Thursday, October 31, 2013

Homemade Halloween

All Dressed Up!
This year, we went all out making our Halloween fun, and homemade. We started out the day, by making Liam's favorite pumpkin muffins. He loves helping in kitchen, and he loves it when we take the time to make something special on a school day. After eating our yummy breakfast, we headed out to his preschool Halloween party, where he got to wear is costume all day! When the work day was finally over, we all headed home to get into our costumes, and head to the Great Grandparent's house to visit.

Homemade Juice Box Costume

Liam decided that he would be "black Iron Man", also known as War Machine. I ended up in an old man costume- an old sweater of Joe's, a golfing hat, and glasses that came equipped with a big nose and a mustache (all found in Liam's dress up stockpile). Nolan was, thanks to his brother's awesome suggestion, a juice box. I spent the past few days trying to make his costume just right. I wasn't 100% happy with the finished product, but I will always love it, as I made it, and it was his first Halloween costume.

Hot Dog Mummies!
When we returned from our visit, we had a yummy, festive dinner of hot dog mummies! Liam LOVED them!! They were the perfect Halloween dinner, in that it was super quick, easy, required only two ingredients, and a kid favorite. Liam's favorite part was adding the "blood" (ketchup), and biting off the appendages.

After eating, we were finally ready for Trick or Treating! This was the first year Liam really seemed to be into it. He was leading the pack yelling, "Come on guys!" the whole way. We got a ton of wonderful comments/compliments on Nolan's costume, which made Liam quite proud. But it didn't take long for my little man's legs to get tired, and we headed home to answer the door for other Trick or Treaters. Joe was super excited that he was actually able to use his strobe light and fog machine. We had a wonderful day!

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Pumpkin Pie Crepes with Cinnamon Cream Cheese Filling

Every year, our family tries to find more yummy recipes that include pumpkin as a main ingredient. We all love it, and it brings Fall into our home. This year, I was determined to add to our Fall breakfast menu, and was on a hunt for something that the whole family would enjoy. Boy, did I find it! This recipe is quick, easy, and made (mostly) from things you will have in your pantry on a daily basis. Here it is!

Pumpkin Crepes:

1 Cup Pumpkin
1 Cup Flour
1 Cup Milk
1/2 Cup Warm Water
4 eggs
4 Tbs. Melted Butter
1 tsp Vanilla
1/2 tsp Ginger
1/2 tsp Nutmeg
1 tsp Cinnamon
1/3 Cup Sugar
1/4 tsp Salt

Use a whisk, and mix all the ingredients together, until smooth. Let sit in the fridge for at least 30 minutes. Then cook in hot pan just as you cook pancakes. Crepes are ready to flip when the edges set, and lighten in color. To get the best flipping results, spray both the pan and the spatula EACH time you make a new crepe.

6 oz Cream Cheese
1/4 Cup Powdered Sugar
1 tsp Vanilla
A sprinkle of Cinnamon
A squirt or two of canned Whipped Cream

Whip cream cheese, powdered sugar, vanilla, and cinnamon until well mixed and creamy. Add whipped cream until the filling fluffs up a bit. *When I made the filling, it didn't look like there was enough, but I ended up with way more filling than we would eat. We put a very small amount on each crepe, so if you like yours packed, this should be a good amount. If making ahead, store in the fridge until ready to assemble.

Once the crepes and the filling are done, lay the crepe flat, add as much filling as you like, then roll up like a burrito. I added a sprinkle of powdered sugar, and a squirt of whipped cream to the top of the finished product. They are even delicious as left-overs, straight out of the refrigerator!

These are a new Fall Family Favorite!

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Tips for Packing and Moving with a Toddler and/or Infant

The past few months have been a stressful struggle for our little family. In July we decided to put our beloved first home on the market. We knew that it would be difficult, but it was the right decision for our family and our future. My biggest concern about the move, was keeping life as stable and normal for our three year old and our 8 month old. By the time it was time to start packing up the house, we had devised some plans to help make the transition a bit smoother for the both of them. Some of them worked out, some didn't.

Liam and His First Home
I want to share our experiences with other parents, because moving is a huge change for adults, but it is life-altering for little ones, and if we can help others make it easier for their kiddos, at least our struggles were not for nothing. Here is a list of things that helped our boys with the transition, as well as some information about the things that did not work out so well. I have also come up with some "next time" tips that we are hoping to implement when we move from our rental into our forever home.

What Worked for Packing/Preparing for the Move:

*Talk About the Move as Far in Advance as Possible: As soon as we had an offer on our home, we started talking to both boys (even the 8 month old) about the move. We were careful that every comment about the move be a positive one, even when we were not talking to the kids. If we were stressed out about it, we had that talk when the boys were in bed.

*Pack up Kids Stuff in Waves: We started packing about a month before the move, but we packed in waves, meaning the first time we packed up kids supplies, it was just the things that we didn't think they would miss or use. The next wave, we packed a few more toys, but still made sure to leave out their favorites. We packed clothes and blankets, but once again, not the ones they used the most. The third, and final wave, was done just a couple of days before the move, but we made sure to leave one box with the favorites of the favorites, open in the living room. That way they were "packed" and easy to grab when it was time to go, but the boys still felt like they could access them.

*Store Packed Boxes Out of Sight: Out of sight out of mind. If there are boxes all over the house, it will be a constant reminder that their life is changing. We kept all of our packed boxes in the garage, so that the boys wouldn't see them constantly, and they wouldn't get into them over and over again.

Helping Mommy and Daddy Pack
*Involve the Kids in the Packing: We gave Liam a box to pack every time we packed. He had so much fun choosing what to put into the box. He packed and re-packed the same box several times. It made him feel like he had some control over the packing process, and he felt as though he was helping mommy and daddy. I think that this was one of the best things we tried!

*Try to Help Them Understand: As the move got closer, our discussions about it got more serious. We made sure to keep it positive, but we were also very factual about what would happen when we moved, so that there were no surprises when the time came.

*Include Them in the House-Hunting Process: Every time we went to look at a possible rental property, we took the boys along. We asked Liam's opinion on each of the houses, let him roam the homes on his own, and talked with him afterwards about what he would like about living there and what he wouldn't.

*Reading on the Subject: We made many trips to the library to find books about moving. Liam loved ready the special moving books before bed and in the mornings. It was also a great way to start conversations about what moving would be like.

What Didn't:

*Taking Pictures of Liam's Old Room: We knew that leaving his beautiful, special dinosaur bedroom would be the hardest for all of us. We thought that taking pictures of the room and giving them to Liam may help him to remember his old room, however, so far looking at them just makes him sad. He doesn't seem to have a difficult time with the move, except when he looks at these pictures. So although, every kiddo is different, this would not be suggestion I would give.

*Bringing up the Move All the Time: We tried very hard to prepare the boys for the move by being honest and discussing it a great deal before moving day, however, there were times where it felt like that made it worse. My suggestion for this would be, talk about it often, but if your son/daughter is having a particularly sensitive day, don't bring it up. If they do, great, talk away, but don't push the subject on them.

Moving Day Tips:

*Farm Out the Kiddos: Although you definitely want the kids to be there for part of the moving process, it is stressful, and it may be better that they are not there when you are anxious. We were lucky enough to have great friends who took Liam to a birthday party for most of moving day. We still made absolutely sure that he was there for some of it, so that he wouldn't leave, then come home to a brand new, very strange situation. But it was wonderful to be able to move without the added distraction of a toddler, and I'm positive it was good for him to not see mommy and daddy stress about the move.

Saying Goodbye to His Room
*Make Sure that They are a Part of the Move: This goes along with the last tip. We had Liam help us load the truck until he was on his way to the party, and when he returned he helped once again. This made the transition a fluid one, not an abrupt change from the familiar.

*Say Goodbye to the Old House: The day after we moved most of our stuff, we went back to our old house, just the four of us, and took some time to wander the house, talk about our memories, and say goodbye. I think that this was key in helping Liam with the transition.

*Have Snacks at the Ready: Make sure that you know where some choice snacks are located at all times!

What Didn't:

*Expecting it to go Smoothly: Moving never goes as planned. We were extremely organized before the day of, but once we got going all crap hit the fan, and we all went into survival mode, including the kids. There were temper tantrums and meltdowns.

*Moving During Other Transitions: We made this mistake....big time! I'm a teacher, so I went back to work after months at home with my boys, just weeks before the big move. We also decided to put Liam into preschool the same month. I know that at this point, Liam has adjusted to being a big brother, but that's still pretty new too. This was the biggest mistake we could have made. Liam focused a lot of his transitional frustration on preschool, which resulted in almost a month pf daily tears, but once we moved and were settled in our new home, it was like a light was flipped. Every day has been fantastic since! Do your best not to make this mistake, cause it's a doozy!

Tips for Next Time:

*Bedroom Set Up: This is one we fully planned to do, but it got lost in the chaos of the day. Pack up the kiddos rooms last, preferably the day of when they are off doing something fun. Then make it first priority in the new house. Our goal was to have Liam's room completely unpacked and set up before he returned from the birthday party. Most of the big things were in place, but we lost some boxes in the shuffle, so next time, we'll be far more conscience of where things are going.

*Family Camp-Out: For the first night in our new home, we plan to have a camp-out in the living room. We'll make it as fun as possible to help make the new house feel like home as quickly as possible. As many ways as you can find to make it a positive experience for the kids, the easier the transition will be.

*Plan a Busy Weekend Outside of the Home: Plan for the kids to do fun things outside of the home for most of the first weekend. That way the house is set up and "normal" as quickly as possible, and you won't feel quite as stressed about unpacking. Once again, the less stress the kiddos see about the move, the better!

Our Last Family Photo in Our 1st Home
I hope that these tips help you in your moving, packing, and unpacking situations!

Chocolate Chip Pumpkin Muffins

Fall is my favorite time of year. I love sweaters, pumpkin patch trips, brisk walks, football, comfort food, decorating, and the family memories that come with the season. But one of the biggest reasons for this is that, I love the taste of pumpkins! All year, I stockpile recipes that have pumpkin as a main ingredient in preparation for the season. Chocolate Chip Pumpkin Muffins is one of my family's absolute favorites. Here is the super simple recipe:

1 cup chocolate chips
2 eggs
1 cup pumpkin
1 1/4 cups sugar
3/4 tsp cinnamon
3/4 tsp cloves
1/2 tsp salt
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1 3/4 cups flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda

1. Combine eggs, pumpkin, sugar, spices, salt, and oil. Beat well with a whisk.
2. Stir in chocolate chips, and set aside.
3. Combine remaining ingredients in a large bowl, making a well in the center.
4. Pour in pumpkin mixture.
5. Spoon into a greased muffin pan, 2/3 of the way full.
6. Bake at 400 degrees for 25 minutes.

These are so yummy, that I make them several times throughout the season. Enjoy!

Banana Cream Pie Cupcakes

My husband is not a huge cake-fan, but he LOVES banana cream pie. When planning a big surprise birthday party, I thought it would be much easier to supply everyone with cupcakes rather than make enough pies for everyone, so I created a recipe that I thought would be easy for guests, and still satisfy my hubby's picky sweet tooth. Here is my quick, easy recipe for banana cream cupcakes:
Cupcake with Banana Filling

1 box of vanilla cake mix (and the ingredients listed on mix)
2 tsp of banana extract
1 box of instant banana pudding mix (and the ingredients listed to make)
whipped topping
graham crackers

Ingredients for the Topping
How to Make Them:
1. Make the cupcake batter per the directions on the box.
2. Add the banana extract to the batter before baking.
3. Bake per the instructions on the box.
4. While the cupcakes are baking, make the pudding.
5. When the cupcakes are completely cooled, fill them with pudding using a icing bag.
6. Frost the cupcakes with a small squirt of whipped topping, sprinkle with graham cracker dust, and top with a banana slice.
7. Refrigerate right away, and keep refrigerated until ready to eat.

*The whipped topping melted a bit, and the banana slices turned a little brown, but there are ways to prevent this, and I will try a couple of them next time.
The Finished Product!
These cupcakes were a hit with all the party guests, but my toughest critic, loved them most of all!

Beer-Tasting Birthday Bash

Snack Buffet
Surprising my husband is never easy. I have only been successful once before, years ago. Surprising him is even more complicated when a big birthday milestone, like 30, is looming. I knew that to have a big celebration, it would have to be unknown to him, as he isn't someone who likes the limelight, and doesn't like to spend a lot of money on things like this.

Knowing that shocking him was my only option, I worked very hard and utilized every sneaky skill I have. The complication of the situation was multiplied by the fact that we moved two weeks ago, and our house is just getting organized. Luckily for me, our friends and family are wonderful accomplices, who are also very good at keeping big secrets, because the plan went off without a hitch!

Easy Beer-Themed Decoration
The theme of the party was Beer Tasting, which I knew my hubby would love, as he loves to try new brews. I asked that each guest bring a favorite beer, which helped us to have WAY more than enough to go around, several options for everyone to try, and cut the cost a bit for me. It was a hit! Everyone enjoyed the evening, loved the tasting aspect, and it was super laid-back (just like Joe). I added to the theme, by having quite a few pub-like snacks: pretzels, peanuts, beef jerky, chicken wings, and little smokies.

Joe is not a huge cake fan, he usually requests banana cream pie, so when we tasted a cupcake version at one of the many summer festivals we attended. I kept the contact information for several months with every intention of ordering several dozen for the party. I wrench was thrown into that plan, when I contacted the baker a week before the party, and she informed me that her business had moved several hundred miles away, and she would be unable to supply the treats.

Banana Cream Pie Cupcakes
I scoured  my cookbooks, Pinterest, and several other recipe websites, hoping to find something that would have a similar affect. After days of looking, I bagged the idea of using someone else's recipe, and created my own version. I have to say, they turned out pretty tasty, and looked pretty awesome (until the whipped cream started to weep). My picky, cake-hater, loved them! Unfortunately for me, over-estimated the appetites of our guests, and make about 30 too many. At least they were mini-cupcakes, so really that isn't too bad. Joe isn't complaining though! Both he and Liam, have already had a few for breakfast. If you would like the recipe, check out Banana Cream Pie Cupcakes.

It turned out to be one of the best parties I have planned, and Joe was not only completely surprised, but we are so happy and thankful to have such wonderful people to share such a big milestone with.
The Big Surprise!