Things You Just Don’t Want to Buy at the Store–Alfredo Sauce

alfredo5Some foods are so much better when homemade, their store bought counterparts should be banned.  I know everyone has their own time limitations and priorities, but for the sake of your tastebuds, please don’t buy alfredo sauce in a jar.  It’s such a easy and quick recipe that even kitchen beginners like me can easily and quickly put this together, so really, there’s no excuse.

Before we begin, let’s take a look at the ingredients for alfredo sauce in a jar: Water, Cream, Parmesan Cheese Blend (Granular And Parmesan Cheese, Pasteurized Milk, Cheese Cultures, Salt, Enzymes, Water, Salt, Lactic Acid, Citric Acid), Cornstarch, Egg Yolks, Contain 2 Percent Or Less of: Sherry Cooking Wine, Butter, Salt, Romano Cheese Blend (Granular And Romano Cheese Pasteurized Milk, Cheese Cultures, Salt, Enzymes, Water, Whey, Salt), Soybean Oil, Sugar, Garlic, Spice, Enzyme, Gum Arabic, Guar Gum, Natural Flavor.

Here are the homemade alfredo ingredients: butter, garlic, cream, Parmesan cheese, salt.

Enough said. ;-)

Alfredo sauce is not something we eat on a regular basis at our house.  Neither is pasta, for that matter.  For us, they are definitely holiday/birthday/anniversary meals.

1. Melt 4 T butter over medium heat

alfredo12. Add 1 clove minced garlic, and cook 2 minutes, stirring occasionally.

alfredo23. Add 1 cup of cream, raise heat until the sauce just begins to bubble, then lower to a simmer, stirring constantly.  After about 3 minutes at a simmer, when sauce begins to thicken, remove pan from burner and

alfredo34. Add 1 1/4 grated Parmesan cheese, and stir until cheese has melted.  Taste, and add salt if necessary.

alfredo45. Pour alfredo over drained pasta and stir well.

alfredo5If that’s not enough cheese for you, I like adding shredded whole fat mozzerella and/or Gruyere to the top of pasta with alfredo, and baking just until the cheese melts.

Alfredo can be used as pizza sauce, dipping sauce for bread, in lasagna–on garlic toast.  You can pour it over cooked vegetables (delicious with cauliflower or broccoli), or use it as a sauce for meatballs.

Few of us can make 100% of our food from scratch, so we have to pick and choose what’s worth it and what’s not.  Alfredo sauce is worth the small time and effort investment, especially if it’s made for a special occasion.

“Bought marmalade?  Oh dear, I call that very feeble.”

—–Constance Trentham, Gosford Park

 

How a $40 Purchase, 7 Years Ago, Has Kept Me Healthy and Sane

dvd

Right now there’s 6 inches of snow on the ground, and forecasters are predicting more on the way.  Exercise greatly helps my body and mind, so I do what I can to make it a consistent part of my life.  My small Jillian Michaels library allows me to move every day, even when I can’t leave the house (those are the days I need it the most).

I think the key to setting up a successful exercise routine is finding what works for you, and that probably looks different for everyone.  Working out at home with dvds is ideal for me right now–I don’t have to drive anywhere or pay monthly fees.  I fit in my workouts first thing so that by the time the boys wake up, I’ve worked out, showered, and am dressed for the day.

For a very short time, we belonged to a gym, but since I always had at least one child with me, I could only go from 8-5.  Even if I headed to the gym straight from putting the older boys on the bus, it really ate a chunk out of my day.  Though I’m not a morning person, I feel like early morning exercising is the best use of my time.

I used to regularly get workout dvds from the library, which was completely free, and allowed me a great variety of exercise styles and methods.  All that changed in 2008, when I found Jillian Michaels 30 Day Shred.  At the time, I didn’t really know who she was–I vaguely knew what The Biggest Loser was, but had never watched it.  I’m still not a regular fan of the show, but after workout one of 30 Day Shred, I was hooked.  I like the workouts because they’re between 20-45 minutes, don’t require special equipment, they’re customizable, and they work.

Here are six things I do to keep getting benefits from old exercise routines:

1. Exercise continuously–by now I know what’s coming next–I don’t need the 15-30 second instructions, so keep exercising through it

2. Bigger motions–whatever you’re doing, do it as big as you can–deeper lunges, higher kicks, ect

3. Faster motions–do things double or triple time

4. Cardio with weights–I use 3 pound weights during most of the cardio segments

5. Interchange more difficult exercises–I still do level one of the 30 Day Shred on a fairly regular basis, but I switch out several of the more difficult exercises from level three

6. Combine some or all of tips 1-5 into one workout

Of the 4 dvds I own, I can come up with nine 20 minute routines, each of which I can double if I want a longer workout.  This lets me do a different workout every day of the week, and keeps me from getting bored. I spent about $40 on the four dvds, over the course of seven years, and I still use them regularly.

What kind of exercise do you like to do?  Do you have a favorite workout I should try?

 

 

Rustic Campfire Centerpiece for Less Than $2

woodvase4

I originally made these centerpieces for a Boy Scout banquet, but I fell in love with them so much that I made some for my own fireplace.  I bought all my supplies at a dollar store, and used a few tools I already had laying around the house.  Things you’ll need:

woodvase1Glue gun, vase ($1), sticks, burlap ribbon or twine ($1 for roll), hand clippers (optional–nice, but not necessary) and battery operated tea light (not pictured, but $1 for two).

woodvase2 I think the more mossy, beat up and worm-holed the wood is, the better this project looks.  I tried to glue the sticks at the middle of the vase, and keep the interesting parts of the wood at the top or bottom.  That way, any wayward hot glue would be covered up by the ribbon, and the best parts of the sticks can be seen.  I tried breaking the sticks into the right length versus clipping them, to give the sticks a more rustic, authentic look.

woodvase3The most fun part of making them is seeing how all the sticks fit together, overlap, and curve around the vase.  These are great for Boy and Girl Scouts, or if your family likes to camp or hike a lot, I thought it would be fun to grab a stick from each campfire or hike over a summer or a year, and make a vase knowing where the sticks came from.  After our banquet, my boys brought a ‘campfire’ home, and are using them as nightlights.

Are you a camping family?  I didn’t grow up camping, but our boys have, and it’s certainly a family bonding experience!

Linking up with Thrifty Thursday at Living Well Spending Less–head on over for lots of great frugal ideas!

 

What I’m Reading–Pioneer Girl by Laura Ingalls Wilder & More

pioneergirl2

Like many little girls, I was a fan of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s books, and have reread them as an adult, and introduced them to my children.

Pioneer Girl is the (until now), unpublished autobiography Wilder wrote for an adult audience.  She took this raw material and turned it into the children’s series so many of us are familiar with.  Her daughter, Rose Wilder Lane, also used her mother’s life experiences as inspiration for her works of fiction.

Especially in recent years, there have been many questions as to the true authorship of the Little House series–was it actually Laura, or did her daughter Rose write most of it?  The editor Pamela Smith Hill, addresses these questions, and gives much background information about the Wilder family, explaining how Wilder and Lane’s personal and professional lives coexisted and intertwined.

When I picked up my copy of Pioneer Girl at the library, I was shocked at the size and weight of it.  It’s a huge book, and is absolutely packed with information, photos and drawings. The Little House books exclude years of the actual Wilder family’s lives, and this book fills in those gaps.

pioneergirl1

I’ve always really liked Garth Williams’ illustrations, but many of Helen Sewell’s 1935 illustrations are included in Pioneer Girl, and I found them charming as well.  (They remind of me Lois Lenski’s illustrations from about the same time period).  I think the cover is beautiful too–I know you’re not supposed to judge a book by the cover, but I’m a sucker for a gorgeous book.

I love history, and besides having an interest in Laura Ingalls Wilder, Pioneer Girl gives a snapshot of how settlers lived as they were establishing our country.  The author also offers a free college course on the work and writing of Laura Ingalls Wilder.  You can sign up for it here.  (I’ve signed up!)tidyingup1The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up–this was a fantastic book, and although I haven’t implemented all of the principles Kondo discusses, the things I have done have been wonderful.  Basically, she divides all possessions into several categories, and has an order to sort through them in.  You go through every item and decide, does it bring me joy?  Yes=keep, no=discard.

It made me realize that I needed to do something about the rag drawer in my kitchen.  I always thought it was thrifty and frugal to reuse old socks, undershirts, towels, ect for rags.  After reading Kondo’s book, I realized opening this drawer does not bring me joy, it grosses me out.  Plus, I could easily fit 5 microfiber clothes into my kitchen towel drawer, and completely empty this rag drawer.

tidyingup3The thing standing in my way is my deep, dark fear of trash.  I called my local Goodwill, and they confirmed that they accept clean, dry clothes for fabric recycling, so from now on, that is what I will do with the never ending parade of holey boy socks that our house generates.

It’s a really small thing, but what if everything in your house brought you joy?  I didn’t realize how small things like sock rags were an irritation and stressor, until I wanted to get rid of them.  I realize we all have to own necessary things like toilet plungers, that may not fill us with joy, but if our environment was 80% objects that brought us joy, think how calming and relaxing that would be.  (Plus, my rag drawers was a horrible waste of storage space).

Kondo also recommends folding shirts into rectangles that fit into your drawers, and stacking them on end, rather than horizontally.  I refolded my husband’s tee shirt drawer this way, and it makes the shirts so much easier to see and access.  I also folded some of them back side up, if there was printing on the back, but not on the front, so that the pattern/print could be more easily identified while being folded and arranged in this way.  Photos or diagrams would have been so helpful in the clothing section of the book, but I did manage to figure out what she was describing.

tidyingup2I also marked another Outlander book off the list.  Dragonfly in Amber was much less graphic than Outlander, which I appreciated.  As always, the storytelling is wonderful.  I’m pretty concerned with the ending of the book, but since I know there are many more books in the series, I’m going with the assumption it will work out all right. (?????)outlander1I started and finished Unbroken in a day, I just couldn’t put it down.  An amazing and beautiful story of the human spirit.  Obviously, with any book about war, there were things that were very difficult to read, but so worth it.

unbroken1

Linking up with Anne at Modern Mrs. Darcy–head over there for more great book recommendations!

 

 

 

The Time I Helped My Son Build a Tiny Coffin

I have learned that as a parent, I should never say never.  Last Halloween, one of my sons had trouble sleeping because he was scared of mummies.  When I discovered this, I sat down with him and explained that mummies are real, but they were regular people who lived long ago, and teach us important things about history–they do not come back to life and chase us.

Then, in a move that I knew would either be a great educational lesson, or would completely scar him for life, I checked out several children’s books about mummies from the library.  (I carefully previewed them all before he saw them.  Some I returned without him seeing).  You can read more about our initial mummy experience, and see the books we read here.

He read all of the books carefully, and we talked about a lot of things in them.  The subjects weren’t in a tidy package, wrapped neatly with a bow.  There were things like human sacrifice, the death of children, a few more details about executions than I cared for my son to read…..but we talked about the books, what we agreed with, what we didn’t, how life was different then, and how it’s the same.

Now that it’s four months later, I’m cautiously declaring this a victory.  We haven’t lost any more sleep over mummies, instead he’s interested by them, and wants to keep learning more.

My older two sons are boy scouts, and in January our pack hosts a Pinewood Derby.  Each scout manufacturers a car out of a block of wood, and they race all the cars to crown the fastest car.  My sweet 7 year old announced that he wanted to make a coffin car, complete with a mummy passenger, and my stomach sank a little.

My husband and I are the leaders of my son’s den, and while I’m a big believer in doing what is best for your family, regardless of what others think, I have to admit that I wasn’t thrilled with imagining what the other parents of our den would think about our coffin car.  But I told him he could go ahead and make a coffin car, and I suggested he paint the name ‘mummy mobile’ on the side.

“No mom, it has to look like a real coffin,” was the response that I got, and he proceeded to tell us what he wanted, complete with hinged coffin lid and a real mummy.  I firmly believe this child will turn out to be an architect or engineer–he loves to build things, and we have hundreds of pictures of him with his building block creations.

“Good luck with that!”  I told my husband as they went out to the garage, my son still describing his intricate plans.  The mummy car took a lot of blood, sweat and tears to build.  We mummified an action figure with medical tape, and painted the coffin gold, like the Egyptian mummy coffins.  We looked up Egyptian hieroglyphics, and he drew on the ones he liked with an ultra-fine sharpie.

mummymobile1We couldn’t swing a hinged coffin lid, but my son whittled pegs out of a stick, and they bored holes through the lid, which fastened using the pegs.  The coffin car was certainly not the fastest car at our derby, although it didn’t come in at last place, either.  But in the end, I was so proud of my son and his creativity, and was thankful I didn’t get in the way of it.mummymobile2During our study of mummies, we also discovered Pompeii, and other lost cities, which the boys thought was pretty interesting.  Here are some of the books we read about volcanoes and Pompeii:

pompeii

Do you have any other suggestions of things that might interest a mummy-obsessed boy?

Family Breakfast–One Month In

breakfastMy New Year’s Resolution for breakfast was to have a healthy grain free meal, and sit down at the table and eat properly together.  You can read more about it here.

For our big kickoff,  I got breakfast prepped the night before, and I used this recipe, which I’ve never fixed before, even though I printed it out long ago.   I found it took much longer for the eggs to cook than the 5-8 minutes stated in the recipe.

The boys didn’t like the eggs cooked on top of the skillet, and I had to (silently) agree with them.  It was kind of a weird texture issue.  I thought I might make it again, but fry the eggs, and serve them on the plate next to the hash, instead of cook them on top.  However, I sent leftovers for my husband’s lunch the next day, and he said the best part was how the egg was cooked.

That first night was the only time that I got the breakfast prep done the night before.  One morning I had no plan whatsoever, and not much time, so I found leftover roasted cauliflower and poured about 6 beaten eggs over it, and topped with some cheese.  My fussy morning boy complained long and hard about the meal, but once he started eating, he said, “You know Mom, this isn’t too bad”.  I wish I had the moment recorded.

I also made this recipe, which we’ve eaten in many various forms over the years.  This time I used white potatoes, sweet potatoes, broccoli stem, a carrot and a zucchini.  With my limited cooking skills, I’ve discovered it’s easier just to make a skillet of hashbrowns, rather than try and make the patty-like pancakes.

I fixed all white potato hash browns at the request of my morning fusser.    I had never cooked hash browns before, and my first attempt was a little lacking.  However, they were completely edible, although my fusser had other ideas.

This morning, I again was without a plan, so I chopped up two zucchinis and one white potato and cooked them in a skillet with bacon grease, salt and pepper.  I eyed the green concoction as I spooned it onto the plates and thought,” They’ll never eat this”.  To my surprise, they happily ate it and requested I make it again sometime.  Tomorrow I’m pouring eggs over the leftovers for a fritata.

What I didn’t expect to happen is that my picky eater has gobbled the meals down with little complaint.  While the jury is still out on whether the behavior issues of morning fusser have improved, this has been a great change in our morning routine.

We’ve also been reading a morning devotion for kids, and I think the quiet time of reflection while we eat has given us all some peace and calmness that permeates the rest of our day.

The things I want to change are all things that have to do with me: actually prepping lunch and breakfast the night before, and sticking to the plan I’ve made.

So what does breakfast look like at your house?  Any tips to help mine go smoother?

Personality, Work, and Volunteering

personality1

Have you heard how much I love the book MotherStyles?  If you haven’t, check it out here.

One of my favorite parts of the book was how the authors talk about finding a job or volunteer opportunity that you will thrive in, by focusing on the strengths of your personality.  Also, how having children can change the type of job that will make you feel most fulfilled.  I feel it’s really important to steer our children (and ourselves) into a career path that builds on their strengths, so I was thrilled to find we are already doing something in our house that the author recommends.

My husband and I are Boy Scout den leaders for one of our sons, and we often end up coaching various park board sports teams as well.  Hubs is ENFP and I’m INFJ, which means for any non-Meyers Briggs speakers out there, he’s outgoing and laid back, and I’m quiet and detail oriented.  One of the main reasons I married him is so that he could do most of the talking for me.  (I’m kidding, sort of).

We make a great team because we complement each other–for scouts, I plan all the meetings, set up field trips, and pretty much handle all the details.  He’s great with kids, so he actually runs the meetings, and is the main one who interacts with the boys.  When we coach a sports team, he’s the actual coach who works with the kids, and I’m really the team manager, who hands out schedules, texts reminders of game times to parents, and sets up snack rotations.

Because of my personality, it could get overwhelming for me to be with my own kids all day, and then deal with 15 or so additional boys at these extracurricular activities.  Most of my time and energy goes into the planning–that’s what I’m naturally good at, and I feel a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction seeing my own boys and their friends enjoying these activities, knowing that I had a behind the scenes contribution that made it possible.

If I was trying to take on my husband’s role, and be the outgoing leader, interacting with the boys all the time, I’m pretty sure it would wear me out and I wouldn’t feel successful. Sure, there are times when he’s not there, and I do take over and stretch my comfort zone, wrangling scouts or soccer players.  But I feel best when the majority of my time is spent at what my natural strengths are–planning and organizing behind the scenes.

The authors give several examples of how something that fulfills you before children can overwhelm you after having children.  Someone who has a job that requires them to pour themselves into other people, such as a teacher, counselor or therapist–might thrive in the job before having children of their own.  The same job may lead to burn out and exhaustion, giving of themselves so much all day, and then going home to give more to their children after hours.

I’m not a car person–my philosophy is to get something, take good care of it, and drive it until you can’t drive it anymore.  When our second son was born, I drove a little hatchback that was paid off and got great gas mileage.  It was a rude awakening to discover that it didn’t accommodate two car seats, let alone a double stroller.  It just didn’t meet the needs of our new four person family, which was hard for me to accept–I thought I would drive it forever.

Likewise, a career or volunteer opportunity that fulfills you and makes you feel that you’re successful and making a contribution may not make you feel the same way after children enter you life, and that’s okay–you can find different occupations or opportunities where you can thrive in a new way.

What do you think–how has your work or volunteer experiences changed with your different life stages?

New Year’s Resolutions for Breakfast

breakfastMornings haven’t been pleasant around our house for a long time.  One of our boys struggles in the morning.  We’ve tried checklists, behavior charts, incentives, taking away privileges–so far we haven’t found a solution to our problem.

During Christmas break, I came up with an idea which I hoped would solve our behavior issues by establishing good food habits.  I told the boys it was going to be our New Year’s Resolution: Family Breakfast.

There are a lot of statistics about how beneficial it is for families to sit down and eat dinner together whenever possible.  We do a pretty good job of that around our house, but we do a terrible job of sitting down to breakfast together.

I don’t like most traditional breakfast foods, and I really don’t like eating anything in the morning.  We eat dinners in our dining room, but for breakfast, the boys sit at the kitchen island and eat while I do morning chores–putting together lunches, making sure everyone’s scrubbed behind their ears, and signing permission slips for school.

When my husband started his current job, he was able to choose a clock-in time that got him out the door earlier, so he can get home in the afternoon earlier.  This lets him spend more waking hours with us, but he leaves the house half and hour before the boys wake up.

In order for all of us to sit down and have breakfast together, our boys would have to wake up an hour earlier than they currently do.  As much as I would love some adult reinforcement to my least favorite part of our day, we really like his work schedule, and it works well for our family.

We’ve gotten really lax in our breakfast menu as well–the boys have been eating cold ‘healthy’ cereal almost every day for quite some time, and that needs to change.  I want to find seven healthy, hot breakfasts that aren’t completely carb-based that we can all tolerate, if not enjoy.

I’m using paleo breakfast recipes, although we don’t follow a paleo diet.  Why?  I’m looking for healthy recipes, and usually paleo recipes are very healthy.  Working in a vegetable at breakfast is a win-win situation, so I may add cow’s milk or cheese to these recipes, but not any additional grains.  (We do have a gluten free eater in our house.)  I’m planning on prepping breakfast the night before, so that it’s ready to put into the oven first thing in the morning.

1.) Pumpkin Pancakes

2.) Ham, Apple, & Sweet Potato Scramble–except I’ll use pork sausage, because that’s what’s in our freezer

3.) Twice Baked Sweet Potatoes

4.) Potato Vegetable Pancakes

5.) Baked Parmesan Hash Brown Cups

6.) Sausage, Spinach & Feta Fritata

7.) Mireille Guiliano’s Magical Breakfast Cream

Just looking at the list really intimidates me.  This will require a lot more work than pouring a bowl of cereal.  However, the recipes do look delicious!  Do you have go-to recipes for breakfast?

 

Our Civil War Christmas Tradition

cw3Last Saturday, one of my sons opened the paper on our advent calendar and read “Civil War luminaries”, one of my favorite Christmas traditions.  We live near a Civil War National Battlefield, and once a year in December, volunteers line the road through the park with over 2,500 luminaries–one for each soldier that died in battle.

cw1It’s hauntingly beautiful.  We play quiet instrumental Christmas music, and bring thermoses of hot chocolate to drink in the car.  We remind the boys that the candles honor the soldiers who lost their lives here.

cw5There are soldier reenactors who have a camp site set up, and visit in character about the events of the day (in 1861).

cw4We park the car, and walk up to a farmhouse, which looks just as it did in the 1860’s.  Much of the original furniture is still there, and the house is lit only by candle light.  Volunteers in period clothing are in each room to answer questions.

We are told that 11 people lived in the three room house, and I think about the differences and similarities between my life and that of the mother raising her nine children with the Civil War being fought in her back yard. I resolve to be more grateful for the life I have.

cw2 Outside on the porch, a group sings acapella Old English Christmas carols.  I could stand and listen to them all night. This year the weather was unseasonably warm, so we stood a little longer, listening to the singers, with the stars above us and the candles surrounding the house.

I think one reason I enjoy the evening so much is because it forces us to be quiet.  The atmosphere is hushed, like that of a church or a library.  Everything about the evening is very simple–the candles, the farmhouse, the music, the stars.  Whether or not we like it, Christmas comes with a lot of bustle and noise, and taking a break from the noise helps give us some space to reflect.

Do you have any unusual or non-traditional Christmas traditions?

What I’m Reading–Quick Lit December 2014

The


The last time I discussed books, I had lots of books I hadn’t finished (or started).  A cold the week of Thanksgiving resulted in some unexpected reading time, and I was able to cross several books off my list.

book1Outlander is an amazing story, and I loved the time traveling aspect.  It almost got too graphic for me, but the story telling made up for it.  Looking forward to the rest of the series.

book2 This one did go past my tolerance for violence–looks like judging a book by the cover didn’t work out so well for me this time.  I actually liked the book, and am interested to see what happens next, but there was too much graphic violence for me (especially directed at women and children).  I won’t be reading any more of Johansen’s books.

book6I’m not in the demographics for Guiliano’s latest book, but I still enjoyed reading it, especially the chapters on food.  I did skim large sections that don’t apply to me (yet), but it was a great reminder the importance of healthy living and taking care of yourself.

book4I didn’t care for the way this book was written, but it had some good information in it, so I think it was worth reading.  The author has her own division of personality types–divided into four letters, and I was a little dismayed at seeing another personality type structure, but I was able to find my own and my children’s types quickly and painlessly, and the information aligned with other personality reading I’ve been doing, which made me feel like I’m getting somewhere.

book2

Also, this book was top shelf reading for helping our family interact and communicate better.  Read all my thoughts here.

Linking up Anne at Modern Mrs. Darcy–head over there for more book reviews!