Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Pumpkin Spice Chocolate Chip Bundt Cake

Can you feel Fall catching up to summer?   It's in the slant of the sun in the golden afternoon, the slight coolness to the evening breeze, the first leaves turning every so lightly yellow around the edges.  It is the beginning of the cozy season and every September I get antsy for it to arrive a little sooner.


One of the ways I attempt to lure Autumn to my door is by baking something cinnamony and comforting.  This pumpkin treat looks like October, tastes like November and makes the perfect September after-school snack.


Deep, dark chocolate chips snuggle into their moist blanket of pumpkin and spice.


Try it with milk or strong black coffee.  It will not disappoint!


Pumpkin Spice Chocolate Chip Bundt Cake

INGREDIENTS
1 2/3 c. flour
1 c. sugar
1 heaping Tbsp. pumpkin pie spice
1 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
2 eggs
1 15 oz. can pumpkin puree
1 stick unsalted butter, melted
1 c. dark chocolate chips

PROCESS
1.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2.  Spray bundt pan with Pam.
3.  Melt butter in a medium bowl and set aside to cool.
4.  In a large bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, spice, soda, baking powder and salt.
5.  Whisk pumpkin puree into the melted butter.  Add eggs and whisk until well blended.
6.  Pour wet ingredients into dry ingredients.  Add chocolate chips and stir until well combined.
7.  Spread batter evenly in bundt pan.
8.  Bake at 350 for 45 minutes.

Note - The same batter can be made in muffin tins.  Reduce baking time to 20 minutes.


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Saturday, August 27, 2011

Patron Saint of Hurricanes; Pray For Us

At this moment there is a storm raging outside our home.  We still have power but the kitchen table is loaded with candles, lighters, flashlights, batteries and battery powered electronics.  They are signs of what is almost guaranteed to come, days without power.  

Irene is not even directly over us yet but she has certainly sent the rains and winds to clean a path ahead of her.

I managed to make two "hurricane pies" (apple pies requested by RW) but had to turn the ovens back on four times as power flickered out.  They are out of the oven and the scent of cinnamon and coziness is filling the house alongside the blaring weather channel updates.  A good balance I think.

Like the  tropical storm, fear is swirling all around us.  For three days - since the earthquake - we have been preparing our home to withstand the possibility of a category 2  hurricane.  School was cancelled to allow families to stay together and get themselves ready.  Everyone in Target and Walmart was calm and friendlier than usual.  Storms are bonding experiences - even before they hit.  "Stay safe" replaced "see you later" and neighbors offered extra propane, shelter and advice for those of us who have never experienced a hurricane before.  Part of our decision to stay was based on the fact that we know we will not face the aftermath alone.

St. Christopher painting by Hieronymus Bosch
photo credit : http://www.ucc.ie/milmart/Christopher.html

All this preparation has gotten me thinking of the season of Advent still months away.  While the arrival of Christmas is much better than a hurricane, we are still urged to prepare our hearts, homes and souls for the arrival of another force of nature, Jesus Christ.  

In a few months our kitchen tables will be full of ribbons, wrappings, cards and cookies.  "See you later" will be replaced with "Merry Christmas" and people will generally be friendlier.   It's too bad that it takes a major event to bring out such goodness in people, but the reality is - the goodness is always there.  It's times like these that help me feel more optimistic about our culture and help me see that the light of Christ shines through all people in times of need and in times of celebration.  We need not fear the storms for we are never alone.  

Post. Hurricane.  Thank you all for your prayers!  We feel so blessed that other than a few branches down our neighborhood is safe and power was restored overnight.  Please keep praying for those still in Irene's path and for all those who have suffered much more than our family.   St. Christopher, pray for us.

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Thursday, August 25, 2011

Pretty, Happy, Funny, Real {the sky is falling}

~ PRETTY ~
This lovely rose in my front yard was glistening in the sunrise after a brief shower from the sprinklers. 
This verse filled my heart and soul out of nowhere:
My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord;
my spirit rejoices in God my savior.
Luke 1:46-47 (NAB)
Isn't the beauty of God's creation simply stunning at times?




~ HAPPY ~
New scooters bring about the biggest smiles these days as little KC is able to keep up with his big brothers.




~ FUNNY ~
Have you seen these adorable pencils at Office Max?  I decided mom needed a few back to school supplies too!




~ REAL ~
A sign of things to come and I can't wait!


P.S.  Please pray for us and (all along the East Coast) as we prepare for Hurricane Irene.
The earth shook us up the other day and rattled our nerves.
Now the impending storm has us literally battening down the hatches
so blogging will be on the back burner for a while.
My kids are frightened for our home.
Please wrap us in your prayers.
You are all in ours.
 Will keep you posted!


round button chicken

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Sunday, August 21, 2011

Back To School Soup {Sunday Soup Night}

My boys go back to school tomorrow.  The backpacks are loaded, the supplies have already been dropped off at meet the teacher night.  They know where their desks are, who is in their class, what their new teacher looks like.  Uniforms are pressed.  Shiny new black shoes are laid out by the back door.  Lunchboxes stand at the ready for the early morning fill up.   There will most certainly be a love note from mom tucked behind the sandwich.  I love you.  Enjoy your first day.  Can't wait to hear all about it tonight. 

Yesterday I opened the pantry door and the first thing my gaze fell upon was a small bag of alphabet letter pasta.  That's it!  Back to school soup.  Here's how I made it.



BACK TO SCHOOL SOUP

INGREDIENTS
2 carrots, peeled and chopped
3 stalks of celery, chopped
1/2 onion, chopped
1 sprig fresh thyme or 1/2 tsp. dried 
2 Tbsp. olive oil
49 oz. can of chicken broth
water
2 Tbsp. chicken bouillon paste
1 12 0z. package alphabet pasta
Leftover chicken breast, diced
salt and pepper


PROCESS
1.  Heat oil over medium in a large soup pot.
2.  Add veggies and thyme.  Saute, stirring frequently, until translucent, about 5 minutes.
3.  Add can of chicken broth.  Refill entire can with water and add to soup pot.
4.  Stir in bouillon.  Bring to a boil.
5.  When boiling, add pasta.  Simmer until pasta is cooked, about five minutes.
6.  Add diced chicken and salt and pepper to taste.
7.  Knowing that the soup would continue to thicken I added two more cups of water before storing in the fridge.  It was even better the next day!



Here's to a nutritious new school year!



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Sundae Scoop @ I heart Naptime










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Friday, August 19, 2011

Last Days Of Summer {saying no}






This is it.  The last day of summer vacation.  I felt it so strongly on Monday that I chose a moment from each day that represented "the end" to me in some way.  Not that I am sad, really.  I feel ready for this transition.  As a teacher I used to feel August pressing down on me  as soon as the last firework exploded on the 4th of July.  Not this year.  

This summer has been magical.  Slow.  Supple.  Sweet.  Simple.  (and Sweaty of course).  But even the blasted humidity has felt more like a purification this year.   Last fall our family had a bit of a stressed-out-breakdown.  By this time in August of last year, my boys had been selling Cub Scout popcorn for two weeks  - well on their way to top rankings in their troop.  Soccer practice had also begun in addition to weekly Scout meetings.  I (foolishly) had accepted an invitation to be the PR rep for Scouts and my husband was. never. home.  Then basketball started.  Three practices a week.  While they were both still playing soccer.  It simply lit the fuse on the bomb inside of me.  My kids didn't want to get home from school and rush through dinner to get to Scouts or soccer or basketball and frankly, neither did I.  After much prayer and discussion we simply had to quit.  One son chose to continue in soccer which was totally doable, but all three of us had to resign from Scouts.   It was hard and a more than a little humbling but it was absolutely the right thing to do.

During the winter, I told my soccer playing son that he would have to wait a year to play basketball so that the other son could  continue to play for the school team.  It was another brilliant decision.  Three practices a week was more than enough for all of us.  I said no thank you to volunteering all through the school year.  Room parent? No.  Lunch room duty?  Way no.  VBS decorator.  Um, no.   I quit MOPS.  I felt liberated.  I snuggled my toddler.  I began blogging out of no where.  I had a sudden burst of creativity in my heart and soul and I knew it was because I had withdrawn from the world's requests and chosen to listen closely to that still small voice inside.

So once this summer came around we had another discussion.  Camps? No.  VBS?  No.  Major road trip up north? Yes but finally,  No.  With the exception of one week of basketball camp at their school, we have been totally free this summer.  Some days we invited friends over, some days we went to the waterpark or the beach.  We took two shorter road trips here and here.  Many, many, many days we filled the little pool in the yard and stayed home all day.  We got bored and broke through it.  We were a family having fun together in a simplistic way.

I asked each boy this week if they liked how we did summer this year.  They were adamant - yes!  I know that, like the lilies that have bloomed once and are now gone forever, my boys will not always want to spend their summers at home with me.   That's as it should be.  But why send them out all summer long when they would really rather be home with me instead?   I have thanked God (and my husband) daily for this season in time.  That I am able to even be home, that they desire to be home, that we have had the best summer to date.  I don't know what next year will bring.  Soccer for both boys begins next month.  Separate teams, more practices and still,  a husband who is often unable to help.   (gulp) 

At least we are heading into this new season well-rested, well-prepared in love to handle what comes.  Sun-tanned and stress-free.  It's been a very good thing.



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Thursday, August 18, 2011

Pretty, Happy, Funny, Real {odds and ends}

~PRETTY ~ Our Crape Myrtle trees bloomed beautifully this year after a summer of dormancy last year.  When you get really close up they are amazingly detailed flowers.



~HAPPY~  The weather suddenly shifted this week and the breeze feels - dare I say it? - cooler.   Therefore, I have spent many happy moments in the morning and evening sitting on the deck, soaking in the last of our carefree days.  Yet another reason for my recent blogging block.


~FUNNY~ As I wandered through the yard taking random photos I stooped low to see this friendly little Gnome who has been dutifully keeping watch under the maple tree for two years now.  The boys each picked one from the dollar spot at Target back then, each a little different, and literally staked their claim to their own maple tree.  Someday this little guy will be shaded by the thickening branches overhead and my boys will be just as tall and strong.  (sniff sniff)


~REAL~  What?  Don't you have a basketball hoop just inside the entry to your house?  Well, we do and believe me it catches people off-guard when they first come for a visit.  I cannot tell you what a blessing it has been for them to have a place to be rowdy!  Even Dad gets in on the games of HORSE and little KC can make a basket at three years old.  I think it says, "Boys live here - and they like it!"


round button chicken
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Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Un-Forgiving Myself









Years ago, when I was home alone all day with two little boys and desperate for adult interaction, I attended a Beth Moore Bible study course on The Fruit of the Spirit.  A pastor's wife led the group of fifteen women, weekly gathered round our Bibles and the edges of the square conference table.   I was the only Catholic in the room and a brand new one at that.  Luckily, that was of no consequence, as we shared our personal struggles freely and supported one another in our efforts to more fully understand Galatians 5:22-23(NLT).


But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives:
 Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Goodness, Faithfulness, Gentleness, and Self-control.


          There is no law against these!


I learned so much during those discussions but one statement the leader made has never left me.  


One particular mom was tearfully sharing how much she regretted some of her mistakes as a parent.  Yelling at her children, being sarcastic with them, generally "losing it" when pressures built up and she exploded, taking her stress out on her little ones.   She said, "I just cannot forgive myself for what I have done to them!"


Ever so calmly the pastor's wife laid a comforting hand over the mom's clenched fist and said, "Nowhere in the Bible are we told to forgive ourselves.  That is God's job."



Immediately, I had thought of the Sacrament of Confession in the Catholic church.  So often criticized by outsiders, including myself not so long ago, I suddenly understood the amazing  grace offered to us through this ritual. We aren't responsible for forgiving ourselves because that would take forever.  We are humanly incapable of such a divine act.  Relief flooded me.  I needn't resent the confessional any longer.  It was God's way of reaching out His fatherly hand to me and whispering, "Come.  Let it go.  I can take it from here."  


There is such freedom in forgiveness.  Even if you are not Catholic and prefer to pray away your sins in private, God still forgives.  A priest just helps make it more tangible - a witness to God's gracious act.  And most importantly, God expects you to receive it, freely, with gratitude and humility.  Accepting that gift can be the hardest part.  Instead of saying, "Oh no, you shouldn't have" and thrusting the gift back toward the Giver, try opening your hands, letting the grace of forgiveness fill your palms to over-flowing and say, 


                      "Thank you.  Thank you.  Thank you.  It's just what I needed."








Women Living Well Wednesdays



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Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Loaded Baked Potato Dinner

Did I mention Pinterest yesterday in my post about Blogger's Block? (ahem)  Well, I want to prove that all time spent on Pinterest is not wasted.  I found this recipe (under the food category) and made it for Sunday dinner.

Before Mass I washed, dried, pierced and wrapped several Russet potatoes in foil and placed them in a slow-cooker set to Low.

A mere six hours later they were tender and steamy.  I placed the wrapped potatoes in a bread basket right on the table.

In the last thirty minute before the potatoes were done I fried up a pound of bacon and crumbled it.   Along with the bacon bits we had grated cheese, butter, sour cream, chives and freshly ground pepper on the toppings tray. (To make this even easier on a busy night, make the bacon in advance and store in fridge.)  Next time I plan to add steamed broccoli and scallions to the tray.

We all loved this easy, DIY meal and plan to make it a regular in our "rotation".


Sharing here:
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Monday, August 15, 2011

Reflections by Chad Lawson

My current favorite song with a beautiful video to match.  I just had to share!
Enjoy your three minutes of peace and beauty.



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Five Reasons for Bloggers Block

Once August hit, my bloggy brain seemed to go on an extended vacation of its own.  As I was doing dishes last night, began to see there were a few major reasons.  Since I still don't have anything profound to blog about, I decided to post the five main reasons for my recent bout of  blogger's block.

1.  Pinterest. 

There.  I've admitted it.  It washed over Blogland like a wave this summer and I resisted it for quite a while.  Then, I joined.  And.  I.   loved.   it.  I tried to make my friends and family join, too, so I wouldn't feel so bad about my new pastime (thanks for joining sis!).   Unfortunately, when sitting before a blank computer screen with no major ideas about which to write, thinking "I'll just pop over to Pinterest to get a bit of inspiration"  leads to a chunk of time gone and no new ideas for writing.   "Well, I guess I'll just post tomorrow " is just when the whole scene repeats itself.  Still, not giving up Pinterest.  It is genius.

2.  Having too much to write.   

Ironically, I also feel overwhelmed by all I do want to write.  Back to school ideas,  living life in the slow lane, delicious recipes, the importance of friendship, books I'm reading, deaths in the family, tips for Catholic newbies and on and on it goes.  Sometimes too many ideas can be as paralyzing as too few.

3.  Saving a good idea for later.

I am excited to mention that, after I responded to an open call for guest writers, I was invited to write six posts to share over at Catholic Mothers Online.  Suddenly all those really good post ideas seemed like I had better "save them" for posting over there.  Plus, I am totally over-analyzing what type of post I should write for that space.   Which leads me to #4...

4.  Being too aware of my "audience". 

All I can say about this is that I began my blog for myself as a creative outlet.  Anytime I start thinking "but what do they want to read" I clam up.  Need to stick with what my own heart wants to say and let the readers read it.  Or not.

5.  Summer.

'Nuff said, right?  You get it, I know.  This has simply been the best summer of my mothering life and I am not feeling at all guilty for relishing it.  So, as my boys go back to school next week, I am looking forward to going back to really blogging.  


Do you ever get blogger's block?  How do you deal with it? 

  




 

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Thursday, August 11, 2011

Pretty, Happy, Funny, Real {Amish Country Version}

*PRETTY*


During our July vacation to Philadelphia we took a day trip to Strasburg, PA, only about an hour out of the city, to immerse ourselves in Amish country.   In keeping with the Simplicity Parenting philosophy that for every day of hectic activity try to provide a day of rest the next day, we followed our busy day downtown Philly with a quiet, peaceful day in the lovely countryside of Pennsylvania.  One of our stops was at The Amish Village.  I highly recommend it as a tourist destination.  They provide tours and have actual Amish people on staff to help explain the austere lifestyle they have chosen.

*NOT PRETTY BUT HAPPY*  


Part of the tour was through a stable area where the kids could see and pet farm animals.


*FUNNY*   


Above, KC pretends to be a teacher in a one-room schoolhouse.  According to our tour guide, formal education ends after 8th grade among the Amish.  This carriage is an example of the horse drawn buggies they use in lieu of automobiles as their only transportation.


 *WAY TOO REAL*  

Because the Amish do not use anything that requires electricity, many of their appliances are old-fashioned and run on gas. 




These are actual dresses worn by Amish women.  The white garment represents an unwed woman, the blue and black is worn by a married woman.


Handmade Amish quilts are lovely and sell for $500.00 or more. 


These coats and hats are worn by Amish men. 


Upon reflecting on our trip to Philadelphia, my son RW said this Amish village was his favorite part of our vacation.  We all learned so much and enjoyed the peaceful day away from the hustle and bustle of city life. 




Stop over here to see more ...

round button chicken




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