Wednesday, December 30, 2009

MercyMe "Homesick"

It's been a little while since I posted anything heartfelt and potentially depressing. In case that has caused you to think maybe I'm not still crying myself to sleep at night I thought I'd set the record straight. I always feel on some level that sadness is my shadow, but the intensity fluctuates from week to week and day to day. The last few weeks have felt...empty. My relationship with my boys has been particularly awesome, like I'm getting into the groove of the whole single parenting thing...though I did remark to a friend the other night that if I had wanted to be a single parent I would've gotten knocked up in high school. (That's a joke, Mom.) My boys are adorable, hilarious little people and I thank God daily that I have been blessed with them. Oddly, that doesn't fill the hole.

So I'm working on a project right now and I'm listening to the radio. A song just came on, and I've heard it before, but I guess I've never really listened to it. Just now I did and it had me bawling in my kitchen, so of course I'm going to share. I've never been big on Christian rock, but this one is definitely worth a listen. Unless you care what your mascara looks like right now, in which case you should skip it.

I guess for me it sums up how it feels to go through one more round of Thanksgiving-Christmas-New Year's without my man. I'm homesick.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Not Your Mother's S'mores

Inspiration can come from anywhere. It's almost inspiring just thinking about all the places you can get inspiration. Last week I got it on an end cap at Target. It looked an awful lot like a bag of caramel filled- and a bag of peanut butter filled- Ghirardelli squares.

Last week with our Texas constituency in town for Christmas we decided it was finally time to break in the backyard fire pit with a family marshmallow roast. So after a delicious dinner at Lulu's Tacos we headed back to the casa.

The day before the big event I had gone to Target to pick up some Hershey bars for s'mores making (which should be an Olympic Sport...or the official National Pastime...or something really awesome) and that's when I got inspired... If there's one thing I learned from all my years with Matt, it's that even a great classic can be improved on. Laymen might consider it more of a snob factor, which is fine by me. We'll just call these Snobby S'mores...they are lovingly made with the afore mentioned Ghirardelli squares instead of the everyday Hershey bar. And Oh My Cow (direct quote from Hunter) are they good!

Seriously inspired.
While I wouldn't say it came about as the result of inspiration, this is Hunter's version of a s'more. "I don't need the crackers" he says.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Say Cheese

I love cupcakes. I love cake in general, but there's something very charming to me about cupcakes. Sometimes I think maybe it's my calling in life to bake fabulous cupcakes. (That's on my less serious days of course, when I'm not too concerned about leaving my mark on humanity.) So when I saw this magazine at the check-out stand a few weeks ago, I had to grab it. It was on the kitchen table during a recent visit from our Atlanta constituency. Please take a minute to study the chocolate cupcake on the right, the one in the purple liner.

My four-year-old niece picked up the magazine and after studying it intently asked, "Why did someone put cheese on that cupcake?"

I explained that while it might look like cheese it was really white chocolate. She was unconvinced.

While the men-folk went off to do boy things that evening, the women-folk got to cupcake making. When it came time to decorate, my niece asked for some cheese. My sister-in-law and I tried to sway her with colorful sprinkles--after all, what little girl wouldn't love to decorate cupcakes with all kinds of colorful sprinkles? Again, she was unconvinced. So I gave her a stick of cheese. I guess I just thought she'd plop it right down on the top of the cupcake. I was wrong. Apparently my niece is as serious about cupcakes as I am. I looked up from my own cupcake decorating to see this:

How can you see something like that and not love kids?! Warms my heart I tell you! My little niece ate that cupcake, and she enjoyed every bite.

Monday, December 14, 2009

The 1st Miracle of Christmas

I read a quote recently that said something about something doesn't have to be perfect to be beautiful. While I agree with this statement, I have to say that perfection doesn't hurt anything either.

For several weeks this has been the scene in our kitchen: an island out of food prep commission and covered with birdhouses in various stages of done-ness.

I'm not one to accept help when I've got a project going on because I like things just so. The kids always ask and I always say no. But when Hunter asked if he and Brig could put some rhinestones on the birdhouses for the Christmas tree, it warmed my heart. I guess I figured any 4-year-old boy who could properly use the word "rhinestone" in a sentence deserved a little kickback. Either that or I was just really tired of the birdhouses all over the island and wanted them done.

So the first miracle of the Christmas season has taken place in our household...I gave in, and Brigham and Hunter got to help with a project.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Another Round

Last week the clan headed over to a friend's family's farm for another round of family pictures. I wanted some that were a little more casual and little boy friendly...and what is more casual--or boy friendly--than a farm?

We had easily a dozen perfect back-drops, but Seth wasn't having it. Quite uncharacteristically, he cried almost the entire photo shoot. Maybe more like sobbing. At any rate it was pretty pitiful. I wish I was exaggerating, but I'm sure once I have the rest of the pics back from our photog Cami we'll have proof. Here are just a handful that Seth didn't completely freak out in:

This shot is the one I most wanted out of the photo shoot, my sassy heels with my little fellas in their Chucks. I'm planning to redo my blog with this shot. And the truth is, Seth was screaming his head off for this one, but we figured it didn't really matter since his face doesn't show. More of that tough love parenting I'm so fond of...

And boys being boys...

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Polar Bear Club

Just a couple of days ago I found myself staring out my kitchen window. I caught myself actually feeling shocked that there is a rather large swimming pool out there where not so long ago there was grass and dirt. It was awesome. But even with that momentary feeling of awe, I have absolutely no desire to jump in said pool. I am a wimp of titanic proportions where cold is concerned. If I even look at the pool for too long I feel my toes start to go numb and I'm checking for symptoms of frostbite.

Hunter does not share my sensitivity to the cold. Every couple of days he begs to go swimming. Every couple of days I explain the concept of seasons and assure him that the water that looks so inviting in his mind is, in fact, only a few degrees above freezing.

Yesterday he asked again. Yesterday I decided to let him figure it out for himself.

The following is a photo-documentary of Hunter's education. Watch closely how the expression on his face changes as he realizes his mother is not a complete idiot:

Practicing tough love. It brings tears (of laughter) to my eyes every time...

Friday, December 4, 2009

Red Velvet Truffles

Two food posts in a row...should I be embarrassed by that? I heard about this recipe from a friend of mine and just had to try it out. Red Velvet Truffles from Bakerella. They are probably not my most favorite treat ever, but they are super easy...not to mention kind of impressive and totally kid-friendly if you have littles who want to help out. Brig and Hunter rolled the filling into balls for me and I did the dipping.

Red Velvet Truffles

Red Velvet Cake
1 can of Cream Cheese frosting
1 pkg. of almond bark

Prepare and bake the cake as directed on the box for a 9x13 cake. Once it is completely cooled, break it up into a mixing bowl and completely stir in the frosting. Shape into balls about the size of a quarter. Chill. (Truthfully, we didn't chill ours. We went straight for the chocolate and they turned out fine. I think the idea behind chilling is that the cake balls won't be as likely to break up during dipping if they're cold, but we didn't have any problem with ours at room temperature.) Melt the almond bark according to the directions on the package. Dip the cake balls, completely coating them, and place on parchment or wax paper until set.
If you wanted to try truffles but aren't crazy about the red velvet, any flavor of cake and frosting could be used. I'm thinking right this minute about trying a chocolate cake mix with a couple drops of mint extract mixed into white frosting...

Thursday, November 26, 2009


It's no secret that I don't like to cook. It's way down low on my list of favorites. I do it solely out of obligation and necessity.

But here it is, Thanksgiving. The cooking-est holiday of the year--and year after year, regardless of where we commemorate the day, I am always asked to prepare exactly one dish. This is it:

It doesn't photograph well so I'm sure you're hardly impressed, but if you haven't met already let me introduce you to Cookie Salad. Yes, that's right. Cookie Salad. Despite all my possible charms, Cookie Salad is the reason I am invited to Thanksgiving dinner. Without it, I seriously don't believe I would make it through the front door. I've taken it to potlucks before where it has been sadly mistaken for a really plain potato salad, until one unsuspecting soul takes a bite. Then the bells sound and the bowl is emptied. It's that good.

Cookie Salad
2 cups buttermilk
2 small boxes of vanilla instant pudding
16 oz. Cool Whip
2 cans pineapple tidbits, drained
2 large cans mandarin oranges, drained
1 package of Keebler Fudgestripe cookies
In a large bowl whisk together buttermilk and pudding powder. Gently fold in the Cool Whip, trying not to stir too aggressively or it will go flat. Add the fruit, stirring gently. Break up the cookies and stir those in as well. Refrigerate for 2-3 hours before serving.
(The night before you plan to make this, put the cans of fruit and the Cool Whip in the refrigerator. The fruit is better added cold and frozen Cool Whip is a little difficult to work with for this. Also, don't go generic on the Fudgestripe cookies. All things are not created equal.)
Hope you had a happy Thanksgiving, with or without the Cookie Salad!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

An OCD Christmas

A couple of days ago our home was all a buzz with talk of Brig's latest quandary. Is Santa real or not? I told him it was up to him to decide for himself. He believes, but that doesn't alleviate his suffering; it just creates a new problem. What if he believes in Santa, but Santa isn't real after all. Then his kids, when he has them, won't get anything for Christmas. He hasn't come up with a solution for that one yet, but Hunter, always listening in the background, has. "I believe in Mom," he said. For someone still having issues with potty training that is one smart kid.

I've been dreading the impending holidays for some time now. I think Thanksgiving will be okay, but the idea of doing the whole after the kids go to bed Christmas Eve thing by myself is hardly appealing. (You know what I mean, right? I'm trying not to out anyone here, just in case I have young readers.) So I've been trying to put a little jingle in my step despite my real feelings. For me this means having projects to work on: new stockings for the entire family, handmade Christmas cards, and a ridiculously fun new decorating scheme for the tree. To have the time to get all these projects done I knew I needed to bust out all my Christmas shopping pronto. With two great formulas, I got all of it done in one evening. Kids and extended family. Enough of my friends and family have asked for my system that I figured it would be easiest to just blog it.

My kid formula is not original, I read it on a blog last year, but it was too late to incorporate then. Here it is: something you want, something you need, something to wear, something to read. 4 items. (And stockings of course.) It's clear, it's organized and it's concise. What obsessive-compulsive dreams are made of! So go to your favorite kid clothing store and buy an outfit or article of clothing for each kid and check it off the list. Go to the bookstore, pick out a book for each kid and check it off the list. You get the idea. And you're doing all this as Santa's helper, of course.

I am crazy excited about my formula for all the extended family, but I have to be vague so I don't ruin it for all my extended family members who read my blog. I'm excited about it because it was fun to think up, fun to put together, it will give the recipients some insight into our family, and it has the potential of turning into an annual tradition. Each family member picked a favorite thing (or I chose it for them, just knowing their favorites) and we bought 8 of them. Everything will be wrapped with a tag saying whose favorite the item is and one of each item goes in a basket for each of the extended family members. So for my family they are "Five Favorites" baskets. (I included one of Matt's favorites. I'm not done being sentimental yet.) Some ideas for favorites are movies, books, board games, video games, candy bars, treats, restaurant or store gift cards, magazine subscriptions, museum memberships, scented candles, favorite type of popcorn, favorite color of play-doh...depending on the categories you choose you could spend as much or as little as you want on this. It works for any budget. And every year the kids can decide what their favorite thing is to share with the rest of the family.

And there you go. The shopping is done and I can go back to building birdhouses and looking for a stuffed peacock to sit atop my Christmas tree.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Family Pics

I am a sucker for cute family pictures. As a necessary component of the cuteness, I'm one of those people who insists everyone's outfits coordinate. They don't have to match, but they do have to coordinate. This is partially an act of rebellion. Growing up, our family photo sessions always came with a wardrobe free-for-all. Our family pictures were always awful. I think the two conditions are related. (This is where my mom will protest...She's going to say that they were not awful...She's going to attest that our family pictures were beautiful...She is not objective...I love my mom.)

A couple of weeks ago we headed down to the Mesa Arts Center for a photo session with our good friend Cami Epperson. To add an element of Matt in addition to those cherubic little faces, I dressed the boys in pants, white shirts and Matt's neckties...coordinating neckties. I haven't seen all the pictures yet, but here's a sneak peek at a few she just put on her blog:

Thursday, November 5, 2009

What I Figured Out Today

I've had a really crappy week. Like a cry-myself-to-sleep-every-night-my-friends-keep-bringing-me-Dr.Pepper-my-bishop-is-texting-me kind of week. Don't feel sorry for me and post all kinds of sweet comments about how difficult my life is and how anyone in my situation would have a crappy week sometimes, because I bring it on myself. I feel this huge weight on my shoulders to have everything all figured out. To know what I'm supposed to be when I grow up, to have a future mapped out for my kids, to understand where we're supposed to be and how we're supposed to get there, to know how to be the mom and the dad...It's daunting and I think way too much.

Yesterday on Facebook my status update said something dismal about needing a break from trying to figure things out all the time. Today I followed it up saying I've got it all figured out. Some of you have expressed some curiosity...

This morning while I was on the elliptical I caught an episode of Glee on Hulu. I'm not a regular watcher, but I'm current on all my other shows and needed something to watch. It was the episode where the gay kid in Glee Club uses the Beyonce song "Single Ladies" as his personal mantra. He plays it as he tries out for the football team. It pumps him up and gives him confidence and turns him, and eventually the whole football team, into star athletes that do their dads proud from the stands.

It's amazing to me what tiny things can impact moods and environment. Music is huge. If I had to make a list of things I can't live without, my XM radio would be on the short list. It's in the kitchen and I have it on more than it's off. A few nights ago we were getting ready for dinner and the boys were particularly grouchy. All 3 of them. I was thisclose to screaming when I decided to crank up the radio and demand a 3 minute dance party instead. As I shook my groove thang right there in the kitchen the boys looked at me like I had lost my mind. One at a time I grabbed their hands and made them dance. One at a time they started to smile. By the time we actually sat down for dinner they were little angels. Just because of a radio and a 3 minute dance party.

I've never watched the Mary Tyler Moore show. A friend of mine loved it growing up, but I could never understand why. One thing I did understand, though, is how cool it would be to have your own theme song. Of course Mary Tyler Moore was skipping all over town throwing that stupid hat up in the air every day on her way to work: she had an awesome theme song that started playing the second she stepped out her door every morning.

So this is what I figured can get yourself through anything if you've got an awesome theme song playing in your head.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Halloween 2009

My kids really love Halloween. It freaks me out a tiny bit. They don't just like the dressing up and getting candy part, they like the gore and spooky parts too. This is the sign that has been on our front door for the past month:

Inviting, no? My favorite part of the sign is how Mr. B clearly specified that it was written in blood. Wouldn't want anyone standing on our front porch to be confused about what we use to write our welcome signs.

Brig decided early on that he wanted to be The Grim Reaper. He is by far the creepiest of my kids.

Hunter wanted to be a mummy. I asked him for months if he was sure he wanted to be a mummy. Indeed. Two nights before the first of the Halloween festivities I pulled out Hunter's skeleton costume from last year, hoping I might be able to persuade him to wear it one more year. He took one look and said, "That's not me." So the day before party #1 I spent hours running all over town looking for mummy supplies. I am a freak. I wanted it to be more realistic than just torn up sheets so I went to feed supply stores for those big 6" bandages used for horses. I figured they'd be perfect once I dyed them with a little walnut ink and rolled them around in the dirt a bit. No one carries white ones, just the yucky un-mummy looking beige. So I ended up with 3 yards of gauzy white fabric, a white t-shirt and white leggings. Right before the party I ripped up all that fabric...put Mr. H in the t-shirt and leggings...and he flipped out. Maybe he couldn't feel like a man in white leggings, I don't know, but he absolutely refused to dress as a mummy...

*Sigh* He wouldn't even let me put makeup on him. Oh well. I'm all ready with a mummy costume for next year.
And then there's Seth...This is my favorite age for Halloween costumes. The kids have no ideas of their own and will let me dress them however I want. Seth was a model child this year. Not only did he wear exactly what I wanted him to, but he never even tried to take any of it off. I think he may have liked it, actually...

My only complaint is that he kept trying to eat my eyeliner when I was drawing on his mustache.

(Special thanks to Andrea for being my seamstress for Seth's costume.)

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Completely Finished

Lately when I think about sitting down at the computer to blog, I find myself torn between yawning and gagging. It's not that we lack things to blog about chez Bren, I simply lack the desire. However, every week when Sitemeter sends me the report of how many of you stop by, I feel guilty that I haven't given you anything new to read. Of all the things I could feel guilty about in my life I choose my lack of desire for blogging...

To ease my guilt while exerting the least amount of effort possible, I give you the finally finished backyard...

The view from the backdoor. I really dig the double gate to the pool. It makes for a little drama, which you all know I like in my design schemes, and can be opened wide for parties and whatnot.

The cinderblock wall has been painted...and repainted. The first time around it came out looking like something I don't blog about but ryhmes with schmiarrhea. My landscaper tried to convince me that it wasn't worth paying to redo because once the landscaping was in I would hardly notice it. My contractor, on the other hand, called the painter and scheduled the repainting during the convo with the landscaper because he knew I would notice it even if an entire forest was planted in front of it. Good man. (Shameless plug for Frankie: he's the best GC ever. Let me know if you ever need one.)

I have a really hard time thinking of this as done because I want the shrubs and trees and flowers to look like they've already been there for 5 years. Right now they look kinda puny...Check back in 5 years.

Cute little path between the splash pad and the fire pit. The stones are placed close together so you can frolick comfortably if you're a leprechaun* or you're under the age of ten. (*Originally I used the word midget here, but changed it to the mythical leprechaun to avoid offending any of my vertically challenged readers.)

Even though they're little baby ones, I became such a huge fan of the cyprus that there are now 16 placed around the premises. I'm hoping for the overgrown Italian villa look.

And there you have it. I've been informed that people are waiting for their homemade hot fudge, so I've got to jet. I'm not even going to re-read for grammatical errors before publishing, which pains me...but hot fudge is serious business.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Aging Gracefully

About 4 months ago I bought a Wii balance board so I could kick up my fitness routine a notch. I love yoga, but getting to a class on a regular basis has proved elusive, so the Wii Fit seemed like a good alternative. It's been gathering dust ever since I bought it. Now that Aunt Ami is here, we decided to dust it off and get it going.

We now have our profiles set up and we've done all the preliminary testing to get started. The balance test was particularly revealing. It's "not my forte", to quote the Wii, and resulted in a Wii Fit age of 41!! If I can go off on a tangent, this actually explains a lot. I'm constantly hitting my head on things. I lose my pinky toenails about twice a year from catching them on the couch as I walk by. Two of my toenails are crooked from being ripped off so many times. Random, unexplained bruises show up all the time. I stab my shoulder on the corner of the stair railing at least once a week, and just last week while brushing the pool at 7 am, I took one misplaced step backwards and fell in, fully clothed. It was cold.

So apparently I'm not all that aware of my physical self.

Anyway, I was so appalled by my age that we've joked about it around the house quite a bit the last two days. My fixation hasn't escaped Hunter's notice. Today, he came up to me and asked me how old he is. "You're 4," I answered, surprised that he needed to ask. "No," he responded, "in Wii years."

Thursday, October 8, 2009

3rd Favorite Face

It's hard to believe, but this adorable little person is one year old today. Oh I love that face!

He's getting cheated out of a lengthy post because we just got home from beach camping and we're in complete disarray...more on that later.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Happy Fall

I am having a really hard time wrapping my brain around it being October already! I don't know what happened to September, but I'm enjoying the change in temperatures even if it is making the pool coldish. For some reason, this time of year always makes me think of my college days at the University of Oklahoma. The campus was absolutely beautiful in the fall.

I had a professor my senior year who used to cut us a break every now and then with an answer on a test or something. Along with the heads up, he'd always say "You're gonna want to kiss me full on the lips." It cracked me up every time.

With Fall officially here, a friend texted me a few days ago asking if I have a good Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cookie recipe. Heck yeah I do. Since she brought it up I had to make some. They're so good your kids will eat them and so easy you're gonna want to kiss me full on the lips.

1 package of Spice Cake Mix
1 small can of pure pumpkin (or 1/2 a large can)
mini semi-sweet chocolate chips
Mix together the cake mix powder and the pumpkin. (You can also use a carrot cake mix if you need to.) It might seem like there's not enough moisture to incorporate the cake mix powder, but keep stirring. It will work. Once you have that mixed up, add the mini chips. Bake at 350 degrees for about 12 minutes. That part is a little trial and error, but don't over bake. It ruins them.
Seriously, that's it--3 ingredients. Try them out, then come back and tell me if you're thinking about kissing me.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Puddle Hopping

It's finally finished and we are ready for the big unveiling...

A friend of mine tried to talk me out of the boulder on the baja step before it was mortared in, but having already had 7 kids in the pool at one time, I can tell you that jump rock is a screaming success.

All the pots light up, we just had one on to test. I acknowledge that there is a certain amount of common sense expected of ones children when open fire is right next to designated diving platforms...I'll let you know how it goes. If in subsequent posts my kids are sporting gauze bandages on any extremities, that's your sign that it hasn't gone well.

These columns are probably my favorite feature. The sound of the water cascading down, the flickering of the fire, the glow of the interior pool light at night. Buddha would be happy. *gasp* Brainchild! I should become certified to teach yoga and have classes poolside at night!

The kids are all so excited the pool is finally done. The chemicals were just balanced on Wednesday and they've already been in 3 times.

Tomorrow the cinder block wall will be painted, landscaping and patio resurfacing next week. Then we'll be ready for the full before and after. If you're going to come swim let me know quick--the water is just going to get colder from here on out!