Thursday, December 31, 2009

Happy New Year!

My mom and dad with Sarah and Mitch

My parents took my husband, eldest daughter and me out to a wonderful dinner for New Year's Eve. Sarah took my breath away all dressed up-- she is growing up so fast! She wore my 30-something sister's shoes with (very low) heels! She had a choice of prime rib or salmon for dinner and she chose the salmon. She told us it tasted like the sunrise. We definitely saw the young woman beginning to emerge tonight. It was an evening I won't forget for a long, long time and it was the perfect way to ring in the New Year.

In a true "Real Mom" moment, I had planned to wear a very nice, shiny shirt that I've only worn once before on my birthday. I planned ahead and didn't put it on until minutes before we left (to avoid a baby and kid accident) only to realize once it was on that there was HUGE stain right in the center of the shirt! ARGH!

Happy 2010!

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

My 2009 Goals: Success or Failure?

I have been mulling over my "goals" for 2010 and decided to go back to my 2009 goals to see how I did:

1) Criticism: Failed miserably, but I will keep working at it!
2) Knit a sweater: Nope, again. In fact I think I regressed by knitting dishrags all year long!
3) Bake my own bread: DING! DING! We have a winner! This was a true success and one I will keep at forever. After eating homemade bread, there is no going back to the store bought stuff.
4) Cook double and freeze meals: Kinda, sorta. I did this not as often as I would have liked, but definitely more than ever before.

I'd say I was successful at about 30% of my goals for the year. Not too bad, although certainly not a passing grade! Hopefully I can do better in 2010!

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Why We Have An Emergency Fund (Or The Night Our Van Died Far, Far From Home!)

In the next few days there will be a multitude of New Year resolution posts hitting the blogosphere. I'm mulling over mine. Many resolutions will include financial goals for 2010. I really don't like posting too much about money, although I'm not too shy about discussing the fact that we live on a teacher salary with about 20% of that salary going towards child support while paying off law school student loans. Thus when I hear someone say they just "can't afford" something while paying for cable TV, two cars, a motorcycle, and pre-school for a toddler... I have to laugh!

It isn't that there isn't money. The money is there (obviously). It is the priorities that are all messed up. Cable TV and pre-school, in my book, are NOT necessities.

But I digress (BIG TIME)....

Over the past three weeks we've had to dip into our emergency fund to fix up our ten year old van. It is the only vehicle we have and it has been paid off for about two years now. We'd love for it to last another few years so we have time to save up to pay cash for a new one. Tonight the van died when we were 30 minutes from home, with all 3 kids piled in the car and it was dark. Thankfully my parents were with us in their car and my kind sister was able to help us haul everyone home while our beloved van was towed.

I'm annoyed that we have to dip into our emergency fund AGAIN, but that is why we have it! It's not for cable TV or pre-school, it's for true emergencies. So if you are looking for a financial goal for 2010, may I humbly suggest an emergency fund. Dave Ramsey suggests starting with $1,000 in the fund. We like to keep a bit more because of our aging van and two young children. But honestly, any bit of money set aside helps stressful evenings like tonight be less stressful.

We got to look at pretty lights while Our Hero (AKA Daddy)waited for the tow truck!

Monday, December 28, 2009

Granola Cupcakes

These cupcakes are absolutely DELICIOUS! They were so moist and fluffy and not overly sweet at all. I topped them with cream cheese frosting. My mom found the recipe on the back of a Stoneyfield Yogurt container. The recipe is on their website, but it won't let me link directly to it so here you go:


1/2 cup butter
1 cup granulated sugar
2 eggs
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 teaspoon almond extract (I added this -- it's optional)
1 3/4 cups plain yogurt
2 cups unbleached all purpose flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. baking powder
2 cups your favorite granola (I had this granola on hand)

Preheat the oven to 350°F. In a large bowl combine butter and sugar. Using a hand mixer, cream on medium speed until well combined, stopping occasionally to scrape the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula. Add the eggs and beat until light and fluffy. Add the vanilla extract and the yogurt. Beat on low speed until well creamed and smooth, stop once to scrape down the sides of the bowl.

In separate bowl combine flour, baking soda, and baking powder, then sift into another bowl, add granola. Add dry mixture to the creamed mixture and mix on low speed for about 45 seconds, stop once or twice to scrape down the sides of the bowl, until the mixture is well blended.

Fill the cupcake pan with paper liners or spray each tin with canola spray. Divide the batter evenly among the cupcake tins, about a heaping 1/4 cup in each. (DO NOT DO THIS!! Mine totally overflowed! Fill cups however you normally fill!)

Makes abut 18 cupcakes (try more like 32 cupcakes!). Smooth the tops using a spatula.

Bake 20 minutes (mine took at least 30 minutes, but they were way overfilled), until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Let set for a few minutes, and then place on a cooling rack. Allow to cool completely before frosting.

Friday, December 25, 2009

A Simple Christmas

It is Christmas evening and we have just put our littlest ones to bed. We began our Christmas celebration today in a very simple manner. We had my parents and sister over for dinner and spent the rest of the day cooking and lazing about. Ella and I took an hour nap, snuggled together in my bed. Miles spent an inordinate amount of time this evening just sitting on my lap, fiddling with an old store receipt. We had an impromptu visit from dear friends who will soon be far away from us. Ella opened exactly one "present" today and it wasn't really even a present. It was a dollar store toy I had in the car from a party last week. She played with it all day and took it to bed with her tonight.

As my husband and I brought down the presents and filled stockings this evening, I wondered if perhaps it was all even necessary. My kids were happy today with the one dollar store toy and just spending the day with us with no errands and no distractions. I am so eager as a parent to make my kids holidays special that perhaps I've overlooked what really makes them feel special: our undivided attention.

I keep trying to work out what makes Christmas special in our home and to balance the Christmas "Crazies" with the true meaning behind our celebration. Today was definitely an eye opener for me. Christmas can truly be a simple and special day.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Merry Christmas!

From our home to yours -- wishing you a very
Merry Christmas!

The Gabels
Camille & Mitch
Sarah, Ella, & Miles

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The Magic of Christmas

We don't push Santa Clause in our home. Instead, Ella has been asking for weeks when we are having a birthday party of Jesus! Last week, however, she asked to go see Santa Claus so we took her to visit the jolly old elf. After standing in line for about 20 minutes we finally got to see Santa and neither kid wanted anything to do with him. Miles sat on my lap and stared while Ella hid in the stroller on the opposite end of the courtyard. This is the only half way decent picture we got:

This evening we took the kids to the Holiday Lights display at the Springs Preserve. I decided to see if Ella wanted to go wave at Santa and since there were nutcrackers standing right next to him (she is currently obsessed with The Nutcracker ballet), she agreed to go in and say hi. We meandered up, not wanting to get too close and scare her off, when Santa himself stood up and came over to us! We were no where near the line so I was a bit surprised. He chatted it up with Ella ... and asked her if she was going to be a trumpet player like her Daddy when she grew up...!! My husband is a trumpet player and high school band director so Santa obviously knew us, but we have no idea who he was! Not only did Ella talk to Santa, she gave him a "high five", a hug, and we got this awesome photo:

I don't like to focus on the Santa side of the holidays, but tonight was truly a magical moment to watch Ella warm right up to Santa. It was also fun to realize that even though we live in the "big city" we still have magical "small town" moments!

I hope you have a few magical moments in the next few days!

Monday, December 21, 2009

Sweet Dough Goodies: Swedish Tea Wreath & Cinnamon Whirl

This fall I stumbled upon a recipe in a bunch of old magazine clippings my mom gave me that I found intriguing. The recipe calls for a basic sweet dough that is then used to make a Swedish Tea Wreath and a Cinnamon Whirl (cinnamon bread). As I love all recipes involving yeast so I set it aside to try out this holiday season.

I finally got around to the bread recipes this week and LOVE them! The basic dough is a gorgeous, sturdy dough and very simple to work with. It is hands down the best dough I've ever worked with. It baked up absolutely gorgeously and the cinnamon bread is spot on. I'm taking the Swedish Tea Wreath with me to a Christmas Party tonight and I can't wait to try it!

To make the basic dough, I put the flour and yeast in my Kitchen Aid stand mixer bowl and added the warmed wet liquids to it right in the bowl. I mixed the dough together and switched to the dough hook for 3 minutes to knead. I made the Swedish Tea Wreath the same day I made the basic dough (yesterday) and froze half of the dough for the Cinnamon Whirl, which I made the next day (today).

The recipes are from the 1972 December issue of Better Homes and Garden.

Basic Sweet Dough
1 package active dry yeast (2 1/4 teaspoons)
5 3/4 to 6 1/4 cups all purpose flour
2 1/4 cups milk
1/3 cup sugar
1/4 cup shortening (I used coconut oil)
2 teaspoons salt

In large mixer bowl combine yeast and 2 1/2 cups of flour. In saucepan, heat together milk, sugar, shortening and salt, stirring constantly until shortening melts (115 to 120 degrees) [I used coconut oil which melts at 76 degrees]. Add warm liquid to dry ingredients. Beat at low speed with electric mixer for 30 seconds, scraping sides of bowl constantly [I didn't need to scrape]. Beat for 3 minutes at high speed. By hand, stir in enough flour to make a moderately stiff dough [I used the paddle on my stand mixer]. Turn out on a lightly floured surface: knead till smooth and elastic about 8-10 minutes [I used a dough hook on my stand mixer for 3 minutes]. Shape into a ball; place in a lightly greased bowl, turning once to grease entire surface. Cover and let rise until doubled about 1 1/4 hours. Divide the dough in half.

Swedish Tea Wreath
1/2 recipe Basic Sweet Dough
1/4 cup butter, melted [I would suggest only using 2 Tablespoons]
6 ounces of mixed candied fruit and peels [I used a fruit cake mix]
Powdered Sugar Icing (recipe follows)

Roll dough to 1/2 inch thick rectangle. Brush with melted butter. Cover with candied fruits and peels. Roll up in jelly-roll fashion. Shape in to circle, sealing ends together [I had a hard time sealing because of the butter]. Transfer to greased baking sheet [I rolled my dough out on my Silpat so I didn't have to transfer anything!]. Using kitchen shears, snip 2/3 of the way through the roll at 1 inch intervals. Turn each cut section on it side. Cover and let rise until almost double. Bake in a 350 degree oven for 35 minutes. While wreath is still warm, brush with Powdered Sugar Icing: Add enough light cream to 1 cup powdered sugar to make icing spreadable. Stir in 1/2 teaspoon vanilla and dash salt.

Cinnamon Whirl
1/2 Basic Sweet Doug
1/4 cup sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon

Roll dough to 15 X 7 inch rectangle. Combine sugar and cinnamon and spread over rectangle. Sprinkle with about 1 1/2 teaspoons of water. Roll into loaf, starting at narrow end. Place in a greased and floured [I used cinnamon to "flour" my pan] 9 X 5 X 3-inch loaf pan. Cover and let rise until doubled, 45-60 minutes. Bake in 375 degree oven for 30 minutes. If top browns too fast, cover loaf loosely with foil during the last 15 minutes of baking.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

A Quick And Easy Gift: Felt Play Food

I have been lusting after felt play food since I discovered them on Etsy a while back (can't remember exactly when!). I was fairly certain I could make my own felt food and I finally got around to it. I started two days ago and got all the items pictured done in that time. I didn't use any patterns at all, I just free handed everything based on pictures I saw on-line. I used regular sewing thread for the seams and sewed the pieces together using either a whip stitch or a blanket stitch.

If you go here and scroll down a little bit, on the left is a whole list of various tutorials for making felt play food.

It is definitely addicting! Up next are some chicken nuggets and french fries and then some cookies! If you're looking for a quick and easy project that is portable, these are it. There is definitely time to get a few pieces done before Christmas!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Painting Christmas Cookies

I ran across this post about painting Christmas cookies a few weeks ago. Last year we, too, had a sprinkle fiasco (we went through a three year supply of sprinkles in about 10 minutes). I had two 3 year olds and a two year old painting cookies today and it was no fuss-no muss. Brilliant! I highly recommend this method of decorating Christmas cookies for toddlers.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

How To Make Your Own Christmas Shirt

I followed the tutorial here and it took me about an hour. I made the bow as well and that took about 20 minutes. It is just about the cutest thing I have EVER seen! The face is Ella's foot and the antlers are her hands.

I used a shirt Ella already had, but it was $3 at Wal-Mart. The Heat and Bond is $1.97 for a yard, the brown fabric was $1.97/yard (really, a half yard would be PLENTY!); the glitter puffy paint was $.97; the buttons were $1.30 for 4 red and 4 black. I used ribbon I have in my craft bin(s). I'd say the total cost for making shirt is was under $4.00, including the cost of the shirt itself.

I have a plain red tree skirt that I may just have to put some reindeer on. My mom and I decided they would also be adorable on a red tablecloth. Just keep adding to it every year!

Monday, December 14, 2009

The Coolest Cookie Exchange Idea!

I participate in a cookie exchange every December and it is one of my favorite holiday gatherings. I love getting lots of goodies and hanging out with the girls for an evening. To keep the baking to a reasonable amount we exchange half-dozens rather than dozens. This year, for instance, we had 10 women so we made 5 dozen cookies and each lady got 6 cookies.

This year one lady brought the cutest idea ever for a cookie exchange:

Individual sized tins with FUDGE! I am so stealing her idea! I'm going to stock up on those tins after Christmas this year and give them away as gifts next year. This weekend I made this Butter Pecan Fudge recipe a high school friend posted on her Facebook page. IT IS FABULOUS (but holy sugar, Bat Man)! And super easy! I dumped the ingredients in the pan and Ella did all the mixing for me even if she did refuse to look at the camera. The apron she's wearing is a hot pad on top and a matching kitchen towel on the bottom -- so cute! (Ignore the bacon grease... I used it later to make soup.)

I made a double batch of the fudge thinking I'd give some away to our newspaper delivery lady, the water guy, and a few secretaries at my husband's work, but I think I'm going to have to make some more. But it will be so good and so cute next year in those little tins!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

The (Accidental) Great TV Experiment

Last April Ella got her ears pierced (because she was constantly sticking things IN her ears trying to get them ON her ears -- I figured ear piercing was better than a trip to the ER!). She hasn't let me touch her ears since. This past weekend my mom bought her a new pair of Snow White earrings hoping Ella would let us change her earrings. On Sunday I got one earring changed amidst much crying and screaming. Then she refused to let me put the other earring in.

So I drew a line in the sand: no TV until she lets me put the other earring in.

I'm not a big fan of TV to begin with and Ella watches exactly 1.5 hours per day (Dinosaur Train and Sesame Street on PBS). I really could care less if she never watches TV again so this was a line I was willing to draw.

For the first two days Ella asked constantly to watch TV. The answer remained the same: If you let me put in your other earring, you can watch TV. She would say no and walk away. By day three she stopped asking to watch TV asking only once per day. Today is day 5 of no TV. I have one stubborn little girl!

My husband and I have been absolutely amazed by the changes in our daughter in only a few short days of no TV. "They" tell you TV is bad for kids. I'm here to tell you that "they" weren't kidding.

Ella can be cranky, stubborn, ornery and strong-willed. Since the TV has been off she's been delightful! She's happy. She's cheery. She's a down right pleasure to have around! I find myself stopping what I'm doing to sit down and play with her because she is just so much FUN! I don't know what it is but there something in TV that makes her not fun to be around. We noticed certain attitudes and words in shows we don't like so we banned them (do you have any idea how many times Charlie Brown's friends call him stupid?!?! It's amazing!). But this is something totally different that I just can't explain except that Ella is just in a much better mood.

This morning as the clock ticked later and later, I realized that Ella, who is usually up between 6 and 6:30 AM with a 7 PM bedtime, is sleeping later. She has not woken up before 7 AM since the TV was banned. Most mornings she is not up until 7:30 AM. I could tell that she was tired when she was waking up earlier, but I had no idea how to get her more rested. Now, I know!

So what has Ella been doing? Nothing abnormal -- just more of the stuff she did when not watching TV. She spent 30 minutes one morning sitting in her bed quietly reading books. She pretend plays with her Little People and her dolls. She builds a lot of buildings with her blocks and then screams when her little brother knocks them over. She's been sitting at the table with me in the morning while I do paperwork "writing" her name and cutting out "coupons" (seriously, that kid will spend hours cutting up paper!).

Yesterday... she let me READ to her. THREE BOOKS! Ella prefers to read books herself and I think I've read maybe three books to her in the three years she's been alive.

I've been posting about this unintended experiment on my Facebook page and a lot of moms are thinking of trying this out with their own kids. GO FOR IT! Turn the TV off for a week or two and see what happens. This is the perfect time of year for it. There are a million holiday crafts out there to do. You can bake. You can sing Christmas carols (something else we've been doing a lot of this week!). Go to the library and get some holiday books to read together. When it gets dark, drive around looking at all the lights. Make some hot cocoa to bring along for the ride.

And if you decide to take the leap and turn off the TV -- let me know if you saw a change in your little one, too!

Friday, December 4, 2009

Happy Birthday, Sarah!

HAPPY 10th Birthday!!

Sarah turns 10 today! We celebrated with her last week -- pizza, snowflake brownies, and roller skating!

Happy Birthday, Sweetheart!

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Furnishing A Dining Room on a Budget

Last March we decided to look in to purchasing our first home. Three stress filled months later we closed on a condo that doubled our living space. As soon as we were under contract for our condo, I started hunting for a used dining room table. The table we had in our apartment was a Wal-Mart hand-me down and it was tiny. We could barely fit 4 people and their dishes! We needed a table to fit at least 5 (preferably 6-8) and I really wanted room to put the food on the table.

The old teeny tiny table....

For months I have been trolling Craigslist, the classifieds, and yard sales. Let me tell you -- good tables at good prices go FAST! I really didn't want to spend much on a table (I have two small children and I want to be OK with them destroying it!), but I really had no idea what dining room tables go for. Last Friday my husband and I packed up the kids and hauled them all over town. We looked at consignment shops, "regular" furniture stores, and clearance warehouses. The cheapest table we found that would seat 6 (but not hold our food) was $345 before tax, which was way, way, way over my budget! I pretty much resigned myself to the fact that I was going to have to shell out A LOT more money than I wanted to for a mediocre table.

That evening I decided to give Craigslist another shot and I hit the jackpot. I found a square table with 4 chairs and a bench for more than I wanted to spend, but way less than the table at the store. I have learned after months of shopping on Craigslist that if you see something you like, you'd better contact the seller and pick it up as soon as you can! So I emailed to see if it was available. Not only was it still available, the seller found scratches on the table so she didn't feel it was worth worth the original price, but she'd sell it to me for less than half the asking price!

The new, bigger, better table!

Now that we had a new beautiful table, our bookshelves with papers, books, napkins, toys, office supplies, etc hanging off them looked TERRIBLE (see them behind the table in the picture above -- they looked terrible before the new table!). We decided to keep our eyes peeled for a buffet, hutch or dresser so we could hide all that clutter. Last night I found one on Craigslist for an absolute steal. The seller had posted the ad that day and we picked up the same night -- you gotta be QUICK!

Tah-Dah! No more clutter!

Thanks to a little persistence, research, and patience, for less than half the price of the brand new, mediocre dining room table, I ended up with a dining room table I adore and a lovely hutch to hide all our junk.

So who wants to come over for dinner?

(And for some reason having that hutch in our dining room makes feel like a REAL adult...!!)

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

And the Decorating Continues...

This is our first Christmas in our new home and I'm so excited because I have so many Christmas decorations that I can finally use!

The "main" Christmas tree. It was HUGE in our apartment with 9 foot ceilings, but looks quite normal with the 12 foot ceilings we have now. I'd like to put some garland on the banister above the stockings, but I'll wait until it goes on clearance after Christmas.

This is from the stairs right behind the Christmas tree looking into the dining room and the living room (to the left). In the "cut out" (I have no idea what that hole is called!) I hung some ribbon I had and bought the ornaments at the dollar store. I wanted garland, but kind of like the ribbon. You can see the second Christmas tree peeking through in the dining room.

The second Christmas tree in the dining room. I LOVE THIS TREE! It just makes me happy! I hung applesauce/cinnamon ornaments that Sarah, Ella, and I made over Thanksgiving on it.

We decorated the ornaments with glitter glue I found at the dollar store. If you haven't used glitter glue -- you must! That stuff totally rocks. This is a stocking Sarah made.

The outside of our home at night --it was impossible to get a really good picture! I've always wanted to put candles in the windows and I bought a bunch of electric candles on clearance last year (having no idea when I'd use them). You can see the candles in the windows downstairs (we forgot to turn the upstairs ones on) and the white Christmas tree in the dining room is all the way to the right.

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