Friday, December 27, 2013

A Christmas story

I hope everyone had a great Christmas! Time for a little recap.

At 6 am, I awoke to lights on and noises in the living room. When I went to investigate, I found the four youngest kids up and looking through all the gifts to see how many were for them. I sighed and went back to bed. :)

At 7, Jeff and I and Nicole finally had to get up. We always start with family prayer and a reading from Luke chapter 2.

When we opened gifts, Sarah and I discovered we were twinners. Turns out when Jeff took the kids shopping for my gifts, Sarah picked out this hoodie for me. A couple weeks later when Jeff and I were shopping for the kids, I picked out the identical hoodie for Sarah. Of course, they aren't the same size...but at least they are in the same league!

Sorry this pic is kinda dark, but it's the best part of our day. We got to Skype with our missionary son for awhile in the afternoon and that was the best present ever. It was really great to see him and talk with him, and then it was hard because he got teary at the end, and of course that makes a mom teary too. I just really hope that he's over it by now and not too homesick. We will get to do this again in May for Mother's Day.

Finally, a little something fun. This is my hubby about age 4 or 5. I know he's not the real Ralphie 'cause we haven't seen any royalties, but it sure does make you wonder! 

Monday, December 23, 2013

Guest Post: Vermiculite, Asbetos, and You

Today's post is provided by the Mesothelioma Lawyer Center. Their objective is to educate the public on the health dangers of vermiculite and asbestos. If you live in an older home, this information is especially for you!

Is Asbestos in Your Home’s Insulation?

Asbestos, a naturally occurring mineral found in land sources, is made up of fine fibers, that when disrupted, can easily be ingested, which can lead to hazardous diseases such as asbestosis and mesothelioma. Vermiculite is also a naturally-occurring mineral that was used for decades as insulation in homes, buildings, and facilities. Vermiculite is typically not dangerous on its own, but the majority of insulation made between 1910-1990 was mixed with asbestos, creating a dangerous combination. If you and your family live in a older home, it’s important to understand how to keep your family safe if your home was insulated with vermiculite.

Vermiculite in Older Homes

Vermiculite containing asbestos was manufactured for decades by a processing company in Libby, Montana. After the vermiculite was manufactured, it was shipped all the across the world, and used as insulation in millions of homes. Typically, the insulation is behind walls and in the attic, and if left undisturbed, the fibers have less of a chance of becoming airborne. Airborne asbestos fibers can be easily ingested, and most people aren’t aware that it happens. Once these fibers are ingested, it’s difficult to rid them from the body. Over time, an array of health issues can develop.

Children should always be watched closely, but especially if you own an older home that was insulated with vermiculite. Playing in an attic of an older home or roughhousing around walls is extremely dangerous. These areas should be off-limits if you suspect your home may contain vermiculite insulation. Even minor repairs, such as hammering a wall, or cleaning up the attic may cause asbestos fibers to become disturbed, so it’s a good idea to hold off all repairs and/or renovations until you’re certain as to whether your home contains vermiculite insulation or not.

How to Determine if Your Home Contains Vermiculite Insulation

It’s difficult for people who don’t specialize in asbestos to understand which vermiculite products may contain it. However, vermiculite, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), is usually either silver-gold or grayish-brown in color, and it has the texture of small pebbles. In addition, the EPA suggests that all vermiculite insulation should be treated as if asbestos was mixed with it until a professional, state-certified asbestos technician can inspect your home. Do not try to remove the insulation yourself as there are no known safe levels of asbestos, and there is no way to determine if the amount you possibly ingest will be harmless or cause an asbestos-related disease.

Additional Tips to Consider

     If you live in an older home and suspect your attic, or anywhere insulation is, may contain asbestos, do not enter the area for any reason, not even to store old boxes.
     If going into your attic is necessary, try to stay as far away from your insulation as possible. Walk on the boards between the insulation, if applicable, and close the attic door firmly before leaving.
     If you have cracks or holes in the ceiling, it’s important to get help as soon as possible from a qualified asbestos professional.
     Do not hammer any walls, or do any renovations until after you’ve gotten help from an asbestos professional.
     Tell all family members of the dangers of vermiculite that contains asbestos. Animals can ingest the harmful fibers as well and should never be allowed in your attic.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Chewy Gingerbread Cookies & Cinnamon Roll Day

We are having a snow day here. Make that a snow-on-top-of-freezing-rain day. Yikes! Bad combination. Bad enough that my hubby just called to tell me work is shutting down for the day at 2 pm to allow employees to beat the traffic. Niiice!!

But Nicole and I, we are making the best of it.

That is gingerbread dough made with a recipe from Mel's Kitchen Cafe.  While I have wrapped some gifts, Nicole has been a busy little baker. She is also making cinnamon rolls using my basic dough recipe found here.

Now, gingerbread doesn't have to be men, does it?

Definitely not. It makes adorable stars, especially when they are drizzled with white chocolate.  Yum!!

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Brand spanking new college graduate. Now what? ;)

This cute chick just graduated from college! That's a little unbelievable, since I am NOT that old. :)

Everyone asks her "what are you going to do now?" The answer to that is pretty simple.

Find a job. 

Good luck, Co! Go out there and kick some butt!!

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Pinterest Test: DIY Gel Nails

If you're anything like me, you really love gel manicures, but you don't really love paying $30 a pop (plus the tip)! So when perusing Pinterest and you come across a pin for DIY Gel Nails, you pin it and take a look.

I saw a such a pin and knew I could get the required elements needed to do it myself. Here is what you need:

1. a bottle of Gelous  Advanced Nail Gel Coat.
2. a bottle of China Glaze polish in your desired color. I used Glistening Snow.
3. a bottle of Seche Vite top coat. What I have up there is Seche Plus fortifier, and I used that.

It's pretty easy to do, though there are a lot of coats. Don't let it scare you too much, because it all dries pretty darn fast, especially if you use thin coats as suggested. Here are the steps:

Apply a thin coat of Gelous to clean, dry nails.
Apply a thin coat of China Glaze.
Apply another thin coat of Gelous.
Apply another thin coat of China Glaze.
Apply another thin coat of Gelous, followed by a coat of the Seche Vite.
Finally, one last coat of Gelous!

Let each coat dry for at least 45 seconds. I just waited a couple minutes between coats and had no problems.

Now, I must say that the original pin is a little misleading. It says "DIY Nails for 5.99"  That is true if you only need to buy the Gelous--it costs $5.99 at Sally's. If you need to buy Seche Vite or China Glaze, because supposedly they work best with the Gelous, it'll cost you more. But you are still saving a lot of cash in the long run.

I did my nails today and I am going to take another pic in a week and post it so we can all see how long these DIY gel nails last. If they are still going strong, I will wait another week and do it again. Stay tuned. If it lasts 14 days under my normal cooking, cleaning, piano teaching routine, I will change the title of this post to Pinterest Success.

Source of the original pin:

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Easy Thai-spiced Orange Chicken

How's the Christmas preparations going? I have one more thing to buy and then a bunch of wrapping to do, so I'm just about there. It can definitely get a little crazy!

That's why you need an easy meal. If this meal were any easier, you'd be served it by someone else who did all the work. While you sat with your feet up. Reading a great book. In complete solitude. {Que the easy button}.

This is my own recipe, sparked by my hubby requesting that I buy this bottle of Thai Kitchen Sweet Red Chili sauce at Costco. 

So, all you need is this:

And some chicken. Breasts, thighs, tenders....whatever you like or have on hand. I had some chicken tenders so that's what I used this time. I used 15 of them.

Okay, are you ready for the easiness?

Simply place your chicken in a greased baking dish. Take the orange and zest the whole thing right over the chicken. Then cut the orange in half and juice away right over the chicken with the zest. Now pour a healthy amount of Thai Kitchen Sweet Red Chili sauce over it all. Enough to have some to put over rice. You can see that I did not use the whole bottle. In fact, I'd already used that bottle for something else, so this recipe probably took about a third of it. Remember, it's a Costco-sized bottle. :)
Now bake the chicken, uncovered, in a 400 degree oven til done. For frozen chicken tenders, that was about 40 minutes. I'd plan on an hour for frozen chicken breasts. By this time, the sauce will be hot and bubbly, and a little thickened. Serve the chicken and sauce over hot cooked rice.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

A little Christmas romance.

Last Christmas, Michele Ashman Bell sent me a copy of her latest release: a short story with a Christmas Eve setting titled Christmas in Bliss. I got it just in time to read it and share my review of it with you on Christmas Eve 2012. It's a great little read, so I thought I would share it again, this time earlier in the season so that you can have time to find and read it before Christmas if you like. It's short and sweet, and if you like a little clean romance, it's for you.

Christmas in Bliss centers on Nikki Michaels, a young working woman who is trying to get home to Utah for Christmas. She works in Oregon, and the drive from Tillamook to Salt Lake has already taken a lot longer than it should. Thanks to bad weather, it's about to get worse. As a storm descends on Idaho, Nikki is forced to pull off the road and wait for snow plows. She is surprised when she learns that the nearby town is actually called "Bliss." Being stranded far from home on Christmas Eve should be anything but blissful!

There are a dozen or so others who are stranded along with Nikki in a rest stop. One of the strangers is a man driving a truck full of toys meant for children at Primary Children's Hospital. Nikki, who works for Tillamook cheese, has some cheeses and other goodies in her car. The truck driver is a man named Brian Thomas. He invites Nikki to help him make Christmas Eve more enjoyable for all the adults and children stranded with them at the rest stop by sharing a little of what they've got and spreading some Christmas spirit. Nikki and Brian learn that spreading joy at a snowed-in rest stop in Idaho can mean Christmas in "bliss."

Both my daughter Nicole and I read Christmas in Bliss, and we both enjoyed it. It was a short, feel-good story. Nicole said that she "wanted it to be longer." I'm pretty sure she meant that she would love to know what happens between Nikki and Brian after Christmas in Bliss.

Thanks to Michele for allowing me to read and review her story here!

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Christmas goodies round-up {2013 update}

Flashing back to last year's Christmas goodies round-up today. There are a couple on the list that I made and they were scrumptious: the mini German pancakes and the Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Fudge. {I know, the name itself is enough to drive chocolate chip cookie dough lovers crazy!}

Microwave Peanut Brittle
Mel's Microwave Peanut Brittle

I did not include this peanut brittle in last year's round-up, and it's worthy of adding to the list. Microwave Peanut Brittle from Mel's Kitchen Cafe. I may or may not have made it about half a dozen times--to share, of course. What could be easier? And the taste--people will never know it came out of your microwave!

There are so many yummy looking treats out there! So many that I want to make, but so many that I'm also losing track of them all and where I saw them. This round-up is mostly to help me keep track of what I want to try. Yeah, I could "pin" these all, and some I have, but then I'd have to sift through all the other pins on my boards to find them. See? It's largely selfish. But it'll also benefit anyone who hasn't seen these delicious-looking morsels already.

Okay. Here are the goodies from last year's post. 

Santa Hat Cheesecake bites from Cooking Classy. Honestly, I don't know if I'll actually make these, but they are too darn cute not to include.

Also from Cooking Classy, Peppermint Oreo Truffles. Everyone has seen Oreo Truffles by now, but I think the addition of peppermint is a festive idea. White Chocolate Cherry Shortbread Cookies Don't these cookies look AMAZING? I am really going to make these this year! White Chocolate Cherry Shortbread cookies from Mel's Kitchen Cafe.

I already made this decadent stuff for an open house I hosted after Thanksgiving. Also from Mel's Kitchen Cafe, this is Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Fudge, and lots of my girlfriends liked it.

Mini German Pancakes made in a muffin tin from Real Mom Kitchen. So yummy! My version is here.

Lastly, Peppermint Crunch Puppy Chow (or Muddy Buddies--which is what I prefer to call it!). This is from Sally's Baking Addiction. Who doesn't love Muddy Buddies?

Happy Christmas Treats!! What are you planning to make this year? Feel free to leave a comment and link back if you'd like.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Sweet Corn and Black Bean Quinoa

Once upon a time, I tried to get my family to like quinoa.

It was a miserable failure.

Granted, I probably didn't rinse it well enough and it was kind of bitter.

Lately I've been seeing some really yummy-looking quinoa recipes around and I've wanted to try it again. Last week when I was at Costco, I noticed a new offering--Nature's Wild Grains organic quinoa in a four-pound bag. Upon closer inspection, I saw that this particular brand is already pre-rinsed! A boon as far as I'm concerned. I bought it.

Tonight I made this Sweet Corn and Black Bean Quinoa that I adapted from one over at Mel's Kitchen Cafe. I wanted less black beans and a little more quinoa, so I adapted accordingly. I also cut out the cayenne in Mel's recipe because I don't like it. This was pretty much a hit in comparison to the first failure. All my kids ate it, and Jared had thirds. This dish is very savory and has tons of flavor. I served it with some baked chicken tenders and pomegranate seeds.

Sweet Corn and Black Bean Quinoa
1/4 cup dry minced onion
1 T. olive oil
1 T. butter
1/2 teaspoon garlic salt
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
2 c. water
2 teaspoons chicken bouillon granules
1 cup uncooked, pre-rinsed quinoa
1 teaspoon cumin
1 can super-sweet white or yellow corn, drained
1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
1/4- 1/2 cup finely chopped fresh cilantro, according to taste
Melt butter in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat; add olive oil, onion, garlic, salt and pepper and cook til fragrant, 30 seconds to 1 minute. Add water, chicken bouillon, cumin and quinoa. Bring to a boil, then cover and reduce heat so quinoa simmers. Cook until all water is absorbed, approximately 20 minutes. Stir in corn, black beans and cilantro; cover and let stand 3-4 minutes to warm the corn and beans. Serve.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Missionary Christmas

I have a missionary out this Christmas (and the next, and then another missionary after that) so I get to put together Christmas packages for the foreseeable future.

A lot of ideas I saw came from other missionary moms who have done this before. They recommend sending stuff that missionaries need or would like to buy but often don't because of their limited monthly budgets. Since my son is in the states, it is easier to send packages than it would be if he were in a foreign country, so I pretty much sent whatever we thought he would need and enjoy, some of which he asked for.

His package includes:
a white shirt
a new tie
a V-neck sweater
a digital alarm clock/weather thermometer
a spiral-bound copy of the Ensign Conference issue (his idea--wish I'd thought of it myself)
a Costco-sized bag of Steak Strips (glamorized jerky)
a Costco-sized bag of Hi-Chews (his absolute favorite)
a stocking stuffed with toe warmers, candy and gum
a 3-D paper Christmas tree from the dollar store for fun
gift cards that he can use in his area

If you have a missionary out, what things do you like to send?

Wednesday, December 4, 2013


This year's Christmas tree. Blue and silver! I inherited the tree skirt from my grandma.

The title of this post is a direct quote from one of Nicole's roommates. I love it!

{As if we can dictate Christmas haha}

Well, I can dictate when the Christmas decorations go up at home, and I can decide when to start listening to Christmas music. For me, that's after Thanksgiving.

This year it wasn't easy. Jared was begging to set up the tree at every turn. Mia was telling him no Christmas til after her birthday. Sarah was playing Christmas music on the computer all the time. Jeff plays it in his car. The stores decorated for Christmas at Halloween. Nope, not easy, but I held out for my favorite holiday--Thanksgiving!

Now that Thanksgiving is over, #iwillnowallowChristmas decorations and music to take over my life. My favorite Christmas album is Michael Buble's Christmas, so I thought I'd share one of my favorite songs from that album, Feliz Navidad, sung with Latin songstress Thalia. I love it!

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Hello, Old Man Winter. Please don't stay too long...

Here's the view out my window this morning.

Certain people are happy about this, because it means our new snow blower can be put to use. The 16-year old boy in this house has been dying to use it first--last summer he even had dreams about using the new snow blower. Craziness! haha

I'm okay with the view outside the window. Who doesn't love the white stuff at Christmas time? What I'm not so okay with is the arctic blast that's going to hit after the snow stops falling in a couple of days. We're talking 20s for the high temps, and I feel like maybe I'm getting a little old for that part. {I admit it, I'm turning into a wuss}.

That calls for staying inside and baking...pumpkin bread? Pumpkin muffins? What do you like to bake when it's frigid outside?