Granola Bars

Granola Bars

Ingredients:
1/2 cup honey
1/2 cup butter
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 tbsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp cream of tartar
1/2 tsp sea salt
1 tsp vanilla
3 1/2 cups quick oats
3/4 cup flour (plus up to 4 tbsp if needed)
optional 1/2 cup white chocolate chips


Instructions:
1. Line an 8×8 baking pan with parchment paper. Set aside.
2. In a microwave-safe bowl, heat butter, honey, brown sugar and white sugar together in microwave for 1 minute. Remove and stir then repeat microwaving for another minute, remove and stir. Cook for one more minute (3 minutes total) but on that last one keep an eye on it as it may boil over.
3. Add vanilla, cinnamon, cream of tartar, and salt. Stir until combined. Add the oats folding until incorpated. Add the flour in three portions, mix well after each addition. Add more flour one tablespoon at a time if the mixture is still wet and sticky.
4. Press the mixture into the prepared pan and refrigerate for an hour to set. Slice into desired size and drizzel with melted white chocolate if you so choose.

Notes:

*I made these once without flour by accident, sticky, but still yummy.
*I actually prefer these without the white chocolate. It distracts from the cinnamon taste and if I had to say which would win in a cage match, cinnamon would kick white chocolate’s butt.

Book Review: Valencia and Valentine

I think I got this book from Amazon First Reads (fun fact that I didn’t know for years – if you’re a Prime member, they email you at the beginning of every month with a list of kindle books for free and you can choose one, and they aren’t the “free because we need someone to take a chance on an unknown kid’ kind of free. You know what I’m talking about, right? You’re not going to make me type it are you? Seriously? Okay, fine! You know, the kind of book that just isn’t all that great, possibly, likely, self published (which is not fair of me to say because I think more writers are going to start self publishing soon and then the stigma should dissipate a little. It’s like homeschool kids in the 80’s were WEIRD but now, it’s pretty common and there’s lots of normal, even cool homeschoolers). Note to reader who thinks I’m being a jerk…I believe that I will one day be self-publishing AND homeschooling my kids, so…I’m allowed to say these things without any possible backlash.) *deep breath*

Anyway – that’s not what you came here to read, you came to read my review on Valencia and Valentine. This book begins so painfully awkward that I may have been depressed for the first few chapters. But in such a way that I couldn’t put it down. One, because I knew it had to get happier, right? I mean, why else would this book even exist if not? Two, I loved weirdo Valencia and even more, I was in love with Peter, the ultra shy, awkward man who works at the desk behind her. Valencia is a debt collector, she thinks about death, obsesses over it really, and she’s about to turn 35. She has obsessive compulsive disorder, and this taints everything in her life, even down to social interactions.

Mrs. Valentine is old, like really old. She’s quirky and she believes that quirky people live longer. Her best friend, Mrs. Davies, moved into the apartment across the hall. Both are widows and both like to be called by their married names so as to better remember the men they’ve loved and lost.

I, again, didn’t know much about the book as I went in to it, I think I prefer this. So the whole time I’m trying to figure out when and how the two characters will start to interact, how they’re similar and how they’re different, how one could help the other and that may have driven me to keep reading at first but then the ‘romances’ began. As I said, I am in love with Peter though I don’t think he says a whole lot in the book, I’ve always had a thing for the quiet, socially awkward type *looks at husband and nods approvingly*. One day, Valencia receives an inbound call from James Mace, who doesn’t have his credit card information but would rather just chat with her. He calls her every work day, still without his information to pay off his debt, simply wanting to talk with her. Okay, now I’m in love with James Mace too.

Meanwhile, Mrs. Valentine’s BFF’s granddaughter comes to clean Mrs. Valentine’s apartment once a week, and the old lady is excited to have someone to talk to. Anna (the granddaughter) likes Mrs. Valentine almost immediately and is very interested in the story about how Mrs. Valentine and her husband met during a random trip to New York City, where Mr. Valentine accidentally ran into her with his bike. That story was fantastic too. Needless to say, I stayed up too late many nights reading and luckily yesterday was beautiful outside so I sent the kids out and read the last two chapters.

This book is beautiful and sad. I’ve read a few like that before, where there isn’t really a happy ending, but rather, a beautiful one that leaves me ugly crying (uh, My Sister’s Keeper, anyone? Not the movie, that’s trash and I spit on it). Luckily I didn’t ugly cry, but I got misty eyed! And I love that the book points out how it can be both things. Mrs. Valentine says, “Rebuilding, change, growth–those things are so beautiful. Beauty is on a different plane than happy and sad or easy and hard; I’m sure you know that. A song can be sad and beautiful at the same time. Life too.”

Gah, I’m getting teary eyed just typing that and thinking about the book and also life. So to wrap it up, I’m in love with Peter, James Mace, Mr. Valentine, and this book. (oh and I love the main characters–just not in the same way, you know?). Five stars, go read it!

Book Review: My Plain Jane

This is the first Janie book where I’m familiar with the characters and I think it makes it even more entertaining/funny. What if Jane Eyre had been a real life friend of Charlotte Bronte and could see ghosts? The story begins with the mystery of the murder of the school master, Charlotte thinks her friend, Jane, might be the culprit–as it’s the quiet ones you’ve got to look out for. But Charlotte doesn’t mind, in fact when Alexander, the best agent for the Society for the Relocation of Wayward Spirits visits the school asking about Jane, Charlotte is worried he is there to arrest Jane for the murder. But really, he is interested in knowing more about the seer he ran into the night before. The book follows the story of Jane Eyre, but with a few tweeks and a funny (so I thought) ghostly companion, Helen (that would be Jane’s friend who died in her arms when they were younger–if you’re familiar with the original story). Helen has a way of pointing out things from the original story that are true and funny.

And dear reader, this is the second book in the series, though it is the third I have read (which I think I made clear with the Calamity Jane review). And as far as I know, it is the end of the Janies. Sad. Next up – the Mary’s, I may wait a bit though as they only have one of those published at this time. Why can’t writers write faster?! (throws back head and laughs–in case you’re unaware, I write and each story has taken years for me).

Book Review: Ash Princess

Thora is a prisoner in her own land, in her own home. When she was six years old the Kaiser invaded her homeland and had her mother, the Fire Queen, killed before her eyes. Then he had her given name, Theodosia, beaten out of her. For ten years she has lived as Thora, best friends with the daughter of the man who killed her mother, and beaten any time her people get out of line. Then one day the Kaiser makes her kill one of the guardians of her old land, a man she is pretty sure is her father. But before the man dies, he calls her by her given name, Theodosia, and it awakens something in her. Survival is not enough, now she wants revenge on the people who have stolen her family, her land, and her life away from her.

I liked this book (as the four stars indicates), the plot was clever, the villains’ villainous (and the development of a possible future villain if dreams do come true). I did find it difficult to believe that a young girl who had never even flirted with a guy, much less kissed one, suddenly know how to be a spy and get a guy to fall in love with her, but I let it go for the sake of just enjoying the novel–plus her conflict of feelings I think was well done. And there were definitely moments where I was like, “no! Don’t do that!” which was good because as much as I hate it, I also like when I’m invested in a character enough to care that she’s doing something I think is stupid or sad. I’m excited to check out the other books in the trilogy and hope they keep up with this first book. And that’s my lame review! I really don’t like risking spoilers.

Book Review: My Calamity Jane

Another delightful read from the authors of My Lady Jane. I have no knack for writing comedy, my stuff is always so serious, so I really enjoy these “retellings” and I love how they break that fourth wall sometimes and the jokes they make which I would assume all their readers get, but maybe it’s like in kid’s movies where it doesn’t stop you from enjoying it as a child, but when you go back when you’re older you’re like, “ohhh. I never realized they were making a joke there.” If that makes any sense whatsoever.

This book follows the crew of Wild Bill’s Traveling Show; Wild Bill, Calamity Jane, and Frank, “the pistol prince”. But the show is just a cover for what they really do, hunt garou. Basically…werewolves. Garous in human form are colorblind, have a keen sense of smell, and can hear the thoughts of dogs (I can’t remember if this goes with all animals or just dogs since, you know, wolves and dogs are relatives). In comes Annie Oakley who’s looking for a job as a sharp shooter but when she learns their secrets of garou hunting, she’s more than eager to join because, well, she hates garou and would love to kill some of those monsters. But things get iffy when Jane finds herself with a bite mark after a garou hunt hits some snags. Jane runs off to Deadwood after a cure and everyone else chases behind trying to help their friend.

Like I’ve already stated in my opinion above, I really liked this book. I realized after the fact that I read book 3 before book 2 (which I have waiting in my list to read after I finish my Flavia DeLuce novel). But I don’t think I missed anything, except for possibly one joke at the beginning about The Pack. Because there was a pack in book 1 and I’m thinking there’s another in the second. But we’ll see in a few days when I start that book.

Dinner Rolls

Trying some short code to make my recipes look nicer and make me seem like a savvy blogger. Is it working? Also – I’m trying to figure out the print option but I think I will know if it worked until I publish it. If this works, I may one day go back and update all the previously posted recipes, not sure if that will notify you if you follow the blog–if so, I’m sorry.

Dinner Rolls

Ingredients:
1/4 cup warm water
2 1/4 tsp active dry yeast
1 cup milk
1 1/2 tablespoon Butter
1/4 cup sugar
1 egg
1 tsp salt
3 1/2 cups flour

Instructions:
1. Put yeast into bowl and add warm water. Allow yeast to dissolve.
2. In a microwave-safe bowl, heat milk and butter together in microwave until the butter melts. Allow to cool until just warm.
3. Add sugar, egg, and salt to the butter/milk mixture, then slowly pour into the bowl of yeast.
4. Add 2 cups of flour and mix until combined. Add the remaining flour and knead for 5 minutes (I just stir with a wooden spoon in a kneading type motion because I don’t have a standing mixture).
5. Grease a bowl; add dough and turn to coat.
6. Let dough double in size.
7. Preheat oven to 350.
8. Punch dough down and form into roll shapes. I roll it out and then take a pizza cutter and cut them into squares you see above.
9. Place on a cookie sheet and allow to rise again until double, around 30 minutes. If you’re new to this letting dough rise business, I usually place the cookie sheet on the oven and if it’s really chilly in the house, I put a towel over top.
10. Back for 10-15 minutes until golden. Immediately brush with melted butter and serve.

Notes:
These are delicious. The end.

Mommy School – Bears

My five-year-old loves bears, so last week we did Bear Week and this past week we did Groundhog Day (this came in handy because of the den we made out of boxes).

We read “The Best Kind of Bear” and talked about the different types of bears mentioned in the book. We wrote on the whiteboard about bears, what they are, what they have, and what can do and I pointed out how much Nicky has in common with bears. (i.e. They live in dens and we have a den). We also read “Goldilocks and the Three Bears”…a couple of times, at one point we all took turns being one of the bears or Goldilocks. We also practiced sequencing the story and learned what porridge and cottages are. We had bear math sheets that we got from Pinterest and Education.com.

At the end of Bear week, Nicky made a den out of boxes I’d been saving up. Then we had hot chocolate with bear marshmallows (I got the idea HERE– she uses the ginormous marshmallows, I didn’t have any but I have all the other kinds so I used regulars and minis). And to top off the week, we watched a documentary about bears while using our bear den.

Book Review: The Power of Habit

Not a whole lot to dissect here, I liked the book. Very interesting information and lots of stories too. The Power of Habit’s main message is that you have the power to change those habits. Once you know what to look for and experiment to figure out what brings on those habits, you can begin to change them. I think the information was presented in such a way that I didn’t get bored (because come on, sometimes nonfiction can bore you! Hey, so can fiction sometimes!) There was some information I already knew, not surprisingly from church, because at church we’re all about becoming, changing our bad habits and taking on better ones, overcoming sin and temptation, etc. Overcome a sinful habit is the same as overcoming the habit of eating a dessert after every meal. You can’t just go cold turkey, you have to find something to replace it. I’d suggest this book for anyone who has a bad habit and WANTS to change (because you have to want it or you won’t do it–it all begins with a desire to be better). I have habits I’d like to change and have been working on, but unfortunately I can think of some people in my life who have bad habits that need to be change (mostly because they effect others but also because it’s terrible for them) who I’ll recommend this to, but they’ll probably not read it. Hopefully they will.

How Not to Hate Your Kids

So…Remember that goal I made to read 100 books (but am happy with 35), well because of that goal I have been reading a bunch of different types of books. There’s only so much of one genre my brain can take, I need to mix things up. You probably also saw my review of “How Not to Hate Your Husband After Kids”, “Girl, Wash Your Face”, and there will be other self-help/parenting type books throughout the year too. All of this is inadvertently helping me with an unspoken, rest of my life, type of goal I have had at the back of my mind since the first time I got mad at my kid, to be a better mother. I love my mom, but no one is perfect and there are definitely things I “inherited” from her that I see in myself when dealing with my kids, things that I didn’t like when I was a kid and things that kept us from having a closer relationship. Not all of it is on my mom, there’s also the temper I’ve had since…probably forever but didn’t come to light until my first temper tantrum as a child. There’s historical evidence of this, as my mom used to write me letters randomly when I was a kid (note: I absolutely LOVED this). In one letter when I was eight, my mom mentions my temper because she’s not one to sugar coat it and say, “You’re my angel baby, you’re perfect, I love you so so much” (p.s. yes, I am perfect). Instead it was like, “I love you, even your explosive temper and strong personality that I kind of wish you didn’t have but I also hope you learn how to use for the benefit of mankind instead of world domination.” Then it reappeared in a letter when I was nine. “You still have that temper!” I love reading these letters, but it also reminds me that I still have that temper and no where does it show up better than with my kids, when they’re fighting over asinine name calling or when I’ve asked them fifteen times to put away their shoes but they still won’t do it. Worse yet, when I tell my kids to go to the bathroom because we’re about to go to the store and my three year old says, “I don’t have to!” and goes to her room only to emerge five minutes later with with a pair of clean underwear because hers was wet…and oh yeah, she peed on the baby’s milk cup (intentionally) which is lying on the carpet in her room…(yeah, true story) and I think, “to heck with being polite it ain’t working!”

In “Girl, Wash Your Face”, she mentions near the beginning about how she yells at her kids, not this innocuous thing but scaring herself yelling. Yes—I can relate to that. Sometimes I scare myself with how angry I get, how loud I get, how demonic. It was so bad after Connor was born that I talked to my doctor and am currently on a low dose of medication. But I can’t just blame post pregnancy hormones, because as my mother’s letters prove, I have always had this temper. So of course, I pray a lot for patience and of course, I inevitably fail because when you pray for patience you “have the opportunity” to develop patience. (Yes, I am typing all that out with attitude because why can’t I just get patience without the work, dangit!)

There is a point here. Through my readings/studies, I am starting to see things differently. I shouldn’t be praying for patience, it’s not a lack of patience that is the problem. It’s a lack of direction/purpose. I’ve been reading, “Mothering with Scriptural Power” and she mentioned how she prays each day to be a tool for good in her children’s lives that day. I thought, “why not?” So the next day I shuffled out of my room, awoken by the kids fighting and my husband was making them breakfast and I snapped at the kids because I felt justified in my crankiness because, hello, they woke me up with fighting. And then I retired to my room and prayed, because I hadn’t done that in my hurry to come snap at my children for disturbing my slumber. I prayed to be a tool for good in their lives but I also prayed to know how to handle them, how best to teach them not just secularly but spiritually. I asked for assistance to know how to help them become the person they’re meant to become and hopefully that would also help me to become the person I’m meant to be—because I’m definitely not there yet. I want to have a good relationship with my kids. I don’t want them to be afraid to tell me on the way to school that they forgot their project at home because they know I’ll swear and bang the steering wheel (I’ve never sworn in front of my children, this is a memory that’s still clear in my mind from when I was in elementary school).

I remember the moment I realized my five-year-old has my temper, and let me tell you, there’s nothing worse than watching a small child throw a temper tantrum and realizing…that’s me! Do they behave like me or do I behave like a five-year-old? So I want them to know how to handle their emotions in a healthy way and how can I teach them that when I’m emotionally bulimic, stuffing in stress and grievances until I’m so full I let it all out at once, to whoever is closest.

So day one with this new, more focused prayer went really well. I still got frustrated and I’m sure I still had a tone and slightly raised my voice but my goodness what a huge improvement from normal. It went so well that I made sure to do it again the next day. Even better! I added a few more things in there too, like I had the kids help me make dinner (which, by the way, would have been a terrible job if I hadn’t prayed. I’m way too type-a to have children flinging rice from the pot or pushing the meat out of the pan—but I didn’t get upset this time). I’m going to keep it up, knowing that there will come a point where I will likely fail and slip back into my bad habits. But that’s life isn’t it? None of us is perfect, we try and try again, sometimes succeeding and sometimes falling flat on our faces and then we get ourselves up, go to the kitchen, grab a supersized ice cream bowl and eat our feelings (…or is that just me?). I was listening to a Come Follow Me podcast and she mentioned something someone said in her Sunday School class. He said, “Think of Peter. He walked on water and then he started to sink. What do you think Peter remembers, that he sank or that he walked on water?” How often do I dwell on when I’m sinking rather than when I’m succeeding? Remember the person you want to be, remember the times you’ve succeeded and not the times you fail.

For you parents out there, especially if there was anyone that related to this and isn’t judging me too harshly for being honest with you, here are some other things that have been helping me keep my cool.

  • Pray more specifically, (as I explained above, praying for patience is a terrible TERRIBLE choice. Think about what you really want. For me, it’s to have a good relationship with my kids, to teach them how to be good people and how to deal with their emotions in a healthy way, and to not become some crazed monster I don’t recognize).
  • When I ask one of my kids to do something and am being ignored, I walk over to them, touch their arm or face (so we can make eye contact) and tell them again.
  • On that note – I’ve stopped (or am trying to completely stop) saying, “will you”, “would you”, etc. Instead I say, “We need to do this or that” and then I’m also willing to help.
  • And because I’m willing to help them clean their messes, I’m involving them in mine (i.e. they help me make dinner) because I used to give them one task to do while I made dinner and I would do mine but they would fight about theirs and then I would start yelling “because for the love of all things why can’t I just make dinner without the two of you fighting me and you made that mess by yourself you can certainly clean it on your own…” Instead, we all help each other.
  • I don’t praise them for helping me—I praise them for being good helpers. Helping me is something external, I think it swells their little hearts to be praised for something they are, rather than something they’re doing. And they are good helpers.
  • Express how I’m feeling (before how I’m feeling tries to express itself). The other day while cooking dinner, Nicky was making faces at his reflection in the frying pan but I was asking him to do something and he kept ignoring me. I tried to hide the irritation in my voice, but failed, I got his attention and told him how being ignored made me feel, how irritated and angry I was becoming. Then I asked if he likes the feelings he has when someone is ignoring him. He said ‘no’ and then did what I asked (it’s a miracle).
  • Overlook what you don’t like. I ignored the messes being made because, well, I’m going to have to clean up anyway (this is mostly applied to cooking dinner). I get most upset when I fixate on how something should be. That doesn’t mean how I think something should be is right, and fixating on it just raises my anxiety, which always bubbles over to anger.
  • Choose how you want to behave ahead of time (from The Power of Habit). You know how you already react to things, and you don’t like it (i.e. become a crazed mommy monster, or stonewalling your spouse, or eating your feelings, etc.) Then PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE. I think the example from the book was Starbucks employees, practicing how they would react if a customer was crabby or mean, and then they would practice it so that when that devil customer reared its ugly head they slipped into a routine rather than reacting in kind. So for me, I know I lose my temper when the kids are fighting or whining – so how do I want to react? I want to calmly tell them that if they don’t stop that terrible behavior I’m going to cut out their tongues and….oh wait, haha, sorry. I’m going to react calmly, explain to them that I don’t like it when they whine or fight and am less likely to give in to what they want. (NOTE: this one is still a work in progress)

The strangest, most beautiful thing happened the other day. When dinner was almost done cooking, Nicky hopped down from his stool and declared he wanted to set the table, and Izzy helped. Then he said he was going to “do so many chores”. He went and made his bed and Izzy’s, got in his pjs, then went downstairs and cleared all the toys off the floor in the den (because after dinner he wanted to play with glow sticks). He didn’t fight me at all, he was proactive because he knew what had to be done. I’m almost afraid to post this because what if everything changes now that I’ve given it a mouth? What if I’m jinxing myself? But I’ll post it for anyone else who may need to see this, to know that they’re not the only parent who isn’t as good as they want to be or who feels their kids are unruly. It’s working for me and I hope it will work for you too. And I can’t stress enough the prayer component, because without that, I don’t think I would have learned these new coping mechanisms on the very days I needed them. I asked the Lord to help me know how best to teach and interact with them and He gave liberally. It’s like in Mark 10:27 “For with God all things are possible”…even especially raising kids and changing yourself for the better.

I feel the need to put a disclaimer, I’m not trying to sell some magical cure all for whatever ails you. Every person and situation is different, you have to experiment with what works best for you and your situation. Life is so incredibly imperfect, I still snap at my kids from time to time, my children insist on pooping in their pants multiple times a day (or peeing on Connor’s milk cup), I became a demon one day when everything seemed to pile up (poopy pants in three kids, three kids whining in unison, my five year old blaming me for something I had no control over (happens more often than you’d think)). But that’s one demon day in several weeks, that’s pretty darn good if I do say so myself. So–I’m working on it, and will be for the rest of my life because everything that’s worth it takes time, sometimes a lifetime. There are no easy fixes when it comes to making yourself a better person. So I’m going to keep at it and I’m going to work on not focusing on “sinking”–but rather the moments I seem to “walk on water” because those are the moments I want to repeat over and over again. Those are the moments that will bring me to my ultimate goal of having a good, long lasting relationship with my kids.

40 Before 40: Get a Professional Haircut and Style

Pardon the bags under my eyes. Connor’s been waking up in the middle of the night lately.

Well, I finally made an appointment and got my hair did. Matt said something snarky the morning of and I told him I was going to get a pixie cut (because I thought he didn’t like them) and he said, “really?” with more enthusiasm than expected. So then suddenly that became an option and we looked at some pictures on Google to find one we liked and then Nicky asked what we were looking at. I told him I was looking at possible haircuts and…Nicky wasn’t having it. He told me that if I came home looking ANY different than he would run away. Those are the types of tyrants I live with.

Don’t worry, I don’t allow my child to make my decisions for me. However, since my go to hair style in the mornings is to pull my hair back into a ponytail, I decided that at this point in my life a pixie cut wouldn’t work. And quite frankly, may never be my hairstyle of choice. So I just got a few inches off and little but of layering. I absolutely loved Dean at Rapunzel Too and though I’m not one to typically go and get my hair professionally cut (for the new comers to the blog, I cut my own hair and I cut off my ponytail at the beginning of lockdowns because it was on my 40 before 40 list and—lockdowns, why not?), if I decide to get another one it will definitely be with Dean.