Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Working On My Weaknesses, One Room At A Time

I have come to terms with the fact that I really, really, really have to work hard to keep my house organized.  Oh sure, I love a fresh, tidy living space and try to keep it that way. Yes, I put out seasonal touches and all things cozy to make our house a home. But keeping up with pantries, closets, cabinets, and other hidden spaces?  I fall short. And I am trying very hard to work on strengthening my weaknesses!  

Before school started, the kids and I worked for two days straight cleaning out and organizing their bedrooms and the playroom.  We packed up bags and bags of things to give away, which made for a lot more space.  We rearranged what we had to give everything a fresh look, and got an organized uniform station ready for both of them so that early school mornings would go more smoothly.  So far this has been a great help! We went through every nook and cranny of both bedrooms and the playroom, and though it was a major undertaking, we all feel so much better now that it is done!  The kids are playing in these spaces more often and truly enjoying the extra room and tidiness.  I have no expectations of perfection - that can be suffocating in a home - but I do know we all thrive better without excess clutter and with extra room to move and functional spaces.

The next thing I wanted to tackle was my kitchen.  This was a long overdue project and to be perfectly honest, I was dreading it.  I knew I needed to basically take every single thing out of my cabinets and pantry and start over.  Everything needed scrubbing and rearranging.  I have a lot of cooking and baking supplies because I use them all the time - we are an eat at home family.  But my cabinet system wasn't working and it needed a total overhaul.  Today was my only open day of the week so I seized the moment and faced this project head on.  I put some good music on my Pandora (so energizing!) and worked all day long.  I took out everything, forcing myself not to stop halfway through when I thought I would never empty it all out.

Several hours later, once my family room was filled with dishes, bakeware, pantry items, and every kitchen gadget imaginable, I vacuumed out and scrubbed down each cabinet and the pantry.  Once they were clean, I put everything back in a totally new arrangement, and got rid of some items I didn't need to clear out some space.  I am excited about my new system, and think it is going to be much more functional!  I actually ended up putting most of my large and heavy bakeware items in my pantry, and designated two cabinets for food.  We will see how this arrangement works, but I think it is going to make more sense and be easier and less cumbersome to get to what I need when cooking and baking.

I didn't finish until evening, but am relieved that this project, which had been hanging over my head for some time now, is finally complete.  I am also so tired I can hardly type!  My plans of writing some helpful or thought-provoking blog, or maybe catching up on facebook albums I have been wanting to upload for months, are out the window.

Because I am going to bed!

More behind the scenes projects await - I'll let you know how they go when I get to them!  Hoping to deal with either my closet or the laundry room next...

Dream sweet!  Rest knowing God loves you, weaknesses and all!  I know I have to remind myself of that sometimes!  He loves with a love that sees past the messy closets, and even beyond the messy corners of my soul, into the heart of someone who is really trying. His love sees and knows.  It is patient with me.

I can rest in that kind of love.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Friday Night Meal Makeover: Baked Ravioli

On Friday nights, I like to make fun food - something that is tasty and extra yummy after a long week of school and everything else!  I also prefer to make something sort of easy so I don't have to spend too much time preparing, and can enjoy Friday afternoon with the kids.  This past Friday I tried something new before we headed off to the first football game of the season at the high school (gotta support our youth group students!), and it was a hit.  This Baked Ravioli was so super simple anyone could make it, even my girls out there who claim they can't cook!  Not only it is simple and delicious, but it will make your house smell soooo good while it bakes away!  And it is a budget friendly, filling meal!

You can type "baked ravioli" into your search engine and find several recipes right away.  I browsed some of these then took what our family would like and put this together.

Here's how easy it is to make...

Preheat your oven to 350.  Take two jars of pasta sauce (most recipes call for one but I like saucy pasta).  Spread one jar of sauce on the bottom of a pan (9x13 or 9x11 will be just right).  Take half of a large bag of frozen ravioli (as in, you don't even have to boil it first) and lay the ravioli in a single layer across the sauce.  Spread 1/2 cup of parmesan cheese and 1 cup of mozzarella across the frozen ravioli.  Next, spread another jar of sauce across the first ravioli/cheese layer.  Now take the other half of the frozen ravioli and make another layer.  Spread another 1/2 cup parmesan and 1 cup mozzarella across that layer.  Cover with foil and bake for 40 minutes, then take off the foil and bake for another 20 minutes.

Dinner will be hot and delicious!

I served it with steamed broccoli, green beans, and ice water.  It made for a super easy, but very tasty, dinner!

This was an especially economical meal because we only ate half of it on Friday night. I thought we would eat the rest of it Saturday evening, but at the last minute Jimmy and I went out on a date (yay!), so we had it Sunday after church.  Pasta is one of the foods I actually love having for leftovers - sometimes it tastes even better the second time!  Jimmy picked up a fresh loaf of bread on the way home from church, I heated the ravioli in the oven, and a hot, yummy lunch was served!

Our family loves ravioli, and this baked version gave it a lasagna type richness and flavor without all the work - we will definitely be making this again soon!

Road Warriors, Part Four

On Friday, we started off at Jim's shop for a few minutes where I drooled over all the sparkly, pretty items like this diamond pendant!  I guess we girls can't help but dream about things that sparkle and shine!  

Next door to his shop was an Italian bakery.  Of course I couldn't resist checking it out.  Mint chocolate cake and a cappuccino for a mid-morning snack?  I think so!

Taylor snapped a few more pics of us...

And then we headed off to a local water park.  The kids had never been on a diving board before and they thought it was so cool!

We went down the slides once or twice...

And then they evacuated the water park because storms were in the area.  The ironic thing was they had been in a severe drought all summer.  Much of the grass throughout Indiana and Illinois was yellow and almost like straw due to the lack of rain. Everyone had been talking about how terribly dry it had been, then the sky opened up as soon as we got settled in at the water park.  I jokingly said the drought ended the second they swiped my Discover Card for the tickets (this place wasn't exactly cheap)!!  I was actually feeling kind of sick about it - we are pretty frugal so to spend money on something like that was a splurge, and to be there only 20 minutes was a letdown.  They weren't going to refund us, but thankfully Jimmy talked to the manager very politely and they gave us tickets to come back the next day.  I felt much better after that, and prayed that the rain would hold off so we could use them!

That night we all had a family dinner out.  It was neat seeing Jim surrounded by his kids, grandkids, and people he loves, and everyone went around the table giving him tributes which was very special.

Saturday morning we couldn't go straight to the water park because we had secret operations to attend to.  Grandpa thought we were visiting with friends, but he didn't know our visiting also involved setting up tents and instruments and tables and everything else for his surprise birthday party on Sunday!

It was hot as blazes outside.  Seriously, Florida has been cooler than Illinois for much of the summer! We worked outside and were just dripping with sweat, so that trip to the water park was definitely a relief!  The sky looked a little ominous at first, but then it cleared up and we got to spend the afternoon sliding, diving, and cooling off.

Sunday morning we went to Jimmy's old church, then met up with Jim and everyone for lunch at Panera.  Sunday was his actual 60th birthday, so we grabbed some photos with the birthday boy!

And a few more with each other, of course!

After a little shopping and hanging around (and maybe another Italian beef sandwich from Portillo's), we headed off for Jim's surprise party.  He knew something was up, but didn't know all the details that were involved and people who would be there.  He entered to a large crowd of family and friends there to celebrate his big day!

The kids did what kids do, and immediately made friends with the other kids at the party.  It was hot as hot could be, and they ran around with sweaty heads and had a ball!

Jim had no idea that we had brought a van full of instruments along, including his old Ludwig drum set that Jimmy now uses.  We had stashed these away before we ever pulled into his driveway.  He also didn't know he would be playing his old drums again at the party!  It was very special, especially considering these drums were made in Chicago - the date stamped inside is December 12, 1966.

So partway through the party, we made some music together!

Then Jimmy gave his dad an emotional and wonderful tribute that made his dad (and everyone else) cry.

Then it was time for cake!!

It was a great party filled with fun surprises.  We were all admittedly exhausted afterwards, as you are when you do something like that with all the set up, take down, and emotional energy expended. (Not to mention the crazy heat!)  However, we still had plans to load up in the morning and get on the road back to Florida.  Our plans changed a bit unexpectedly, though. On the way home from the party, we kept smelling a burning smell.  I was in denial at first - surely that was someone else's car or something outside - but when we got back to Grandpa's house there was no denying it.  Something was definitely burning in our car!  Granted, our van is seven years old with over 100,000 miles on it, so it is bound to have some troubles now and then.  But we knew we better have this one checked out before we set out for a two day drive home.  The men took it in to the shop early, and I went outside for one last glimpse of the backyard morning glory.  I sure did enjoy that sight each day!

I assumed we would be on the road by lunchtime, but my hopes were too high.  There was indeed something that needed replacing on our van, and we didn't get it back until dinnertime.  We ended up taking it easy while we sat around and waited to hear from the mechanics, and yes, we did have just one more round of Portillo's.  What we also had was a hilarious show put on by the kids!! They had a curtain and costumes and everything for this one, and we laughed so hard!  I love these kind of kid moments, and remember doing this sort of thing myself as a child!

The next morning we got up super early for a long day on the road.  We were heading through Nashville when Trevor exclaimed, "Look Mommy, it's Batman's cave!!"  Turns out it was just a phone company building, but I took a photo for him anyway!

The kids were troopers again this time around...

We pressed on down the highway, but treated ourselves to a fun dinner at Truett's.  It was so good we just had to stop again!

This was my dinner...field peas, fried okra, and those epic waffle fries, washed down with a bottled Coca-Cola.  Southern comfort food right there!  And every bite was hot and delicious as could be.  I was so smitten with this place, Jimmy even surprised me with a souvenir mug!

The next morning we were up early as our car trouble delay had us behind a day and pushing to get back in time for youth group that night.  We held off our lunch stop so we could see one of our graduates on the way home, though.  So glad we were able to have this quick visit!  We miss them when they move off to college...

We made it home just in time to unload our luggage and take our weary selves to youth group.  After two long days of traveling we were exhausted and glad to be home, but thankful for all the memories made on the road, in Chicago, and celebrating Grandpa as he turned 60!!  It was most definitely a family road trip to remember!

Thursday, August 16, 2012

The Wheels On The Bus Just Keep Turning...

If you've followed my blog for awhile, you may know that the past two Augusts, Madi and I have made a school bus cake as a fun way to get geared up for kindergarten and first grade.  It has been a sweet tradition and I realized on Sunday afternoon just how much it has meant to her when I said we were going to do a project and she responded with, "Is it the school bus cake?  Yessssss!!!"

In the past we have made this a special Mommy-Madi project, but this year we let Trevor join the fun since I blinked and it is time for him to leave his long days at home with Mommy and short mornings at Pre-K behind for all day kindergarten. 

Kindergarten.  I am still trying to say that word without feeling my eyes well with tears! But despite the way my heart feels, we must celebrate.  So on a gray and cloudy afternoon after church and lunch with friends, the three of us gathered around the table and made both a cake and a memory.

If you'd like to do something to welcome the upcoming school year, this is a very simple (and tasty) project!  I originally received the idea in an email from the Disney Family website.  You use two store bought loaf cakes to make the bus shape.  You can use the Entenmann's brand, but the Publix brand was buy one/get one free so I used them instead and they worked perfectly.

I simplified things a bit this year, using lemon frosting instead of vanilla (already yellow), and sandwich cookies instead of donuts for the tires (less messy).  

To make the bus shape, simply cut the rounded top off of one cake for the bottom, and cut a few inches off the edge of the other cake to make the top.

Use frosting to attach the two cakes, then frost the entire thing except for the windshield.  I ended up needing only one can of frosting, but had purchased two just in case.

After the bus is frosted, use dabs of frosting to attach sandwich cookies to the bottom cake for wheels.

Then comes the fun part - let the kids make faces on Vanilla Wafers for the people on the bus!  They love doing this!

Attach the Vanilla Wafer people with more dabs of frosting, then add any details you'd like to your bus.   It will be ready before you know it and turns out so cute!

Trevor made this little guy in the back window of the bus.  He put him there and then told me, "That's Trevor, looking back at Mommy."

Now, why did he have to go and say something so adorable and sooooo saddddd???!!!  Oh, my heart!

Honestly, I am excited for this school year.  I found out he was put with a wonderfully gifted teacher who is a fine Christian woman as well.  He will be going to an excellent school and is sure to grow leaps and bounds.  They change so much once they start school - it is amazing to watch.  And school is so much fun!  The adventures await! Plus, I will continue to volunteer and am going through the process of getting certified to be a substitute teacher at their school, so I will be around.

But a chapter is closing.  A chapter that though not glamorous, highly esteemed in society, or awarded with paychecks and accolades, has been the most fulfilling and rewarding of my life. A chapter I once thought would never end that has now flown by, causing me to try and hold on to these last glorious pages.  A chapter filled to overflowing with love and brimming with moments of joy, creativity, laughter, and learning that I will hold onto for the rest of my life.  A chapter that sometimes seemed so complicated but in reality was marked by a beautiful simplicity.

It's time for him to go.

But when that little boy looks back at Mommy, he will know something without a shadow of a doubt, because she has told him a thousand times.

That if all the boys in the whole world were in a line and she could only pick one boy...

She would pick him.