Friday, February 17, 2017

Valentine's Day 2017

Did I ever mention that I am not a fan of Valentine's Day?  Maybe it's the excessive amount of pink or the fact that conversation hearts flow like water and taste horrible.  I don't know.  But it's not my fave.  That didn't stop us from celebrating though, because I will participate in the weirdest of holidays if it involves presents :)

Rob and I knew we would have next to no time to do anything on the actual day, so we gave each other some simple gifts ahead of time.  He bought me a beautiful bouquet of red and white flowers and Evian water.  When the kids asked what was so special about Evian water I told them it has a red flip-top lid.  And seriously, that's what I like about it :)  I bought Rob some funny Valentine's boxers with hedgehogs on them and his favorite Lindt coffee chocolate.  I know--Rob should have bought me chocolate too but right now everything under the sun bothers my stomach/intestines so water was truly the safest thing I could have.

I had to do a little hunting to find exactly what I wanted to get for the kids.  When the gluten free grocery store was open in town, they carried a candy bar that we all loved.  It kind of reminded us of Kit Kats.  I decided to track it down online and found something by the same company that was a little different and tastes almost exactly like a Kit Kat!  The kids loved them, especially the boys, who can remember eating those candy bars.  I also found them Lego Batman minifigures, which took a bit of doing because they are sold out everywhere.  I happened upon them in Walgreens, of all places, and the kids were thrilled.  That night I took them to see the Lego Batman movie, which was one of the best movies I have ever seen in a theater.  I think the adults in attendance enjoyed it more than the kids!  Their Litwiller grandparents sent some money for Valentine's Day and we decided it would be perfect for getting popcorn and drinks for the kids. 

Ben and Anna had theory class in the afternoon and they decided to bring some treats to their classes.  Well, Ben only brought treats to his teacher.  He is the only boy in his class and thought it would be weird to bring treats to girls.  I told him he should dress in a suit and take a rose to each of them, but I couldn't convince him to do it. 

All in all, not too bad a day for a holiday I don't enjoy :)

Friday, February 3, 2017

Chocolate Chip Cookie Tasting

Several months ago, the kids and I had the idea to taste-test all of the store-bought gluten free chocolate chip cookies we could find and figure out which one was the best.  Seeing as gluten free pre-packaged foods are pricey, this idea had to be shelved for quite awhile.  I thought winter would be best anyway when we're all bored and need something fun to do.  I spent the better part of this week sick, so today seemed like a good day to celebrate and eat cookies.

While Matt was out delivering papers, Ben, Anna and I hit up Walmart to see how many different brands of chocolate chip cookies we could find.  We had a strict criteria for our testing:  The cookies must be chocolate chip ONLY (no nuts, no added flavoring, just traditional chocolate chip) and had to be found in the aisle.  That cut out any from the bakery or freezer.  We had to draw the line SOMEWHERE.  Walmart had three brands only--kind of disappointing, to tell the truth.  We looked at Pick 'n Save next and found FIVE more.  Thank goodness one of them had a coupon on the box!  I figured 8 was good enough for a start.  When we find more in the future we'll pit our winner against the next batch.  Because I know for a fact more are out there.....

Each family member had a scoring sheet with scores from 1 to 5 in three categories:  taste, texture, and amount of chocolate chips.  Apparently LOTS of chocolate chips is a high priority!  We passed around one cookie per person (going down to a portion of cookie per adult by the end because of sugar overload) and tasted them one at a time.  The following scores are the average from the five of us.

Glutino thins:  8.2/15.  This score was pretty consistent with the whole family.  It tasted good, but it was too crunchy.  I think they taste the most like homemade, but again, too crunchy.

Enjoy Life crunchy:  8.8/15.  The texture is awful, but the taste is pretty good.  Unless you are like Rob and Anna, who enjoy a really crunchy cookie.

Enjoy life soft:  8.6/15.  Anna loves these, but the rest of us thought "meh."  We've also had them many times before so it wasn't anything new.

Glutino:  11.2/15:  These cookies are MY favorite for sure and the kids loved them too.  Rob....not so much.  They taste and feel like Chips Ahoy, but with MORE chocolate chips.

Pamela's:  12/15.  This brand is always a family favorite (especially the pecan shortbreads!)  The texture was a little too crumbly for the adults, but the kids loved them.  Almost the winner until we tried.....

WOW:  12.4/15.  Okay, these cookies are seriously amazing!  They remind me of Soft Batch cookies in every way except size.  Everyone loved them!  We have never tried them before but we are fans now!

Lucy's:  7.8/15.  This is Rob's favorite brand of cookie, so he scored them pretty high, as did Anna.  The boys and I balanced that out to give it the low rating.  They are super crunchy and leave a weird background taste in the mouth.

Great Value (Walmart brand):  1.8/15.  BLECH!  If you like the taste of baking soda, then these are the cookies for you!  They were so bad NO ONE finished a single cookie and we were scrambling for our drinks.  And a WOW cookie.  Absolutely wretched.  We've had them before and liked them, but compared to the other seven brands they were just awful. 

The kids had a great time playing taste tester and learned some valuable lessons about the taste differences in products.  You really can't accurately judge until you've tried them all together!  Next time we are near a Woodman's we'll pop in and buy up other brands and do it all again.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Everyone's a (Food) Critic

Mealtimes at our house look a little different.  On any given day, four or five of us will sit down at the table to enjoy eating together.  Usually, at least one person will comment on the food and talk about the spices and other ingredients and what they like or dislike about the dish.  The rest will chime in with their suggestions as well, all in a respectful manner.  Odd?  Probably.  Rob and I somehow managed to raise a family of foodies. 

I think it all started several years ago when I truly wanted to know if the kids liked certain dishes.  When they turned up their noses at something, I asked what could make it better.  There is normally one child cooking with either Rob or I, so they have become quite knowledgeable about various ingredients and can usually chime in with a good suggestion.  I think that by helping to improve dishes they are more willing to try things again that they didn't care for in a first attempt.  Often their suggestions bring great improvement to a recipe that might have been thrown out.  And we do occasionally deem some dishes unworthy of our attempts to make them better.

Sometimes, however, these attempts at improvement are rather hilarious.  Here's a recent example:  I made a burrito casserole about a month ago and the kids liked it, but didn't care for the canned cream of mushroom soup.  (I should note that we eat pretty fresh around here, so we normally substitute heavy whipping cream for canned cream soups.  Also most canned cream soup contains gluten and the gluten free ones are both expensive and disgusting).  I tried it again this week and asked them if it tasted better.  They agreed that it was MUCH better, but made the following suggestions:  Use Aldi brand tortillas instead of Mission corn tortillas, all-cheddar cheese instead of a mix of cheddar and mozzarella, less of the cream sauce, and more spice in the beef and bean mixture.  I had to laugh at all of the suggestions!  They are good ones, but it is funny that they have all become food critics. 

Oh, and last night I made crock pot beef stew.  They said it was so good it almost tastes like the canned stuff!  I'm not sure what to do with that "compliment." 

And yes, we have discussed how it really isn't appropriate to dissect food when we are visiting someone's home.  But if they do, just know that your dish will be even better the next time you make it! 

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Rob's 39th Birthday

It was a little challenging to plan a fun day for Rob's 39th birthday.  He has one remaining day off before he gets reloaded at the end of March, but there was no chance of getting a day off approved.  The best he could do was NOT volunteer to work the Sunday after and flex some time during the week so he could come home at 10pm instead of 2am on Saturday.  A challenge, yes, but not impossible!

The kids and I thought through what we wanted to do with the day and consulted Rob on a few items to see what he felt like doing/eating/etc.  We decided that we would surprise him by decorating the dining room and creating a party atmosphere.  We had fun shopping for a few items at The Dollar Tree and bought a centerpiece, banner, balloons, plates, and party hats.  The kids planned ahead on gifts, as did I, and we wrapped presents and blew up balloons once he left for work on Thursday.  Because he doesn't get up until 11am we had plenty of time to decorate and prepare for our surprise.

We started off the celebration by leaving out our cards for him to find when he came home in the wee hours of the morning on his birthday.  He really enjoyed finding this little surprise!

While he slept on Friday, I got Matt started on his Friday free papers route and then Ben and I worked on a paleo cherry pie bar recipe.  Anna started the decorating.  When the dessert went into the oven, Ben and I helped Anna finish the decorating, then we put out all of the gifts on the table and waited for Matt to call for a paper reload. 

After delivering papers to Matt, we headed to the grocery store for flowers and a helium balloon to complete the decorations.  Matt finished his route just in time for Rob to wake up.  And boy, was he surprised!  He opened all of his gifts and we surprised him.  I don't think he really guessed anything!  He felt very loved and special.

And then we all had to scatter!  Rob choose Culvers for his birthday lunch, so he, Ben and Anna headed to pick up our meal while I took Matt to let out the puppy.  We enjoyed our lunch and dessert, then Rob took a nap and rested all afternoon after helping Matt pick up the papers for his regular route.  He headed off to work at 3:30...but the surprises weren't over!  We showed up at his 7pm break with chips and had a little chip party in the car.  He said we were definitely the highlight of his night :)

On Saturday Rob cooked his own birthday meal and make a seafood feast that we all enjoyed.  Oh, and he got his special espresso out.  We're so thankful for Rob and all of the work he does in our family, all the love his gives to us, and we are so grateful we got to celebrate him this weekend.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

The Case of the Missing Tooth

Rob and I received a nice financial gift this year for Christmas and decided we would use the money to work down a large list of needs for the family.  One of my first decisions was to get the kids to the dentist.  No dentist in a one hour radius of our town takes their insurance (or new patients with their insurance) so we have been going to a dentist in town that we like and just pay outright for the services.  However, we've been unable to get any of us over there for a few years now and to be honest, it hasn't been much of a thought with all of the other medical emergencies that keep happening.  But I knew we needed to just take care of it and so dental appointments were made the week after Christmas.  They just went this past Wednesday and it was definitely a day to remember.

All three kids were to have their appointments at the same time and I decided to stay with Anna and just confer with the dentist about the boys afterwards.  Nice plan, right?  Well, I ended up bouncing around between three different rooms to listen to three different lists of problems with their teeth.  I had  a pen and notebook out to take notes because I knew I wouldn't remember any of it later, but I was also trying to translate "dental speak" into regular English, which was a little tough.  So here are the results:

Matthew:  No cavities, the front adult tooth they had to replace looks good and might not even need the root canal they talked about four years ago when it was fixed.  He does have a pretty huge overbite and they are talking about some kind of orthodontic appliance.  They don't know what it would be yet, since we'd have to start down that path with a consultation, but most likely braces.  Overall, his visit went well.  We will probably start down that path in a few months after fixing a few things for the other two kids.

Ben:  No cavities (which is really surprising considering how often he forgets to brush!), his front tooth that was fixed last spring looks good, and he has the same overbite as Matt.  He will also need some kind of appliance in his mouth and the word "headgear" was used, which make me snicker.  Couldn't help it--I had images of all the horrible headgear in movies pop into my head.  Thank goodness they don't use awful stuff like that anymore!  Anyway, he also has a chipped tooth, so we set an appointment in February to take care of it. 

Anna:  And now, for the bad one:  Anna is missing an adult tooth, the one right next to her front middle teeth.  And the same tooth on the other side of the front teeth is coming in, but it's too small.  She is going to need implants.  It's by no means a simple fix either.  It will start with a frenulectomy, which is where they will cut her overpronounced frenum so that her front teeth no longer have a gap.  That will help when they have to start bonding the teeth to create a space big enough for an implant.  When the dentist finished explaining everything to me, he summed it all up by saying, "Basically, it just sucks."  That I understood!  They wanted to schedule the frenulectomy right away, but she also needs sealants (the boys had theirs done but Anna was too stressed out to continue the appointment) and she has a cavity, so we'll focus on that in February then do the next step.  She was a mess by the time we left and cried quite a bit at home.  She feels like everything bad always happens to her.  And honestly, it does look that way.  They can't do most of the work on her missing tooth until she's older, so at least it's not something that will happen all at once. 

So that's the scoop on our dental visit.  It was crazy and overwhelming, but I'm glad we got the ball rolling on some needed dental work.  And now we know what we're doing with all of Rob's overtime pay! 

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Going from Zero to Sixty

It's a really good thing that we had such a long, wonderful Christmas break because we were rested up and ready to hit the ground running on January 2nd.  Life sort of exploded on that day and it hasn't calmed down since! 

Rob went back to work and right into 50 hour weeks.  Actually 58 because they had to work two Sundays during the month of January (which is now heading into mandatory Sundays.)  The jobs he has been on have been frustrating so he's been stressed about getting his "rate" up.  His rate determines bonuses, eligibility for overtime, and effects his yearly evaluation so it is important.  He's also been adjusting to a new sleep schedule.  The kids are pretty good about letting him sleep, but it's still hard.  We fully stocked him with Isagenix products to give him his best shot and he's been fairing pretty well.  It's hard not having him around as much but we welcome the extra income so we're able to pay off bills and work on purchasing items we need around the house.

Matthew unexpectedly started his paper route on Jan 2.  We applied for a route awhile back but hadn't heard anything.  He got a phone call the week before and he and Rob went to the office to get the list of houses so they could drive around and see the route.  Monday morning he got the call that he could start that afternoon!  The lady who had been doing the route simply would not follow the list and deliver properly, so they fired her.  Matt and Rob headed about early that afternoon and figured it all out.  Matt actually has two routes next to each other, both in our neighborhood.  It's an afternoon paper, so no early mornings.  By the second day he was able to do the smaller route alone and probably would have done the whole thing solo by the end of the week if the weather hadn't turned bitter cold.  On Fridays he also has to deliver the Time Saver, which basically goes to everyone in his delivery area that does not subscribe to the regular paper.  That's A LOT of papers!  It took him a total of five hours to deliver those papers with Rob's help, then he had to do his regular route.  Thankfully he has Saturday morning to finish, so he saved the smaller route for that day.  (And there is no weekend paper.)  He got the total time down to 3 1/2 hours working by himself the next Friday and I'm sure he will continue to reduce his time. 

Matt has also been taking care of a puppy more often, as the owner is transitioning to a new job but still working the old one.  He has so enjoyed playing with Gracie and she's been a nice stress reliever for him. 

The other two kiddos have been anxiously waiting for all of their piano activities to start:  group lessons, private lessons, and theory class.  They should have started this week, but everything was cancelled because of the weather.  We were able to reschedule the private lesson so they enjoyed that today.  Otherwise they have been helping around the house, Anna has been sewing and baking, and Ben has been reading and helping pick up some of Matt's chores. 

And me?  I've just been trying to keep my head above water!  I am back to my nutritional cleansing and it has helped tremendously with my health.  It's been a bit of a three-ring circus to coordinate everything everyone is doing but I'm managing.  The kids and I did get out for a couple of movies.  I took all of them to see Sing and then just the boys to see the new Star Wars movie (Anna stayed with a friend).  It was nice to just relax with them! 

So we're adjusting to our new schedule, taking each day at a time and trying to stay happy, health and sane. 

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Christmas 2016

For the past two years, we traveled to Illinois to spend Christmas with extended family.  This year it was time to stay home.  Rob had time off from the 23rd-Jan 2, so we looked forward to a nice long time together as a family.

I had planned to only take the week between Christmas and New Year's off school, but after Thanksgiving I felt that two weeks might be better for the kids.  I told them if we could get three weeks of work finished in two weeks, we would get two weeks off and that's all the motivation they needed!  They worked very diligently to complete everything in time (and because I'm nice, I let a few things slide here and there.)  We spent the week before Christmas shopping for the final gifts, baking goodies, and sending the final few Christmas cards.  This year I decided I wanted as little to do with the baking process as possible, as the children tend to drive me insane when we all bake together.  I let each person in the family choose their treat then told them THEY had to make it.  That's not really a problem, since all three of the kids can cook and bake with only minor limitations.  Matt made Christmas M&M cookies, Ben made Buckeyes (with me doing the actual chocolate dipping), Anna made sugar cookies (just needed someone to handle the oven--she even made the frosting herself!), I made double chocolate biscotti, and Rob attempted mint bars, trying to modify parts of it to fit how he and I can eat.  We cannot have refined sugar so we had to figure out how to make the mint frosting layer.  Well.  Let's just say it's a good thing the brownie part was good or the whole thing would have been a disaster.  He did manage to salvage the filling and use it in a bizarre version of scones.  I'm not sure how he did it, but they tasted good!  And my biscotti was so fabulous we ended up making a couple more batches over the course of the next week.

On Christmas Eve we decided to have some fun and take the kids sledding.  We missed going sledding last year somehow, so they were overdue.  They had a blast and were the only kids on the hill until another family showed up.  All six kids sledding had a blast and had races, etc.  I even went down the hill once, laughing like a loon the entire time.  (Until I had to walk back up the hill...ugh!)  I left early to get hot chocolate ready for the cold crew.  The kids jumped in the showers afterwards and after dinner, we headed to church for the Christmas Eve concert.  I love, love, love attending a service on Christmas Eve.  It just seems "right" to me somehow.  We didn't have one when I was growing up, so it's not something I am used to.  More like something I adopted as an adult that I would love to be part of every Christmas Eve.  This year the church had a sacred concert with a pause in the middle for our pastor to sit on the stage with the children and read the Christmas story.  Only Anna went up this year, as they boys decided they are too old.

After the service, we drove around looking at lights.  We found some fun displays in parts of town we don't normally see and our favorite display included a peacock!  We arrived home to find the police across the street!  Someone drove into a light pole at the neighbors and it looked like a hit and run.  Kind of fun to watch, especially since no one was hurt.  The kids went to bed soon after the excitement was over and Rob and I put out the final stocking stuffers and the "Santa" gifts.  (We have a long-running joke about putting out cookies for Santa and getting gifts the next morning.  We have never done the Santa thing in our house for multiple reasons.)

I got up to use the bathroom around 5am Christmas morning and ran into Matt in the hallway.  Turkey.  We told the kids not to get us up until 7am so they had a LOOOOONG wait!  We giggled to each other in bed as we heard them sushing each other and trying to stay quiet.  Right at 7 they came in to get us up, and of course like all parents everywhere, we dragged out getting ready as long as we could. Generally we start with the "Santa" gifts, which are the only ones they are allowed to open all at once.  This year "Santa" got them fun shirts.  Then it was stocking time and present opening!  We like to do it one at a time and we start with whoever has a gift closest to Dad, then just make sure everyone gets a gift before starting the next round.  We had gifts from the grandparents under the tree too, and the kids all buy gifts for everyone.  We had a grand time watching everyone's reactions to the gifts and the kids were very happy.

I should mention how Rob and I do gifts.  A few years ago we were really strapped for cash so we took a tip from a friend and bought a few presents from thrift stores, and then one main gift off the list. The kids like the idea, as they have no idea what they are getting and it makes the gift opening more fun.  This year we found some really fun things.  Matt received a Star Wars puzzle, juggling balls, a Lego set I didn't want anymore, and his main gift was a tablet.  (It would have been my Kindle Fire but the kindle died one week before Christmas so we had to scramble to get a new gift!)  For Anna we found a cute sweatshirt, a Snowgli from Frozen that talks, a big bag of fabric, and her main gift was a new doll.  Ben got a book about the homerun race between Sosa and McGuire (that apparently was a Christmas gift from "Uncle Dave" back in 1998), a Sammy Sosa jersey I found at a bag sale ten years ago and have kept in storage, Blockus, and his main gift was a Lego set. 

After the gift opening we all had breakfast and got ready for church.  The kids weren't too happy about leaving their gifts and going to church, but they did enjoy the service.  We opted for something different for lunch:  Philly Cheesesteak sandwiches and fries.  It's hard to make so we don't do it too often and gluten-free baguettes are pricey, so it was a wonderful choice.  We spent our afternoon relaxing and enjoying our presents.  Rob and I put out cheese, sausage, and crackers for a light supper and we enjoyed a movie together.  It was a great Christmas!

The rest of our week was relaxing and involved several outings together as a family, a nice date for Rob and I, Matt's first youth group 1/2 nighter (the all-nighter was cancelled this year), and other nice events.  We had a wonderful week together!