Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Chocolate Chip Cheese Ball

This is another recipe that I consider one of my favorites.  I've been making it for almost 8 years and it is always a hit.  Of course it's something that's perfect for kids, but adults love it too!  I recently took it to a ladies' function at church and at the end of the evening, I was being asked for the recipe.

Chocolate Chip Cheese Ball

Makes 1 cheese ball (about 2 cups or 16 servings)

1 (8 oz) package cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup butter, softened
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4 cup confectioners sugar
2 tablespoons brown sugar
3/4 cup miniature semisweet chocolate chips
graham crackers

In a mixing bowl, beat the cream cheese, butter and vanilla until fluffy.  Gradually add sugars; beat just until combined.  Stir in chocolate chips.  Cover and refrigerate for 2 hours.

I usually just serve the "dip" in a small bowl.  If you would like a true cheese ball, you can place the cream cheese mixture on a large piece of plastic wrap and shape it into a ball.  Refrigerate the ball for at least 1 hour.

Serve with graham crackers.

Friday, April 26, 2013

The Book Thief

I just finished reading The Book Thief by Markus Zusak.  It seems like it took me forever, but to be fair, the only time I get to read is a few minutes before bed each night.    

Here is the synopsis of the book from the Random House website.

It’s just a small story really, about among other things: a girl, some words, an accordionist, some fanatical Germans, a Jewish fist-fighter, and quite a lot of thievery. . . .
Set during World War II in Germany, Markus Zusak’s groundbreaking new novel is the story of Liesel Meminger, a foster girl living outside of Munich. Liesel scratches out a meager existence for herself by stealing when she encounters something she can’t resist–books. With the help of her accordion-playing foster father, she learns to read and shares her stolen books with her neighbors during bombing raids as well as with the Jewish man hidden in her basement before he is marched to Dachau.
This is an unforgettable story about the ability of books to feed the soul.

I enjoyed The Book Thief, but it didn't blow me away like it obviously did for other people.  Maybe my expectations were too high since I had heard how great it was?  I did appreciate the personal connection I felt to the locations in the book though.  When we lived in Germany we were able to visit the sites of old concentration camps and learned a lot about Nazi Germany.  Since this was written for juveniles, hopefully the story can teach them about the Holocaust and reach them in a way that their history book cannot.  I would definitely recommend this book for a younger reader, probably high school age.  

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Cheesy BBQ Sloppy Joes

I originally posted this recipe on my old blog in May 2010.  It has been one of our favorites since we first tried it back then.  It's a homemade sloppy joe that's a little fresher and has much more flavor than what you get from a can.

Cheesy BBQ Sloppy Joes

Prep Time: 28 minutes
Yield: Makes 4 servings

1 1/2 pounds lean ground beef
1 (14.5-oz.) can diced tomatoes
1 cup ketchup
1/2 cup bottled barbecue sauce
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
2 tablespoons chopped pickled jalapeño peppers (optional)
1 tablespoon liquid from pickled jalapeño peppers (optional)
1 (11.25-oz.) package frozen garlic Texas toast
1/2 cup (2 oz.) shredded sharp Cheddar cheese

1. Brown ground beef in a large skillet over medium-high heat, stirring often, 8 to 10 minutes or until beef crumbles and is no longer pink; drain well. Return to skillet. Stir in tomatoes, next 3 ingredients, and, if desired, jalapeño peppers and liquid. Cover and cook 10 minutes.

2. Meanwhile, prepare Texas toast according to package directions. Serve beef mixture over Texas toast; sprinkle with cheese.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Stitch Fix #2

Last weekend I received my second Stitch Fix!  I definitely do not like taking pictures of myself, but I think it helps to see what the clothes look like on, so I'm going to take one (or 4) for the team!  These items weren't as much 'me' as my first box was, but I still enjoyed trying on clothes that I might not typically choose for myself.  Here is what was in my 2nd fix:

Joe Belted Striped Jersey Dress by Tulle    
I kept this dress because I think it would be perfect for a summer date night.

This sweater is by Mystree but that's all I know.  Another top was listed on my invoice so I believe this was accidentally sent to me.
 This sweater didn't do anything for me so I sent it back.

Ivy Solid Tab Sleeve V-Neck Blouse by 41Hawthorn
I loved the color of this but it was the exact same style as the shirt I kept last month.

Alaina Striped Button-Up Tank by Very J
Do I even need to bother to say that this shirt was not for me? 
I did love the fabrics though!

Pyramid Rhinestone Charm Necklace by 41Hawthorn
This necklace was cute but I didn't need another delicate gold one.

Of course I'm already looking forward to my third Stitch Fix next month!  If you want to know more about how this fabulous personal styling service works, check out my first post about it here.  If you want a stylist to select some great items just for you, I would really appreciate it if you used my referral code to sign up.  

Have you tried Stitch Fix yet?  What's your favorite item(s) that you've received?

Friday, April 19, 2013

Shrimp with Avocado-Mango Salsa

Even though it's barely spring here in Kansas, I already know that this dish is going to be one of our go  to meals for the summer.  I just love the way all the flavors come together and it is a light, yet filling, dinner.  Next time you want a taste of summer, try this!

  • Vegetable oil cooking spray
  • 8 cups baby spinach
  • 1 cup couscous
  • 1 lb medium shrimp, shelled and deveined
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro, divided
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt, divided
  • 1 large mango, peeled and diced
  • 1 medium avocado, diced
  • 1 medium tomato, diced
  • 1/4 cup chopped red onion
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lime juice

  • Heat grill. Fold four 18-inch-long pieces of foil in half; unfold and coat inside with cooking spray. Place 2 cups spinach in center of 1 half of each piece of foil. Combine couscous with 1/4 cup water; divide evenly among packets, placing on top of spinach. Combine shrimp, 1/4 cup cilantro, oil and 1/2 tsp salt in a bowl. Divide shrimp evenly among packets, placing next to couscous. Fold foil to close and crimp edges to seal; place on grill; close lid; cook until packets are fully puffed, 10 minutes. Combine remaining 1/4 cup cilantro with remaining 1/4 tsp salt, mango, avocado, tomato, onion, and lime juice in a bowl. Carefully cut foil to open; stir contents; garnish with salsa before serving.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

The Liebster Award

My friend, Brittany from His Mrs. Hooah, has "nominated" me the Liebster Award.  After doing a little research, this "award" is actually just a fun way for bloggers with less than 200 followers to spotlight one another.  Here are the rules for the Liebster:

1) Each blogger should answer the questions the tagger has set for you.
2) Choose up to eleven new bloggers to pass the award on to and link them in your post.
3) Create eleven new questions for the chosen bloggers.
4) Go back to their page and tell them about the award.
5) Each blogger should post eleven random facts about themselves.
6) No Tag Backs!

Here are the 11 questions that were chosen for me:
1. Do you consider yourself a positive person or a negative person?
I'm definitely a glass half full kind of girl.  Even better if that's a glass of wine!

2. What is your favorite food dish?
This is always such a hard question for me because I LOVE food!  Here are just a few of my favorites -  sushi, a juicy cheeseburger, onion rings, Mongolian Beef and Sesame Chicken from Peking (on Atlanta Hwy) in Athens, Georgia, chocolate chip cookies.

3. Do you enjoy spending time outdoors?
I would much rather be outside than inside.  If it's a nice day, the girls and I are always playing in the yard or playground.  This spring we are trying to spend more time as a family outdoors biking and hiking.

4. Do you have anything you “geek out” over?
I guess maybe you could say yarn and cloth diapers?  My crunchy side gets excited over those!

5. Do you collect anything?
Growing up I collected Holiday Barbies and as a young adult collected shot glasses.  My doll collection is at my parents house and I sold all my shot glasses in a yard sale last year.  The only other thing I would say I collect is pictures since I love to take them and create albums.  It's hard to be a collector of anything though when you're moving around as often as we do.

6. If you could drop everything and go on vacation right now, where would you go?
My big bucket list destination is Australia.  My little sister is going there for study abroad next month and I'm a little jealous about that.  We always try to visit new places so really I would be up for anywhere we haven't been before.

7. Do you prefer warm weather or cold weather?
I am truly a Georgia girl when it comes to cold weather.  I'm weak and can't stand it.  I would rather be hot & sweaty anytime.

8. What is your favorite outfit and why?
Jeans, a t-shirt and my flip flops.  I've always been a bit of a tomboy and I love being comfy and casual.  

9. What is your earliest memory?
The first early ones that come to mind are memories of people passing away.  Sad but true.

10. Who is your favorite person?
I'm a pretty big fan of Jesus.  After that I would say Bryan.  It's impossible to choose your children over your spouse or vice versa.  However, we always tell the girls that we wouldn't have them if it wasn't for  our spouse, so our spouse comes first.

11. What is your favorite trait about your spouse or SO?
One of my favorite traits is that he is a great dad.  I never have to push him to be involved with the girls.    He wants to be there for them.

Now for my 11 random facts:
1.  I dream of owning a bakery one day.  Baking is one of my favorite things to do and I would love the chance to share my love of sweet treats with other people.

2.  I wear custom orthotics because my feet are so severely flat.

3.  I love playing sports and coaching girls basketball.

4.  I have run a marathon.  That has been checked off my bucket list.  I won't do another one.

5.  I have the worst sweet tooth.

6.  I am one of the few people from Georgia that does not like sweet tea.

7.  I graduated in a class of 20.

8.  The longest book I've ever read was Anna Karenina by Tolstoy.

9.  If I could meet one person, it would be Michael Jordan.

10.  I am not crafty or artistic, but I wish I was.

11.  I'm good at grammar and spelling, but I can not do math in my head!

I would like to choose the following blogs for the The Liebster Award:

Tara at The Rowell Family

Mandy at Four Avery Lane

Jenna at Unearthed Roots

Here are your 11 questions to answer:
1.  What is your favorite candy?
2.  Not counting family, what do you feel your greatest accomplishment is so far in life?
3.  What was your favorite memory of 2012?
4.  What's the worst Christmas present you've ever received?
5.  If your house was on fire and your family & pets were safe, what 3 items would you save?
6.  What's your favorite TV show at the moment?
7.  If you could have a dinner party with anyone (alive, dead or fictional) who all would you invite?
8.  What thing would you most like to do to change the world?
9.  What is your favorite website?
10.  If you won $1000 and had to spend it in 1 day, how would you spend it?
11.  What is your favorite quote or Bible verse?

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Cinnamon Carrot Cake

We try to keep a lot of produce in our house but sometimes we accumulate a little more than we would like.  We had an abundance of huge carrots from a local farm a while back and I decided I wanted to make a carrot cake with them.  I had already seen this recipe online, so I decided to give it a try.  We were not disappointed!
The cake is nice a moist but the buttermilk glaze is what sets it apart from other carrot cakes.  Of course you can never go wrong with cream cheese icing either.

Cinnamon Carrot Cake
2 c all purpose flour
1t baking soda
2t ground cinnamon
1/2 t salt
3 large eggs
3/4 c buttermilk
3/4 c vegetable oil
1t vanilla extract
1 1/4 c plus 2 T sugar
2 c peeled & grated carrots
1 1/2 c sweetened coconut flakes
8oz can crushed pineapple (do not drain)

Buttermilk Glaze:
1 c sugar
1/2 c buttermilk
1/2 c unsalted butter
1 T light corn syrup
1 1/2 t baking soda
1 t vanilla extract

Cinnamon Cream Cheese Icing:
12 oz cream cheese, softened
1/2 c unsalted butter, softened
2 T brown sugar
1 t ground cinnamon
1 1/2 t vanilla extract
4 c powdered sugar


Heat oven to 350°F.  Spray 13x9-inch pan with non-stick cooking spray.  Set aside.

For cake, whisk together flour, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt in a medium bowl.  Set aside.

Place eggs, buttermilk, vegetable oil, vanilla extract, and sugar in a large bowl and mix until smooth.  Slowly add in dry ingredients and mix until just combined.  Gently fold in carrots, coconut, pineapple, and pecans.  Pour batter evenly into prepared pan and bake 35 to 40 minutes or until cake springs back when pressed.

While the cake is baking, to prepare the glaze, add sugar, buttermilk,butter, corn syrup, and baking soda to medium-sized saucepan over medium heat.  Vigorously stir mixture (adding the baking soda will make the mixture foam, stirring will subside the rising foam!) for about 8 minutes.  The glaze will begin to turn an amber color.  When the mixture is a light amber color, remove from heat and stir in vanilla extract.  Set aside until ready to use.

When the cake comes out of the oven, immediately poke holes in cake.  Pour the buttermilk glaze over the top of the hot cake and spread evenly.  Let cake cool completely.

While the cake cools, for frosting, add cream cheese and butter in large bowl and beat until fluffy.  Add brown sugar, cinnamon and vanilla extract and mix until combined.  Slowly add powdered sugar and mix until smooth.  

Once the cake is cooled, evenly spread frosting over cake.  

Makes 24 servings

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Health & Fitness Tips

In my previous life (aka before life as a stay at home mom), I was certified as a Personal Fitness Trainer and Group Fitness Instructor.  Although I still work out a few days a week and am in decent shape, I wasn't sure I wanted to write this post.  Thinking about where I am now and where I was then gave me a little bit of anxiety.  In the end though, I hoped I could come up with some encouraging words for others.

My body isn't near as tight and firm as it was when I was young adult, but I've learned how powerful it truly is regardless.  Since 2009 (when I was 28 years old), I have run 1 marathon, 5 half marathons and 1 sprint triathlon.  Even more amazing is that twice I have grown another life inside my body and given birth to another human being!

Crossing the finish line of my 2nd half with my little cheerleader!

The value of exercise is not how pretty your body looks on the outside, but how healthy you are on the inside.  
I wrote this for fitness instructor blog a few years ago and thought it would be perfect to share now:

Many people still have the mindset that you only need to exercise if you're overweight. That couldn't be more wrong! Exercise has many benefits other than just weight loss. Regardless of your age or size, everyone needs to get fit!

Here are a few of the benefits of strength training:
1. Strength training prevents muscle loss. Adults who do not strength train lose between five to seven pounds of muscle every decade.
2. Strength training will increase your metabolism. The average adult experiences a two to five percent reduction in metabolic rate every decade of their life, so strength training can help make up for that loss.
3. Strength training will increase your muscle mass. Research shows that doing 25 minutes of strength exercise, three days a week can increase muscle mass by about three pounds over an eight-week training period.
4. Strength training will reduce your body fat. Increasing your muscle mass will increase your calorie burn, thereby reducing the likelihood of fat accumulation.
5. Strength training will increase your bone mineral density.In this way, strength training helps protect against fractures, "shrinking" and osteoporosis.
6. Strength training will improve your glucose metabolism.This improvement is one of the many ways a healthy exercise routine can fight diabetes.
7. Strength training will speed up your digestion. This is significant because delayed digestion puts you at a higher risk for colon cancer.
8. Strength training reduces your resting blood pressure.Combining strength and aerobic exercise is an even more effective means of improving blood pressure readings.
9. Strength training will relieve lower back pain. Because over 80 percent of Americans experience back problems, it is advisable for all adults to strengthen these muscles properly.
10. Strength training will reduce arthritis pain.

In addition to the benefits of strength training, here are some of the benefits of cardiovascular exercise:
Weight loss
Stronger heart and lungs
Increased bone density
Reduced stress
Reduced risk of heart disease and some types of cancer
Temporary relief from depression and anxiety
More confidence about how you feel and how you look
Better sleep
More energy

It doesn't matter how hard you workout if you're not eating healthy.
(Another write up I previously did.)
I was recently asked by someone what they should eat after working out. Fitness instructors are highly encouraged not to give dietary advice since we are certified in fitness and not nutrition. I will however offer some general advice on eating before and after exercise. Please remember, however, that it is best for you to get specific advice from a dietician.

The glycemic index (GI) is good to use as a guideline for eating prior to and after working out. The GI is a ranking that measures how much a certain carbohydrate elevates blood sugar above normal. Foods low on the GI are known as slow digesting carbohydrates. They provide a prolonged, sustained entry of glucose into the bloodstream. This means that they supply long lasting fuel to power you through your workout. These foods make good pre-exercise snacks. Some examples of foods low on the GI are:
-apples, oranges, or another medium piece of fruit
-raw carrots
-cup of cooked oatmeal
-small sweet potato
-2 slices of whole wheat bread

Foods high on the GI are released more quickly into the blood and also referred to as fast digesting carbohydrates. They are better for recovery and refueling after exercise. It is recommended that you eat at least 50 grams (200 calories) of a high or moderate glycemic carb as soon as possible after exercise. Two hours later you should eat another 50 grams of a high glycemic carbohydrate. Some example of these foods are:
-plain baked potato
-20 ounce Gatorade
-slice of plain angel food cake
-cup of sorbet
-2-3 slices of white bread

Foods high in electrolytes (minerals like potassium, calcium, and sodium) are important for recovery after prolonged exercise that lasts 2 or more hours. Good choices for these kinds of foods are:
-low fat yogurt
-orange juice

I hope this will help you next time you exercise and are trying to figure out what to eat!

My first day back in the gym after giving birth to Em!

Doing ANYTHING is better than nothing when it comes to exercise.
This is something that I constantly have to remind myself. It applies to both what exercise you're doing and the amount of time you're able to exercise. For example, last week I went to the gym planning to run a couple of miles and then do some weights. When we arrived I found out childcare was closing early. Frustrated, I headed back home and decided I would put Emma in the sidecar and we would go for a bike ride. Once I got out my bike I realized the tire was flat (and we didn't have a pump). By this point I was even more frustrated and it was getting close to Emma's lunch time. I decided to put Emma in her stroller and settled for a short walk around the neighborhood. Even though it was not what I originally had in mind, I was able to get out & move a little bit - which was better than nothing!

Finally, if you're short on time or can't get to the gym, you can get a great workout with three basic exercises. Push ups (even on your knees or against a wall is ok), crunches, and lunges or squats will give you a full body workout. Do 10-12 repetitions of each exercise and continue to rotate through them for 2 to 3 sets.

Do you have any health or fitness tips you would like to share? If you have any questions about this post or want to know more about my workouts, just comment below. Thanks for visiting my blog!

Monday, April 8, 2013

Tatum Sandwiches

Somehow I went almost 30 years of my life missing out on these delicious little sandwiches.  When we were stationed at Fort Campbell, I had them at a MOPS meeting and fell in love!  One of our amazing mentor moms had made them and I immediately went to find her to learn what was in them!  I never got the exact recipe from her, but I did ask my mom if she had ever eaten anything like this.  I was in luck because she did have a recipe and emailed it to me.  I've tried a few different versions, but I think this is my favorite.  
We had a little bit of ham left over from Easter so I knew right away what I was going to do with it!  These little hot ham and cheese sandwiches are a perfect finger food, or they can be paired with a side for a dinner the whole family will love!

Tatum Sandwiches

1 pack Hawaiian rolls
1 package swiss cheese slices
1/2 lb. ham - shaved
1/2 small onion - chopped
1/2 Tbsp. worcestershire sauce
1 Tbsp. mustard
1 sticks butter, melted
1 Tbsp. poppy seeds

Melt margarine - add onion, worcestershire sauce, mustard and poppy seed.  Mix together. Slice rolls in half. Put bottom half back on a large piece of aluminum foil. Spoon mixture on rolls. Add ham. Put cheese on top. Put top rolls back on. Wrap in foil. Bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes.

** This is the way I have modified the recipe.  The original calls for 3 packs of Tatum rolls and double the remaining ingredients.  

Thursday, April 4, 2013

We Love Books!

If there's something I think my girls can never have too much of it's books!  We started reading to both girls long before they ever had a clue what we were saying.   They have always been happy sitting in our laps with a book and Marlie's first word was actually "book".  Although she is the youngest in her kindergarten class, her teacher told me she is easily reading at a 2nd grade level and one of the top 3 in the class.  I believe our huge supply of books at home is part of the reason for her success!

My girls have been blessed to receive books from the Ferst Foundation and Dolly Parton's Imagination Library.  Through the combined efforts of these organizations, children from birth through 5 years old receive one free book each month.  If this program is available in your area, sign your kids up!

I am also a huge fan of the PaperBack Swap website.  It is an online book swap where you can post books that you no longer want.  When someone requests one of your books and you mail it to them, you earn a book credit.  With your credit, you can then find a book in their database that you would like and request it.  One of my favorite features of the site is their Wish List.  When I learn of a book I would like to read, I add it to my Wish List.  Once another member lists that book as one they have available to share, PBS notifies me that it is available and I can immediately request it.  I am always receiving books for myself and often get them for the girls too!

Now that I've shared our favorite ways to obtain books, here are some of the ones we enjoy!

I'm Going to Run Away by Joan Hanson
This was one of my favorite books when I was kid.  Although it went out of print in 1978, I was so excited to find a copy online when I was pregnant with Marlie.  


God Gave Us You by Lisa Tawn Bergren
This is another one we bought and it just makes me want to cry every time we read it.  It is such a sweet story of how God blessed the bear couple with their baby.  There's actually a whole series of God Gave Us books and I would love to get my hands on some more of them!

Here are a few that relate to our life as a military family:

Over There by Dorinda Silver Williams
This book is a great resource for a military child coping with a deployment and it is offered in a Daddy or Mom version.  Don't bother trying to buy this.  It is a free resource at your local military installation.  It is usually available through ACS, CYSS or your FRG.

The Soldiers' Night Before Christmas by Christine Ford and Trish Holland
I know this is a seasonal book but I love it too much not to share.  The Night Before Christmas is a Christmas tradition at our house. We have also celebrated a few Christmases without our favorite soldier so we like to read this and remember those that are away from their families during the holidays.

Don't Forget, God Bless our Troops by Jill Biden
Although this my seem like a book just for military families, it's actually the opposite.  It helps everyone  get a glimpse into the life of a military child while her father is deployed.  

What are some of your favorite books for children?