Friday, May 31, 2013

How to Get Yardwork Done While Parenting a Toddler

Life is Good: we accomplished a lot!

Seedlings did not get planted. Mulch was not spread. The outdoor furniture is not clean nor is the paint touched up. The patio is a mess. A. Mess.
But there were smiles. And giggles. And bursts of laughter. Joy was accomplished. Fun was achieved. The morning was a success.

"Time you enjoy wasting is not wasted time." -Marthe Troly-Curtin

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Keeping Things Pleasant

Life is Good: be grateful for it!

Each day, I wake up and I thank God that I woke up and then I turn and look at our video monitor (quite possibly the greatest invention ever known to parents) and I thank God for our two little ones and that they are so very sweet and healthy. Part of that gratitude for waking up includes thanks for getting another day, another chance to try to live the way God wants for me, another opportunity to be the person who I am intended to be, who pleases Him, to make the most of the blessings bestowed upon me, and to let that light that shines within me spill out all over everyone I encounter.

Life is all about love and it's all about attitude. Sure, there will be certain kinds of days and certain kinds of people who will test you, but when you begin the day with gratitude and you focus on the goodness in everyone and everything, I believe it cloaks you with happiness and that utter joy shields you against any grimness that comes your way. Here's a "pleasant thought" for your day... 

"When we focus on what is good and beautiful in someone, whether or not we think that they "deserve" it, the good and beautiful are strengthened merely by the light of our attention." -Katrina Kenison



Tuesday, May 28, 2013

DIY Alien Cups for a Space-themed Party

Life is Good: I channeled MacGuyver's mom!

Yep, more birthday talk! Recently, our big kid turned five and we celebrated with a space-themed party.

We had a ton of fun planning all of the activities and games for his friends together. We made decorations and conceptualized the goody bags. I loved watching his creative wheels turning and I cherished the time we spent together prepping for the party. It was a great way to teach him to plan ahead and talk about hospitality, sharing & generosity, and enjoying the experience of a birthday rather than focusing on the gift giving part.

As the party date got closer, we talked about our decorate-your-own cupcakes activity and he requested apple juice (a treat in our house...the rest of the time, it is water or milk). Fine. In "alien cups". Okay...

That seemed benign enough. Until a trip to Party City and Target proved that unless you are into Toy Story, alien/space/robot/planets cups are not gonna happen. So I put my creative problem-solving cape on and asked myself, "What would MacGuyver's mom do?".

The answer involved "alien green" paper cups from Party City...

Silver circle stickers that are supposed to be used with my monogram embosser...

A hole punch...
 And a green chenille stem (pipe cleaner to you old schoolers).

 I considered drawing black slits for "eyes" or adding googly eyes, but Coco Chanel once said that you should get dressed and then take one accessory off, so I likened skipping the "eyes" to that.

Take us to your leader!

Monday, May 27, 2013

Giving Respects on Memorial Day

Today, on this Memorial Day, I am thinking about all of those who have passed on. My sister, my grandparents, relatives, some dear friends.

I'm also thinking about all of the US soldiers who died in the line of duty. Whatever your opinion is about our military or government, those soldiers gave their lives because they thought they were protecting our freedoms or they were fighting for others to have the freedoms that we Americans often take for granted. Today, I am also grateful to their families who lost their loved ones.

On days like this, I always think of my Grandma and a story she told me about her brother, Bob. He was drafted into World War II, barely 18 years old. His country called and he couldn't refuse. He went off to basic training and left his family for the first time in his life.

Time passed and Bob wrote to my Grandma and her family that he would be on a train passing through their town on his way to the war. So my Grandma, her parents and her siblings went to meet the train. Half of the family was on one side of the train and half were on the other so that could guarantee that at least half of them would see him. My Grandma was on the wrong side of the train that day.

For a while, my Grandma said that they would receive letters regularly from her brother. He wrote eloquently and always soothed their worries about his safety. But soon, the letters stopped. See, her brother had been changing the middle initial in his name with each letter's signature in an effort to let his family know where he was so that they could keep track of him through the news. How thoughtful and crafty. But someone obviously discovered his trick and after that, no letters were delivered.

My Grandma said the family was so excited to get a visit from a local boy who had come back from the war on leave. He told them stories of seeing Bob in battle. Bob had wanted to be a doctor and was chosen to be a medic in the Army. The young soldier told my Grandma's family that Bob had grown even taller. He was now quite possibly 6'2" or 6'3". He was still very blonde. And still very gentle. In fact, he had found a lost kitten and was carrying it around with him in his pocket amidst the battleground.

The day that half of my Grandma's family saw her brother Bob on the train leaving for the war was the last time they would see him alive. He died in battle on the island of Cebu in the Phillipines. He never went to college. Never married. Never had children of his own. Never...

When I think back to my Grandma's telling of this story, my heart aches. It aches for my Grandma, for her parents, for everyone who loved Bob, for those of us in the family who never got to know him. And my heart aches for every other solider's family who gave their life because their country asked for their service and they did not refuse.

For me, Memorial Day is not a day to discuss politics or opinions about wars, occupations, matters of diplomacy, or foreign policy. Memorial Day is about people. People who should be honored for their sacrifice. People who have passed on and need to be remembered for the mark they made on the world; the mark they made on our hearts.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Eggless Meatloaf Recipe

Life is Good: dinner's ready!

I can remember, oh so heartily, sitting at the dinner table pleading with my mom to let me leave the meatloaf on my plate untouched because I just could not bring myself to eat it. It looked weird! It smelled funny!

Well, the recipe below is not my mother's meatloaf recipe! With all due respect to my mom, of course...she's a celebrated cook and baker to everyone who knows her. And don't worry, all of those feigned attacks of nausea and pleading served me well in high school theater class. ; )

Neither the hubs nor I have ever been fans of meatloaf, but I am always looking for something that I can double the recipe and put half in the freezer. This is one of my secrets to organized living! On those days when you have to eat especially early so that you can run out the door to a soccer lesson or you had a baby up teething the night before, pulling something out of the freezer and sticking a salad with it can be just like an answered prayer.

I found this meatloaf recipe on It's from an old Gourmet magazine, so I trusted that it would be great. I have made it with and without butter as well as with and without the bacon (and when I used bacon, I used turkey bacon) and I will admit that it tastes better when you leave the butter and bacon in there! However, if you are watching your calorie/fat/cholesterol intake, you can omit these things (using olive oil for butter) and it is still yummy. Below, is my adapted version:

Eggless *Rainbow* Meatloaf
1/2 cup panko breadcrumbs
1/4 cup whole organic milk
1/2 medium onion, minced
1 garlic clove, minced
1 carrot, minced or finely chopped (I do this with my mini Cusinart)
1 cup **vegetable pulp from juicer** (may be omitted)
2 Tablespoon unsalted butter
2 Tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 Tablespoon cider vinegar
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
quick dash of nutmeg
3 slices of turkey bacon, chopped
1/3 cup golden raisins, chopped
1 1/2 lbs. lean ground beef
1 lb. ground pork
1/3 cup natural, no sugar added organic applesauce
salt and pepper

"Spicy Sauce"
Equal parts ketchup, deli mustard, and sriracha sauce
For kidlets who are really young or less adventurous, I would omit the sriracha, which is a very spicy, hot pepper sauce.

1. Preheat oven to 350°F with rack in middle.
2. Cook onion, garlic, carrot, and vegetable pulp (if you have some) in butter (or olive oil) in a large heavy skillet over medium heat, stirring occasionally, 5 minutes. 
3. Cover skillet and reduce heat to low, then cook until carrot is tender, about 5 minutes. 
4. Remove from heat and stir in Worcestershire sauce, vinegar, cinnamon, nutmeg, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1 teaspoons pepper. 
5. Finely chop turkey bacon and raisins (or prunes) in a food processor, then add to onion mixture along with beef, pork, and applesauce and mix together. Be careful not to over mix.
6. Add panko breadcrumbs and milk (one spoonful at a time as you may not need all of it. keep your mixture solid and not soupy since you don't have the egg as a binder) and mix all together with your hands (it is gentler).
7. Pack mixture into a 9- by 5-inch oval loaf in a 13- by 9-inch shallow baking dish or pan or a muffin pan (I get 10 "muffins" from this recipe.)
8. Bake until an instant-read thermometer inserted into center of meatloaf registers 155°F, 1 to 1 1/4 hours. Let stand 10 minutes before plating.
9. Layer sauce over individual servings.

*Rainbow* refers to the multi-colored pulp from our juicer! For this one pictured below, I juiced 1 apple, a handful of kale, two handfuls of spinach, and a carrot.

Here are all of the veggies together...

Here is what it looks like once you have added most of the ingredients...

Then into the muffin pan (remember to oil the pan!)...

And here they are, topped with Spicy Sauce. Now that's what I call a "Pleasant Meal"!

I adapted this recipe to fit our family's needs. You can find the original recipe here.

I omitted eggs due to our kiddos' egg allergies. Also, I added the pulp from the "green juice" I made in our juicer. All the pulp does is add fiber and nutrition (plus color/rainbow effect). Stick it in with the veggies and butter. If you don't have a juicer, the recipe still works. You could chop other veggies in with your carrots, such as broccoli, celery, and red/orange peppers if you want to have a "rainbow" effect. (Calling it "Rainbow Meatloaf" is how I first got my 5-year old excited about trying this new entree!)

I have also substituted ground turkey for the ground beef/pork combo and it worked just great.

I haven't had prunes on hand when I made this, so I have always substituted with golden raisins.

The original recipe calls for allspice, but I am not sure my kids can have it due to their allergies, so I substituted cinnamon, which I think is a nice flavor accent for beef (it works well in the ground turkey version, too). I once read that you should always use a dash of nutmeg if you use cinnamon in a recipe, so that is where that comes from.

I have made this recipe a couple of times. I will admit that when you do a traditional loaf shape, this recipe is not attractive at all. It is not a meal I would serve to guests. However, I have put it into a muffin pan with a sauce and it looks great! The kiddos like having "meat muffins", too! Everyone in our family--adult to toddler--have been satisfied with this meal.

As with any recipe, the first time is always an experiment. It takes longer to make and you have to figure out how your oven reacts, etc. I encourage you to hang in there and try recipes a second and third time. It always gets easier. For sure, the second time around, this recipe is a breeze and it freezes and reheats well. I hope you enjoy it!

Friday, May 24, 2013

A Pleasant Thought

"Magic wasn't something I had to go in search of; it was here, within me, all the time. When hearts are open, when love is flowing, magic happens."
-Katrina Kenison

Happy Anniversary!

Life is Good: my parents are a wonderful example of unconditional love

What happens when a shy nursing student straight off of the farm meets an outgoing, joke-telling, "life of the party" boy? 50+ years of marriage, three children, five grandchildren, and a lifetime of adventures. Happy anniversary, mom & dad!

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Chalkboard Paint Ideas

Life is Good: let's write and draw about it!

A few weeks ago, the big kid's room needed an intervention. Oh, my. The phrase, "One man's trash is another man's treasure" was INVENTED FOR MY CHILD. He has never met a piece of plastic or a scrap of paper that he didn't love. Anything teeny tiny and of no apparent value is like a shining diamond to this kid. And boy, the kid angled in every way to keep that stuff. Little does he know, I was on the debate team in high school.

After much ado, we determined a set of junk treasures items that we would donate to someone who doesn't have any little things (that "someone" being the trash can). Goodbyes were said along with multiple "one last look"s. This kid has a future on Hoarders if we don't watch out!

So with our newly cleared up bins and baskets, I decided to freshen up his table and chair set, too. When I purchased the set, it was natural wood, so I painted it white and then added a chalkboard paint top...
But two years of wear and tear had made its mark, so I decided to paint the entire set. Man, I love chalkboard paint! I also painted the ceiling of his room with it. He loves it-- his daddy and I leave drawings and messages for him up there. Daddy is 6' 2", so he has no problem writing on the ceiling, but at 5' 2", I have to get a chair! Of course, I didn't think about that while I was standing on a chair painting the ceiling! ; )

As much as I love crisp, white painted furniture, the black looks so much better!
And we are all having fun writing and drawing everywhere!


Life is Good: I'm in a love/hate relationship!

I love this cocoa mix from Target. I hate that it is not available intravenously.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Chocolate-dipped Pretzels Rolled in Bacon

Life is Good: Sweet loves Savory

Our five-year old isn't the only one who has been celebrating a birthday around here. In fact, we have a thirteen-day span where we celebrate our wedding anniversary, his birthday, and the hubs' birthday. Throw in Mother's Day a week or two later and you have what we affectionately refer to as "Celebrationpalooza" at our house.

I made so many sweet treats for the big kid's birthday--rocket-shaped rice krispies treats, artist palette-shaped cookies, crayon-shaped cookies, frosting, frosting and more frosting, "paint-striped" cupcakes, decorate-your-own cupcakes, a dinosaur cake and probably more that I can't remember (is there such a thing as sugar-induced memory loss?) that when it came to my husband, Grant's, birthday, the last thing he wanted in the house was something sweet. Besides me! Wink.

My mom always handmade things and cooked special treats for our family, so this kind of thing has been engrained in me. And I just couldn't have a family birthday go by without making something something SOMETHING for Grant. So I sent my noggin to work. And one word appeared in my head, like a marquee with flashing lights...
I live with a bunch of carnivores. And my husband's life's mantra reads like a bumper sticker on the back of a beat up VW van: "Everything tastes better with bacon"!

I whipped the car into the Target parking lot and bolted in, searching for inspiration. Granted, I would have been better off in a Whole Foods, but I have to be all about efficiency during Celebrationpalooza and we needed diapers, so Target it was!

I'm sure I wasn't the first person to make pretzels dipped in chocolate and rolled in bacon, but I was the first person in our house! It's super easy...

You'll need a bag of pretzel sticks (I used Rold Gold), some chocolate chips or chunks or a bar (I used the best chocolate that Target had. Emphasis on the words, "that Target had"), bacon bits or bacon chunks (we only eat turkey bacon at our house, so I "splurged" and bought REAL pre-packaged bacon bits this time), a bowl, a fork/spoon/knife for spreading the chocolate, a microwave (or a mini crockpot), and some waxed paper.

First, I heated some chocolate chunks in the microwave. It took my chocolate a little over a minute to melt. Time will vary with individual microwaves. Be sure not to get any water in your bowl or it will ruin your chocolate. The chocolate will get lumpy and hard.

I recommend dark chocolate. It's healthier and I think it creates a better flavor profile for the bacon.

Once your chocolate is melted, dip your pretzel stick in the chocolate. Using a fork or spoon is a good way to spread the chocolate evenly.

Next, I went straight to a plate of bacon bits and rolled the chocolate pretzel in them.
Then I placed them on some waxed paper and let them "set up" for a couple of hours.
I only made about a dozen of these. If I were making more, I would use a mini crockpot to melt the chocolate and keep it warm. Melting the chocolate in the microwave really only works well for small batches.

I wrapped these up in a cute container with a ribbon so that my husband could take them to work and share with his staff. But somehow, the next morning the pretzel sticks were nowhere to be found...

Sidewalk Chalk Art

Life is Good: if you don't have many flowers growing in your garden yet, make your own!

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Parenting Young Children

Life is Good: our toddler's in charge!

I’m a planner. I am the joyful list-making daughter of a make-a-list-and-mark-it-off mother. It is in my DNA. That is how I get things done. And today, while the big kid was at school, the wee one and I were going to read books and work on puzzles. That was the plan.


Well, the little one, whom has had a mind of his own and has not been shy about showing it SINCE THE WOMB, had other ideas. Every time I started to read a book this morning, he would close the book, shake his head, and put the book away. At first, I thought I had just been picking the wrong books. Remember the whole "mind of his own" comment. After numerous attempts, I conceded and pulled out the puzzles. It was part of my plan for the morning, after all.

Nope. Nuh uh. Not gonna happen. Puzzle pieces pushed away, head shaking emphatically, the little one jibber jabbered a long, run-on sentence with the enthusiasm and intensity of a drill sergeant and then climbed up into the rocking chair in his room. Not quite satisfied, he furrowed his brow, tugged on my sleeve and pulled with all his might—a forceful invitation to join him. I obliged, of course. We sat side by side and I began to rock the chair gently and slowly. I turned to him and asked what it was that he would like to do. Eyes bright and wide, he began to sing (in the sometimes clear, sometimes garbled way a 22-month old sings) the song, “Michael Row the Boat Ashore”. So I accompanied. And he smiled. And there we sat, rocking, singing, smiling together.

I don’t know which was sweeter, the sounds of a 22-month old “singing” the word, “hallelujah” or the closeness, the outpouring of love, the contentment that seemed to ooze around and all over us.

I tried to stay present and keep my thoughts specifically on the sweetness of the moment, but my mind did linger---to thoughts of gratitude…for getting to be a mama, for getting to be a mama to this extraordinarily sweet boy, for this precious, precious time in our lives. And thoughts of how fleeting this time really is. Gosh, why does life seem to be on fast forward?

But for a half hour or so this morning, life was on pause. Or rather, “replay”. Singing those simple words over and over. Blue eyes looking into blue eyes. Smile…giggle…smile again.

Books were not read. Puzzles were not solved. But time was savored. Love was shared.  My child asked for my time and my attention and I gave it over to him freely, in the way that he needed it. Which was what I needed, too. Today, I think I confirmed to my child that he can feel free to share his needs with me. And that I will be open and interested and help him navigate through it all. And my child showed me, once again, that in this journey of parenthood, sometimes I am the teacher and sometimes I am the student. And often, we are both at the same time.

I went ahead and marked “books and puzzles” off of my to-do list. And over it, I wrote, “relish the moment”.

 “The sweetest memories are right here, in the moments we create and share with one another.” –Katrina Kenison

Space Party Cupcakes

Life is Good: We have a five year old!

Recently, our big kid turned five. (*Holds hands to cheeks, shakes head.*) The time has flown by. Indeed, the hubs and I agree that these have been the best five year of our lives!

Since our oldest is silly for space, nutty for Neptune, and mad for the moon, of course, we threw a space-themed party!

I love a party! I mean I lovvvvvvve a party. And the prep is just as much fun as watching our guests enjoy it. This year was especially thrilling because the big kid and I did a lot of the party brainstorming and preparation together.

Baking with my grandmother was a wonderful thrill of mine as a child, so I have been including our big kid in (eggless, due to allergies) baking since he could dump a cup of flour into a bowl. He and I made these blueberry muffin cupcakes for the party. We talked about the different ways that I could decorate the cupcakes---like astronauts faces, maybe with a rocket shooting off of the top, or perhaps an alien? Then I made the mistake of suggesting suggested that it might be fun to let everyone decorate their own cupcake as an activity for the party. The birthday boy jumped at the chance. And as far as party activities go, it was a great idea! (I was just a little bummed that I didn't get to try my hand at decorating them myself...)

The prep was pretty simple. I purchased takeout containers to house all of the decorating supplies. I made different colors of frosting using my Grandma's recipe. Guests could also use chocolate chips (my kids have egg and nut allergies, so these were a blessing to find!), marshmallows, craisins, and fruit snacks that I cut into inch and a half-sized pieces.

The birthday boy thought the fruit snacks looked like alien antennas and asked if we could make the marshmallows look more like eyeballs. That's my kid! So I dipped a toothpick into black food coloring and dotted some marshmallows in the center. Voila!

I threw a plastic tablecloth over the dining room table so that when all of the guests had jumped into their rockets and zoomed home to planet Earth, all I had to do was pull up the sides of the tablecloth and throw it all in the trash!

Monday, May 20, 2013

Mother's Day Thoughts

Life is Good: but it isn't perfect...

Mother’s Day was a week ago, but it is still on my mind…

We had a perfectly lovely Mother’s Day. The weather cooperated with sunshine, though in an ever so windy and chilly way. I was greeted in extraordinary ways--and yet no different than any other day--with smiles and laughter and lots of hugs and kisses. I got to see some mommy friends at church and received some lovely celebratory emails and texts from close friends, near and far.  We rode bikes and devoured sushi. I was showered and indulged with gifts. Including these sweet items from our Goddaughter...
precious gems from an eager five-year old...

and lovely sentiments from two of the three men in our house...
It was a perfectly lovely day. But not perfect. As much as I loved being with the hubs and our tiny progeny, I had a healthy amount of guilt for not being with my own mama. It has been several years since I have been able to spend an actual Mother’s Day with her. And while I consider the day to be a “Hallmark holiday” and hope that my mom feels my love and admiration each and every day of the year, not just on Mother’s Day, I still feel guilty when I can’t spend the day with her. Hundreds of miles and a young family’s schedule play a big role in not being together as well as my parents’ own less-than-flexible schedule this time of year. It all adds up in my head, but I don’t think any reason or excuse could ever satisfy my heart.

That extra lump of guilt and sadness comes from knowing that it is not just me who wasn’t there. My sister wasn’t there either. My sister, who passed away when I was in grade school, missed one more holiday, missed one more moment to celebrate. So another special day goes by with one more reminder that she’s gone from this earth, that she left too soon. And another crack appears in our broken hearts.

To be sure, my mom has handled the loss with grace and strength beyond my comprehension. My parents kept our family as “normal” as they could while I was growing up and they kept their marriage in tact. I could write volumes about my mother’s example. It is awe-inspiring. It is baffling to me. Increasingly so since I became a parent myself. She is a pillar of strength. She is brave beyond definition.

But if you look at my mom’s eyes, if you look deep into those denim-blue eyes of hers, you can see it. The pain. The heartache. You can see the loss. And while the pain from this great loss is an every day occurrence, it is on special days and holidays that the hole in our family widens and deepens. She’s supposed to be here. On Mother’s Day. On Christmas Day. Every day. Parents aren’t supposed to see their children go before them. Parents aren’t supposed to only get seventeen years with their daughter.

So I wasn’t there for me and I wasn’t there for her. Tears well up as I touch the letters that become those words. Becoming a mother myself brought a whole new intensity of pain and (lack of) understanding to me. A whole new set of questions. A whole new level of guilt when I am not there…

My parents are two of my best friends and we talk almost every day. Sometimes it is just long enough for a toddler to say his newest word and the exchange of “I love yous”. Other times, it is to recount every second of every minute of whatever is weighing the heaviest on our minds or hearts. More often, calls are spent somewhere in the middle. Who needs prayers, what hysterical story the 5-year old told at dinner, and…sigh…if my mom has it her way, a discussion of the weather. Wink. We see each other more often than most families who live a plane ride away from each other, too. And so I tell myself that this is more representative of my love for my mother than spending a particular Sunday in May with her. I remind myself that “Mother’s Day” is a great excuse to celebrate mothers, but it is not the only day of the year to do this. 

I tell my mom I love her and why I love her often.  I thank her for all that she has done for me. All that she has taught me. The way that she has loved me---so very unconditionally. She is the very essence of the words. I convince myself that my relationship goes far beyond a day in May created by someone like me-- a writer with a client who needed to sell more product (cards). That my daily interaction, never missing an opportunity to say “I love you”, time spent throughout the year when there is no holiday but it is just about being together is what really matters. Again, it makes sense to my head, but my heart just won’t accept it completely. The guilt takes tiny nips out of a hand-drawn heart. A tear wells and a remnant of it falls across my cheek.

And what can I do? Another Mother’s Day has passed plus seven. I resolve to be “okay” with it all. And I am. I’m okay with the sadness because its counterpart is glee. It means my heart is beating--open and wide, feeling for others in abundance, loving my mother with purity and adoration. And that leaves me satisfied. Loving with a wide and unlocked heart allows you to feel deeply and you benefit richly. Unlocking your heart and leaving it wide open also means that you feel pain intensely, but to feel love so strongly, it’s worth it.

From time to time, typically lying in bed at night, after talking God's ear off, reviewing the day’s events, I think about what I hope my children learn from me. The things that I tell them and the things they'll just soak up, take in. Here’s one for the books--I urge you to unlock your heart, dear ones.  Let yourself love freely. Open wide and allow yourself to love generously and unconditionally. Life is about loving. Showing love in every way possible to everyone around you. On Mother’s Day and everyday. My mom taught me that, my mom teaches me that every day. And I hope my children can learn that from me, too. 

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Things to do inside with toddlers and preschoolers

Life is Good: we have painter's tape!

It's raining on a Saturday. Boo! That seems so unfair, doesn't it? Why can't it rain on a Wednesday? Don't people complain about Wednesdays being "hump day"--exactly equadistant from last weekend and this weekend? That's a perfect day to rain, then, right?

Or how about a Monday? And everyone can turn up The Carpenters' "Rainy Days and Mondays"!
Well, we're making the most of this raining, pouring Saturday! I grabbed the handy dandy painter's tape and made a little city of roads.

We've connected our beloved Playmobil zoo with a baseball field, a farm, a swimming pool, a couple of parking garages, a space shuttle platform and more! (I know, the poor children don't have any toys...)
Oh, the fun that is being had by all! I love the little stories that are being told...all because of a few--albeit long--pieces of tape!

Friday, May 17, 2013

Eggless Blueberry Muffins

Life is Good: we have sweet treats

We  had a playdate yesterday, so of course we needed a yummy snack! Our family love these eggless blueberry muffins. 
--> Our 5-year old has a severe allergy to eggs (among other food and seasonal allergies) and our littlest is showing signs of an egg allergy, too, albeit much less dangerous than his big brother’s. We discovered the big kid’s allergy when he was nine months old, so as his first birthday approached, what was a mama to do? I couldn’t imagine celebrating without a cake. So I turned to my friend, the internet, and went to work researching eggless cooking and baking. I felt so grateful for all of the mamas and others before me who had offered their thoughts, experiences, and recipes. For our big kid’s first birthday, I adapted my Grandma’s “secret” chocolate cake recipe using tofu instead of eggs. 
Since then, I’ve (gratefully) discovered a carrot cake cupcake & muffin recipe that I make often. The applesauce/baking powder combo works great as a substitution for beaten eggs.
I’m equally grateful for the vegan strawberry cupcake recipe I found on It’s a great recipe, although mine never look like the picture that accompanies the recipe on the website.  In this case, vinegar mixed with oil and vanilla replaces the eggs. Be sure to keep your batter firm. Loose batter will make it difficult for the muffins to remain solid after cooling from the oven. (They’ll taste good, but they’ll fall apart.)

I took the strawberry muffin recipe and adapted it for blueberries.  They taste just like any other blueberry muffin…you don’t need to have an egg allergy to enjoy them!
Eggless Blueberry Muffin & Cupcake Recipe
Adapted from a recipe at        
Yields: 12 Cupcakes OR Two 8 Inch Loaves

    1 and 3/4 cups All-Purpose Flour
    3/4 to 1 cup Sugar (I use less sugar. The fruit makes them sweet enough for us.)
    1 teaspoon Baking Soda
    1 1/3 cup FROZEN blueberries (I use organic.)
    1 teaspoon Vanilla Extract (I use Madagascar Vanilla, which is brown in color.)
    1/2 cup Canola Oil
    1 tablespoon White Distilled Vinegar (Any brand is fine.)
    1/3 cup Milk plus another tablespoon or two, if necessary (I use organic whole milk.)
  1. Preheat the oven to 350F/180C for 15 minutes. Grease/line a muffin tin or grease a 9 inch loaf   pan.
  2. In a large bowl combine together the flour, baking soda and sugar.
  3. In another bowl, mix the oil, vinegar and vanilla.
  4. Create a well in the center of the dry ingredients and add the wet ingredients. Stir together but do not over stir.
  5. Your batter will look a little lumpy at this point.
  6. Now, add the milk and blueberries. Stir together, but do not over stir. If your blueberries have been sitting out for a while and begin to defrost, your batter may turn purplish blue. (My kiddo likes this.) (I use frozen blueberries so that they stay firm while the batter is stirred together as well as while the muffins bake.)
  7. If your batter still seems dry, add another tablespoon or two of milk. Keep in mind that this is supposed to be a thick batter. There is no egg in it to hold things together, so you don’t want it to be too “loose” or “soupy”.
  8. Pour the batter into the prepared muffin tins. I typically get 12 muffins.
  9. Bake for about 22-30 minutes (time varies depending on your oven and also the muffin pan you use) or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. If baking a loaf bake it for 40-45 minutes and check for the doneness.
  10. Remove from the oven and place on a wire rack to cool.  



Sunday, May 12, 2013

Happy Mother's Day!

Here's a "Pleasant Thought" for Mother's Day:

“I think, at a child's birth, if a mother could ask a fairy godmother to endow it with the most useful gift, that gift should be curiosity.”
-Eleanor Roosevelt

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Life is good: follow me!

If you want to join me on our curvy, swervy path to joy of family, please click "join this site" on the side of this blog post. Or you you can "like" the How To Be Pleasant Blog page on facebook. That way, you can get my new posts on your facebook feed and share with friends, if you like. I'm also on Pinterest as "HowToBePleasant Blogspot".

Here's a "pleasant thought" for the the day:
"If you have good thoughts, they will shine out of your face like sunbeams and you will always look lovely." –Roald Dahl

Friday, May 10, 2013

Birthday Party Blog

AKA I really will do anything to throw a party!

Happy Birthday, "How to be Pleasant"! It's my very first blog post! Thanks for joining me on the path I call "Pleasant Avenue". Life really is good. So we should be celebrating!

Let's get started. Wrap the presents!

 And don't forget the birthday banner...
--> I got this great one from a shop on Etsy. And then I purchased some letters from Joann Fabrics and ironed them on.  
And every party needs food, so here are my favorite eggless cupcake and cream cheese frosting recipes!
Carrot Cake Cupcakes (or Muffins) 

1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce
2 1/2 cups flour
3/4 cup sugar
2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup canola oil
2 cups carrots, grated (I use my Cuisinart)
1 cup crushed pineapple

In a small bowl, mix baking powder and applesause into a foamy mixture, set aside.
In a large bowl, mix flour, sugar, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt.
Add oil, carrots, pineapple (some of the juice might help), and applesauce mixture.
Mix well.
Scoop mixture into cupcake liners. I typically get 16-20 cupcakes per batch.
Bake at 325 degrees for 30 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean. (I start checking these at 22 minutes.)
Once cooled, eat! Or frost with cream cheese frosting. (See below.) These are VEGAN until you add the frosting!
I have adjusted this recipe just a tad from the one I found here.
Cream Cheese Frosting
1/2 cup of butter (1 stick), room temperature
8 oz of Philly cream cheese (1 package), room temperature
2 - 3 cups of powdered sugar
1 teaspoon of vanilla extract

1. With an electric mixer, mix the butter and cream cheese together, about 3 minutes on medium speed until very smooth. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl to ensure even mixing.
2. Add the vanilla extract and mix.
3. Slowly add the powdered sugar. Keep adding until you get to desired sweetness and thickness.

Now you can either spread the frosting on your cupcakes with a knife or spatula or spoon it into a piping bag to decorate. If you don't have a piping bag and tips like this one, you can fill a baggie with frosting and then cut a tiny piece of the corner off to pipe your cupcakes. My favorite tip for frosting luscious-looking cupcakes like the ones below is to spoon the frosting into a piping bag, but leave off the tip altogether. The result is a big, fluffy, round snake of frosting that you can swirl around the top of your cupcakes!

 Mmmm. Those look good, right? Or could it just be my eyes playing tricks on me?