Thursday, February 28, 2013

The Secrets of Happy Families Book Review

I've read a lot of books about family dynamics.  To some extent, they all seem a bit similar.  Recently TLC Books asked me if I'd be interested in reading The Secrets of Happy Families by Bruce Feiler.  I said sure - I'm always up for a few new ideas to improve the way our family is functioning.  I think one of the ways to keep your family happy is just to be consistently thoughtful and intentful in how your family is operating. 

I started reading this book with the assumption that it would be similar to others that I've read.  But I was pleasantly surprised.  Feiler approaches different areas of family functioning by searching out experts in various fields and looking for new ways of improving the family dynamics in a way that works for you.  I love how much he emphasizes open family communication and including each family member.  Often, he applies innovative  business tactics that have been very successful in social networking and businesses.  He tackles touchy topics like resolving conflict, setting an allowance, family reunions, and talking about sex. 

My boys are still a little young to become firmly involved in some of the suggestions.  For example, my 3 year old twins aren't exactly ready to start brainstorming on a family mission statement.  However, I did want to put one of the techniques to the test.  I chose Feiler's suggestions on family dinner.  You've probably all heard the research about how important family dinners are for kids - I've always taken this to heart.  Besides, I grew up in a family where dinner was every night at 5:30, so it's kind of ingrained.  Feiler says that it doesn't have to be dinner though - if your kids are off to sporting events and such in the evenings, make it a family breakfast or a family lunch instead.  The key thing is that everyone is coming together for a meal for the purpose of talking. 

Feiler's suggests that you have discussions of each individual's high and low points from the day.  For a couple of years now we have gone around the table to talk about the favorite part of our day.  But we have never discussed the low point.  I liked this idea, because it gives kids an opening to talk about things that may have bothered them in school or even at home.  Feiler also suggests family meals are a wonderful time to improve vocabulary.  So I've started to try to bring a new word to the table each evening - the first night it was orzo, which was in our soup!  The other idea I liked from The Secrets of Happy Families was to use the family dinner to teach kids about their history - to tell family stories which give kids a feeling of connection and of knowing where they come from.  Do your kids know where their parents met?  Where their grandparents grew up?  Of an illness in the family and how it was handled?  The answers to these questions and more give a child a sense of being part of a larger family.  According to Feiler what has been found in studies is that, "The more children knew about their family's history, the stronger their sense of control over their lives, the higher their self-esteem, and the more successfully they believed their families functioned."

I found this book full of valuable and unique ideas that I plan to try to implement in my family.  We won't use all of them, but I do think we'll be putting several to use.  It's a book I'll be hanging on to, to refer to in the years to come.  If you are looking for new positive ways to improve your family (and who isn't?) this is certainly an excellent choice. 

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book free for review purposes.  The opinions stated above are my own. 

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

My Old Man, Winter Coats, and Crocs

Lately I've been getting my horse out to ride in the afternoons when it's sunny, and once Pierce gets off the school bus letting him have a little mini riding lesson before heading inside for homework.  It's nice to get some fresh air.  The twins enjoy driving their trucks around the arena and pretending to be horses on the jumps.
 I can't even count the number of times I pretended to be a horse as a kid and sailed my fleet feet over wooden cross bars, with a brisk neigh. 

Sometimes Reid likes to ride with me.  Here we are on my horse, Phoenix.  There was a time I wouldn't have dreamed of putting a kid on Phoenix (who seemed to refuse to tolerate any rider other than myself).  But he's an old man now, at 21, and he has arthritis.  I've had him since he was 3.  I wonder, sometimes when I call him old man, if he's silently calling me old woman? 
Pierce is always excited to get to ride.  I didn't even have to punch holes in my saddle stirrups for him, thanks to a brutal riding lesson when I was 14 years old that involved doing the entire hour in what my instructor, Art, referred to as "jockey position".  Turns out my teen jockey length stirrups fit a 6 year old just fine.  
I know what you're thinking.  You're wondering why the kid is wearing Crocs and a swimsuit (and winter jacket, no less).  It was beach day at school for spirit week.  Finding a creative way to do beach day without freezing was quite the mom challenge, let me tell you! 

Now if only it really were beach week.  I don't know about you, but I'm done with winter.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Smoked Sausage and Spinach Soup Recipe

I make soup pretty frequently in the winter.  Luckily, the boys generally like soup.  Recently I tossed together a new recipe and was quite pleased with the results.

1 lb. smoked sausage, diced
1 large onion, chopped
2 large carrots, diced
1 celery rib, diced
5 cups broth (I used chicken)
1 14 oz. can navy beans, drained
1 tsp basil
9 ounce package fresh spinach
1/2 cup orzo
1 tsp basil
30 ounces canned diced tomatoes
5 cloves garlic, minced

Saute garlic, onion, carrots, and celery in a tablespoon of olive oil, in a large stew pot until tender.  Add all other ingredients (except the spinach) and bring to a boil.  Reduce to simmer and cook for 7 minutes.  Add spinach and simmer 3 more minutes until spinach is gently wilted and orzo is tender. 

It turned out wonderfully, and we had plenty of leftovers to eat for lunch the next day.  That's win-win in my book!

Monday, February 25, 2013

Sweet Felt Owls - Giveaway

Do any of you have vertigo?  I haven't had an attack in years, but I got my balance knocked out from under me about 10 days ago, and I'm still waiting to "sober up".  The doctor did call in some medication, but for some reason I'm not responding to it.  In the meantime, I can't do my usual activities (including working out/running - sob!).  Alternatives include anything that doesn't involve turning my head.  At all.  So suddenly, I've found myself sitting very still and crafting in my spare time. 

My crafty and talented blogging friend Tree posted a link on FB to a tutorial for making felt owls recently, and felt crafts are one of the few I am sort of capable of doing.  Granted, I can't do a straight stitch to save my life, but I generally get the project done and it mostly of resembles what it is supposed to be. 

I had fun making these felt owls, and plan to do some more.  The wooden pegs are tricky to find, and I had to place an order online from a craft store in Maine.  The ones I found at JoAnn were okay, but I think they'd be even better with the appropriate size pegs. 

Why Mr. Owl, is that a mouse running across the grass below? 

If you'd like to be entered to win this sweet set of felt owls (pine tree not included), just enter through the Rafflecopter below.  Or, if you'd like to try your hand at crafting your own, you can find the peg owl tutorial here.

  a Rafflecopter giveaway

Friday, February 22, 2013

Twin Moments

It's been quiet for a few minutes.  Too quiet.  So quiet it raises my Mom hackles and urges me to go investigate.  I tiptoe to the bedroom door, which the twins have shut.  No whispers from within.  Slowly, I open the door just a teensy crack.

Reid catches me.  "Mom?!"

I don't respond, sneakily watching him and Cort tucked into Reid's bed, snuggled up side by side, surely whispering in that way that only twins can.  I love that they have moments like these.

Reid says, "Mom?!?  What are you doing?"

I open the door and yell "Rrraaaaarrrr!  I'm the tickle monster!"

The twins scream and duck under the covers as I leap into bed with them, attacking with my tickle fingers.  They both collapse into giggles, and when I stop to give them hugs they beg and beg me to become the tickle monster again.

Just one small moment in my day, but it makes the redundancy of daily winter life seem more like dancing in the rain.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Amazingly Light Angelfood Mocha Cupcakes

I had never tried International Delight Light Iced Coffee, and I wasn't sure what to expect. I loved the idea that it had less calories and less sugar, but would it be light and yet also sweet enough for me? Absolutely! In fact, I loved the taste so much that I thought it deserved a fantastic light dessert creation. I decided to make mocha angelfood cupcakes. Perfect for when you want a light dessert that is full of rich flavor.

Ingredients for Cupcakes:
One box angelfood cake mix
1/2 cup cocoa
1 1/3 cup decaf coffee, cooled

Ingredients for Fluffy Frosting:
1 1/2 cups International Delight Light Iced Coffee (I used mocha flavor)
1 3.5 ounce package of vanilla pudding
1 8 ounce carton of whipped topping

Place the pudding in a bowl and add International Delight Light Iced Coffee. Mix on medium for 2 minutes. Place in the fridge and allow to firm for at least 2 hours.
Meanwhile, preheat oven to 350*. Place in mixing bowl angelfood cake mix, cocoa, and cooled coffee. Mix on medium until well blended. Pour into baking cups in muffin tins. Bake for 18-20 minutes and allow to cool.
Gently fold whipped topping into mocha coffee pudding. Frost cupcakes immediately before serving.

I will definitely be making these decadent yet light cupcakes again! Not only did my husband and I love them, but our 3 boys were impressed. And their favorite part? Why the frosting, of course!

With less calories and less sugar, International Delight Light Iced Coffee lets you enjoy MORE of what you love! For more fun ways to break up your day, visit ID's new online games today for a chance to win sweet prizes and coupons to use on your next purchase!

Disclaimer:  This is a sponsored conversation written by me on behalf of International Delight. The opinions and text are all mine.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Royal Icing and Basket Weaving - Cake Decorating Level 2

Recently I finished my Level 2 Cake Decorating class.  In this class, we covered royal icing, which I didn't like much.  I missed the creamier (and tastier) buttercream.  We did a bit with fondant and gum paste, and I really didn't like it either!  I guess I'm just a simple person when it comes to cake making.  I was happy with how my final cake turned out though.
I did a two layer strawberry cake with a layer of homemade rhubarb jam in the center.  I used buttercream frosting on the outside and on the basket weaving.  I liked learning how to do the basket weaving - it was kind of repetitious and relaxing.  The lilies are made from royal icing - which, while edible, isn't so tasty.  They are pretty to look at though.  Kind of looks like an Easter cake to me. 

I decided not to take levels 3 and 4 of cake decorating.  They focus exclusively on fondant and gum paste, and that just isn't really my thing.  For the most part, though, I've learned what I wanted to and hope to keep practicing my techniques regularly.  After all, I was able to create these fun Valentines cupcakes for Pierce's school party last week:
If you have the right tips, these are actually super easy to make, and I thought they did turn out quite cute.  I hope the afternoon wasn't too rough on Pierce's teacher - with 20 kids hopped up on all this sugar! 

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

But Why CAN'T We Cut a Hole in the Wall?

Pierce has been into spy gear lately.  He recently used a gift card he received from my aunt and uncle for Christmas to purchase a CSI door alarm for his bedroom door, that goes off at the smallest shadow crossing the path, and requires a card pass to turn off.  This does have the potential to be one of the most annoying toys ever created, but who am I to hinder a spy at work?

To fuel Pierce's imaginings, we have started reading Harriet the Spy.  I have my old beloved childhood copy from the 1980s.  I had to tape it together but it still has all the pages (so far).  I had forgotten that Harriet is kind of mean in her judgments of others, so we have a lot of open discussions about that as we read.  As a result of this book, Pierce has become obsessed with the dumbwaiter in Mrs. Plumber's house.  He doesn't understand why we can't cut a hole in the wall to build a dumbwaiter.  In fact, he comes up with new ideas and theories every day of how this might be accomplished in our house.  He brings these theories to Paul, our family project-master, and while Paul gently explains it's just not possible, this answer doesn't suit Pierce.
Once he realized we were pretty firmly set in not cutting any holes in the wall, Pierce came up with the idea of cutting a hole in the ceiling instead.  He's quite determined, for a 6 year old.  And while we built him a pretend dumbwaiter out of a Kleenex box and some rope strung from the office loft, this just doesn't suit because Pierce can't actually climb into a Kleenex box - only his stuffed animals can. 

Readers, don't you think Paul and I are just so mean, not to let Pierce cut a hole in the wall to build a dumbwaiter?  Talk about stifling some ingenuity!

I have a bit of an update on the job front.  Seems my CPS background check must have finally come back, because Friday I was sent W2 forms online and a confidentiality agreement to sign.  So hopefully I'll be starting some training in the very near future.  Thanks to those of you who continue to check up on how the job situation is going - I really appreciate how thoughtful you are! 

Monday, February 18, 2013

I Heart Keenwah Creative Quinoa Snack Giveaway

I grow so weary of the same snacks over and over.  As a runner, I often look for easy portable snacks in bar form that I can grab on the go and eat before I workout.  But they do grow old.  When I heard about the new I Heart Keenwah snacks, nutritious and made from an all natural quinoa cluster, I was excited to try them. 

 I was particularly pleased when I looked at the ingredients and found that there was nothing foreign and unprounouncable on there:  organic quonia, cashews, tapioca syrup, raw sugar, dried cranberries, honey, almond oil, baking soda and salt.  I loved that they were the perfect size to toss a few in the pocket of a running jacket in case I needed a nibble in the middle of a long run. 

But the true test for snacky goodness was, of course, the taste test.  Sometimes the all-natural snacks just don't have much flavor.  Well, let me tell you, these do not disappoint!  First off, they are crunchy and chewy, but without being dry and crumbly.  I loved the sweet burst of flavor.  All three boys really enjoyed them, and Pierce said his favorite part was the cranberries. 

And now I have a little confession (blush).  When I received the email asking if I'd like to review these, I asked if they would send extra so I could give away one for my readers.  I was so greedy to try these that I opened the big bag first and dug right in, without reading the little accompanying note.  I was supposed to eat the sample bags and give away the big bag (OOPS!).  So sorry readers - I'm terribly embarrassed.  What a bad blogger I have been!  And thank goodness this tasty snack is only 120 calories per serving, huh?  Anyhow, so instead, I'm giving away to one very lucky reader two sample bags - one almond and one peanut ginger.  And next time I promise to read first and chow down later (all this running I do - sometimes it just makes a girl mighty hungry!). 

Disclaimer:  I received 3 bags of I heart Keenwah for review purposes and since I piggishly ate the wrong bag, I will be giving away the two smaller bags.  The opinions stated above are my own. 

To enter to win, click on the Rafflecopter giveaway.  a Rafflecopter giveaway

Friday, February 15, 2013

Best Little Puzzlers Around

For the past year or so, the twins have been OBSESSED with puzzles. It's really Reid who pushes the puzzles.  He is always the one that gets them out, but Cort likes the companionship, so he always ends up helping Reid work them.  We have a good assortment of puzzles, of the 30 piece variety, but it seems they have gotten too easy for the twins.  So one day I broke out a 100 piece Melissa and Doug pirate puzzle that I bought for Pierce at a yard sale last fall.  It's for ages 6+, and Pierce complains it is too hard and won't work it.
Would you believe that Cort and Reid sat down and worked the entire thing on their own?  It took them a while, but they were so proud when they finished.  And I'd say they sure showed up their older brother this time around!

Thursday, February 14, 2013

The Boost Your Blog Valentines Blog Hop!

76 blogs in all signed up for our 1st Annual Valentine's Day Boost-My-Blog Party!
You are all so awesome. Thank you for being here!
Giveaway Winners
Winner: Christine from Hearth and Home
Winner: Patty from Patty's Pretty Things
Winner: Missy from Magnolia Holler
Winner: Yolanda from Peanut Butter and Jelly
Winner: JP from A Quiet Corner
Winner: Beth Edwards from Elizardbreath Speaks
Winner: Tammy from Our Neck of the Woods

Winner: Candy from Lazy J Bar Z Farm

Winners: Janie from That Janie Girl and Victoria from Life In My Empty Nest
Congratulations Everyone! 
We will be in contact with you.
Now let's get started!
This is a blog party...
To gain the most out of the experience,
1. Please visit at least 5 other blogs you don't currently follow.
2. Leave a comment that you are visiting from the Boost-My-Blog (BMB) party.
3. Consider following that new blog you are visiting.
4. If you receive a comment and follow from a fellow BMB participant -- visit, comment and follow back.
If we all do this, we can add up to 74 new readers to our blogs.
And that's alotta bloggy love, my friends.
Two Bears Farm Rural Living Kids
A Rural Journal Rural Living Photography
LPA Rebuild Renovation Ireland Food
Fresh Eggs Daily Chickens Cooking DIY
Desktop Dreams Photography
E. Lizardbreath Speaks Travel
The Ranch Wife Chronicles Agriculture
Lazy J Bar Z Farm Photography Recipes
Rural Living Today Homesteading
You'll Shoot Your Eye Out Photography
What We Keep Journaling
Jubilee Street Journaling
Adventures and Exploits Journaling
The Emily Files Photography
The Self Sufficient Homeacre Homesteading
Kleinworth and Co Photography
Shirley Behind The Lens Photography
Black Fox Homestead Homesteading
Thrift Shop Commando Thrifting Humor
Our Neck of the Woods Homesteading
Magnolia Holler Homesteading Gardening Mommy
Life On Our Mountain Journaling
It's All About Purple Journaling Photography
Townsend House Homesteading Homeschooling Recipes
Sharon's Paw's Create Art Photography Crafts
A Quiet Corner Nature Pets Photography
Everything Home with Carol Homesteading Homemaking Homeschooling
Just One More Thing Books Crafts Family
The View From Right Here Photography
Rambling Wild Rose Photography
Clearwater Farm Journal Farming Homesteading
That Janie Girl Life
Away For The Weekend Photography Lifestyle
Moments in Mapleglen Photography
Peanut Butter and Jelly Photography Recipes
Animal Instinct Farming
Modern World Personal Journal
Snippets from Springdale Photography
Keepsake Moments Family Crafting
Stuff and Nonsense Books Rural Living Photography
Life In My Empty Nest Life
Buttons Thoughts Farming Photography
Daily Yarns 'n More Rural Living Photography Knitting
Bridgit's Bell Crafting
Linie Cat @ Large Crafting
Scratch Cradle Chickens
Patty's Pretty Things Crafting Recipes
Bended Road Photography Photography
Live. Laugh. Pull Your Hair Out. Parenting Farming Homesteading
Spot On Cedar Pond Homesteading Gardening Recipes
hula~la Crafting
From City Streets to Country Roads Photography Journaling Crafts
Green Mommas Eco-friendly Homesteading Gardening
The Homespun Lifestyle
Our Hill Country Retreat DIY Gardening Sewing
Less Bitching, More Stitching Crafting
Ridgetop Ramblings Homesteading
Homeschooling In The Hills Homeschooling
Bringing Along OCD Mental Health
Live Ready Now Off-grid Homesteading
Carefree Jewelry by Lisa Jewelry Making
Thistle Cove Farm Rural Living
GoldenWoofs, Sugar The Golden Retriever DIY Crafts Book Reviews
Thoughts and Images Along The Way Photography
The Gift of a Moment Photography
The Monkey Wrangler's Blog Life
Chores and Chandeliers DIY Farm Life
A Defined Life Journaling Devotional Photography
Life in the Scrapatch Quilting
Homesteading Wife Homesteading
Long Hollow Journaling Photography
Butterfly Tales Photography
This. Gallimaufry. Life. Journaling Lifestyle Travel
Livin' In The Green Gardening
Calamity Acres Hobby Farm Gardening Chickens Homesteading
Sowing Stitches Quilting Sewing Life
Hearth and Home Farming Cooking Family
Around Roanoke, VA                                  Photography
Everyday Ruralty                                         Farming
Thank you all for joining in! Nancy and I are so appreciative of the positive feedback and participation. If anyone was inadvertently left off of the list, let us know and we'll get you added right away. Or, if you have any questions, you may contact Nancy here.