Thursday, October 23, 2014

A Week Of Crockpot Goodness

I'll admit it, I'm a Crockpot Lover.

Being from the Midwest, I think we just naturally gravitate toward the crockpot. With the change of seasons and some busier weeks, I was ready to embrace the crockpot after a summer break.

In my new quest for pleasing crockpot meals, I turned to Pinterest (of course). I found that chicken crockpot pins were in abundance, but finding really good ground beef recipes was a different story.

Until I found a good one with a lot of great recipe links. Because I like you a lot, I'll share it with you.

The Crock-Pot Ladies know their ground beef I tells ya.

In the interest of not boring you to death with step by step photos of each recipe, I just took a couple to share with you.

Here's a number of the crockpot recipes we've been feasting on lately and they come with our 5 star approval. Which, in a house of 6 people, is pretty amazing to be in consensus every time.

Crockpot Hamburger Soup

I've only had the chance to try one of the hamburger recipes so far, but I intend to try more. I've got the Pizza Noodle Toss and the Crock-pot Cowboy Casserole  next on my list.

Cheesy Crockpot Chicken

I had put this one together on a day when we had piano lessons and errands in the afternoon. I wasn't home when the meal was taken from the crockpot, so no photo with this one.

I assure you it was presentable both to the eyes and the tummy.

I didn't have any canned condensed cheddar soup, so I made my own following this recipe. I'd definitely do it that way again. I liked this recipe so much more than the canned stuff.

I served the cheesy chicken over a bed of jasmine rice and served it with a fresh slice of homemade bread.

Crockpot Chicken And Dumplings

Making a homecooked meal as great as chicken and dumplings is tough and time consuming. I found this one to be super easy.

Put a bunch of ingredients in the crockpot for several hours, take the chicken out and shred it, toss it back in the crockpot.

Cut up a can of biscuits, turn it on High for another hour. Now that I can manage.

Crockpot Chicken Bacon Ranch

This one was great for Saturday supper when I spent time away from the house and we were enjoying the outdoors. Put a handful of ingredients in for the afternoon, prepare some pasta on the stove, and toss in just before serving.

It made it look like I had spent a lot of time at the stove to prepare this delicious meal.

Ready to try some dessert in the crockpot?

I found that a seasonal favorite, Apple Crisp, is even crockpot friendly. This recipe was great since I was running short on time and only took a couple hours in the crockpot.

Crockpot Apple Crisp

My only variation is that I used SIX  ('Sweet 16' variety) apples for our family. It ended up being the perfect amount in one crockpot for all of us to fill our bellies. With it being easy and quick, this will certainly become a fast favorite around here. What a comforting, warm dessert for the fall and winter months.

Creating tasty and family friendly homemade meals is possible. A little bit of planning, a crockpot, and a handful of ingredients is usually all you need.

I hope you give some of these a try and enjoy them as much as my family did.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

From The Mouth Of My Babes


When I get bigger, I'm not going to be married with a ring.

Concerned Mom:

Oh really? What are you going to do instead?


Water plants.


When I be big, I'm going to put stuff in the crockpot.


(Overheard conversation while the girls are eating chocolate covered raisins)

It's like we're eating baby poop from a diaper.

*giggle* *giggle*

Baby's poop......


Guardian angels don't poop in THEIR DIAPERS!!!

*snort, snort* *hilarious eruption of laughter*

Oh dear. Oh my. What's with the crazy humor? That fourth child just may be my trouble maker after all.


Needing Validation Mom:

Gianna, are you going to miss me when I'm gone for a few days?



But I'm sure gonna miss daddy when he's gone to work!

Well I guess everything will turn out just fine while I'm away.

Gianna won't miss me and Margaret will get the chance to be a big girl and use the crockpot to make supper.

**My secret hope is that Margaret will decide to be a 'big girl' and start using the toilet while I'm gone. 

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Thursday Thoughts

 Thinking About...

....preparations. I'm getting ready to hop on a plane exactly ONE WEEK from today.

This is kind of a big thing for me since :
a) I haven't traveled on a plane since BC (before children), which means it's been over 12 years.
b) I rarely travel in general and never alone.
c) I really don't recall the last time I left my kids and probably not my husband either, for several nights.


You know what makes the unsettled feelings about the trip better though? I'm going to meet someone really awesome. She's kind of an inspiring woman and amazing friend. Best yet, we've NEVER MET. You may know her, she's over here. Yes, I get to meet the Martins IRL in ONE WEEK. (insert happy dance) I also get to meet Marijanna who I met through Colleen. (double happy dance)

The other thing is knowing my family will be ok without me. My parents will come and take a day shift and then Reed will handle the other days plus all other loose ends. He's even planning on taking the kids on a field trip with the homeschool group one of the days I'm gone.

Preparing to leave for a long weekend takes more planning, thought, and preparation of all things random. You know, because I'd like to believe that they really need me around to do laundry, make meals, clean up the house, keep them on task, be their teacher, keep their calendar, keep them clean, brush their hair, and you know, just be around.  They'll be ok without me. (I think)

I also know that the time away is good for me too. I had initially hoped to make this trip a year ago. I waited too long to book a flight and rates went up, but then I slowly also wimped out. A few months ago I jumped (poor Colleen, she didn't even see it coming) on a decent rate and let the Martins know I was on my way. It will be good to finally meet two of my bloggy friends, run a 5K with Colleen for a great cause, hang out with one of my favorite bloggy girls (I kind of crush on her daughter Maggie), and in turn long to be reunited with my family (that's a good thing).

Since this is a rare occasion, it will be a good thing for all of us. I think I'll come home ready to dive back into my vocation and appreciate what daily becomes the monotony.

A few photos from the last week:

We met up with my bloggy friend Marie and her sweet gals last week. It was a great day to enjoy an apple orchard field trip and all of the animals they have there. The kids all had a great time and it was so good to catch up with Marie and visit again. Bonus: I got to hold her little Katharine and take in the baby sweetness. 

If we were to have cattle (Reed's dream), I think I'd want one of these. 
How cute is that shagginess??!!

The baby goats were a huge hit! I think they equally enjoyed the girls. And their clothing to chew on.

The leaves are falling....falling.... And the kids have had a lot of chances to enjoy them this year. 

Jumping in leaf piles is one of those wonderful childhood memories.

My attempt at a selfie with the hubs on our way to our nephew's wedding last weekend.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Costume Sneak Peek

In my free time over the last few days I've had a little project I've been working on.

Since time here is moving ahead at rapid speed, I thought I'd get a jump on this one.

I also have a fun out of town trip coming up next week and I knew I was going to be pressed for time.

Halloween usually creeps up on me too quickly and my kids have crazy-big-amazing-creative ideas that I cannot fulfill without the proper amount of prep time.

Wanna take a look?

Any ideas what the girls are dressing up as this Halloween?

I found the idea for the no sew tutu/dress over here. Then I headed to JoAnn's and Walmart to see what color tulle I could find and brought a bunch home. Lily helped make the final decision on what colors were most true to the characters outfits. We hacked out both her dress and Gianna's in a couple of hours.

Honestly, Lily's took WAY more time. Mainly just because it's that much bigger and had three colors in it. Gianna's took me maybe half an hour or so. Either way, the no sew was definitely the way to go.

I have a couple more details for these costumes yet that shouldn't take much time, but will involve another trip to the store.

The inspiration for Olaf came from a picture I found on Pinterest, but there were no details or patterns. I had the organza dress from a wedding Lily was in several years ago and it was just getting dusty sitting in the closet. I figured I'd save money and time by re-purposing the dress and making good use of it. That definitely made the costume easier.

I struggled to find a pattern online for Olaf's face that was size comparable for my use. I ended up using this download  as a general guideline, but enlarging it. That took a couple trial and error cuts, but I think it worked out fairly well.

Sure, it took a bit more work to do the costumes this way, but I figure it was worth the money I saved. So far the girls all seem pleased with the way their costumes are turning out.

Total spent on three costumes thus far: $17.13

As for Jonah, we're still working on him yet. I've set a deadline and he needs to decide. We'll see if I end up splurging and buying a ridiculously overpriced costume or depending on what he chooses, maybe I can make something yet.

Only time will tell.

I'll be sure to keep you posted.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Early October Daybook

Outside my Window...

Blustery winds and cold have scattered leaves throughout the yard. The line of sight from here, out my patio door, and toward the lake has become more clear. In time, I will be able to see the frozen lake all winter long.

Thankful For...

Moments of peace within my home, my heart, and my soul.

A cozy home to nestle in during the upcoming colder months.

Thinking About...

A number of projects that need my attention this month, including some Halloween costumes. There is another little project I need to get to for a gift in the next couple of weeks as well. We're also heading into a busier liturgical season, so that means more planning and work for my part time job is upon me as well.

I am Hearing...

A blissful silence during 'naptime at the zoo'. (Yes, I really do call it that)The little girls are napping and I'm spending the time on the computer. In the background, I hear the sound of father and son working on a project in the basement.

What I am Reading...

After reading about Well Read Mom on numerous blogs in the last year, I was only semi-interested. Fast forward to a month ago when Margaret mentioned it on Facebook and it struck a chord. I decided I'd jump in on my own to start with  the hopes that perhaps I'd find some friends to join me in the future.

I'm a little behind and just finishing up the September read, Hannah Coulter, before diving into Pride and Prejudice for October.  I'm really enjoying this light read and the commitment to actually make the time to sit and read. Even just being accountable to myself to finish each month is still enough inspiration I need to stick to the program.

Daily encouragement comes to me these days from Blessed Is She. Are you a subscriber? I don't even recall which blogger I stumbled upon mentioning this new community of women. I get the email every day with the daily readings and a short motherly/womanly meditation. It's been the spiritual encouragement I've needed lately and a rich blessing.

From the Kitchen...

I've gotten a little off track again with my meal planning. Perhaps the at home, around the hearth, days will get me back to good cooking once again. I think the crockpot may be calling my name again and it's about time to put it back to good use.

If we are around home, many afternoons find me with a cup of coffee with just the right mixture of french vanilla creamer and pumpkin spice. So cozy this time of year.

Pumpkin is the seasonal ingredient and while not my most favorite, this year it seems especially enticing. Recently I've made a Pumpkin Dump Cake and also a two ingredient Pumpkin Muffin and we enjoyed both recipes. I'd still like to try this Chocolate Chip Pumpkin Bread or maybe Jamie's recipe while we are in the autumn season.

On Tap for this Week...

The usual lessons (speech and piano) a couple of days, while preparing for an orchard visit with the B family later this week. We also have another nephew getting married on Saturday, it is sure to be a big family hoop-de-do!

Around the House...

With the gifting season nearly upon us, I'm taking second glances at unused items (toys) here and there. After doing a big Thomas the train purge late summer, I'm feeling at least a bit more breathing room. I could sort through some of those bottom-of-the-toy-basket items and the usual smaller items that just end up scattered wherever there is floor space.

It also seems that we are in for some readjustments in daily duties/chores again for the kids. We seem to go in a rotation and ever few months we need to revamp our system. I wish we could find something that consistently works. We have found that with the kids' ages, stages, moods, and commitment changing, so does the responsibility (or sometimes lack thereof) level. Mama can't do everything and it's time to get everyone back pitching in again.

Picture to Share... 

Flashback one year ago:

Friday, October 3, 2014

Arrows, Angels, Chickens, And Autumn

Wow, if that title didn't catch your attention, what would?

Bear with me.

This seemed to be a banner week of 'stuff' on the calendar. Sure, not a full calendar like some of you Super Woman moms of many, but one full of activity for our household.

September somehow managed to slip away without so much as a backward glance. October came in and took its place, reminding me that chilly, rainy days are bound to happen whether we had outside plans or not.

Somehow there never seems to be enough time in the autumn days.

Being the hearty type, we roll with it and pretend that winter will never come. This year autumn will miraculously last forever and henceforth roll right into spring.

Never mind. Ignorance is bliss.

It was a good week here.

A quick afternoon homeschooling event got us outdoors on a windy, chilly day when I'd rather be sipping my pumpkin spice coffee.

I'm glad we did go, as it proved to be a good time.

As always, the cast of characters were willing. The girls are just silly these days. The facial expressions are those worn only by crazy toddlerkins.

I can't help but laugh.

It was an Archery in the Park event hosted by an area State Park. It was a free educational event for homeschoolers that day and we attended with our homeschool group.

Trying archery was on Lily's bucket list. Check.

Any guesses as to what was added to their Christmas list?

Thanks to Patty sharing her Guardian Angel craft post, I was actually ahead of the game and prepared for the feast day yesterday. These are the little girls' projects. The angel wings are a little more like "put your hands up!" and the angel expressions more like "oh my, what are you doing to me??" The girls also agreed that the angels needed legs, perhaps many legs.

These most definitely will be treasured.

I also whipped up an Angel Food cake (just happened to have a box mix on hand) and Lily prepared Fluffy Pudding Frosting to top it off. It was delicious and light, perfect for celebrating our celestial friends.

Finally, around the house there are more signs of the season adorned in tones of orange, red, and brown.

Outdoors, yesterday was wet and cool here, but late afternoon caught glimpses of sunlit beauty.

Our feathered companions are growing and taking over the yard. They are 'free range' chickens which pretty much means they missed the memo I sent: 

No chickens in the front yard. No chickens in my flowerbeds or terraces.

We'll see who has the last laugh when some of them are in my freezer. Your time will come, chickens. Your time will come.

The trees are shades of perfect autumn, but the usual fall wind has scattered many leaves throughout the yard. Each year there's a sadness when those colorful leaves fall to the ground. It's the passage of time, the spring and summer past, the anticipated goodbye. It leaves only the naked trees to behold out my window. 

There has to be a winter before there can be another spring. It's just the way of things. I guess I wouldn't appreciate the autumn leaves, if not for the barren winter, the new growth of spring and the warmth of summer.

May your enjoyment of autumn wherever you are bring you happiness and contentment.

I intend on sitting back and enjoying another cup of coffee (with pumpkin spice creamer, of course) as often as I can. I hope you get the chance to do the same.

Happy Weekend! 

Happy Autumn!

Happy October!

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Everybody Needs A Little Time Away

Photo Dump Ahead

Did you miss me? You probably didn't even know I was away with me being the sporadic blogger I have been as of late. That's okay. Let me catch you up on our few days away last week.

First, I must say that it was a most beautiful time to be away. Even with our little trip happening only due to the fact that poor Reed had a conference out of town, it was a good time indeed. The bonus for us is that we can take the time as a family to go away and be with him when his schedule allows. Thank you, homeschooling.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, we headed out of town on Lily's 12th birthday.

A quick snapshot before everyone was dressed and ready to go.

We were all packed up and ready to head out on the road to Duluth, MN by 8:30 am. If you have ever been to Duluth, you'd know why it's one of our favorite spots. EVER. I've spent many a vacation there throughout my life and Reed and I spent our honeymoon there too. While it's simple, in-state and not exotic by any means, it's just a few hours from home and has always been intriguing for our family visits. 

Conveniently, my grandma lives in a city that we pass through on the way to Duluth. A quick visit was in order as it only seems right, but also because she and Lily share birthdays. We had to let the birthday gals spend a little time together and take a photo or two.

After arriving in Duluth and getting settled in, we dropped Reed off at his afternoon meeting. The kids and I then hit the waterpark for a bit before drying off and finding out all the other cool attractions at our hotel.

We then headed down to where Reed's meeting was being held and met up with him for supper. 

It was the birthday girl's choice where she wanted to eat. 

She chose an exciting place, which is a revolving (slowly) restaurant atop one of Duluth's tallest buildings. It was a meal that was out of our ordinary "plain" Midwestern tastes, but it wasn't too bad. We mainly went for the experience and the memories. The outer ring part of the restaurant revolves slowly while you enjoy the exquisite views. In our time there, roughly 1 1/4 hours, we were able to make one full rotation, to the delight of the birthday girl. 

To add to the adventure of our trip, my parents ended up joining us for one overnight and day. It was planned so that they could enjoy the one full day with the kids and I (ahem, and help relieve mom a bit), while Reed was in classes/meetings that day.

We awoke Monday morning to weather. In Duluth, at the end of September, it is almost unheard of. To plan a trip at that time of year, you seriously could be freezing your little hinders off. No lie. We've been up there in September and worn winter coats! We were blessed with this glorious, 70 degree weather every day we were there. Some of the best weather we've ever experienced in Duluth, especially since a lot of times you get caught in a lot of wind coming off Lake Superior. 

We enjoyed time down in Canal Park walking along the boardwalk, enjoying the views, watching ships far off, searching for agates and throwing rocks in Lake Superior.

Relaxing and Peaceful.

This was created by Jonah, the artistic and creative one. He asked specifically that it be showcased on my blog. I (heart) Jesus.

Sweet boy.

Precious moments and time just enjoying. *bliss*

We spent the rest of the morning walking, playing at the playground, and a having a picnic lunch.

Then we headed to a place I had never been in all our visits, Enger Tower Park.  I cannot believe we've never found this spot. My parents found it earlier in the summer when they were up in Duluth visiting and wanted to share it with us. 

The little girls fell asleep on our drive to the park, so my mom stayed back and hung out with them in the van. The big kids took the adventure up the trail to the tower with my dad and I. 

We climbed up the nearly 100 stairs to the very top of the tower and beheld scenes like this:

With the autumn leaves turning and the blue sky, it was the best time to see the beauty.

Looking at the famous aerial lift bridge in Canal Park.

The park also has some nice gardens and walking trails high up on the hill as well.

And many more breathtaking scenes to behold.

The following day we were just the kids and I again in the morning. We had planned our "splurge" destination while in Duluth for the Great Lakes Aquarium.  (We ended up not spending as much on admission, thanks to our hotel having discounted tickets for us. Score!) We also used it as our "school"/field trip as well. Before the aquarium opened, we headed back to enjoy Canal Park and hang out for a bit in the morning. 

Every trip we are in Duluth, we make a point to consult the ship schedule so that we catch at least one ship coming in or going out. It's kind of a tradition and one of our favorite parts of the trip.

The ship schedule usually has a window of anywhere from 1-3 hours of when a ship may be departing or coming in. If you hit it right, you could catch one. If not, you may have to hang out a while until you do. Ships do not come and go every day. It just depends on what's being loaded and unloaded, if they are on time, etc. 

That morning, we happened to be at the right place and heard the lift bridge announcement before it begins to lift. We were going to see a ship!

This one was coming out and was nearly 1,000 feet. 

Afterward, we drove just a little ways to hit the aquarium when it opened. We were some of the only patrons in there that morning and it was ideal. As we looked at the many exhibits, one corner faced the harbor where the ships dock and load/unload.  It also had an observation deck outside that we stepped out on to see the view. 

To our delight, another ship was beginning to make it's journey out of the harbor toward the lift bridge. 

It was a great vantage point to see the 1,004 foot ship head out. We also had a few other people on the deck with us as we watched. One of the guys who volunteers at the aquarium is from Duluth and very knowledgeable about the ships. The longest ship that comes in to Duluth is 1.013 and this specific one we saw is the second largest. Pretty cool, huh?

Inside the aquarium, they even have a ship simulation. Here the kids can pretend to steer the ship while also seeing and hearing all that a ship captain would when he is in command of a ship. 

That afternoon, we had a picnic lunch with Reed before doing more walking and sightseeing. 

We made an effort to find another place we'd never been, Lester Park. With more trails to adventure on, a playground and more rocks and water to splash in, it was another hit. Again, with warm weather, it made the fun even more enjoyable.

It was a great few days away. We had many things to fill our days, down time in the waterpark, and oodles of free things to explore within a short driving distance. We didn't even hit some of the bigger things like Gooseberry Falls or Split Rock Lighthouse. Those will be for another time, perhaps when the kids are just a bit bigger and daddy can be with us the whole time. 

It was a good time, a very good time, to be away. To reconnect, enjoy, cherish and have fun.

As always, it was good to get back to home and routine.

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