In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths. ~ Proverbs 3:6

Friday, December 25, 2015


We decorate our tree the Saturday after Thanksgiving. 
I buy the  kids a new ornament each year for the tree.
I buy the kids a new pair of Christmas pajamas from Target's Black Friday Deals, and we give the kids their new jammies and ornaments before we decorate the tree.
We make chex mix and cookies to kick off the holidays and watch our first holiday cartoon, before going to bed.

Family Christmas Cards
Holiday Baking
Making Christmas Ornaments
visiting santa
going to see Christmas Lights



Something you Want
Something you Need
Something to Wear
Something to Read

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Pineapple Cheese Ball

 
 
Pineapple Cheese ball from Chef in Training has become my holiday party go-to cheese ball.  I started my blog right about the same time that Chef and Training began, and I believe I discovered this recipe at one of the weekly link parties I used to join back when I was getting my blog started.  Since then, I decided to have my blog be more of a hobby, but Chef and Training has gone on to do big things in the blogging world and her recipes are all over Pinterest.  I use a lot of her recipes, so check out her site if you get a chance.

Part of why I tried this recipe is because my husband loves all of these ingredients!  Pineapple, onion, ham, cream cheese....yep, this is the perfect cheese ball for him!  Because really, cheese ball is one of those things you take to a party and usually have some leftover to take home.  If I'm going to have leftover cheese ball, I want to make sure my husband loves it enough to consume it before I get to it!

This really is a great cheeseball to take to a party, and is something I've been making every holiday season for the past few years!
 

Ingredients:
12 oz. softened cream cheese
1 small can crushed pineapple, well drained
2-3 tbs. powdered sugar
2 tbs. chopped green onion
3 tbs. chopped deli ham
1 c. chopped pecans

Directions:
Mix everything but the pecans together in a bowl.  Shape into a ball and top with chopped pecans.  Serve with cracker.

Mom's Bagel Dip

 

It's not the holidays in our family without Mom's bagel dip!  I've shared this recipe on my blog a few years ago, and thought it was worthy of sharing again.  This is an appetizer that my mom always makes for our Christmas family party.  This is definitely not a dip that I make often, as it is far from healthy.  We get it once a year at my mom's Christmas party, and then I make it once for me and my husband right around Christmas time. 

My husband came home tonight and was thrilled to see that I had made a batch for him to munch on. I have to say that you probably need to be a mayonnaise lover to enjoy this dip, as the base is mayo and sour cream.  The texture is obviously that of a mayonnaise consistency and you can't miss the mayonnaise taste in this dip.  What makes it yummy, in my opinion, is the dill.  It just brings a bright flavor that seems to pair nicely with the bagel bites. This might not be a dish everyone loves, but I don't know anyone in our family who doesn't look forward to this at our annual Christmas party.


Ingredients:
1 1/3 c. mayonnaise
1 1/3 c. sour cream
2 tbs. dried dill
2 tbs. dried parsley
1 tsp. minced onion
4 oz. of thinly sliced deli beef or corn beef
one bag of bagels

Directions:
Mix everything but the bagels together in a bowl.  It's best to let sit in fridge for several hours or overnight to let the herbs give off flavor.  Tear bagels into bite size pieces before serving.

Notes:
My mom always used original Budding Beef, found in the lunch meat section of the grocery, so that's what I use too.  I can usually find it at Kroger.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Cranberry Bliss Cookies

 

You can't go through the holidays without baking cookies.  I like to bake.  I also like cookies.  What I don't like is having dozens of cookies around the house, because I am usually the only one who eats them!  My husband is really not a "sweets" kind of guy, but he will eat baked goods if they are fruity.  

This year I stumbled on this cranberry bliss cookie recipe from Cookies and Cups.  I saw  a few different versions of this cookie on Pinterest, but chose this recipe because it made three dozen cookies. I was looking for a new cookie to make for an event, but I also wanted to keep a dozen cookies at the house to see how my husband liked them.  Cranberry bliss cookies are now the Christmas cookie of choice in our home.  He loved them!  I mean, can you really go wrong with a basic butter cookie, filled with dried cranberries and white chocolate chips, topped with a cream cheese frosting, more cranberries and then drizzled with white chocolate?  We will be making these again next year for sure!


Ingredients:

Dough:
3/4 c. softened butter
2 oz. softened cream cheese
1 1/4 c. light brown sugar
2 eggs
2 tsp. vanilla
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
2 1/4 c. flour
1 c. white chocolate chips
3/4 c. chopped dried cranberries

Icing:
6 oz. softened cream cheese
1/4 c. softened butter
1 1/2 c. powdered sugar
1/2 c. melted white chocolate chips

Topping:
1/2 c. chopped dried cranberries
1/2 c. melted white chocolate chips

Directions:
Preheat oven to 375 and line cookie sheets with parchment paper.  Cream butter and cream cheese until smooth.  Beat in brown sugar.  Add eggs, vanilla, baking soda and salt.  Once combined, slowly mix in flour.  Stir in chocolate chips and cranberries.  Drop dough on cookie sheet two inches apart and bake for 9-11 minutes.  For the icing, beat ingredients until smooth.  Ice cookies once they are cool.  Top with dried cranberries and drizzle with chocolate. 

Notes:
For best results chill dough for two hours or overnight.  Although, I didn't have time for that and mine turned out fine.  I found that the icing never set up enough to stack the cookies without messing up the icing.  I ended up serving them on two plates, instead of stacking them into a pile on one plate, like I normally do with cookies.

Orange Glazed Cranberry Bread

 

It's the holidays and tis the season of cranberry goodness!  I'm not a huge cranberry fan....or even a citrus fan, for that matter....but I will say that I eat every crumb off of my plate when enjoying a piece of this bread.  It is incredibly moist and has great flavor. 


I discovered this bread last year when looking up holiday baking ideas that my husband would enjoy eating.  He is not a man who eat sweets ~ at least not the sweets I enjoy, like chocolate and holiday spices.  However, he does like a good "fruity dessert", and he particularly loves berries and citrus.   This  cranberry orange bread has now become a favorite of his.


I got this recipe here from Sally's Baking Addiction.  Be sure to check out the link for the original recipe, along with tips about freshness and storage of the baked bread.  This recipe is definitely a keeper and will be made in my family for several holidays to come.  The only thing I did different from the original recipe was omit the pecans.  My husband hates nuts in his desserts.  I also never keep buttermilk on hand, but if a recipe calls for buttermilk, it is important.  My mom taught me along time ago to add a tbs. of vinegar to cup of milk to create buttermilk, and so that's what I did for this recipe. 

This yummy bread, topped with a streusel and orange glaze, can be served for breakfast, brunch or dessert.  It even makes a great holiday gift for teachers or neighbors.  I ended up making three or four loaves last year and gave them away to people who helped watch my boys throughout the year.

Ingredients:

Streusel:
1/4 c. all purpose flour
2 tbs. sugar
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
3 tbs. butter, cold

Bread:
2 c. all purpose flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1 cup. chopped cranberries, fresh or frozen
1 large egg
1/2 c. brown sugar
1/3 c. sugar
1 c. buttermilk
1/3 c. vegetable oil
1 tsp. vanilla extract
2 tbs. orange zest

Glaze:
1 c. powder sugar
1-2 tbs. fresh orange juice
as much orange zest as you want

Directions:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees and spray a 9x5 loaf pan with nonstick spray.  Make the streusel by mixing flour, sugar and cinnamon and then cut butter into the mixture with a pastry cutter or fork and set aside.  To make the bread, toss flour, baking soda, salt and cranberries together in a mixing bowl and set aside.  In a medium bowl, whisk egg, brown sugar and sugar together until there are no lumps, then add buttermilk, oil, vanilla and orange zest until combined without overmixing.  Pour wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and gently mix together.  Pour batter in loaf pan and top with streusel.  Bake for 45 minutes to an hour, or until the bread pokes clean.  To make the glaze mix ingredients together, adding more juice or powdered sugar to get the right consistency.  Once bread has cooled, top with the glaze.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Sausage and Cream Cheese Crescent Rolls

 

I've shared this recipe on my blog a few years ago.  It ended up being a Pinterest hit, so I'm sharing it again, seeing as how it is a favorite of mine this time of year. 

I first had these sausage and cream cheese crescent rolls when my aunt made them for a family Christmas gathering.  They were delish, and I was pleasantly surprised to learn how easy they were to make!  You can't go wrong with only needing three ingredients.  The nice thing about making these for the holidays is that these ingredients are almost always on sale this time of year.

These are super easy and always a crowd pleaser!  They can be served for breakfast, brunch or as an appetizer for a party.  Sometimes I'll even make them for my husband as a game-day snack. 


Ingredients:
2 cans of crescent rolls
1 8oz. package of cream cheese
1 lb. breakfast sausage

Directions:
Cook sausage and drain the grease.  While sausage is warm, mix in a bowl with the cream cheese.  You can use a spoon, but I think my hands are the best utensils for this job.  Once mixture is combined, stuff a spoonful of the mixture in each crescent roll, and wrap up making sure that none of the mixture will come out of the roll while baking.  Bake rolls as directed on the package.  Best when served warm.

Notes:
One batch makes 16 rolls.  When making for a crowd, I always double the recipe.  One doesn't seem to be enough for most people!  Also, if I am making these for breakfast, I will often make the sausage and cream cheese mixture the night before and put it in the fridge overnight, so that the crescent rolls are ready to be stuffed and baked first thing in the morning.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Vegetable Pizza - holiday appetizer

 


Christmas is less than two weeks away, so I wanted to share a few of my favorite holiday recipes this week. 

Vegetable pizza is something I can remember having at holiday parties when I was a kid.   This is not a hot pizza, as it is served cold or at room temperature.  It's also not something you can only eat at the holidays, but the beautiful colors make it a festive appetizer for a holiday party or get-together.  Plus it's a light, fresh food choice to help balance out all of the sweets and rich food on your holiday spread.

I've seen several versions of recipes for this pizza.  I just took the ingredients that I knew were in it when I was a kid and came up with measurements to make it taste like I remember it.  This appetizer would be great for a Christmas or New Year's party!


Ingredients:
2 cans of crescent rolls
2 8 oz. packages of cream cheese (softened)
1/2 c. mayonnaise
1/2 c. sour cream
1 small packet of ranch dry dressing
2 tbs. dried dill
8 oz. shredded cheddar cheese
1 bag of fresh mixed vegis (broccoli, cauliflower, carrots), chopped
one green pepper, diced
one red pepper, diced
1 pack of cherry tomatoes, halved
1 small can of sliced black olives

Directions:
Spray baking sheets with nonstick spray.  Unroll crescent dough onto the pan, so it looks like a pizza crust.  I prefer to buy the crescent roll dough that isn't precut into rolls. In a mixing bowl, mix cream cheese, mayonnaise, sour cream, ranch and dill until well blended.  Once dough is baked and cooled, spread cream cheese mixture onto the baked dough. Top with shredded cheese and vegis.

Notes:
This recipe makes two pizzas, as an appetizer for a small crowd.  If I make this for just my small family, I divide the recipe in half.  When I only make half of this recipe, I will end up with extra vegis, but I use the extra vegis for a different meal the next day (usually a stir fry or a salad).

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Pregnancy and Adoption Update


Hello there dear readers.  It's been awhile.  I've been MIA on the blog the past several weeks, but I'd say I have good reason. Last time I posted, I was sharing about beginning our journey into international adoption.  It was literally not even a week after choosing an agency and sending out adoption applications with our first non-refundable checks that I discovered I was four weeks pregnant!



All I can say is that God has a real sense of humor sometimes.  We had been trying to get pregnant naturally for several months without any luck, as we knew we did not want to seek any fertility treatments this time around.  In September, we decided to focus on adoption and set the pregnancy thing aside for a little while.  Due to my husband traveling for work that month, when I look back on it there was honestly only one day that we could have conceived this pregnancy.  To be quite honest, I must have had a really early ovulation (which I wasn't tracking, so I don't know for sure), because the dates on my calendar would not have been the dates that I would have normally used for TTC.  But anyway, sure enough, we were quite surprised with this pregnancy!


I'm currently 12 weeks pregnant and looking forward to being done with the first trimester.  The pregnancy itself has been....well, a typical pregnancy.  For me, that means I feel nauseous the majority of the time and am extremely fatigued most days.  I nap when my boys nap to get through the day.  I am more than looking forward to getting that second trimester burst of energy.  This also explains why I have been MIA on my blog.  Nap time is usually blog time, but for me lately, it's been my nap time too!


As far as the adoption goes, there was never a doubt in our mind that we would not move forward with it even though we are pregnant.  I know this doesn't make sense to a lot of people.  But for us, adoption was not because we have trouble getting pregnant.  Adoption is something that we knew we wanted to do, particularly through China, as that is where our hearts are leading us at this time.  We knew we wanted to a grow a family through both biological and adoptive children, and in some ways, getting pregnant after officially beginning the process of the adoption, only confirmed to us that the timing of this adoption was exactly what God wants for us.



We did run into a few hurdles with the adoption process after we got pregnant.  We told our agency and home study office about the pregnancy before we even made the pregnancy public, as we knew this news could effect our adoption process.  Sure enough, this pregnancy will have a significant change on the timing of the adoption.  To make a long story short, our agency informed us that we could not apply with them until the new baby was six months old.  This is their agency policy, but we soon learned that this is most agency policies, as China has an unwritten policy of not wanting children in the home to be less than a year apart.  

While the news from our agency had us trying to find a plan B, our home study office told us that they would work with us while pregnant, if we could find an agency that would also work with us while pregnant.  And so I joined a China Adoption Questions Facebook page to find answers.  I was thrilled to get immediate responses, as that FB group has given me a wealth of knowledge on the China adoption process.  I soon learned of an agency that would work with families, even if they were pregnant.  I contacted the director, and while I was excited that they would work with us, I was discouraged about their average timeline from application to completion.  On average, they were telling me it takes two years to compete an adoption through them, and because we are hoping for a girl with minor special needs, it could take even longer.

With that information in mind, we were scheduled to have our first meeting with our home study correspondent for our adoption orientation.  At that meeting we learned that even though our original agency couldn't take our application until the new baby is six months old, that agency has a fairly quick timeline once our home study is completed and our dossier is sent to China.  The agency claims that depending on how quickly we are matched after dossier, it is usually about six months from the time China receives all of our paperwork to the time we get to travel.

With that information in mind, our home study office suggested that we do things a little different given our circumstances.  Basically, we are going to keep our original agency, but while people usually apply to an agency and then begin the the daunting piles of paperwork and home study process, we are going to have our home study completed before we officially apply with our agency.  This should mean that when the new baby turns six months, one year from now, we will have everything ready to be sent to China at the same time we officially apply to our agency.  While there is never a clear timeline for adoption, we are hoping to get matched next spring of 2017 and travel to complete the adoption in the summer of 2017.  That is the goal, but like I said, there are so many unexpected things that come into play with the adoption process.


My only current concern with this unusual flip-flop of events of the home study process and agency application, is that I have recently learned  we can not apply for any financial aid or grants until we are accepted by an agency and have a completed home study.  Not having an agency and not being matched with a child for well over a year, also puts a damper into fundraising, as it is awkward to fund-raise without some of this basic information.  

Please pray that we figure out the financial aspect of everything.  We know we will meet our $6,000 out of pocket maximum in 2016 with the birth of baby.  We are also in need of a van before the baby gets here.  Even with those two big expenses in 2016, we feel we will be able to save 50% of the $30k we will need to complete an adoption on our own.  It's the other 50% I was hoping to be able to get by applying to charitable grants or by fundraising.  Plus, we know we will have medical expenses post adoption, as we are applying for special needs child.

On top of those expenses, our insurance is just ridiculous.  I feel like we have been fighting them on a regular basis since Obama Care became a reality and our insurance now only gives us a high deductible with minimal coverage.  As I said, we have $6k annual out of pocket max that we have paid the the past three years, due to horrible insurance coverage.  And even though we've met our maximum out of pocket this year, we've been billed an additional $1,500 from our OBGYN offices, because they have coded everything from my annual checkup to my first pregnancy blood work as "fertility", even though I HAVE NOT HAD ANY FERTILITY in this pregnancy!  It has been extremely frustrating going back and forth with insurance and the doctor's office, and it looks like we are just going to be stuck paying it all.  Apparently, when I mentioned my infertility past with my new doctor at my annual checkup, the visit was no longer coded an annual visit for insurance purposes, but was coded a fertility visit.  And then from there, all of the blood work that I had after that was coded the same.   And we know from experience, fertility is not covered by insurance, but this is extremely frustrating to us, because we have not had any fertility treatments this time around.  Please pray for our patience in this matter as we deal with all of these additional expenses.  And continue to pray for a healthy pregnancy.  I go back to the doctor next week for a 13 week check up.

Friday, October 9, 2015

Sweet Potato and Corn Chowder



Sweet potato corn chowder has become one of my favorite fall soups!  I had never even had it until my mother-in-law made it in my home while she was visiting us for a week to help with my postpartum recovery after I had our twins, and I must say it was comforting and delicious! 

For me personally, I try to avoid regular potatoes and other starches that can spike blood sugar, but sweet potatoes are another story.  There are so many health benefits from sweet potatoes, as long as you aren't drowning them in butter and brown sugar!

Recently, I sent her a text asking for her recipe.  She's a nurse and was working at the time,  and she couldn't remember her recipe.  She quickly found something online that she said looked very similar to hers and sent me the link, so I could make it for supper.  She sent me this link from Daring Gourmet.  I don't know my mother-in-laws exact recipe, but I do know that this recipe looks and tastes a lot like hers, which made me a very happy girl. 

The pictures in this post are from a few weeks ago, but just looking at these pictures is making me want to add this to next week's menu.  I hope you enjoy it as much as our family does.  Even my toddlers love the sweet potatoes and corn from this dish.



INGREDIENTS:
4 slices of bacon, diced
1 sweet onion, chopped
1 red bell pepper, diced
2 cups diced sweet potatoes
1/4 c. all purpose flour
1 15 oz. can of corn, drained
3 1/2 c. chicken broth
1/4 tsp. dried thyme
1/4 tsp. dried marjoram
1 c. heavy cream 
2 green onions chopped
salt and pepper to taste

DIRECTIONS:
Fry bacon in pot then transfer to a plate, leaving bacon grease in pot. Saute onion over medium-high heat until tender.  Add bell pepper and cook till softened.  Add sweet potatoes and cook for another five minutes.  Add flour until dissolved.  Add broth, corn thyme and marjoram.  Bring to a boil, reduce heat, cover and simmer for 15 minutes or until potatoes are tender.  Add cream, green onions and bacon and cook till warm.  Add salt and pepper to taste .

NOTES:
*  I use coconut flour instead of all-purpose flour, and it turns out fine.
*  I also use half and half instead of heavy cream to cut back on calories. 

*  Instead of marjoram, I used dried oregano, as marjoram is not something I keep on-hand. but is supposed to be similar to oregano.
*  If you want a more creamy texture, you put part or all of the mixture in the blender, then mix it back in with the remaining pot of soup.



Pumpkin Roll



This pumpkin roll is one of my all-time favorite fall desserts.  I have been making this every autumn from the time I was fourteen years old.  Ok, I just did the math and realized that is more than half my life, which makes me feel really old!


If I remember correctly, this recipe was from a church cookbook.  The church I attended as a child put together a cookbook, filled with various recipes from members of the church, and gave the cookbooks out one year at a Mother Daughter Banquet.  One year ~ many many years ago ~ I was looking for something to make for Thanksgiving and decided to try this recipe out.  The rest is history.  I've been making it ever since.


I may be a little bias, but this is the best pumpkin roll recipe I have ever tasted!  It's not because I'm a good baker, it's because the recipe for the batter is moist with the perfect pumpkin spice flavor.  When that is combined with the rich cream cheese frosting, my taste buds do a happy dance!


I made this particular pumpkin roll pictured in this post for a ladies event at church, but I must confess....I din't have a piece of it!  As some of you know, I am challenging myself to Trim Healthy Mama, making sugar and flour big no-no's for me right now.  I'm sure I'll make a pumpkin roll again over the holidays, at which time, I will make an allowance for the occasional sugary treat.  Until then, I'll just enjoy making sweet treats for others and taking pictures of my work.  My waistline and blood sugar levels will thank me later for having the will-power to make that decision;)



INGREDIENTS:
Cake:
3 eggs
1 c. sugar
2/3 c. canned pumpkin
3/4 c. flour
1 tsp. baking powder
2 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. ginger
1 tsp. nutmeg
1/2 tsp. salt

Icing:
8 oz. softened cream cheese
4 tbs. softened butter
1 c. powdered sugar
1 tsp. vanilla

DIRECTIONS:
Beat eggs on high for 3-5 minutes. Mix in sugar and pumpkin. Blend in remaining dry ingredients.  Once batter is mixed well. Pour onto a greased cookie sheet.  Bake at 375 for 14 minutes.

While cake is baking, mix icing ingredients together with an electric mixer.  Make sure cake is completely cool before icing cake.  Once icing has been applied, roll the cake up, dust with powdered sugar and slice into one inch slices.

TIPS:
I usually line my cookie sheet with parchment paper or aluminium foil and spray it with a light coat of cooking spray.  This makes for easy cleanup, but it also make the cake come out of the pan easily, making it roll up easily.

Over the years, I've learned to double the icing recipe for a thicker, richer, sweet cream-cheesy center!  This is completely optional, but you've had one of my pumpkin rolls and asked me for the recipe, know that I ALWAYS double the icing recipe!

Friday, October 2, 2015

Adoption Update: Getting Started Again


I've said it in my blog before....adoption has always been something we knew we wanted to do.

We both have a heart for adoption.  We both saw it happening at some point.  We just didn't know when it would happen or how we would be able to afford it.  

We still don't have answers to those questions, yet here we are stepping out in faith, mailing out paperwork and writing the first of many checks towards the ultimate goal of bringing home our child that we already love even though this child may or may not even even exist yet.  A child that we will have CHOSEN to be apart of our family.  A child that I may not ever feel in my womb, but a child that will be loved the same as the two sons I have known from conception.   How exciting is that!



The very first adoption post I wrote was two and half years ago, back in March of 2013.  If you would have told me back then, that in October of 2015 we would just be starting the process of adoption, I would not have believed you.

But you see, some things have happened in the past few years, effecting the timing of our adoption process.  If reading a list of facts bores you, feel free to skip this part.  But for those who are curious, here is the timeline of events that has brought us to where we are now:

  • November 2012 - We were struggling to get pregnant and began seriously considering international adoption for the first time, particularly China adoption.
  • January 2013 - We were told we would likely need medical help to conceive a child.  As a result, we decided to pursue both adoption and fertility at the same time.  We met with a fertility specialist.  We also began speaking with our adoption contact and had a lot of our questions answered.
  • February 2013 - We filled out an application for international adoption, but soon realized there was some confusion with the agency about us qualifying to adopt from China.  I knew I had to be 30 years old to adopt from China.  I also knew I would be 30 by the time the adoption was finalized.  If we started the process that month like we wanted to, I would be younger than 30 by the time paperwork was sent to China,.  Therefore, our adoption plans were on hold.  We would need to wait six months to start the adoption process, making me 30 by the time our paperwork was sent over to China.  In the meantime, we were contributing to an adoption fund, giving us a head-start at saving the $30k it would take to adopt from China.
  • August 2013 - We found out we were pregnant with twins!  We also realized it had been six months since we last spoke with the adoption agency, and my age would now qualify us to begin the adoption process.  We contacted the agency, and after much consideration, we and the agency thought it would be best to wait until after the twins were born to begin our adoption process.
  • March 2014 - I stopped working at 34 weeks pregnant, bringing a two income home down to a one income home.  Our twins were born at 37 weeks, making our family of two a family of four!
  • May 2014 - Without me working, and with medical bills pouring in, we had no choice but to stop contributing to our adoption fund.  We promised to only use the funds in the account for a future adoption, so those funds have never been touched.  By the time we had to stop contributing, we had a little over 25% of the $30,000 we needed to adopt.
  • November 2014 - Matt got a job promotion.  Even with the job promotion, we decided we would not begin contributing financially towards adoption until we had completely paid off all of our medical bills.
  • March 2015 - The twins turned one year old!  We finally paid off the $18,000 we had in medical bills that were accumulated from the time we got pregnant until the time the twins turned one. {Our out-of-pocket yearly maximum payment is $6,000 with our insurance company.  Because my pregnancy was split between 2013 and 2014, and because the boys needed a minor procedure done that I could not get scheduled until 2015, we had met the max out-of-pocket during all three years (2013, 2014 and 2015), giving us $18k in medical bills over 18 months time.  Don't even get me started on medical expenses and insurance for the middle class!} 
  • April 2015 - We...or should I say ME....finally began pushing to at least have an adoption discussion again.  It took Matt a little while to get on board with more kids via adoption or pregnancy.  Prior to this, he had a hard time seeing past the boys and was really questioning whether he wanted to expand the family!  Our boys had just turned one, and he was more than content with our boys.  I expressed I felt content, but I didn't feel complete.  We had to give each other time to process our thoughts before coming back to the subject of expanding our family.  It was during that time frame that we decided to begin trying to get pregnant naturally, knowing that our chances were slim, and we would reopen the adoption conversation at the end of the summer once we reexamined our finances.
  • August 2015 - No luck with a pregnancy.  I went ahead and had some tests run, just so I knew where I was hormonally.  My doctor suggested we consider some form of medical treatment to help us get pregnant, but like the first time we sought help she pointed out that we could end up not pregnant at all, pregnant with one, or once again pregnant with multiples if we chose that route.  Matt really did not want to go down that road again, for several different reasons.  It was during this time frame of choosing to forgo help with a pregnancy that he began to get little excited about adoption, seeing as how the boys would probably be over three years old by the time an adoption could be finalized.  And so at the end of the summer, we decided to reach out to our adoption agency.  It had been nearly two years since we last spoke, and we soon realized that the agency we were previously in contact with had closed.  At the same time, we would and are still trying to get pregnant.  If by some chance we have a miracle pregnancy naturally, we will continue to pursue an adoption while being pregnant.  Pregnancy is only nine months.  Adoption will take much longer.  
  • September 2015 - We reached back out to our original home study contact, and she helped us choose a new agency. Progress on an adoption was finally beginning to take place.
  • October 2015 -  We officially completed and mailed our first packet of paperwork (application for international adoption) to get our home study going, along with our first non-refundable check for $500.  We are expecting our next packet of paperwork in the mail any day (an application for the agency) and expect to have it completed and mailed back with a check for $550 in the upcoming weeks.
And so friends, that's where we are at with the adoption process.  We are basically just getting started again.  So far, we are just filling out paperwork and writing checks.  This a long process.  At the earliest, we are thinking 18 months from now until adoption completion...if we even get to a completion.  There are a lot of things that could happen between now and then that could possibly interfere with the end results of a successful international adoption.  The next step is to get our home study scheduled.  I'll keep updates on the blog as the process unfolds.  Until then, we are patiently and excitedly waiting to bring home a new addition to our family.  

Monday, September 14, 2015

My Trim Healthy Mama Challenge


Hello dear blog readers!  I'm trying something new on my blog today. I'm posting my very first vlog, which by the way, I spent more time trying to upload to my blog than I did creating the video!  I ended up having to create a YouTube account and upload the video to my blog from YouTube, which was a little frustrating, but that's ok.  Honestly, if I didn't put this post into a video, I know I would have never sat down to the computer and typed it all into a blog post!

Today, I'm starting my Trim Healthy Mama Challenge, which is what this video is about.  In the video I discuss the following:  What is Trim Healthy Mama?  Why am I trying Trim Healthy Mama?  What are some of my concerns with Trim Healthy Mama?

I'll try to get an update up in a few weeks to let you know how things are going, but for now here is my very first video on my blog....



Saturday, September 5, 2015

Classic Cucumber and Onions



Classic cucumber and onions!  A childhood favorite of mine!  I can't have a summer cookout without them!  I heart the salty,vinegary crunch of the garden cucumbers in this dish! I remember snacking on cucumber and onions in the warm summer months when I was a kid.  As an adult, not much has changed about that.  Here is how my mother made this classic dish growing up, and how continue to make them now.

INGREDIENTS:
One cucumber, peeled and sliced
1/2 to 1 sweet onion, sliced thinly
1/2 c. white vinegar
2 c. water
2 tbs. salt 
1 tbs. sugar

DIRECTIONS:
Mix vinegar, water, salt and sugar.  Soak cucumbers and onions in the liquid for 3-4 hours, or overnight for best results.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Slow Cooker Maple Mustard Chicken



As a busy mom, I heart my slow cooker!  In my kitchen, the crock pot easily gets used 2-3 times a week, no mater what season it is.  The easier the recipe, the better!  You really can't get much easier than this maple mustard chicken recipe.  I discovered this recipe on Pinterest a year or two ago, and decided that with a few adjustments, it was a keeper!  For one, I couldn't find quick tapioca for thickening, but had cornstarch in the pantry and used that instead. Secondly, I don't usually keep a stone ground mustard in my fridge, but I always have Dijon mustard on hand. 

While this recipe only has a few ingredients, I do recommend using good quality ingredients.  In my pantry, I keep a bottle of 100% real organic maple syrup for my cooking and baking needs.  It's definitely more expensive than the bottle of Aunt Jamima, but it also doesn't taste like a bottle of Aunt Jamima, as it is not quite as sweet as the typical processed pancake syrup most people have in their pantries. 


INGREDIENTS:
4-6 Boneless frozen chicken breast (thighs or tenders will also work)
1/2 c. Maple syrup
1/3 c. Dijon mustard
1 tbs. corn starch

DIRECTIONS:
Spray crock pot with cooking spray.  Combine syrup and mustard and pour over chicken. Cook on low for 3-4 hours.  When chicken is almost finished cooking, set chicken aside. Whisk cornstarch in the sauce until smooth.  Add chicken back in for the remaining time. Serve over rice.



Slow Cooker Southern Green Beans


As a first time gardener, we planted half a box of green beans.  We almost didn't plant any green beans, but one of our little guys LOVES green beans, so we decided to plant some for him! He seriously eats green beans like candy!  Fresh, frozen or canned, as long as they are cooked, he'll eat 'em up!

Now that I've discovered this recipe for green beans, I wish we would have planted more!  The flavor maker is the bacon, making these green beans the best I've ever had!

These taste great, but they are also really easy.  Fresh green beans take awhile to cook, so using the slow cooker is the ideal way for me to make these. I love that I can throw everything in the crock pot, walk away, and a few hours later my house smells amazing!

This is truly the only way I will make green beans ever again, and next year, we are definitely planting more than half of a garden box of green beans.


INGREDIENTS:
2 c. chicken broth
1 pound of green beans, cut into two inch pieces
1 sweet onion, diced
1/2 c. cooked bacon, choped
1 clove of garlic, minced
1 tbs. soy sauce
1 tbs. white vinegar
1 tsp. sugar
1/4 tsp. pepper

DIRECTIONS:
Toss all ingredients together in a crock pot and cook on high for three hours or on low for six hours.




Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Crock-pot Rotisserie Chicken



I love a good rotisserie chicken.  I often find myself buying one from Target on a regular basis, as it makes for a quick and easy meal on grocery days.  Plus I really like having leftover chicken around the next day to make wraps for lunch. When I saw that you could make a rotisserie chicken in the crock pot, using aluminium foil balls, I decided to give it a try.  

I really wanted to love this recipe....but truthfully, I just found it to be mediocre and probably wouldn't make it again anytime soon. Yes, the foil worked, and the end result was a rotisserie chicken, but the flavor and juiciness that I was expecting, just wasn't there for me.

I only buy whole chickens when they are on sale and love using them for things like roasted herb chicken.  But truthfully, the all-natural rotisserie chickens that I buy from Target for $6-7 are about the same price as a whole chicken on sale and taste better than what I made in the crock pot without any of the work.  I am speaking only about the all natural savory rotisserie chickens from the Target deli.  I personally find Walmart's and Kroger's chickens to be much more greasy than Targets.  

In the end, if given the choice to use a whole chicken I find on sale to make this dish, or buy an already cooked all natural savory rotisserie chicken from Target, I will probably opt for the Target chicken, but that's just me.

Anyway, this recipe did work, and if you want to give it a try, here are the basic steps.

STEP ONE: Make aluminum foil balls and place them in the bottom of the crock pot.

STEP TWO: Mix together seasonings of choice to make a dry rub.  I use 1 tbs. paprika, 2 tsp. salt, 1/2 tsp. pepper, 2 tsp. garlic powder. 1 tsp. thyme.  If you like heat, you can add cayenne pepper. 



STEP THREE: Remove all insides of the chicken and rinse well. Coat chicken with 2-4 tbs. melted butter.  Rub dry mixture all over the chicken and place chicken in the crock pot.



 STEP FOUR: Cover with a lid and cook on high heat for 4 to 4.5 hours or until chicken has reached 165 degrees. Let rest about 20 minutes before cutting.



Butternut Squash Mac and Cheese



A few weeks ago, I had The Chew on TV during the kiddos nap time.  I'm sure it was a summer-time rerun, but with fall upon us, one particular dish from the episode caught my eye.  Butternut Squash Mac and Cheese....What?!?....It sounded comfortfully-delicious (yes,
I do realize that is not a word), and the next day I found myself buying the ingredients to make this dish.


The only thing I did different from the original recipe is substitute Gruyere cheese for shredded cheddar, and the only reason why was because of the cost.  While Gruyere may be a fancy Swiss-like cheese that melts really well, cheddar cheese fit into my budget a little bit better!

Overall, this was a hit for me.  A little more time consuming than than my go-to Greek yogurt mac and cheese I shared early, but definitely something that I will occasionally make again.  The flavor was more of the squash than the cheese, and the creamy texture was amazing!  You can find the original recipe here.

INGREDIENTS:
3 c. cubed butternut squash
1 1/4  c. chicken stock
1 1/2 c. milk
2 cloves garlic
2 tbs. nonfat plain Greek yogurt
1 c. shredded cheese (I used cheddar)
1 c. parmigiana cheese
1 pound cavatappi pasta
1 tbs. butter
1/3 c. Italian seasoned panko breadcrumbs
2 tbs. fresh chopped parsley.

DIRECTIONS:
Cook and drain pasta according to package instructions.  In a saucepan on medium high heat, add squash, stock, milk and garlic.  Bring to boil, then reduce to simmer for about 20 minutes or until squash is tender.  Remove from heat and pour in a blender.  Add yogurt, seasoned with salt and pepper, and blend until smooth.  Then add cheese and blend again until smooth and cheese is melted. Stir mixture into the cook pasta.  In a small bowl, melt butter and stir in breadcrumbs.  Top pasta with breadcrumbs.  Garnish with parsley.



Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Greek Yogurt Mac and Cheese



When my boys were big enough to start eating table food, I decided to rethink how I make mac and cheese.  Trying to avoid the powdered cheese mixes you can buy in a box, I knew I could make something a little healthier that took just as much effort as the box stuff.   My effort to find a healthier mand cheese recipe led me to this recipe, found nearly a year ago, and I've been using it ever since!  Greek yogurt is of course packed with protein, but it also gives a creamy texture to this mac and cheese, while the garlic and onion powder add a nice flavor.  And of course, I throw in vegis when I can.  I really like spinach mixed in with this dish, but my boys prefer peas!

INGREDIENTS:
8 oz elbow pasta
1/2 c. Greek yogurt
8 oz. shredded cheddar cheese
1/4 tsp.onion powder 
1/4 tsp. garlic powder
salt and pepper to taste
2 c. fresh spinach or frozen peas

DIRECTIONS:
Cook and drain pasta according to packaging, reserving half a cup of the pasta water, and place cooked pasta back in the pan on low heat.  In a bowl, mix garlic powder and onion powder with the Greek yogurt and then add to the pasta. Stir in reserved pasta water and shredded cheese until cheese melts and is well combined.  Add frozen peas or fresh chopped spinach, stirring until peas are warm or spinach has wilted. 


Greek Yogurt Biscuits



I've recently started to use a lot of Greek yogurt in my cooking, especially since I've started cooking for my toddlers.  Greek yogurt is a great source of protein, and I love to add it into things when I can.  Around a year ago, I tried this recipe for Greek yogurt biscuits, and I was pleasantly surprised.  I don't often make bread or biscuits, but when I do, this recipe has become my go-to recipe.

What makes these biscuits unique is that they don't really taste like a biscuit.  I guess I would describe them as a cross between a roll and biscuit, because they have more of the flavor of a roll, but the dense texture of a biscuit.  I find that I often make these instead of yeast rolls to go with home-style meals.  These are also really good when used for breakfast sandwiches. My personal favorite way to eat these biscuits is with a small amount of butter and honey!

INGREDIENTS:
2 c. all purpose flour
1 tbs. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
2 tsp. sugar
1 c. plain Greek yogurt (I prefer nonfat)
1/2 reduced fat milk

DIRECTIONS:
Preheat oven to 425 degrees.  Spray a baking sheet with nonstick spray.  In a bowl, whisk together dry ingredients.  With a wooden spoon, mix in 1/4 c. milk and the yogurt, just until incorporated. Place mixture on a lightly flour counter top and add the remaining 1/4 c. milk to the remaining pieces in the bowl, then add those pieces to the dough before kneading until dough is smooth.  This is a very sticky dough.  You may need to add a bit more flour as you work with it.  Using a flour rolling pin, roll the dough out to .5-1 inch thickness. Cut out biscuits with a biscuit cutter, or something round like the top of a drinking glass. Place cut out biscuits one inch apart on baking sheet and bake for 15 minutes.  Best when served warm.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Pan-Fried Brussel Sprouts with Bacon



As a child, I can remember certain things that I did not like, and brussel sprouts was one of them!  However, I think that if I would have had brussel sprouts made for me this way as a kid, I would have had a different opinion about this vegetable.

The bacon really does make this vegi taste so good!  I'm not even a lover of bacon, but when these two things are combined, something wonderful happens!  Because bacon makes everything better, right?

The simplicity of this dish is also something to love!  You don't have to be great in the kitchen to make this!  Sometimes simple is best.


INGREDIENTS:
1 lb. brussel sprouts
1 lb. bacon
olive oil
salt and pepper

DIRECTIONS:
Cut bacon into bite size pieces. Cut ends off of brussel sprouts and set aside. On medium high heat, fry bacon until cooked.  When finished, pull out bacon and let drain on a plate with paper towels.  Add brussel sprouts to the bacon grease.  Salt and pepper brussel sprouts and lightly drizzle with olive oil.  Go easy on the salt, as there is already salt in the bacon.  Cook brussel sprouts until tender.  Lower the heat if the brussel sprouts look like they are burning.  Add bacon back in once brussel sprouts are cooked, just long enough to warm the bacon back up.