Friday, December 21, 2012

Giving Up On the Perfect Christmas

Wow. It's been awhile since I posted anything. My how time flies. Of course the helidaze have started. You know - Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years. Pretty soon we'll be on to Valentine's Day and St. Patrick's Day and well, you know.

So I started out the Christmas season with my seemingly annual Bah Humbug attitude. Regular readers will remember my post last year about it. This attitude cropped up about 8 years ago, I think. I'm not really sure why. It probably has something to do with how much work goes in to getting everything ready for "The Holidays." As a mom, your to-do list is never ending. (as if it isn't long enough the rest of the year....)

So this year began like the past 8 years with me bemoaning all the commercialism, the decorations, the WORK.

And pretty much continued in that vein until last night.

I was watching NBC Nightly News as I always do. They featured a guy from somewhere (I looked for the link but it looks like there are only stories from Dec 19th. Not the 20th yet) who had started his own Christmas project. He and his wife started giving presents to those less fortunate. The next year, they got their friends involved. Then more friends began to help. Then more. Now they raise over $100,000 to buy food and gifts for the needy at Christmas!

Suddenly, it hit me!

Look at all the good things Christmas does. Look at all the needs that are met. All the wishes fulfilled. All the hopes and dreams that DO get to come true!

Is Christmas over-commercialized? Hell-to-the-YES. Does it focus on receiving instead of giving? You betcha. Does it cause people who can't afford mega gifts and elaborate Christmas displays to get depressed because they aren't able to "have Christmas" this year? Yeppers. Is that what God intended by sending His Son to earth? NO!

But Christmas does also bring out the good in people. People DO donate money and items to needy families. People DO help others. People who haven't warmed the back pew of a church in 6 months or more will suddenly come inside and see. They will hear the Good News. Yes, it would be nice if they'd come back in January. But you gotta start somewhere.

A couple of weeks ago, the Director of Lay Leadership and Missions at our church, Jody Farrell, published an article in our newsletter. Here is the part that really hit me,

 "Both church tradition and our American culture have created space for us to slow down and be reminded of the wonderful miracle of Christ coming into this world." 

The world gives us Christians so few things. Being a Christian in the world is hard. But at Christmas, the world actually GIVES US TIME to praise and worship our Saviour. How awesome is that? No other time during the year do we get that opportunity. Not even at Easter. 

When I thought of this newsletter article, and the NBC segment, I realized that while Christmas may not be "perfect" in my Pharisee-ical, "Christian" eyes, God still uses it. He takes the most imperfect of things, and uses it to HIS glory. 

Amazing Grace! How Sweet the Sound.
That saved a WRETCH like me!

We are all wretched, and what we try to give to God is wretched, too. But God still uses it. 

I may have given up on the "perfect" Christmas. But I haven't given up on God. 

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

The Wendy-vore's Dilemma: Or How Michael Pollan Has Ruined Me

As most of you know, I've been on Weight Watchers for a year now. Yay! My "anniversary" date was in September. I lost 28 pounds in 12 months. Which is pretty good. (Although, there's this one lady at my meetings who has lost 56 pounds since January!!) I've still got about 8 pounds to go before I reach my goal weight. And I'm working on it.

In order to lose that weight (and keep losing), I've had to totally change the way I think about food. In my attempts at a paradigm shift, I read the book, In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan

That book has now ruined me. I will never think about food the same way again. 

Since I can't rehash the entire book in a blog post, here is Pollan's own synopsis of his work: Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.

By "food", he means real stuff. Like apples and blueberries. Not apple-cinnamon cheerios or Martha White "blueberry" muffins. He even goes so far as to list the ingredients on a loaf of Sara Lee's white bread and proclaim that it is not, in fact, bread, but a "bread product." He cautions against anything labelled with health claims. Real food doesn't need health claims and usually doesn't come with a label anyway.

I really can't do the book justice so you'll just have to go read it for yourself to see exactly what I'm talking about. 

So here is my own dilemma. In looking for "healthy" recipes for me and my family, I run across ones such as this frosting recipe from Hungry Girl

HG's Crazy-Amazing Cream-Cheese Frosting
1/8th of recipe (1 heaping tbsp.): 20 calories, PointsPlus
® value 1*

This creamy frosting tastes good on almost everything... Sweet stuff, anyway! 

1/4 cup plus 2 tbsp. fat-free cream cheese, room temperature
2 tbsp. Splenda No Calorie Sweetener (granulated)
1/2 cup Cool Whip Free (thawed)

In a medium bowl, thoroughly mix cream cheese with Splenda. Add Cool Whip, and stir well. Cover and refrigerate until chilled, about 30 minutes.

Spread and enjoy!

Cream-cheese frosting for 1 PointsPlus???? Yes, please!!! 

But wait......fat free cream cheese? Fat free foods are made by removing the fat and then adding in sugar, gums, oil, and other things to make up for the lack of fat. 

Splenda? That's an artificial sweetener. They have a long history of controversy. Some people don't mind them and others avoid them like the plague. Personally, I refuse to eat them if I can help it. I think the jury is still out on their safety. Plus, isn't regular sugar (grown in a field, not a lab) better? 

Cool Whip Free? The same problem as the fat free cream cheese. This is no doubt made to taste the same as regular whipped cream by the addition of sugar and chemicals to mimic the fat that is usually found in cream. 

So which do I choose? I can make this version and only have to count 1 point for my daily points value. But it's filled with chemicals and "fake" food! But if I switch and use real cream cheese, real sugar, and real whipped cream, the nutritional statistics will be astronomical! 

What should I do??? 

At this point I am stumped. I try to strike a balance between processed food and whole food. I use low fat dairy products but nothing fat free. I avoid artificial sweeteners except for the trident gum and breath mints I munch on to keep myself from snacking all day long. I try to go for "real food" as much as possible, but some days, a Stouffer's lasagna in the microwave for 30 minutes gets dinner on the table when I'm tired and everyone around me is cranky. I haven't purchased Hamburger Helper or Homestyle Bakes at all since I read that book. 

In some ways, I am no wiser now than when I wrote this rant about food. I understand the objection to processed food now but I'm still lost as to which way is "better."

I would ask what anyone reading this thinks about my dilemma, but food philosophies are now almost as dangerous to discuss in polite company as religion and politics!

I think I'll just go have a glass of water. 

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

That moment when.....

You know you've made the right choice.

So I'm sitting at the table while J4 eats his lunch. I'm reading about the Northwest Arkansas Business Women's Conference they had yesterday. There were booths, and vendors, and key-note speakers. Business and professional women from all over Northwest Arkansas came, net-worked, got out of the office, and did general adult, working-women things.

I sighed. A part of me (sometimes a big part, sometimes a smaller part) wishes I were part of that world. I was Salutatorian of my high school graduating class. (That's 2nd in line behind Valedictorian.) I graduated from Hendrix with a degree in MATH! I'm smart, dad gumit! I could easily be one of those women.

Instead, I'm sitting here at my kitchen table wearing shorts and a t-shirt. Pouring small amounts of apple juice into a paper cup so J4 can learn to drink without the aid of a sippy cup. (and without copious amounts of paper towels...)

So then he's done and we start getting ready for his nap. He has to go potty first so I'm waiting in there with him when it starts.... I don't know if he, well, expelled gas, or just started it for fun, but he purses his lips and lets out a big pppbbblllttt! Then he laughs! I smile and decide to answer him back with my own pppbbbllllttttttt! He laughs louder! Then, it's on! We take turns making pooty noises with our mouths and laughing in between. I do think to myself that I may regret this when he does it in polite company. However, since his speech is lagging a bit, I figure any sounds we can get him to make with his mouth should help his development.

As I sit there, ppbbllttt-ing and laughing, I can't help but smile inside. No, I don't get to attend the NWA Business Women's Conference. No, I don't get to dress up and talk to adults. But I get to BE here. With him. During these few short years where he loves me almost unconditionally. Before the distractions of school start occupying his thoughts. Before life steps in and forces each of us to chose our own way that ultimately leads us apart. Not too far apart, I hope, but not as close as we are now. Before I have to let him go and be his own person.

That's when I know. I KNOW this is where I'm supposed to be. For me and my family, this IS my job.

And I couldn't be happier. :)

Thursday, August 9, 2012

It's Not (Necessarily) Your Fault that You're Fat

But it IS your fault if you don't do something about it!

This is the conclusion I've arrived at after nearly 11 months on Weight Watchers.

To be fat in the United States today is as American as (a BIG ole slice of) apple pie (with 3 scoops of ice cream on top of that....).

In our culture, food is EVERYWHERE. We are bombarded with radio commercials, tv commercials, billboards, and advertisements about food. We can't have a meeting, event, rehearsal, practice, open house, or even CHURCH without food. We have entire magazines, newspaper sections, and television channels devoted to FOOD!

So when you're trying to control how much food you eat, having all these messages about food surrounding you nearly 24/7 is almost too much for one person to handle. I know it has been for me. Limiting your food intake is like being told to not think about purple elephants for 10 minutes. Hey! It's been 7 minutes since I thought about d'oh! Purple elephants!

The near-constant barrage of messages telling us to EAT EAT EAT makes it very easy to OVER- OVER- OVER-eat!

So can you really blame the 2/3 of Americans who are overweight and/or obese? Is it really their (our) fault?

That's a rhetorical question....

HOWEVER, now that you know the situation and what you're up against, it's up to YOU to turn the tide.

YOU have to find a way to counteract the never-ending influences of advertising on your meal choices.
YOU have to decide to forego the fries at McDonald's. (Noooo! Say it isn't so!)
YOU have to decide to have a big bowl of fruit with breakfast. (But Poptarts are SO yummy!)
YOU have to decide to find a way to prepare vegetables every night. (and I'm not talking about potatoes.)
YOU have to find a way to eat less. WAY less. Portion sizes are out of control! (But an 8 oz steak with 2 cups of mashed potatoes and 2 rolls is a regular meal, isn't it? Isn't it???)
YOU have to find a way to get some exercise every day. (But the's so comfy!)

It all comes down to you and your own decision. You won't lose weight by doing nothing. You won't lose weight because your mother or husband wants you to. You won't lose weight if you keep listening to what "they" say and grabbing that burger on the way home or that milkshake in the afternoon. You have to decide that your health is worth the sacrifice of munching on fruit when everyone else has a fudge bar. (Because they need to change their habits, too.)

It's hard. But worth it. Good luck!

Sunday, July 15, 2012

For Entertainment Purposes Only.....

I LOVE baking! Love it love it love it!

I've been baking a myriad of baked goods since I was probably 11 or 12. Betty Crocker, Duncan Hines, Pillsbury, you name it, I've done it! Well, except for one thing....


Nope, I've never made a layer cake totally from scratch. I've made some recipes that were essentially cakes from scratch, but never just a plain ole white layer cake.

So today, I thought I'd change that. I went searching for my "Cake Bible" by Rose Levy Beranbaum. And it's lost! I'm afraid I may have donated it to the library in a fit of "anti-stuff-itis."

Being part of the modern world, though, I went and relied on Google. I found this recipe for simple white cake. It looked easy so I did it.

 Preheating the oven to 350 degrees. (and using the heat of the oven to soften the butter.....come on, I can't be the only one who doesn't set their butter out 30 minutes beforehand to let it come to room temperature!)

Mixing the dry ingredients with the wet ingredients.
 Voila! Perfectly placed from-scratch cake! (This recipe was great because it only made one layer! Perfect for experimenting.)

I don't have a picture of how it looked right out of the oven, but I trust you've all seen a naked baked cake before.

Hmmm, now what should I frost it with? I was going to make some regular buttercream icing, which I've done countless times. But that seemed boring. AH HA!!! I've got it!

Marshmallow Fondant from Pinterest!

Bit 'o background: Fondant cakes are BEAUTIFUL! You can cover them and cut out shapes and make oh so cute stuff. It's the primary way that Duff from Charm City Cakes decorates his. I've tried using the Wilton Fondant but it doesn't taste very good. I even have a friend on facebook who is a chef. She says that professionally made fondant doesn't taste that good either. So I thought this marshmallow fondant would be a good idea. It's just marshmallows and powdered sugar! What's not to love?

Read on......

For this step, I had to run to the store down the street and buy an entire bag of mini marshmallows. I put them in my big Pampered Chef batter bowl, added a little bit of water and some almond extract. I then microwaved the whole thing maybe a minute and a half or two minutes total. (and forgot to take pictures. Hey, I'm not the Pioneer Woman....)

Next, I added some Wilton blue food coloring gel.

And finally, I turned it out onto a cookie sheet covered in powdered sugar. (and a silpat)

During this entire process, my hands were covered in white sugar and sticky, blue goo. So there are no pictures. I kneaded sugar into the marshmallows, coating my hands in cooking spray the entire time.

To no avail, I might add. That stuff is STICKY! It even stuck to the Silpat! Yes, the Silpat! (A silpat is a silicone mat that nothing sticks to. Or so their website claims. Unfortunately, I think I've found a way to defeat it...) Can you see the small spatula I had to use to remove the stuff from the silpat? This is some powerful stuff!

The blog showing how to make the fondant claims that after kneading in the sugar, you can roll it out with a rolling pin and use it to decorate your cakes and cookies. Well, I don't know if it was the weather (hot and dry), my technique (ok, ok, questionable....), or whatnot, but mine never was able to be rolled. Oh, I tried, but it stuck to the rolling pin. I added more sugar, like the website says, and then it was just white. I finally coated my hands in a ton of cooking spray and moved the lump over to the cake.

Using my palms, I spread it out as best I could. Leaving me with a beautifully smooth, satiny-sheen candy coating on my freshly baked from scratch cake!
 Or it would have been, had it stretched that far..... Try as I might, I could not get it to stretch any further. I think it had cooled so much by then that it wasn't going anywhere.

Since my beautiful cake was already, well, not ruined, but not near like I envisioned it, I decided to just experiment. Have you seen that wedding cake on Pinterest that's covered entirely with sprinkles?

Yes? Well, I made 4 small little sprinkle areas just to see. Yep, it's as hard to do as it looks. Whatever they paid for that cake was probably inadequate for how difficult it is to get sprinkles ON THE SIDES and everywhere! Not to mention how much sweeping and near-falling the lady did while walking on her floor afterwards....

Finally, I had to taste my cake. It was good! Not quite as moist as a mix cake, but definitely had a good flavor and it's definitely one I'll make again. Also, after trying ready made and now homemade fondant, I can honestly say I don't like the taste of either one. Plus, while this one tasted better than the store-bought kind, it still had the consistency of, say, a balloon. I took a bite or two with the fondant on my cake, and then just peeled it off and ate the cake. (Less points that way, too!)

Next time I'll make a really pretty icing creation and let y'all see it. I promise it'll be better than this stuff!

Thursday, July 5, 2012


For the past 18 months, Jim and I have lead Dave Ramsey's Financial Peace University course at our church. It's a fantastic course that teaches you how to handle money God's way. In leading this course, we've come across many different financial situations. Throughout it all, I've started to wonder just how much we should rely on ourselves to provide for our needs versus how much we should rely on God for the same.

I've been wrestling with this question for months now but I think I found a wonderful answer! I was reading the "Dave Says" newspaper column archives on Dave's website. Here is a wonderful question and answer that I'm going to print out and post somewhere in my home! Haha!

Here is the link to the original post. I have copied and pasted it here so you can read it immediately.

Impulsiveness is not faith

Dear Dave,
My husband and I would like for me to be able to quit my job and stay at home with our kids. We’ve got a little money saved up, but we’re not sure we could make it on just his salary. The money would be very tight. In your mind, how do we know the difference between being financially responsible and relying on God to provide?

Dear Michelle,This is a great question! I admire the desire to be at home with your kids, and that you realize you can’t just act impulsively and call it faith. This is a concept that’s misused and misunderstood a lot.

If you can’t make it on just your husband’s salary, then you’ve got to develop a game plan that involves a written monthly budget and some lifestyle changes. If you do this with diligence and sacrifice, chances are you’ll be able to make this happen and not bankrupt your family. This could also mean that you start a small business on the side—something you could do from home—to offset the difference.

Having faith that God will provide requires study of the Scriptures. But God also tells us that you need the maturity and wisdom to plan your direction. The Bible says, “The diligent prosper. He who is impulsive exalts folly.” Folly is a fool in action. It’s kind of like the guy who closes his eyes, jumps in the pool, and hopes there’s water in there—and calls that faith.
I love the idea of you coming home to be with your kids, Michelle. Just make sure you develop an intelligent plan, and mix intellect with faith.

I LOVE where he says "You can't just act impulsively and call it faith." Ah ha! This is what I've been wondering. Do you just close your eyes and jump and hope everything works out? Or do you do your homework, do your research, make your plan, and THEN rely on God for everything to fall into place?  God gave us brains. I think he expects us to use them. He didn't make us blind followers who are supposed to just blow with the wind and then claim that whatever happens was God's will. 

I think in the end, you plan as best as you can and THEN rely on God to provide the rest.  I'm so excited that I found this answer! This has been bothering me since at least early April. Now maybe I can use it to help other people understand the relationship between planning and faith.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

All Creatures Great and Small

When we moved into this house in 2006, I hated it. Yes, I had agreed on the floor plan with Jim and we liked it. But the neighborhood was barren. No trees, no hills. Half of the houses weren't even built yet so we had a lot of land out here. My dream neighborhood has lots of large, mature trees with tons of shade. Squirrels, birds, and other little critters flitter and scamper by as I sit in my kitchen and gaze out the back window.

But not here. Here the sun shines all day long. There are no trees from which to shield its glare. It's like crossing the desert just to check the mail. (Because someone in their infinite wisdom decided to put all the mailboxes on ONE side of the street. So half of us have to cross the street to get our mail.....grrrrr) I miss our house in Little Rock that had a huge backyard filled with 3 large trees, infinite numbers of squirrels (owing to one of the trees being a large oak), birds of all kinds, and two chipmunks. I've even prayed that God would have two huge trees sprout up across the street and we'd be known all around for having a miracle occur! (yes, I really prayed that. No, it hasn't happened.....yet)

One day, a few months after we moved in, God surprised me!

A robin had made a nest underneath the eave of our house on the gutter downspout! We could watch from our front window as the mother bird fed her babies. The girls loved it! Oh who am I kidding? *I* loved it! Even in our vast expanse of flat, treeless land, God had blessed us! Nature was just outside our very front door.

Well, it's happened again. A couple of weeks ago, I saw a bird in our backyard gathering sticks. And it was heading towards the kids' playset!!! I wondered if I should shoo it away, but then decided that if I didn't give the bird a home, who would? There are no trees in this neighborhood.

Here is momma bird sitting on our fence. She's smack dab in the middle of the picture. 
Here she is walking across the playset beam. This is how she lands and enters the nest every time. 

Now she's sitting on the nest. You can see her tail feathers in this photo.

Then, just yesterday, I got brave enough to go up and look in. BABIES! I thought I had a picture of the eggs, but I can't find it on my camera or my phone. But they've hatched now! On a sad note, there were 4 babies but one is at the bottom of the nest not moving. :(  I don't know how that happens but I figure it's just nature taking its course.

My main goal now is to keep our pesky dog, Harper, away from the babies when they get pushed out of the nest and try to learn to fly. I'd feel horrible if she ended up killing one. Maybe I'll even be able to get some video of the little birds trying to fly. They always scare me when they're that little. Geez, now not only do I have 3 kids and a dog to worry about, but I have 3 birds as well! Once a mother, always a mother, I guess!

Friday, May 25, 2012

A Kindred Spirit!


I've blogged about this before. Most of you have heard about it. I've even vented on facebook about the appalling stuff you can find "pinned" on there!

Well, it turns out I'm not the only one to notice those things.

Pinterest, You Are Drunk is a website that takes some of the more egregious pins and showcases them in all their gutsy, outrageous, who-would-think-of-that glory!

It's like Cake Wrecks for Pins.

AND, it fits in perfectly with my Board on Pinterest entitled "Things That Make Me Want to Cry or Run Screaming from the Room!"

Go check it out. Perfect for a relaxing summer day!

Sunday, May 13, 2012


M is for the many things I need
O is for obstinate children, of which I have three.
T is for temper tantrums, which happen day and night,
H is for hives...oh what a fright!
E is for everything else I forgot
R is for remembering the three blessings I got!

No, I'm not a poet who didn't know it. I just saw the wonderful irony in celebrating Mother's Day with three children, whom I dearly love and devote almost every waking moment to, who did almost nothing but fuss and fight for a good half of the morning. So I composed this little ditty in my head. (To keep me sane.....) LOL!

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Oh Brother! Not the Mommy Wars Again!

So I heard on the news a few weeks ago that a Democratic "operative", (ok, show of many of you think of spies or Burn Notice when you hear that word?) said that Mitt Romney's wife, Ann, had not worked a day in her life because she was a stay-at-home mom.

Oh geez. As soon as I heard that, I thought "Hooo boy are some people gonna be MAAADDDD!" I have to admit, it bothered me a little bit, but I honestly don't judge my value based on some talking head's ill-spoken opinion. Besides, there were plenty of other women and moms who got mad for me. So why waste the energy?

It did bring me back, momentarily, to what is called the "Mommy Wars." This is the ongoing, modern struggle between what women should do after they have children. Should they put their child in childcare and keep working at the job they held before they gave birth? Or should they quit their job in order to stay home and keep said child.

As a mother for nearly 11 years now (yes, they go by way too fast), I've dealt with this issue since day 1. My own struggle has gone something like this:

BC (before children): Know there is no way I'm going to be a "housewife" when I grow up. I'm going to have a career, albeit one that is flexible and allows for me to take care of my children.

PG1 (pregnant with #1): Decide to stay home for "6 months tops!"

6 months postpartum: came and went

1 year postpartum: Tour daycares. Thought I'd get childcare before looking for a job so I'd have that taken care of. Come home distraught and hyperventilating at the thought of putting my daughter in day care. lol! (I can laugh at that now....)

2 years postpartum: Decide I'm either having another baby or going back to work.
2.9 years postpartum: Have 2nd baby.

2nd Baby at age 1: Work part-time doing finances at our church.
Year Later: Work tax season while both girls are in Mother's Day Out.

After we moved, I went to work 24 hours a week doing taxes and bookkeeping. I did that for a little over 3 years. I even upped it to 30 hours a week on a regular basis and 45+ hours per week during tax season.

3 years 3 months later: Had 3rd baby. Quit work to stay home.

As you can see, I've done both. I've worked. I've stayed home. I've worked part time and I've worked (more than) full time.

Which is better?

Well, for the first 3 years of my motherhood, staying home was better. After that, working some was better. Now, staying home is better again.

The thing is, the answer is different for everyone. I truly believe it depends on your family's financial situation, your temperament, and what your goals are.

I know moms that stay home. I know moms that work. I know moms that work and should probably stay home. AND, I know moms that stay home but should probably work!

I really wish that every mom could be supported no matter what her choice. In fact, I think that is the secret to reducing the amount of guilt the mom feels based on her choice.

Well, I could talk on about this subject, but it's late and I can't come up with an eloquent, thought-provoking, leave-em-wanting-more conclusion. So I'll leave you with this:

Call your mother. (She worries.)
Tell the moms you know that they are doing a good job and to hang in there. No matter where "there" is. :)

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Cake Pop Fail

(This post is actually the second one about J4's birthday. Scroll down and read about his birthday first and then come back to this one. I know. I should have posted them in reverse order. Sorry!)

Ok so where was I? Hmmm, oh yes! The cake pop's for J4's birthday.

J4 LOVES big trucks. Diesels, 18-wheelers, delivery trucks, fuel trucks, cement mixers, the list goes on. So I thought that would be a great theme for his 2nd birthday.

And instead of a cake, I'll do cake pops! Now that I've perfected my technique, I figured it would be a piece, yea.

I had some German chocolate cake already baked and in the freezer. I had planned to try making German chocolate cake pops for Valentine's Day with Xuan Huynh. Well, plans fell through and we never got to make them. So I thought I'd use the leftover cake for these cake pops. Bad idea.

I don't exactly know what went wrong. The cake was already VERY moist when it thawed. I don't know if it was wet from being frozen or if it was just that moist as a cake. Or if the German chocolate aspect had anything to do with it. But when I mixed the frosting with it, it came out looking more like thick batter than shape-able dough.

So I added some flour. Then some cocoa. Then some powdered sugar. Then more flour. I lost track of how many thickening agents I added to absorb some of the moisture! Nothing worked. Finally, with the clock ticking down and still no presentable "cake", I had to drop back and punt.

I baked an entire new cake. A yellow one this time. (it was all I had) I also discovered a secret that I'll use in the future. I didn't want to bake an entire cake because we were going out of town the next day. So I made 24 cupcakes instead. I would decorate 12 for our small party and then we'd just eat the rest plain.

Here's a picture:

So that's what I did. I then pulled out my old Wilton decorating tips and colored some icing black. (or tried to. Dark colors are hard.) I used yellow candy melts, which were already round, as the middle of the tires. I used the best "rope" technique I could remember and made the tires. I was actually kind of proud of myself! For the other cupcakes, I used chocolate frosting with the basket weave tip to make tracks in dirt. Or kinda like that anyway.

THEN, since I had 12 cupcakes left, I got brave. Going back to my original plan, I made cake pops! Now, yellow cake with chocolate frosting looked a little strange inside. Not bad, but not swirly or anything like that. (The white ones I made at Christmas were much prettier.) I used the small circle cutter I had bought to make them tire-shaped. They were huge! They almost wouldn't stay on the sticks. For reference, I smashed up 6 cupcakes to mix with the frosting and I got 6 cake pops out of it! I probably would have gotten 10-12 normal sized cake pops out of those 6 cupcakes.

I then dipped them in chocolate and used the yellow candy melts, still unmelted, as the middle of the tires.


Honestly, I liked my cupcakes better. So all in all, I was happy that I had had to go to Plan B. Back to my future reference (haha!), I've decided that instead of making a cake and freezing it for cake pops, I'll make cupcakes. That way, I can only thaw 4-6 and not have to make 30-70 cake pops each time. I can just make 10 - 20. Also in the future, if I try tire cake pops again, I'm going to skip the cake altogether and use marshmallows! I'll cut them in half and insert the stick. That should make smaller tires that stay on the stick easier. So I was glad to have a Plan C as well!

I learned a lot that day. :)

Happy Birthday, J4!


Has it really been two years since I gave birth to my precious little boy? How did that happen? WHERE does the time go? It all goes by TOO fast.

Since we now live 3 hours away from most of our family, our birthday celebrations have changed. In Little Rock, I'd let both sides of the family know and we'd have lots of family over for cake and ice cream on the Saturday closest to the child's real birthday.

Now, though, they are spread out. This is somewhat embarrassing to say, but my kids get approximately 3 birthday celebrations each. I know! #First world problem.....

For J4, his first celebration was on his actual birthday. We went to Fun City Pizza. All 3 kids love it there. Their pizza is good, too. They also have very good deals and it's very affordable. So mom and dad like it, too.

His second celebration was at Grandmary's house in Searcy. Grandmary is Jim's maternal grandmother. We had lots of family there and some that we haven't seen in 7 years!

His third celebration was at Grandmother's house (my mom) in North Little Rock. This time, we had even more family than we usually do. And there was family there that we haven't seen in 10 years! 15 years even!

So I'm pretty much done with birthday celebrations for awhile. At least until May when it's Alpha's turn.....

Pictures!!!! (I'm only going to post ones of his first birthday celebration. I've posted the others on facebook.)

J4 on a Tonka truck ride at Fun City. I promise he smiled AFTER every picture I took!
Playing more games. (ok, not really. Shhh! Don't tell him it's not really on!)
Sitting in Daddy's lap and playing racing games for real!
Plan B for the cake
They're truck tires and tire tracks in dirt, y'all! Can't you tell? (please tell me you can tell....) I'll write about my cake conundrum in another post.

My original idea that actually became Plan C.
These are supposed to be cake pops as truck tires.

Either way, I think he enjoyed them.

His balloon.
His plates and napkins.
Mighty Machines! These videos were made back in the 90's. We found this one at Wal-Mart for $4.88! He LOVES them!
An awesome, steel Tonka dump truck!
And if you think GIRLS don't like trucks, I've got news for you.
Last but not least, Momma!

Thursday, March 1, 2012


One week ago today, I had the awesome privilege of accompanying the West Fork High School and Middle School choirs to their regional Choral Practical Assessment. (yes, ironically for me, it's abbreviated CPA)

As I did last year, I not only accompanied them TO the place, I accompanied them on the piano. Yes, I'm now "that lady" whom nobody knows who shows up every so often at school and plays the piano!

The choirs this year sang wonderfully! ALL of the high school groups, including women's, men's, concert choir, and chamber singers, got a Superior rating! Isn't that awesome?! To say they were all excited would be an understatement. The middle school received an Excellent rating as well.

The contest was held at the Arend Arts Center at Bentonville High School. This facility rivals the Walton Arts Center in form and function. MANY other high schools in the region are jealous. (Heck, *I'M* jealous!) The fam and I attended a performance of "The Nutcracker" there a few years ago. What I didn't realize back then is that the facility is attached to a gymnasium and the rest of the high school. So the way they had it set up, the choir went to a "holding area" before entering the warm up room. This holding area was in front of the gym.

Which got me to thinking.....

MANY young people these days play sports. Soccer, basketball, baseball, football, etc. In fact, it's almost impossible, though not quite, to find a youngster who hasn't participated in any team sport at some point in their elementary years. The reasons all these kids play sports are many and varied, but some of the biggest reasons cited include learning teamwork, learning responsibility, and being a part of something bigger than yourself. These are all very good things to learn. However, is sports the only way to learn those things?

As I watched these choirs prepare for last Thursday, these 3 things materialized right before my eyes.

Teamwork - you have to listen to the other people in your section and blend. You can't make the entire section sound better by singing louder than everyone else.

Responsibility - in singing, you must sing with "tall vowels." That means you can't sound like a hick. You have to sing more in Queen's English than redneck. :) If even ONE person doesn't use a tall vowel sound, the entire section sounds wrong. And boy does it stand out!

Something bigger than yourself - In choral singing groups, you must ultimately do what is best for the group even if it's not what you think is best for you. What you create together is much more inspiring than any one part by itself. (In 4-part choral music. Not getting into acapella soloists here!)

Back in the fall, a musical group that one of my children is in was trying to determine when to practice each week. One mother was very honest and said upfront, "Well, if there's a conflict between this and basketball, we're going with basketball!" Now, PLEASE don't think that comment is what inspired this post. I really appreciated her honesty. Music groups aren't for everyone. What do you think would have happened if the Manning boys' mother had insisted they forego football to be in band? What if Michael Phelps' mother had forced him to take piano lessons instead of swimming? See? The world would have lost out on a great deal of talent. So I'm not trying to make this a "down with athletics" post.

But watching these kids (KIDS I tell you! The oldest are only 18. I'm old enough to be everyone of them's mother! lol!) prepare and then present this music convinced me that parents who are focused solely on athletics to help prepare their children for life are really limiting their possibilities. (Unless their kids really ARE future Peyton Manning's or Michael Phelps's) Their kids could possibly miss out on one of the best team building exercises there is - being in a musical group.

To conclude, youth sports do have their place. They certainly aren't bad. Nor am I trying to say that they're ok but music is better. But if you've tried youth sports and your child doesn't like it, or if your child refuses to do sports at all, try music. Learning to play an instrument or sing is a skill that will stay with you the rest of your life. Also, unlike sports, the child will probably be able to perform that skill the rest of his or her life. Most NFL players retire by their 40's while it's not unusual to see conductors working well into their 80's. So give music a try. Sign your child up for lessons on an instrument of his or her choosing. Let them be in band. There's a world of wonderful possibilities for those who can make music. :)

Friday, February 10, 2012

How to Get Rich

A friend of mine shared this article on facebook. It's from CNN Money and is titled "How the Rich became the uber Rich." I clicked on it for lack of anything better to do. After reading it, I'm here to declare that this article is bunk!

Here is a quote that doesn't make any sense:

"In 2009, the richest 10% of Americans accounted for about half the nation's wealth. Narrow that focus a bit further, and the trend is even more alarming. The top 0.1% -- those who make at least $2 million each year -- controlled 10% of the economy.

That's a far cry from the 1950s, when the suburban American dream ruled: the bottom 90% of Americans controlled about 68% of the economy."

So, in 2009, the richest 10% of Americans accounted for about HALF, that would be 50%, of the nation's wealth. Ok, so? Is that so bad? I have nothing to compare this statement to so I don't know. But the article tells us this is "alarming". Then it brings out even more doom and gloom by claiming that the top 0.1% controlled 10% of the economy. What does this even mean? How do you "control the economy?" Is that the same as owning half of the nation's wealth? Do the top 0.1% own 10% of the nation's wealth?

But THEN, the article really brings in the reaper by declaring that this is a "far cry from the 1950s, when. . . the bottom 90% of Americans controlled about 68% of the economy."

So let me get this straight. In 2009, the top 0.1% of Americans controlled/owned 10% of the economy. Which would then imply that the bottom 99.9% controlled/owned 90% of the economy. But this is a horrible thing because back in the 1950s the bottom 90% controlled about 68% of the economy.

How is this a horrible thing? The bottom 90% now control 1/3 more of the economy than they used to! Does this make any sense to anyone? Because it didn't to me.

For me, this article raised the question, "how do you become rich?" The headline seems to imply that "the rich" only got that way because the government helped them through its policies.

Oh, boy. Where to start....

Jim and I are currently leading Dave Ramsey's Financial Peace University class for the 3rd time. Dave Ramsey became a millionaire in his 20s and then lost it all. He filed bankruptcy. After that, he met some of these uber rich. He took them to lunch. He asked them how they did it. This class, Financial Peace University, is the result of those meetings.

FPU teaches that the pathway to "financial peace" is to follow these 7 "Baby Steps." They are:

1. Get $1000 in savings in the bank.

2. Pay off all debt except the house.

3. Save up 3-6 months of expenses for an emergency fund.

4. Save for retirement.

5. Save for kids' college.

6. Pay off home early.

7. Build wealth and give!

Nowhere in there does it say "Wait for the government to give you money." Or "take advantage of government programs and policies for maximum wealth."

So how did these uber rich get rich? They worked. They produced. They saved. They built better mousetraps. They did things faster, better, cheaper. They didn't spend money they didn't have by using credit cards. They didn't buy the latest and greatest car for $0 down and no interest for 84 months! (7 years????? really????)

They are Bill Gates. Warren Buffet. Donald Trump. Steve Jobs. Not only are (were...RIP Steve) all of those guys uber rich, they DID things. You can put a name to the things they've accomplished. (Microsoft, Berkshire Hathaway, Trump Plaza, ipod, ipad, iphone, ieverything.) They probably took advantage of some government policies along the way, but for the most part, I'm pretty sure "the government" didn't make them "rich."

So when are people going to start understanding that it's up to YOU to make yourself rich? No, you might not get uber rich, but you've got to start somewhere. Start by getting yourself out of debt. No more credit cards. No more car loans. Save up and pay for things! Spend less! No, don't bury your money in the backyard or under your mattress. Austerity won't help the economy either. But spending only within your means is a good first step.

And certainly don't try to get rich by reading articles on CNN!!!!

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Happy Birthday, Beta!

I have been remiss. Saturday a week ago was Beta's 8th birthday. And I didn't post about it!!! So I guess it's time for some pictures.

But first.....a look back.
Baby Beta with her motorcycle blanket. :)

First Halloween - she was a pumpkin.

This is at the Old Mill in North Little Rock. I think she was 1. This is one of my all time FAVORITE pictures of the girls!

Dance Recital age 4.


Presents at home on her real birth day this year.

Her party at Fun City Pizza. Yes, she loves Justin Bieber. She claims to want to be "Mrs. Bieber." We've tried explaining that he's 10 years older than her, but she'll hear nothing of it. LOL!

The cool thing about being the birthday girl at Fun City. You get extra tickets which allow you to "win" an inflatable pink guitar! Ah well. She was happy and had a GREAT time. So it was worth it. Happy Birthday, Beta!

Monday, January 30, 2012

New Year New Stuff!

Well, I had no New Year's Resolutions to work on. Not that I'd make them if I did, but you know.

But it IS a new year here so we got some NEW stuff!

It all started with a new BLENDER!
Our previous blender, a Black & Decker with a beautiful glass jar, met an untimely end at the hands of a "helping" 1 year old. Or maybe he was playing. All I know is when I tried to remove octopus-boy from the dishwasher, the glass jar came with him. It was like slow motion. I SAW it fall from about 5 feet up. (I had picked him up to get him away from it.) So now we have a new Waring Stainless Steel Blender that we got from (An Acumen Brands store!) It's awesome! I've made my 2 point smoothies in it several times now. It also has less parts to clean than our old one. You just put soapy water in it and turn it on! (with the lid on, of course....)

Next, I ordered a Cuisinart Mini Prep Plus 4-cup Food Processor! I've been seeing recipes in several places *cough Pinterest cough* that called for slicing and dicing things in a food processor. I asked for one for Christmas but Santa must have been busy with other things and forgot to make it for me....Of course, after Christmas I looked at prices. Holy moly! $200???? So I searched some more and found this one for $39.99 on with free shipping! I made Chocolate Covered Katie's Cookie Dough Dip last week. It is fantastic! Everything was chopped just perfectly. I can't wait to try it for more things. (and I would have posted a picture of the dip, but, um, we ate it. All of it. Every last bit!)

Moving out of the kitchen and into the home office..... Our old Lexmark printer had quit working wirelessly about a year ago. So Jim just plugged it into his computer and added it to our network. (the cabled kind) A few weeks ago, as I was trying to print out a recipe for Quinoa and Black Beans, it quit. I mean, quit. Just kaput. Zip. Zilch. Nada. The computer would say "Printing page 1" but the printer just sat there like my 8 year old daughter being told to go to bed. (yes, it was IGNORING us!) So I got to go printer shopping! I started with my favorite ratings place I read review after review after review. I finally settled on an HP Photosmart 6510 eAll-in-One. I actually bought it from the HP store for $119 instead of the list price of $149 AND I got free shipping. Yay! And here's the weird but best part...I ordered it on Friday morning about 10:00 am. It arrived on Saturday morning around 11:00 am! That's 24 hours! Talk about customer service. Maybe I can score some cool ink deals on there, too. Yea right....    (One cool feature of this prints from our iphones and the ipad! How cool is that?)

I know you won't believe me, but I have even MORE new stuff to talk about. But this post is long enough and the other new things are bigger. So I'll discuss them when I can get better pictures and not bore you any longer. 

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Pins, Pinning, Pinterest!

So have you heard about Pinterest? It's the latest thing, I guess. It's both easy and hard to describe what it's like.

Easy --
It's a pinboard. Think pushpins or thumbtacks. In olden days of yore, you'd find a picture of something you liked in a magazine or newspaper. You'd cut it out and "pin" it to some cork board. A bulletin board. Message board. Things like that. So this website is just one big electronic cork board where people "pin" images of things they find interesting. (Pin + Interest = Pinterest! I didn't really have to explain that, did I?)

Hard --
Pinterest is filled with a million and one things to look at. There are "pins" for fitness, desserts, work outs, wedding dresses, outfits, hairstyles, photography ideas, baby ideas, kid ideas, teacher ideas, gift ideas, oh the list goes on. I saw one pin last night that said "Pinterest is like fantasy football for girls."

I resisted going there when I first heard about it because everyone said it was addicting. They were right! It's even more of a time waster than facebook, in my opinion. At least on facebook you are keeping up with news of your friends and family whom you might not otherwise talk with on a regular basis. On Pinterest, well, you're just wasting time. :)

HOWEVER, while it is a big time suck, it's not totally pointless. (haha!) By clicking on some pictures of things I liked, I've found a couple of new blogs to check out.

Can You Stay for Dinner?
This blog is by Andie Mitchell. She's a 26 year old who lost 135 lbs! She posts healthy recipes. Her story and take on exercising and weight maintenance is a great read. Since I'm in the middle of losing weight (15 pounds down!) I found it very inspiring.

Chocolate-Covered Katie -- the healthy dessert blog
I just found this one today by a pin of her "chocolate chip cookie dough dip." I totally have to try this now! It's made with chickpeas.....which sounds utterly gross but she took some to a party and everyone loved it! Being on Weight Watchers, I'm trying to find a way to have my cake and eat it, too. Or at least something similar.

So I'll keep checking Pinterest. Maybe not as much as I have been.....It's kind of like facebook in that you have to wait awhile for there to be new content. But there are some neat things to look at.

And who says girls can't have their own fantasy football team! LOL!

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Point-less cake pops

So I figured out how to make cake pops. They are so much fun!

They are also incredibly fattening.....

I calculated the Weight Watchers Points Plus value for a regular cake pop. I came up with 3 points per pop.

3 points!!!

Which was actually less than I thought it would be. However, I wondered if I could make them less "expensive."

Also, I have a confession. I've found the taste of regular cake pops to be......sweet. As in, they had no flavor except sweet. Now, did that stop me from eating them? Oh heck no! But they weren't just the most scrumptious things I'd ever put in my mouth.

So I also set out to make them tastier.

I've been making Yum Yum muffins from Hungry Girl and Weight Watchers for a couple of months now. All they are is a devil's food cake mix and a 15 oz. can of pumpkin. Mix together and bake for about 20 minutes. You can't taste the pumpkin and it makes an incredibly moist cake. If you make 24 muffins, they are 2 points a piece. For comparison purposes, regular cupcakes are 4 points a piece.

Also from a Weight Watchers meeting, I discovered a new product! It's called PB2. It is powdered peanut butter. Somehow these people have figured out a way to get all the fat and oil out of peanuts. Then all you have to do is mix 2 tablespoons of powder with 1 tablespoon of water and voila! A tablespoon of peanut butter with a Points Plus value of 1. (A tablespoon of regular peanut butter is 5 points! yikes!)

It also comes in chocolate!
(But for this recipe, I used the regular flavor.)

So, as I was eating the last batch of cake pops at Christmas, I thought to myself. Hmmm, how could I make these have less points? Then I remembered those muffins. I also thought, how can I make these tastier? Then I remembered the PB2.

Chocolate and peanut butter?

Yep yep!

Even though they were the absolute last thing I needed to have around, I made another batch today. I had baked the muffins in a 9x13 pan the other day. Once again, I used only half of the finished cake. (I don't need 70 cake pops even if they are less points....) I had no idea how much PB2 it would take. I started with 3 finished tablespoons and it worked great!

I made the balls as usual and placed them in the freezer.

For the coating, well, there really is no substitute. They don't make fat free coating. I doubt they make a sugar free coating, though you could always look for one. But it would have to have artificial sweeteners in it and I try to avoid those.
I used Wilton light cocoa candy melts. Once again, I had to add shortening to thin it.

It worked! And the cake was very moist. They taste kind of like a peanut butter fudge ball.

The Points Plus value??????


Yes, I know. Big whoop. One freaking point. Of course, it means that if you eat 3 cake pops, that's only 6 points instead of 9. Every little bit helps, right?

I also had some left over red candy melts. So I used them to fancy them up a bit. Plus, I'm really getting into a Valentine's Day craft and baking mode. That can't be good. Well, for me, at least. My family and Jim's coworkers will love it! LOL!
And finally, I had leftover chocolate coating that I hate to waste. So I drizzled it over some pretzels. Yum!

(And if you want to talk math with me and see how I calculated the Points Plus values, ask me in the comment section. I love talking math with people!)

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Resolution Rant

Happy New Year's! It's January 1st. Time for my annual rant about the pointlessness of New Year's Resolutions!

Have you made any resolutions? Decided that Sunday was a good time to make a change? Thought that a new calendar brings with it skinniness, wealth, and happiness?

No?? Yes???

Ok, then. I have a secret.

It doesn't work that way!

Anyone who decides to change something just because it's January, the 1st, or they hung a new calendar is not going to succeed.

Unless you're my mother-in-law. One year, she resolved to "get fit". Or something like that. She began by dancing around in her kitchen to music she liked. Then she took an aerobics class. Then she TAUGHT an aerobics class. She ended up being an aerobics instructor full time. She even returned to college and got a degree! She's certified to teach many different types of exercise, swimming, and CPR. (I hope I'm getting all of these details right!) She also does personal training.

She IS the 1%.

The (approximate) 1% of people who make a New Year's resolution and stick to it. (The 1% is my number because you know that 79.5% of all statistics are made up on the spot, right? ;)

The rest of us, well, let's just say it doesn't usually work out that way.

So here are my 3 guidelines for making changes that will actually become CHANGES. That you'll stick with and incorporate into your daily life.

1. You gotta get mad!
To paraphrase Dave Ramsey, you've got to get sick and tired of BEING sick and tired! You have to put some emotion into it. You've got to get mad at the problem! You have to decide, once and for all, that you're not going back to that dress size, that food, that significant other, that job, that crappy situation. That whatever you have to do to change things is ok because it's easier than staying where you are.

2. Start small.
So I'm going to exercise every day this week. WRONG! You're going to tell yourself to exercise 2 days this week. Then 3 days next week, Then 4, etc. OR, you can also tell yourself, I'm going to exercise today. And not worry about tomorrow. Then tell yourself the same thing tomorrow. Take it one day at a time. Rome wasn't built in a day and these habits you're trying to change won't be changed in a day. We tend to get off course not by making one huge wrong turn but by making many small ones.

3. Describe your first step in actual words.
Make it a step you can do. "Yell at my family less" is very vague. Try something like, "count to 10 before calmly asking them to pick up their coats." Same thing with "exercise more". What does that look like? Rephrase it to say "walk on treadmill for 20 minutes while baby naps." (heh, heh, yes that's mine. Not off to a good start. I'm blogging instead!)

Change IS possible. New habits CAN be formed. They can even begin on January 1st. But they are more likely to begin when YOU decide they're going to begin. Whether that's January 1st, Feb 23rd, July 18th or any time in between. You'll change something when YOU decide it's time to change.

So don't feel bad if the resolution thing just doesn't work for you. It doesn't work for me. Nor for most people. But don't lose hope. Change is possible but YOU have to decide that it's possible!