Saturday, December 31, 2011

Christmas 2011

This year Jack was a little more aware of the holidays than last.  Considering he was still just a 9-month-old baby last year and not quite yet mobile he was definitely able to participate in things more this year as a 21-month-old toddler!

We had a whirlwind two weeks involving 4 Christmas celebrations and 2 more holiday gatherings. 

Although Jack did seem to be more aware of the holidays than he was last year he still didn't quite understand the concept of presents.  He did like getting new things to play with, but he was quite happy with the first thing he laid eyes on and didn't really partake in unwrapping anything. It was a lot of fun shopping for him this year though since he has developed his own interests.

Christmas at Grandma A.J.'s house the week before Christmas

Christmas with Mark's dad and step-mom the next day

Hanukkah at my parents' house

Where Let's Rock Elmo made his appearance.  As you can see, Jack was really excited!

It's like the REAL Elmo was there!

Presents under our tree on Christmas Eve! 

Christmas Morning at our house:

Checking out his new firetruck that Santa brought

Still playing with the firetruck, totally uninterested in looking at anything else.

With some prompting he started to dig into his stocking.

Annual bow-on-the-head picture

Last year's:

I die at the cuteness.  Look at how little he was!

Hoarding vehicles in the beanbag chair

Playing Mega Blocks with DaDa

Sneaking treats from the table at Great Grandma's house on Christmas Evening

Enjoying his spoils

Open it DaDa!  He wanted EVERYTHING opened and taken out of the box right away!

We were busy and although we also had a lot of fun, I'm certainly looking forward to getting back to our daily routine.

We'll have a nice low-key, relaxing evening tonight as we're planning to stay in to ring in the new year by ourselves after all the excitement of the holidays!

2011 has been another great year for us and I can't wait to see what 2012 holds! Happy New Year, everyone!

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Tidy Home Tuesday: New Year's Edition

It's been about a year since I completed my Tidy Home Project and checked in (am I the only one who can't believe it's going to be 2012 in less than a week?!  Crazy!)  so I thought it was about time to update my cleaning schedule to better reflect my needs and check in here to talk about how the housekeeping has been going for me.

Here is my updated Cleaning Schedule for 2012:

Click to enlarge

You can find a blank template to make your own {HERE}.

It's very similar to my old one.  I switched a few things around to accommodate diaper laundry three days a week rather than two, which I stared doing back in June.  I also added one additional task: De-cluttering trouble spots. 

This refers to places like the kitchen table and top of the bookshelf in the family room (the final frontier of toddler-free space) which seem to attract all manner of clutter like moths to a flame!  I swear... I feel like every time I turn around the clutter multiplies!  Anyway, I'm planning to make sure the 'trouble spots' are clear every Monday because a lot of the accumulation seems to happen over the weekend and if I make it a point to tackle it at least once a week then there's no option for the clutter to get out of control!

And of course, these chores are in addition to the "everyday" (and in some cases multiple times a day) tasks like doing dishes/emptying the dishwasher, wiping down counters, making the bed, and of course there's spot cleaning that happens regardless of what day it is, like when the toddler feels like the floor is more in need of decor than his tummy is food. 

I've found that the tasks I have listed, the way I have them grouped together, and the number of times I have them listed work really well for me!  When I follow my plan it allows me to do a little bit each day to keep up with things rather than waiting until it's obvious something needs doing right now and then feeling overwhelmed and rushed, which was the whole point of the chart in the first place so it's definitely working out well!

Overall I feel like I've been doing a good job with keeping up with the cleaning.  'Good' is not 'perfect', but then again, I'm never going to be perfect so I'm pretty happy with the way things have been going.  Back when I switched to doing diaper laundry 3 days a week I really should have updated my chart at that time because I didn't stick to the schedule and therefore didn't have that added help to keep me on track.  Despite this, I still feel that I've done a pretty good job of keeping up with things and I pretty much started doing things the way my updated schedule reflects.

The laundry is done on time and often put away (this is something I could work on, I get it washed and folded right away, but then it sometimes sits around in the basket.  I don't know why, considering the hardest parts are done, but putting away is no fun!).  Diaper laundry has never been an issue because it's not really an optional kind of thing. 

I've been vacuuming every Tuesday and Friday nearly every week, I could dust more often, but it's been getting done at least bi-weekly or when I really fail, once a month when the dust starts becoming a big eyesore (oops!). 

The bed is made nearly everyday.  Weekends (and the past week when we were all kind of on Christmas vacation) are a little harder, but the bed is made nearly every weekday.  It's rare when it's not. 

I definitely think I've been doing a good job keeping up with the dishes. Mark takes care of doing the dishes after I make dinner, which he's always done and is a HUGE help! But I deal with dishes all day long and I also have to empty the dishwasher nearly every single day (sometimes twice :-/)! Considering this is my least favorite chore (probably because it's never ending!) I feel good about my efforts to stay on top of it. Not to mention, this is definitely something that if you don't keep up with it you pay the price because then you end up with a full dishwasher, dishes sitting in the sink waiting to be washed, and dishes that you've just used for a meal with nowhere to go. Then you're stuck playing catch up for days!

I've been doing okay, but not great with sweeping the kitchen floor (it's so hard to keep up with!  Besides, when I sweep it it gets messy again next time I cook or feed the toddler so :shrug: ) and I could definitely do better with mopping and washing the rugs.  Definitely room for improvement there. 

Menu planning gets done every week and lately I've been making a real effort to get it done on Saturday rather than leaving it til Sunday morning, and grocery shopping gets done every Sunday.

Our next cleaning/organizing project: turning the office into a playroom for Jack!

Monday, December 26, 2011

The BEST Cinnamon Rolls and Other Holiday Baking

One of the best parts of the holidays is enjoying lots of treats guilt-free!  It's all part of the festivities, right?!  As a result, I have a few new tried and true recipes to share :)

I have to just go ahead and say, a photographer, I am not.  I can't take good pictures even when I try, but I didn't even try with these.  I just snapped quick pics in the midst of the baking frenzy so just imagine how good they actually look in real life because, trust me, all of these treats not only look better in-person, but they taste phenomenal!

Winner, winner chicken dinner!  I would have to say these are the best cookies I've had recently (although, there are several close runner ups ;) ); substantial, chewy, and the oatmeal-peanut butter-chocolate combo is beyond yummy!  And an added bonus, using red and green M&Ms make them festive for Christmas, but using any other color can make them festive any time of year!  You MUST try these!  

A great snowball cookie!  Some recipes completely pulverize the nuts, but I liked that this recipe calls for bigger pieces of pecans.  This cookie is nice and buttery!


I made these for Hanukkah as we celebrate both Hanukkah and Christmas in my family.  These turned out wonderfully!  If you've never had Rugelach it's kind of more of a pastry than a cookie, I'd say.  It has a nice buttery, flaky dough which can be filled with any number of things: fruit, chocolate, nuts, or even poppy seed paste!  I like to make mine with apricot preserves and walnuts or pecans.  I follow this recipe for the dough, but when it's time for the filling I just spread on some apricot preserves and finely chopped nuts.

Not pictured, but definitely worthy enough to note: Chocolate Pecan Bourbon Pie

And now, onto THE cinnamon rolls! 

Cinnamon Roll-y Goodness

I adapted these cinnamon rolls from the famous Clone of a Cinnabon recipe found on  It's one of the most highly rated recipes on their site and has 5 stars out of a possible 5 based on more than 4500 reviews!  That HAS to be a great recipe, right?  Right!  This is my second time making these and they are gooOOOD!  I adapted the recipe to make  the dough without the bread machine the original instructions call for and I made my own frosting this time, which I prefer to that provided as part of the recipe.  I like to bake off half and freeze the other 6 rolls to make later.  My adapted recipe is below.

The BEST Cinnamon Rolls 

Yield: 12 rolls


1 cup warm milk (approximately 100 degrees F)
2 1/2 teaspoons active dry yeast
4 - 4 1/2 cups bread flour
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup white sugar, divided
2 eggs, room temperature
1/3 cup unsalted butter, melted


1 cup brown sugar, packed
2 1/2 tablespoons ground cinnamon
1/3 cup butter, softened


4-ounces (1/2 block) cream cheese
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, softened
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1 1/2 cup confectioner's sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/2 tablespoon milk


Add yeast and 1 teaspoon sugar to warm milk.  Stir and set aside to allow yeast to bloom (this will take approximately 5 minutes).

Meanwhile, to the bowl of a mixer (or just a large bowl if you're making the dough completely by hand) add 4 cups of flour, salt, a scant 1/2 cup of white sugar, eggs, and butter.  Once the yeast has activated, add the milk/yeast/sugar mixture to the mixer bowl.  On low-to-medium speed allow ingredients to combine (add additional flour, a few tablespoons at a time, up to an additional 1/2 cup as needed) and then continue allowing dough to knead for about 8 minutes.

Once dough is finished kneading, remove bowl from mixer, cover with a towel, and set aside to rise.  Tip: I like to allow my doughs to rise in the oven with the light on.  It provides just enough warmth to help aid the rising process.  Allow dough to rise until doubled in size (1- 1 1/2 hours).  Tip: check the dough to see if it has risen enough by pressing 2 of your fingers 1/2-inch into the center.  If the indentations remain after you remove your fingers the dough has doubled in size and is ready for the next step.  If they disappear, the dough needs more time to rise.

Once the dough has doubled in size, turn dough out on lightly floured surface and cover with a towel.  Allow dough to rest 10 minutes.  Meanwhile, combine brown sugar and cinnamon for filling.

Roll dough into a 16 x 21-inch rectangle.  Spread dough with melted butter (I like to use my hands for this) then sprinkle with cinnamon-sugar mixture leaving a 1-inch strip on one of the long sides bare.

Roll the dough tightly going towards the side with the uncovered 1-inch strip.

Once rolled, gently squeeze the log to make it even.  Pinch seam closed (this is why you leave the 1-inch strip uncovered, so it seals well!).

If you have ends that are uneven or aren't well formed cut a bit of the extra dough off so that the log is even. Gently cut log into 12 cinnamon rolls using a serrated knife or unflavored dental floss. 

Place rolls into lightly greased baking pan (I use 2 8-inch rounds since I only bake off 6 rolls at a time, you can also bake all 12 in a 9 x 13-inch pan).

At this point you can do a few different things:

     -If baking immediately: cover and let rise until nearly doubled (approximately 30 minutes).
     -If baking the next day: cover with plastic wrap and place in the fridge.  When you are ready to bake, remove from the fridge 30 minutes - 1 hour before baking to take the chill off.  Then, bake as usual!
     -If freezing for future use: cover well with foil or combo of foil and plastic wrap and place in freezer.  When you are ready to bake take them out the night before and let them sit on the counter to defrost and rise.  Then bake as usual!

To bake:  Bake at 350-degrees for 20-25 minutes, until golden brown.  Tip:  to check doneness of yeast bread tap the top.  If it sounds hollow the bread is done!  Cover with foil if the rolls seem to be getting too brown, too quickly. 

For frosting:  combine all ingredients and mix until smooth.  Frosting can be made while rolls are baking, or it can be made ahead of time and refrigerated or frozen until ready to use.

Menu Plan Monday - Week of December 25th

Sunday:  Christmas!  Homemade cinnamon rolls for breakfast and we'll be at a family gathering for dinner

Monday:  Beef and Noodles (made with leftover beef from French Dip Sandwiches) with Carrots

Tuesday:  Cheddar Ale Soup in Soft Pretzel Bowls with Roasted Broccoli - carried over from last week

Wednesday:  Beer and Brown Sugar Kielbasa  (CrockPot) with German Potato Salad

Thursday:  Chipotle Bean Burritos with Baked Sweet Potato Fries

Friday:  Chicken Bacon Ranch Pizza with Salad

Saturday:  New Year's Eve!  Not sure what our plans are yet.

I'm linked at Menu Plan Monday hosted by OrgJunkie

Friday, December 23, 2011

Santa Experience 2011

We headed to one of the local malls this morning in an attempt to take Jack to see Santa.  Mark and I weren't too sure if we wanted to attempt this, but when we asked Jack if he wanted to go he kept saying "Santa", nodding yes, and pointing.  I think he was more excited about the prospect of 'going' than anything else as, unlike his momma, this kid loves to go and do and be out of the house!  With our hearts melting from his affirmative response we made the trek to the mall. 

On the drive over, Mark predicted that there would be a long line, he likes to anticipate the worst and be surprised if the situation ends up being better than expected.  I reminded him that we visited Santa last year under the same conditions (late morning, during the day, the week leading up to Christmas) and there was NO wait.  Granted, it probably wasn't actually Christmas Eve Eve or the Friday before Christmas, but I had high hopes. 

We had little trouble finding a parking spot in one of the garages, which we thought was a good sign, only to enter the mall greeted by a mile long line of kids waiting to see Santa.  Apparently, 98.2% of all people at the mall at that time were expressly there to visit with Santa just as we were :-/

Although Mark would have been happy turning right back around and heading home we ultimately decided we'd just take a spot in line and see what happened.  Mark immediately left us to scout out the line situation and came back with bad news, it was LOOOONG!  According to one of Santa's elves we could expect an hour to an hour and a half wait time.

About 10 minutes into waiting Jack decided he was bored so Mark held our place while I took him for a lap around the mall in his stroller.  We returned to line, waited a few more minutes, and then did another lap.  When we returned Jack was no longer amused with the line situation.  Mark took a turn walking him around while I held our place and once they returned from their walk Jack went from silently disapproving of the situation to full on meltdown in about 3 seconds.  Even worse, we had only moved about 10 feet up in the never-ending line in the 30-40 minutes we had been doing this dance.

Faced with a Toddler Emergency of this magnitude we did the only thing we could and removed him from his stroller (I know, he was never getting back in that thing, but he was screaming, there was no other option).  I walked him up near the area where Santa was and Jack kept crying and pointing towards Santa.  When I asked him if he wanted to see Santa he nodded yes through his tears *heart breaks*  I explained to him that we had to wait in line if he wanted to see Santa (as if he had any clue what I was saying) and in the meantime, the parent whose kid was next in line to sit on Santa's lap casually mentioned to me that they had waited more than 2 hours to get to that point in the line. 

At this point we decided to throw in the towel and snapped a cell phone pic for photographic evidence of our 2011 Santa Experience.  Good thing too because no less than 2 minutes later Jack started signing that he was hungry and I had committed Mommy Sin #1 by only having about 8 Cheddar Bunnies in my bag and a sippy cup of water.  I was definitely counting on there being no wait to see Santa. 

So, we went to lunch instead, which was a much more fun experience than standing in line for 2 hours to see Santa.  I was excited to see how Jack reacted to Santa considering how excited he seemed about the whole thing, but chances are, with the age he is, he probably wouldn't have wanted any part of Santa's lap if we actually made it to that point. 

Lesson learned.  Next year we will have to be sure to attempt a Santa visit a little earlier!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Merry Christmas Eve Eve Eve!

Nope, no echo in here.  It's 3 days 'til Christmas and no, I'm not finished with Christmas shopping/preparations.  I'm thinking I'll work on some things today and make one last shopping run tomorrow.  Maybe throw in a little grocery shopping to tide us over to the Monday after Christmas when I can do our food shopping for that week.

By the way, this week has flown by!  As I mentioned in my last post we've been crazy busy!  Thankfully yesterday was much more relaxed and today should be too.  Tomorrow will probably more craziness since I'm going to be finishing up Christmas shopping, but thankfully I don't have much to get. 

In the meantime, some cuteness:

Notice the toddler fingers in the tree.  He's like, "maybe if I smile my parents won't notice that I'm touching this".

Actually, the tree situation has been better than expected.  That's not to say we don't have to remind him multiple times a day not to play with it/pull ornaments off/move it around, etc., sometimes, it seems, he just can't help himself.  But for the most part, he's been pretty good about it.

We decorated one night after he had gone to bed and the next morning when he woke up he seemed pretty excited about all the new decorations.  He kept pointing to everything and babbling about it.  I am, however, glad that we didn't get the stuff up earlier.  We won't have as much time to enjoy the decorations, but we also won't have to worry about Jack messing with stuff for more than a week or two. A good strategy for this year, I think.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Weekend Recap: Pre-Christmas Christmas Edition

The holidays are fast approaching!  How do I know?  Because we are B-U-S-Y: BUSY!

Thankfully, Mark usually takes some time off around the holidays to burn through vacation.  Unfortunately, he usually plans for the week leading up to Christmas and the last two years has found us with family Christmas celebrations before that point.  Early last week Mark decided to take an extra day off and scheduled Friday off in addition to this whole week.  THANK.GOODNESS. he did that! 

Friday arrived with hardly any Christmas preparations on my part (we didn't even get our tree up until Thursday night!), which was totally fine since our first Christmas celebration wasn't until the NEXT DAY!  Oy. 

I left the house around Noon to hit the stores hard and finally made it back home around 4.30pm or so.  My 4+ hour shopping spree involved: Target (where I didn't get everything I needed), Trader Joe's (which was PACKED, I tell you!  Doesn't anyone work during the day anymore?!  Sheesh.), Bed Bath & Beyond, JoAnn Fabrics, Wal-mart (which sadly oddly was the least crowded store, this at a place which is usually a nightmare), the gas station, and then I was planning to hit another Target, but then realized it was 4.30pm on a Friday and getting on the freeway would be a suicide mission.  I was exhausted anyway so I opted to head home instead. 

Mark picked us up a pizza for dinner because, did I mention already?, I was e.x.h.a.u.s.t.e.d. from the shopping nightmare I was just forced to endure!  I don't really enjoy shopping in-person.  Once we got Jack down to bed I addressed Christmas cards and then it was bedtime. 

Saturday, I spent the day working on Christmas gift projects.  Of course that took longer than expected (it ALWAYS does) and Mark took care of wrapping gifts while I got ready to go.  We had fun at our Christmas celebration at Mother-in-law's house and then as we were leaving I realized that I never did see the gift that I had spent all afternoon working on... "Mark, you DID put the towels in the gift bags, right?" ... "RIGHT?!"... "Uh... no."  Yep, totally left them sitting in our kitchen.  Did I mention we already had to leave 1/3 of the gifts out as the UPS man Santa was a little late with his delivery.  Maybe his sled broke down?  Christmas gift FAIL. 

Do other adults have it more together than us?  Certainly they must or everyone would just give up on exchanging gifts at Christmas for fear of losing their mind in the process!  So, some people will be getting 3 nights of gifts from us!  Christmaukkah?  Best of both worlds! 

Saturday night I meal planned, chose recipes for the holiday baking I was planning, then I stuffed the diapers that I had managed to wash earlier in the day and then it was bedtime, again.

Sunday:  Wrote out my grocery list.  Went grocery shopping.  Came home and baked a pie and cookies and got ready to leave again (all at the same time), put myself and still-warm baked goods in the car to head up to Brother-in-law's house for Family Christmas Celebration 2.0.  We were only 25 minutes late, which is pretty good for us me.  Christmas was celebrated, more gifts exchanged, 2 of 3 parts of Sister-in-law's gift was given, and then we headed home.  I put in a load of laundry and straightened up the family room while Mark cleaned the kitchen.  We enjoyed pie and then it was time for bed again. 

Monday:  I was determined to have a more relaxing day!  I had back-to-back conference calls scheduled at 10 and 10.30am, but was hoping to be "done" for the day by shortly after 11am.  I called in for my 10am call only to end up having to reschedule for later in the afternoon.  Fail.  I completed my 10.30 call without any problems.  I then went to sort through the mail and was greeted with an extra special Christmas miracle: a bill from my primary care provider from 3 years ago.  Whiskey.  Tango.  Foxtrot.  I put in a call to them and am still trying not to lose my mind while waiting for their office manager to call me back.  AWESOME.  Can't wait to deal with that! 

Fed Jack lunch, ate something for the first time today myself, then we reworked our budget for the coming new year, paid off our last credit card (YAY!), put Jack down for his nap, and it was time for my rescheduled conference call.  Completed the call, Mark went for a haircut while I baked off some more cookies and did another load of laundry.  Shortly thereafter Jack woke up from his nap, I made dinner, we ate, I mixed up another batch of dough and set it aside to chill, Mark cleaned up again.  I have another load of diapers ready to stuff as well as those two loads of laundry that I washed waiting to be folded.  And I still need to bake off those cookies! 

Tomorrow we have a cookie exchange playdate to attend (YUM!), Mark's going to lunch with friends, and then I have a doctors appointment scheduled.  While I'm out I'm planning to go to (hopefully!) 1 last store (another Target) to finish up my Christmas shopping, I have more cookies to make and bake and then a holiday gathering at my parents' house. 

Wednesday, I have hearings at 10.30 and 12.30am, Mark has an appointment, and then we are DONE!  D-U-N: DONE!  At least for a few days and hopefully by the time all the celebrations and craziness picks up again we will have at least caught our breath! 

Menu Plan Monday - Week of December 18th


Sunday:  Family holiday gathering, I'm bringing dessert: Chocolate Pecan Bourbon Pie and Christmas Monster Cookies

Monday:  Shepherd's Pie with - carried over from last week

Tuesday:  We have a cookie exchange playdate to attend!  I'm bringing Pecan Snowballs.  Dinner at my parents house for a holiday celebration.  I'm bringing Rugelach.

Wednesday:  French Dip Sandwiches (CrockPot) with Kale Chips and Roasted Brussels Sprouts

Thursday:  Cheddar Ale Soup in Soft Pretzel Bowls with Roasted Broccoli

Friday:  Buffalo Chicken Pizza - carried over from last week

Saturday:  Christmas Eve!  Not really sure what we're doing yet... maybe leftover, or out, or maybe we'll do some appetizer type stuff.

I'm linked at Menu Plan Monday hosted by

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Menu Plan Tuesday - Week of December 11th


Sunday:  Out

Monday:  Homemade Tomato Soup (from the freezer!) with Grilled Cheese

Tuesday:  Turkey Lasagna with Sage and Three Cheeses with Roasted Brussels Sprouts - carried over from last week

Wednesay:  CrockPot Taco Soup

Thursday:  Shepherd's Pie with Roasted Butternut Squash Salad with Warm Cider Vinaigrette

Friday:  Buffalo Chicken Pizza

Saturday:  Christmas at MIL's house

I'm linked at Menu Plan Monday hosted by

Monday, December 5, 2011

Menu Plan Monday - Week of December 4th

This edition of Menu Plan Monday is brought to your by Tom Turkey!  Alternatively entitled 'Week O Turkey!'.   I made a nice big turkey on Saturday and now we have LOTS of leftover turkey meat to enjoy throughout the week.  I also made turkey stock from the bones and scraps and I'm really looking forward to utilizing my $0.59/lb turkey for frugal meals. 

Not only am I using a lot of the meat for meals this week, I'm going to splitting these meals into two and putting half in the freezer so they're ready to go for easy weeknight meals on those nights where I just don't feel like cooking.  It happens :)  I'm sure that even after eating turkey all week in various ways, I'm still going to have leftover turkey to freeze on it's own for future uses as well as leftover stock.  Good thing Mark actually really likes turkey.  I'm really enjoying how much use I'm going to get out of this bird!  Well worth the $12 I spent on Mr. Turkey.

Sunday:  Leftovers from our Turkey Dinner!

Monday:  Leftover Turkey and Swiss Panini with Baked Sweet Potato Fries

Tuesday:  Chicken Turkey Pot Pie with Salad

Wednesday:  Having friends over for a game night - we'll have snacks, the boys will have leftovers.

Thursday:  Turkey Cranchiladas with Fajita Sweet Potatoes

Friday:  Turkey and Brown Rice Casserole with Roasted Broccoli

Saturday:  Turkey Lasagna with Sage and Three Cheeses with Roasted Brussels Sprouts

I'm linked at Menu Plan Monday hosted by