Friday, March 27, 2015

The quest ends: Chocolate Chip Cookie Recipe

Right. If you know me or follow me on facebook, you know I can't make a chocolate chip cookie to save my life. It's kind of humiliating and more than a little humbling. BUT I DID IT. After literally hundreds of tasty (but abysmal failures) chocolate chip cookie flops, I finally found a winner. These are the things I'm attributing to my success.

1. New baking soda. My boss replaces her baking soda every 2-3 months. I found a box of baking soda in my fridge with a "best if used by date" of 2002 (which I have no idea where it came from because I was in college at that point and I don't think I would have willingly moved a box of baking soda 5+ times). Lance asked me if baking soda evaporated into the air .... like water? (My husband is smart, but common sense sometimes flees his brain). Please know that I store my cooking baking soda in an airtight container and don't use the same one that we use to freshen our fridge or do laundry.
2. These powerhouse baking sheets. Combined with silpat mats.
3. Name brand butter aka: Land o' Lakes. My boss doesn't necessarily believe this makes a difference but I had read on King Arthur Flour's blog that generic butter can have a higher water count. I don't know if that's true or not.
4. I barely softened our butter. It was probably out on the counter for 5 minutes and I threw it in the microwave for 8 seconds.
5. I used my KitchenAid stand mixer. My mom always mixes hers by hand but I don't have those kind of arm muscles :)
6. I used two kinds of sugar - white and brown.
7. No more nestle tollhouse recipe - I used the one listed below which calls for baking soda and baking powder.
8. I didn't refrigerate the dough after mixing. Yes, I am a rebel. But I didn't notice that the ones that were baked on the cold baking sheet did look nicer. Sometimes there isn't time like that.
9. This is a 100% butter recipe. I had been advised by several people to do a butter/margarine/crisco combo but this worked!
10. I erred on the side of too much flour. I think previously I had been stingy with my flour and very exacting about my "scoop and level" method but I tried to be more generous this time around.

Below is the recipe I used from "Love Taza"

Chocolate Chip Cookies Recipe
 
1 cup butter
1 cup sugar
1 cup brown sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla
1 tsp. soda
2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
3 1/4 cups flour (give or take a little flour)
1 bag of chocolate chips
 
Cream butter. add in sugars, mix.
Add eggs and vanilla.
Mix the dry ingredients separately in a large bowl. Gradually add into butter/sugar mixture. Add chocolate chips.
Bake at 350 degrees for 8-10 minutes. Makes about 2 dozen.
 
I told Lucan gleefully that I had made him chocolate chip cookies. He ate 2 for breakfast (because I'm a rockstar mom) and then proceeded to ask me if I had also made cinnamon rolls. Ungrateful brat.)

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

mo money, mo problems (Part 1 of our Debt Story)



We paid off the last of our student loans on Friday, March 13, a day that will forever go down in infamy (ha, not really. We’re not Pearl Harbor here). 

Let’s backtrack a few paces and discuss our debt.

  • We bought a new (new to us) Traverse two months after Lucan was born. While I’m super thankful that we have the Traverse and one vehicle that is bigger, it was still an expense.
  • I attended two private schools for my undergrad and graduate studies and did a study abroad semester in the most expensive city in the world (London, coming in at #1 according to a recent Daily Telegraph story).
  • We bought a house on our first anniversary. I was working in non-profit and am actually shocked by how little I was making at that time. At the same time, I had no idea how little that amount actually was and thought I was rich! Foolish 23 year-old. 
  • Approximately nine months into our marriage Lance underwent a fairly substantial jaw surgery at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester. Cue: out of network hospital bill. While we were able to pay off his bill without too many tears, it was certainly pricey and an unplanned expense.
  • We were using our credit cards to pay for everything. We always paid off our bill at the end of each month, but I can recognize that we typically spent more than we should have by using our credit cards to make our purchases. (Side: we still use our credit cards and we have a Target debit card that we get 5% off with. But I will say, from a cash budget perspective it certainly complicates things. Lance is constantly having to ask me if I’ve moved money and I never can remember. He's typically annoyed with me)
  • Between the two of us, we’ve had three bouts of unemployment and have lived to tell the tale. And to pay off debt during that time! 


I hope that paints a pretty good picture of our finances. It’s not a pretty one, but I’m guessing it’s one that many of you can identify with. Student loans, credit cards, new cars and a baby! We are the "typical” Americans!

Stay tuned for more about our debt saga. It's a doozie. 
 
And just for giggles, a photo of the first time I met Lance. We were 15!

Friday, March 20, 2015

Why I’m Not a Hipster


Him. Layers upon layers. Hipster glasses. Fedora. Smirky.
Me. Clothes from the mall and mass produced.


Obviously this post has lots of real depth to it. I jotted most of these reasons down while I was taking a “milk” break.

1. I’m Asian. Hipsters are primarily white. One giant strike for Kara. Can’t change this one. 
2. I like mainstream EVERYTHING. Starbucks, Target, Taylor Swift, Emily Giffin, The Bachelor.” If it’s Top 40, I probably like it. I’m super cool like that. 
3. I don’t own any black frame glasses. I do own glasses and need them, I just happen to enjoy the fuzzy world I live in without them. 
4. I have straight hair and no chunky bangs. Hipsters have beachy wave hair and Zooey Deschanel bangs. 
5. No tattoos. I can’t think of anything I want on my body that much.
6. I can’t really pull off hats. Especially wool slouchy hats.
7. If diaper bags can be considered messenger bags, I might have one point for Kara as a hipster.
8. I don’t really have the patience for thrift stores. There’s nothing organized there! It smells funny! Everyone knows I’m an imposter! 
9. I don’t watch indie films. I think the last “indie-ish” film I watched was “Blue Jasmine” or “Midnight in Paris.” Not really indie and Lance hated both of them. Last movie I saw and really liked “Chef.” Of course it was about food …
10. I know nothing about emerging music. Not unless it’s on the radio and endorsed by Ryan Seacrest. 
11. I think artisan food is expensive.
12. Layering clothes makes me really hot. I can’t take the heat of multiple layers. Perhaps I should invest in an open plaid shirt from Tommy Hilfiger. 
13. We own three cars. One is an SUV. Public transportation in the burbs of Des Moines just isn’t happening. Bicycling in our stage of live would be super impractical. I tried to take Lucan garage saleing (not even a real word) one time in the bike trailer and he kept throwing things out the side and I had to keep stopping to pick our stuff off the sidewalk. Again, I was a sweaty mess by the end.
14. My kids have kinda hipster-ish names. And if by hipster, I mean no one has ever heard of our kids names and wants to know how in the world we came up with them/why we would embarrass/curse our children like that. 
15. And the real reason I can't be a hipster - I had to google "how to be a hipster"

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

28 Things in February

I like and I dislike that February has 28 days. I like it in the fact that I can consistently remember that February has the fewest days out of all the months but I dislike the fact that when this February ends, it means that my maternity leave is over and that I’ve officially reentered the working world. Blar.

1.      Shereadstruth.com Lenten study

2.      Dental insurance. We would be most definitely broke without it.

3.      Pizza and conversation at friends’ house. Dinner doesn’t have to be a big production to be fun and worthwhile.

4.      Girls lunch with small group gals. Yum!

5.      Breakfast date with KlAnders.

6.      A husband who has a stronger stomach than I do. Let’s just say it involves poop and leave it at that.

7.      My super handy husband who fixed our water softener with a $2 part. Let’s not go into the fact that he could have fixed it three years ago …

8.      Lucan declared he liked mushrooms. AWESOME!

9.      Successful hip replacement surgery for my mom.

10.   Conversations on Mothering Bible study at church and getting to know more moms.

11.   Healthy 2 month well child checkup for Gracelyn.

12.   Mom playdates.

13.   5 babies born this month. FIVE!!

14.   Getting all of our Christmas cards finally organized and put away – dating back to 2010!

15.   Church scones.

16.   Molly coming over and spending time with us on her lunch breaks or on her Friday afternoons.

17.   The Bachelor and ridiculous conversations I have with my friends about the show.

18.   Crap-ton of snow. I loved it. Lucan loved it. Lance, not so much.

19.   Library storytime.

20.   Two trips to Goodwill to unload stuff we don’t need.

21.   ALDIS shopping trips. They have really upped their game lately.

22.   Gracelyn smiles and coos. She’s so smilie in the morning. Everyone always asks me if she’s this good and my answer is “yes” as long as she’s pooped recently and not confined to her carseat.

23.   Justin’s Vanilla Almond butter. This stuff is like CRACK.

24.   Downtown Abbey. So sad I have to wait until January 2016 for the next season.

25.   Lu is fully potty trained at night too. We talked about it and he decided that he wanted to be able to wear underwear to bed. Bam. Done.

26.   I’m really thankful for my 13 weeks of maternity leave. The end is really bittersweet.

27.   Mere Christianity

28.   My iphone. We got our first iphones in September and I love being able to capture life’s moments with the kiddos.
So happy!


Saturday smiles.

Lu and his stupid penguin, Pete. Do you know how often Pete gets lost resulting in a 15 minute search and find for the tiniest stuffed animal we own.

Cabin fever.

Lu's Valentine's Day box for school.

Adorable onesie baby gift from Studio B yoga.

Doctor Lu.

Recorder serenading :)

My two favorite girls.

Beloved green blankie.

Hanging out in her crib. Not sleeping.

A little taste of summer with this super easy fruit salad - a dollop of honey and a splash of vanilla!

Christmas card organization for the pinterest win!

Two tiny minions.

We let him run around on all the booths at Red Robin. It was snowing and the place was empty. The excuses we make as parents, right?

Last day of maternity leave.

Quick note: see how many sprinkles are on the cookie he's decorating with his left hand? Woah.

Cat nap at Bible study.

Earning his keep. Thanks Erika for this idea. Start them young!

Snow.

Lu wanted to take selfies.

Library storytime.

I love polka dots.

The snowman melted later that day. Sad :(

All of our kids will be roughly 9 months apart. Isaac is a sweet boy.


Sunday, March 8, 2015

Week One Under My Belt

I’m tired, to say the least. And I don’t even have it terrible as Gracelyn will sleep through the night. But going from a solid 8-9 hours/night to 6ish is ROUGH. When I fall into bed at night and my head hits the pillow, I’m out. Thursday night Lucan woke up crying in the night. I didn’t hear him. Lance was the one who woke up and went to him. I only woke up when Lance went into the bathroom to get him a drink and I was back asleep before he got back into bed.
 
Gracelyn is … adjusting. Not say it hasn’t been hard, but she’s doing okay. Normally chickie boom (my nickname for her) will sleep a good long nap in the morning and some smaller naps in the afternoon. She’s used to quieter rooms and being swaddled which neither is happening at daycare.
 
On Wednesday she slept a total of 30 minutes. I was AGHAST.
 
On the flip side, she’s taking bottles now. I suppose if you’re hungry enough, you’ll eat from whatever is offered to you too.
 
I am beyond thankful that we kept Lucan in the routine of going to daycare while I was home on maternity leave. Lu does not transition the easiest and I’m glad this isn’t something we’ve had to worry about. Getting up and getting out the door every morning is second nature.
 
Below are my solutions for getting everyone where they need to be in the morning:
1.       Meal plan for the entire week. No one needs to be hangry and dealing with “what’s for dinner?”
2.       Meal prep for the entire week. I chopped all my vegetables and did all my meat prep over the weekend.
3.       Utilize your crockpot. We did two crockpot soups, two casseroles and one leftover night. This is not the time to be trying out new recipes or to need to sauté vegetables endlessly. Be smarter, don’t work harder.
4.       Pack everyone’s bags the night before. Bottles and parts for pumping stuff? Check. Lunches? Check. Bottles? Done. Check the calendar for any one-offs? Done.
5.       Make your kids sleep in their clothes for the next day. Gracelyn gets her new clothes at 10 pm the night before. Lucan loves his jammies, so he won’t wear his to bed. But Gracie has no vote! If I could wear my clothes to bed and not wake up wrinkled I would. Thus leading to …
6.       Decide what I’m going to wear the night before. Otherwise I stand in front of my closet staring bleary eyed trying to decide what to wear. I try to implement this in Lance too because I’m too crabby in the morning to answer “what belt do I wear this with?”
7.       Shower at night. I hate showering at night but where I have a 40 minute time investment of breastfeeding and pumping in the morning, this is a must. Season of life folks, season of life.
8.       Refill my water bottle. One of the things I learned is that most people wake up dehydrated in the morning. I make it my goal to down a quick 8 ounces before I scoot out the door.
9.       Plan your breakfast. If I’m having a smoothie (and there’s room in the refrigerator) I try and assemble the night before. And I set out my smoothie cup. If I’m having something else, I try and get everything packaged before bed.
10.   Meeting first thing in the morning? Grab phone numbers and have print offs ready ahead of time.
11.   I can’t remember to take my vitamins in the morning. It’s just one more thing on my list so I’ve moved vitamin intake to just before bed.

Those are my eleven tips for me being somewhat on time to work. You’re welcome.

5:00 PM the first day after daycare. PASSED OUT.

Wednesday night after only sleeping 30 minutes that day. Again, passed out.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Gracelyn – 2 Months Old

(Please disregard that Gracelyn was 2 months old on Feb 1)

Gracelyn, dear sweet girl, I apologize in advance for any extra head bumps or misguided sibling love you may receive before you are able to fend off your brother’s energetic attempts at hugs or sweet forehead kisses. While they are meant-well and done with the utmost sincerity, your brother has the grace of a bull in a china shop. It can all be summed up with: he means well.

You are fitting well into our little family. You do so well at chilling on your own, which is so helpful when brother needs a little extra attention or when I’m trying to make supper. You’ll sit and watch everyone in your bouncy seat or with your head propped up on the boppy pillow. I’m thankful for that. We’ve also gotten to participate in a bible study at church and play group. Everyone always asks if you are always that good. The answer: yes.

You took your first long road trip to Okoboji, IA where you got to spend some quality time with some of your parents dear friends. Big brother went to grandma and papa’s house and you came with us. It was a nice trip and you did awesome at sleeping in the car. You also did awesome at supper out to eat where you proceeded to sleep through the entire thing. Your parents were grateful.

This month you also got to meet some more people. You also got to meet one of my kindest friends, Wendy, when we went to Okoboji. You also got to meet a couple of momma’s work friends and your great uncle Dave and great aunt Cathy. They’re all fantastic people.

Baby girl, you are teeny-tiny. We took you to your 2 month well-child check and you are a little munchkin. You are up to 10 pounds, which puts you in the 14th percentile. For height you are 21.5 inches long (9th percentile) and your head circumference is 39 centimeters (68th percentile). Your brother was gargantuan in comparison.

Sleeping. You are doing great! You will regularly sleep until at least 6 AM and even then I sometimes get grumpy about you being up early. But brother bear and dad enjoy when you are up before they leave in the morning. Typically you’ll take one long snooze, around 3-4 hours, in which you sleep hard. The rest of your naps just aren’t nearly as good. But I’m not complaining, you could be doing much worse. We finally started swaddling you with a swaddle wrap or what Lance calls “a baby straight jacket.” It’s been a good thing.

Eating. You aren’t too bad at nursing. You seem to have gotten over falling asleep while nursing but sometimes you just decide that you aren’t hungry enough to eat on both sides. I’m trying to do some extra pumping so I have a little stored up, but I haven’t been nearly as gung-ho about pumping during maternity leave like I was with Lucan. Simply because pumping sucks. Yep. We’re still giving you gas drops regularly with a side of Gerber colic drops (for the probiotics) and the occasional dose of gripe water. We need to work on improving your bottle skills. You seem to think bottles aren’t what the cool kids are up to.

Wearing. Baby girl is wearing much of her newborn outfits still but is beginning to fit into some of her 0-3 month clothing. That’s exciting for me as this girl has more new clothes than all the rest of us times five.

Milestones. Social: little shy smiles, especially in the morning and just after naps. Loves daddy!

Language: starting to coo a little bit. It’s adorable.


 

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

31 Things in January (better late than never)

So much to be thankful for ...
  1. A delightful lunch out with my parents. Kid free lunches are few and rare.
  2. Target dates.
  3. Maternity leave. I’m dreading March 2 when I have to go back to work.
  4. Friends who have come to visit during the day.
  5. Family time.
  6. A weekend in Okoboji with good friends.
  7. The first massage in over a year.
  8. The return of Downtown Abbey and The Bachelor!! #princefarming
  9. Little voices who say “mommy, I just love you.”
  10. Mommy play dates.
  11. Grandmas and Grandpas.
  12. Church potlucks.
  13. A clean bill of health from my doctor.
  14. Other than a few sniffles, no major illnesses.
  15. Snow (Lance is NOT thankful for snow)
  16. Naps.
  17. Normal days and weeks.
  18. A baby who sleeps.
  19. Visiting a dear high school friend and seeing her beautiful house for the first time.
  20. SheReadsTruth.com for doing daily devotionals.
  21. Sweatshirts that feel like hugs
  22. A sweet big brother who loves his little sister
  23. Amazon Prime
  24. DELICIOUS appetizer night at small group where we all loaded up on yummy munchies
  25. Being able to be a part of a Bible study while I’m on maternity leave
  26. Coffee. I broke down and bought a used Keurig off of a FB swap site and am so thankful for it! (I’m thankful enough to want to list it twice!)
  27. Having an understanding husband who didn’t murder me when I had a “small” car accident involving the Traverse and our garage door.
  28. Getting to attend a baby shower for a sweet friend who is expecting twin boys any day now!
  29. A kind sister-in-law and parents in-law who took care of Lu for a weekend
  30. For being brave enough to take Lu and Grace out to eat on our own. It went quite well, surprisingly enough
  31. 13 weeks of maternity leave!!

And January in pictures:
It's so cold outside mommy!

Sister needs a helper. Okay ...
 
Jessie mistook me for a 65 year-old man at Fareway :(

Polka dots :)

Favorite Christmas ornament - photo by Katie Evans Photography. Ornament by Shutterfly.

Peanut butter chocolate chip oatmeal cookies. How many things can YOU cram into the title of a cookie?

So tired! But if you try and lay me down for a nap I will instantly awaken.

Snug as a bug in a rug.

Hi Mom! I found your secret stash of chips!

After a middle of the night feeding I found Lance encroaching on my side of the bed.

Quick nap in momma's arms.

Looking lovely by way of the ladies of small group.

Car nap after playing hard at Lance's parents' farm. After he awoke he was a hot mess that included slobber and shrieking for 45 minutes in the car.

Big brown eyes.

Enthralled by Wild Kratts and his new marker book from Wendy.

Serious.



This cat somehow knew I had just washed the duvet cover. Thanks Fire. Glad you found a warm soft place to nap.

Lots and lots of art. Woe to the mother whose son finds his projects in the recycling basket.

Foaming at the mouth.

Little sister doesn't know how lucky she is. She has big brother's favorite green blankie and beloved "Pete the Penguin."

Baby smiles.

Saturday morning, way too early. Scrambled eggs and play dough.

He only eats out of green bowls. It's irritating.

Beaver!!

Dad left us to go to an ISU basketball game. We were reduced to selfies for entertainment.

Cherry Berry as a family reward for good behavior = sugar high = sugar crash.

He dropped two gummy worms on the floor and ate them before I could stop him. However I was able to stop him from eating the m&ms that he found in the corner of the couch.

This is my thinking face, mommy.

Take a picture! Take a picture!

10 inches of snow. Church was canceled. Lance deemed this the type of snow that gives men in the sixties heart attacks.

Mushroom spinach focaccia bread pizza for the Superbowl. Def the food of football players.

I bought Lu bath crayons and bath paints for Christmas. Did you know if you remove the "t" from "paint" it spells "pain"? There's a reason for that.

One afternoon I got an itch to organize Gracelyn's closet. It was a stupid idea.