Thursday, March 31, 2011

30 Day Photo Challenge - Day 14

Today's photo is of a picture of someone I could never imagine my life without. It's almost impossible to decide on just one person. But, in honor of a recent birthday, I'm going to show you some pictures of my mom.  She's not really a fan of the camera, so these are almost a year old. But my friend Abby (a central FL photographer) did a great job capturing one of my favorite things about my mom - how much she loves her family.

I think each of these photos shows that she truly enjoys the company of her grandchildren.

And that we enjoy her company too!

Happy birthday G-ma!

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

How I Keep My Family Happy: The Food Edition

The nice ladies over at asked me how I keep my family happy. And one of the the easy answers to that is I try to keep their favorite foods in the house. Each one of them likes something different and it can be a challenge at time to meet all of their needs... but you know what they say about the way to a man's heart. It's true at my house too, but not just for the man! :)

Bruce likes ice cream, home baked chocolate chip cookies, chips and dip, and beef. If I can manage to keep at least one of those things easily accessible to him on any given evening, then I have succeeded in keeping him happy. I think I get the most points for homemade cookies though. And I just use the Toll House recipe on the bag!

Yanfei (our Chinese exchange student) is 16 17 and likes sweets, including fruit. She seems easier to please though and can be satisfied with a jar of Nutella and fresh bread. Though I think she's eaten it straight from the jar before.

You'd think that since Charlotte and Mary are so close in age it would be the same foods that keep them happy. But nope... couldn't get off that easy. Charlotte likes fruit "chewies" and cheese crackers of all types more than anything else. Mary would probably be happy if she could have milk, bananas, and "flat cheese" (aka sliced cheese) all day long. (But can you imagine the resulting constipation?!)

And since I'm part of this family too, I try to keep me happy as well. A good cup of coffee is usually enough to keep me happy in the morning. But by the time the evening comes along, it usually means having a special "treat" like Girl Scout or Pepperidge Farm cookies hidden away in the back of the freezer. Really though, I'm less picky about WHAT it is and more picky about the atmosphere it's consumed in. If I'm alone, with my laptop, and there's some soft music in the background, then that makes me happy. (I live less than 2 miles from a 24-hour Starbucks!)

Overall, it probably seems like we eat a lot of junk food. But that really isn't true. We keep these items as special treats to be enjoyed. If Bruce ate ice cream and chips and beef every day, none of us would be happy when his arteries got clogged. And I've already talked about what might happen if Mary got her food wishes! Then NONE of us would be happy!

What are your families' favorite foods?

“I wrote this blog post while participating in the SocialMoms and Farm Rich blogging program, for a gift card worth $25. For more information on how you can participate, click here.”

30 Day Photo Challenge - Day 13

I'm onto day 13 of the 30 day photo challenge and one reason it's taken me so long to get this post up is because I am supposed to post a picture of my favorite band or artist.

And the truth is, I'm not much of a fan. I like lots of songs. And I've even been heard saying, "oh! that's my favorite song!" when one comes on the radio or the opening chords are strung by the Praise Band at my church.

Instead of narrowing it down to just one, I'll just share some of my favorites. This is not even close to an exhaustive list and the challenge might have been more revealing had they asked for a favorite song... but then again, it's kind of hard to take a picture of a song, isn't it?

Josh Wilson (who we met in person thanks to Joy FM)

Third Day (the one band I've seen in concert more than any other)
(Image courtesy: Music Babylon)

Sara McLachlan (the best outdoor concert experience I ever had)
(Image courtesy:

Who is your favorite band or artist?

WFMW: Monthly Menu Planning Spreadsheet

As an update to my post last month about monthly menu planning and how much easier it has made my life, I want to share this great monthly menu planning spreadsheet that one of my readers (my mom!) was inspired to make and share. My mom is great with these sorts of things and she made it really easy to use.

April will be my first month trying this out and I am excited to have the list formatted more cleanly than my handwritten notes were. You can access the spreadsheet through Google Docs at this link - monthly menu planning spreadsheet.

There are columns for the date, meal idea, source, and for fresh ingredients. The last one is probably my favorite feature of my monthly menu plan. Because seriously, if I tried to buy my produce and dairy for the whole month at the beginning, it wouldn't last. We'd probably just eat all of the fruit up in the first 2 weeks and then end up with rotten spinach by the time we got to week 4.

Currently, this spreadsheet is formatted from April 2011 - March 2012. And next year, if someone reminds me, I'll post an updated one for 2012-2013.

Now, it's time for me to fill out my menu for next month! My family likes to eat!

Let me know if you have made the switch to monthly menu planning. If not, what keeps you from it?

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Welcome To Our House

The other day Charlotte wanted to do a craft "all by myself." She even knew what she wanted to make - a welcome sign for our door.

So, I printed out the word 'welcome' and then handed her a few supplies. This is the result:

She conceived this almost entirely by herself and the execution is wholly hers. The wooden craft sticks are a fence and there is a lot of grass and flowers to make it pretty. And of course, there had to be dirt (the black marks) for the grass and flowers to grow in. She even drew the circle around the word 'Welcome' so she would know where to cut it.

One aspect of this I am really proud of is the purple flower. Charlotte was practicing on another sheet and had a hard time getting it to look like the sample one I made. So she asked for help instead of saying, "I can't!"

(You see, we don't allow her to say, "I can't." If she is struggling with something, we are trying to teach her to either be more creative with a solution or ask for help. I want her to find the solutions to problems within her self but to also not be afraid of admitting when she needs help with something. Off my parenting soap box now.)

Getting back to the purple flower... so asked me to make the dots so she could trace them and draw the flower the way she wanted to. It pleased me to know that was trying her best to both make the sign look nice and to manage her frustration.

This really has me thinking that I ought to be giving her more freedom with the crafting supplies. I love watching her brain work!

Why don't you share your adventures watching your kids learn in the comments below.

"What Are These For?"

"What are these for?" Charlotte asked as she pointed to the tiny nipples on her chest.

In a moment of what I consider to be good mothering, I told her that they were for when she grows up and becomes a mommy. That one day, she would use them to make milk to feed her babies. Just like I had used mine to give milk to her and Mary when they were babies.

I was so proud of my lack of hesitation and the positive tone of my response, I was completely caught off guard when she laid in my lap and said she was pretending to be a baby, and would I please give her some of my milk!

Do you have any funny breastfeeding stories? Or funny body discovery stories? Leave a comment with a link so we can all have another chuckle!

Monday, March 28, 2011

Toy Storage System

I need a storage system for small toys that doesn't consist of easy to open boxes or ziploc bags. We have lots of toy sets that consist of small items and my previous option, ziploc bags isn't working any more. She has mastered how to open them and once I found her trying to put the bag over her head. Not good.

Mary can open the boxes and bags so quickly that our living room goes from clean to atrocious in about 15 minutes. It's the fun of opening things that she loves. I don't mind indulging her on one or two sets of toys, but it gets a bit out of hand when she tries to open everything. I need to store things like small fairy dolls, My Little Ponies, a felt tea set, etc...

So, more experienced or clever moms, how do you store your little toys in a way that they are still accessible to a 3-year old, but not so easily accessible to an 18-month old?

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Mary Is Giving Up the Pacifier

It isn't her first choice, but the time has come for Mary to give up her pacifier. She wasn't really thrilled with the idea as she has become rather attached to the darn thing over the last 18 months. And truth be told, so have I. 

Unfortunately, we noticed a month or so ago that Mary's teeth seemed to be coming in crooked, almost in the shape of her Soothie pacifier. So we decided it was time to go. I was not looking forward to it, and it still is hard.

We began by telling her she could only have it in bed and when we left the house (for the benefit of the people around us). It was tough for the first several days since she was used to having it almost constantly. Then she got used to it. If she got hurt or was extra tired I sometimes gave it to her for a few minutes.

After a week or so of that, I'm trying to limit it outside of the house. It seems to be working mostly. Though, the other morning she asked to take a nap at 9:30 am just so she could have her paci. I figured that was her goal when just a short time later she seemed to be ready to get up. I indulged her because I think she really likes playing with her big sister more than her paci.

She still gets it when she takes a nap or goes to bed. And I try to keep it handy in the car. But pretty much everywhere else the rule is no, unless she is getting tired or gets hurt. 

The funniest part of the whole thing is that when we get her out of the crib in the morning, she'll take her last couple hard sucks of her paci before putting it down to get out. It cracks me up every time!

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Florida How I Love Thee

The weather this week has been perfect. No ill-timed thunder storms. No frying eggs on the side walk. Just gorgeous blue skies with wispy white clouds that look like animals frolicking in the sky.

The extra hour of sun light may have fooled us into thinking it was earlier than expected. But that is okay, it meant we also got tricked into sleeping later than anticipated because the sun wasn't up quite as early.

I know a time will come in a month or so when I will curse my birth into this state. And when it does, I'll try to remember Spring Break 2011 when my family got to play at Busch Gardens with friends and at the zoo splash pad with family and never broke a sweat.

For now, let me enjoy the last waning hours of sunlight as our Spring Break comes to a close and Bruce goes back to work in the morning. See you on the flip side...

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Nutella, Oh How I Love Thee

The first time I tasted Nutella, I knew we would begin a life long relationship. I was in high school and my mom brought home a freshly baked baguette and a jar of Nutella from a French bakery. It was foreign and sweet. That was all it took. I was hooked on Nutella.

Last fall, Nutella was on sale. And I had coupons. So I bought several jars and introduced Charlotte to it. She mostly enjoys it on home made oatmeal waffles, but sometimes we just use frozen waffles. Surprisingly, she doesn't like it when I put a super thick layer of Nutella on her waffle. A thin layer is all it takes to make her happy. (And those several jars, they would have lasted longer if the teenager in my house hadn't discovered her own love of Nutella as well!)

So, with my love of Nutella firmly established, when Mommy Parties invited me to host a Nutella Play Date in my home, I could hardly say no. There were a few points I wanted to share with my Mommy friends lest they think we eat chocolate for breakfast all the time.

  • Nutella does have cocoa in it, but used in moderation, it can be a nice breakfast or desert treat. 
  • There are no peanuts in Nutella so I can serve it to Mary & Charlotte without worrying about allergens. This is important in our house because Mary always wants what Charlotte has. I like to pick my battles and meal time has enough issues of its own that I don't want the fight if I serve them different food.
  • It goes really well with fruit and homemade breads. Nutella with sliced strawberries, bananas, apples, or pears makes just about everyone happy. 
  • Did you know there are more than 50 hazelnuts in a single jar of Nutella? More than 100 hazelnuts in the extra large jar!

Here's a fun Nutella recipe I made up the morning of the party. I don't have a clever name for them, so let me know if you think of one. It is slices of bananas spread with Nutella and topped off with Multi-Grain Cheerios.

Here are some of the moms and kids enjoying homemade waffles

Have you tried Nutella? How do you like to eat it?

Monday, March 14, 2011

Giveaway: Catch A Character

Does your child believe in the Easter Bunny? Santa Clause? The Tooth Fairy? If so, I found a website sure to delight both you and them as you try to build anticipation of big events in their lives. It's called Catch A Character and it allows you to insert a picture of these elusive characters into your own pictures.

Imagine you child's surprise on Easter morning when they wake to find eggs scattered around the house and a picture of the Easter Bunny trying to hide them. Or the morning after they leave their tooth under their pillow and then you surprise them with a picture of the Tooth Fairy in action. You'd be the coolest mom on the block with that picture!

I played around with the site a bit and had a lot of fun putting the right picture with the right Santa image. You can adjust the size of the character as well as the coloring or brightness. This helps make it look as real as possible. I was really impressed with how easy it was to use.

I have 5 free picture codes to give away to the first 5 people who comment on this post. The code is good for creating and downloading a single enhanced image from the site. Just leave a comment with your name and e-mail address. Oh, and you must be a follower of my blog either through e-mail or Facebook to be eligible to win!

I received one or more of the products mentioned above for free using Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will be good for my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commissions 16 CFR, Part 255 Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising. Tomoson Product review & giveaway Disclosure.

Saturday, March 12, 2011


Just wanted to share a little gem with you... They sent us a promotional tee recently and it was super soft. Plus, after several washes, the logo still looks great. Charlotte and Mary both liked the monkey logo, but if you use them for printing t-shirts, you'll get your own logo.

I was really impressed with the ultra saturated colors. It seems most screen printed t-shirts wash out or fade after a while, but this one didn't. And they do have a wide variety of clothing types to choose from.

My only disappointment with the site was that quotes are only available over the phone. I understand why they do this, but it would be nice to have a ball park figure before you get too invested in the process.

I received one or more of the products mentioned above for free using Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will be good for my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commissions 16 CFR, Part 255 Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising. Tomoson Product review & giveaway Disclosure.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Foodie Friday: Strawberry Quick Bread

A blessing of living in FL, besides all the sunshine we get in January and February, are the strawberries that are grown here. We can get them super cheap this time of year and I often have more than I can use. But don't you worry... waste not, want not! I have a plan for using them up.

Most years, I make and can strawberry jam to last the rest of the year. For example, in January 2010, my family and I picked 30 pounds of strawberries. Most became jam, a bunch were eaten right away, and the rest were individually frozen to enjoy year round.

This week, I found myself with a clamshell of strawberries that had frozen in my refrigerator. I do not like to eat previously frozen berries unless they are in something, so I made something with the berries. I think this recipe will hang around through the summer and next fall as a great way to have a taste of FL winter year round.

Strawberry Quick Bread

1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup sugar
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp salt
1 tbsp lemon zest (about 1 lemon's worth)
2 large eggs
1/4 cup mashed strawberries (about 1 clamshell's worth)
1/2 cup vegetable oil (sub with apple sauce if you like)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease & flour a 9x5 loaf pan (or just use a can of baker's spray like I did).

Mix together the dry ingredients (flour, sugar, baking soda, nutmeg, salt). In a separate bowl mix together the remaining ingredients (eggs, lemon zest, oil, mashed strawberries). Combine wet & dry ingredients and whisk until well blended.

Bake for 55-60 minutes, or until a cake tester inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean. Then, cool in the pan for 15 minutes before removing it to a rack to cool completely. This step will take at least an hour.

Additional notes:

  • You can add walnuts or almonds. I think they would both go well with the strawberries. My husband doesn't like nutty things, so I left them out of mine. 
  • Substitute apple sauce for the vegetable oil. I didn't try that with this recipe, but it is a common way to reduce the fat and calories in baked goods. I usually do, but we've eaten all the applesauce in this house.
  • Let your kid mash the berries! This was Charlotte's job today and she loved it. I don't have a traditional masher, so I gave her one of the beaters from my electric mixer and it worked just fine. I had to finish up a few large pieces she missed, but she like participating.
  • To get the best flavor and easiest slicing, wrap the bread in plastic wrap while it is slightly warm and let it sit over night.
That last note? It won't happen in our house! There's no way I can keep everyone's hands off of strawberry bread that long. And next time I make this, I'll probably do it in either a mini loaf or a muffin pan. We don't like waiting for things around here and the 60 minutes to bake was crazy long!

Review: Story Time For Me

I've found a pretty cool children's book resource that I wanted to share. It's called Story Time For Me.

This website has about 30 animated story books that you can watch with your kids. Charlotte really liked the Fern series and was disappointed that there was only 1 Flame the Dragon book so far. The Ben the Mouse series is really cute too. Each book focuses on different characters in at Ben's school and also on different character attributes. They allowed Charlotte (just 3 1/2) and I to have some good conversations about sharing, feelings, and how we treat our friends.

Soon, they will be adding personalized story books with animation of your own children. I recently bought a personalized story book and know an online, animated version would go over really well in our house!

Also, if you fan the Story Time For Me Facebook page, you will be entered in to a drawing to win a FREE personalized story book.

Let me know which stories you and your kids like!

I received one or more of the products mentioned above for free using Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will be good for my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commissions 16 CFR, Part 255 Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising. Tomoson Product review & giveaway Disclosure.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Lucky To Have Friends Like You

And you are lucky to have a friend like me!! :)

I wanted to pop in a second time today to share how to earn free Redbox movies between now and Thursday, March 17. Here are the instructions from Redbox:
  1. Sign-up for a redbox online account at Why? By signing up for an online account, you can see what movies are currently in redbox kiosks near you and reserve your picks to guarantee they’ll still be waiting for you when you get there (until 9 p.m. the next day).
  2. Redbox will email you a personal web address link
  3. Share the link with your friends
  4. Every time someone reserves a movie online through your personal web address, you’ll receive a credit in your online account for a free one-night DVD rental
If it is your friend’s first time reserving online, they’ll also receive a credit for a free one night rental
Spread the luck! Email it, post it to Facebook, Tweet about it!

FTC Disclosure: This post is an entry to win free Redbox movies and movie snack packs as a member of the Mom Bloggers Club.

STEP 4: Come back to this page and leave your blog post URL in the comments. If you are one of the first 100, we will then contact you to receive your shipping information.


Giveaway: Savvy Shoppers Sale

Do you know what a seasonal consignment sale it? I do, and I love them!!! And I love giving away gift certificates to my readers! (Keep reading for details.)

March and April are the most popular months of the year for these sales as moms start looking to pack away the parkas and mittens. Fortunately, Lakeland is blessed to have a couple of these. The first consignment sale of the season is Savvy Shoppers. It was started by my friend Debbie and I am pleased to tell you more about it.

Savvy Shoppers Children's Consignment Sale
March 24-26, 2011
90 Lake Morton Dr.
Junior League Building (near the Lakeland Public Library)

This is what Debbie has to say about Savvy Shoppers:
We are here to help during these hard economic times. Moms need to make their dollars stretch. By consigning your gently used clothes, toys, games, etc., with Savvy Shoppers you will earn 70% of your sales. You can increase your earnings by volunteering at the sale. You can shop out great selection at awesome prices. We hope you will come and join us at the sale!
A seasonal consignment sale is typically a multi-day event where moms can consign gently used children's clothing, toys, or books and earn up to 70% of the same price. Consignors get to set their own prices and are able to earn more money than through traditional consignment or by holding a yard sale.

These types of seasonal sales are great for moms and grandparents who need things too. The prices are competitive and there is a huge variety of things to choose from. Many times, you'll even find new items still with the tags on them for 20-50% off of retail! Those are my favorite things to snag.

You can learn more about how to tag for a consignment sale, volunteer perks, or the New Mom's presale by visiting the Savvy Shoppers website. And now, Debbie has agreed to give away a $10 gift certificate to one lucky mom!

Oh, and don't forget to visit the Savvy Shoppers Facebook page to stay up to date with what's happening at the sale!

How to Enter: There are five ways to enter and you can do any of them you like, for up to five entries:

1. Leave a comment telling me who you are shopping for,
2. 'Like' Family Musings on Facebook and Savvy Shoppers Facebook page and then leave a 2nd comment with your FB name telling me you did,
3. Subscribe to my RSS feed or subscribe by email, and leave a 3rd comment telling me you did so, or already are subscribed,
4. Link to my giveaway on your own blog, leaving another comment with the permalink to you post, or
5. Follow Family Musings on Twitter  then tweet this giveaway and leave a 5th comment with the twitter id or permalink. Here's your tweet:
Win a $10 gift card to the Savvy Shoppers sale from @FamilyMusings#lkld #giveaway

That's it. 5 ways to win and 1 lucky winner. This giveaway will end Sunday, March 20th at midnight. Read all contest rules here.

FTC Disclosure: I received nothing other than goodwill and warm fuzzies for sharing this with you. :)

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Works for Me Wednesday: Monthly Menu Planning

A couple of months ago I switched from planning weekly dinner menus to planning monthly dinner menus. I read the idea months ago but was nervous about making the switch. I was finally convinced because I realized that weekly planning was not the best use of my time.

Here are the pros to planning a monthly dinner menu:

  • I only have to browse my cookbooks or recipes online once a month.
  • I can space out my "filler meals" which ensures we don't eat spaghetti every other night.
  • It is easier to guarantee that I do try the new recipes I do find. I'd been in a rut making the same handful of meals every week and even Mary was getting bored. 
  • My budget is relieved. We get paid just once a month and by knowing at the beginning of the month what our main food expenses will be I can plan better. 
  • I do not need to make a big shopping trip on a weekly basis. This is better for the girls attention span and for my sanity. Sure, I stop in for milk and produce throughout the month, but I don't get as sucked in to the impulse buys by not walking the aisles.
How I do it:
  1. I write out the days of the month, including the day of the week. This is necessary so I can keep our schedule in mind as I plan. Its pointless to plan a meal that takes an hour prep on days when we don't get home until 5 pm.
  2. I fill in my recurring meal ideas. We eat pasta with sauce for dinner at least once a week. Breakfast for dinner is another weekly staple. Wednesday nights are at church. 
  3. Then I start browsing blog posts I've flagged with recipes that sound good. Or I pull out a cookbook that I haven't used in a while.
  4. New recipes seem to be going on the menu at least twice a week. I either print the recipe (jf it's trapped on my computer), or I note the cookbook and page so I can easily find it when I need it. Printing might seem silly since I could just pull it back up at dinner time, but my days don't always work in such a way that I can get online to read it just when I need it. I just clip the recipes to the fridge with the menu plan so I don't misplace them.
  5. As I'm adding recipes, I'm also making my shopping list and checking my pantry for ingredients on hand. If I know I'll need something fresh for a recipe later in the month, I add a note to the side to remind myself to pick up whatever fresh ingredient it is that I need.
  6. Then, once the month has begun, I remain flexible. This month I've started crossing out the meals when I make them since 3 recent nights in a row our plans changed in the afternoon. 
I've also discovered some ways to make this easier, if time allows. I've made some of the meals ahead of time while the girls were napping and then put them in the freezer. Not every recipe lends itself to this type of preparation, but some do and it helps me save time.

What works for you today?

Linked up at the following blogs:

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Mary is 18-months Old

I'm not quite sure how it happened, but my baby is not a baby any longer. Mary is 18 months old now and is a lot of fun when she isn't crying for her pacifier. (I know, she shouldn't have one at this age... its her only vice though.)

Some quick facts about Mary:

  • She says Momma a lot. As in, it is probably the only sound you'll hear if her mouth is open. Sometimes, she will Dadda if prompted and I think I heard her say some version of Charlotte today. But I only think it was Charlotte because she was pointing and chasing her big sister around the play ground.
  • Mary likes to give hugs. 
  • One of her favorite things to do is empty things out - bags, doll houses, toy baskets. If you can fill it up, she'll want to empty it out.
  • Fortunately, she also likes to fill things up again. We find the remote in Bruce's boots. Mismatched shoes in the blanket box. Toys in the plastic cabinet. One day we'll be able to harness this for good when she learns where things belong.
  • Chase is one of her favorite games. She'll chase or be chased, both are equally as fun for her.
  • Mary's favorite person is her sister. If Charlotte is doing it, then Mary wants to as well. I use this to my advantage all of the time.
  • She has the best giggle! And it is usually fairly easy to elicit. Tickling, watching people fall down, playing chase, all these things can get a great big belly laugh from her.
  • When someone is laying on the floor, you can bet money that Mary will want to sit on top of them. Its a given. She just likes sitting on us. That's probably Bruce's fault though because he encouraged it early on. The only one who doesn't like it is Charlotte.
Here are some pictures I took of Mary this afternoon to commemorate the occasion. 

Monday, March 07, 2011

Blah, Blah, Blah

I just don't feel like writing.

I have several posts half written, either online or in my head.

I have a couple of giveaways that need to get started.

I have some product reviews that are getting close to over due.

I have a camera full of pictures that need to be downloaded and edited.

So, here's what I'm going to do. I'm going to just let it go for another few days and see then if I feel like writing.

Hopefully, I will. But I make no promises (or apologies) if I don't.

In the mean time, why don't you link to your most favorite recent post. If I'm not going to write, I can at least read what you are writing.