Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Candy Cane Cookies

On a Facebook group I follow, a local woman shared her grandma's recipe for candy cane cookies. I decided to give a go at making them to give as Christmas gifts for the neighbors. They were fun to make, looked super cute, and tasted buttery and delicious. I couldn't get the peppermint candy pieces to stick, but I think the cookies looked better and tasted better without them anyway. The only other change I'd recommend is using less almond extract, as I thought it was a touch overpowering (my husband, on the other hand, liked the almond flavor).

The directions that are italicized are my additions.


2 1/2 cups flour
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup shortening
1/2 cup softened butter
1 cup powdered sugar
1 egg
1 1/2 teaspoons almond extract (I think 1/2 tsp would be enough)
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 1/2 teaspoons red food coloring (or as needed)
1/2 cup coarse sugar 
1/2 cup crushed peppermint candies (optional)

1. Stir together the flour and salt. Set aside.
2. In a separate bowl, mix shortening, butter, powdered sugar, egg, and flavorings.
3. Stir half of flour mixture into shortening mixture. Work in remaining flour mixture with your hands until dough holds together.
4. Divide dough in half. Blend red coloring in half of dough.
5. Divide each half into four balls and refrigerate for 30 minutes while the oven preheats to 375.
6. Make two strips of two colors, side by side. Make like a rope.

My picture of my cookie dough rope:

7. Cut into pieces approximately 6 inches long.  Curve tops like love handles (Those are the grandmother's words, not mine!).

Here's my picture of the cut sections:

8. Bake nine minutes at 375 degrees.
9. While warm, remove from sheet and sprinkle with mixture of crushed candy and sugar (I preferred just the sugar without the crushed peppermint candies).
 10. Enjoy! Also, you will gain weight (Again, her grandmother's words and not mine! Ha!).

Once cool, I packaged them up in some plastic wrap, tied them with a ribbon, and attached a gift tag. All together, this made ~20 cookies for me, but some were very fragile and broke. Thankfully, I had some helpers who were willing to eat those broken ones ;-)

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Family Christmas Event at Living History Farms

Andrew had to work tonight, so I took the kids to the Family Christmas Event at Living History Farms. Living History Farms is about a 10 minute drive from our house, and it has demonstrations on how farmers lived during different points in history. Tonight, they had the Visitor's Center, the Old Church, and the Flynn Mansion open. With our membership, admission to the event cost $4.75 a piece.

At the Visitor's Center, there was live Christmas music, and Santa walked around giving out candy canes. Oliver was happy about the candy cane but pretty distraught over the music. He wasn't the only little kid with his hands over his ears, though! There was supposed to be a taffy pull, but I guess there was a problem today, so they gave out little pieces of taffy for the kids. They also had crafts for the older kids. There was a table for kids ages 5-9 and another table for kids 10 and over.

We took a horse-pulled cart from the Visitor's Center to the Old Church. It was definitely the highlight of the night for Jo. If it wasn't for the horse-pulled cart, I think I would have asked about getting my money back for Jo. With the exception of cookie decorating at the church, none of the activities were for little kids. The horse-pulled cart was a hit, though, and Jo laughed and laughed. I'm glad we sat near the front by the horses! At the Old Church, they were teaching people how to do a dance. In the basement, they had hot cider, and the kids got to decorate cookies. 

After the kids ate their cookies, we took the horse-pulled cart over to the Flynn Mansion. The mansion was beautiful. We walked into a room where a woman wearing 19th century clothing was helping some kids string popcorn. Jo didn't even try that, obviously, and it ended up being too difficult for Oliver to do while standing in a group of kids. I told him we'll try to string some at home. We walked by another demonstration by a woman who was poking cloves into oranges, but it was another activity that was more for older kids. We found a room upstairs with old fashioned Christmas pictures for the kids to color. After the colored, we went back to the Visitor's Center to pick up Oliver's craft and headed back home. It didn't feel like we were there for very long, but it was almost two hours! The kids were great. It really was charming and fun, but I don't think it's an event I'd recommend to parents with little kids. I think it's probably good for kids who are in grade school, and especially good for kids who are 8+. I'd like to take the kids back in a couple of years, when they're big enough to participate in the activities and also big enough for me to be able to look around more.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Photos with Santa at Bass Pro Shops

I love how Oliver gets happier over the years, but little Jo is still pretty upset about seeing the jolly man in red. 

Last year, Jo requested her fox, which we hadn't brought with to the mall. The little fox puppet was in the car, so I handed her that. I'm still kind of disappointed the picture isn't of her with her beloved fox. Oh well! This year, they each brought their favorite stuffed friend with them. We went to Bass Pro Shops up in Northfield (Denver). They had free photos with Santa and free carousel rides. The kids had an excellent time. I think so many people had built up how great Bass Pro Shops is for the kiddos at Christmas that I expected something grand. It wasn't. It was simple and fun and free. 

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Small Business Saturday

I think Small Business Saturday is officially favorite shopping day. For me, Black Friday has been ruined by so many businesses opening on Thanksgiving Day. Don't get me wrong; I still plan on going out with my friends on Black Friday, but I'm looking forward to Small Business Saturday even more. Small Business Saturday is the Saturday after Thanksgiving, which is November 29 this year.

For those who haven't participated in Small Business Saturday in the past, it's very easy if you are an American Express card holder. This year, American Express is offering each person with a registered card three credit statements for spending $10 or more (before taxes) with your registered American Express card at a participating small business. So, let's say you walk into a participating small business and see a book for $11. You buy it with your registered American Express card, and they will give you a $10 statement credit for it. You effectively get the book for $1 + tax. It's an amazing deal! You get to do that three times on Small Business Saturday! Plus, it motivates shoppers to shop at local small businesses. Oh, I should also mention that you have to shop at these small businesses inn person (you can't shop at them online and get the credit).

Registration opened up today, and it continues through Small Business Saturday (11/29), or until they reach their maximum number of registrations.

You can register your American Express card here. After you register, you should get a confirmation email from American Express, along with a link to search for participating small businesses in your area. I should also mention that people with linked credit cards can register separately. So, in the case of my husband and me, we can each register our cards and each get three $10 statement credits if we both make three separate $10+ purchases at participating small businesses on Small Business Saturday. Free $60 for Christmas shopping, woohoo!

This year, we'll be back in the Denver area for Thanksgiving. I'm not sure where we're going to shop just yet, but I have a feeling we'll go to Tattered Cover Book Store and Timbuk Toys. In the past, we've gone to Savory Spice Shop in Littleton. This year, I noticed there's a tea shop in Highlands Ranch called Moon Kats that is participating, too. We can stop there to pick up a gift or just get a treat after shopping!

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Happy Third Birthday, Jo!

Our little Joanna Banana is 3. How did that happen?! Seriously, I just can't believe how big our kids are getting.

Jo is a little ball of sunshine. I think she should be a sitcom because she runs around and does hilarious things and often speaks in catch phrases. When I take a moment to stop and think of her, I always picture her with her messy bedhead that she has in the morning, reaching up with her pudgy little baby hand, and brushing the hair out of her eyes. She runs almost everywhere. She often thinks out loud, so we always know what she's going to do next. Also, she is extremely independent. I mean, sometimes I think the only problem she'll ever have in school is that she won't want to do whatever the group is doing because she'd rather do her own thing. She likes to sit in her room and play with her stuffed animals or sit and play with her dollhouse or sit with the iPad and play "Subway Surfer" or watch videos on YouTube (one of her favorites is a Russian cartoon called "Masha and the Bear" that is actually super fun to watch, and she also loves Peppa Pig). She loves being outside, but she usually wanders off to stomp through the flowers or play with rocks. She's aware what everyone else is doing and is socially aware, but she'd just rather do her thing.

She finished potty training back in May, so she was almost exactly 2-and-a-half. She loves singing songs; she sings dozens of songs and nursery rhymes. She memorizes books and videos. She loves dirt, rocks, leaves, and water. She likes monsters and lady bugs and trains, but she also likes princesses and queens. She's starting to like it when I do her hair. Mostly, she loves her stuffed fox.

Another big thing in Jo's life is that she's temporarily going to "preschool!" While I do my school practicum, Jo is going to the 2 year old room at school. The teachers say she doesn't talk much at all to them, but that she is so easy going and easy to care for. If they have room next semester, I might continue taking her for a couple hours once a week because I think it's good for her.

Now, as easy-going as she is, Joanna doesn't listen as well as her brother always has. If we tell her something, she'll try to just wait until she thinks we're not paying attention. If we ever catch her doing something she's not supposed to, she ducks her head and always says, "Sorry Mommy," or "Sorry Daddy," and then runs away. It's kind of funny. I'm pretty sure that she can get away with anything because she's just so adorable all the time. It's probably bad, but what is a parent to do?

Here's a collection of some of my favorite Jo-ments (Jo moments) over this past year:

Friday, October 31, 2014

Beggar's Night 2014

So, in Des Moines, kids don't trick-or-treat on Halloween. They trick-or-treat on Beggar's Night, which is usually the night before Halloween! Plus, kids don't get candy simply for saying trick-or-treat. They are expected to tell a joke to get candy. Kids go door-to-door, and when they say, "Trick or treat!" the neighbors ask, "Do you have a joke for me?"

Oliver and I went through some possible jokes online. He liked two. One is "What do witches put in their hair? SCARE spray!" The other was, "What do ghosts eat for dessert? I SCREAM!" I also read a few others to him, one of which he remembered and retold to some neighbors but a bit incorrectly. The joked asked, "What do ghosts drink at breakfast? Coffee with sugar and SCREAM." Oliver would ask some neighbors, "What do ghosts drink at breakfast? Ice cream with sugar." Hehe. It was really cute! At our house, he heard a kid tell a joke about a spider liking to use the computer because he could browse the web, and Oliver told that joke to a lot of neighbors, too. He kept rotating his four jokes, which I thought was super cute!

Joanna had the time of her life trick-or-treating. Her happiest moment came when we walked up to a house, and a lady answered the door with a bowl full of packages of crackers. One of them were Angry Birds graham crackers. Jo was so excited, but she's also very shy. She closed her eyes and buried her face in her hands. I wasn't sure what was wrong, so I bent down to her level. She whispered to me, "Angry Birds crackers." It was adorable. She held them proudly in her hand until we got home, and then she gobbled them up.

Here are some pictures of the kids on their big night out. Oliver was Lord Business, and Jo got to be a warm monster, thanks to a neighbor who gave us a really cool hand-me-down costume!

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Happy 5th Birthday, Oliver!

I'm pretty sure I say the same thing every year, but, this year, I am just so amazed and proud of how much our little guy is growing up. What most important is that he's turning out to be a really good kid.

Oliver started preschool at the end of August. It was a little rough on him at first. He's spent his entire life being with his mom, having a clear routine, and knowing exactly what each day would bring. He was a pretty difficult baby, and I think routine was the best thing for him for a long time. I'm glad he's an older kid when it comes to school cut-offs because I don't think he would have been ready to start preschool until after he was about 4-and-a-half. Even so, it wasn't easy. When things didn't go his way, he just crumbled to the ground and basically pouted. He was mad! The teachers had to give him a special quiet corner that he could go to and just be angry. He verbalizes his feelings well, and he'd tell them exactly what he was feeling and why. They'd ask him if he was ready to go back and join the class, and he'd say, "Not yet." It's going smoothly now, and he no longer needs his corner. Preschool is becoming his routine, and he loves to go! He loves the opening question of the day, he enjoys all of the learning centers, and he has made a number of friends. One of our neighbor's sons is in Oliver's class, and Oliver just adores him.

Over the past few months, Oliver has gotten really into art. He draws so many things--really anything that's made an impression on him. He often comes home from school and draws a picture about his day. One day, they dropped Mentos into a bottle of pop and watched it foam up and shoot out of the bottle! His drawing of that was pretty spectacular. His teacher tells me he will go to the easel after the question of the day and create his own graph and color in what everyone's answers were. Personally, as a biased mother, I think his artwork is just so amazing and detailed, especially considering this is something he really just started to do a few months ago. There's one thing that he hasn't developed, though, probably due to lack of experience before now: he holds his pen like a toddler would, by grabbing it with his whole hand.

He takes after me in that he loves numbers. He's always asking about numbers, can count over 100, and likes to add by the hundreds. He asks, "Mom, why is 100 plus 100, 200?" He draws number lines, and he likes addition problems with multiple numbers, like 2 + 2 + 2 = __. He draws out little items to represent each number and then adds them up to get to the correct answer. Seriously, it sounds like I must be a crazy parent who drills my child on this stuff, but I swear it's just something he's picked up on his own. Like clocks, he also likes clocks! He loves it when I tell him what time something is going to happen, and then he'll watch the clock and tell me how many times the hands have to go around for it to be the right time.

As for reading, he loves books but isn't reading on his own yet. He enjoys trying to write. He draws pictures and labels them. He sounds out words and often gets them right or at least gets the consonants right. He can sound out some word when he's reading, too, but he doesn't sit down and read a whole sentence.

He's taking an interest in some pop culture stuff. He loves The Lego Movie. It's not like he's seen a lot of movies in his lifetime. In fact, I think he's only seen The Lego Movie and Toy Story. But he's totally obsessed with Emmett, Lord Business, and Good Cop/Bad Cop from the movie. He's also taken an interest in playing video games with Andrew. He loves Zelda, but his new favorite is a 2-player Lego Movie computer game.

Oliver builds Legos on his own, too. Like his drawings, his Lego creations get really creative. He builds characters from the movie using regular pieces, but they get elaborate. His focus on detail just astounds us sometimes. He'll give characters their "overpriced coffee" like in the movie. He uses little mugs for Lord Business's hat and makes sure they're turned the correct way. He won't use the wrong color pants. He likes everything just so!

We didn't get him in sports this year. I tried to sign him up for soccer, but registration closed before we closed on our house. I'm going to try this spring! Actually, now that I'm thinking about it, he did take an evening swim class with Andrew in the summer.

He's really a sweet kid. He loves to cuddle. He's asking hundreds of questions every day. He loves attention and being taught new things. He talks about other people's feelings and what makes them sad or happy. I'm just so proud of him! But I can't believe he's 5. Happy Birthday to my sweet boy!

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Oliver & Jo's Birthday Party, 2014!

This year, I asked Oliver what kind of a birthday party he'd like. "Thomas!" he said. I later asked him if we could have a "Spooky Thomas" birthday party because I love having all of the kids come together in their costumes. Here are the kids in their costumes. Oliver is Lord Business, but his hat is falling off in the picture. It was so warm out (72 degrees!) that he ended up taking off the hat in no time, followed by the chest piece, and then he changed from his sweatshirt to a T-shirt. Joanna was going to be a monster for the party, but the costume is fleece, so we put her in a back-up costume: her Minnie Mouse dress! (She refused to wear the ears, though). So much for kids being in costume ;-)

I combined Thomas the Train AND Halloween! Not an easy feat ;-)

We turned the kids' play house into a "not-so haunted house." A sign by the front door read, "Joanna's not-so haunted house," and I hung pumpkin garland and a smiling bat inside. In the garden, where I pulled out all of the old cucumber vines, Andrew posted a sign that read, "Oliver's pumpkin patch." We filled it with 12 small pumpkins to be part of the party favors.

I found a Thomas train that pulls a "Happy Halloween!" train, and so the Halloween train is being pulled around the Halloween cake. Oliver liked the ghost! I'd also made ghost cake balls and deviled eggs (some with black olive "spiders" on top), and Andrew made mummy dogs (pigs in a blanket).

The birthday kids are ready to blow out candles!

Birthday gift time! The kids received lots of wonderful gifts from friends & family.

Happy Birthday, kids!

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Oliver's Cooking Show: Pumpkin Muffins

Oliver and Jo have been watching all of the old episodes of Oliver's Cooking Show, and Oliver asked me if we could do another episode. I can't believe it's been a year since his last one! So, I agreed, and I asked him if he'd like to make muffins for his show. My friend had told me about a 3-ingredient pumpkin muffin recipe a couple years ago, and we've made it a few times since then. It's easy and works perfectly!

Here's Oliver doing his latest cooking demonstration:


Friday, October 3, 2014

Spooky Thomas Party - Picture Cut-Out

I'm starting to get working on ideas for Oliver & Jo's birthday party this year. I love doing a Halloween-theme each year, but I know that the kids will eventually have their own ideas. This year, Oliver requested a Thomas the Train birthday party. I thought about it and asked him if we could do a spooky Thomas party. He agreed! I'm excited!

A friend on Facebook posted a picture of her son's construction worker birthday party. Her mom had decorated these cardboard cut-outs for kids to take pictures in. I thought what a great idea it is to make your own. I didn't want to go through the work and expense of buying wood, cutting it, and painting it, so I decided to go the cheap route. I colored images on pieces of computer paper and used Mod Podge to glue them to a large cardboard box Andrew brought home.

Here was the drawing in progress. I wanted to incorporate a Thomas & Friends train with a Halloween background. I chose James, which Andrew thought was weird, but I told him Thomas is going to be in a lot of the party decor, so I want to change it up a bit.

Oliver loved watching me draw and color, so he started working on his own train pulling a load of pumpkins, too.

A little Mod Podge to glue it onto the side of the large cardboard box:

And here's the final product:

I'm going to see if I have the time (and another box) to make an Emily cutout, too, that way all the decor isn't all boys. The party is for Jo, too, after all!

Here are the kiddos playing in the box:

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Costco Vacuum

We got a great deal on a membership to Costco from LivingSocial. Today, we took the kids there to redeem our voucher and do a little browsing. We walked by the appliances, and Oliver got really excited. Recently, he's gotten into vacuuming. Seriously, he's thrilled if I take out the vacuum and plug it in and let him use it. Anyway, a man was doing a Dyson demonstration and let Oliver vacuum up some confetti! It was such a fun experience for him, but now he's asking for a $480 vacuum cleaner for his birthday. Oops.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

We Have a Preschooler!

Oliver started preschool this week! He goes as part of the Des Moines' schools "universal preschool" program which pays for all preschoolers in the city to attend part-time school at age 4. I know this is a big deal. Even part-time preschools offered in public schools in the Denver area cost at least $300/month, so we are very happy to take advantage of the universal preschool program here! The drive to his school is short, his neighbor & friend is in his class, and the class only has about ten kids and two teachers!

Here's our Ollie Bear on his very first day:

Here's his preschool! It's one of the few private schools that are part of the public universal preschool option. We chose it because the classes offered at the elementary schools looked much larger.

So far, Oliver seems to like preschool. His first day started out well, but when a teacher told him that he wasn't listening, he started to cry. From what I gather, a teacher asked him what was wrong, and when he tried to articulate it, he said, "Someone told me to do something naughty," instead of, "Someone told me I did something naughty." I think the teachers were a little freaked out and pulled me into the class later to talk about it. Once I figured out what the matter was, I told them and said he was probably just embarrassed about being told he was doing something wrong. He's not used to hearing feedback from anyone but me, so it's going to take some time for him to get used to listening to teachers.

The last two days have gone much smoother, and Oliver tells us all about the songs they sing and the question of the day and the games they play at school (including playing grocery store!). He seems to like it, but then he also seems reluctant to have to go back. It'll just take some time to adjust. I need time to adjust, too! Every day, I ask the teachers how Oliver did that day. Every day, they tell me a problem and never give positive feedback. Yesterday, it was that he got hungry and cranky and the end of the day. Today, they told me, "He got hungry at 11:10." I feed him breakfast, and they give him a snack when the kids arrive, so I think it'll just take time for his stomach to get used to a more rigid meal schedule. I feel like I'm the one reassuring the teachers of that, though, instead of the other way around.

Next week, I'm determined to work up the courage to ask for positive feedback from them. If they insist on telling me something minor that went wrong, I think I'll just say, "And did he model any good behaviors?" It's frustrating because I'd promised him he could have a book today if he did a good job in school, and I explained that a "good job" meant listening to his teachers. When he came out of class, I asked him if he did well, and he said, "Yeah!" Then he started telling me about a gumball machine. Then I asked the teacher how he did, and she just said, "He got hungry at 11:10." I don't really know what to make of that, so I later told Oliver he earned his book.

I know the road will be a little bumpy for a few weeks as we all adjust to his schedule, but I think Oliver's really going to like preschool. And that's the most important thing to me!

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Another parenting fail, and how Jo grabbed a light bulb

Last night, after bed time, Jo wandered into Oliver's room and emerged crying and screaming. It was hard to get any information out of either of them. Jo was inconsolable for over an hour and took a long time to fall asleep. She kept rubbing her hand on us and on her fox. One finger had what looked like a pinch mark, so we thought maybe Oliver had bit her, even though he said he didn't. After repeated questioning, he finally said he'd "kicked her because she was screaming." When I asked him where he'd kicked her, he said he didn't know, but then he said her head. I asked him if he kicked her hand, and he said yes. He lost his new bike (an early birthday gift from Grandma Colleen) for a while. I wasn't sure if her head was hurt or not. I wasn't sure if her hand rubbing was a sign of a head injury or hand injury. We gave Jo some baby Motrin and a band-aid (she loves band-aids) to try to help her feel better. We called my mother-in-law, a PA, to ask about head injuries. None of Jo's symptoms seemed to fit (she was speaking and moving all of her limbs). So, I just held her for a long time until she calmed down and finally fell asleep. She seemed so upset about whatever happened that I decided to sleep in her room last night. To put that in perspective, I've never slept in her room before! She was really, really upset.

Today, she's back to her normal, happy self. We examined her hand after she got up for the day. There were three blisters on her ring finger. Andrew wondered if she somehow burned herself, and it clicked: Oliver's room has a wall sconce with an exposed bulb. It's the only light in his room (no ceiling light), so it's on frequently in the evenings. Of course, it gets hot, but we taught Oliver not to touch it. I made a mental note to get a cover for it but never did. I could kick myself for not having gotten a cover for it yet. Jo must have wandered into his room and grabbed the bulb. I feel like I failed both of our kids. I had punished Oliver for his sister's injury, and I hadn't treated Jo's hand properly (a band-aid? Ouch!). Her hand doesn't look too bad, and she doesn't seem to be in any more pain. Good grief. I feel so awful. Seriously, she was in so much pain last night, and now it all makes sense. I wish I'd realized what happened last night so I could have cooled her hand off and properly treated her.

Happy girl again today:

A poor photo of her injured finger (it's hard to take a picture of a two-year-old's hand):

Learn from my mistake. Replace light bulbs in reach of little kiddos with LED bulbs and get a good protective cover that doesn't transfer a lot of heat. My poor baby girl, and my poor little guy. I hate that I blamed him. Ack! It's going to take a while to forgive myself.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Raccoon River Park

Raccoon River park & beach in West Des Moines is about a 10 minute drive from our house, and I've gone with the kids a few times now. The playground is pretty big, which isn't a good thing when there's a beach in running distance. I have to make sure I always know where the kids are. When Andrew comes with us, the trip is definitely worth it. The kids love all of the equipment, and they really, really love the beach!

And then, like the responsible parents we are, we had the kids run through the splash pad to get sprayed with chlorinated water to clean them up for the beach :)