Friday, October 30, 2015

{no more spilling shopping bags}

I am still in full-blown party prep mode, but I thought I would sneak in a quick post. I want to share with you something that I started doing at the end of the summer, and it has made my unpacking after grocery trips a lot better. We have a mini-van, so we have plenty of room in the back. Almost too much room. This is only a problem when the third row of seats is stowed. Here is what the back looks like when the third row is stowed:
So there have been times when my groceries slip around a bit. Most of the time that also means that some of the canned goods or anything that rolls will also fall out. Many times it isn't a real problem; it just means it will take a little longer to unload the van. There was this one time, however, when a container of fresh mozzarella balls rolled under a seat. I believe it was my sister-in-law Samantha who discovered that little treasure under the seat a month later... Luckily, it hadn't exploded. Can you even imagine? Yuck. Anyway, I looked in stores for a carrier or something for the back, but I didn't find anything I liked. Then I realized I didn't need to buy anything. Everything I needed was already there. It was in the first pic:
There is a seat belt that is just hanging there when I have the third row put down. All I need to do is pull the seat belt through the handles of the bags. Then I twist it twice when it is through the last handle. It looks like this:
Or this:
It doesn't get tangled or anything. Once you undo where you looped, it generally just retracts back on its own. I have been able to do this with a TON of bags. I could use the seat belt also on the other side if I needed. Since I have been doing this, I haven't had any of my bags dump over while I am driving. Yay!

Until later!

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

{Calling all Harry Potter fans!!! I need help!}

This Sunday is Caden's Harry Potter party. I am so EXCITED!!! I need help with the menu. I know I will be ordering roast beef from Arby's, but that's about as far as I am in food planning. I asked Caden what he wants, but he doesn't really care. I know I will be serving Butterbeer (no, it's not alcoholic), and I found a recipe on Pinterest that has some pretty good feedback:
The recipe isn't too complicated either. I got it from

Yields 4 servings

1 cup brown sugar
4 tablespoons butter
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
3/4 cup heavy cream, divided
Four 12-ounce bottles cream soda, chilled

In a small saucepan, combine brown sugar with 2 tablespoons water. Bring to a boil over medium heat and cook until the mixture reaches 240 degrees F (115 degrees C) on a candy thermometer, stirring occasionally. If you don't have a candy thermometer, bring to a gentle boil and turn off the heat after about a minute of cooking.
Turn off the heat and add the butter, salt, vinegar, and 1/4 cup heavy cream. Stir until smooth. Cool mixture to room temperature before using.
In a medium bowl, beat together the remaining cream (1/2 cup) with 2 tablespoons of the brown sugar syrup.
In each glass, mix together 1/4 cup brown sugar syrup with 1/4 cup cream soda. Pour in the rest of the cream soda until it is nearly to the brim of the glass. Top with whipped cream.

I am excited to make it :) What else do you think I should make? We have the family party from 11:30-1:00, and then Caden's friends from his class will be coming from 1:00-3:00 for cake and ice cream. I am really looking for some cute Harry Potter side dishes. They need to have cute names, too. I will be making tags to put in front of each item as well.

Of course, we will be playing some games and I have goodies for them, but I will write about that after Sunday. Well, I can tell you that I am working on wands for them. Here's a sneak peek:
The glue swirl that you can see in the pic is glow in the dark glue!!! I also put some on the tips so the handles and the tips will glow in the dark. How awesome is that?! Caden and Lilli are pretty pumped about them :)

I am in full-blast party prep mode :) I have some more robe making to do tonight!

Until later!

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

{nature scavenger hunt with Aunt Lexie}

Happy beautiful fall day :) Because I was so happy with the colors as I drove home from work today, I thought I would write about a super fun activity that Aunt Lexie did with the kiddos a few weeks ago when she watched them while we attended a wedding. In fact, she wrote about it for me :) She took them on a nature scavenger hunt at her aunt's place. The kids had a GREAT time. Here is what she had to say about it:

When you asked me to watch the kids for the day/night, I wanted to come up with something that would keep us all occupied for awhile. While I was thinking of activities I remembered how much fun the kids had going to Bonnie's A-Frame Cottage last year.  I then thought of the stuff I used to do with my sisters there when we were kids, and we would pick leaves and just run around or go down to the lake to check out the marsh land (Rush Lake, but it's really more marsh-like). I then came up with an idea to do a scavenger hunt; so instead of reinventing the wheel, I went to Pinterest to see what was out there for examples. There were so many that I decided to combine a variety of options. I started to make my own document on the computer, but realized that this would just be too time consuming so I decided to cut up the examples from Pinterest and put them in a bag for the kids to take turns with leading"the hunt."  
When we actually did our hunt, I wrote up a sheet for the kids with some basic rules like: take turns, take your time, pictures will be taken of items we can put in our bag, and, of course, our number one rule was to HAVE FUN! I asked Caden to get one yellow plastic grocery bag and one white Target bag (that way each kid could keep track of their own bag and take responsibility for their bag as well). After we went through the rules, and the kids decided who was going to pick first, they noticed that on back of some of the pictures or clues I had the word "picture" written. One of the rules was that a picture had to be taken of an item that we couldn't put in our bag and someone had to be in the picture while the other sibling took the pictures. The majority of the pictures taken were by Lilli or Caden.  

Our hunt took about two hours with a snack break in between. I kept it a secret what we were going to be doing with our "pickings" that we placed in our bag. It was so cool to see what the kids would come up with. Some of the clues were based upon descriptive words, which made the kids have to think outside of the box. They always had to search for something that was "found in nature" versus just using a man made object as one of their finds for the clues. We got so much exercise outside going back and forth from the front of the cottage to the back of the cottage down to the lake to the corn field across the road. It was also a hoot to see how curious they would become about an ordinary object that we might take for granted on a daily basis:
For me it was so much fun to enjoy Lilli's delight each time we found a Lady Bug/Asian Beetle. She at one point stated, I'm a Lady Bug Scientist! How cute is that?!?  
Anyways, once we got back home we made fall collages with our pickings. Our fall collages were made by the kids taking their pickings and organizing them on a laminating sheet that I brought over. Once they had their design, they then got to feed their creation into my laminator that I brought along for the project. The kids really seemed to enjoy that their projects go"ironed" by the laminator and were now flat.

Didn't Alexis do a great job?! The kids were really excited with what they made. We ended up hanging them in their bedroom windows. I forgot to take a pic while it was still light outside :( I will try to post something later or update this post when I think of it during the daylight. Here are some other cute bonus pics:
Until later!

Monday, October 26, 2015

{Happy 7th Birthday, Caden}

It's hard to believe Caden turned 7 yesterday. It seems like just yesterday we took this pic:
We had a really nice weekend celebrating his birthday. Ryan was out of town until last night, but we made the best of it. I had big plans to take the kiddos (plus Kayana who was with us Friday night for an awesome sleepover) on Saturday to the Green Bay Children's Museum, but Caden ended up wanting to stay home to play. Check out this super cute selfie Caden took with the girls:
We ended up doing pretty much nothing this weekend, just like Caden wanted. We did play Bingo and watch some movies on the couch. He said he was just in a "Home Day" mood. I can't complain, because it was great to sit on the couch and get some extra snuggles. He was excited to open his presents Sunday morning. He decided not to wait until Daddy got home :)
See the letters flying from the fireplace behind him? Those are part of the Harry Potter decorations :)
He wanted West End Pizza for dinner. He decided he didn't want birthday cake; he wanted apple bars (just like Daddy):
It was a great night. Even better once Daddy got home. 

I will leave you with a few more pics of Caden from past birthdays:

First Birthday
Second Birthday
Third Birthday
Fourth Birthday
Fifth Birthday
Sixth Birthday
There will be more fun this coming weekend when we have his Harry Potter birthday party on Sunday. I was very busy making robes and wands over the weekend when we weren't playing. I will update you about all of those fun things later.

Until later!

Friday, October 23, 2015

{Halloween traditions: Chili, family, and friends}

By the time Halloween comes around, the kids have already had around two other trick-or-treating sessions. Many times the weather also has not cooperated with us. So quite a few times, the kids have gone to several of the neighbors' houses, and they are done for the night. I am pretty sure this year will be the same. Although there may be some novelty of being in a new neighborhood. How much candy do we really need anyway?

One thing we started to do a few years ago was have Grandma and Grandpa, my brother and family, Aunt Chris, and Aunt Lexie over on Halloween to see the kiddos in their costumes. It is also nice because there is always someone at the house to hand out candy. We always have the same thing for dinner: chili. I LOVE chili, so any excuse to make chili is good enough for me. I like it because it is something I can make ahead of time. In Oshkosh, it doesn't matter what day of the week upon which Halloween falls, trick-or-treating is always on Halloween. It's nice to have a very easy and comfy meal prepared ahead of time, especially if it's a week night. We have also had a few wet Halloweens in recent years, so it's wonderful to come back to the warm chili. I can just enjoy the time with the kids, and I don't worry about cooking dinner. 

I have to admit that I cheat when I make chili... I will tell you what I do. I start by browning up one pound of ground beef. Then I remove that from a pan and saute one onion. Pretty typical, I know. But while this is cooking, I prepare this:
as directed. All you need to add is water and tomato paste. This is a solid chili mix. After the 30 minutes of cook time for the mix, I add the cooked beef and onion to the mix. Then I add a can of kidney beans (or chili or black beans), a can of chili-ready diced tomatoes, and (here's the weird part) one can of Spanish rice:
I know this sounds gross. I know...but it is awesome! The ingredients are all things I can pronounce, too! There are no weird additives that you would hate to eat. The ingredients are:
  • water
  • rice
  • onions
  • tomato paste
  • green bell peppers
  • red bell peppers
  • soybean oil
  • salt
  • vinegar
  • paprika
  • chile pepper
  • garlic powder
  • citric acid
You have to trust me. It adds a little kick (not too strong that the kids can't eat it) to the chili, and rice in chili is AMAZING! I always get compliments when I make this. The best part? It is soooo easy to make. Even the kids like it :) Win!

Do you have any Halloween traditions?

Until later!

Thursday, October 22, 2015

{I love all things Sherlock Holmes}

I am sure it is no shock that I love to read. I guess that kind of goes hand in hand with being an English teacher :) I really love Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes stories. I just love the character. I wrote about that a little bit more here. I also was introduced to the BBC's show Sherlock last year:
If you have never seen this show, I HIGHLY recommend it. We watched it on Netflix, and I can't wait for the new season to start. One of the cool things about the show is how they shoot it. It is almost like watching movies instead of a series; each episode is 1 1/2 hours, and each season has three episodes. It is very easy to binge watch this one :)

Getting back to this year, I found out about a book series written by Andrew Lane. Here is a short description of the series from the publisher's website: 

The year is 1868, and Sherlock Holmes is fourteen, but he's already solving some serious mysteries. In this thrilling mystery series, we witness Sherlock’s true education in detection, as he discovers the dastardly crimes of some brilliantly sinister villains. 

So the entire idea behind the series is the backstory of how Sherlock became...Sherlock. The Sir Arthur Conan Doyle Estate even endorsed the series. That's big. Since the beginning of the school year, I have read the first three in the series. Here they are:
The next in the series should be here for me tomorrow from the library. That is one HUGE benefit of working in a high school with a library--I can get books ordered from other libraries whenever I would like. Our library is awesome about that!

I also read another Sherlock spin-off series. Well, I read the first two in the Mary Russell series. Here is a little synopsis of this series: 

When a modern young woman literally stumbles into an elderly Sherlock Holmes, a brilliant mystery series begins. It is 1915, and Holmes is retired and quietly engaged in the study of honeybees, when he meets fifteen-year-old Mary Russell—gawky, egotistical, and recently orphaned, and with an intellect to impress even Sherlock Holmes—and match him wit for wit.

The first one was recommended to me, so I checked it out. I thought the first one was kinda cute, so I decided to read the second one. No-go. I just didn't like a major plot turn; in fact, it kinda creeped me out...not in a good way. I think there are at least 12 books in the series, but I was good after the second one. Here is what the first two look like (even though you can't judge a book by its cover):
This series, unlike Andrew Lane's series, has not been endorsed by the Sir Arthur Conan Doyle Estate. At first I thought this was strictly for monetary reasons, but after reading book two, I am not sure if that's the only reason.

Are you into any good book series? I have read some other titles here and there, such as The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins, but I love a good series. I am open to suggestions!

Until later!

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

{beverage options: using our SodaStream}

Ryan and I have been trying really hard to eliminate soda from our diets. If we do drink it, we try to opt for regular versus diet sodas. I have been looking into some other options for us. We have some other beverages we really like, but they can be a bit pricey. Here are some of the other options we like:

San Pelligrino
Thank you to Cara for introducing this to us :)
Honest Tea
Like I said, these are great, but they can be expensive. We try to buy our Izze at Costco when we go there, but at the grocery store I don't like to buy them unless they are on sale. 

I like these products because I do not feel guilty allowing Caden and Lilli to drink them. I also think that given the choice, the kids would opt for an Izze instead of a soda. They are very rarely allowed to have soda. 

One thing that we have that I really don't take advantage of is our SodaStream:
This machine allows us to make our own sparkling drinks. There is no reason we can't make our own "Izze" at home. Then the kids could even choose what flavor they would like. I decided to hunt out some SodaStream recipes. I had never looked this up. We have used the SodaStream to make lime or lemon water. We did try to make a cola before, but that really isn't any better for you than drinking a regular cola. I didn't want to just pour some prepackaged syrup into the water. I found this interesting website with SodaStream recipes from various websites. Here are some of the listed recipes:

I really want to try the Concord Grape and Lemon Soda Recipe. Look at these ingredients:


pound Concord grapes, rinsed and stems removed
1/2 cup sugar
cinnamon stick, broken in half
Pinch salt
Soda water (which I will make with the soda stream)
This looks delicious!!! We will have to give one or two of these recipes a try over the next couple of weeks. I will let you know :)

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

{chore chart update: we made them!}

I posted here about wanted to create a chore chart for the kiddos. I had every intention of having the kiddos make it that week, but life got in the way... Oh well, we did make them tonight. We had plenty of time, because I just got home and threw one of my freezer meals into the oven. We went with Mozzarella Stuffed Turkey Pesto Meatballs for tonight. They were a hit:
Caden especially liked them:
Crazy kid!
Here is what I ended up doing with the chore charts for the kiddos.

The first thing I needed to do was figure out what pictures to use for their charts. Also, I narrowed their chore list down to 7 items:
I thought I would also include choosing tomorrow's clothes on there, but I am making the shift to selecting all outfits on Sunday. Ryan is helping me with something for that. I will update you at some point when we finish that :)

Back to the pictures. Caden originally wanted to include real pics, but he changed his mind. I looked online for some to use, but I couldn't fine anything I liked. I decided to draw my own after looking online for some ideas. Here are my masterpieces:
Look at the cute toothbrush and teeth: 
Here is a link to the file if you would like to use them. I ended up having to trim them to make them fit on the paper I used.

Then the kids each chose one 12" X 12" sheet from my scrapbook paper to use for their charts. Caden wanted blue and Lilli wanted pink. Predictable.

While I cut the sheets in half, I had the kiddos color in the pictures I made for their chore charts. I like this, because they were able to make each pic their own:
 Look at Caden's cute bowl of cereal:

First I cut each sheet of paper in half so they were now a 6" X 12" piece of paper:

Now the inspiration chore chart required some measuring to make things very precise; I didn't do that. I just eyeballed everything. I folded the paper so there was about a half an inch extra on the top. You need that in order to easily open them back up after they have been closed.

I eyeballed where the pics would fit coming up from the fold:
Can you see how banged up our poor coffee table is from Minka's paws and teeth? That will be a winter project...
I then used double-sided tape to adhere them to the paper.

Again, in the original she measured, scored, and then cut. I didn't do that. I just looked at where the pics lined up, and then I made my cuts for the flaps:
I added the descriptions for each chore. I just typed these up and printed them out:
Then I attached the word "DONE" on the other side of their pictures for Caden, and Lilli wanted the words "Good Job!" on hers. They go on the opposite side of the chore words. You place them so when the flap is closed, they are right side up:
The last thing I did was add the magnetic strips. I stuck them under the chore titles and then I stacked the other one on top. Then I unpeeled the top one and closed it so it would fit perfectly where it needed to be:
And we were ready to roll! I originally thought I was going to round the corners, but I didn't for two reasons. 1) I included 7 chores instead of 6, so there wasn't as much room for each strip, and 2) I still haven't found my corner rounder...

Overall, this was very easy to do. Other than coloring the pics, I put it all together. I did this tonight while we were doing some bowling. Side note: Lilli is becoming freakishly good at Wii bowling...
Can you see her in the background?
I let each kiddo choose where to put their charts. They had to pick somewhere in their bedrooms. Caden chose by his closet:
Lilli chose by her door:
Tomorrow was going to be the first day using them, but they decided we could start today:
Yay! I am happy they are so excited to use them. Are they perfect? Nope. Will they work? Yep. I will update you later about how it is going :)

Until later!