Sunday, November 30, 2008

We Love Daddy!

It has been a pretty blissful Thanksgiving weekend at the Whitaker household. Not only did we get to hang out with friends and stuff ourselves full of delicious food, talk all day, and stay late to watch movies, we've also had the whole wonderful weekend to relax and get things done around the house. It has been very cathartic. I even started work on my mega-project: the Advent Calendar Extravaganza (I'm sure you'll hear more about that at some point).

The best part, by far, is having Vance around all weekend long. He's only had to go into the office once, and we've had so much fun! He took Isaac on a french-fry date to the McDonald's playplace, danced with Claire, watched movies with me, and generally had tons of quality time. I came home from the gym on Saturday to this:
Vance and Isaac made their first fort together. It quickly turned into a dragon cave...a dragon cave for a vegetable eating dragon who really loves cabbage, to be exact. Isaac's imagination is really growing :)
It's hard for me to believe that Isaac is old enough to do the kinds of things that I remember doing as a kid. It gets me excited for all the fun things ahead! But mostly, I've been grateful this weekend for a husband who loves his family and gives them his full attention and affection whenever he can.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Thanksgiving Tree, Take Two

Here's our Thanksgiving Tree after a month of gratefulnuess!

I'm also thankful for Roosty, the new horse that's been living at our house lately :)

And this munchkin, who insists that whatever it is, she didn't do it! :)

Monday, November 24, 2008

of good hygiene and bad theology, and other musings

Just a couple of conversations I've had with Isaac lately....

(scene opens to Mama reading Isaac a bedtime story from his Bible, about King David)

Mama (reading): "Now King David had a heart like God's heart, full of...."

Isaac: "Germs."

Mama: "um, no, not full of germs. Full of love."

(scene opens to Mama trying to get to the gym, loading the kids in the car and buckling Isaac in)

Isaac: "Your hair, Mama! Your hair is really pretty!"

Mama: "thanks, honey! it's just in a ponytail..."

(scene opens to Isaac and Claire eating dinner)

Claire: "da Da DA DA"

Isaac: "da da da da?"

Claire: "ah ba ba ba"

Isaac: "ah ba ba ba?"

Claire: "mmmm DA!"

Isaac: "really, Claire? really?"

Friday, November 21, 2008

you should have seen the one that got away...

That, my friends, is a 45" musky (or as Isaac would say, "a BIIIIIIIIG musky-fish!") caught in South Minneapolis at Lake Harriet. And that is the reason my husband stood out in freezing temperatures, with 26 layers on, with ice forming in the bottom of the boat, with strong gusting winds. All for the love of the game. And he is so proud :).

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Bran Muffins

In my eternal quest to cut down food costs and simultaneously sate the raging hungry beast that lies within my husband's stomach, I've found snacks to be a nemesis. "What else can I eat?" often wreaks havoc on my pantry stores when I don't buy snacks. On the other hand, if I keep snacks around, I eat them (which is not the goal). My solution lately has been to send snacks to work with Vance. That's worked pretty well for my self-control, but it's been expensive.

I realized recently that instead of buying snacks, it would probably be cheaper to bake some quick breads or muffins and send them instead. I thought I would share one of my healthier favorites. I like these bran muffins because a) they use whole wheat flour, mostly, b) you can use honey instead of sugar, c) they call for actual bran instead of a cereal, and d) I really like bran muffins.

So if you're looking for a new snack or breakfast item, you might want to give these a whirl. You'll need:

1 c. raisins
1 3/4 c. boiling water
2 c. bran
2 eggs
1/3 c. oil
1/3 c. honey (or brown sugar)
2 T molasses
1 c. buttermilk
1/2 c. milk
1 1/2 c. whole wheat flour
1 c. flour
2 1/5 t. baking soda
1/2 t. salt

In a medium bowl, pour hot water over raisins and let stand for 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, mix eggs, oil, honey, and molasses.

Add oat bran to the water and raisins. It'll thicken up pretty quickly. Let sit a few minutes, until all the water is absorbed.

Add the raisin/bran mixture to the wet ingredients.

Add buttermilk and milk (or use sour milk if you don't have buttermilk, like I did....just put a couple of teaspoons of vinegar in the bottom of your measuring cup, then pour the milk in to 1 c.)

Whisk (or sift) dry ingredients together

Add them in.

Decide there aren't enough raisins, and throw more in (oh wait, that's probably just me...)
Congratulations! You deserve a break! Cover with plastic wrap, and let the batter sit in the fridge a few hours or overnight.

The next morning, grab your trusty cookie scoop. I'm not a kitchen gadget person, but I LOVE my cookie scoop. It's one of the best presents my mother-in-law gave me. Besides raising the most wonderful man on earth, and letting me marry him. That was a good one, too.

Turn on your oven to 400 unless you were already thinking ahead.

Then bake them for 20-25 minutes. Yield: 24 muffins.
The only thing I don't like about this recipe, is that the muffins have an annoying tendency to stick to the wrapper for the first day. If you don't like scraping it off the paper with your teeth, you might consider making a few in a plain greased tin for the first day. Other than that, everyone in my family loves them!

Saturday, November 15, 2008


(just to catch you up on how I did with my penny-pinching last month)

....that's how much I had left in my baby & miscellaneous budget at the end of October. Before you congratulate me, I had intended to save $150. I have to admit, I was pretty bummed at first. After all, I had worked so hard! Assiduously avoided home decorating stores! Abstained from making any non-essential baby purchases! But there it was. I didn't make it :(.

But I still learned a lot. One: that the miscellaneous category in my budget is code for Overspend Here. It's my catch-all, and it catches a lot. It also covers most of the unforseen-but-necessary payments in our budget, and for that reason, I cannot mentally spend everything that I have in that category. I've got to start leaving a little wiggle room for the things that come up. Like this month, when Vance's snack bill came due (!! :), the new ESV Study Bible we had pre-ordered was shipped (it's awesome, by the way! get yourself one!), and my driver's license had to be renewed. Which leads me to Two: I can make money an idol by wanting to spend it, or wanting to NOT spend it, and both are idolatry. After renewing my license, I left the building feeling distinctly grumpy....and then I realized, "hello! this is what money is for--to pay for the things we need!" My stingy-tightwad instincts were on overdrive, and I wasn't being grateful for the money to meet my needs. I was mad that it had to leave my grubby little hands.

So I'm trying to keep more mental room in my budget for the unexpecteds, and I'm working on being cheerful and grateful as I spend the money God has given me to meet the needs of my family. As per Dave Ramsey's reccommendations, I've also switched over to the cash system for the budget categories that are variable--food, miscellaneous, clothing, and baby.

My personal financial goal this month is to purchase all of my groceries (excluding produce, and the occaisional unbeatable deep down sale) at Aldi to see how much money I save doing that. I haven't shopped there since Isaac was born. I'll need to streamline my approach a was a challenge to get two kids, coats, shopping bags, and a quarter in hand to the store in the freezing rain, shop, pay, switch carts (and kids!), and then pack up. But it went surprisingly well for a first attempt, and I know what I need to do next week.

I'm curious to see what I can cook from food just from Aldi. I like to cook, and try new recipes, and that can be my downfall budget-wise. On the other hand, I would go nuts if I ate the same 15 things all year long, so we'll see if I can find that elusive happy medium. Wish me luck!

One money saver that I've had success with at this time of year: cook up a non-Thanksgiving turkey. I got one on sale for .78/lb, and for my $8 we had:
- roasted turkey with butternut squash and green beans
- turkey sandwiches for dinner with home fries and homemade applesauce
- a huuuge pot of turkey vegetable soup which lasted 2 meals plus extra for lunches and Claire's dinners (pick the meat off the bones and make a great stock with them!)
- enough meat for probably 9 or 10 turkey sandwiches for lunch (I really really love turkey sandwiches)

Not too shabby, eh? This week Rainbow is selling turkeys for .58/lb, so I think I may try it again with a different twist--maybe make tetrazzinni or an asian stir fry or chipotle tacos and freeze the stock for another soup sometime. Hey, tastes like chicken, right?

I wonder if my family is going to hate the sight of turkey by December.... :)

Thursday, November 13, 2008

The Thanksgiving Tree

We're coming up on the holiday season, and it'll be here before you know it! I'm not a very good planner with many of those kinds of things, so too often holidays sneak up on me. I don't know about you, but there have been too many Thanksgivings where I have been so focused on getting the turkey finished at the same time as the mashed potatoes and the green bean casserole, and then throwing the stuffing back in to warm and making a quick gravy without spattering it all over my shirt, and then sitting down at the table about 200 degrees hotter than everyone else to enjoy the meal. Don't get me wrong--it's great! I like to cook, but even more, I love to have family and friends around and spend a day chatting, watching football or Home Alone (which is ALWAYS on on Thanksgiving, isn't it?:). It's a holiday that reminds me most of Mom's family....the sisters sitting around chatting about their latest health foods and fetishes, raucous games of Mexican train around the kitchen table, and turkey sandwiches with a movie to top off the night.

However, while there is thanksgiving in my heart, I often feel like there are so many other things that I could and should be thanking God for...but are crowded out by the hustle and bustle. We've done the "everyone take a turn around the table and say something you're grateful for" thing, and that can be great. But it still feels like an afterthought to me. So this year, we're introducing our very own Thanksgiving Tree.

The idea is super simple: put a few leaves up every day with a few things you're grateful for, all through the month of November. It's been fun so far, and definitely helped me to remember to be grateful, not just for family on one day of the year, but the thousands of other things God has done for us.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

back from NC

Well, we've now been back from NC a few days, and I'm starting to hope that the kids have adjusted to the time change/daylight savings' end/another time change extravaganza. We had a wonderful time meeting my new niece, helping Ellen & David move, and generally hanging out with people we love. It wasn't without it's difficulties (note to self: never fly solo with two kids when it is over an hour past their bedtime, one of them wants you to stand up and bounce the whole time, and one of them wants you to sit down next to them the whole time :), but we were so glad to get the chance to see everyone! We have really been blessed to get to see our family as often as we have, considering the distance. Thanks, Dad!

with my new niece, Melia. She looks sooo much like AJ, but yet sooo much like Julie! She's a keeper :)

doesn't she look terrified? I think Vance must have pinched her or something...

While the packing extravaganza was in full swing at Ellen & David's, we also celebrated Papa Frank's birthday! I can only assume from the party hats we wore at his celebration that he likes pastel butterflies and flowers :)

my nephew, Seth! He's walking now! With all the craziness going on, and the fact that I was disassembling his room and throwing it into a box, he never quite warmed up to me this trip. Hopefully Christmas will be better for aunt/nephew bonding time.

Claire was surprised to hear how old Papa turned! He sure looks young, doesn't he, Claire?

The kids played with the abundant remaining quarter of Seth's toys. Isaac was in heaven...perhaps because we only have one small (but overflowing!) basket of toys. Poor kid. I hope he recovers from his deprivation without needing too much therapy :)

Claire inaugurating the kitchen sink in the new house with the first bath. She made such a mess with the delicious spaghetti Nana made that she was required to head straight to the showers.

The new home. Doesn't it look inviting?! Notice that only 6 or so hours after the move, there is only one box in the living room. There were also curtains on the windows, courtesy of Vance.

The cousins enjoying some reading time with Uncle David.

Okay, now we're back at the Stolldorf's. Holding a cute little 2 month old made me realize how big and squirmy my 10 month old is!

Isaac and Papa got to spend a lot of quality time together. Now that Isaac's older, he remembers everyone between visits much better, and doesn't deal with any shyness or reserve. As you can see.

Claire enjoying some down time

Granny and Merle came down to visit with Melia and our kids as well. I'm sure she was glad to see us, though, too.

Holding all the cousins. They are an armful, but a cute armful! Look at all those smiles!

We got to visit with Joy, Ava, and Alice while we were home. (We also got to see Anne and Zachary, and Tarah and the kids, but unfortunately I left the camera behind :/) These two were so cute! Isaac would say, "Do you see Curious George?" and Ava would echo, "Curious George?" They kept this up for quite awhile, until they went on a what-non-toy-can-we-turn-into-a-toy spree :)

Joy with the little ones. Claire and Alice are only 3 weeks apart! It's so fun to have kids together :)