Thursday, September 29, 2011

What I'm Reading Now

Reading is one of my favorite ways to spend my free time. These days, I do most of my reading in the evening before bed. Actually, I find it hard to fall asleep without reading first. No matter how tired I am, even if I can only get one page read, it's a bedtime must.

I thought I'd start a new, recurring segment to highlight what I'm currently reading. I used to read only one book at a time, but now I generally have at least two going at once. Right now, I have quite a few that I'm making my way through.

I heard these ladies speak at my church's women's retreat earlier this month. This book tells the story of their journey through loss and how God used it to draw them closer to Him and to give them their ministry. The story is told from both their perspectives, which I always enjoy. Plus, they have integrated verses into their story. It's a very powerful testimony.

My friend Joanna loaned this to me after Lillian was born. It's a perfect book for busy moms because each chapter is a story/essay in itself. It makes it easy to pick up whenever you have a chance without having to remember what was going on in the storyline. The author has studied Zen and practiced meditation for many years so each chapter is tied to a Zen teaching. Her stories show the reality of motherhood-the good, the bad, and the ugly. She helps you feel okay with your mistakes and gives you a new perspective on motherhood. She is insightful and encouraging. These stories always make me uplifted, no matter the day I've had.

I enjoy reading magazines, but often find myself falling behind on them, especially having had a new baby this summer. Though I've read parts of this issue, there are a few articles that I haven't read yet. I figured if I put it next to my bed, I might get to it a little sooner than if it sat downstairs with my other magazines.

I'm not actually "reading" this one, but I do flip through it every now and then. Though I won't be purchasing anything anytime soon, I'm hoping that I can replicate some of the outfits with what I already have. Maybe by sleeping near it, it will up my style could use some help right now.

I recently heard a radio program talking about our responsibilities as parents, especially for those of us who are stay-at-home moms. Part of our job, besides caring for our families and homes, is to put effort into being the best at our job. Like many professions, one of the ways we get better is by reading books about our jobs. So, that's why I spend time reading parenting books. As for this one, who doesn't want happy kids? It's a common sense approach to raising kids who have good self-esteem, are self-confident, and are self-reliant. It focuses on having positive interactions with your children, while still providing clear expectations and boundaries. It chock-full of tips and nuggets of wisdom.

Truthfully, I rarely grab the Bible for my before-bed reading. I usually have my devotions in the morning, but since I started reading Dancing on My Ashes, I've kept a Bible next to my bed so I can look up or mark any verses listed in the book that interest or encourage me.

I have to be honest that I haven't read much of this book yet. I picked this book up at the library recently. Since we live on one income, I'm always on the lookout for new ideas of ways to save money and cut our expenses.  I like that each chapter covers ways to be thrifty or frugal in a different area of your life.

Stay tuned for the next installment in a month or so. In the meantime, I'd love to hear what you are reading.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Homemade Pizza

We are big fans of pizza at our house and, in my opinion, some of the best pizzas are homemade pizzas.

I start by making my pizza dough in my bread machine. If you don't have a bread machine you can purchase refrigerated dough or a pre-baked crust like Boboli.

Pizza Dough
1 C. plus 2 Tbsp. water
2 Tbsp. olive oil or vegetable oil
3 C. bread flour*
1 tsp. sugar
1 tsp. salt
2 1/2 tsp. active dry yeast

*For a whole-wheat crust, swap out half the bread flour for whole-wheat flour.

Place ingredients in above order into bread machine and select the dough cycle. Makes enough for two pizzas. Usually I make fresh dough, but you can bake them ahead of time (8 min. at 400 degrees) and freeze to use for a meal in the future.

Once dough is done, split it into two and shape it on greased pizza pans or stones. I love to use The Pampered Chef Baker's Roller. It makes the job much quicker.

Now, for the toppings. Stick to your favorite pizza toppings or be creative with non-traditional ingredients and sauces. The possibilities are really endless, but I try to pay attention to the menus at my favorite pizza places for new ideas.

Tonight we made two chicken pizzas: Chicken Artichoke and Barbecue Chicken.

For both I cooked up chicken breasts and then diced them. Sometimes I'll cook and dice chicken and put it in the freezer ahead of time. It cuts out a step and speeds things up when I'm making a meal that requires diced chicken.

To make the Chicken Artichoke, I begin by coating the dough with olive oil. Next I dice up about 1/3 to 1/2 of a jar of marinated artichoke hearts. Then I use some of the oil from the artichokes and mix it with the diced chicken (approx. 1 C. chicken). Finally I top the crust with the chicken, artichoke hearts, and mozzarella cheese.

To make the Barbecue Chicken, I coat the dough with barbecue sauce. Next I dice an onion (about 3/4 C.). Red onion is great on this pizza, but use what you have on hand. Then I mix in some of the barbecue sauce with the diced chicken. Finally I top the dough with the barbecue chicken, onions, and mozzarella cheese.

Bake in the oven at 400 degrees for 18 to 20 minutes or until crust is light brown and cheese is done to your liking.

Both pizzas are easy and delicious...and who doesn't love pizza?

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Only One Way To Go

My day started off pretty bad. I was getting John's lunch ready and sliced a little piece of skin off the tip of my index finger. OUCH! John said I was being a baby, but it hurt so bad and was bleeding a lot. I was getting light-headed...not a fun way to start the day. I'm all bandaged up now. It still hurts if I bump it, which I've done a lot and I really don't ever want to take the band aids off.

When your day starts out like that, there's only one way to go from there, right?

It was a breezy day so we took one of Levi's mini kites outside. Being only two and a half, he has trouble keeping it up in the air, but I entertained him with my kite-flying skills. He ran around cheering and singing and laughed when it looped down towards him. Then he'd come over for a turn before telling me, "Mommy, woo (you) do it!"

Being that there was a little fall chill in the air, I decided it was time for our first pot of soup.

We're big fans of soup. During the cooler months we have soup at least once a week. I threw together a chicken soup with what I had on hand. To "fancy it up" a bit, I made dinner rolls. I use my bread machine to cut down on the hands-on time, but still get the made-from-scratch taste.

In my family, we often compare baked goods to my grandma's. John claimed these were "better than Grandma Schmidt's". GASP! He said it, not me. But I will agree that they were delicious and she'd be proud of me. Levi was a big fan too.

So, my day ended much better than it began. Nothing special. Just a regular ol' day, but a very nice one at that.

Monday, September 19, 2011

A Visitor and Oatmeal Raisin Cookies

We had an unexpected visitor at our house this morning. I was in a hurry, getting the kids ready to go to storytime. I ran into the laundry room/mud room to grab Levi's shoes. I noticed a lint ball on the floor. Where had that been hiding?

Then it moved! Oh my goodness, I bet I jumped two feet into the air. The moving lint ball was a tree frog who had evidently been hopping around in the corners of the laundry room, collecting stray lint on his sticky body. (Note to self: Clean behind the dryer...ASAP) 

We know that there are tree frogs hanging around our house (no pun intended)-we've seen them on the side of our house many times. Still, I wasn't expecting to see one inside the house.

I got Levi and he was thoroughly entertained as it evaded capture for a good five minutes. They're hard to catch! And hard to hold onto once you've caught them. He made it into the family room before we caught him and set him free outside.

As if that weren't enough excitement for one day, Levi and I made Oatmeal Raisin Cookies. He loves raisins, but this was the first time I had ever baked these for him. I used my grandma's recipe which can also be used to make her "famous" Chocolate Chip Oatmeal Cookies. She baked hundreds of these and froze them, sending boxes of them home with us when we visited her.

Oatmeal Raisin Cookies
Makes approx. 5 dozen

1 C. butter or margarine, softened
3/4 C. white granulated sugar
3/4 C. brown sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla
1 tsp. baking soda
2 tsp. hot water
1 tsp. salt
2 C. flour
2 1/2 C. quick cooking oatmeal
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 C. raisins
1/2 C. nuts (optional)

Cream butter and sugars. Add eggs and vanilla and beat well. Dissolve soda in hot water, add in. Mix salt into flour. Add flour mixture, cinnamon, and oatmeal. Mix until incorporated. Stir in raisins (and nuts). Drop onto cookie sheet and bake at 375 degrees for about 8 minutes. Allow them to sit on cookie sheet for a minute before removing to wire rack to cool.

For Chocolate Chip Oatmeal Cookies, use chocolate chips instead of raisins and omit cinnamon.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Fall Decorating...So Far

A few days ago, I told you about the process I go through each time I change my seasonal decor. After my usual bout of decorating insecurity, I dove in and got to work. Mind you, I'm not finished. Much like the seasons, my seasonal decorating usually evolves as I come across new ideas and objects to add in, but I wanted to share what I have done so far.

Decor disclaimer:  Please excuse the stark white walls, bad wallpaper, and ugly faux brick back splash...they were left behind by the previous owners. Stay tuned as new paint will be unveiled sometime in the coming months.

This is in my entry. My mom bought this antique table at a friend's garage sale. It is bigger than the table I previously had there which allows me to make a bigger statement in the entry. I'm thinking of changing out the arrangement on the bottom for a nice ornamental gourd if I can find just the right one.

Here is the corner cupboard I have in my living room. It previously was in the kitchen at my old house, but the kitchen layout in our new house doesn't allow for it. I like the piece, but it causes me some decorating anxiety. I added some fall leaves and pheasant feathers to fill in the background, but it definitely still needs a little something.

Here is a bookshelf in my living room. It also needs some extra life added to it, but at least it's a start.

In my dining room, I have a simple display of candles and potpourri on my table and a little arrangement going on on the top of my buffet.

I've added a few touches of fall to my kitchen as well.

I'll be on the lookout for more inspiration around me, in magazines, and on blogs. I'll be visiting The Inspired Room's Fall Nesting Party to check out all the links there. If you have any ideas to share or suggestions, I'd love to hear them, too.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Seasonal Decorating At My House

I love to decorate my house for the seasons. Typically, when it comes to fall decorating, I start after Labor Day weekend. This year, I'm getting a bit of a late start, but I've still got plenty of time to get my house in gear for fall.

This time last year, we had just moved out of our old house, packed all our belongings into PODS, and were living with my in-laws for a few weeks until we closed on our new house. To make matters worse, I was in the first trimester of my pregnancy and not feeling so hot. Needless to say, there wasn't a whole lot of fall decorating going on once we moved into our new house. Our decor consisted of stacks of boxes and tubs, garbage bags filled with packing paper, and many piles of things that hadn't yet found their new home.

While I'm excited to decorate my house for fall this year, a new house means new challenges. At my old house, I had things figured out. Now, some of our furniture is new or functioning differently, plus I have more space to cover in this house.

To be honest, seasonal decorating usually is a little challenging for me at first. I get all inspired and pull out my tubs (appropriately labeled for each season, of course).

Then I go around and collect last season's decor so I can start with a clean slate.

Then I unpack all the new season's goodies and stare at it in bewilderment. I fret and worry for a bit. How will I be able to get it just right?

Then I realize I won't be able to and that's OK so I just dive in. I mix my seasonal decor with my everyday things. I pull out vases, jars, and bowls to fill with interesting things. And before I know it, my house will look fresh and different, ready for a new season.

Stay tuned, I'll be posting some of my fall decorating in the next few days.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Fall is in the Air

After 80 degree temperatures this weekend, the weather has cooled and fall is definitely in the air.

We are breaking out our warmer clothes and putting away the sandals and shorts.

There are pumpkins on our front step

and newly planted bulbs asleep until spring.

The beans are getting ready for harvest in the field across the street.

We're warming up the house with comfort food

Meatloaf & Garlic Mashed Potato Pie with Peas

and ending our days snuggled up in bed with books.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Restore. Renew. Rejoice

As a mom to two little ones, I don't often have the chance to get away for time for myself. I was lucky enough that John agreed to stay with the kids (he had back-up from his mom) so I could attend the women's retreat at our church Friday night and Saturday. I looked forward to it as a chance to set aside my responsibilities as wife and mother and focus on myself and my relationship with God.

Photo Credit
The theme for the weekend was “Restore. Renew. Rejoice.” and we welcomed Holly Snell and Heather Gilion as our speakers. They are authors of the book Dancing on My Ashes. These girls are a lot of fun, but more importantly they have an amazing story of God's healing and His great love. The weekend was filled with prayer, worship, time in God's word, fellowshipping with other women, and plenty emotion.

I heard many powerful and insightful things from Heather and Holly both from their own experiences and what they drew from God's Word. I wanted to share what spoke most to me.

We all have labels we live with. They may be labels given to us by others, by ourselves, our circumstances, or our choices, but often these negative labels keep us from experiencing what God intended for us. They separate us from His love because we don't feel good enough or worthy enough. The Bible reminds us that none of us are worthy of the love He freely gives us, but it is there for us to take. God wants us to see ourselves as He sees us-perfect, new creations.

Isaiah 62:2-5 (MSG) You'll get a brand-new name straight from the mouth of God. You'll be a stunning crown in the palm of God's hand, a jeweled gold cup held high in the hand of your God. No more will anyone call you Rejected, and your country will no more be called Ruined. You'll be called Hephzibah (My Delight), and your land Beulah (Married), because God delights in you and your land will be like a wedding celebration. For as a young man marries his virgin bride, so your builder marries you, And as a bridegroom is happy in his bride, so your God is happy with you.
God does not promise His followers easy lives free from heartache and pain. What He promises is that He will always be with us. His love is sufficient to meet all our needs. Most importantly, if we cling to God and live in relationship with Him, He has promised us eternal life with him in heaven.

Photo Credit
This weekend, I was restored and renewed. I was reminded of the work God has already done in my life and of the work He promises to do in me if I continue to seek Him.

You can visit Holly & Heather's Facebook page here.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Goat Cheese

I am a big fan of cheese. I've never met a cheese I didn't like, except blue cheese--you can keep that one. Cheese is great for a snack and almost any meal can be improved by adding a little cheese.

Sometime in the last year, I tried goat cheese for the first time. Since then, I've found different varieties and have found some recipes that use goat cheese that I really like.

When I buy goat cheese, I either get it in a tub in crumbled form or in a creamier log form. Usually you'll find it in the specialty cheese section if it's not by the "regular" cheese. One of my favorites is honey goat cheese. I pick this one up at Costco.

One of the most obvious ways to eat goat cheese is on a cracker or slice of bread as a snack or appetizer. My favorite way to eat goat cheese is on a salad. You can pair it with just about any lettuce and whatever veggies or fruits you have on hand. Most often I put the honey goat cheese with either romaine or a spring mix, cucumbers, strawberries, and mandarin oranges. On the occasion that I took the picture, I used blueberries instead of mandarin oranges. I like to top it off with the Garlic Vinaigrette from Aldi.

Another new recipe I came across for goat cheese is Roasted Garlic Onion Jam Pizza. I picked up the recipe card when I bought a jar of Roasted Garlic Onion Jam. Technically you could use any cheese, but since I had goat cheese on hand, I used that. It was pretty tasty. I think it'd make it a yummy appetizer for a party.

What about you? Any great recipes for goat cheese? I'd love to hear about it.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Kane County Flea Market

Yesterday my mom and I made our annual trip to the Kane County Flea Market. We have been once a year pretty much every year since I moved to the Chicago area. This time we brought along the little ones, which changed the dynamics a bit, but it was still a wonderful day.

We often go to the flea market in the fall. In my opinion, it's a great time to go. The weather is usually a little cooler, but still nice and you get tons of inspiration for your fall decorating. There's something about the change to fall that makes me want to feather my nest. Maybe it's because I know before long the cold weather will force me inside and I want to have nice things to look at.

On this trip, I found a few booths of shops that I have previously been to, met some blog "celebrities", and found a out about a few new shops. I have to apologize for some of my photos-they're not the best, but when you have two little ones in strollers and there's a steady stream of people going by, it can be difficult to get the pictures just right. I had to snap quickly and hope for the best.

One of the things that I was reminded of in looking at lots of the booths, is that you don't necessarily have to have "fall" decor (or whatever the season may be). If you have items in the seasonal colors and you sprinkle in a few seasonal-themed items, like pumpkins or bittersweet for fall, then you've got a perfect seasonal display.

When at Kane County, I'm always on the lookout for great shops in the area or information on other antique markets. However, I found booths of a few shops that I hadn't been to in awhile.

First I met the ladies from The Perfect Pear in Crystal Lake. I had been to this shop a few times before, but not for a couple years. I found out that they have recently moved next door to a larger location. A simple color palette of creams and black helped their displays seem cohesive, but the mix of materials and textures made them interesting.

Another shop I found there was Denise's Adornments in Geneva. I love her mix of rustic and modern pieces.

When we entered one of the exhibition halls, I spotted the Willows* booth right away. It looked like a shop I'd love to go to. I found out that they are located in downtown Dubuque. I will definitely have to stop sometime when I'm driving to or from Iowa. Their booth had lots of ideas and my mom and I lingered there for quite a while.

I love how they incorporated nature with more formal looking antiques. It made for the perfect eclectic look.

In another building, I stopped at a booth with lots of great antiques. We picked up a business card and I realized...I KNOW THESE PEOPLE! Well, I didn't know them personally, but I had "met" Sandy and Joe of Rhubarb Reign through one of my favorite blogs, Flower Patch Farmgirl. She's friends with them and had blogged about seeing them at Allegan Antiques Market earlier this summer. I struck up a conversation with Joe, telling him how I had heard of them.

Soon, Sandy came along and we had a nice little chat. I was a little starstruck-it's fun to meet someone from the blog world in person. Joe also gave me a little rundown on other antique markets in the area. Their booth had rustic antique furniture and pottery with fun retro pieces mixed in.

After my brush with "celebrity", I stopped to check out some vintage aprons. I ended up with a brown gingham one with fun pleating and pink stitching.

As we were winding down our day, I stopped at the Vintage Addiction booth. Anne and I chatted about the community she lives in, since my husband teaches in the same community, as well as business and blogging stuff. Her booth is a mix of antiques and her own vintage redesigns. Everything had a great fresh feel to it.

Alas, the natives were getting restless so it was time to head home. The kids actually did really well. We kept Levi happy with some fifty-cent Hot Wheels and after lunch, he took a nice nap in his stroller.

He slept like this half of the time.

Lillian had been happy all day-sleeping, eating, playing, and talking as we made our way through the market.

I caught her in mid-sentence here. Wish I had the audio for it.

I look forward to my visits to Kane County each year. I never leave empty-handed and find more inspiration than I know what to do with. Plus, it's always great to spend a day with my mom doing something we both enjoy.

 * Willows   471 W. 4th St.   Dubuque, IA    563-690-1593