Monday, November 28, 2011

Meal Planning

Not long ago I decided to buckle down and commit to meal planning. Each Thursday I would come up with a list of items to make and Jesse would take Riley to the grocery store each Friday to pick up the ingredients. It was a little challenging at first to figure out when to make all these items with my schedule, and sometimes it was difficult getting Jesse to figure out where some of these ingredients could be found in the grocery store. Week after week I stayed on track until one week I got a little lazy. I put a few go to items on the list and hoped they would feed us for the week. Over the next few weeks the grocery list started to dwindle until the week that I simply wrote "food" on the list. I felt a little defeated, but knew I had to get my act together. Again, I committed to planning our meals each week. Not every week has been a winner and I certainly could be more organized about it, but I feel I am sort of back on track with meal planning. As long as I use my time wisely, and freeze items when I can we will generally always have good (and hopefully healthy) meals to eat each week.

I usually have a number of tried and true recipes, but I also like to try new things hoping they will be added to the tried and true list. Being that it was recently Thanksgiving week and I needed to bring a pie to our family gathering I thought I would try a new recipe. Jesse's mom usually makes pumpkin pie, but I happened to have her pie tin so we were asked to bring a pie. I thought about going the standard route, but once I came across a pumpkin cheese cake recipe (and got Jesse's thumbs up) I knew I had to try it out.  I found the recipe on which is a site that I had utilized before. Earlier in the fall, after hitting up an apple orchard, I was looking for new apple recipes. I have my grandma's apple crisp recipe (which is fantastic), but I had many, many apples so I thought I would try a variety of items. I found a recipe for Caramel Apple Cheesecake Bars that were to die for and figured they would have something fabulous for pumpkin as well. Which leads me back to the Double Layer Pumpkin Cheesecake. (I would also recommend the Pumpkin Cream Cheese Muffins which I made a few weeks back).

This recipe was super simple, but I might add more pumpkin and delete the whipped topping. This may not exactly fall into the healthy category, but it's the holidays, right?

I know I mentioned that I try to make healthy items, but pretty much everything in this post will include cream cheese (or cream of mushroom or sour cream...). We hardly ever eat cream cheese so it was a little overwhelming to eat so much of it in a short amount of time. In the future I would probably break these recipes up to eat on different weeks. On the up side I used low fat cream cheese. However, we have unofficially banned cream cheese from our house for awhile because I am pretty sure I have consumed my year's quota in one week.

After Thanksgiving I decided to utilize the extra days off of work to do a little more cooking than usual. The next item on my list was another recipe from the site referred to above: Easy Crockpot Fiesta Chicken.

Basically dump chicken, black beans, corn and salsa into a crockpot and cook on high for 4 - 5 hours (see hyperlinks for full recipes). During the last half hour add the cream cheese and serve over rice. This was a hit with our daughter so I will likely make this one again. This recipe goes a long way so I was able to package some of it up and stick it in the freezer for a meal later on.

I also made a staple from my regular recipes. I need to credit a former co-worker, Liz, who brought this in for a work potluck and ended up having to give each of us her recipe since we all begged for it. The pictures are super crappy, but trust me that this one is a winner. Most of this one also went into the freezer since I was making so many dishes at one time. I love having meals already made that I can simply defrost and warm up when I need it. And this might not have had cream cheese in it, but it had cream of mushroom soup and cheese. Creamy.

Liz's Chicken Strata

1 1/2 cups seasoned croutons
2 cups diced or shredded cooked chicken
1/2 cup chopped onions
1/2 cup chopped green pepper
1/2 cup chopped celery
1/2 cup mayonnaise
3/4 tsp. salt
dash of pepper
1/2 cup shredded American or cheddar cheese
2 slightly beaten eggs
1 1/2 cups milk
1 can cream of mushroom

  • Place 1/2 of the seasoned croutons in the bottom of a 8x8x2 baking dish.
  • Combine chicken, vegetables, mayo, and seasonings and spoon over croutons.
  • Sprinkle remaining 1/2 of croutons over chicken.
  • Combine eggs and milk and pour over all.
  • Chill one hour or overnight.
  • Spoon mushroom soup over top, and sprinkle with a few croutons.
  • Bake in a slow oven (325 degrees) for 50 minutes until set.
  • Sprinkle cheese on top for the last few minutes of cooking.

I made a few alterations to the above recipe as onions are not my friend. In place of them I added more celery and also added a bunch of fresh mushrooms. Really, you can alter the veggies to your liking and it will come out delish.

Next was a new stuffed mushroom recipe... that included, you guessed it... cream cheese. My husband cringed when he saw me make these as he had already had enough of the cream cheese, but he gobbled these right up. In fact, he made a comment that went something like "if I hadn't already married you these would have convinced me to do so".

And finally Corn Pudding. My husband LOVES cornbread so I thought he might enjoy this recipe. Kinda wish I made chili to go with this, but it was certainly tasty on it's own.

Overall, all the recipes were a hit and will likely be made again... but on different weeks, for sure.

Next week? Fish and veggies sound perfect.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Thanksgiving 2011

Each year we rotate which family we visit on Thanksgiving. It's far too chaotic to try to fit in both sides on one day so this seems like the fairest thing to do. This year we went to Jesse's side which usually varies in the number of people, but is always small in comparison to my side of the family. This year it was Jesse, Riley, myself, and Jesse's mom, Suzie, and her fiance, Michael. I have to admit this sometimes feels strange since I grew up with 20 - 30 people at each of my family's holiday gatherings. I like the coziness of the small family, but there is something comforting about having a big family as well. I have to admit that sometimes this makes me rethink my decision to only have one child. It hasn't changed that decision, but it certainly makes me think twice about it.

Riley headed right for her chair as soon as we walked in the door at grandma and grandpa's house and asked for her spoon. I thought that meant she was hungry, but she didn't really eat that much. Doesn't she know what Thanksgiving is all about? I mean, besides all the 'thanking' and stuff.

Apparently Jesse is blessing the food... or falling asleep standing up.

After dinner most of us headed out for a walk to the park since the weather was so nice (Michael took advantage of the weather by going on a motorcycle ride).

Going through the tilted tunnel.

This slide was a little steep so Daddy had to help out.

Swinging didn't last long. The tunnel and slide were far to exciting.

This is the only 'big' slide I've seen her go down comfortably on her own. Perhaps it is because you really don't slide down it. She actually had to skootch herself down the whole thing. She loved it and did it over and over and over!

The next day Jesse, Riley and I headed over to my dad's house for a visit with my uncle Stanley and aunt Doris who stopped by for a couple hours while they were in town. They are perhaps some of the nicest people I know so it was great to get to see them even if it was for a short time.

Dad, Doris and my dad's little brother, Stanley.

Monday, November 21, 2011


I have really been slacking on taking pictures of my kid lately. I think that I went over a week... perhaps even two without a single picture. The horror! So I made up for it over a few hours this weekend. They might not be the best pictures, but they captured our day pretty well.

Riley was diagnosed with a double ear infection last Thursday. Jesse spent Friday buying her all sorts of gifts to help her feel better. Things she scored: two balloons, an elephant beanie baby, a huge container of blocks and a set of 8 bells. I can't imagine what he plans to get her for Christmas.

She was all about these bells.

Until she bonked her head with it.

But then quickly recovered once she had a bell in each hand.

She's also really been into play napping. Just put a blanket and pillow down and she wants us all to nap on the ground. Nighty night.

Creepy napping.

Chairs also provide endless entertainment for her now that she can get up and down on them.

Later we decided to take her outside after the first snow of the season.

She wasn't really having it. She did not want to stand on the snow. At all. Here Jesse tries to explain to her that the grass is still under the snow. We heard lots of "no"s out of her mouth.

Here she points to the park at the end of the block. Sorry kiddo, but the park won't be quite the same for awhile.

On a totally unrelated note I thought I'd talk about some of the dreams I've been having. I went through a bit of a dry spell, but have recently had some pretty interesting dreams which I'll write about later. In the mean time I thought I would share some snippets of dreams I had that I barely remember:

In this dream my husband, daughter and I eat outside at a restaurant. In the dream my daughter's name is Jennifer instead of Riley. I simply recall sitting there thinking "why did I let Jesse talk me into calling her Jennifer? It a perfectly good name, but not one I would ever choose for her." I had a general feeling of sadness that I let this happen.

In real life I work at a University. In this dream students sent the school pictures of themselves using damaged straws. They arrived in manila envelopes labeled "Required". This dream also included a co-worker giving me a laptop and me discovering that my tank top/sports bra was on backwards.In public.

This dream involved me taking Riley to a work picnic only to not have her there once I settled in. I was in someone's back yard and had to climb up a very steep and grassy area only to be met with a bunch of boulders I thought I would need to scale. Once I found a way around them I entered a skyway system in Tokyo or Thailand. I searched for Riley thinking I would easily find her blond hair in a sea of dark hair. But many turns later I only found lots of other blond little girls and was completely lost. What stands out about this is that Jesse also had a dream this night about Riley being lost. Scary.

There. Now that I got that off my chest... Happy Monday.

Sunday, November 13, 2011


Jesse's birthday may be the most celebrated birthday in our household (at least for now - watch out, Riley). It started innocently enough in 2005 just a few short months after we started dating (if it was even that long). I wasn't sure what to get him... I didn't want it to be too much, but didn't want it to be too lame. We had talked about going to a Wild hockey game, but those tickets are spendy and would have fallen under the "too much" category. We also had this thing where we used the same brand of soap: Pre Du Provence. He noticed that I had it in lavender and commented that his favorite was olive oil, but stated it was impossible to find. So I thought I would get him some soap (if I could find it), but one bar of soap fell under the "too lame" category. At any rate I headed off to Two 12 Pottery where I bought my supply of lavender soap. They didn't carry the olive oil, but were nice enough to order a case as long as I bought the whole case. I wasn't sure I would give Jesse the whole case because that kinda felt like it fell under the "this woman is too crazy" category, but I was convinced otherwise by some friends. I decided I needed to make the gift fun so it didn't come off as weird. My inspiration came from a conversation Jesse and I had. It went like this:

Jesse: You don't tell anyone that I use this Pre Du Provence soap, do you?

Jo: Of course not (self disclosure - I totally told several people this). I tell people you bathe with Lava brand soap.

Jesse: No, no. Just tell people I scrub my body with rocks.

I then wrapped up two boxes - one with the case of soap and one filled only with rocks. I mean, that's what any sane person would do, right? I gave him the rocks first. He gave me a puzzled look. I gave him the soap, and well, he got it (after a slight reminder). I'd like to think that he 'got' my sense of humor and that this was a key turning point in leading to a long life together.

So fast forward to 2006 where I have to prepare for another birthday. I have to admit I was feeling like I had to top the last year, but wasn't sure how I was going to pull that off. Turns out we never made it to that Wild hockey game during the previous year so that seemed like an appropriate gift, but how to make an impactful delivery? Hmmm. I thought long and hard and I all could think about was how Jesse was eating a ridiculous amount of Jell-O at that time. So this is what I did... Make one mold of Jell-O with a balloon inside. Make Jesse eat the Jell-O to get to the balloon where he reads a note hidden inside. It tells him to go to the dryer. He opens the dryer to find a bunch of Jell-O boxes and a note that says his actual gift is on one of the boxes. He's a pretty smart guy so he find the box that feels empty and opens it up to find the hockey tickets. The extra bonus was that it ended up being an exciting game. The Wild won in overtime with one awesome move. Just a side note on this gift - it has inspired many gifts to be exchanged in the dryer. Jesse even used it in his marriage proposal to me.

Now it's 2007 and it's not about topping last year's gift, but just sustaining the fun. I was totally stumped until my hairdresser commented on another client of hers going dog sledding. Yes! Jesse will love this. I did my research, booked a place (Wintergreen Dogsled Lodge) and just had to figure out how to deliver this gift to Jesse. I contacted his friend and former roommate, Eric, who has a dog named Maui and asked if he and Maui could help present this gift to Jesse. I created a invite of sorts that apparently was confusing as it was as if the dog was inviting him to go dog sledding, but Jesse quickly figured it out. We actually had to wait a couple months to go due to openings, but it was well worth the wait. We did the full day excursion and loved every minute of it. Wintergreen is a well run establishment with friendly staff, great food, and beautiful, well-cared for dogs. I can't wait to go back when Riley is big enough.

In 2008 I had to ask for help from one of Jesse's friends again. Amy, who he went to college with, was working part time at REI. Since I met Jesse he has been wanting a particular Arc'teryx coat from REI. Every time we would go there he would have to go 'visit' with the coat. I figured it was time we did something about that. I asked Amy if she had any ideas as to how I could make it a fun delivery... perhaps including the climbing wall they have. She did more than I could hope for. She set up a treasure hunt (with approval from her manager). I simply had to get Jesse to REI and have him notice the sign as we walked in which told him he had to go to the rock climbing wall check in. There he got his first clue which led him throughout the store until he came upon the coat. I have to admit this one was one of the most fun for me. Amy came up with all these really great clues so it was like an adventure for me too.

The next year, 2009, I was pregnant and felt like crap. There was one thing that came to mind and that was that we were going to need to embrace these last couple months without a child. I booked a room at Beacon Pointe in Duluth and then had to figure out how I would present this gift to him. The topic of soap had come up recently so I had this idea of creating a puzzle using soap bars. It had been some time since the Pre Du Provence soap ran out so I figured I buy him another case. That is until I discovered the price had doubled. So I created a collage of pictures around Duluth, grabbed some soap out of the cabinet, and created the puzzle below. The soap was randomly placed in a bag and Jesse had to put the puzzle together to figure out what his gift was. Even though it was November we were able to enjoy a brisk Duluth and to embrace the ability to easily take off for a weekend without a child. Oh, how things have changed since then.

2010 was a challenging year for me. I was WIPED OUT from caring for a child and working full time. Riley was no longer colicky, but she still wasn't sleeping through the night so my brain was often in a fog. Jesse basically gave me a pass this year trying to encourage me to not worry about a gift as he knew what kind of state I was in. He noted that some 'daddy' t-shirts was just what he wanted. So I delivered on three different daddy shirts. He's often commenting on needing new t-shirts so I bought him a bunch of white shirts and iron on transfers. I was going to make some shirts for him, but that just didn't happen. Because I was not happy with this gift I took wire hangers and made the figure below. Yeah it's weird. I also got a baby onsie that said "My daddy's tattoos are cooler than your daddy's". And while he does wear his daddy t-shirts the iron on stuff is still in the closet. Not every year can be a winner.

So this year I was determined to create a memorable birthday especially since it fell on 11/11/11. I was pretty perplexed until my co-worker, Sarah, pointed out a website called The Dating Divas that had a ton of great ideas. I actually combined three of the ideas, but the one at the heart if this was about showing Jesse that he was appreciated. I emailed friends and family and asked them to write Jesse a letter or make a coupon for a day of hanging out.. or anything they wanted to do to let him know how much we all think he rocks. My goal was to have 11 envelopes that he would have to open. I actually had more than 11 letters, but I was still able to make the 11 envelopes work. I then posted them on the wall around a personalized magazine cover I made.

The Dating Divas website had some great printouts (such as the numbers for the envelopes which I added scrapbook paper to) including the below clever idea. I printed them out, picked up the corresponding item and presented them like this:

We each had our favorites (Jesse's was the 'fish' one, mine was the 'soda' one). Jesse was nice enough to offer me the Skor bar as he knows it is my favorite, but I was prepared for this and bought a second one just for me.

A first look at his gift.

Say "cheese". I had to take a bunch of pictures to show to those who contributed. Jesse was not a hug fan of this (especially since we were already in our jammy jams), but he was willing to play along.

Jesse was pretty moved by this gift and how everyone came together to say some kind (and funny) words to him. It may look like he was crying above, but that didn't happen until envelope # 11 when he read the letter from his little girl. She always knows the right thing to say. Speaking of Riley, I had been working with her to learn to sing "Happy Birthday" for several weeks. She would sort of contribute with a "Happy" here and a "daddy" there. So just before she went down for the night she and I sang "Happy Birthday" for Jesse. And when I say 'we' I mean I sang. She didn't make a peep... until I was done and then, as clear as I've ever heard her say anything, she said "happy birthday dear daddy". It was awesome.

And I am happy to report that Jesse said something along the lines of "Every year I think you're just going to do a normal birthday, that you can't keep topping yourself, but you did once again".

Just wait until next year.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Weekend Away

I have been looking forward to a weekend away with friends for quite some time. This is something I haven't done in... well, forever and it was greatly needed. It's not that life is too hard or anything, but when you work full time and have a kid it makes it so much harder to foster friendships and find time to get away.

The plan was forJoanna, Susannah and I to spend a weekend in Bayfield, WI to relax and have some fun. Joanna, Susannah and I all went to high school together a gazillion years ago. There have been a lot of in between years that we lost touch, but I am happy to say that in the past handful or so years we have made attempts to stay in touch even when our lives have taken different directions. These ladies were some of my closest peeps in high school and were always there for me when I went through hard times. I am happy to say that I know that they still have my back when needed. And they can still make me laugh like no other.

Our Friday got off to a late start which allowed me to spend some time with my hubby and child at a local indoor park. Jesse and Riley have gone there multiple times when I am at work so this was my first experience at Edinborough Park. We spent some time in the open gym, but then headed into the "Adventure Peak" area. Riley isn't big enough to climb through this area on her own so we headed into this monstrosity with her.

Yeah, that thing is huge (44 x 44 x 37 feet high to be exact). We crawled all over that place, squeezed through small areas, and even got lost. It was a lot of fun, but I definitely felt my age later when I started to ache all over.

Once Joanna finished working she headed over to my place to pick me up. She lives about 5 minutes away, but got a little lost and showed up about 45 minutes later. Gotta love ya, Joanna, but we might have to invest in a GPS system for you. Once she arrived we hopped in her car (I drove) and headed off to Duluth where Susannah lives.

From Susannah's we all headed off to Va Bene with Susannah's Boyfriend, Jim, for some dinner before making the last of the trek to Bayfield. Va Bene was a cozy little Italian restaurant that I would recommend checking out if you ever visit Duluth.

While we were waiting to be seated at Va Bene we realized we were running a little behind and thought it best to call the Brickyard Cottage's check in office (where we were staying in Bayfield). I explained to a charming gentleman named Robert that we anticipated being there by 9:30 and he assured me that they would be open until 10:00 pm. We determined that we would need to head out at 7:30 to make it there on time. However, that didn't work out as planned and we didn't leave until after 8:00. We crossed our fingers and hopped in the car. Hopefully, we would make it.

As we drove the clock ticked closer and closer to 10:00. We had no idea how close we were and none of our cell phones could get reception. At 9:36 we saw a sign that said Bayfield was 21 miles away. I wasn't sure we'd make it and just hoped that I would get cell phone reception soon to convince Robert to wait for us. At 9:52 I got a couple bars on my phone and called Robert immediately. Seriously such a nice guy. He assured us that he would wait. I hung up the phone and looked to my left... and we were there! Phew!

Robert proceeded to make us laugh and warm our hearts. I'm pretty sure he was in his 70's, but he didn't have a wedding ring on so I tried to convince Joanna that she should make her moves on him. I bet she left her number when I wasn't looking.

Once we settled in we proceeded to drink wine, talk, and laugh until about 12:30. That may be the latest I have actively chosen to stay up since having a child. Pretty exciting stuff.

The next morning we slept in, ate breakfast, and then did yoga. Joanna recently became a yoga instructor so we took full advantage of that. I've never actually gone to a class so I was especially excited. No surprise that she is an excellent instructor and I felt amazing afterwards.

Prepping for yoga

Susannah showing off her moves after we were done.

After yoga we headed into town to eat lunch, shop, and take pictures. We took a lot of pictures....

I think we sat at the wrong table at Maggie's restaurant.

Because it is off season in Bayfield there were a lot of stores closed, but there were also a lot more opportunities for us to roam around taking pictures that we might not have if a bunch of people were around.

Yeah, I'm pretty sure we weren't supposed to be going into random vehicles in this parking lot, but I also didn't see any real harm. You may not be able to see it that great in the pictures above, but Susannah and Joanna were embracing their roles as drivers of these vehicles. And I was laughing my butt off behind the camera.

Here we are utilizing the remote for my camera. And apparently practicing for our senior pictures.

Might as well practice some of those yoga moves.

Did you really expect us to walk past this boat and not take a picture in it?

Poor Captain Jack didn't have a chance with us.

More senior photo type pictures, but in a cool tree.

We could seriously pose with anything.

After a crazy few hours in town we decided to drive around to see what we might find and ended up at the Jerry Jay Jolly trail.

We walked for a bit until we realized it was getting dark and we only had my camera with us... and that it probably wouldn't help keep us alive if it got dark, and we got lost, and were attacked by deer. Deer can be scary, man.

We headed back to the cottage with exciting plans to make sushi thanks to Susannah. Susannah went to some sushi making classes so she guided Joanna and I in making various types of sushi.

A key step was to pat the sticky rice onto the nori. See my technique using the pads of my four fingers? Make sure to get the rice squished down before adding other food items.

Susannah also demonstrates the rice patting technique.

Joanna gets a little crazy while patting her rice.

And more patting of the rice. Apparently, no one took a picture while we were actually putting any of the other ingredients into the rolls.

Caterpillar Roll

Yes, that whole plate is mine! And it was fantastic.

After gorging on sushi we decided to share pictures and videos we had. Joanna brought her lap top so we were able to view some pictures from her previous vacations. A couple years ago she went to New York with her adult son and his then girlfriend. They decided to try to compliment 100 people and get pictures with them. This is so Joanna and I LOVE her for it. What a great idea. I will have to keep it in mind for a future vacation with Riley.

She also showed us some pictures when she and Susannah went camping with a group of people this summer. I don't know if it was the wine, the company, or both, but I haven't laughed that hard over silly stuff in a long time. Susannah also showed us some adorable videos of her kids rocking out. At the end of the weekend I wasn't sure if my abs hurt because of yoga or because I laughed so darn much.

The next day was departure day, but Susannah still had to show us how to belly dance. First I ate breakfast and then headed outside to take some pictures and check out the trail behind our cottage.

After my little stroll we put on our hip scarves and danced around the living room at Susannah's instruction. Belly dancing requires way more coordination than I expected, but was a ton of fun. I will have to practice my moves once home. That reminds me I need to add a few items to my 'to pick up' list: yoga mat, rice cooker, hip scarf...

Then... it was time to head back home. We made a quick stop right outside of town at, well... I'm not sure what to call this. Basically, it was a bunch of driftwood and junk piled up and each side of the road. Art perhaps?

Yeah, the sign in lower left corner it says "Imagine Getting More".

On the way home we stopped in Superior, Wi to eat burgers at Anchor Bar and Grill. Word is they have been voted the best burger in WI. I had the olive burger which was basically green olives mixed into a bunch of cream cheese on top of a burger. It was fantastic and only $4.25. You can't beat that.

We then dropped Susannah off at her house and drove back to the cities in time for me to see my daughter before she went to sleep. Riley was pretty excited to see me, but I think Jesse was extra relieved as Riley had a particularly fussy day.

Although we didn't have a ton of time in Bayfield and we never took the ferry over to Madeline Island it was still a weekend full of activities and good times. I can't wait to do this again, but won't wait nearly as long to do so. Thanks Joanna and Susannah!