Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Vacation Week - Update

Well, I"m about half way through my vacation week.  Looking back I can't believe how ambitious I was at the beginning of the week, what was I thinking :)  Status check, here's what I've accomplished this week.

  • New blinds for the master bedroom (wasn't on my list but I've been meaning to do it for the last year since the old one was broken.)
  • Valances for the kitchen (once again wasn't on the list but since we re-did our kitchen about five years ago we've been meaning to do this one)
  • Started baking - still have a lot to do
  • Started shopping - I'll be going out this evening with my son to get quite a bit more done.
  • Cleaned kitchen pantry
  • Finished ironing
  • Cleaned linen closet (towels do need to go on my Christmas list!)
  • Inventoried cleaning items, combining duplicates that were almost empty and made list of needed items (I keep cleaning items on two floors to make cleaning easier)
Today I'll get the food made to take to Thanksgiving dinner, make another batch of cookies, clean the linen closet and do some more shopping.

That's it for me - what do you have planned for the rest of this week?

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Carrot Cookie Recipe

Many, many years ago my mother belonged to a monthly recipe club.  I remember her having a large, avocado green recipe box and desert cards arriving monthly.  This recipe is one of two remaining cards my mother has kept and one of our family favorites that is made year after year. 

The cookies by themselves are a little plain but the frosting really makes them pop so I am very generous with the frosting. I hope your family enjoys them as much as mine does.

Carrot Cookies
1 cup shortening (I use half butter/half shortening)
3/4 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 cup mashed carrots
2 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 cut shredded coconut
2 cups floor

Mix shortening, sugar, eggs and carrots. Blend in flour, baking powder and salt - stir in coconut. Drop dough by teaspoonfuls about 2" apart on greased cookie sheet. Bake in a 400 degree oven for 8 - 10 minutes. Batter is loose, not your typical cookie dough. Note: Use the coconut even if you don't typically like coconut. You don't really taste it and it will change the consistency of the cookie

3 tablespoons soft butter
1 1/2 cup powder suger
2 teaspoons grated orange peel
1 tablespoons OJ
Blend butter and sugar, stir in orange peel and OJ. Beat until smooth

As I stated I go pretty heavy on the frosting so I triple this recipe. I also use the juice from a real orange since I'm zesting the orange peel.  Do not add vanilla to the frosting, it tints the frosting and detracts from the orange flavor.

Here's a couple of tips I've learned over the years.
  • Keep the batter in the refrigerator while baking.  If this batter gets warm the cookies tend to spread
  • These cookies do not brown like typical cookies so just make sure they look fully cooked (i.e. don't look runny)
  • Instead of cooking my carrots with water I cook them with some orange juice.  This gives a little additional flavor to the cookie itself.
  • Sprinkle a little bit of orange zest on the top of the cookies for additional visual appeal.
Enjoy!  I'd love to hear if your family liked them or not.

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My White House Black Market Deal

One of my favorite stores to shop is White House Black Market. I typically only buy items that are on sale and try to pair the sales with additional coupons that I've received. A friend of mine from work was given a $15 gift certificate as part of a price package that she won, since she doesn't typically shop there she gave me the certificate.

Last Sunday my husband and I were planning a trip to the mall so I rounded up all my fliers that I receive from them to find the best deal. I found a spend $10 get $10 card and a 20% off (I could only use one) so I planned to use the one that got me the most money.

When I enter the store my first stop is always the clearance rack where most of the items are 50% off. I immediately found a red cardigan that was originally $80 on sale for $40. I used my $10 off card, the $15 gift certificate and a 5% 'membership' discount for being a returning customer making my out of pocket $15.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Christmas Baking - Part 1

Today is the day I'm starting my Christmas baking. I typically take the approach of making a couple of different cookies on different days. Some of the days I just do by myself to get them done but I always try to schedule a couple of the days as a multi-generational baking day. My mom is going to come over tonight and bake cookies with me and the kids.

I sat down this morning and decided what cookies we were going to make, I then went through my pantry and put together a shopping list for what I don't have. Here's what we are going to bake this afternoon

Carrot Cookies
Pecan Fingers
Lemon Cookies

I choose these because they are fairly easy to make. I found that on our multi-generational baking day the simpler the cookies that less stressed I am. Last year my grandma was well enough to bake with us, I found that the pecan fingers were easy enough for her to roll in the powerdered suger even though her coordination was off. If you have an elderly relative or neighbor I would encourage you to invite them over for an afternoon of baking, I'm sure they would really enjoy it like my grandma did.

No, I don't have coupons but I'm not going to stress out about that either. I know it would have been cheaper to plan ahead and look for sales but that would have put a burden on me that I couldn't deal with right now.

Before my mom gets over here I'll measure out the ingredients for each of the cookies to make a quadruple batch. I've found that if I have everything pre-measured before everyone gets here it's less hectic and I'm able to keep my kitchen from being a complete disaster.

My plan is to have enough cookies that I'll be able to send some home with my mom, put together plates at Christmas time for some of our friends/co-workers and also serve at a couple of holiday parties. Since we live in a cold climate I don't need to worry about freezer space, I just put them out in the garage in tightly sealed containers.

I'll let you know how it goes!

Vacation Week - Yeah!

I'm fortunate enough to be off of work for the full week of Thanksgiving. It's been so crazy at work that I still have quite a few days to try and squeeze in before the end of the year. Of course, for you working women out there you know that a vacation from the job just means time to kick butt at home.

Unless we're taking a family vacation or planning day trips I typically use my vacation to get caught up on things around the house as well as maybe meet a friend or two for lunch. Since we're getting close to Christmas this week is typically spent getting into the Christmas spirit. I typically like to make myself a list of what I want to accomplish realizing I'll be lucky to get half of it done. Some people like to keep their list realistic, I like to make my list encompass everything I want to get done. I always say shoot for the stars and be happy with the moon.

Here's my game plan for the week
  • Start Christmas baking (I'll post later a specific plan for what I hope to accomplish for baking)
  • Start Christmas shopping
  • Wrap any presents purchased
  • Get the trees up and decorate the house
  • Christmas cards
  • Plan menu/buy food for my department party I'm hosting in early December
  • Prepare food to take to Thanksgiving dinner (we go to two houses but I bring dishes to each house)
  • Clean and thin out kitchen pantry
  • Clean and thin out bathroom cupboards
  • Clean and thin out linen closet - inventory towels and replace if necessary (I've noticed some of the towels I use are falling apart, since I don't do the laundry I'm not sure if it's all of them or if my son keeps giving me the bad ones!)
  • Tackle ironing pile
  • Clean my closet/drawers and get rid of clothes I don't wear
  • Go through daughter's drawers and thin out her clothes with her.
  • Thoroughly clean all rooms (vacuum behind all furniture, take down blinds/curtains, etc)
  • Inventory, consolidate and replenish cleaning supplies
  • Go through paperwork that I've set aside to destroy/file
  • Have lunch with my mom
  • Get ahead on my school work so I'm not stressed out at Christmas when the final papers are due

I'm sure a few more unexpected items will make their way to my list. I'll update next week how successful I was.

Hope you have a good week!

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

A Busy Mom's Guide to Planning a Birthday Party - Part Two

Yesterday's blog about party planning was geared quite a bit to when money wasn't overly tight. Today I'll give you some ideas as to what I did when money was tight.

First off, just a reminder that I enjoy making the kids birthdays special. As a working mother I feel the need to build memories when we can and this is one way that I do it. I do realize it's not for everyone. The other thing to remind you of is that this is geared towards moms who don't have a lot of time. I know most moms would say that there isn't enough time in the day to get things done but sometimes we have seasons that are worse than others. My goal was to have the best party we could with the least amount of work on my end

As I stated yesterday we have two parties for the kids. The first is for the extended family and the second is a friend party. My first suggestion is....

Try to talk the kids out of a friend party
A friend party is always so attractive to the kids but it's an awful lot of work for the mom. Since both kids were old enough to make a decision (about 5) I've given them the option of having a friend party with no presents from mom & dad (they would get something small) or a really cool present from mom & dad. There have been times when my son has chosen the present over the party which was fine with me. Unfortunately most of the time my daughter has chosen the friend party.

Don't have the party at your house
Why have the party at your house when you can have it somewhere else? Having the party somewhere else doesn't have to be expensive. Think outside of the box and ask around at area businesses. Here are some of the places I've had parties before
- The karate center. My son took karate for a number of years. For one of his parties I was able to have the party at the karate center. They provided the food, cake, entertainment and party favors for about $3 per kid (keep in mind this was a number of years ago). I was thrilled with the price and we ended up inviting his whole class. Very successful party with absolutely no work on my end
- Movie theater. When my son was still having parties we had quite a number of parties at the movie theater. I allowed my son to invite two friends and we took them out for dinner and to the premier of a movie they wanted to see. This was about the time Lord of the Rings was big so it was quite the event. We didn't have a budget theater in our area of time but that would be a good option if there's one in your area
- YMCA. Our YMCA has a party room you can reserve if you are a member. The kids had to be members to get in for free but we were able to get our hands on some free passes for those who weren't members and ended up only paying for a few of the kids. We brought in a cake and the kids had a fun day of swimming and running around.
- Pizza place. The pizza place I took my kids was a local place but I know that there are chains out there like Chuck E Cheese that run coupons all the time. In our area we have a local program similar to Groupon where you can buy parties for half price.

If you have to have the friend party at your house.......
I usually like the sleep over. You can keep the guest list small and this is probably the cheapest party of all. Frozen pizza, cake, potato chips and cereal for breakfast. When the kids were smaller I would look for an inexpensive craft for them to make, now that they're older I just rent a couple of movies. I don't bother with goody bags or anything. What mother wants more junk at her house?

I like having the extended family over for parties and I like to have a 'meal' versus pizza. Here are some options I've done for meals when I couldn't afford to have it catered
- Chili is a favorite of mine. You can make a big batch of chili for practically nothing. meat, beans, tomatoes and spices. I can make enough chili to feed at least 20 people for under $15. Throw some saltines, sour cream and cheese out on with counter with homemade bread and you have a feast.
- Ham and turkey sandwiches. This may not work for everyone but this was one of our cheapest meals. Every year I would get a turkey free from work and my husband got a free ham. I'd have the butcher slice the ham up for me and warm it up in the crock pot. The turkey I'd cook the day before and serve cold. All I ended up buying was the buns and condiments. I would typically make a salad or something to go with it. Obviously not everyone gets free meat or has birthdays at Thanksgiving or Christmas but it's an option if you can find sales. There's a grocery store by us that has ham on sale every Sunday and they also throw in free buns.
- Lasagna & Macaroni Cheese. Once again this is a super simple, cheap meal that I could make ahead of time. Throw in a salad and some bread, you have a full meal.
-Homemade cakes. When money was tight and I didn't want to pay $20 for a store bought cake I'd make a 'special' cake for the kids. My go to cake for my daughter is a triple chocolate bundt cake and for my son it's a pineapple upside cake. It may not be the traditional cake but they haven't really cared because they are getting the cake that's important to them. I've also found shaped cake pans (Barney or Barbie) when they were smaller, but that takes a lot more time.

The above may not work for everyone but it's worked pretty well for me. Both of my kids love their birthdays and always talk fondly of their parties. There have been quite a few women at work who don't have parties for their kids because it's to much work or to expensive, I just want to show that it doesn't have to be either. I'd love to hear any ideas that you may have.

Monday, November 8, 2010

A Busy Mom's Guide to Planning a Birthday Party - Part One

In our household we go out of our way to make birthdays (at least the kid's) really special. It started when my was born right at Christmas time. I never wanted him to feel like his birthday was meshed with Christmas so we always tried to make his birthday larger than life. Of course when my daughter came along we kept it up for her.

Over the years there have been birthdays when I've had more time than money, others when I've had more money than time and even more when I didn't have a lot of either. This year I have a little bit more money than time so for this posting I'm going to talk about ways that I save time while still planning a special party.

A typical birthday at our house consists of at least two parties - one for family and one for friends. I know some people like to put them together but I prefer not to subject my family to a bunch of screaming kids if I can help it (yes - I have done it before when that was the best option for my sanity). The family party consists of a dinner for about 20 people while the friend party size depends on what we're doing.

This year I'm keeping things simple to save my sanity. My number one go to when money isn't a huge problem - HIRE A CATERER! I know this sounds expensive but it really doesn't need to be. I found an upscale cafeteria here that has a wide menu that I have used for personal parties, Girl Scout dinners and even my department Christmas party. This year I'm doing a sandwich buffet that includes an assortment of artisan breads, quality lunch meats, cheeses, a tortellini/portabella mushroom salad, a tomato/mozzarella salad and an assortment of desserts. They also throw in all the condiments, plates, napkins and cutlery for the low price of $8.25/person plus tax. If I looked for sales, clipped coupons, ran to different stores and spent the time putting it together I do realize I could do it cheaper. However my time is pretty valuable to so I'd rather just pay someone to do it all. I would encourage you to explore the options in your city, you might be pleasantly surprised.

My second rule to keep my sanity - HAVE SOMEONE ELSE CLEAN YOUR HOUSE! I asked my mother to come clean my house instead of giving me a birthday present this year. She's coming over this Thursday to clean my house for the party that's on Saturday. The family will be under strict orders to not mess anything up under penalty of death. The guests will need to live with any dust or dirt that winds up on the floor between now and then. My mom doesn't do quite the white glove job that I do but I'm trying to live with my new motto of "it's good enough".

My third rule - DON'T GO CRAZY DECORATING THE HOUSE! When the kids were younger I always felt the need to go for the theme birthdays. I don't even bother with special napkins - one less thing for me to stress about or pick up afterwards

Saturday morning all I will need to do is pick up the food, pick up the cake and relax. If I can pull this off it will be a first since I'm usually stressed to the max by the time the party starts. Who wants an exhausted, crabby hostess?

Since my daughter is turning 14 we don't go all out for friends birthdays. This year I'm letting her invite 10 girls to a sleep over (I'm crossing my fingers they won't all come). We have a finished family room in the basement so I won't really hear them once they are downstairs for the night, which they will be shortly after they get here. We'll have frozen pizza for dinner and an inexpensive bakery cake. I won't be out much money or aggravation since they won't want to be by me any more than I want to be by them. My husband was the one who agreed to the 10 girls, easy for him to say yes since he'll be working 3rd shift and I'll be home all alone with them :)

Any ideas for having a stress free party?

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Freezer Cooking Wrap Up

Today I did some freezer cooking. In case you didn't notice, when I do a freezer cooking day I don't go crazy. First - I don't have a whole day to devote to cooking and second - the way we eat doesn't dictate that I have a freezer full of meals. What works for me is to have some meals (like my meatloaf) and then pieces of meals that I can grab when I need them. Today I accomplished the following.

5 lbs of shredded pork
A few months ago I found 5 lbs of pork in our grocers clearance meat section for $3. Even though I didn't know for sure what to do with it I bought it. I decided to buy a pork run, cook it in the slow cooker and then shred it. I separated the pork into different bags. Three single serving bags so I could make myself pork carnitas for lunch and two larger serving bags so that my husband could make himself snacks or I could serve it with barbecue sauce for the kids one evening.

8 lbs of shredded chicken
Once again, in our grocers clearance section there were free range organic chickens for a little over a dollar per pound. I typically bake a couple of chickens and then shred them into about one chicken per bag. I then can use these bags for chicken tacos, chicken salads, etc. It's quick and easy to pull them out of the freezer when I need them.

1 serving of mashed potatoes
As I stated in an earlier post I'm cooking a Thanksgiving meal for my family tomorrow. Instead of spending the whole day cooking and then being to exhausted to enjoy our family dinner I decided to get some of the work done today. I made a double batch of mash potatoes using my secret cauliflower recipes (kids don't even know what they are eating) and separated into two bags. One for dinner tomorrow and one for the freezer with one of the meatloafs.

1 serving of stuffing
I pre-made the stuffing for the turkey tomorrow but I'm not quite done. I don't typically stuff my turkey but I use the juice when I bake my stuffing. Tomorrow I'll bake both batches and then freeze the second one for a future meal.

Ok - these probably aren't going to make it into the freezer even though I do typically freeze my cookies instead of using a cookie jar. However, as I stated in my earlier post we're going out for dinner tonight and our kids will be staying home. I make killer cookies (thanks to Alton Brown)
so I typically try to have cookies on hand whenever they come over.

All total I've spent about 3-4 hours in prep, cooking and clean-up spread out througout the day. As I stated before, I may not have a month of meals but I have enough to make my life a little easier without completely overwhelming myself.

Now off to beautify myself for my night out :)

As a final note - my turkey turned out magnificently! I typically cook a pretty good turkey but even my husband agreed this was the best. I'll just need to remember next time what I did differently!

November Freezer Cooking Plan

I really like these freezer cooking weekends because it motivates me to take a look at my freezer. Due to the family's schedule I don't cook a lot so prepared food isn't always on the top of my mind. When someone else starts talking about it I decide to take a look at what I have and what I can get done.

Yesterday was 'date' night with my husband. Date night for us typically includes dinner, errands and grocery shopping. Last night we dropped my car off for an oil change (loooong overdue!), grocery shopped and had dinner at Panera's. When grocery shopping my husband came up with the great idea (he doesn't have to do the work) to have a Thanksgiving dinner on Sunday. Cooking a Thanksgiving dinner is a lot of work but the family truly enjoys it (we do it fairly frequently throughout the winter).

When I did an inventory of the freezer I still had quite a bit of applesauce, cranberry relish and meatloaf from my last freezer cooking day. I did have some meat (two chickens and a pork roast) that has been sitting in my freezer. This is what I plan to do today for my freezer cooking day.

For the freezer
Bake and shred two chickens
Cook the pork roast in the slow cooker and shred

Prep for Sunday Dinner
Prepare stuffing
Mash potatoes (I think I have enough potatoes that I can also freeze a serving)

In addition we're going out with friends this evening so I'm going to try and whip up a batch of cookies for the kids this evening

The other thing that I have on the list to do today is finalize some birthday plans for my daughter's birthday. We're having the family party next week so for lunch my husband and I are going to go check out the caterer that we usually use to get that squared away. I also need to meet with a specialty baker in the area who does specialty cakes. My daughter is really into shows like Amazing Cakes and Cake Boss. If I can get a cake made without it being to outrageous I thought she would really get a kick out of it.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Rock Star Mom

As a mother I sometimes feel like a complete failure. There are many times that I have disappointed my children and believe that they are taking notes to write their own 'Mommy Dearest' books. Then there are the other times that I really feel like I have earned the title 'Rock Star Mom'. I thought I'd periodically share some of my mommy dearest moments as well as my rock star moments in the hope that some of you can relate and we can all commiserate together. I'm also hoping that if I put it down in writing I'll realize that maybe they cancel each other out and I'm not really that bad.

I'm going to start with a Rock Star Mom moment. They don't happen as often as I'd like but when they do I certainly feel like a million bucks. It all started last Monday when my daughter came home and told me that this past Friday was going to be 80's day. Be still my heart - the decade that I grew up in! I absolutely KNEW I could hit this one out of the park. Since I've been trying to get rid of all my old clothes I had nothing that the girls could wear (we were including Danielle's friend Katie in our adventure) so we planned to go shopping Thursday after I got home from work.

I spent the whole week planning different types of outfits for the girls, over sandwiches at the counter I showed them my ideas on the internet. Mike agreed to accompany us on our adventures and rate our authenticity of the costumes. I'm not a huge fan of goodwill but we gamely searched through racks and racks of color coordinated items and finally came up with two costumes. Who knew that we would be fortunate enought to have leg warmers back in style!

Katie ended up wearing a argyle vest with a white blouse & color coordinating tie (I couldn't find the square cotton ones so we weren't completely authentic) , leg warmers and big hoop earings. Danielle wore a white cotton shirt with a black studded belt slung low across her hips, leg warmers, big hoops and an armful of jelly bracelets. Both girls rocked the side ponies. I knew we were successful when the next day Katie told me that her dad said she looked exactly like someone he dated in high school. We had quite the laugh over that one once we got over the ick factor.

Both girls were so appreciative and excited that it was well worth the effort and expense (Goodwill isn't as cheap as I would have hoped). I got big hugs from both girls as they went off to school. I'm hoping these are the moments the kids will remember.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Weekend with the Girls

This past weekend I had an opportunity to go away overnight with some of the women that I work with. My normal mode of operation is to not do to much with the people I work with outside of work due to the fact that I'm at work so much! However, with my new position I've really been trying to work on building upon my relationships with my new peers and vice-president (this was suggested to me by one of my mentors). When I was asked to participate in the overnight shopping/spa excursion I was a little hesitant but I decided it would be a good opportunity to spend some time getting to know my VP on a little more personal level (it worked out well since no one in my family would have been home Friday night).

There are two points to this story - the first is I had an absolute blast and need to do this more often!!! We left work at lunch time and got to Chicago about 5pm which only left us 2 hours to shop. It's quite amazing what one can accomplish in 2 hours when one puts their mind to it. I bought a turtle neck, sweater wrap, purse, a shell for an existing suit, a cardigan sweater set plus a 'fun' going out long sleeve t-shirt. Lucky me, everything was on sale even though they weren't quite a cheap as I would have liked. We then checked into our hotel (which was a fantastic deal at $65/night for a Hyatt that included breakfast and a shuttle to take us everywhere) and got ready for dinner. We had dinner at Maggiano's (a delicious Italian place) followed by drinks at a local club. I do have to say we were so tired from the day that we only stayed for one drink and were back in our rooms asleep by midnight.

The next morning we woke up and went for spa treatments. I had a massage (not quite as good as my regular lady) and a pedicure. At first I wasn't real keen on the women I work with seeing my without my hair and makeup done - or my feet being taken care of - however we all really had a good time getting everything done. We pretty much hit the road right after that so that we could get home to our families. I was SOOO relaxed the rest of the weekend it was amazing. The few hours that I didn't spend with the family was well worth how good I felt and I expressed it in my dealings with the family. Sometimes in our busy lives we forget that we need to take care of ourselves if we want to do a good job of taking care of the family.

The second point is that networking is really a good thing. It's very easy to get caught up in the 'I don't want to spend any more time away from my family' and that is a very valid excuse. However, if you are looking at moving your career along you really do need to take the time and nurture it. We all have season in our life and the season may be that you just need to go to work, do the best and can and then leave. There's nothing wrong with that, but I would encourage you to remember that how you act today is what sticks in your co-workers minds. By developing relationships (not brown-nosing) with your peers as well as those at higher levels it really gives them the opportunity to get to know you on a personal level. When promotion opportunities come up, if you have the skills the additional staff members pulling for you may help you get the job. It doesn't always have to be something as big as a get away weekend. It could be going down to the cafeteria at lunch, taking a break together or going out to a local restaurant after work for coffee and desert. Just like your family, a career needs a little nurturing and attention if it's going to thrive.

If nothing else, make sure to take the time for yourself!! It's something I going to try to do more of.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Water Heater Update

Good news! I called the plumber that installed our water heater five years ago and it's still under warranty. They were able to come out this afternoon and replace it only charging us for the labor. Of course I'm not sure how much that will be but I'm assuming under $150. Not bad for a new heater that should last us (hopefully) quite a while. Now if I can only be so lucky with the truck window.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Free Clothing!

For some reason I don't know anyone who has a girl older than my daughter so I'm always the one giving away her clothes for free to my friends and nieces. A couple of weeks ago I had helped out at our church rummage sale and scored a great deal on some brand name jeans and t-shirts.

Today the woman who I had bought the clothes from (we worked together at the sale so she knew what I had taken) brought to church a few more items her daughter found while going through her closet. She didn't want anything for them so I got them for free! My favorite price :) Next time I make my chicken chili I'm planning on making some extra for her as a thank-you.

The clothes just fit now so I don't know that they'll last more than a couple of months (my daughter is in a growth spurt) but they should get us through to Thanksgiving when my daughter and I do our annual day after Thanksgiving shopping spree to buy her some new clothes. Here's what we got:

Two more pairs of jeans
3 light sweaters
2 t-shirts

Since this woman's daughter is done growing this will probably be the last time we'll be able to take clothes from her - to bad we didn't talk about clothes sooner =:)

Blueberry Muffins

Below is the recipe for our favorite blueberry muffins. I went to a Taste of Home cooking show this year and this was one of the items they made. They are a family favorite so I try to bake a couple dozen at a time and get a least a few of them in the freezer for breakfast.

Blueberry Muffins - Taste of Home
2 cups Bisquick
3/4 cup suger plus 2 tablespoons set aside for later
8 oz (1cup) sour cream
2 eggs
1 cup blueberries

Mix the sour cream with the eggs. Add to the Bisqick and suger stirring until blended (this is a very thick batter) Fold in blueberries (if using frozen DO NOT thaw first). Drop batter into muffin tins and top with remaining suger. Bake in a 375 degree oven for about 20 minutes. Makes 12 muffins

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Freezer Cooking

It's a Saturday morning and I actually have some time to myself. The husband is at the gym, my son is at work and my daughter is at a sleepover. I've brought my laptop home from work and I've gotten some work done (not enough but I feel a little better) and now I'm wondering what I should do with my couple of hours. Should I clean (we're going out with another couple tonight and their daughter is spending the evening with our daugher), prepare freezer food or just relax?

You guessed it, I have trouble relaxing so I think I'm going to do some food prep. The freezer in the garage is filled with apple slices, blueberries, cranberries, zucchini, tomatoes, rhubarb and strawberries. Here's my plan for the day:

Cranberry relish (grandma's recipe that I'll publish later)
Homemade applesauce
Blueberry muffins
Zucchini muffins
Rhubarb squares

A little aggressive since I only have about two hours but we'll see how much I can get done.

I did manage to get do the following cooked but not divied up yet due to additional cooling or marinading that needs to be done:

  • Cranberry relish (enough to fill a That's a Bowl from Tupperware)
  • Homemade applesauce (a large pot filled almost to the top - created quite a mess on my stove)
  • Apple slices (I know it wasn't on the original list but my husband has been begging for them so I thought that would be better than rhubarb squares)

Mike got home from the gym before I could do the blueberry muffins so I needed to get ready to do our Saturday grocery shopping together. I may try to squeeze the muffins in yet this afternoon when I bake some cookies for the girls this evening. I'll let you know!

Saturday, September 25, 2010


I had the opportunity to attend a work/life balance seminar earlier this week. You know, every time I attend something like this I keep thinking that I'll be given a magic bullet so that I miraculously have balance in my life - doesn't happen! While there were no big revelations (it's like dieting, I know what I need to do I just don't do it) she did put up on the screen in big letters the word "discipline".

What's so hard about being disciplined? There are so many places in my life where I am that it frustrates me that there are areas where I am not. I am disciplined enough to get myself and my daughter up, dressed and to work/school on time. I am disciplined in filling up my gas tank before it runs out of gas - most of the time :) Why can't I be disciplined enough to leave work early enough for family dinners or to not completely crash on the couch every night when I could be organizing/cleaning/cooking ahead/exercising.

This is really where my not being wonder women complex comes in to play. Why can't I do it all? For the record, I have realized a long time ago I can't do it all but it still bugs me that I can't :) Some women seem to pull it off so easily and I always wonder why I can't. Lack of personal discpline really seems to be at the root of it (and the fact that I'm on the go so much that I'm completely exhausted by the end of the day)

Enough with the excuses! I have decided to make a few small changes to my life (I like to do things in small changes since I tend to do a little better) that will add some discipline.

-Modify my e-mail folders. I have known that Outlook has the 'rules' where you can tell your e-mails where to go but I don't utilize it to it's fullest extent. One of the women that I work with shared her style of prioritizing and I'm going to give it a try. Right now I get sooooo many e-mails a day and they mostly go into one bucket. Things tend to get buried and I don't respond as quickly to the important ones as I'd like. I'm going to set up folders by groups of senders so that the e-mails directly there. E-mails from other directors/VP's as well as my staff will have priority over the reports/audits and other miscellaneous reports. Hopefully this will work.

-Schedule family dinners on my work calendar. Due to our family schedule (dance, confirmation, son's work & social schedule, etc) we don't have a lot of days during the week to sit down together as a family for dinner. We do tend to have at least a day or two where we could make it work but I don't always manage to get home from work in time. I've decided to block out time on my calendar so I can leave on those days and get home to eat. I truly do believe eating together as a family is important so I'm hoping this will work. Now I'll just need to get disciplined about planning a meal!

-Make time for myself. As with all busy mothers I tend to be last on the list. This year I have really paid for it with weight gain. Last year I did so good with diet and exercise I felt like a million bucks. This year I've completely fallen by the wayside (or is that weighside?!?) so I'm hoping to be a little more disciplined in my 'selfishness'. I need to eat better, get regular massages (I know, a little extravagent but they really help me relax) and try to get some exercises.

As the speaker said, I'm the only one who can make my life be balanced. I'm hoping by trying to add more discipline to my life I'll be able to make this work. Life is to short to be stressed out and not enjoying those we care about.

Any tips?

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Best Laid Plans

This morning I had my day all planned out. My daughter wanted to work the church bazaar, I was going to get some work done from my job, make a pot a chili that didn't get made the week before, do some cleaning, grocery shop and do my school work. You know what they say about the best laid plans....

I hopped in the shower about 7am to get ready to get my daughter to church by 8am. While I was in there I was thinking about the bazaar and I have to say I really felt a need to ditch my morning plans and help out at church. I can honestly say I don't get those strong of feelings very often but I definitely felt the calling this morning. Nothing exciting happened but they sure did need an extra pair of hands. Even though I still have a ton of stuff to do it really felt good to help out where I was needed and get to know some of the other woman. One thing I did get out of the day is there was a pile of Abercrombie clothes in the rummage sales. I don't typically do rummage sales because I don't feel like I get enough of it for my time, but we ended up with two pairs of sweats, two t-shirts and three pairs of jeans for $6 - quite a find especially since my daughter doesn't fit into anything from last year so we need to completely replace her wardrobe for winter!

I guess God's plans trumped mine. Now I just have to figure out how to get the rest of my stuff done :)

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Freezer Cooking

One of my goals this year was to get more food into the freezer to make it easier to have family dinners. Unfortunately I've failed pretty miserably so far this year until this weekend. I decided Sunday was going to be my cooking day. Here was my plan:

3-4 pans of meatloaf
Bake and shred four chickens
1-2 pots of chili

Unfortunately I completely forgot that instead of going to my mother-in-laws after church like we normally do we were suppose to go to my sister-in-laws for a birthday party later in the day! We didn't realize our mistake until we showed up at my mother-in-laws house. We hastily shopped for a present and then spent the afternoon with the family.

Even with my faux paus I did manage to get some of the stuff done. Final result:
  • 3 pans of meatloaf, two of which made it into the freezer (we had the other one for dinner). I need to give some kudos to my husband who knows how much I hate mixing the meatloaf. I had about 12 pounds of meat (what can I say, my husband and son are big eaters) which he mixed up so I didn't have to.
  • 4 chickens baked and shredded - I like to shred my own chicken and then just freeze and use it for a variety of dishes (chicken tacos, quesadillas, chicken & broccali ring).

The chili didn't get made because I forgot to buy garlic at the store. I'm planning on leaving work early tomorrow so I can get that made up and in the freezer before the meat goes bad.

I know this doesn't seem like a lot in comparison to what some other families do, but I feel pretty good about what I accomplished. Every journey begins with a small step and this was mine =:)

Monday, September 6, 2010

Time Capsules of our Lives

After a year long break I'm starting back to school this month. I chose not to go to college right after high school due to the fact that I really didn't know what I wanted to be when I grew up. I accepted a full time job upon graduation at the company where I did my high school internship with the intention of going back to school within a year or two. Little did I realize that life happens and it would take a lot longer than I anticipated to get my degree.

For my first class back I really wanted to take one I would find interesting and enjoyable instead of one that was 'required'. The class I'm taking is a values and cultures class studying ancient civilizations. One of our first assignments is to create a time capsule of our lives, showing who we are in five pictures.

Boy - did you ever try to sum up who you are in five pictures? The assignment isn't due for a week and I must say that I've been struggling a little. Who would have thought that telling someone who I am would be so difficult but I do have to say it's causing me some angst.

The simple answer is I'm a wife, mother, employee, daughter and sister but that doesn't really sum up who I really am. What makes me tick and how do I want my dash to read? I've bounced this off of a good friend of mine who really helped me expand my thinking so I do have some ideas as to what I'm going to do.

Once I'm finished with the assignment I'll share it with you. In the meantime I'd love to know what your time capsules would look like.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Image - Dressing for Success

The image that we project at work can have a very positive or negative effect on a career. I've been very fortunate to have successful business people mentor me over the years and I try hard to do the same for others (both men and women). There are many facets to the image that you project at work, they include: Dress, how you treat others, preparedness and work ethic, confidence, etc.

I'm not going to profess to be an expert on these but I have witnessed first hand the positive as well as negative effects certain behaviors have had on careers and would like to share my thoughts below. Since the topics are many and varied I thought I'd break them down and cover each one in a separate posting starting with the dress code.

Dressing for Success

This may seem a little cliche but I believe this message has gotten lost in the world of business casual. I don't care if you are the file clerk or a vice president, appropriate and professional dress is imperative. Your outside appearance is the first thing people notice about you. As unfair as it is, there are people who won't see the fabulous person you are inside if you don't show it on the outside. These suggestions are for any position, you always want to dress for the position you want - not the position you have.

1. Tight clothes/skin do not belong at work
  • I have seen competent females dressing in tight clothes and have to ask myself if she realizes the message that she's sending. Clothes that are to tight tend to show everything that shouldn't be seen at work. Hint - your co-workers should NEVER know what kind of underwear you wear unless you are changing in the locker room together. Unless your specific industry calls for provacative clothing, hot mama clothes (low cut shirts, push up bras, black leather mini skirts) don't belong in a work environment.

  • Stripper shoes do not belong at work (unless you work in a strip club). There's nothing wrong with wearing high heeled, trendy shoes but please make sure they are appropriate for your work environment.

I would recommend that you find a female who has been successful in your company and emulate her,. Keep in mind that when you look good and feel good that usually shows in the way that you carry yourself, confidence goes a long way. I am not suggesting that you spend more on clothes than you can afford, however I am recommending that the money you do spend is the most appropriate and most flattering for you and your work environment.

2. Dress for the position you want - not the one you have

  • When I first entered the workforce there was a strict dress code (am I dating myself?). Men had to wear a suit and tie (at minimum dress pants with a tie), women skirts or dress pants but nylons were a must. I actually was pulled aside by the HR manager for wearing a skirt and sandals without the nylons, I never made that mistake again while that dress code was in effect. We've come a long way but I still try to live by that dress code. I typically will wear either dress pants or a suit during the week. On casual Fridays I will wear either khakis or trouser jeans. For men I would encourage you to wear dress pants and a dress shirt, not the khakis and polo's you see a lot of men wear. As you walk the halls of your office you run into a lot of people, they may not know your work ability but they've certainly gained a positive/negative view of you based on the way you dress. Every environment is different but at the end of the day dressing a little better than average will reflect well on you.

3. Keep your clothes timeless and save yourself some money

  • Dressing for success doesn't need to be expensive. I tend to shop end of season and buy timeless suits off the clearance racks for about $25 at major department stores. Unless you get something extremely trendy there is no reason your clothes can't last for years if they are properly taken care of. The trendier your clothes the more often they need to be replaced. That's not to say that if you can afford it you should buy a trendy blouse or two during the year. It keeps your wardrobe fresh and makes you feel good about yourself.

4. Your clothes should always be clean, stain-free and pressed

Regardless of your financial situation, the one thing that you have complete control over is making sure whatever you wear is clean, stain-free and pressed. If you look like you don't care about yourself others won't either.

Life isn't always fair and sometime extremely competent people are passed over or aren't given the proper attention because of the impression they give. Always putting the best foot forward that you can will only be good for you.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Taking Care of Ourselves - Update

I wrote for the 1st time about living healthy back in October and I thought I'd give you an update as to how I've been doing. With the Christmas holiday I didn't finish the year as strongly as I would have liked to but I have made up for it since the beginning of the year.

The biggest commitment that I did make before Christmas was to give up soda completely. Today is my 77th day of living soda free and I do have say it was incredibly difficult for me! I have reached the point that I'm not dreaming about soda anymore and a lot of the craving has left me. However there are still times (like at Outback last night when our friends were eating the Aussie Cheese Fries) that I do still REALLY want a Pepsi. For me it was a combination of the calories (I drank regular not diet), the caffeine, as well as how bad I know soda really is for me that made me give it up. I know some people can limit themselves to one a week but I don't have that much will power. What has helped is that I'm doing this with a friend of mine with the grand prize being lunch at a very expensive restaurant here in town. Like my husband says, I don't have the will power to do it myself but I'm stubborn enough that I won't give in to my friend.

Since the beginning of the year my diet friend and I upped the ante to limit desserts until we have earned them. To earn a dessert requires 4 hours of working out. It's been about six weeks and I've earned two while my friend has only earned . We really need to motivate ourselves so we've made it a little harder. To earn a dessert you know much work out 4 hours within a seven day period and only the 1st person to reach 4 hours gets the dessert. So far it's worked pretty good, we started on Friday and I already have two hours in (today is Sunday). I do have to say that with limited desserts you really question whether it's worth it or not. I haven't had any yet because nothing has been 'worthy' of my sacrifice.

Since the beginning of the year I'm down about 6 pounds (total of about 25 pounds since last March) so I feel like I'm doing pretty good. I'm really trying hard not to focus on the number and focus more on healthy eating (I'm trying to eat mostly whole, natural foods without preservatives) and exercise.

I would really encourage any one who is serious about changing their lifestyle to find a friend to make the change with. In the past I haven't really had the will power by myself to make the change but having a friend to encourage me and go through the process has really helped a lot.

If you're trying to make changes to your diet and excercise habits I'd love to hear from you.