Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Don't Trash the Stash! A Recipe for That Halloween Candy!

Happy Halloween!! 
What a fun day filled with traditions, costumes and of course, candy!! You know you are going to stay up tonight, after your kiddos are tucked in, and dig through the loot picking out your favorites! My husband and I do this every year, because we're soooo sneaky.  Snickers for him, Kit-Kat, Twix or Dots for myself!
If you are anything like me, you might have a love-hate relationship with sugar.  I love to bake, to find new recipes and make special treats for my family.  But, I hate how sugar makes me feel when I eat it.  So, to strike a happy balance around here, we try to follow the 80/20 rule with all foods.  80% of the time we eat healthy, the other 20% is freedom to eat what we want (within reason).  This rule has been especially successful with desserts and sugary treats, including those we receive at holidays.

How will we handle having 5 bags of sugarlicious goodies enter the home tonight?? Every Halloween the boys know ahead of time that they get to pick out 5 pieces of fun size candy from their sack to stuff their faces eat when they choose.  They can keep any sugarless gum.  The rest is sorted out for later use.  Anything chocolate is a keeper (duh!).  If you can't have it in the house, that's understandable.  The "out-of-site-out-of-mind" method doesn't work for everyone.  (I would dig to the darkest corners of the basement to unearth a piece of chocolate some days!) But, if that method does work for you, here are some ideas for making the sweets stretch over the next few months:

 Candy bars are perfect for freezing, and later added to:
- Milkshakes or homemade ice cream
- Cookie Dough (instead of chocolate chips)
- Granola Bars (m&m's and Reece's Pieces)
- Snack mix with nuts and raisins

One recipe I love to make with Halloween candy is Candy Bar Cheesecake Bites.  These little brownies are perfect bite-size treats that freeze well and can be wrapped up in pretty sacks or boxes and given as gifts.  Our top pics for toppings are: Reese's Pieces, m&m's, Snickers, Almond Joy and Heath Bars.  They're a cinch to make and the kids love to help! Here's the recipe!
Candy Bar Cheesecake Brownie Bites
{Thank you for Pinning!}
For the Brownies:
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, melted
1/2 cup white sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 eggs
1/2 cup cocoa (I like Ghirardelli)
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
{2 tablespoons strong coffee and 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon, optional}

Heat oven to 350 degrees.  Spray mini-muffin pan with non-stick cooking spray.  In a bowl, whisk together butter and sugars until smooth.  Add eggs, vanilla, coffee (optional) whisking until well blended. In a separate bowl, whisk together cocoa, salt, cinnamon (optional), flour and baking powder.  Slowly add to the wet ingredients, stirring until completely smooth. Using a small melon-ball scoop, place one scoop of the batter into each cup. Set aside.

For the Cheesecake Filling:
4 oz. cream cheese, softened (reduced fat works fine, too!)
1/2 cup powdered sugar

Whip cream cheese and powdered sugar together until smooth.  Spoon into sandwich size plastic bag.  Seal the top and snip a small piece off of one corner.  Pipe 1/2 teaspoon (or so) into each brownie batter cup.  
Sprinkle the tops of each brownie bite with your favorite candy bar pieces.  Bake for 8-10 minutes, or until edges are visibly done and the center filling is set.  Cool on a wire rack. Makes 24 bites!

Note: This recipe can easily be prepared in a 9" baking dish.  Simply pipe the cream cheese mixture onto the top of the brownie batter in a zig-zag pattern.  Then, use a knife to swirl the cream cheese into the batter.  Top with candy and bake for 20-25 minutes.

Monday, October 29, 2012

A Cure For the Common Cold

Last week, my baby had a cold.

I don't know about you, but when my baby has a cold, there is really no point in trying to do anything productive whatsoever, because baby needs his momma.  A lot.  By a lot, I mean he wants to be held. Not held sitting down, oh, no. If I tried to sit down or even play with him on the floor it instantly provoked an eruption of big, big tears. It was a facial flood of epic proportions. So, I did what most of you would do, and I held him standing up.  Whatever I tried to accomplish during the day, I did holding a 28 pound baby and a box of kleenex. Oh, sweet baby Charlie! You didn't mean to send momma's back into spasmatic cramps, my arms into exhaustion, my house into a sea of snotty tissues.
Thankfully, Charlie's brothers are a troop of compassion.  They came to his rescue and to mine. There were only two things that would cheer up our little patient during his nasal nightmare :
1.  Swinging outside in his little bee swing and 
2. Riding with the boys on their E-Z Rollers.  
Each brother would take a turn cruising around with Charlie inside the garage or out on the sidewalks. He would instantly relax, resting in their arms, enjoying the ride. The E-Z rollers were a Christmas gift last year, and I've never been so thankful for them in my life!  I highly recommend them!
The boys have spent hours racing each other, pulling Charlie around, and lining up like a train with one brother in the back pushing the line.  Charlie is completely entertained, and I get a 30 minute time-out with some ibuprofen and a cup of tea.
This is my Andrew, politely telling me "no thank you" when I asked him if he would take me for a cruise, since I now have Charlie's cold and am also not feeling well.
After Andrew's rejection, I asked Baby Jr. for the same support. His look says it all, "You're joking, right, mom?" Love their brutal honesty, it's so funny!
After the E-Z roller cruise, they're on to the swings.  Andrew and Henry really get Charlie gigglin' when they fly up to touch the tree branches with their toes on the banana swing.
With Christmas around the corner, if you're looking for a gift that doesn't require batteries, doesn't light-up, doesn't require a mechanic to assemble and doesn't send your child into an electronic trance, E-Z rollers are a great choice.
My boys are also very hard on all of their outdoor equipment (bikes, toys etc.) and these have held up perfectly(except for maybe a few scratches to the paint). Be sure to shop around, because the prices vary quite a bit from site to site. You can view them here.

Friday, October 26, 2012

7 Awesome Reasons to Run ~ 7 Quick Takes Friday

Oh, baby, Friday is finally here! I'm super-excited to be heading to Manhattan today with my hubby for the K-State vs. Texas Tech game tomorrow! Go Cats! But, I thought I'd end the week with a little 7 Quick Takes: 7 Reasons Why I Love to Run.  (All photos were found on Pinterest under "running quotes.")

1.  If someone crazy-bad is chasing you, you can out-run them. Unless you live waayyyy out in the country, like me, then you don't have to worry, since the likelihood of being chased down a gravel road or across a corn-field by a psycho-path is pretty slim.
2.  Meeting other runners, especially at races is a blast. Running isn't just for the young and fit, it's for everyone, and that's what makes the races so fun to be a part of! From my personal experience, runners are usually the most generous, loyal, hard-working and funny people on the planet.  I might be a bit biased, but in my humble opinion, it's true!
3. Running doesn't require a gym.  I'm not a gym-type person.  For me, enjoying the great outdoors is a gift.  Wind, rain, snow, sleet, (but not hail) I will run. Running does require a great pair of shoes, however.  But, if you know anything about me and shoes you would know that that is a big, big perk.
4. On average, running takes me anywhere from 2-10 miles away from my every-day crazy life.  It helps me to breathe, to work out stress, to contemplate life and to come back to the craziness a little more sane than when I left (another bonus of living in the boondocks is that you can scream naughty words while you run and no one can hear you but the cows!).

5.  Running gives me an excuse to have a ridiculously huge i-tunes list. My playlists include everything from 80's rock to Irish ballads, Beethoven and country.  I justify it by telling myself that it's cheaper than having a personal trainer.  Who wants to listen to a p.t. scream at you when you've got Steven Tyler??
6.  Running is good for my heart and other body parts that are prone to cancer. Lord knows that after having 5 kids I don't run to maintain a motherly figure.  It's all about physical, mental and emotional health (a gift to myself and my family!).

7.  Running makes me happy.  Endorphins are a miraculous little thing!  You should give it a go!

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

The Unexpected Joy of Cleaning Toilets

This quote has been a little inspiration tucked away in my heart these past few days, as I have been away from my family so that I can help my mom who just had hip replacement surgery.  I miss my husband and my funny little boys and the craziness of our day-to-day adventures.  But, I have found a special joy in being here with my parents to help them through this time.  It's funny how difficult it is for me to find joy in cleaning, cooking and doing laundry at my own home, but here it's been wonderful.  As my parents get older, I'm finding it more and more of a privilege to care for them and to help them in any way possible.

And, my parents have been so incredibly gracious.  I keep telling them that I'm paying off old debts from the misbehaviors of my childhood and the mistakes of my teen years.  Of course they just laugh at me, but I kind of mean it! They just don't realize that I'm thankful for floors that need swept and clothes that need folded, because they are opportunities for me to love them, to thank them for all that they have done for me in my life.  No parent expects to be "paid back" for everything they gave to raise their children, so perhaps it's more about me and my need to feel that they understand how thankful I am. (However, should my own children one day feel inclined to "pay me back" with their Cinderella skills, I'll be just fine with that!)

My time here has also made more more acutely aware of the undeniable truth that my parents are aging - and I don't want them to.  Growing up you just kind of expect your parents to stay the same.  Then, you move out and move on with life.  You're away from them, perhaps don't see them very often.  The years slip away between the tension of busyness of work, children and responsibilities. I'm so intent on fighting back my own birthdays, that I forget that time ticks on for all of us, even my parents, and I want to slow it down for them more than anyone.
My little emotional grieving of the pains of aging was comforted by a lovely exchange of laughter and affection between Mom and Dad.  I had asked Dad if I could borrow his (super-awesome) camera to take (a bunch of fuzzy) pictures of the two.  While mom glammed up a bit for the pics, dad knelt down beside her and a little teasing (let's just call it flirting) began...
I really have no idea what they were talking about, but seeing them laugh to the point of tears was fantastic!
I'm not sure what's going on here, but from my perspective it was hilarious! (Let's take a moment to pause for a routine glasses check??? What are you babe, super-far or super-near sighted?? Who knows!)
I'll treasure these snapshots forever.  They remind me of how blessed I am to be one of the lucky ones ~  lucky that my parents are still here on this earth and in my life, they are still together, and they still love each other very much.  How rare for the times we live in!  I hope my children get to feel the same way about me and Steve some day.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Home is Where the Heart Is

I have a little story to tell you.  Some of you may be new readers here at Sole Searching, so let me just preface the story first by giving you a little backdrop to the tale that is about to unfold...  
After living in the city for 10 years, my husband and our four (now 5) boys moved across the state to a remote farm.  Wanting to dive right into country living, we decided to get a trailer house, park it on the farm and live there temporarily (1-2 years) while we built a more suitable home for our family.  I like to  refer to our "little house on the prairie" as Girdie (she's kind of like a girdle - holding us all in, but just barely). Since moving in to Girdie, we've dressed her up with some quasi-landscaping, put in a garden (mainly to feed the wildlife), seeded a lawn, dug up stickers in the lawn leaving little lawn behind, evicted 2 skunks and a mole, and decided that in the country Christmas lights really can stay up year round. Now, with that little visual, I will begin the story....

Last week my emotional fuse was about as long as a matchstick.  I had had it with Girdie.  Had it with close quarters, no basement, broken doors, thin walls, yada, yada, yada. We are well past that 1-2 year temporary living thing, and I'm feelin' it.  I sometimes fantasize about giving every child a backpack and 10 minutes to stuff it with all the clothes and treasures they desire.  Marching out the door with my box of matches, I shout, "Don't forget the marshmallows, boys, we're gonna have us a bonfire!" When questioned by my husband or the locals, I would simply blame it on a candle....or maybe a short fuse.

At this point are you thinking, "Shame on her!"??? Or maybe, "It can't be that bad." Or how about, "This could be a reality show.  The Real Farm Wives of Crazy County perhaps??"  It's okay.  I've said all of those things to myself too.  Heck, I even wrote a post on the lessons I've learned from living in a small space.  Hypocrite.  Guess I need to go back and take a look at that one.

Not only that, I know in my mind that every difficult situation is meant to strengthen us mentally and emotionally, depending on how we approach the challenge. Knowing is one thing, accepting and doing is another thing.  (I hate it when my intellect and will are at odds.) Little reminders that I should be thankful for what we have comes across my radar on occasion...sights of poverty on tv or in our small town, homelessness, friends or family in need etc.  And, I do feel shame.  I feel a resolve to be more thankful, and to live from a place of gratitude.  Then, I start to feel just a shade of claustrophobia within Girdie's walls and Bam! I'm right back at the pity party.

Last week, as I was lovingly slapping together a pile of pb & j's for the crew, I had a little mommy-is -ranting-to-herself-under-her breath-so just-ignore-me moment in-front-of-the-kids who did ignore me, because they are boys and were only focused on the food anyway.  As I slung the paper plates across the island, I looked up and smarted, "Boys, would you like to live in a bigger house?" To which they replied through grape jelly lips, "Oh, ya, Mom, that would be awesome!"  "Well, then, maybe you should start praying about that one."  

Without even a slight pause, my son Andrew looks at me and says, "Okay, mommy, but I've been pretty busy praying for those orphans in China, 'cause they really, really need our help."


Super.  Long.  Pause.

There I was, drowning in my ocean of self-pity, when my 10 year old throws me a life-line.  

All I could do was hang my head.  His words were exactly what my thick head needed to hear.
My good friend, Katie, at Blessed With Full Hands organized a virtual run to help raise money for an organization called The Little Flowers who offers medical assistance to the 146  million orphans in China.  We have been talking about this organization for weeks, looking at pictures online and praying for these babies who so desperately need a home.

Home.  Home is where your family is.  Home is where your heart is.  Home is not space and size, paint colors and furniture patterns, floor coverings and window treatments, gadgets and grandness.  Home is an attitude, a perspective, an atmosphere of life, love, encouragement, thankfulness, dreaming, sharing, wondering.  A place to rest your head at night so that you can wake up and give a little more today than yesterday.  I have that.  I have a home, and our children have a home.  I don't want us to just survive in this home, I want us to thrive in this home!

Remember in the movie Life is Beautiful how the father risked everything to protect his son, to preserve his innocence and to show him joy in the most dire of circumstances?  I am NOT in a dire circumstance, but I do not want to wish away this opportunity to show my children that there can be joy in the midst of life's imperfections.  I do not want them to think that happiness can only be obtained when a particular goal is reached, or when what we (think we) want is finally obtained.  The joy is in the journey.  Real life is in the journey, not just in the destination. Amen??

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Trick - or - Drink

The other day at our local coffee shop I overheard a woman ask her friend if she was going to come to her "Trick-or-Drink" party.  My ears perked right up! Even if you're not planning a big costume party for your friends, you can still host a mix-n-mingle gathering of some sort and serve one or a few fun Halloween drinks.

Here are my top pics - the first three are ones I have tried and enjoyed sharing with friends in the past.  The last two are a couple of new ones that I found on Pinterest, and can't wait to try!  Cheers!

Dark Forest Shooters
In a shot glass layer equal parts of:
Stoli Vanilla Vodka
Chocolate Liquer
Add a splash of 1/2 n 1/2 just before serving.

Poison Apple Punch
1 gallon apple cider
1/2 750ml bottle dark rum
1/2 750ml bottle American Honey Wiskey
4 cinnamon sticks
6 whole allspice
10 whole cloves
1 orange, sliced
Cinnamon Red Hot Candies

Combine ingredients in a large saucepan, stir and cover. Heat slowly to a boil, stirring occasionally. Lower heat and allow to simmer for 1-2 hours, stirring occasionally. Transfer to insulated punch bowl and serve in mugs with a couple of cinnamon candies at the bottom. Simple Version:  Fix in a crockpot!
Harvest Moon Martini
1/2 c. sweet and sour mix
1/2 c. carbonated water
1/4 c. apricot brandy
4 tsp. pomegranate juice

Put 1st 3 ingredients in a shaker with ice.  Shake well and strain into 2 martini glasses.  Gently pour 2 tsp. pomegranate juice into each glass.  Do not stir.  Also good served over ice. (Taken from Susan Branch's Autumn cookbook.) Note: in a pinch, I have also made it with orange juice instead of sour mix and it is very good as well.

Black Widow Martini 
Hostess with the Mostess

Monday, October 15, 2012

Andrew's 10th Birthday & Better-Than-Bakery Caramel Rolls

Happy Monday, Friends!! I'm so happy you are here!!
Today I'm serving up the best caramel roll recipe ever! The best part is, they are made with only 5 ingredients, and you prep it all the night before, let 'em rise overnight, bake in the morning and voila! Bakery bliss for breakfast! Scroll to the bottom for the recipe - and don't forget to PIN IT!
ALSO TODAY: highlights from our son Andrew's birthday, the life-changing movie I watched with Steve Saturday night (on the Faith page) and, in honor of Breast Cancer Awareness month, fast and effective workouts anyone can squeeze into their day (on the Health and Fitness page).  
I hope you'll stay awhile!!
Last week, we celebrated my son Andrew's 10th birthday.  I don't know what it is about the 10th year that is so hard for me.  I suppose, it is the realization that 10 years has gone by so terribly fast, and that I must try with all my might to slow down and savor every moment of the next few years of this boy's life, before they, too, slip away.

I could probably write a book on the reasons why having children has changed my life and made me a better person.  Every day my kiddos say and do things that cause me to pause and consider my own behavior, habits and relationships.  Andrew is a uniquely tender, perceptive and contemplative soul (more gushing here).  People often tell me how much they enjoy just being around him.  He has a way of bringing out the good in everyone. And, he challenges me every day to be a better person in every way possible.

Each year for their birthdays, I let the boys choose what kind of cake they would like, and then I make a firm attempt to try and fulfill their expectations.  This year, Andrew just could not decide.  He also could not think of even one gift he would like to receive, even though his brothers overwhelmed him with a slew of ideas.  I told him to take his time and to let me know when he came up with a plan.

A few days later, he proudly informed me of his decision.  "Mom, I've been thinking about my birthday cake.  You know how you told me that I should choose something that reflects what I enjoy or what is special to me?  Well, I thought about it, and what means the most to me is my family.  Can you make me a family cake?"  Melt. My. Heart!!
Every birthday around here begins with the Husband family tradition of birthday breakfast (see recipe below) followed by gifts. So, of course we had to start the day off right!  Then, after school, the boys all took turns playing with Andrew's new slingshot and eating Pop Rocks (yes, all dietary rules fly south on birthdays). 
Thank goodness Steve can teach the boys proper weaponry skills.  Because, if I were in charge, someone would most likely end up in the e.r.
Rabbits, beware!!
In a house full of boys, you might imagine that a lot of teasing goes on around here.  Birthdays are no exception.  While wrapping Andrew's gifts, we decided to play a little prank on him.
Each brother bought a gift for Andrew, and Steve and I bought a slingshot for him.  I wrapped it up with some amo and safety glasses and placed them in the bottom of a huge gift bag. Over the slingshot I tucked in three carefully wrapped vintage aprons that my Aunt Jane had sent me a few weeks ago.  Andrew dug right in, perplexed as to what these three little soft bundles could be. 

We all had to fight back our smiles and laughter, when he discovered the aprons.  With a serious face, I explained, "You can wear those when you help me cook in the kitchen so you don't get your clothes dirty."  His expression was one of confusion covered up with politeness as somehow he managed to muster little smile and a polite "thank-you so much (his response to every single gift)!!"  Oohhh, that's when we knew we had got him good! 
Then, we all burst into fits of laughter, screaming, "JUST KIDDING!!" He joined right in on the banter, completely relieved that there was more to the package than just a few frilly aprons!!
For supper, Andrew requested enchiladas with all of the fixings, and we topped it off with the family themed cupcakes (which looked a little scary, but no one complained - they were just happy to stuff their faces with more sugar. Perfect!)

I  love this picture of George with Andrew.  The day before the birthday, I took all of the boys to town to do a little shopping for Andrew.  I overheard George painfully confessing to Andrew that he had no money because he'd spent it all on our last trip to Wichita.  Without hesitating, Andrew placed his hands on George's shoulders, and with comfort in his voice reassured his brother, "It's okay, buddy, I'll give you some money and you can pick out anything you want for me."  Hugs and smiles followed.  

George spent 20 minutes at Target carefully selecting four shiny new Hot Wheels for Andrew's car collection.  And, of course he loved them.  "Thank you so, so much, George!!" Precious.  One very proud and thankful Mommy, right here.

{ Easy Overnight Caramel Rolls }

1. Spray a 9 x 13" pan with cooking spray.
2. Sprinkle 1 cup chopped pecans on the bottom of the pan.
3. Top pecans with 2 dozen frozen rolls (I like Rhodes).
4. Sprinkle with one package of dry butterscotch pudding - the cook type.
5.  Sprinkle rolls with 1 cup brown sugar
6.  Melt 1 stick of butter and drizzle over the top.
7.  Cover with Saran wrap and let rise on the counter overnight.
8.  In the morning bake at 350 for 30 minutes.
9.  Turn rolls over onto a cookie sheet, and scrape out any extra goodies from the bottom of the pan over the top of the rolls.  Serve immediately.  Watch you family or your guests faint!

October Baby

Last weekend Steve and I decided to stay up and watch a movie while the boys camped outside.  We chose to see October Baby.
It was by far the best movie I have seen in a very long time.  I would even go so far as to call it life-changing.

The movie captures beautifully
~ and ~
The VALUE and PRECIOUSNESS of children and of life.

I hope you will be able to watch it soon ~ you won't regret it!!

Exercise: Breast Cancer Prevention ~ 4 Fast No-Excuses Workouts

You all know by now that October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month.  If you scan the magazine isles of any bookstore or grocer this month, you will see that nearly every life-style magazine geared toward female readers includes the most recent statistics related to breast cancer. From prevention strategies to myths vs. facts, there's a lot for us ladies to consider!

If you don't think that exercise is really that important, would you reconsider if you knew that it could be a potential safe-guard against developing breast-cancer?  The research is out and the experts agree, exercise is one of the best preventions we have in the fight against this disease. This excerpt was taken from an article in Time Healthland:

Exercise can lower women’s risk of breast cancer, but how much exercise is enough and at what age do women have to be physically active to benefit?
Those are the questions that Lauren McCullough, a doctoral candidate in epidemiology at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, and her colleagues sought to answer in a new study published in the journal Cancer. They found that women who exercised about two hours a day five days a week were about 30% less likely to develop breast cancer than less active women. The intensity of the exercise didn’t seem to matter; all it took was moderate physical activity, which could include gardening, walking or doing household chores, for the women to benefit.
If the number #1 reason for not exercising is a lack of time, then we have re-evaluate our schedules and our priorities in order to find the time.  You don't have to exercise for hours to receive the benefits of exercise or to get in shape.  If you have 20 minutes to give each day, you can still get in a great work-out.  Here are a few examples:
 Pinterest is acutally a great place to get work-out ideas.  I found this one by simply searching "quick work-outs" on their home page. It's a great way to just get moving.
This 20 Minute Workout from Real Simple comes with step-by-step instructions and photos to match.
I'll admit, I don't do yoga, I'm more of a Pilates fan.  But, yoga can be a great form of exercise and is known to be a super stress reducer.  Here is a Printable 20 Minute Yoga Workout.
If 20 minutes is a stretch for you, then how does The 8 Minute, Fat Blasting Cross-Fit Workout sound?
8 minutes?? C'mon, you can handle 8 minutes? I'm excited to try this one!

Here's an added bonus: My friend Leah from Empower Fitness shared with me her Busy Mom's Workout.  I've been using it for a few weeks now, and love it! It only takes me 25 minutes! You can check it out here.