Thursday, February 28, 2013

Spring is in the air!

Spring is (almost) here, people!  Here are a few fun ways to celebrate...

Need to get outside? Take the kiddos on a spring scavenger hunt! Click here to download this free printable or you can make up your own list of "signs of spring" to look for:

Or drop by Hobby Lobby & buy some super-cheap foam to make these spring window murals... your littles "paint" the back of the foam shape with water to make it stick to the window or glass door. Click here for details about the collection pictured below.  My favorite is the chick with the eggshell to "crack" out of... so cute!

Here are two little chick crafts that would be a great way to occupy your kiddos for a while... & then you'll have some springy artwork for your fridge! (For more info, click here for the chick on the right & click here for the chick on the left.)

Or use a paper plate, shredded paper & pom-poms to help your littles make a bird nest... click here for a how-to video:

Bring spring inside with this free printable banner (click here):

Or one (or two or three) of these cute free printables (see below for links):

To download the printables, clockwise:

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Tasty Tuesday: Nutella-Stuffed Sea Salt Chocolate Chips Cookies

We had these cookies at our Steering Team meeting this past month & they were a huge hit... my husband was so disappointed when he got up the next morning & found that I *might* have eaten all the leftovers the night before :)

The Ingredients:

  • 2 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter
  • 1 1/4 cup packed dark brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 large egg plus 1 egg yolk
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 tablespoon plain greek yogurt
  • 3/4 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 1/2 cup milk chocolate chips
  • 1/2 cup dark chocolate chips
  • 1 jar of Nutella (refrigerated)
  • Coarse sea salt or kosher salt for sprinkling

The Directions:

Whisk together flour, baking soda & salt in a bowl & set aside. Melt butter in a saucepan over medium heat, stirring constantly. The butter will begin to foam. Keep stirring... butter will start to turn a golden brown color & give off a nutty aroma. Remove from heat. Immediately pour into a bowl to prevent burning. Set aside to cool for a few minutes.

With an electric mixer, mix butter & sugars until thoroughly blended. Beat in the egg, egg yolk, vanilla & yogurt until combined. Add dry ingredients slowly & beat on low speed just until combined. Gently fold in all chocolate chips.

Chill dough & Nutella for at least 2 hours in the refrigerator.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Once dough is chilled, measure about 1 1/2 tablespoons of dough & roll into a ball. (Learn from my mistake... take your dough out of the fridge in sections. Otherwise, it'll get too warm & you'll have pancakes instead of round cookies like the picture.) Flatten the dough very thinly into the palm of your hand. Place 1 teaspoon of chilled Nutella in the middle & fold dough around it. Gently roll into a ball (but it doesn't have to be perfectly round). Make sure the Nutella isn't visible... add more dough if necessary. Place dough balls on cookie sheet about 2 inches apart & flatten the top very gently with your hand.

(photo source)

Bake cookies for 9-11 minutes or until the edges of the cookies begin to turn golden brown. They will look underdone in the middle, but will continue to cook once out of the oven. Allow cookies to cool on the baking sheets for at least 2 minutes. Sprinkle with sea or kosher salt.

Makes 2 dozen cookies.

**Click here for original recipe.

Friday, February 22, 2013

getting crafty: marshmallow pops

Our craft at last week's meeting was marshmallow pops... so cute! These would be perfect for St Patrick's Day, Easter, birthday parties, baby showers, or pretty much anything in between.

It's a simple equation, really:
giant marshmallows + chocolate + sprinkles + cute papers & cello bags & such = LOVE!

What you need:

  • giant marshmallows
  • chocolate... "melting wafers" work best. Available at most grocery stores on the baking aisle.
  • toppings... suggestions include sprinkles, mini chocolate chips, shredded coconut, or other small candies
  • lollipop sticks or festive paper straws
  • embellishments... suggestions include cupcake papers, cellophane bags, paper tags, ribbons
  • wax paper or a plate... somewhere to place your pops while they dry


Pour your toppings into small bowls & line up all your ingredients in an assembly line... once you melt your chocolate, you want to be ready to dip!

Once everything is ready to go, melt your chocolate according to the instructions on the package. 

Dip a marshmallow into the melted chocolate. Then immediately dip your chocolate-dipped marshmallow into your topping. Place your marshmallow bottom-side-down on the wax paper or plate to harden.

Dip & decorate all your marshmallows & place them bottom-side-down on the plate or wax paper. Then put them in the refrigerator to set quickly.

Meanwhile, cut or tear little slits in the bottom of each cupcake paper. Once your marshmallows are completely dry, insert a lollipop stick or paper straw into the bottom of each marshmallow. Slide the cupcake paper up the straw until it fits around the bottom side of the marshmallow. Add any other desired embellishments... put in a cellophane bag & tie with ribbon. Add a paper tag for optimal cuteness!

Check out these other ideas:

For a different look, use decorative paper straws instead of lollipop sticks:

Marshmallow pops can also do double duty as Easter decorations & treats!

Or check out these super-cute marshmallow pops for a goldfish-themed birthday party... would also be great for a summer pool party!

Thursday, February 21, 2013

February meeting recap!

It was so good seeing all you ladies last week! So sorry for the delayed recap... I actually wrote it the day of the meeting & just didn't publish the post. Oops.

The theme of our meeting last week was:

And what is a Man Panel (or "Manel," as it's affectionately known)? We sit a few lucky guys in the front of the room & throw questions at them. Our second Man Panel consisted of four men -- Bobby, Tom, Joe & Benji. Thanks, guys... y'all were awesome!

MOPS Valentine's Day favors
Elizabeth began our meeting with a devotion during which she shared the story of her divorce & how it affected & continues to affect her life. She had wonderful words of support for moms who may have experienced marital infidelity &/or divorce... what an amazing testimony!

After a break, we began our Man Panel. Although there was many things said that I completely missed during my note-scribbling, I jotted down several points made by each guy. Please see below for notes.

Aubrey did a great job on our favors this month! At each place, there was a super-cute Valentine's Day bag of "God's Conversation Hearts" along with a print-out of the referenced Bible verses.

And Abbey's craft this month was chocolate-dipped marshmallow pops. Yummy & cute... perfect for kids & adults too!  Tutorial to follow, so stay tuned.

Our illustrious Man Panel 2013 (from left to right: Bobby, Tom, Joe & Benji)
Here are my notes from the meeting in case you missed it or want to refresh your memories.


Question: What are some of the most important components of a healthy marriage?

  • Relationship with God is most important, because it affects all the other components. 
  • communication is vital -- Tom explained that he & his wife, Jennifer, use a family calendar to coordinate everyone's schedules. Also, understanding & accommodating the communication styles of one another... texting, phone calls, face-to-face & email are all methods that can help husbands & wives be in continual communication with each other.
  • fun - although the common adage states that "the family that prays together, stays together," Toms suggests that "the family that PLAYS together, stays together" is also an important thing to keep in mind.
  • gratitude - letting go of unrealistic expectations & appreciating the present (ex. understanding that the house isn't always going to be neat, the kids aren't always going to behave). Tom mentioned that a dry erase board in their kitchen (one of our MOPS crafts!) has been a great way for he & Jennifer to show appreciation for each other. (Click here for the tutorial on how to make your own dry erase board). 


How can a couple keep their relationship a priority in the midst of raising children? How can a wife let her husband know that she still cares about him despite the busyness of life?

  • Scheduling & making intentional time together is the best way to keep your relationship a priority. One day the kids will grow up & leave home, but your marriage is forever. Include the kids in your relationship, not the other way around. 
  • A wife can let her husband know she cares by supporting him. When Joe has to work late, his wife Melissa shows support by caring for the kids without making him feel guilty about his schedule & by showing interest in his day. Even sending a quick text to say "I love you" or "How can I help?" goes a long way in making your partner feel loved & appreciated. The husband, on the other hand, should remember that the wife's job is difficult as well.... regardless of whether she's working inside or outside the home.


Question: How important is a woman's physical appearance really?... the way we look when you come home, weight gained (& not immediately lost) from pregnancy, stretch marks, hair style, etc. 
Answer: There are three places you can get guidelines on physical appearance. 
  • The world - tells us to the standard of beauty is a certain size, shape, skin color, eye color, hair color. If you don't fit the standard, there is surgery to help you out... it's a rabbit hole that you can't get out of because it's unachievable... there's always something else that needs to be "fixed."
  • The church - dependent on culture because it's driven by people. For example, in the 1950's (& even at some churches today), the church prescribes beauty as long dresses, long hair &, as Benji put it, "looking like Laura Ingalls' mom."
  • The Bible - the standard that never changes. God sculpted man in his own image & performed surgery to create woman. Each part was lovingly created by God in the way that He meant them to look. Benji pointed out that one of the quickest ways that Satan drives a wedge into a marriage is through self-consciousness & insecurities about physical appearances. 


**Bobby added to Benji's discussion of physical appearance by saying:
Be PROUD of that stretch mark! That's our child! It's a sign of that you've given life, that you're a mother, that you're beautiful & strong. Don't be ashamed or embarrassed!

Question: What do you wish women knew about men? What are some practical, everyday things we can do to be a better wife?
Answer: When a man walks into the house after work, he wants to know that he has a partner in life. He wants his wife to know that he is her partner & her advocate, not just someone else who has to be taken care of. Treat your husband like he's your teammate!

Thoughts from our Manel on spiritual leadership:

  • if the husband is not a Christian or spiritual leader, prayer is the most helpful & productive action
  • husbands & wives should be careful to not undermine each other to their children; always present  a united front in matters of discipline, spiritual guidance & parental decisions
  • develop a relationship with a mentor couple... someone who has the kind of marriage/relationship that you want to strive for
  • consider Ephesians 5:22-33 (from The Message):
22-24 Wives, understand and support your husbands in ways that show your support for Christ. The husband provides leadership to his wife the way Christ does to his church, not by domineering but by cherishing. So just as the church submits to Christ as he exercises such leadership, wives should likewise submit to their husbands.   
25-28 Husbands, go all out in your love for your wives, exactly as Christ did for the church—a love marked by giving, not getting. Christ’s love makes the church whole. His words evoke her beauty. Everything he does and says is designed to bring the best out of her, dressing her in dazzling white silk, radiant with holiness. And that is how husbands ought to love their wives. They’re really doing themselves a favor—since they’re already “one” in marriage.
29-33 No one abuses his own body, does he? No, he feeds and pampers it. That’s how Christ treats us, the church, since we are part of his body. And this is why a man leaves father and mother and cherishes his wife. No longer two, they become “one flesh.” This is a huge mystery, and I don’t pretend to understand it all. What is clearest to me is the way Christ treats the church. And this provides a good picture of how each husband is to treat his wife, loving himself in loving her, and how each wife is to honor her husband.

Other points to ponder:

  • Acknowledge together that life is hard & isn't always fun without doing the "blame game." 
  • Explain & remind your spouse when you need to vent that "I'm just fussing TO you, I'm not fussing AT you."
  • Remember that the preschool years are a season... regardless of how difficult & wonderful it is, it WILL pass.
  • It's a proven statistic that parents become "roommates" & this loss of intimacy begins during the preschool years... then the kids leave home & the parents no longer have anything in common, which results in divorce. Work every day to NOT be a part of this statistic!
  • Some studies show that the average father spends only eight intentional minutes with his children a day. Help your husband/partner beat this average. A suggestion is "Daddy Dates" on a weekly basis -- a scheduled time for a father & his children to spend together, which allows bonding with kids while giving Mom some alone time. 
  • God gave us two ears & one mouth for a reason... He wants us to listen twice as much as we speak. 

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Tasty Tuesday: Chicken & Dumplings

A super-easy recipe for classic chicken & dumplings from Aubrey's kitchen!

The Ingredients:

  • 1 pkg frozen dumplings (available in the bread freezer section)
  • 5-6 cups chicken broth
  • 1-2 cups cooked chicken, cubed (or canned chicken)
  • salt & pepper to taste

The Directions:

Bring chicken broth to a boil. Drop dumplings in boiling broth one at a time. Mix & lower heat. Cover & simmer for 1 hour or until desired consistency is reached. Stir in cooked chicken, salt & pepper.

*tips from Aubrey: remember the key to great dumplings is time... let them simmer on low for a good long while. Also remember that as they cool, they'll continue to thicken. 

*note from Aubrey: For quick & easy chicken broth, I like using Better than Bouillon. Super-easy to just keep in the fridge & then I can just make as much broth as I need for a recipe, without having to throw away 1/2 can of broth. It's pricey ($6-7), but in the long run I think it's cheaper than cans. Plus it tastes better to me & I can add flavor to recipes without having to add all the water.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Tasty Tuesday: Salted Twix Bars

These are so. stinkin. good! Thanks for the recipe, Margaret! :)

The Ingredients:

  • 3 tbsp granulated sugar
  • 12 tbsp (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temp
  • 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 can (14-ounce) sweetened condensed milk
  • 1 tbsp light corn syrup
  • 1 tsp molasses (or substitute additional corn syrup)
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • kosher or sea salt
  • 2 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped

The Directions:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly coat an 8-inch square baking dish with cooking spray. Line the pan with parchment, leaving a 3-inch overhang on two sides.

Using a mixer, beat sugar & 6 tablespoons butter in a large bowl until light & fluffy, about 2 minutes. Reduce mixer speed to low & gradually add flour, mixing until fully incorporated. Using floured fingers, press dough into prepared pan. Bake until set & golden brown at edges, 16-18 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a medium saucepan, combine condensed milk, corn syrup, molasses & 5 tablespoons butter. Stirring occasionally, bring to a simmer over medium-low heat, about 8 minutes. Gently simmer, stirring, until slightly thickened & pale golden brown, 5-7 minutes more. Remove from heat & whisk in vanilla & 1/4 teaspoon salt. Immediately spread the mixture over the crust. Refrigerate until set, about 30-45 minutes.

Place chocolate & remaining tbsp of butter in a microwave-safe bowl; heat on high until beginning to melt, about 30 seconds. Stir until mixture is melted & smooth. Spread over caramel & sprinkle lightly with kosher or sea salt. Refrigerated until set, about 30 minutes. Cut into 1-inch squares.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Tasty Tuesday: Pimento Cheese

... because sometimes you just need some good ol' pimento cheese! And homemade is SO MUCH BETTER than store-bought!

The Ingredients:

  • 8 oz cream cheese, softened
  • 2 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese
  • 2 cups shredded monterey jack cheese
  • 1 cup mayonnaise
  • 4-6 tbsp diced pimentos, drained
  • 1/4 tsp onion powder
  • 1 tsp house seasoning (see recipe below*)
  • pepper to taste

The Directions:

In a medium bowl, beat all ingredients together with a mixer. Season to taste.

*House Seasoning Recipe (this is from Paula Deen... she recommends that you just mix up a batch & keep it with your spices)

  • 1 cup salt
  • 1/4 cup ground pepper
  • 1/4 cup garlic powder