Monday, July 14, 2014

The countdown begins...

This year, Kay and Guy will both start their first year of school. Eric and I were sitting and talking yesterday when I decided to look at my calender.

THREE. WEEKS. Three weeks, and my babies will be out of my hands for hours out of the day. Three weeks, and this house will be strangely, unusually quiet until three in the afternoon. Three weeks, to enjoy and live up every moment and to cram family activities into. It all seemed like it was too far away, like we had plenty of time, until I looked at that calender. Needless to say, I became slightly overwhelmed, and very emotional.

Certainly, my kids aren't the only kids in history to ever start school, but I cannot help but have a mini panic attack wondering if I have prepared them enough for this potentially huge transition in their lives...and mine. Did I teach them enough? Sure, they know the alphabet, they know a few sight words, they can count, they know their names. But, when it comes to life skills like making friends, and paying attention to surroundings, taking care of themselves at lunchtime (opening milk, or food wrapped in plastic). Up until this point, that was what I was there for. So we have been working on those things little by little. We are also working on memorizing our address and my phone number, they already know my and Eric's names.

I can't help but feel guilty because I know for certain that they won't be 100% mentally prepared, although they are looking forward to going to school. I feel guilty because I decided not to go the homeschooling route. I also feel guilty because I never had any one-on-one time with Guy like I did with Kay for 11 months before he made his grand appearance. Even though Pre-K isn't required for him, Eric and I agreed that it would be best for the two of them to start together. That way, I could enroll in online courses or jump back into the working world, whatever I need to do to better my and our family's well being. Going back to work seems absolutely terrifying after going off the grid 5 years ago, but that's a whole other blog post I suppose.

I shopped for school supplies in spurts. The first round was while I was grocery shopping, and I nearly had a cry-fest right in the middle of Kroger, all for reasons listed above. The second round, I decided to include the kids hoping it would excite them by letting them pick out the colors of their various supplies. And it helped me too. It made me happy to see the excitement in their faces, knowing that my kids were happy, healthy, quick witted, and not deprived of love and nurturing. I can't do this with fear or guilt in my heart, I have to have hope and excitement. And, in turn, I hope it will bless my kids with a strong desire to learn, imagine, and to have great ambitions.

And to think, I worried that I didn't teach them enough, when in fact they taught me a little lesson on life.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Chipotle Chicken Tostadas

The smoke from the fireworks has cleared, the sand from the beach has been swept up. And just like that, we have closed out our vacation week. 

As I had mentioned before, Eric had a whole week off from work due to a furlough. Since it puts just a slight strain on our budget for a week, it gives me the opportunity to purge whatever grocery items we have and get creative in using them for meals, all for the sake of saving a few bucks.

Our freezer is FULL. 

Our cabinets are FULL. 

After brainstorming, and a little Frankenstein-ing, I've been able to plan some meals with what we already have. But, there was one recipe that required me to make a trip to the grocery store. Afterall, I had to pick up milk and snacks as well. 

It's a fairly simple recipe, with few ingredients. And it tastes amazing! A great menu item for when you want to throw something different into your dinner line-up!

These tostadas can also be made on a smaller scale. Using Tostitos round tortilla chips, these would make the perfect bite-size appetizer or snack for your next Summer gathering!

Chipotle Chicken Tostadas 
(slow cooker recipe)

2-3 chicken breast
1 large onion, chopped
2 cans tomato soup
4 chipotle chiles in adobo sauce (less if preferred)
10 tostada shells

Crema de Mexicana
Queso fresco, crumbled
Cinlantro, chopped

In food processor, puree chipotle chiles. Add tomato soup to puree and blend. In slow cooker, layer chopped onion, chicken, then cover with chipotle tomato sauce. Cook on high 4-6 hours or low 6-8 hours. When cooking is complete, remove chicken and dice or shred, return to chipotle sauce in slow cooker. Stir chicken mixture. Drop by spoonfuls on tostada shells, garnish with a drizzle of crema de Mexicana, queso fresco crumbles, and a sprinkle of chopped cilantro.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Wave Therapy

This past weekend was the start to a week-long furlough from work for Eric. Even though it means we have to tighten our budget belt a notch or two, it also means we have Eric here with us for ten whole days! Exciting, right? No matter how much or how little we plan, we always manage to unintentionally do the opposite, the time flies by either way.

Last year, we were productive in getting the kitchen painted, a color that I have grown to dislike by the way (always get samples of your paint!). We didn't plan to do a lot, but we ended up with a week full of random activities. This year, we "planned" what ended up being too much, including painting the living room, making a coffee table and visiting family. But, after careful thought, we will save the DIY for later and focus on priorities. That priority is FAMILY. We decided that since this would be the kids last summer as preschoolers (They're BOTH starting their first year of school next month), we would make a point to visit with out of town family and plan some special outings before the school bells ring.

We spent last weekend with Eric's family down in Florida. It was so nice and relaxing, and hot! Thank goodness we had a pool to swim in. The kids really enjoyed being fish for a weekend, exploring Dinosaur World, spending quality time with our long distance relatives, and Guy even received a new nickname, "Banana Peel".

Upon our return, I somehow had a ton of laundry to do. Thankfully, the rest of the house was in pretty good shape and the cats were reluctantly glad to see us.

Wednesday, was our first ever trip to the beach as a family of four, the kids first time seeing the ocean and walking on the sand.

I grew up where my family would make a four hour drive to Panama City every summer so we could vacation at the beach. And now, living just 45 minutes away from the beach, our family rarely goes. Reason being, my husband isn't a "beach person". I love the beach though, and I hope that as long as he goes to the beach with me and our little ones, that he enjoys it the slightest bit.  After all, he did take it upon himself to take some sweet pictures when I didn't even know.

The waves were super, as we have a tropical depression passing by our coastline, so there was a red flag swim advisory. The kids and I didn't go deep in the water, we just sat along the shoreline and let the waves reach us. It was beautiful to see open skies and a blue horizon, to feel the cool breeze along with the warmth of the sun. It made the world seem huge, and it made me feel as though the loved ones that have passed on were right there with us. Our first family beach visit was indeed unforgettable.
That evening we closed out our beach day with a fish dinner. Before sitting down to eat I received the typical, "But, I don't like it" from Kay, even though she never had this dish before. But it must have been love at first bite because homegirl cleaned her plate. She tells me she's part cat.

Balsamic Mahi Mahi

4 mahi mahi fillets
1 16oz bottle balsamic vinaigrette dressing
1 large red/purple onion, sliced
1 can sliced pineapple
Cavender's all purpose Greek seasoning (we use the salt-free version)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line 13x9 baking pan with parchment paper. Place fish fillets in pan, avoiding overlapping. Season fillets evenly with Greek seasoning. Place pineapple rings on top of fillets, then layer onion rings on top. Pour balsamic vinaigrette dressing over dish, making sure to coat the all fish and pineapple. Bake for 20-25 minutes, fish will flake apart with fork when done. Serve with green veggies and side of rice.

Monday, June 23, 2014

At the dining table...

In our 1000 square foot house, we have to improvise with some of our space. Eric and I agree that it feels as though we gained square footage by turning the playroom back into Guy's room. And he loves his new room by the way, even though I'm not completely done with it and all the projects I have in store.

^That being said, my dining room nook doubles as my art studio. It's not so bad, I just have to be mindful. But, that can be a challenge when sometimes all I want to do is be free and sling some paint!

This week I will be trying something new that excites me as well as slightly terrifies me. That would be painting with watercolors. My Aunt Lulu is nothing short of a watercolor master, she is basically self taught and has done some amazing portraits. Up to this point, I never had the chance to learn from her. Now, she's giving me pointers and a beginner's strategy by way of Facebook, it's good for something.

But before going for it, I still had some acrylic work to do. One being for our (Eric's) Aunt Mimi, who is a wonderful cat mom, and an absolutely amazing person all the way around.

The other, for a dear friend who is about to become a mommy to her first born baby. His little room will be in a precious Dr. Seuss/The Lorax theme. The baby shower I attended this past weekend was the first one I have been invited to where you are asked to bring a book instead of a card. Smart idea, might I add. It's like an instant book collection for the new mom and baby! What do cards do? They cost way too much money these days (a Father's Day card I purchased last week cost $5.99!!), only to end up in a keepsake box in someone's attic (if not the trash). Function over clutter, I like it.

Our family gave her this painting along with one of our favorite books that we would read to the kids every night for quite sometime, How Do Dinosaurs Say Good Night. As I wrote our little personal message inside the page of the book, it made me think of the wonder, and laughter our kids had as we sat and read it together before bedtime. I mean, think about it, how do dinosaurs say goodnight??

And finally, at the dining table, the gathering of our little family sharing a delicious, warm meal.

This new dish is spot on with flavors and ingredients the whole family will love. Enjoy the recipe!

Smothered Chicken and Pasta Bake

2 cups mini shells pasta, cooked and drained
2 chicken breast, cooked, diced
4 strips thick cut bacon, cooked and crumbled
1 can cream of mushroom soup
1/2 cup sour cream
2/3 cup milk
2 cups (one bag) shredded cheddar cheese, divided
2 tbsp chopped parsley
ground pepper

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Combine first 6 ingredients, 1 cup shredded cheese, parsley, and a dash of black pepper to taste in a large mixing bowl. Pour mixture into 11x7 baking dish. Sprinkle with remaining shredded cheese. Bake in 350 degree oven for 15-20 minutes. Allow a little time to cool. Don't count on any leftovers.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Turning negatives into positives

This past month, I suffered through some emotional turmoil brought on by hormones. You can fill in the blanks on that. Not trying to get too personal but I go through phases from month to month. I either get depressed or turn into a monster. Most months I crave chocolate. And by chocolate I mean chocolate fudge cake with chocolate chips, covered in a gallon of dark chocolate ganache. There have been a few times, though, where I craved savory food, like sushi, bruschetta, and crunchy tacos dripping with taco sauce, all in one sitting of course.

A couple weeks ago, I was not excused from enduring the wrath of mother nature which brought on the depression, the b*tchyness, and ultimately caused me to shut down one afternoon.

Could I see that I had such a good husband who sees me go through this month after month? Could I cherish my precious children? Could I be thankful for the nice car in the driveway or the decent roof over my head? Shamefully, no. But deep in my heart I knew better than to feel that way.

So, in that moment, I grabbed the canvas and began rendering a visual of what I felt in my heart. No laundry was done that day, just painting, in between helping the kids and fixing dinner.  I was not proud of the pity I had brought upon myself that day, and with each brush stroke I put it to rest. The result is something I am proud of.

I present to you, "Sorrow".

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Painting complete. Let's celebrate with Beef Stroganoff!

The painting in Guy's room is complete! Yay! I think it turned out great, although I would prefer a lighter shade. The color is beautiful. Valspar Reserve is probably my new favorite paint now. As I had mentioned before, I had been sticking with Behr Premium Ultra. But, now that I know that I can grab a paint-primer in one a lot closer to home, I may just stick with Valspar from now on. Too bad I only have to buy paint for one other room in the house. Maybe that's not so bad though.

Valspar Reserve was super thick and spread very well. It only took one gallon to complete Guy's room. And he LOVES it!

-A few tips on painting a room if you don't have much experience:
-Use painters tape (Scotch Blue is prefered)
-Get as much as you can done all at once. It sucks having to go back to the hardware store for a new paint tray and brushes because the ones you used the day before are all crusted up. Even if you have every intention of taking a break and getting back to it, life happens for us as parents. It wouldn't hurt anything to buy an extra paint tray or brushes while you are picking out your paint, that way you already have it.
-Work one wall at a time in a steady up and down motion. Don't go all willy-nilly with the roller, especially if you are not using a matte finish.
-Wear gloves. Seriously, if you have dainty little hands like I do, you'll want to wear gloves. My hands were nearly blistered after day one. A $3 pair of gardening gloves made it so much better.
-Keep a damp wash cloth handy, in the case of a little drip on the baseboard or swiping a loaded paint roller against a door knob.

One cute thing when painting with little ones around, as I was moving as much out of the room as I could, Kay removed all of the furniture out of her dollhouse. I thought that was cute for her to mimic me. And apparently Radar found a nice spot to catch an afternoon nap.

To address the toy issue I brought up before, since we are eliminating the play room the kids will need to keep their own toys in their rooms. I was dreading dividing them up myself, but, I gave Kay and Guy the credit and accountability to organize the toys themselves. I brought out all of the bins a couple at a time, gave them their own boxes with their names on them, and they were able to distinguish what belonged to who without any fighting, arguing, or complaining. Say what?! The boxes will serve as temporary toy boxes, as I will be selling the bin shelf in the yard sale and making some DIY storage for their rooms.

Tonight for dinner, I made homemade beef stroganoff. Nothing better than a nice hot meal after some physical labor!

I splurged this time and cooked it with stir-fry steak instead of ground beef.

The first time I made this I licked the spoon, the bowl, everything clean. It's so creamy and yummy. So much better than that "Helper" stuff.

You can either mix the noodles in or serve them separate. Guess which option I went with.

Tomorrow is a full day with NO painting! Time for me to get to bed and get back to our regular routine before the weekend arrives. I'm so hoping to have a yard sale this Saturday.

Beef Stroganoff recipe

 1 lb. ground beef or stir-fry steak
2 tbsp coconut oil (or cooking oil of your choice)
1 medium onion, chopped
1 (10.75 oz) can condensed Cream of Mushroom Soup
1/2 tsp paprika
1/2 c sour cream or Greek yogurt
4 cups egg noodles, cooked
chopped fresh parsley

Slice steak strips into bite-size pieces.
Cook beef and onion over medium-high heat until brown.
If cooking with ground beef, drain the fat and return meat to pan.
Turn heat to low, add soup, paprika and sour cream stir in with the beef and onion.
Simmer on low for 2-3 minutes. Mix in egg noodles or serve beef mixture over noodles.
Sprinkle with parsley.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Reclaiming Guy's Room

I'm very excited that Guy will be getting his room back soon! It was an office before his arrival. After his arrival, it was a hybrid of office/toy room/his room and I've always felt bad about that. Now it is a play room while he and Kay share her room. When he was two years old, she would sneak into his crib with him in the wee hours of the morning and wake him up to play. It was sweet, but it was also too dang early.

So, we put his big-boy bed together and now they are sharing her room.

Since Guy came so soon after Kay (less than 11 months), we didn't get to prepare very well, and I know that's a lame excuse. I have always felt bad about not giving him his room or having it ready for his arrival. He never really had his room. It was never ready. Now, it will be. And he is very excited to be a part of the process! It's time for me to stop feeling guilty, and start getting busy.

We had to move both their dressers into the play room to make room for two beds in Kay's room.

And the toys... oh man the toys. I'm not looking forward to splitting these down the middle. Prior to the pics I had already filled up one large box to sell at my next yard sale. Toys that they haven't even missed.

First thing's first: Paint! I let Guy pick the color he wanted his room to be. He picked his favorite color, green. I went with a light sage-like green to keep a cool tone for the beach "theme" I try to carry throughout our home.

To cover up the crayon marks I chose a paint & primer in one. I typically use Behr Premium Ultra. But, since Lowe's is a lot closer to our home I chose to try out the Valspar Reserve. It cost a little more, but I saved myself a 30 minute drive. I leaned more toward the middle shade, "Paris Mint", but Guy picked the darker shade, "Belle Grove Moss", so that's what we went with. Radar even likes it, and he's a jerk.

Tomorrow, we begin painting!