Thursday, December 31, 2015

Christmas Countdown 2.0 (Week 4)

Hard to believe that Christmas has come and gone and 2015 is coming to a close. It flew by!  Our Christmas countdown is also at an end. Here's what we did the final few days leading up to Christmas.

Day 22:  Christmas Coloring Pages
The original plan for Day 22 was to drive around and look at Christmas lights and decorations in our town... but... it was a really rainy, foggy, cruddy day. Like, the kind in the Rudolph, The Red-Nosed Reindeer song. We didn't feel like venturing out, so I pulled these coloring pages out of my "back-up plans in case of uncooperative weather" folder and we "helped" Ry color (meaning we colored and Ry scribbled and we all had a good time).

If you're interested in getting a copy of these pages for the little ones in your life, you can download them here.

Day 23:  Deliver Treats to Neighbors
A few weeks ago, our church ladies' group put together some cookie in a jar mixes and we were each able to take one home. Since we're gluten free, I decided to pass on my cookie mix to one of our neighbors who loves to bake.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Chistmas Countdown 2.0 (Week 3)

As the third week of our Christmas countdown comes to a close, I'm thankful for the many blessings in my life. It's been a busy week, but we were able to spend a few days with family and Ry had such a good time with Grandma and Grampy.

Day 15: Make Snow Angels Nature Walk
Still no snow. I told a friend the other day that I feel like I'm living in a scene from the Bing Crosby movie "White Christmas"... you know, the part where they arrive in Vermont expecting snow and get balmy weather instead? Yep, that's us. As I write this, it's in the high 50's and raining. So no white Christmas for us.

Anyway, Ry and I decided to take advantage of the one nice day we had this week to take a 'hike' up the hill in the woods behind our apartment. Ry did pretty well with the uneven terrain on the way up, but needed help on the way down. (He kept saying "Help. Scary.")

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Christmas Countdown 2.0 (Week 2)

We had a fun second week in our Christmas countdown. We had to make a few minor changes to our original plan because of weather, but that's ok. See what we did this week.

Day 8: "Gingerbread" House
I made Ry a cardboard house and glued on some Velcro so we could 'decorate' the house with felt, pipe cleaners, and pom-pom decorations. I think Ry had more fun 'un-decorating' the house than he did decorating the house. Such is the nature of toddler-hood.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Project Date Night: December

Since December is such a busy month, we decided to go simple with our date night this month.

M was able to get some discounted movie ticket vouchers from his employer to use at any movie. Hmmm.... choices, choices. We decided to see The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2, and we loved it!

Funny side note, if you're not into crowds, try going to a movie on a Sunday afternoon. There were about 15 people in the entire theater and we were the youngest ones there.

This was one of our more expensive dates, since we had to get a babysitter.  We joke that we do dinner and a movie - dinner for the babysitter and the movie for us. We don't have a whole lot of teenager approved food at our house, so we get some form of takeout for her when she's here as part of her babysitting deal.

Mockingjay Part 2 received average reviews from the critics, but I loved it.  You can't have a series without wrapping up all the loose ends, and that's what Part 2 is about.  (Not) shockingly enough, my favorite part of the whole movie is that last few minutes, where Katniss finally gets her happy ending. I've been waiting 4 movies for closure and finally... bittersweet, yes. But closure all the same

You can read the synopsis and watch the trailer here.

We've come through an entire year of Project Date Night and I feel it's been a success. I hope our dates this year have in some small way been an inspiration to you and your relationships.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Christmas Countdown 2.0 (Week 1)

As promised, here's a look at the first 7 activities we've done as part of our Christmas Countdown this year.

Day 1: Deck the Halls
Fa-la-la-la-laaaaaa...... Decorating at our house means that I get out the snowflake and Nativity window clings and let Ry stand on his little stool and stick them to the windows. Then, peel them off. Then, stick them on in a different order. Then, peel them off. And repeat.

Then, after he goes to bed, M and I decorate the rest of the house, because I want to actually get the ornaments on the tree without them breaking or being eaten or thrown away. (Ry's newest 'game'. "I help!" he says as he 'cleans up' and throws Mommy's socks, bills, crackers, makeup, etc. in the trash can.)

I confess, I expected to do a LOT more re-decorating of the tree this year, but he's been really good and apparently listened to my lecture (See the pretty tree? Let's keep it pretty and leave the ornaments on the tree. No touch, understand?) We've only had to put ornaments back on once.  Knock on wood.

Day 2: Mom's Choice

I was having a down day and not feeling too well, so Mom's choice was something on the quieter side. I chose to share my favorite Christmas movie with Ry this year - A Charlie Brown Christmas.  It never gets old. Ry's probably a little young for the story and he didn't really get it what it was all about, but he laughed and danced along with the music and seemed to really like Snoopy.

Day 3: Felt Christmas Tree
I think I expected Ry to be more excited about this than he was. It may be that he lumped it together with the rest of the decorations ("no touch") in his mind so it took him a few days before he actually played with it more than once. He's like, "That's nice, Mom. Where's my Legos?" We'll see how much use he gets out of it in the next few weeks.

To make the wall tree, I cut a tree shape out of green felt (about 36 inches tall) and taped it to the wall with double stick tape. Then, I used scraps of colored felt to make "ornaments", candy canes, and a star for the top. I glued some pom-poms and other bits of felt to dress it up a little. I think it came out kind of cute!

Note, I put originally put Velcro on the back of the ornaments so the pieces would stick better, but they ended up sticking too well and when Ry tried to take the ornaments off the felt tree, they pulled the tree off the wall. Hmmm... So I took the Velcro off the ornaments and found that the felt sticks pretty well to itself, so no Velcro needed.

Day 4: Find and Fill Nativity
I got the idea from No Time For Flashcards and adapted it down a little for Ry this year. He's a little young for the scavenger hunt portion, so we just set up his Fisher Price nativity set while I told him who the characters were and how they were important to the Christmas story.

Mom fail moment: He got the nativity set last year and has played with it several time since, so I thought it would be no big deal to do this activity. Our set plays Away In A Manger when you press the angel on the top and apparently, he wasn't expecting that, so it surprised him and he cried. (Probably had a lot to do with it being close to nap time, he can get a little cranky or teary eyed when he's tired.)

He wasn't interested in having anything else to do with the nativity set for a day or two after that, but he's warmed up to it now and I even caught him playing with it by himself yesterday. Next week, I may try sitting with him and removing the characters one at a time and see if he can name them and put them back. Note to self - try this again earlier in the day!

Day 5: Make Cookies
I whipped up some cookie dough and rolled it out, then Ry helped cut out the cookies.  He thought that was fun, but not as much fun as eating the raw cookie dough. "Why bake?" seems to be his motto. I used this gluten free, dairy free, egg free recipe and topped it with some whipped carob icing.

Got to admit, he was as big a fan of the frosted, finished cookies as he was of the raw dough. Kids... there's no accounting for taste... :)

"I don't have cookie dough in my mouth!" Right...

Day 6: Christmas Signing Time
If you know us, you know we're big fans of Signing Time, a series of videos that teaches babies and kids how to use sign language.  It's really helped increase Ry's vocabulary and it's much easier to understand him when he speaks and signs together (although it gets easier to understand his speech as he gets older).

Anyway, I bought the Signing Time Christmas Collection and it was a big hit! We reviewed some of the signs we learned last Christmas and a whole lot of new ones.  I also loved the Christmas (Bible story) musical drama at the end of the video, with the whole drama interpreted in sign. Beautifully done. Best holiday purchase this year, hands down.

Day 7: Christmas Tunes Dance Party
This was a lot of fun. We cranked up our Christmas station on Pandora and I got out our jingle bells and we danced around the living room. Ry has been walking around randomly saying "Jingle Bells" ever since.

Bonus, he was so tired out afterwards, he took an extra long nap. Hmmm... maybe we should do this more often...

Read all the related posts here:

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Christmas Countdown (Advent Calendar) 2.0

Remember my frugal Christmas countdown from last year? It was fun, right? We thought so. We plan to do it again this year.  In case you're new around here, let's recap:

What's the Christmas Countdown?
I wanted to have 1 activity a day December 1-24 that emphasized being together and having fun as a family and de-emphasized the "gimmes" (giving to and serving others). The activities also had to be age appropriate for a toddler, and not focus on food, since we have multiple food allergies and are on a pretty strict diet. Oh, and of course I threw in a few activities just for Mom and Dad.

My holiday season mantra: focus on the give, not the get.

Putting it all Together
This year, I had a little more time on my hands and decided to put together a nicer clip set. I actually printed out the numbers on cardstock, cut the numbers out into squares and mounted them on scrapbook paper. I got a little crafty and used Washi tape to spice up the plain green ones. Overall, I'm pleased with the effect.

New this year: I hot glued the numbers to the clothespins. Last year, I just used double-sided scrapbook sticker squares and we had issues with the numbers coming off the clips. So, I couldn't re-use some of the clips this year and just decided to start over.

We're in a new apartment this year and don't have a fireplace or mantle... where to hang the countdown... hmmm.... solution: I used the burlap twine I'd hung up for my birthday banner.  Worked great!

Last year, I removed the tag each day and put it in a box on the mantel. After a while, I noticed the clothesline looked pretty lopsided (as is the nature of a countdown). That may not bug some of you out there, but I love having some symmetry in my life, so I decided to do things a little differently this year.

New this year, I'll be removing the entire clip each day, turning it around (so you can't see the number) and reattaching the clip without the activity tag. Then, I plan to use that day's clip to display a Christmas card we received in the mail. Solves the symmetry issue, as well as my Christmas card display dilemma. (If those are my only problems, I can count myself blessed, right?)

Mommy's big helper!

Activity Tags
I used 12 recycled Christmas cards (the pretty half with the artwork) and wrote an activity on the back. For the other 12 tags, I used mostly green cardstock and printed the activity onto the back, or used small green envelopes to hold tickets, etc. (like, for date night).

What activities are we doing this year? Glad you asked. All the family and kid activities are age appropriate for toddlers (2-3 year olds), but could probably be adapted for slightly younger or older children depending on their development or interests. You'll notice a few repeats from last year, but there will be quite a few new activities this year as Ry's interests and abilities have changed and grown.

Here's a sneak preview:
  • Find and Fill Nativity Set Activity
  • Painted Paper Plate Wreath Craft
  • Christmas Signing Time DVD
  • Decorate a Cardboard "Gingerbread" House
  • Magnetic Gift Box/Bow Activity
  • Story Time (Christmas Storybook)
  • Wrap Presents
  • Project Date Night: December Edition
  • Package Treats and Deliver to the Neighbors
  • Church Christmas Dinner and Gift Exchange
  • Christmas Eve Service
  • T-shirt Tradition
  • Caroling at the Senior Center
  • Assorted snow related activities... planning for flexibility this year! LET IT SNOW!
  • And MORE....

We're already a few days into the countdown and again, I'm sorry I'm getting this to you too late for you to do the full 24 days, but I hope this post inspires you to spend some quality time with your family this month as we anticipate the celebration of our Lord's birth.

Coming Next!
At the end of each 7 day period, I'll post a recap of what activities we did and how it went. Stay tuned for silliness, nostalgia and poor photography... it'll be awesome!

"See" you soon.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

#ipackedashoebox: Touching Lives With Operation Christmas Child

Last year, I began a new tradition with Ry. I wanted to teach him at an early age that Christmas is not about 'getting', it's about 'giving'. 

I came across Operation Christmas Child (OCC) online and love the idea of giving something tangible to another child on the other side of the world.

What's Operation Christmas Child?

OCC is a ministry of Samaritan's Purse, a non-profit relief organization committed to being Jesus' "hands and feet". Operation Christmas Child sends shoeboxes packed with age-appropriate toys, gifts, hygiene items and school supplies overseas to children, often orphans or street children. Each child receiving a shoebox also has the opportunity to hear a gospel presentation by local pastors and volunteers in their language, and receives a colorful children's booklet containing the plan of salvation in their own language to take home with them.

What Goes Into An OCC Shoebox?

In case you're wondering, here's how to pack a shoebox... from the experts...

Last year, we packed 1 box. It was fun to see how much we could stuff into a shoe box! We tracked  our box to Ukraine, which we thought was ironic, since M is of Ukrainian descent. We love the idea that a little boy in an orphanage somewhere in Ukraine is enjoying the stuffed animal, coloring books, matchbox cars and other items we sent.

This year we're doing 2 boxes. We had fun shopping for fillers... or at least I did. Ry just wanted to play with all the toys. Glad to know I picked items a toddler would like.  :)

So, what's in my shoebox?

Friday, November 20, 2015

Project Date Night: November

It's no secret to those who know me well... I love stand up comedy. Not trashy, raunchy "comedy" (totally not necessary), but just people making funny observations about life in a witty way.  M and I have a short list of our favorite comedians... and we often quote them in our day to day life... the material doesn't get old.

This month, our Project Date Night theme was "Comedy Club". I'm not a clubbing kind of girl, so we did our own stand up comedy experience at home. And no, I did not improv or make M do one-liners off the top of his head. This was about us laughing together while watching someone else deliver the humor. :)

I made a ticket to our special event and left it in his lunchbox. Pretty easy to do with clip art and MS Word. Here's a blank printable copy for you to use if you feel so inclined.

We put the munchkin to bed a little early (it was one of THOSE days) and we were ready for a break. So, we got comfy, snuggled on the couch with our snack, and watched some videos on YouTube.

The Menu
We always get a laugh out of Anjelah Johnson's "Bon Qui Qui" character, so I named our red, bubbly punch "The Bon Qui Qui" in her honor. (Pomegranate juice, grapefruit juice, cinnamon simple syrup and sparkling water... it was pretty good!)

I made M a mini lemon cheesecake with a gingersnap crust. Apparently, I've got a few kinks to work out of that a recipe. He said the flavor was good, but the crust was soggy... bummer. 

I made Chocolate Covered Katie's Healthy Chocolate Fudge Zucchini Brownies. Got to say, (sorry, Katie!) I felt a little "Meh" about the finished product. They were indeed chocolaty, and fudgy. But they were just really dense and heavy, so I'll keep searching for the perfect brownie elsewhere.

Results? Standing ovation and encore! We had such a good time with this one, we'll plan to do it again sometime. If you looked at my YouTube playlist, you'll notice there's several hours of comedy, so there's plenty more for another round of Comedy Club in the future.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Project Date Night: October

Did you know that October has more rainy days on average than any other month of the year? At least that's what M tells me. It feels true, regardless. Rainy, chilly weather makes me want to stay in and stay warm, so this month's Project Date Night was perfect!

The original plan was to learn to ballroom dance in our living room, inspired by watching the movie, "Shall We Dance" last year. But, as I started compiling a YouTube playlist of instructional videos, I came across quite a few line dancing videos and I thought, "Hmmm, that seems like fun," so the Shall We [Line] Dance date night was born.

I went all country and did...
  • BBQ pork ribs (with homemade BBQ sauce, recipe below!)
  • Corn muffins (box mix - I splurged, although I do have a GF cornbread muffin recipe in the works)
  • Baked (sweet) potatoes (pretty plain jane)
  • Sweet tea (actually a mix of black tea and leftover mildly sweet hibiscus sun tea I had made the day before)
  • I was planning to do southern style greens, but just didn't feel like it by the time date night rolled around, so we skipped it.
  • Gingersnap cookies (gluten free and actually just as good as the wheat based gingersnaps I grew up baking. SO good. Recipe coming soon. ish.)

We watched the instructional videos while eating our country style dinner, then proceeded to [try to] cut a rug.

Honestly, we aren't very good at dancing. At all. Like, take a normal person's rhythm and split that between the two of us and that's about right. But, we got our heart rates up and had a few laughs and "learned" how to do the Two Step, the Cowboy Boogie, and the Canadian Stomp. We attempted them anyway, but finally gave up. See, this is why we don't dance in public. Because we're really bad at it. But at least we're bad at it together!

You can check out our YouTube Shall We [Line] Dance playlist here.

We're not going to be winning any dance competitions any time soon, and you can forget about us 'showing off' for friends - not gonna happen - but we will continue to be silly together and try new things. 'Cuz that's how we cowboy boogie, kids.

Note on the BBQ - I like it thick, sweet and tangy with just barely any heat. M tends to add hot sauce to his dish since he likes it spicy. If you can relate to him, just up the hot sauce, tasting as you go until you find the right level of heat for your tastebuds. Enjoy!

Easy Peasy BBQ Sauce
by Raye
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cook Time: none
Keywords: no-cook condiment dairy-free egg-free gluten-free grain-free nut-free refined sugar free soy-free vegetarian
Ingredients (about 2 cups)
  • 1/2 c. tomato paste
  • 1/2 c. water
  • 1 tsp granulated garlic
  • 1 tsp granulated onion
  • 1/4 c. molasses
  • 1-2 Tbsp honey (preferably raw)
  • 2 Tbsp apple cider vinegar (preferably raw, I like Bragg's brand)
  • 1 Tbsp prepared Dijon mustard
  • 1 tsp fish sauce, optional (I like Red Boat brand)
  • 1/2 tsp fine sea salt
  • 1 Tbsp cayenne pepper hot sauce (I like Frank's Red Hot)
It can't get much easier than this...
  • Measure tomato paste, water, granulated garlic, granulated onion, molasses, 1 Tbsp of the honey, the apple cider vinegar, Dijon mustard, fish sauce (if using), sea salt and hot sauce into a small mixing bowl. Whisk until combined.
  • Taste and add another Tbsp honey and more hot sauce if desired. Transfer to a storage jar.
  • Or, measure all ingredients into a 2 cup (1 pint) wide mouth canning jar and use an immersion blender to mix it together.
  • Cap tightly and store in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.
  • Note about fish sauce: Fish sauce is a lactofermented Asian condiment and is used to bump up the umami (meaty flavor) in the BBQ sauce. It's good either with or without it, so up to you.
  • Note about storage: The sauce gets thicker as it sits in the fridge. Stir before serving and add a tablespoon or so of water if needed to thin out to your preferred consistency.
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Friday, September 18, 2015

Project Date Night: September + Apple Crisp for Two Recipe

September is a great month for all things APPLE! This month's Project Date Night was an extension of a family fun night. We went apple picking at a local apple orchard and stocked up on my favorite apples - Macintosh! I bought some cider, cider syrup and utility apples (the not so pretty apples that are a great value when you're baking or making applesauce, or in my case apple butter).

Fun times!

After we put little man to bed, we munched on apple crisp and sipped cider while playing a variation on Apple to Apples - one of our favorite card games.

Friday, September 4, 2015

The Big 3-0

Well folks, its happened. I've crossed over into the land of the mature, responsible adults. Or at least, that's the rumor. What's with that, anyway? When you're "in your twenties"  you're supposed to be this wild, carefree bundle of energy and no one thinks you know anything, but "in your thirties" you're suddenly expected to be responsible and have a handle on your life and make responsible decisions about kids and career and mortgages. Because I'm so much different today than I was yesterday. I got whacked with the magic "Thirty Wand" so now I am Thirty and Thriving. Sure, ok.

Anyway, a birthday calls for a celebration. I decided to forego my usual big birthday bash because this summer has been crazy and I reached my limit around the end of July. Sometimes I just get to a point where I begin dreading another party/meeting/social event and just want to shut myself in a closet with a chocolate bar and a good book and recoup my sanity.  That's when I know it's time to dial it back and downsize my social calendar and spend some time with just home and family (although a little chocolate and a book can't hurt). Later, when I feel more refreshed and energized, I'll put myself out there again and SOCIALIZE.

In the meantime, I still wanted a party, so I just downsized it to an intimate dinner party for family only. Not everyone was able to make it, so we ended up with dinner for four and it was a lovely way to celebrate.

Monday, August 31, 2015

Project Date Night: August (and a recipe!)

Can you believe we're into month 8 of Project Date Night? I'm loving it - it really gives me something to look forward to each month and I've been enjoying sharing our date night adventures with you as well.

I came across this water balloon basketball date night idea and thought it was just too cute to pass up. Bummer though, I don't have a basketball hoop. Aha moment: water balloon toss instead.

Anyone else remember that game from fairs or carnivals where you stand on a line and try to toss a ball (or in this case a water balloon) into numbered buckets for points or prizes? I loved that game as a kid!

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Project Date Night: July

Here's the post I started writing back in July our Project Date Night: July... and then promptly got distracted and forgot to finish and actually post. Yep, it's been that busy around here. But never fear! I do remember to get back to things, eventually.  If you're new around here, read all about Project Date Night here.

July 25 was humid, rainy and 73 degrees. It for all the world reminded me of winter in Florida. And seeing as it was the 25th, Christmas in July seemed a fitting theme for this month's Project Date Night.

Guess how many websites have posted a Christmas in July themed date night idea? Big. Fat. Zero. Ok, so back to the drawing board.

Warning: this post will not contain sweet awesome graphics or stunning photography. Instead you will find pics featuring poor lighting, odd composition, blurry action and silly expressions. Proceed with caution.

  • Christmas Tree Snack Plate (strawberries, grapes, cheese and pecans arranged on a platter)
  • Iced Eggnog Lattés (strong brewed coffee blended with coconut milk and vegan eggnog, topped with ground nutmeg)
  • "Oatmeal" Cookies (grain free)

We played several "Minute to Win It" games.  A lot of the games are geared toward a group or competition between two people at the same time. To keep things simple, we just printed up the names of the games on slips of paper and put them in a [santa] hat.  Then we took turns drawing a slip and trying to complete the challenge within 60 seconds.

Hysterical. Really. I don't think we've laughed this hard in a long time.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Ry Guy's Construction Theme 2nd Birthday Party

What do you do for a little boy who is pretty much obsessed with all things related to wheels and tools? Have a Construction Theme birthday party, of course! Notice our awesome t-shirts. Fit right into the theme!

Last year, we kept it simple and had a small party with mostly adults Ry Guy was comfortable with.  This year, we focused mainly on the kiddos with some simple activities, but still kept the guest list small so he didn't get too overwhelmed.

It came together even better than I had hoped. We had such a fun time and the kids enjoyed themselves too. My little guy was a little shy at the beginning, but after a few minutes he got involved and had a blast.  I loved seeing his smile and hearing him giggle over each new experience.

Ok, here's the details:

We decided to have the party at 3 pm - after Ry's nap so he was well rested.  Since it was middle of the afternoon, we just had snacks, so that was pretty easy. I had fun "re-naming" all the food items after construction or building related things.

  • Honey (glue)
  • Yogurt (plaster)
  • Blueberries and Strawberries (pebbles)
  • Grapes (rocks)
  • Apple slices (couldn't come up with a cute name for that)
  • Sunflower Seed Clusters (gravel)
  • Maple Almond Granola (sawdust)
  • Brownies (asphalt)
  • Apple Juice (varnish)
  • Iced Coffee (diesel) - served with cream and simple syrup
  • And a big jug of water... it was hot outside!

The decorations were fun! Overall, I think it came out pretty cute.
  • Caution tape (Amazon)
  • Orange cones (Amazon)
  • Mylar dump truck balloon (Amazon)
  • Kid size plastic hard hats (Amazon)
  • Orange, yellow and black balloons (Dollar Tree)
  • Tablecloths, napkins, paper plates, etc. (Halloween clearance last year at Walmart) 
  • Yellow cups and spoons (party store) 
  • Blue pop up canopy for shade over the food (from our camping stash)
  • Sawhorses/lumber for the food table (from the garage.  I think it added to the construction feel, but really we just didn't have another table to use.)

I made the invitation myself using Microsoft Word (fancy, I know). I primarily used the Stencil font that comes with the program.  I used some free clipart to make it pretty. I was inspired by this invitation I saw on pinterest, but customized the design to make it work for us (I also made my invitation fit 4 to an 8.5x11 sheet of cardstock (mostly because I get more bang for my buck that way and also because I already had some black notecard size envelopes I wanted to use.)

Also, I designed the food tags and signs myself using Microsoft Word and some more free clip art. I got it all printed at a copy store for about $4. I figure I would have used more than $4 worth of printer ink if I'd printed all the stuff myself.
I would have liked to have had a happy birthday banner somewhere, but ran out of time to put one together. Oh well, if that's my only regret, I guess we're ok.

I wanted to keep the kids' activities simple, unstructured and focused on free play. The kids played with all the toys, but the sandbox seemed to be the favorite.
  • Plastic storage tub filled with play sand (Home Depot) and sand toys, trucks and sand shovels [this is now Ry's sandbox for the summer. I like that I can just snap the lid on when we're done playing to keep the critters out]
  • Ry's kid-size table and a bucket of Duplos legos (M built the table -isn't he handy?- and the duplos were a gift last year)
  • Blanket and Melissa and Doug blocks (gift from last year)
  • Bean bag toss  (both bean bags and sign were homemade) I cut out and painted a piece of cardboard to look like a construction sign, "Men at Work".  The kids had fun tossing the bean bags, but didn't seem to care too much about actually getting the bean bags through the hole. What do you expect from toddlers, right?

Happy Birthday, Little Bear! You're growing up so fast. We're so thankful for the brightness, energy and big ideas you bring to our lives. We love you! - Mom and Dad

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Project Date Night: June

What's Project Date Night all about? Read all about it here.

Happy Anniversary to us! Hard to believe it's been 5 years already.  Time flies when you're having fun, right? Or is it, 'time flies when you're chronically sleep deprived parents'? I don't remember, as I'm falling asleep on my keyboard as I type this ZZZZzzzzzzzz .  Sorry.

We need to have some better pictures taken at some point....

Anyway, typically 5 years would call for a bit of a celebration, a big to-do and all that. Unfortunately, that just wasn't possible for us this year.  [And side note, I wanted to go on a romantic sunset cruise around a lake on an old steam powered paddle boat, but come to find out, they don't run cruises in June anymore. Apparently it's too cold and rainy. Bummer. And there wasn't a whole lot else to do in our area that was "special".]

Check out my sparkles!

Instead, we opted for something simple at home. When we were dating, I got us a gift certificate to a fondue restaurant (I found out after purchasing that it was actually for a restaurant in a different city than where we lived). You know, the kind where you cook your food on sticks at your table? We never ended up using the gift certificate and then we moved out of state. But, if I ever get to Miami, we could have dinner for free. I digress.

My point is that fondue is fun and since we've never done a "fondue restaurant" date, we decided that our fifth anniversary was a great reason to pull out the mini crock pot and get fondue-ing.

Here's the menu:
  • Beef Roast, cubed
  • Grilled Shrimp
  • Smoky BBQ Sauce
  • Horseradish Cocktail Sauce
  • Steamed Broccoli and Carrots
  • Chocolate Fondue
  • Apple Slices
  • Strawberries

Did you know that "fondue" refers to the process, not the substance you're dipping into? So instead of cheese fondue (most common for savory fondue) I went with a hot oil fondue for the beef (bonus! Dairy-free!).

Cooking chunks of beef in hot oil can take quite a while, so to speed up the process, I seared the beef ahead of time and we just warmed it through in the hot oil. Also, we grilled the shrimp and served that separately with the steamed veggies. It was yummy!

For the chocolate fondue, I opted for a room temp chocolate fondue, since I already had hot oil going in my mini crock pot and my actual fondue pot has a tendency to overheat and burn my chocolate. See the end of this post for the recipe.

Chocolate Fondue Dip
by Raye
Keywords: stove top dessert condiment egg-free dairy-free gluten-free gaps grain-free paleo refined sugar free soy-free vegetarian almond
Ingredients (about 2 cups)
  • 1 c. unsweetened almond butter
  • 5-6 Tbsp honey
  • 3/4 c. coconut oil
  • 3/4 c. cocoa powder
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • In a small mixing bowl, combine almond butter, honey, salt and cinnamon. Set aside.
  • Melt the coconut oil in a small saucepan over medium heat. Once the coconut oil is melted, turn off the heat and whisk in the cocoa powder a tablespoon at a time. Then, combine the coconut oil/cocoa mixture with the almond butter mixture. Stir well.
  • Serve immediately (warm) or at room temperature (cool) with your favorite dippers, such as fruit, graham crackers, cookies or pretzels. Store any leftovers in a jar at room temperature for up to a week.
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Monday, June 1, 2015

Well, That's Just Dippy

It's that time of year... heat, humidity, summer, and cookouts out the whah-zoo. I think everyone must have a "go-to" cookout recipe. For you, that may be a killer marinade or burger seasoning blend. Or, an easy side salad or sweet dessert to share. You know, that one thing that instantly pops in your head when you hear "cookout".

While I have some yummy side salads in my repertoire, my cookout staple is the veggie tray. That's crudité for all you foodies out there. Growing up, if I would have said "crudité", people would have looked at me like I had 3 heads and just stepped off the Mother Ship. "Croo-dee-what?" Sigh.  So I just save the gourmet for an appreciative audience.

Anyway, the humble veggie tray comes in a whole bunch of forms, using all manner of raw veggies from carrots to celery to bell pepper to broccoli to cucumber.  When you make the veggie tray yourself, you can arrange any type of raw veggie that sounds "dippable" to you (That's a real word. True story.)  Just make sure they're in bite size pieces and you're golden.

Now that we've discussed the finer points of veggie selection, let's move on to the fun part - the dip. You can definitely do Ranch dip (always a winner), but my personal favorite is this Creamy Yogurt Dill Dip recipe.  It's zesty, creamy, herbaceous, and delicious.  And, the bowl is always scraped clean when I serve it at gatherings, so I take that as a good sign.

P.S. If you are a fan of sour cream and onion chips, you might like this dip with a nice crunchy, salty, kettle cooked plain potato chip.  It's pretty fantastic, I might add.  But me? I'm a veggie lovah at heart. Bring on the "croo-dee-what's" and let's get our cookout on.

Ok, COOKOUT. What dish just popped into your head?

Creamy Yogurt Dill Dip
by Raye
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Keywords: no-cook appetizer condiment side egg-free gaps nut-free vegetarian peanut-free sugar-free soy-free July 4th cookout summer
Ingredients (2 cups dip)
  • 1 cup plain, Greek style yogurt
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 1 tsp fresh lemon juice
  • 2 Tbsp snipped fresh dill (or 2 tsp dried dill)
  • 1 tsp granulated onion (or 1/2 tsp onion powder)
  • 1 tsp granulated garlic (or 1/2 tsp garlic powder)
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp fine sea salt
Combine ingredients. Cover and chill for at least 2 hours before serving to allow the flavors to meld.
Store any leftovers tightly covered in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.
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Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Project Date Night: May

I'll keep this short and sweet.  We've been having some beautiful weather here. The kind that just begs you to come outside and play. So play we did.

Our Project Date Night for the month of May actually took place in the afternoon.  Guess what? We actually got a sitter and went out for a few hours while Ry Guy was napping.  (Hurray!!!!)

Oh yeah, and we played a round of mini golf too. It was such a nice afternoon, the family fun park was pretty busy, but we didn't mind waiting at each mini golf hole.

I found out I'm as bad at mini golf as I remember.  Yikes. Good thing it was all in fun. Final score was totally embarrassing, so I'll spare you the details. Let's just say M won.

All's fair in love and mini golf, right?  Read more about Project Date Night here.
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