Monday, July 7, 2014

Toddler Sorting Games

And another 'Hello' for good measure. I have been absent from blogging for what seems forever. I do have a good excuse, however. A very cute excuse. One that likes to snuggle. One that wears baby clothes and will one day call me Mom.

He's sleeping, so here I am with just a short post about something easy you can do with your toddler with stuff you have around the house.

Best kind of post, yes? One that requires no shopping. Just a touch of creativity and you can be on your way to doing it too!

The first part is actually from a few months ago.

I had been trying to think of more activities to stimulate my little guy's mind. He is so busy, and so very smart. (I know. All moms must say that about their children. But it's so true.)

So after a bit of Googling and a bit of Pinterest I came up with some ideas I wanted to try, but most of them from Pinterest required a trip to the store. We have no construction paper, for example.

So I looked around at what we had. I found these two baskets I'd purchased for a party game at some of my Arbonne parties, and gathered up the ever-present Megabloks. I took away all the other colors except what I had baskets for (until I make it over to the Dollar Tree to see if they have more), and gathered up my one-year-old. It did not take a lot of explaining- I just showed him the colors, and put them in the right basket. Toddlers are great mimickers. He picked it up right away, and sorted them all, and dumped them out to start again. 

This kept him busy for a half-hour. No lie. Anything that keeps a 21 month old busy for that long and is not only a safe (for my house!) activity but also helps build his brain, I'm all for it!

Try it with other things too! Today we played this same game, but instead of just blocks, I grabbed all the red and blue toys I could find in his toy basket and added them to the game. Ironically it did take a minute for him to catch on, but he got it.

We also played another version of sorting today. This time it involved number recognition and matching. This is a skill I wanted him to learn for pre-piano skills- recognizing groups by number.

I took some scrap paper and a fat marker, and doodled some blocks on them- a side view, showing 1, 2, and 4 bumps on the blocks. (If there were any of the 3-blocks handy I'd have done 3 too.) and I went ahead and wrote the numerals on the papers too. He's been announcing numbers when he sees them. Today he surprised me with "Mom! Mom! Nine!" and showed me a 9. He'll tell us what speed limit signs say too... "Three. O." I told you he was smart. 

He picked up the concept right away on this one too. (Win!)
 Do excuse his toy-mess.

Make it as simple as possible! Toddlers do not care.
I'd love to hear what variations of these you have tried with your kids!

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Saturday, April 19, 2014


This Sabbath carries little rest
My heart cannot be still
It's breaking full of unbelief
Could this have been His will?

I stare at spices sweet prepared
For the body of my Lord.
His body! Dead. Alive no more
I long for Living Word

How could my Jesus, Son of God
Be gone away from me?
How did this happen? O my soul!
I writhe in agony.

Was it I who sent Him there
To the cruel cross?
Why would He love me - me - so?
All I am is loss.

He wasn't recognizable
His face and body torn
But those eyes, yet filled with blood
Met my gaze alone

They did not cease to love me
E'en in the midst of pain
One look from Jesus and I knew
My guilt and all my shame

I wait, for now, to go to Him
His lifeless body there
One last thing I'll do for Him
One way to show my care

It should be me there in that tomb,
Mangled. Torn apart.
I wait this Sabbath, grieving sore
I cannot feel my heart.

O Sabbath, pass. O sun, please set.
Let me try to sleep
Up before the morning sun
His body I will treat.

But lo, someone has been here
The stone is rolled away
Who are these shining men?
What is that they say?

I cry. I still cannot believe.
This is a cruel trick.
Not understanding, I weep the more
My heart is sinking, sick.

Afraid and bowed, I process words
They said "He is not here",
"Why seek the living with the dead?"
I scarce believe for fear.

"He is risen!" - I hear them now
My Christ, alive, is it true?
My heart dares hope. My Lord's alive?
O Lord, I must see you!

"Why do you weep?" the gardener asks.
"Who are you looking for?"
"His body" is my sad reply.
"The body of my Lord."

Then I heard Him speak my name.
He knows me? my heart cries
I turn, my Jesus standing there!
He reaches, dries my eyes.

I weep for joy, remembering now
His words about third day.
"Go. Don't stay here; tell my friends."
With joy I do obey!

-NR 4/19/14

Friday, April 4, 2014

Thai Asparagus

I told you I bought a bunch of asparagus. And by a bunch, I didn't mean 'one bunch'. I bought twice as much as usual. I told you it was calling my name.

It is ever so good.
And, ever so versatile.

I love asparagus.

I usually just eat it as a side, cooked with a little olive oil and garlic, and usually crushed red peppers. But this time I wanted to make it less Italian and more Asian. I do love me some Asian food!

So this easy recipe was born. Still probably a side dish, since there's no protein really, but it would be excellent with added shrimp, thin-sliced beef or pork, or even chicken (think beef and broccoli Chinese takeout).
I didn't measure really as I cooked, so feel free to adjust as necessary.

Thai Asparagus
1 tsp. olive oil
Dash ginger
Dash soy sauce
Dash crushed red peppers
1 1/2 cups fresh asparagus, broken into  1-2 inch pieces
1-2 Tbsp. diced onions
1-2 Tbsp chopped red bell peppers

Heat oil in small skillet. Add ginger, soy sauce and crushed red peppers. When hot, add onions and bell peppers. Sauté until onions are tender (few minutes). Add asparagus pieces and cook 5-7 min, until tender, adding water to skillet if necessary to prevent sticking or burning.

Serve over brown rice.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Spaghetti Squash with Creamy Asparagus Chicken

The asparagus was calling my name.
So was the spaghetti squash.
And I heard something about garlic.

I like to make these kinds of meals when my husband isn't going to be able to join me for lunch, because I know he's not a big fan of asparagus.

I was going to eat the entire pan.
I almost did.
The only thing that stopped me (I'm not kidding) is the fact that I wanted some for lunch the next day. It's really good as leftovers too.

Spaghetti Squash with Creamy Asparagus Chicken
2 C. Spaghetti squash, cooked and drained.
Italian seasoning
1-2 boneless skinless chicken breasts, cut into 1 inch pieces.
1 Tbsp. olive oil
1 clove garlic, minced
1 Cup fresh asparagus, broken into 1-inch pieces
1-2 Tbsp. sour cream or cream cheese
1 Tbsp. flour
Shredded mozzarella
Grated Parmesan

Stir a few shakes of Italian seasoning into cooked spaghetti squash. Place in small baking dish.
Cook chicken in olive oil. When chicken is almost done, add garlic and 1/4 c. water. Cook until pink is gone.
Add asparagus, cook until tender, 1-2 minutes.
Add sour cream, few shakes of Italian seasoning, and flour. Stir in until flour is blended in and you have a thick sauce.
In prepared baking dish, layer over squash, mozzarella, chicken mixture, Parmesan, mozzarella.
Bake uncovered at 350ºF 15 minutes or until heated through and cheese is melted.

By the way, when I had it the next day for lunch, my husband tried some from my plate. He took several bites before he had to stop himself from stealing my lunch. And he doesn't even like asparagus.

I bought a bunch of asparagus, so there'll be another yummy asparagus recipe coming soon!

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Friday, March 14, 2014

Choosing Pearls

Today, I’m drawing strength from my Jesus. The journey I’m on right now is learning to trust Him, and love Him, no matter what is going on right now. 

No matter if He’s waiting to answer my prayer.

No matter if I’m hurting.

No matter if I, secretly, deep down, blame Him for my pain.

Gasp. Yes. You read that right. No, you may not be as surprised as I was to realize it. But I did. He helped me realize it. In an ever-so-loving way, He helped me realize that a seeming unanswered prayer that has seemed to go from bad to worse has been standing in the way of my faith. Standing in the way of my love for Him.

I was guarded against my Jesus. I still am, I think, a little. It’s going to be a whole healing process, and we’re just beginning. But Jesus is up for the challenge, and so I will be too. I’m learning a few things along the way.

He does ache for the situation to be better. Not just better – resolved. Healed. Perfect. He aches for it more than I do. More than I can even comprehend.

He aches to reach in and fix it. He has to really restrain Himself from doing just that.

He can fix it. He holds the power to fix it all.

Why is He restraining Himself, then? Why, when He has the power, and wants to fix it, does He not? This was exactly my struggle.

Because He knows better. He knows that the pain is an unfortunate part of the process; of His better plan.

“Abba, Father, all things are possible unto thee; take away this cup from me: nevertheless not what I will, but what thou wilt.” Mark 14:36

Not my will but Thine, Father. Abba. Daddy. You know best.

Because He knows that to take it away now, to fix it all without due process, in this situation, is not the best way. It would not foster greater faith in me. There are numerous other effects this might have on the outcome that I could never even realize, none of them best.

Because my Daddy wants the best for me. My Jesus wants nothing less for His Princess. The daughter of the King.

So I wear my pearls today. The pearl is for me a reminder – because God knows I need visuals – that the suffering is worth the wait. That pearls come from discomfort, time, patience, more discomfort, that itch you can’t scratch, pressure, more discomfort and more waiting. The longer you wait, the more valuable your pearl will become. Bigger, more visible and more precious.

I used to not like pearls. And today I realized why. And also why I like them now.

When I didn’t like pearls, I was a little girl, and the only pearls I was acquainted with were on my costume jewelry. I didn’t like them, because the shiny coating would chip off, and I’d be left with a string of ugly off-white plastic beads – and not always even the same color as each other.

Those were false pearls.
Those were not made with the same discomfort as my grown-up pearls.
Real ones.
Real pearls made from real pressure and patience. From pain.

And so many times we look at false pearls and think they’re the real thing, and then wonder why our faith isn’t stronger. Wonder why it seems as if satan worked a little better in a situation than our Jesus did. Wonder why we’re left hurting.

Satan makes false pearls.

But those false pearls may be the very ones that leave us guarding our hearts from the very One who wants to heal it. Protecting our hearts from our Abba. Our Daddy. Our Healer and Protector and Provider.

And then one day the shiny paint chips away and the pearls are ugly and the beads don’t match. And it makes us despair.

But our Abba makes real pearls. They’re irregular and each one is unique, but the paint doesn’t chip away, and they’re worth a whole lot more. They’re stronger than plastic.

Dear Jesus, help me wait for the real pearls. Thank you for making real pearls with my life.

Not my will, but Yours. The pain will one day be worth it.
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Sunday, March 9, 2014

Easy Cranberry Cinnamon Bagels

Confession. I procrastinate.

There. Now that that’s out there- I will say this. I have been planning on making these bagels since cranberries were in season, and I had a coupon for them. This was back in, say, November? Maybe October? Cranberries freeze really well. It was probably dangerous to know this. I bought a couple bags back then, and they have been decorating my freezer shelf. They’re so pretty and make my freezer look festive…. Something like that.

No, really, I had just heard that bagels are a pain to make. And that was all it took to make me procrastinate trying. Oh, I was on Pinterest multiple times pinning recipes, and trying to decide on one, and then I would read the directions and then procrastinate even longer.

But I finally did it.

And they were so not a pain. And I will probably make more very very soon. It will keep my dear husband and I from buying expensive Panera bagels.

I did use the breadmaker. This helped tremendously! I just dumped ingredients in, and walked away. Then when it was done, I formed the bagels, boiled them for a minute like you’re supposed to, and baked them. That was it. Easy. And really pretty fast.

The recipe I finally decided on came from here, and I adapted it to incorporate my freezer-decorations (cranberries) and make them less sandwich-bagels and more indulgence-bagels. Because those are the best kind.

Here is my adaptation:

1 cup warm water
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
2-3 tablespoons white sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
3 cups flour
2 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast
1/2 to 3/4 cup cranberries, chopped small

3 quarts boiling water
3 tablespoons white sugar
1 tablespoon cornmeal
1 egg white

Dump water, salt, sugar, cinnamon, flour, yeast and cranberries into bread maker. Preferably in that order. Select Dough Setting, and let it process.

When cycle is complete, divide dough into 8 pieces. Roll each into a small ball and flatten it a little. Poke a hole in the center with your finger and twirl around on your finger just a little to widen the hole.

Cover bagels with a clean cloth and let rise 10-20 minutes.

Nicole’s Note: I did 20 minutes because I did not have enough yeast. I probably only had about half the yeast it calls for, and they turned out fine.

While those are rising, start a pot of water boiling. Use about 3 quarts. I didn’t measure and it was fine. When it’s boiling, add the sugar.
Dust a cookie sheet with cornmeal. Flour would probably work fine too.

Carefully transfer bagels to boiling water. Boil for 1 minute.

It will probably be a little cozy, but that’s fine. They’ll float, so turn them or dunk them somewhere during the minute.

Arrange boiled bagels on prepared cookie sheet, and glaze tops with the egg white.

Feel free to customize with your favorite toppings prior to baking. Some that would be really yummy on the cranberry cinnamon would be chopped pecans or sliced almonds. I left mine alone and they are delightful.

Bake at preheated 375 degrees for 20-25 minutes, until well browned.

TIP: Store in an airtight container. If they feel too hard to use, stick a slice of bread in the container with them. (Save your unwanted bread heels. They are great for rehydrating bagels, cookies, and the like.)

I just love morning light, don't you?

Condensed recipe

1 cup warm water
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
2-3 tablespoons white sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
3 cups flour
2 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast
1/2 to 3/4 cup cranberries, chopped small

3 quarts boiling water
3 tablespoons white sugar
1 tablespoon cornmeal
1 egg white

1. Dump water, salt, sugar, cinnamon, flour, yeast and cranberries into bread maker.
2. When cycle is complete, divide dough into 8 pieces. Roll each into a small ball and flatten slightly. Poke a hole in the center with your finger and gently twirl around on your finger.
3. Cover bagels with a clean cloth and let rise 10-20 minutes.
4. Meanwhile, boil 3 Qts water. When boiling, add 3 T sugar.
5. Dust a cookie sheet with cornmeal. Carefully transfer bagels to boiling water. Boil for 1 minute, turning after 30 sec or so.
6. Arrange boiled bagels on prepared cookie sheet, and glaze tops with the egg white. If toppings are desired, add now, prior to baking.
7. Bake at preheated 375 degrees for 20-25 minutes, until well browned. Store in airtight container

This is the bread machine that we use, and love!

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Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Homemade Salted Caramel Latte

Since I’ve been pregnant I’ve been trying to steer a little clear of coffee. At least to keep the caffeine intake down to an acceptable level. I’ve discovered, though, that a latte has less caffeine than a brewed cup of coffee, so I have found a new love.

This recipe will be a copycat Salted Caramel Latte. I do use brewed coffee for this, but put less in my cup than usual, so we’re still good on our caffeine intake, don’t worry.

To start out with, you will probably want to go ahead and invest in a milk frother. They are fairly inexpensive and it will definitely pay for itself by your having skipped a few Starbucks runs. Wouldn’t take long at all, especially if you make a coffee run that includes more than one drink.

Here are a few options. I have both, my sweet hubby got them both for me for Christmas this year, not sure which one would work better, and honestly, I love both of them.

Pros and cons for each.

The battery powered one
PRO: A little faster to wash
PRO: Less pieces to get out/wash
PRO: Easy to froth milk right in your cup. (Make sure it’s just milk. Don’t add your coffee yet.)
CON: Takes a battery
CON: Must not overload your cup, or froth after you’ve already creamed your coffee. Trust me, you don’t want the mess.

The self-contained one
PRO: Make a double batch easily
PRO: Self-contained beaker makes for less mess and easier to know how much you can froth at once without making a mess
PRO: Does not need a battery
CON: More pieces to get out/wash
CON: (Obviously) Have to froth milk in a separate container from your cup

So equal playing fields, all in all. Just depends what you want to try first.

Okay. Here’s how to do it.
First, go ahead and get your coffee brewing. I make mine the regular strength that I usually do.

Now, warm up some creamer or milk or some combination thereof. About 40-60 sec in the microwave is great. For a big mug, I’m using about 1/4 to 1/3 cup of creamer and about 6-8 oz. coffee. If you like yours a little more or less creamy, adjust accordingly. My hubby is the candy-coffee drinker, and likes his the same way I do, with about 1/4 cup creamer. Play with it and see what you like best. You can always add more creamer after you taste your creation, so start with a little and go from there.

Froth! This is the most fun part. Both my frothers say to let the milk set for one minute before using, and this does seem to help the bubbles stay in my cup longer. Make enough froth to fill your cup half-full.

Doesn’t matter what order you put the items in your cup. When I’m using the battery frother, I warm the creamer directly in my cup, so coffee comes second. When I’m using the beaker, I warm it up in the beaker, and usually put coffee in my cup first. Again up to you. If you take sugar, go ahead and mix it in your coffee before adding the froth, or just add it to the creamer before you warm it. I’ve done it all combinations of ways and it seems to work just fine.

If you’re wondering how I got the coffee in the pre-foamed cup without destroying the foam, it’s not as hard as you might think. Just pour the coffee along the side, and watch the foam rise. It’s kindof fun.

Last, after your coffee with its nice topping of foam is in your favorite mug, drizzle caramel ice cream topping over top.  Shake a few shakes of salt over top and enjoy!

Variations: Add some English Toffee Torani syrup for an extra treat! It's delicious.

Notes: I use homemade creamer, made from milk and sweetened condensed milk. I actually make my own sweetened condensed milk too, and the recipe for both can be found here. I like that I can count (and pronounce) all the ingredients in my creamer. Milk, dry milk, sugar. C’est tout. Not all the preservatives you’ll find in a creamer from the store. Up to you. Not sure how store-bought creamer performs with the frothers, but if you’ve tried it, let me know.

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Find me and lots of other yummy recipes on Miz Helen's Full Plate Thursday Link Party

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Skinny Jeans From Old Jeans Tutorial

We’ve all had a pair (or two, or three. Let’s be honest here) of jeans that we never ever wear because either A) we have too many other jeans we like better, or B) because there’s something wrong with them- the fit, the cut, something. I have a pair like this that I recently turned into maternity jeans and here’s the main reason. My other maternity jeans were not skinny-jeans. They did not work with my boots and I was really missing all my cute boots this winter. So I found a pair and a solution right in my own closet. On the bottom of the stack. Because I never wore them anymore. Now they’re my favorite pair.

Here’s how to turn regular flares or bootcut jeans into skinny jeans in an easy afternoon.

1) Lay your jeans out flat and determine at what point they start flaring out again. Put a pin there to mark it. Mine was just below the knee- yours probably will be too.
(Please note that the rest of the instructions have us working with the inner seam of the jeans. I had pinned the outer seam for the picture, and ended up moving it to the inside seam.)

2) Next, (and there’s probably another way to do this, but this seemed easy enough, dorky as it may be) stick your foot into the end of the leg and pin the cuff around the widest part of your foot. See picture. This will ensure that you’re able to actually get the jeans over your foot once you’re finished. Pin it as tight or loose as you like – my jeans have a bit of stretch in the fabric, so I went ahead and made for zero ‘wiggle room’, but if you have regular denim you may want to add a finger-width in there just in case. Your call.

3) Measure the amount you want to keep (the part that was around your foot in the previous step). Mine was right at 6”. Easy to remember so I didn’t write it down.

4) Here you get kindof a visual of the area that will be taken away. Pin to pin, essentially.
Please note that this is not the actual piece that will be taken off, but is just to give you a visual.

5) Turn your jeans inside out. With a seam ripper, rip out the inner seams from the cuff all the way up to the pin at the knee. I chose the inside of the leg but you could do the outside instead if you want. It doesn’t make a whole lot of difference.

6) With jeans still inside out, lay out the part you want to keep, measured to the length you figured out in step 3. Mine was 6”. Mark it with a pin but don’t pin it together just yet.

7) Go ahead and, using your seam ripper, rip out the cuff  where you will be stitching it together. Now pin the two together.

8) Laying the jean leg as smoothly as you can, taper from the top of where it’s ripped out (at the knee) all the way to the cuff. It may not lay very smooth and that’s okay- just make sure that it’s a nice, even taper all the way down. The triangle sticking out (the part you’re cutting off) should lay fairly smooth. DO NOT CUT IT OFF YET.

9) Stitch along the previous stitching line. I got this wrong the first go-round and had to start over. In the below picture, I’m holding the pin where the correct stitching line was on mine. You can see my first attempt (light blue thread) over to the left just a little. I left it there till I stitched the correct one, then I ripped out the wrong one. No biggie. This was important to me, because as you’ll see in the next picture, nobody will be the wiser that these jeans have been altered, because the fading by the seams is all still there just like when I bought them. (Okay, maybe not just like. They’re likely a bit more faded now because I got them back in high school. But you know what I mean.)

10) Try them on. Make sure you like the way they fit before cutting off the extra triangle. If it’s too big or too small, rip out the new seam and start over, adjusting accordingly. You’ll be glad you did. When you’re satisfied, cut off the extra triangle piece.

11) Restitch the cuff. If you did the inside seam of the jeans like I did, restitch over the seam, in the same stitching line that the manufacturer used. I should probably have used Blue Jean Gold thread for the topstitching but didn’t want to run to the store, and the light blue blends in pretty well for this pair. Pick out any remaining gold threads.

Finished! Good job! Don your jeans and grab your boots.

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