Friday, November 11, 2016

PTSD awareness isn't just about suicide.

I shared this on facebook a couple of months ago, but thought Veteran's Day was an appropriate  time to share it here as well.


 Watch it on YouTube here.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Instant Pot Italian Chicken

I've seen several versions of this chicken, both Instant Pot and stove top and I decided I wanted to try it.  When your kids say, "Good job, Mom!" before they've even tasted it you know dinner is a hit!

Instant Pot Italian Chicken

2 lbs boneless skinless chicken breasts
olive oil
Italian seasoning
garlic salt

1/2 c. chicken broth

1 c. cream
5-6 oz parmesan cheese
1 c. chopped spinach
1/2 c. sun dried tomatoes
2 TBSP cream cheese
8 oz sliced mushrooms

Slice chicken breasts in half to make them thinner.  Coat with garlic oil and sprinkled both sides with seasonings.  Cook chicken breasts in your Instant Pot two at a time on saute until lightly browned.  After chicken is browned, remove all chicken. Add broth to IP and stir to remove brown bits from the bottom.  Add chicken back into pot and high pressure for 10 minutes.  Quick release the pressure and remove chicken from pot.

Add remaining ingredients to pot.  Simmer and stir on saute until mushrooms are slightly softened.  
To serve, place chicken on top of cooked pasta and top with sauce.  Yum!

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

No Spend September

A couple of months ago I decided to try going a full week without spending any money. No groceries. No household items. No eating out. Nothing. I think my kids were more frustrated with it than I was... or I should say Alyssa was frustrated.  She likes to talk me into french fries here, ice cream there and I always give in because it gives me one-on-one time with my lovely, spoiled 16 year old. The week was difficult for the whole family. My husband loves to eat out and I love to wander around thrift stores and craft stores. A week without spending may not seem like much to some people, but for us it was huge!

I feel like I've spent a ton of money over the summer between our big vacation and back to school shopping. Over $400 for school fees alone! For two kids at public school! That's not even counting school clothes or supplies. Soon the holiday season will be full blown upon us and more money will float right out the window. I decided I need to do a No Spend September as kind of a financial cleanse in between two very expensive seasons.

The rules I'm setting for myself are:

1- No shopping in person or online for anything, with the exception of basic groceries and household supplies. I'm giving myself a $400 budget for these items.

2- No eating out, with the exception of date night once a week and lunch with friends one time during the month. No movies or other entertainment expenses outside date night. I'm giving myself a $100 budget for this. 

3- No rationalizing that something is a "good deal" that I just can't pass up. 

4- No wandering around stores when I am bored. The same goes for browsing online.

Are you up doing a No Spend September challenge?

What rules would you set for yourself?

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Autumn Jam with an Instant Pot Shortcut

This jam is amazing!  I love all homemade jam, but this one really stands out.  We don't eat a lot of jam at our house and I make several batches a year, which means I always have tons of extras.   I whipped up a batch of this jam a couple of days ago and we've already gone through two jars, so I made my second batch today!  I have apple, plum and pear trees all ready to be picked at the same time and who knew mixing the fruits all together would be so yummy??

Do you have an Instant Pot?  I use mine every single day... usually multiple times a day!  I decided to use the Instant Pot to shortcut my jam making and it did a great job!  It saved time, saved dirty dishes, saved space on my stove AND allowed me to make jam without standing over a hot stove right next to a boiling canner in August!

 Autumn Jam

tiny apple chunks compared
to the size of the other fruits

6 c. mixed apples, pears & plums
(Apples peeled, cored and finely chopped. Pears peeled and cored. Plums, pits removed, no need to peel.)

1/2 c. apple juice
2 TBSP lemon juice

1 pkg powdered pectin
2 tsp pumpkin pie spice
6 c. sugar

Instant Pot Directions:
(traditional directions follow)

ready to pressurize
I used more pears & plums
than apples
Chop your fruit directly into the IP liner, filling it to the six cup mark.  Add apple juice and lemon juice.  Press manual and choose high pressure for 1 minute. Once the timer beeps do a quick release of pressure.  Remove lid.  Turn IP to saute on high heat.  Stir in pectin and pumpkin pie spice.  Use a potato masher if there are any big chunks of fruit to mash up.  Once mixture reaches a boil, which should be right away, add sugar.  Cook and stir until mixture comes back to a boil and time for 1 minute.  Remove liner from pot.  Fill hot jars and process for 15 minutes.

Traditional Stove Top Directions:

Mix fruit, apple juice and lemon juice in a large pot.  Simmer for about 10 minutes or until fruit is soft.  Use a potato masher if needed to mash up the hot fruit.  Stir in pectin and pumpkin pie spice and bring to a rolling boil.   Once mixture reaches a boil, add sugar.  Cook and stir until mixture returns to a boil and time for 1 minute.  Remove from heat.  Fill hot jars and process for 15 minutes.

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Monday, June 20, 2016

Pura Vida

A little known fact about me is that I'm half Costa Rican.  As I child, when I'd see the American Flag or sing patriotic songs in elementary school I'd get emotional and choke back tears... okay, I still get emotional during the pledge or national anthem because I'm ridiculously patriotic, but as a kid I would ponder on how grateful I am to be an American and live in the United States.  I've always had a deep love for this country I live in.  I've also always been curious about Costa Rica, which is where my mom comes from.  As long as I can remember, visiting Costa Rica has been one of my biggest goals.

Becoming US Citizens in 1964

My mom was adopted into the United States when she was two years old and her brother was just a baby.  There was some adoption paperwork, naming my mom's biological mother and saying the two kids were given to a stranger in a bar and that man's wife made him take the kids to an orphanage.  We always wondered what possessed someone to abandon their children.  My mom's adopted parents were told that attempts were made to locate the family but no one had come forward.  My mom and her brother, Ronnie, were adopted out of an orphanage in San Jose with along with another Costa Rican boy from a different orphanage.  Her adoptive parents had gone to Costa Rica to adopt a baby and ended up taking three children instead!  I have always thought that was really admirable.

Here they are with kids belonging to the family they stayed with while all the adoption paperwork was completed.
My mom's hair was red from malnutrition and they all had worms.  My mom was afraid of small animals and it was believed to be due to the rats she had been around. Years were spent speculating on where my mom came from and the circumstances surrounding the kids ending up in an orphanage.  A private investigator was too expensive and we didn't know where to get more information.

Written by my mom's father

Eventually, along came the internet and with it, the ability to connect to people worldwide.  My mom posted an ad on the Costa Rican craigslist website with the small amount of information she had about her beginnings in Costa Rica.   A man responded to her and said he worked with public records.  He did some digging and came up with her birth father's name.  A second ad was placed, and someone responded!  The email came from the secretary of my grandfather's brother!  A simple ad in craigslist led to a family reunited.

I remember the first time we made a phone call to Costa Rica.  My mom's Spanish was rusty, so one of my friends offered to translate for us.  We placed the phone on speaker and all sat around the phone anxiously as we dialed my mom's older brother.  

We learned that my mom's biological mother was separated from the kids' father and she had gone into the city with her two babies to try and find work.  Her older son stayed home with his grandparents because he was sick.  While she was in the city, the kids were taken from her by the government and placed in an orphanage.  The family tried to get them back, but with no luck.  The government felt like they weren't being taken care of properly.  We're not exactly sure the circumstances surrounding them being given to a man in a bar, but that testimony in the court documents so somewhere along the lines my grandmother must have felt like she just couldn't take care of her children.

My mom and her biological father.

My mom's biological mother never recovered.  She lived a life of depression, alcohol and men to try and drown out the shame of losing her children.  She died very young and there are no pictures of her.  Her other son, my mom's older brother, was raised by his grandparents and went to work in banana plantations as a child to help support them.  He actually still works in the plantations today.  It's a heart-breaking story for my Costa Rican family to have lost two of their babies, but I know my mom is so grateful for her life in the United States.

Marcos, Alicia, Ronnie... together after over 50 years!
My mom has been to Costa Rica several times to visit since she found her family seven years ago.  On her first trip she was thrown a party to represent all the many birthdays that had been missed over the years.  She met her biological father and brother, several half siblings and lots of aunts, uncles and cousins! Her father's sisters especially were so happy to see her because they remember when the children were taken away.

My uncle, Ronnie, was able to visit Costa Rica a couple of years ago and meet the family too.  We've been working on getting their brother Marcos and his wife here to the United States for a visit so we can show them what life is like for us!  They are very traditional Costa Ricans and think we're a bunch of rich snobby Americans!  They would definitely be in for a shock if they ever came to visit.  My mom keeps telling me what a culture shock I'm in for when I go there!

My mom and her sister-in-law at their home in Costa Rica.
 I have cousins, aunts, uncles and a grandpa I've never met!  My only living grandparent is in Costa Rica.

In a couple of days I will be leaving my "snobby" American life behind to go with my mom, my husband and my three children for a two week trip to Costa Rica for the first time. My Costa Rican family doesn't speak a word of English and I don't speak a word of Spanish, but I have so much love in my heart for these people I've never even met.

Of course as we've been talking about this trip for months we've all been getting excited about going to the Caribbean beaches, seeing sloths and eating delicious food, but really this trip is about family.  These are the people I come from and although communication will be difficult, hugs are universal!

We are not staying at resorts, or even hotels.  We've decided to rent houses and shop at the markets and cook our own food and really get a taste for the beautiful country of Costa Rica.  I'm nervous, but I'm also more excited than I can express!  I spent my whole life imagining where my mom came from and now I'm going to see it firsthand!  

Friday, May 20, 2016

Pretty Pink Princess Party

It's always been my dream to throw myself a princess birthday party!  Why do kids get to have all the pretty princess fun?  When researching ideas for my party I found that most fancy princess parties on Pinterest were thrown for one year olds!  One?  I wanted to host a princess party for grown-up women to dress up and feel fabulous!  You're never too old to be a princess! 

These beautiful mini cakes were the party favors.  Each lady got to take home a pretty cake on a cake stand made from vintage china.

We had a couple more princesses show up after this picture was taken, but you can see that everyone princessed up!  It was fabulous to be surrounded by so many beautiful women!  Everyone was invited with plenty of notice to find a dress.  I ordered mine from Amazon.  The pink taffeta was so lovely.   Amazon also had great prices on petticoats!  I found my sparkly diamondy shoes and gold shrug from thrift stores.  Finding the perfect dress was such a fun part of the party.

My daughters teased me that all my friends are way too loud!  They said that they couldn't believe so many people could be laughing so hard all night... I say that's a good sign!  We were all having a blast!

We played an ice breaker bingo game.  It was a lot of fun finding ladies to initial the squares.  I had small prizes for the first three people who got BINGO.  Most of the people at the party didn't know each other, so the game was a great way to find out interesting facts about each other.  After the game was over I read each square out loud and had everyone raise their hand who fit the square.  I don't think there were many shy ladies at the party, so an ice breaker wasn't totally necessary, but it sure was fun!

Pink cotton candy is my favorite!  Placed in nut cups and topped with crowns cotton candy looks adorable!

Setting everything up was so much fun!  I had a couple of great friends come early to help me get everything ready.

Pink meringue cookies are so princessy!  I totally want to play with the meringue cookie idea more for other events!

I hired a friend to make the meringues, scones and mini cakes.  They came out so perfect!

I scoured thrift stores for weeks to find the perfect vintage pieces to make the 20 mini cake plates.

I dressed up bamboo flatware with pretty washi tape.  I planned to use vintage china and silverware, but my daughters convinced me to use disposables so I'd have less dishes to do after my party.

One of the most fun parts of the night was the Italian soda bar.  I ordered several flavors of syrups with pumped to be mixed and matched.  Ginger ale, 7up and sparkling mineral water were the bases.

I purchased plastic cups with dome lids from a restaurant supply company.  Everyone was able to decorate their cup with stickers.  They came out really cute, plus it was easy to tell which cup was whose.  The instructions were written along the way so everyone knew how to make their drink.  Watermelon was the most popular flavor, which was surprising!  Tiger's blood is one of my favorite snow cone flavors and I learned that strawberry, watermelon and coconut are what goes into tiger's blood.  Yummy!  

Along with the sweets, I served chicken salad, egg salad and cucumber sandwich fillings, along with ham and a variety of cheeses.  Rolls and croissants were purchased from Costco for the sandwich bases.

The cakes made a stunning display!

The cakes were lemon with a vanilla buttercream frosting.  They were delicious!

Several of my friends stayed until midnight.  My friend Cearson and I died laughing at my husband who photobombed our midnight selfie.  The whole night was magical.  It was the best birthday party ever!

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

St. Patty's Day Tablescape and Irish Dinner

We have never done leprechaun traps or other kidsy St. Patrick's Day traditions at our house, but every year I make an Irish meal and some sort of green dessert to celebrate the holiday. Instead of doing corned beef, I typically do pork and I always make Irish soda bread!

Irish Bacon and Cabbage

boneless pork roast
red potatoes

The night before cooking, place the roast into a big bowl of cold water and add lots of salt... about a cupful. Let it sit in the fridge overnight. The next morning, place the drained meat in the crockpot with potatoes and carrots. Add a bit of water. Let cook on low all day. 30 minutes before serving add the cabbage, cut into chunks.

Irish Soda Bread

4 c flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1 to 1 ½ c buttermilk

Preheat oven to 425. Mix together dry ingredients. Gradually add buttermilk, mixing with a large spoon until dough is firm enough to be gathered into a large ball. If the dough is crumbly, add some more buttermilk, a tablespoonful at a time, until it all adheres to the ball. Place on a lightly floured board. Pat and shape it into a flat circular loaf, about 8 inches around and 1 ½ inches thick. Set on a floured baking sheet. With the tip of a knife, cut a ½ inch deep cross into the dough, dividing it into quarters. Bake for about 35-45 minutes or until the top is golden brown. Remove from the oven and wrap in a clean dish cloth. Let cool about 20 minutes.

Of course in an LDS home we have root beer with our St. Patty's Day dinner!

Happy St. Patty's Day!