Food, Inc." and it sealed the deal and changed me forever.  I highly recommend this documentary!

Changing the way I thought about food completely changed my life.  I changed what I bought, where I bought it & how I cooked it. Here's how I do it now:

* I get chicken from the farmer's market.  It's local, free range, hormone & antibiotic free.

* I also buy Cattle Tracks Beef from the farmer's market.  It is local, certified organic & grass fed. 

* From the farmer's market, I also buy locally made cheeses, honey & peanut butter.  I buy any produce that I do not have in my garden.

* I buy my eggs from Sylvia.  She lives a few miles from my house & is a retired school teacher.  She just happens to have the cutest little chicken coop & sells me her brown eggs for $2 a dozen.  She has a refrigerator under the car port & I simply leave my money in the butter dish and take my eggs if she isn't home.  Let me just tell you how much better her eggs are!  They make absolutely everything I bake taste better. I promise you, Sylvia is not injecting her chickens with hormones & antibiotics. ;) And she has inspired me to raise chickens next year.

* I grew my first vegetable garden this year & absolutely loved it.  I had tomatoes, cucumbers, broccoli, lettuce, peppers, onions, garlic, red potatoes, russet potatoes, cilantro, parsley & strawberries (although they never produced).  I will definitely continue gardening every year & may eventually expand to a much bigger garden.

Our garden.

This lettuce tasted so good!

The kids loved digging up the potatoes!
* I bake our bread, rolls, desserts, pizza crust, etc.  All using mostly organic & local ingredients.

* We are a 100% no pop family.

* I try to buy mostly organic & local.  But, when I do buy from the grocery store, I avoid these ingredients at all cost: high fructose corn syrup, MSG, BHT & dyes.  I will not buy anything with these listed in the ingredients.  It gets tricky because this junk is in so much of our "food".  But it is possible.   

My vision for our future is to eventually have a little micro farm on our 2 1/2 acres with a big garden, chickens & a compost pile.  I also want to learn how to can food.  This year was my education in changing the way we eat.  Next year I want to learn how to make eating this way a little more convenient, such as, cooking in bulk & freezing, canning, etc. 

I love the idea of avoiding big box stores & chain restaurants and, instead, everyone in the community supporting each other.  We have simplified our lives this year & have, as I like to say, "taken it back old school".  I love that there's a movement of people doing this across the board, and especially in OKC!

My my two favorite local stores to buy organic & local food are Native Roots Market & Forward Foods.  They are both quite a drive for me, but very worth it.

Late July has some of our favorite organic snacks.  Their buttery crackers are great & free of high fructose corn syrup.  I was shocked that nearly every box of crackers in my grocery store had HFCS.  Kettle Chips are so good.  Too good.  Seriously, what I like to call a "red flag food" for me.  The BBQ is my favorite. 

Eating local & organic is a no brainer.  It's better for our health, the environment & the animals.  Yes, it is more expensive & my two worlds of being thrifty & eating organic really collide.  But I always repeat to myself "read the ingredients, not the price tag". The health of myself and my family is priceless. I just consider it preventative medicine.  It's much cheaper to eat real food now instead of paying for medications & doctor bills later.  If nothing else, we should all do it for our kids.  Most kids today are eating a concoction of chemicals at every meal.  Add to that the mega doses of vaccines & plastics all around us.  If we don't make some changes, our kids don't stand a chance at a healthy future. 

My family is proof of this healthy change.  We look better & feel better.  Changing the way we ate had a domino effect on our lives that led to many positive changes.  I swear by this way of life now.