Monday, August 27, 2012

Back to School and DIY Decorating

Today is my first day back to work after a fabulous summer off.  While I will miss our lazy summer days, I can't say I'm not a little bit excited to transition back to the structure of the school year.  

What I'm trying to say is this: all the lack of responsibility has turned my kids into lunatics and I'm pretty sure they are conspiring some evil plot against me just to amuse themselves. For reals.

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While I'm easing back into the swing of things this week, the kiddos have one more week off before the bat shit hits the fan, so to speak.  

In order to prepare their lazy little minds for the big change coming their way, I thought I'd do a little back to school decorating to get us all in the spirit.


The back to school photo was purchased last year from Katie Lloyd Photography on Etsy.  It's Scrabble pieces against lined primary school paper...I just love it.  The apple is actually a candle, not sure where I got that to be honest.  And crayon filled hurricane was a little inspiration I had out of nowhere today.  


 I've always loved the look of quirky seasonal fillers around candles...candy corn during Halloween is always a good one.  We organized the kids' playroom this weekend which resulted in a large basket of broken old crayons.  I was going to pitch them when it hit me to use them for a back to school themed filler!




Kinda kooky, but what the heck...you only live once!

Speaking of which, I'm linking up with Molly from still being {Molly} and Carly from Lipgloss and Crayons as usual for #YOLO Monday!
stillbeingmolly


Have a great week everyone!


xoxo
Jen



 
   

Friday, August 24, 2012

High Five For Friday

I'm trying something new this week and posting my High Five for Friday!

Below you will find five highlights from my week (as told through Instagram)

Enjoy!


  1. New Birthday Shoes!!

I've been lusting after a pair of red patent leather heels for months to go with a few black and white outfits I've gotten recently. I finally snagged this pair from Steve Madden with the Amazon gift card I got from my mom for my birthday. Every girl needs a pair of red heels!

2. Nostalgic Trip to the Zoo



Earlier this week the kids and I spent the day at our local big city zoo for probably the hundredth time since they were babies. I was walking a few paces behind them when I realized this was the first big outing we've ever taken without a stroller. I mostly had a happy feeling of freedom and joy but a tiny little part of me was also kinda...sad.

I mean, lugging different versions of a big old stroller (including a double when I had a two year old and a newborn) with me where ever I went has just been part of my life for the last seven years. It's just kind of something a mom with babies/little kids always does. And now that part of our life is over, just like that....*sniff*

But anyways, I snapped this photo of my two big walking kiddos strolling along all stroller-less to remember the moment forever. I love how I captured them in deep conversation! What the heck are they talking about, I wonder?

3. I'm Spidermom




This is a view of part of the back of our house from the deck. That second story balcony (which is woefully under used and under decorated, as in it's completely bare) leads to our master bedroom. My point in telling you this is not to point out boring details of our home architecture but to show you the balcony I scaled the other day when we got locked out of the house while the hubster was at work. I somehow managed to drag a twenty foot ladder from the garage by myself, hurl my 5 foot 2 inch frame over that railing, wrench open the window screen and crawl into the house (because, of course, the porch door leading to the bedroom was also locked up tighter than a drum).

In retrospect, that was really dumb and I could have killed myself. But, I was desperate and feeling all " I am woman hear me roar-y" or something...

It was nice to hear Mr. Man say all impressed-like when I came back down, "Mom! You're like a super hero or something!" I kind of am.


4. I'm Super Organized. Really, I am. I swear.




My husband and I recently decided that, starting next month, I will be taking over managing our household finances and general paperwork duties. That decision was made for a variety of reasons that I won't get into now but my point being...I'm a little nervous about it. Let's just say my strong suit has never been, uhh, organization. Remember that kid in 2nd grade whose desk was such a disasterous sea of disorganization that the teacher would dump it out onto the floor and make the poor kid stay in a recess and clean it out on a regular basis? Yeah. That was me.

I spotted this binder at Office Max this week for $14 so I snatched it up. I'm hoping it will really help keep my brain and my dining room table free of clutter and make it easier to keep my family on track. Also...it's kinda pretty isn't it? It really goes with the rest of my house. That's so important in a file folder, don't you think?


5. School Supplies!

It's that time of year again...school is looming, (this usually makes me somewhat suicidal because that means I have to go back to work but this year, I'm really good with it. I'm going back only part-time which means, I'm hoping, a more balanced life and a happier me but that's another post for another time) fall is almost in the air and it's time to buy new school supplies. I love school supplies. Always have, always will. They make me happy.


So, that's my High Five for Friday! What about you?? What did your week look like?


I'm linking up with Lauren @From My Grey Desk for H54F!

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Have a great weekend, everyone!

xoxo
Jen

Monday, August 20, 2012

Birthday Weekend in the North Woods

This weekend I was blessed enough to celebrate yet another year in the life of well, me! That's right...It was my birthday!

It was a really great birthday, I have to say.

My family was invited to spend the weekend "up north" at my BFF's "cottage." It seems everyone in Wisconsin either has a cottage "up north" or knows someone with a cottage "up north." Which means you head north to one of the many lakes in this beautiful state and hang out in the woods and generally recreate on the lake.  Fishing, boating, jet skiing, water skiing, relaxing, heavy drinking, what have you...

Because late August is prime time for said "up north" shenanigans and late August happens to be the time of year the world was graced with my presence, it was definitely not the first birthday I've spent in the north woods.  



This is me and my little brother (who, incidentally was born on my 5th birthday-Happy Birthday to you too, B!!) on what was, I'm guessing, our 14th and 11th birthdays, respectively. (Let it be forever recorded that I rocked the Snooki "poof" while Snooki herself was still in diapers). We were undoubtedly celebrating up north at my aunt and uncle's cottage.  This picture was taken at Paul Bunyan's Cook Shanty-a famous Wisconsin north woods restaurant, in the very early 90's. 







And here I am this year, enjoying my birthday dinner. Don't judge.  My BFF made my favorites...A Coney Dog and Cheddar Bacon Fries.  That's right.  You heard me.  And that lovely libation I'm holding is my newest favorite...a Beergarita.  Part beer, part margarita...what's not to love?  And it totally fulfills the "heavy drinking" requirement of being up north.  Wow. 



That would be me and my enabler BFF.  The genius behind all of those mouth watering calories I'm about to consume.  You'll have to excuse the sloppy no makeup look we're rocking....trust me, according to North Woods standards, we are smoking hot in this photo.  Also, in case all the cheese and alcohol didn't clue you in to where we're from, I went ahead and wore that sweatshirt for you.


This is me and my sparkly pink cupcakes, again compliments of my fabulous BFF.  I'm having one of those telepathic spousal conversations with my hubster as the whole room sings "Happy Birthday" to me.  I'm saying, "Oh my God, this is so embarrassing, I hate having all this attention on me." He's saying, "Shut up. You love it and you know it." And then I'm saying, "I know.  You shut up."  

If you're wondering how old I am, you'll have to work for it.  If you multiply those candles by 5 you will arrive at the age I feel.  You can go ahead and add another 6 to that number if you're a stickler for actually going by chronological age.  Me...not so much a stickler.  I like the first number much better. 


You may notice the tequila bottle in this shot.  I can not confirm or deny that I was persuaded to do a birthday shot by my BFF's annoyingly younger 20 something brother and his friends.  I can also can not confirm or deny that I then looked around the room and realized I used to babysit more than one person around the table and decided just to call it a night, for my dignity's sake.  When you're old and wise like me, it's easier to make better life choices.  Usually.  




Before we left we snapped this shot of all of our kids with the lake in the background.  Not only is my BFF a fabulous cook and hostess, she's managed to pop out some pretty amazingly adorable children.  I love this photo!  I've been coming up to this lake with BFF's family since I was little and I just love that now our kids got a chance to play together and fall in love with this place just like we did...


Thanks for celebrating with me everyone!


xoxo
Jen


I'm linking up with Molly atStill Being {Molly} and Carly at Lipgloss and Crayons for their #YOLO Monday blog hop!

stillbeingmolly

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Monopoly Lessons

It's a quiet day around here.
Miss A has been sick since Sunday morning...high fever, upset tummy, sore throat, the whole nine yards.  My nephew has the same symptoms and his doc thinks it might be Mono. Awesome.

Did I mention we spent the weekend with my nephew last weekend? Yeah.  I'm saying a little prayer every five minutes that she gets better soon and that neither of those germy little punks actually has something serious...school starts in a few weeks and we have a lot more summer to soak up! 

So...Mr. Man decided today we needed to play some board games. He loves a good board game.  His current favorite is Monopoly.


Confession:  Sometimes I hate playing board games with my kids.  Especially Monopoly.  It takes sooooo long and I have a ton of stuff to do:

  The beds aren't made, there's laundry to be folded, the dog needs her goopy eye medicine, I have to go set traps for the army of ants that's invaded our house, the floors really should be swept, I have paperwork to fill out for school registration, the dishwasher needs to be unloaded and then loaded again, I'd like to look online for some back to school sales, I have a couple phone calls to return and some emails to answer and for the love of God, I'd like to shower at some point today......

And then I remembered that I'll always have all of those things to do plus 347 more since lists like that never actually end, but childhood does.  So I dropped the list in my head and took a deep breath and we played Monopoly.


And we laughed.  
And I was amazed at how Mr. Man can add so fast in his head, just like his dad.  And I was amazed that Miss A can count so high and has such a long attention span.  And I was amazed at how funny these little people of mine are.


 And I did that thing where you try to capture the moment in your brain and try and make sure it turns into a memory cause you don't want it to fade into the background and be just another day in your life.  Because, I just know someday I'll be begging them to sit down and play Monopoly with me and tell me about their lives but they'll be too busy with their own to do lists and they won't want to.


 So we played, and played, (and played)...but it was worth all that time and all the unchecked items on my list.  I'm so grateful for the reminder that sometimes I need to just be present in the moment and stop trying to be superwoman and count my blessings.  Ahhh....I needed that.  



xoxo,

Jen


Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Sinful Macaroni and Cheese With Bacon


  
   If you happen to be a vegan, vegetarian, or just someone who is even remotely concerned about your overall health you may want to avert your eyes.  I promise though, that if you choose to peak through your fingers at this scrumptiousness, I won't tell a soul...

It's been about a week since I've gone grocery shopping so supplies were running low around here last night.  It was one of those nights where I was combing through the cabinets trying desperately to come up with something to make for dinner.  There was a huge sale on cheese slices last week and I had a big stock of that so I decided to make homemade Mac and Cheese. 

But then...I noticed an unopened package of bacon in the fridge and I had an epiphany...Macaroni and Cheese should have bacon in it! Because you know, there's not nearly enough fat and sodium in macaroni and cheese.  And things that are already wonderful are just more wonderful when you add bacon, right?.  Duh. 
  
 Don't you feel delightfully naughty already?  I know I do. And I'm bringing you all down with me!  I'm such a bad ass...let's do this, shall we?




So, this is like, half of the necessary ingredients. Whatever.  I tried.  (I told you I was bad ass). 




We'll also need these seasonings a little bit later.  Among other things.  But, I'll get to that.  Welcome to my disorganized mind, please try and keep up.


But first, you set a large pot of lightly salted water to boil. Then add in a total of one pound of pasta.  I like to just use up what I have on hand and make Mac and Cheese with a variety of pasta shapes.  Today I used half Ziti and half traditional Elbow Macaroni.  You'll want to cook that pretty firm (or al dente) since we'll be baking it later. 

While that's boiling you can fry up the bacon until it's extra crispy.  I only used half a package because my overwhelming guilt was preventing me from going all in with this recipe.  If you want to use the whole package I definitely won't judge.  (I'm such an enabler).



Drain the bacon on paper towels and then chop it up into crumbles, like so.  (It's probably wise to taste a piece or two at this point, you know, just to make sure it's fresh.)  Then set it aside for later.  Then sneak one more piece.  Then hide it under a paper towel to try and prevent yourself from eating the whole pile.




Next, chop up your cheese if it happens to be in slices like mine.  This is a combination of sharp cheddar, swiss, and monterey jack.  I also used up about 4 ounces of shredded cheddar I had left over.  It really doesn't matter what kind of cheese you use, I think the more varieties the more interesting the flavor. 




The pasta should be finished by now so drain and rinse that and return it to the pan until the cheese sauce is ready. 




Start by melting a couple of tablespoons of butter in a large sauce pan on medium heat. 




Next, add two heaping tablespoons of flour




Stir it around for a few seconds until it forms a paste, otherwise known as a roux.  I remember my mom teaching me how to make a roux when I was younger.  She always says "roux" with a heavy french accent even though all the other words in the sentence are said with a regular old Midwestern twang.  Cracks me up every time.  




Keep the roux on the heat and pour in about two cups of milk.  Now's the time to add those seasonings from before as well.



Stir constantly for a minute or two until the mixture starts to get thick.



Now, dump in the cheese!



Stir constantly until the cheese melts completely.  If it's too thick you can add a splash or two of milk until it reaches a saucy consistency.



Dump the cheese sauce and the bacon into the pot with the cooked pasta and stir until it's well combined.



Now, transfer the evil cheesy bacony awesomeness to a lightly greased casserole dish, or two.  I've been dividing most of my recipes lately and freezing half.   I'm starting to get a little stockpile of frozen entrees going to make life easier in a few weeks when I go back to work (Gasp! Did I say that out loud? Never mind. We'll talk about that later,  I can't go there yet.)


So, my husband walked in the door at this point and general chaos began to ensue so I missed photographing a step or two.  I melted a tablespoon of butter and mixed it with a sleeve of crushed Ritz crackers then proceeded to sprinkle the crumbs on top of the casserole. Cover and pop in a 350 degree oven for about twenty minutes. (Or, you would freeze it at this point if you're so inclined.) Remove cover and bake for an additional 10 minutes or so until the crackers start to brown.



Here's the half that's all set to freeze.



And here's the half that came out of the oven and was ready to be devoured.  I served this with steamed peas and carrots (I'm not totally devoid of a conscience).  Can I just say...YUM!  It was really, really good.  As most things with 5000 grams of fat per serving are, I suppose. (I actually have no idea what the fat content is and I'd like to stay blissfully ignorant on that little factoid, thanks.)

I was thinking, next time this might be good with the addition of chopped tomatoes or better yet,  chopped sun dried tomatoes!  What do you think? 

I'll add the full recipe to the bottom (and keep in mind I'm not so much of a precise measurer when I cook so these amounts are my best guesses).  I'm off to plan a week's worth of meals involving tofu and grape nuts to make up for this little extravagance.  Trust me, though...it's so worth it!


Happy indulgence everyone (insert maniacal laugh here)!

xoxo
Jen

Sinful Macaroni and Cheese With Bacon

1 pound uncooked pasta, any shape
16 ounces of cubed and/or shredded cheese (any variety or combination will do)
8 slices crispy cooked bacon, crumbled
3 Tbsp butter, divided
2 heaping Tbsp flour
2 cups milk (plus a splash or two more as needed)
2 Tbsp ground mustard
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp minced onion
1/2 tsp black pepper
1/8 tsp cayenne pepper
1 sleeve buttery crackers (like Ritz), crushed

  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees
  • Bring large pot of lightly salted water to boil
  • Boil pasta until firm (al dente), drain and rinse
  • Meanwhile, fry bacon until crispy, drain on paper towels and crumble or roughly chop
  • Melt 2 Tbsp butter in large sauce pan
  • Add flour and stir until a paste forms
  • Pour in 2 cups of milk and seasonings
  • Stir constantly until sauce thickens
  • Add cheese and stir until melted
  • Add a splash of milk as needed until desired consistency is reached
  • Combine cheese sauce, bacon, and cooked pasta until pasta is well coated
  • Transfer to a lightly greased casserole dish
  • Combine crushed crackers with 1 Tbsp of melted butter and sprinkle over top of casserole
  • Cover and bake (or freeze) for 20 minutes
  • Remove cover and bake for an additional 10 minutes or so until crackers brown and dish starts to bubble




Wednesday, August 1, 2012

In Defense of a Princess


I've been seeing and reading things in the media lately about the evils of little girls and all things "Princess." Well, all things pink, sparkly and overtly "femine" in general, I suppose. I'm not sure if this debate is new or if it has always been around and I'm just now tuned into it since I am knee deep in the prime princess years myself with this rather sparkly four year old girl:


A small part of me feels like I should hang my head in shame, turn in my feminist membership card, and report myself to social services for allowing my innocent child to prance around in this get up. A small part. A much bigger part of me is screaming, "All right every one, SETTLE DOWN." If my little girl ends up on the pole when she's 18 it's not going to be because I let her wear pink frilly dresses and try on my lip gloss when she was 4. It's just not.

I am in no way suggesting the messages children receive when they are tiny don't shape who they become as adults. Of course they do. I absolutely do not want to raise a daughter who believes that her looks are more important than her brains or that she can't do anything boys can do and is destined to passively wait around for her prince to rescue her and make her life meaningful. I don't want to raise a daughter who believes her choices in all things are limited to whatever it is society deems to be inherently "female."

I want to raise a daughter who is not afraid to be all of herself at all times in whatever situation she finds herself in. I want her to grow up and become a woman who knows herself. Who knows who she is and is not afraid to be that person, whoever that person is. The thing is, in order for her to discover who this person is she needs to have the opportunity to explore lots of different options including activities that happen to include pink and sparkles.

Not limiting her opportunity to dig in the dirt and build things and study bugs is just as important as not limiting her opportunity to wear pink. She likes pink. Pink makes her happy. She feels fancy and important and beautiful when she wears pink and not because me and the Walt Disney company told her that's the only way to feel those things but because pink just has that effect on some people and there's nothing wrong with that.

The reason I know that there's nothing wrong with that is because those among us touted as the "best parents" are quick to point out how important it is to allow our boys to wear tutus and nail polish in public without judgment lest we damage their sense of self and freedom to express themselves. I'm not saying I disagree, in fact, I wholeheartedly agree with that. So, why is it any different if I allow my daughter to explore her own self directed interests in those things? Pink is not what we should be avoiding-limiting children's choices based on gender stereotypes is the bigger problem.

As Miss A has already discovered, she likes lots of things and can be lots of things depending on the day. Life is cool like that-it doesn't force you to be just one thing if you don't let it.



These were taken the day before the princess one above. My "Princess" was also pretty thrilled by getting to pretend she was riding super fast on a Star Wars ship.

To be clear, I'm not oblivious to the deeper issues within all this. The line can become crossed, I think, when pink and sparkly turns into hot and sexy. I get that and guard against that always. The other issue that I touched on is, I think, when a love of princesses gets mixed up with the damsel in distress story line that no one can argue is intertwined in most of the classic fairy tales. That's where this tricky thing called parenting comes into play. A savvy parent is able to give children the opportunity to explore, use everything as a teachable moment, and to know when there's no reason to throw the baby out with the bathwater, so to speak.

Here's what Brenda Chapman, one of the creators of the story behind Brave, Disney's newest princess movie, has to say about the issue in an article titled, The Plague of the Princess on her blog:

"I don’t think princesses are bad for little girls. I think the tired and unrealistic plot of waiting around for your true love to come and find you, sweep you up on his majestic white horse and save you is what’s bad for little girls. I think little girls need to be exposed to role models that teach them to be strong, independent, free-thinking and, well, brave."

The bottom line is this: Sleeping Beauty is not the most influential woman in my daughter's life, I am. I am her biggest role model and it is my job to ensure she has every opportunity to grow into the strongest, most well-rounded woman possible. She is going to learn more by watching what I do than she will by listening to what I say (or certainly what a silly animated feature has to say) because I will be there to guide her through all of those messages with my own actions. She is going to grow up watching me do my best to model what it is to be a well-educated, articulate, outspoken, and adventurous woman. I hope she will rarely see me taking crap from anyone, male or female, and I hope that she grows up watching how her father respects (if not always agrees with) my opinions and how he and I have equal power of decision making around here. (And by equal power I mean mostly I'm in charge).

For now, I am having so much fun watching my daughter's delight in the world. We happen to be in a very sparkly stage but I'm wise enough to know that this phase is going to pass as quickly as all the others...for now, I love that none of her problems are so big that they can't be solved by a little fairy dust and some tulle.






Have a sparkly day everyone,

xoxo
Jen

P.S. I'm linking up to Molly @ Still Being {Molly}'s blog for her YOLO Monday blog hop.  Go check her out!   Here's a button:
stillbeingmolly





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