About Me

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I have two kids - a girl and a boy - and live in north-central Minnesota, land of snow and ice. Well, for 9 months of the year, that is. I work full-time for a local government, and on my "free time" I enjoy cooking, baking, hanging out with my kiddos, and RELAXING.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

an observation

I'm more productive when I shower.

Weird how that works out, huh?

On days that I get up and shower before 10am (non-work days, obviously) I get more done, am happier, and eat better. I don't just lounge around all day in my sweatpants, eating nachos and M&Ms.

Those were the days...

Monday, January 30, 2012

New Recipe: Cast iron cookie

Last year for our anniversary we went up the north shore and stayed at Bluefin Bay Resort. There are a couple restaurants there, and one of them serves cast iron chocolate chip cookies for dessert.

Darren loved it. Which is a miracle in and of itself, since the man claims to hate chocolate. Maybe it was the cast iron skillet that did it for him.

In any case, the other night we were talking about that cast iron skillet cookie, and I said I had seen a recipe for it on Pinterest. So we made it.

Pretty darn tasty.

I did get in trouble for making it "too big," so we couldn't top it with ice cream and eat it right out of the pan, like we did at the resort. I tried to insist the pans weren't that big there, but didn't get anywhere with that. Darren just kept saying the pans were that big, but the cookie was thinner.

I still think I'm right.

But anyway, here's a link to the recipe:


And, like all recipes, we didn't follow it exactly. We only used one kind of chocolate chips (semi-sweet), and they were mini. We also used a smaller pan and saved half the dough in the freezer, since it would have been a monster of a cookie.

Get it? Monster cookie.


Sunday, January 29, 2012

apps I love

I get quite a few magazines a month.

Like, five.

And they always have helpful tips and tricks for everything from painting your kitchen to helping your child with his homework.

They also usually mention several of their favorite apps. I, of course, always have to check them out. Seems like I've turned into the app machine. Here are my current favorites:

Calorie Counter
What it does: Tracks what you eat, when you exercise, and how much you weigh.
Best feature: Scan the bar code of a product for all nutritional information.

Drive Smart
What it does: Turn it on when you get in the car, and it automatically routes incoming calls to voicemail (if you so choose) and sends auto-reply texts to anyone who texts you.
Best feature: You can customize the auto-reply texts.

S.O.S (by the Red Cross)
What it does: Start the app for a quick-dial button for 911. Also assists in emergency care.
Best feature: Step-by-step walkthroughs (including videos) for giving aid. First question asked: "Is the person breathing?" Select either "yes" or "no" and you will be prompted from there, either with further questions or life-saving instructions. (The CPR one actually walks through CPR with you, counting out chest compressions at the correct time intervals: "Push, push, push, push.")

What it does: Scans product bar codes and compares prices, both in stores and online.
Best feature: Links to buy online. Also lists nearby stores carrying the product.

What it does: A mobile home for all those rewards cards hanging out in your purse.
Best feature: Enter your rewards cards into the app. The bar code will be generated and can be scanned straight from your smartphone. No more digging through your purse for your Best Buy Rewards Zone card!

Saturday, January 28, 2012

New Recipe: Chicken-rice burritos

The other night I tried a new recipe: chicken-rice burritos. They were easy and pretty tasty.

Start with your rice. I did a half-cup uncooked brown rice. I'm not exactly sure what that equated to in terms of cooked rice.

Cut up some chicken. The recipe calls for rotisserie chicken. We pretty much never have that around here, so I just used chicken breast.

I rubbed in some seasoning and cooked it on the stove top.

Nice and brown, just the way I like it.

You need one cup of salsa. I used our homemade salsa.

And about a half cup of shredded cheddar cheese.

I tend to take liberties with recipes. Pretty much the only thing I measured was the salsa, and the only thing I actually used exactly as the recipe called for was the garlic powder. So I'm sorry if my descriptions of how to make this are less...detailed than an actual recipe. We're just flying by the seat of our pants here, people.

You'll need some garlic powder.

And now the assembly: bring your salsa to boil in a saucepan. Since our homemade salsa is pretty runny, I didn't add much water. If you use store-bought salsa, you might want to add a little bit more.

What the recipe actually says to do here is boil your salsa and 1/2 cup water, then add 1/2 cup uncooked instant white rice. Cover, remove from heat, and let stand five minutes. You can take that approach; it would definitely be quicker than pre-cooking brown rice.

Okay, either way you go about it, add your rice, chicken, and cheese. Throw some garlic powder in, about 1/4 tsp per the recipe. That seemed like such a wimpy amount to me. I probably put in 1 tsp. Go big or go home.

You'll need four tortillas. Eight- or ten-inch will work. I, of course, didn't have exactly what the recipe called for.

Note that my mixture is pretty runny. Next time, I wouldn't add any water to our homemade salsa.

Put about 1/2 cup of the chicken-rice mixture into each tortilla and roll it up burrito-style, leaving one end open. I didn't get why that was necessary, but they fit best in my pan that way so I went with it.

Oh, and DO NOT grease your pan. You want those tortillas to get nice and crunchy, not soggy.

This recipe makes four tortillas, and they fit perfectly in a 9x9 pan.

Cover with foil and bake 20-30 minutes at 375 degrees, until heated through.


Friday, January 27, 2012

tone deaf

I can't sing. Never could, never will. Unfortunately, I love to sing. It just sounds horrendous.

I've always been tone deaf. You'd think playing the piano for years would teach me to recognize when it wasn't on key, but I never could. I mean, if it got bad enough I could, but a slight off-pitch sound? No way, Jose.

Way back in the day in high school when I played piano for my church we used to have little "band performances." There were a couple girls who played the flute, and someone played the trumpet, and another on the trombone. A woman in the church would always organize us all together to play a song for the congregation. I played the piano's part. Before we would play, everyone would tune to the piano.

I tell you, I couldn't recognize an off-key instrument to save my life. Fortunately there are other people who can, and they were in charge of that. Fortunately those days are long gone.

I always feel self-conscious in church. I get into the music a little bit, and can get pretty loud. Hopefully everyone around me is singing equally loud, so they can't hear me.

I belt it out in my car though, especially when I'm alone. I love to sing while I drive. Especially since I'm the only one who has to hear it.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

the end of retail as we know it?

On February 1st the department store J.C. Penney will undergo a major change:

No more sales.

Well, I find it hard to believe there will never be sales again, but Penney's has said it is greatly reducing the number of sales and moving towards a new pricing strategy, cutting prices up to 40% with the intent to keep them that way year-round.

Could be good, could be bad. Sometimes you can get items for greater than 40% off their (marked-up) original price, while other times, you can't.

I'm interested to see how this will play out. I shop at Penney's fairly frequently, especially for business clothing, as they carry one of my favorite business brands. If this plan works, it could change retail as we know it.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012


Lately I've been hearing a lot about mint.com. It's been around forever, I'm sure, but I've been reading about it in some of the magazines I get. Probably because the beginning of the year is when people try to buckle down and clean up their finances, set a budget, resolve to save money, etc.

In any case, I decided to check it out. Mint.com is a free site that offers help tracking bank account balances, categorizes expenses, calculating income, and creating a budget. You can also set goals such as pay off debt, create an emergency savings, save for college, etc.

When I first went on, the website asked if I wanted to add any bank accounts or credit cards. There was a spot to search for my bank (which is a small privately owned bank). Once I found it, all I had to do was enter my bank account's username and password, and mint.com automatically updated all my banking information onto their website, including a preliminary categorization of some of my expenses. Because I'm such an organizational freak, we have about 7 different bank accounts. Mint.com gathered information from the all, providing a summary of our total cash, and also our total balance outstanding on our credit cards (which they listed as credit card debt, but don't let that scare you; it actually just refers to all outstanding balances on your credit cards, whether current or late). There's a spot to add your vehicles, investments, and real estate, and mint.com will calculate your total net worth.

You can set up a pretty detailed budget for both your income and expenses. I didn't look too much at how the website automatically classified expenses, but I think that would be pretty handy. Just by entering our bank account information, mint.com generated some basic budget categories for me, and told me I had $7 left to spend on my gas budget for the month.

Obviously it would need some adjustment from its standardized settings.

Overall, I think I would like this site if I weren't already using something else. It's easy to set up and start using, and probably takes less time to use than my current excel system. However, I like to be more hands-on with categorizing expenses, and I like a lot of detail (my excel sheet is 125 rows of income/expense classifications). I also track our current balances on our credit cards each month, so I can reconcile them to the statements when they come. I have tabs for our current cash status by account, and for the money we are saving for our house, including a formula telling me how much we need to save each month to reach our goal by a certain deadline. I'm one step away from pie-charting our annual expenses.

Yes, I'm an excel freak.

If you don't budget, or don't track your expenses (there's a difference...we don't budget per se, but I do track every dollar we spend), and you want to start, I would recommend mint.com. Or if you're crazy like me, excel.

Happy savings!

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Happy Anniversary to us!

Wow, three years. That's kind of a long time.

I've been so blessed to marry such a wonderful man. We've gone through a lot in our marriage, and I'm sure there will be a lot more to come.

This past year has been especially exciting, with getting pregnant and having a baby. Life sure changed, but it was definitely for the better. Happy anniversary to us! May the next three years be as amazing as the last.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Natalie: Five Months

Natalie is five months old today. I really wish I had done little summaries for her each month, but, well, I didn't. Live and learn. In any case, there's no time like the present.

Vital Stats
Natalie is 16.1 lbs and 25.5 inches long. She's outgrown almost all her three-month clothes.

Milestones This Month
Rolling! Natalie started rolling back-to-front on January 10th. Unfortunately she can't remember/figure out how to roll back. And she doesn't want to be on her tummy for too long.

She also got her first tooth. It's still just barely poking through, but it's there alright.

Natalie reaches for some things (her favorite toys) and also her bottle. Occasionally she will hold her bottle for a little bit while eating, before dropping it. She also tried to drink out of Mommy's straw the other day, so maybe in the next month we will try a sippy cup just for fun.

Sleep Training
We did some sleep training a couple nights ago to get rid of the nuk in the middle of the night. The first night she woke up five times but was back to sleep within 5 minutes (often less). The second and third nights she woke once each and was asleep within 5 minutes. And after that she didn't wake up any more. We still use the nuk for naptimes, though.

We started solids at about 4 months, 2 weeks. Her first taste of rice cereal she ate two whole tablespoons - just gobbled it down. After that she hated it. And oatmeal, too. Once we started bananas she LOVED those. So far we've done bananas, apples, peaches, and pears. She will eat oatmeal mixed in with her fruits.

Play Time
Natalie does really well playing on her own for up to 20 minutes at a time (depending on the time of day). She loves her jumperoo, bouncer, and activity mat. She's much better at sitting in her Bumbo, and will also sit in her highchair and play with toys while Mommy and Daddy work in the kitchen.

She has a favorite toy: her ABC-singing duckie, which she got from Uncle Trent for Christmas. She likes to play patty-cake and ride the "horsey." ("This is the way the lady rides...")

Sunday, January 22, 2012

my amazon wishlist

You know how when you order something on Amazon for $17, and it tells you that if you spend another $8 you'll qualify for FREE SuperSaver Shipping? And then you spend 15 minutes searching for something that's $8 exactly so you can get free shipping?

Maybe not. But this happens to me every. single. time. I use Amazon. So I started saving random items in a wish list for such occasions.

The Pioneer Woman Cooks: Food From My Frontier. The PW Cookbook, take two.

Superbaby: 12 Ways To Give Your Child a Head Start in the First 3 Years. Apparently it's the best book since sliced bread. I want to see what all the fuss is about.

Doorstop alarms. Ear-piercing noise when someone tries to open your door in the dead of night. Impossible to sleep through.

The Cuisinart Easy Pop Plus Popcorn Maker. Air-popped popcorn is better for you, and cheaper (once you get past the initial outlay). Also, I found a lot of make-it-yourself popcorn recipes that look fun and yummy.

The Happiest Baby on the Block. Natalie already sleeps through the night, but I've heard a lot about this book. And it may come in handy for the next one.

The Misto. Make-your-own Pam. Which I love, but heaven knows what's in that stuff. With the Misto you add your oil (olive, veggies, whatever your preference), pump it up, and voila! Homemade cooking spray.

Friday, January 20, 2012

New Recipe: Chicken Fried Rice

As part of my New Year's Resolution, I cooked a new recipe for dinner last night: Chicken fried rice. I would rate it a 4 out of 5. It was pretty good. If you like Chinese food, that is. I modified the recipe a bit from a magazine recipe, including adding the chicken. I mean, who wants just rice and veggies?

Start with chicken. I had to thaw mine.

You'll need rice. I used brown rice for this recipe, but you could use white rice, too. The recipe calls for 5 cups of cooked rice. I thought that sounded like A LOT, so I put in two cups. Plus we're trying to watch how many carbs we eat right now.

The rice needs to be cooked before you can start, so you'll want to do that.

I used my fancy-pants rice cooker, which I got from my in-laws for my birthday a while back. Thanks, guys! :)

I only did one cup raw rice, but I got a TON of it once it was cooked. Way more than I needed. Lesson learned.

Once my chicken had thawed, I cubed it up into bite-sized pieces. The recipe calls for sesame oil, which I didn't have. I did, however, have sesame seeds. I started by toasting them in a pan...

...then I added some olive oil and my chicken.

While that was cooking I mixed 3 tbs soy sauce and 1 tsp sugar in a bowl. Next time I make this I would add more soy sauce, because I thought the recipe could use a bit more flavor. I also added garlic powder and ginger powder here. But, if you are prepared ahead of time (unlike me) and have actual garlic and ginger, don't add it yet. Next time I would use real garlic and ginger, instead of powder, because I think it would improve the flavors. I have no idea how much powder I added. The recipe calls for 3 cloves garlic and 2 tsp fresh ginger. So use your own judgement.

I like my chicken to actually get browned when I pan-fry it, so I keep it over the heat for a while. This will cause it to dry out some, but I figured it would be okay with the rice and everything else. White chicken just grosses me out a bit, but if you're okay with it, go for it to keep some of that moisture.

In a clean pan or wok, heat some olive oil until hot and add 3 slightly-beaten eggs (next time I'll try five; I liked the eggs in it). Also, I probably won't put in oil since my pan is teflon. I didn't even think it through the first time around; just did what the recipe said.

Here's my eggs. :)

Don't overcook them at this point, because they're going to go back over the heat at the end, and you don't want them to be nasty. :)

Remove the eggs from your pan and add more oil. (This is where you would saute the garlic and ginger for a while, if you had it fresh.)

Once hot, add your rice. Stir-fry until it starts to crisp, 3-4 minutes.

I added my chicken at this point, too, because I wanted to make sure it was warm enough.

Once the rice has cooked, add your soy sauce mixture. Mix it all up and add some onions. The recipe calls for scallions. I had red onions, which I think are about as far away as you can get from scallions, but hey, it worked.

Add a bag of frozen stir-fry blend veggies.

Stir-fry for about 10 minutes, or until the veggies are cooked.

Add your eggs at the end and mix them it. Drizzle with sesame oil (if you have it) and serve. YUM.

Bullseye Bodega

Maybe you've noticed that recently at Target there's been a special section called "Bullseye Bodega." At my Target it's at the front of the store right when you walk in. It's kind of a clearance section of a hodgepodge selection of goods.

Target now offers special Bodega coupons on your smartphone. Text "bodega" to Target (827438) to receive mobile coupons on your smartphone. This week's include $5 off Huggies diapers, $2 off Viva paper towels, $2 off Arm and Hammer laundry detergent, and others. All you have to do is buy whichever items you want, show the scanner code on your smartphone to the cashier, and the appropriate coupons will automatically deduct from your total.

How awesome is that?

Thursday, January 19, 2012


I try to make New Year's Resolutions every year. They give me good goals for the year. Whether or not I succeed is another story, but in any case, here are my resolutions for 2012:

1. Lose the baby weight. (Seven pounds to go!)

2. Lose another two pounds to make it to my goal weight. (Uh...so make that nine pounds to go.)

3. Cook two new recipes a month. (Expand my oh-so-tiny list of go-to dinners.)

4. Shower and brush my teeth every morning. (Before I had a baby, I totally would have laughed at anyone who made this a resolution. But now, I get it, man.)

5. Blog more often. (Already a massive fail, but hopefully will improve.)

Wish me luck!

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Target steals and deals

Some of my recent savings:

A&D diaper rash ointment, $4.09
-$2 Target coupon
-$1 manufacturer coupon
Final price: $1.09

Huggies wipes, 184 ct, $6.39
-$2 manufacturer coupon
-$1.50 Target coupon
Final price: $2.89

Playtex spill-proof cup, $4.99
-$2 Target coupon
-$2 manufacturer coupon
Final price: $0.99

Glade candles and room spray, $2.50 each
-(2) $1.50/2 manufacturer's coupons
-$0.55/1 coupon
-Use "get $5 Target gift card when you buy five products" from 12/11 SS insert
Plus "get a $5 Target gift card when you buy five" Target promotion
Final price: Better than free (This seems to be an annual deal, as I've gotton holiday Glade candles for free for a couple years now.)

Leslie Sansone's 5 Really Big Miles workout dvd, sale $9
-$3 manufacturer's coupon
Final price: $6

Biggest Loser workout dvd, sale $9
-$3 manufacturer's coupon
Final price: $6

Some people don't like at-home workouts, but I lost over 30 pounds using them, so I like to add some variety to my collection when I can.

Market Pantry chunk cheese, 8oz, $2.54
-$1 Target coupon
Final price: $1.54

Ziploc storage bags, sale price $2.50, buy 2
-$1.50/2 manufacturer's coupon
Final price: $1.75 each

Market Pantry chicken breasts, 2.5 lb, sale price $5.00
-$1.50/2 Target coupon
Final price: $4.25 each