Saturday, July 30, 2011

Peach season has begun!!

Today the boys, grandma and I took a small road trip to South Haven, MI to a farm stand called Dutch Farm Market.
Our main agenda: PEACHES!
July 30 was the first day of peach season for this market - it's a U-pick/We pick type of place. It's nice - especially because there is a small playground for the boys.
I learned that 11 varieties of peaches will be available throughout August at this place - had NO clue there were so many kinds! Right now the market has two available: Flaming Fury and Coral Star. We bought half a bushel of Flaming Fury for $13, which I thought was a great price! Very excited to make homemade peach sorbet. I'll post a recipe of what goes down this week.
We also bought two quarts of their blueberries and I'm going to bake my favorite blueberry muffins tomorrow. I will post that recipe as well.
This was a great market. They had a huge stand of blueberry goodies: syrup, beef jerky (YES blueberry beef jerky), jam, vinegarette, etc. They usually have fresh coffee and doughnuts available but we arrived too late to try some. I could do without the construction delays on the way there but overall it was a great way to spend a steamy Saturday.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Perfect Chocolate cake

This cake is worth every second. I can't wait to make it again. My husband is not a big cake eater and I could not believe how much cake he ate - multiple pieces in one sitting every day until it was gone. This recipe is on the back of the Swans Down cake flour box. I used to use "Barefoot Contessa's" recipe, which was similar in that it called for hot coffee and buttermilk (this calls for sour cream but same effect) but I like this recipe SO much better.

  • 3 oz unsweetened chocolate melted (I used Dove Chocolate)
  • 1 stick unsalted butter softened
  • 2 1/4 c light brown sugar, packed
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 1/4 c Swans Down Cake Flour
  • 1 c sour cream
  • 1 c boiling water (I used STRONG coffee made from the french press instead of water. I HIGHLY recommend this)
Preheat Oven to 350
In a large bowl cream butter. Add brown sugar and eggs. Beat with mixer until light and fluffy. Beat in vanilla extract and chocolate, then baking soda and salt. Add flour alternately with sour cream, beating til smooth. Pour in hot coffee, stir with spoon until blended. Batter will be very thin. Pour into prepared pans. Depending on the cake I and butter it and dust it differently. If it's a vanilla cake I butter it and then dust it with sugar instead of flour. If the cake is chocolate I dust it with sugar and cocoa powder - again no flour.
Bake for approx 30 minutes or until toothpick is clean when testing.
I made this cake twice and used different pans each time. I used a medium baking sheet (I think its the medium one: 13x9x1) by pampered chef. I wanted the cake to be thin so I could cut the cake into thirds and stack it high. The second time I made it I used regular round cake pans.
  • 2 c whipping cream
  • 8oz Dove Dark Chocolate (melted)
I make sure my bowl and beaters are cold (stick in freezer for 10 min or so). I beat the whipping cream until it begins to get pretty thick a.k.a. stiff peaks. I add the chocolate and beat for another 30 seconds or a minute. Not too long or you will have chocolate butter, which doesn't sound too bad (better for croissants though not cake). I test it to see if the consistency will spread well over a cake. If it looks curdled it's on cusp of being butter.

After the cake cools a bit I remove the cake from the pans. The cake is still usually warm. I stick them in the fridge. I want them to be completely cold so the frosting does not melt. I frost the entire cake with a thin layer of frosting and then stick it back in the fridge. If you see the frosting getting soft just stop and stick everything in the fridge. Let it firm up and continue. I put a second layer of frosting on the cake about an hour before serving. Stick it back in the fridge until you are ready to serve.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Homemade key chains for Daddy

Disney's Family Fun Magazine had a charm craft article in the May 2011 edition. I thought this would be perfect for gifts - especially for Adam's birthday.

I went to JoAnne Fabrics and bought a Shrinky Dink Kit. It was $4.99 but I had a 50% coupon so I literally paid $2.50. The kit came with six blank sheets, colored pencils, a hole puncher, patterns, etc. more than enough supplies for numerous gifts!

I had the boys write out the word DAD, draw his face, whatever they wanted. Then I took the supplied patterns and cut out a shape appropriate for a keychain. I hole punched it and stuck it in the oven for seriously ONE MINUTE (follow the kit's directions). I let it cool and then strung the charms onto a ball-chain key ring.

This was by far my favorite project to date. It's quick, affordable and adorable. I heard so many "oooooo's" and "awwwwww's" with this one.
The warm smile on Adam's face when he saw the keychains said it all. Now I am getting requests from aunts and of course Grandma Nancy for one.

I'm excited to create more with the boys and this time I will buy a leather cord, few beads, etc. to make necklaces for aunts and grandmas. I will post the pictures ASAP.

These make great sentimental gifts for family but also for an end-of-year gift for a preschool teacher, a get-well-soon gift for a fellow classmate, a thank you gift...possibilities are endless.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Bath mat DRAMA

I'm on my THIRD bath mat in less than a year and it's driving me nuts.
When we first moved into our house in 2007 I ordered a bath mat from One Step Ahead (The Big Gripper Slip Proof Bath Mat). It was $20 and I was skeptical because whenever something says "mildew resistent" or antimicrobial, "One Step Ahead exclusive," etc. I wonder if I'm being played.
It's just a chemical added to the production process - you cannot prove the additive is in the product. Only time tells. And really? A bath mat is EXCLUSIVE to a company? Does this company work with the ONLY factory overseas that makes the BEST mildew resistant mat? Pleeze.
So I had a bad attitude the whole time I had this mat. But I'm telling you it was the best bath mat we ever had. It fit the entire tub and my kids only want to sit on the mat so that is HUGE. It lived up to its name as far as being anti-bacterial and mildew resistant (the resistance wore off but almost three years later). Since I tossed it I have gone through three bath mats. All of the other mats state they are "mildew resistant," etc. but they get SO moldy so quickly. Plus they are not long enough so it's always a battle at bath time (the boys fight because they are sitting so close to one another).
Everyone singing Cinderella's "Don't Know What Ya Got Til It's Gone"? I am!

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Center for Food Safety email on Wesson Oil

I get emails from the Center for Food Safety and thought I would share this one about Wesson Oil products.

"Natural” Label on Genetically Engineered Products

With consumer interest in how food is produced on the rise, many food companies are now selling new lines of “natural” products—often priced unjustifiably higher than conventionally produced foods and only slightly lower than certified organic products.  These purportedly “natural” products often mislead consumers about healthy food choices.
Market surveys show that health conscious consumers buy and trust products that prominently display the word “natural” on the front of food packages, even though the “natural” claim does not necessarily deliver any added health benefits to consumers above and beyond those of their conventionally manufactured counterparts.

ConAgra is one such company using a “100% Natural” labeling claim to win over consumers.  ConAgra’s Wesson Oils, however, are anything but “100% natural” — because the oils are made from genetically modified (GM) plants. ConAgra sells four types of widely used cooking and food preparation oils under the Wesson brand. All Wesson Oils are sold with a label on the front of the bottle that prominently states they are “100% Natural.”

We are looking for Center for Food Safety members who have purchased any of the following cooking oils in the last few years sold under the Wesson brand name: Canola Oil, Vegetable Oil, Corn Oil, and Best Blend. If you have purchased these products believing them to them to be “100% Natural” and not to contain genetically engineered ingredients, please contact us at right away. Please include “Wesson” in your subject line and your state of residence in your email.

Watermelon pops

The whole family is outside washing the cars. Jaxon and I are in the garage listening to Pixies taking a break from the hot sun. He is dancing as he pops the bubbles I'm blowing at him. Wait...the heck is he eating?! A watermelon pop. It's awesome. It's hard to put down once you begin eating it.

My mother-in-law called the other day and was telling me how her friend sticks watermelon in the freezer and eats it on a hot summer day. I tried it and it was a huge hit! We can never eat an entire watermelon in this house to begin with so its a great way to utilize the fruit before it goes bad. I think this would be a great thing to pack in the cooler next time we go to the zoo.

This is what I did:
  • cut the watermelon in triangles
  • used a knife to make a small opening in the rind to insert a popsicle stick
  • stuck the plate of watermelon pops in freezer before I went to bed

Monday, July 18, 2011


I have been following the Jaycee Lee Dugard story closely as it portrays an amazing example of survival. Dugard was kidnapped at age 11 in 1991 by convicted sex offender Phillip Craig Garrido. Dugard had been held captive for 18 years by Garrido unbeknownst to law enforcement who had been to Garrido's house 60 times since 1991. On June 2 Garrido was sentenced to 431 years' imprisonment. His wife and accomplice, Nancy, was sentenced to 36 years to life.

I plan to read Dugard's book, "A Stolen Life" but really wanted to see her interview with Diane Sawyer over the weekend. I just caught the end. I did manage to see some clips of the interview online but for those who missed it as well, Dugard started a foundation called JAYC Foundation. It provides support and services "to ensure the timely treatment of families that are recovering from abduction and the aftermath of other traumatic experiences."

It's so inspiring to me that in her pain she is reaching out to others - I'm really in awe of Dugard's strength. I do hope the events leading to Dugard's rescue help reform the system law enforcement has in place as the case has revealed numerous loop holes, lack of investigation, etc. Sexual predators in our country is an epidemic so reform as well as support for families of victims is a must.

On the foundation site you can order these pinecone necklaces (proceeds go toward the foundation). I'm for sure going to save up for one. It would go toward a wonderful cause and be a great reminder of Dugard's survival.
The foundation is on FB but the site is

Maternal Health Accountability Act

On Mother's Day I saw an interview with Christy Turlington Burns about her documentary No Woman, No Cry. The film follows the stories of pregnant women in the US, Bangladesh and a couple other countries. It's amazing what obstacles they face - I felt frightened for them. I'm a fan on FB of the organization EVERY MOTHER COUNTS and this is a quote from the page.

"Turlington Burns, a mother, activist, women’s health advocate and fashion icon, made the film in conjunction with EVERY MOTHER COUNTS (EMC), a five-year outreach campaign she founded in 2010 that is dedicated to improving maternal health and reducing maternal mortality around the world by engaging the public, raising awareness and driving action."
Since seeing the film I have been doing some reading on maternity issues and came across this info/website link/petition.

While maternal mortality has decreased by 30% worldwide, the rate of death from pregnancy or childbirth has nearly doubled in the U.S. since 1990.[1] Furthermore, data show that African American women in the U.S. are approximately four times as likely to die during childbirth as Caucasian women even when their health status is similar.[2]

How is this possible in our nation?

Join me in demanding an answer now!  Use our one-click tool to contact your members of Congress and ask them to co-sponsor the Maternal Health Accountability Act:

The Maternal Health Accountability Act (HR 894) would give states the resources they need to report and investigate all pregnancy-related deaths as well as create a panel of medical experts to review the data and recommend strategies to reduce maternal deaths. This is a critical first step to preventing so many women from dying from pregnancy-related complications in our nation. After all, without information about why women are dying, we cannot adequately respond.

Currently, hundreds of women in the U.S. die each year as a result of pregnancy and childbirth.  In fact, 49 countries around the world do a better job of preventing women from dying from pregnancy-related complications than the U.S. [3] Despite these terrible statistics, we do not have adequate information about exactly how many women are dying and why. Currently, only six states require reporting of pregnancy-related deaths and 29 states and the District of Columbia have no mechanism in place to review maternal deaths.[4]

MomsRising members have already sent more than 42,000 letters to Congress urging action on the Maternal Mortality Act. We want to nearly double our impact and generate 75,000 letters to Congress before we deliver copies of the letters later this month.

Beech Nut's "A Jar for a Jar" drive

I thought this was interesting - wanted to share what Beech Nut was doing (I signed up for Beech Nut's newsletter to get coupons a while back. If I have coupons and can get a good deal at a store I buy them and donate the jars. This drive would double my donation without any extra work on my end - pretty nice!).

Beech-Nut® has teamed up with ABC Family executive producer and mother of two, Melissa Joan Hart, to introduce the "A Jar For A Jar" virtual donation drive. For every virtual jar of baby food shared, Beech-Nut will donate a jar of baby food to international hunger relief agency Feed the Children® — up to a million jars.

Visit Beech-Nut's Facebook page to share a jar and help fight childhood hunger! While you are there, print coupons for Beech-Nut infant and toddler products.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

fruit and veggie chart

I have been wanting to make some sort of chart for fruits and vegetables for some time. I knew it would be time consuming to make so I kept putting it off.
When the boys got their hair cut a few months ago it was SO bittersweet for me because they looked like such big boys. I must have looked quite sad because the hair dresser handed me a BUNCH of samples that were Scotch re-stickable squares in an attempt to cheer me up. It totally worked. I love free samples.
I took it as a sign that I needed to create the chart.
  • First, I drew all of the fruits and vegetables.
  • And they sat and sat on my dresser. Until Joy was over and offered to cut out them out for me while Isla slept on her. woohoo!
  • The pile sat again.
  • My sister in law, Abby, was over and I asked her to cut the pre-cut Scotch squares into fours. Then I was able to stick all of the fruit and veggie shapes to the chart and hang both charts.
  • I used double sided-tape once because I couldn't find the re-stickable squares it doesn't work well. It's a huge pain
The boys love this anatomy book my neighbor gave them so my plan was draw a stomach on poster board. Could NOT draw it. It kept looking like a weird rectangle. I'm not an artist by any means but I really thought I could draw a stomach for cryin out loud. I drew a circle and labeled each chart "Mason's Tummy", etc. I wanted them to see how many fruits, veggies and glasses of water ( I added it last minute) they put into their tummy each day.
I was not sure how successful it would be but it's going really well. Both boys actually try new fruits and veggies just so they can update their chart.
I don't have a difficut time getting Mason or Jaxon to eat adequate servings of fruits and veggies each day or try new things to eat. But Brant wouldn't even snif a vegtable. He was always great at eating fruit but since having the chart he has tried new fruits and veggies.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

strawberry champagne float

Remember that homemade strawberry champagne sorbet I made last month?
Well I put quite a few scoops in a tall glass and doused it with some moscato. IT WAS AMAZING.
Root beer floats remind me of my dad (my sister and I would giggle at the way my dad pronounced root beer "rut beer") so I drink them when I can. BUT if I had to choose between a sentimental root beer float and this refreshing concoction, I would pick this cocktail.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Happy 4th Of July!!!

Hope everyone is having a fun and safe holiday!! Adam was sleeping (on midnights), my mom was working and my sis was out of town so I took the boys to the zoo. It was nice! First time I went by myself with all three kiddos.

We did a festive craft inside the Hamil Family Zoo

The boys were all excited about the black rabbit!
In the greenhouse, the boys were happy to see the "baby bananas"
SpongeBob popsicles with gumballs for eyes, saved the day when meltdowns were about to go down.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Grizzly Jack's Resort Review

We spent two days at Grizzly Jack's Resort in Utica, IL. It's off 80 - if you are going to Starved Rock, it's the same exit. Admission to the indoor waterpark and amusement park are included with any overnight stay. Please see below for a detailed review.
  • Gorgeous area - it reminds me a lot of Grayling, MI (which is 5 hours away and this only and hour and a half) or OLD Frankfort. Speed limit is 40mph, farms, etc.
  • We checked in and staff was pleasant. The only thing I didn't understand was that they held 40% of your room total on your credit card for other expenses. I can see providing a credit card to charge other expenses but to actually hold your account - that bothered me. The way I understood it that 40% is in addition to your room costs. So basically we had $1100 being held on our credit card. I don't get out much so maybe this is now standard in the hospitality field.
  • We got into our room and unpacked. But had to call the front desk for bug spray because there were a bunch of ants on the counter and on the side of the fridge feasting. I don't mind ants but we had brought a bunch of snacks and didn't want to have to toss everything later. An employee came rather quickly and although he was nice his attitude was that we are in the woods and this is how it is. I agree but feel had the fridge been properly cleaned in the first place the ants would not be having a party there. He started sprinkling an ant killer powder, which is not safe around my almost 2-yr-old. My husband pulled the fridge out from the space since this man had not. "Oh yeah. There is a bunch of stuff back here. When you check out, I'll have the housekeepers clean this." Oh. Well shouldn't they clean it now, I thought to myself.
  • Ten minutes later we see a roach walking across the kitchen floor. I call again. And put a bowl over the roach so when the staff person arrives they can take a look. Adam and I have have seen our share of roaches so we were pretty confident that it was a roach. We called back and asked to be moved to another room. They sent the head of housekeeping to our room. She was so nice. She did say the bug was just a beetle but you never really forget what a roach looks like so...this was my response. "Well it's not like we are from the city. I mean my husband and I have seen our share of roaches." What kind of thing is that to say!? I have such pride that we moved from the city and before I knew it I acted like I never owned a pair of city shoes. But I was embarrassed. I used to work at a hotel and since that experience I never wanted to be a high maintence guest. I had been there 20 minutes and felt like one. I was also annoyed because over the last two hours we packed the car, unpacked in our lodge, then repacked and now have to unpack again. But I had to change my attitude. So I said, "Thank you for being so nice about everything. I feel bad that we are moving because I know since having worked at a hotel, your staff has to re-clean this room just because we set foot in it. And they probably just finished cleaning it." Her response was awesome: "We don't mind at all. This is how we keep our jobs - taking care of guests."
  • The resort has a shuttle or train that picks up guests and takes them wherever they wish - waterpark, amusement park, etc. It was very convenient and of course a huge hit with the boys.
  • We went Tuesday through Thursday so the resort was pretty ghost town-ish. Worked out well for my kids because they were more comfortable swimming, going down slides, etc. Sometimes they can be timid in large, chaotic groups. I think total the park had three small slides and maybe one big one - I could be wrong on that. Jaxon loved the Ranger Station play structure and tot pool. The other two boys just wanted to swim in the wave pool.
  • The indoor amusement park is pretty small and cheesy. Brant went on one ride - Mason was too short to ride anything. The kids didn't ask to go back.
  • Every night these robotic charactors, Grizzly Jack and Grand Bear, tell a story. But they are up pretty high, perched on a fireplace (I think) in the main lobby so it's hard to hear.
  • Bear Island has a fully equipped park, which was nice. There was also a walkway that we heard led to a waterfall but we didn't get a chance to find out.
  • I'm a food snob. And I certainly know my pizza so I was hesitant to try one at Lumberjack's Pizzeria. But Oh.My.GOSH. Was it AWESOME. It tasted like it was made from scratch - on the menu it states to please allow for 30 minutes for a pizza. The sauce, the thin crust, the toppings - all was great. We had a cheese and sausage pizza one night and the next night we had the taco pizza. So good I couldn't believe it.
  • The Grizzly Bean Cafe has an early bird special. It's a buffet - $7 for adults and $5 for kids three and older. Felt like I was back eating at the Purdue cafeteria, the food was so crappy but what do you expect at that price? Two thumbs up on the watermelon though - Coffee gets a big thumbs down.
  • Apparently there is a Charactor Breakfast photo opp but since we stayed during the week we didn't get to meet the "silly Grizzly Bear" as Brant called him a.k.a. Grand Bear. Brant is deathly afraid of mascots anyway so I'm actually glad we missed it.
  • Our best bet was just to use the kitchenette in our room. We made eggs, french toast, etc. I brought the french press with us so we were all good in the coffee category. There is a Jewel about 10 minutes from the resort which helped.
Overall I don't think we would go back. It was perfect timing for my kids because they are so young. But had we stayed another day, they would have been over it. We went to Starved Rock for maybe and hour and a half, nothing hard core. Brant LOVED it, the other two boys grew tired pretty quickly. I was happy to have gotten out of the house. I really liked how spacious the villa we stayed in was and really liked the area in general - reminded me of REALLY old Frankfort.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Three Boys and a breakfast diner

Breakfast is my favorite meal. I have ALWAYS looked forward to going out for breakfast...until I had kids. And I don't mean for that to come across negative - it's just how it is when you have a 2yr old, 3 yr old and 4 yr old.
Waiting for the food is the most stressful part. Then once the food arrives it feels like I can't dish it out fast enough, etc.
The good thing is, the few times we have gone out to eat with the kids, I get at least one compliment on how well behaved our kids are.
Here are my tips:
  • Before we enter the restaurant, I tell the kids what my expectations are.
  • I take advantage of anything the restaurant has to offer to entertain the kids - coloring, crayons, etc.
  • The last time we went to a restaurant it had no crayons, etc. It was breakfast time so they had packets of jelly out on the table. Each boy took a turn counting all of the orange jellies, or the purple ones, etc. Then we lined up the jelly packets and made a jelly train. We made a jelly "bed", tucked in the spoon with a napkin and sang Twinkle Twinkle.
  • Look at the decor and make conversation about it. "Do we have a rolling pin at home?" "How many flowers are in this vase?" And so forth.
  • Save the paper from the straws. I always end up doing random things that crack the boys up like I weaved a wrapper through a fork's tines and pretended it was a giant spagetti noodle trying to attack Brant's mouth.
  • Lately my boys pretend it's someone's birthday or that they are Santa Claus. They take a small toy and cover it with a napkin. They give it to me and I "unwrap" it and act all excited. We did this in the restaurant with one of their napkins (we wrapped up a jelly packet, a creamer, whatever we could find) and it bought us some time.
  • Praise when they are eating well, using manners, etc.
My favorite part of eating out with the boys is when Adam takes all of the boys out to the car and I get to finish eating and pay the bill. Seriously.