Thursday, May 24, 2012

Side by side (by side. . .)

I did this picture the other night and it brought tears to my eyes.  How fast these babies grow.  Thank goodness for pictures!!  It helps me stop and reflect when I can see those images side by side. . .
 plus the little scientist in me just loves COMPARING. It is so fun to see how our boys grow, or how much they are like each other at the same age, or how much I change!  Here are a few of my favorites for inspiration, and some details on how to do these with very little computer skill.  :)

Me, 9 months pregnant with Josh (left), Daniel (top) and Philip (bottom)

Bringing each boy home from the hospital Josh (left) Daniel (top) Philip (right)

Each boy on their favorite blankie on their baptism day

Each boy in my favorite little St. Pat's outfit.

My bestest friend Kristin and I in 1998 and 2011.  :)

First of all, I am not fancy.  I just like to look fancy.  My husband can use Photoshop and do all kinds of incredible things with it.  It's like another language (Layers?  What are those?)  But he speaks it since he uses it every day at work, and I take advantage of his skills any time I can!  But since I don't want to bug him every single time I want a photo edited, I have picked up some easy things I can do myself.  Thanks to my tech-savvy husband, I have been using Picasa to organize and edit my photos for years now.  It is free, it is awesome, and if you don't understand Photoshop (like me!) it can give you some powerful tools to edit your pictures.  Even if you do use Photoshop, Picasa makes a lot of decisions for you that can make your editing much faster for those times you just need to be speedy!

Here are some things I love about Picasa, in no particular order. . .

1.  Face tagging.

Picasa has a face tagging feature, so if I want to find every single picture of my Dad, it's easy-peasy!

2.  Photo uploading.

I can put all of the photos I want in the tray and upload them to facebook, google plus, a blog post, send them in an email. . .all from Picasa.  It's so simple and visual.

3.  Shopping

Picasa also supports uploading to lots of online retailers I use like Walgreens, Snapfish and Shutterfly.  It makes uploading photos to shop very straightforward since you can see all of the folders and pictures you have at once instead of clicking around in your directories.

4.  Collages

Any time I have a series of pictures I love and I can't choose a favorite, I make a collage.  The collage tool within Picasa is very basic but it gets the job done quickly, which I like!
5.  Adding text

I love to add text to my pictures, especially for gifts.  The picture below is a collage that I made and then added text to (a poem by Meiji Stewart)

6.  Picnik integration

To be honest, I had no idea what Picnik was when people would talk about it.  I figured it must be sketchy because they use a letter "K" where there should be a "C" and that stresses me out.  But I noticed Picasa had added a Picnik button and casually clicked on it.  Now I am IN LOVE.  I can make a collage and then add text to it with all sorts of trendy fonts.  Typically when I see a font I love I have to do some detective work to figure out what font it is, download it, etc.  In Picnik, you can use all of the fonts they have to add to your pictures and it is so easy to move the text, change the color, resize, etc.  I am hooked.  Picnik is really kool.  Just be careful to make a copy of your image before you edit it in Picnik if you do not want to overwrite your current image forever.  Here's a little image I did for a fundraiser for my sister's orphanage in Uganda.

At the end of the day, I really can't imagine using anything else to manage my photos.  Our memories are so important to me, so I love having everything accessible and integrated so I can manage printing, uploading, editing and other memory keeping in a very user friendly format.  Thank you, Picasa, for helping me feel fancy!!
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Monday, May 7, 2012

Plan A.

"The best thing you've ever done for me is to help me take my life less seriously.  It's only life after all. . ."

Closer to Fine, by the Indigo Girls

Last week, THIS happened at my house. . .while I was on the phone.  For a whopping 15 minutes.

Now, I knew I had this conference call for work, and had planned my entire morning around it.  I would get up extra early, get all my chores done, wear the kids out in the backyard, feed them an early snack, take them potty and leave them to watch Sesame Street for a few minutes while I went upstairs for a kind-of-a-big-deal first meeting with a client.   Doesn't that sound like a great plan?  It did to me. . .however, I came downstairs to find that plan B was already in place.   Is plan A even a part of life anymore?   I am starting to think plan A is more elusive than unicorns and finding size 4 diapers at Target.  Even then, I had to try pretty hard not to laugh. . .and all of the stuffing went back in, so, we're good.  But, it got me thinking.  You know that saying, I was a great parent until I had kids?  That was so me!!  Before I had kids, I would sit at the lunch table with my colleagues and they would tell me stories of mischief that their little ones would get into.  Flour and chocolate syrup all over the kitchen, socks down the toilet, marker (or worse things!) on the walls.  These stories were all hysterically funny, but as I laughed with my friends I had a hard time imagining in my feeble pre-parental mind how that would ever happen.  Pre-parenthood Jen was just mildly curious as to what those parents were doing when they were supposed to be watching their kids?  Pre-parenthood Jen was also pretty confident that her kids would never get into any mischief around her house!  No way, not this super-duper-awesome parent!!

I mean, I am going to supervise my kids EVERY SINGLE SECOND.  They will never get into any thing they weren't supposed to while their super-duper-awesome mom wasn't looking. . .

They'll be so clean and well-cared for. . .
Smile angelically in every family photo. . .

Eat really healthy food with excellent table manners. . .

Be totally loving to each other all of the time. . .

And I would NEVER just plop my kids in front of the TV so I could get some housework done, right?


OK, I was totally wrong.  Once you become a parent for realsies, everything you previously thought you knew about parenting was goes out the window.  For example, I had no idea that so much of parenting revolved around poop.  Like, from the time they are born. . .you are counting it, writing it down, changing it, disposing of it, analyzing its frequency, color, and consistency, calling your spouse at work to discuss it, obsessing about the times when it doesn't want to go in the potty because it just prefers to go in underwear. . .I had no idea.  I really thought parenthood was about loving your kids, reading them stories and dressing them up in cute outfits.  Silly Jen.

Also, pre-parenthood, I would see those stories on the news, you know the ones about Britney Spears driving with her baby in her lap or about the single mom who left her preschoolers home alone so she could go out to a bar. . .and I would be like, "Oh my gosh , how could someone DO that???"  Now, I just want to give that single mom a hug.  Then I wish I could just go over there any babysit for her so she could go out and get some adult time. . .poor mom!  I am sure none of that stuff that happened was part of her plan A.

I realize now that when I first became a parent, I missed out on a lot of happiness trying to accomplish plan A and live up to my vision of what I thought family life should be.  I wore myself out trying to accomplish tasks that were so easy for me before another human being's life was so closely intertwined with mine, and no one was better for it.  Over time, I have learned that one big part of happiness is freeing yourself from the burden of expectations set too high.  That goes for your children, for your husband, and most importantly for yourself.  I can be very hard on myself, so attempting to extend graciousness and lovingkindess to the girl in the mirror is a constant area of growth for me.  If I don't expect everything to go according to plan and to be a magazine-perfect parent while executing said plan , it helps.  It's all about enjoying the good-enough-but-not-quite-perfect way things just GO around here.

 Perfect happens in God's time, not mine after all.  

I am slowly letting go of the hypothetical parent I thought I was going to be before I had kids, and becoming the parent that my children that are here right now need me to be.  I don't want to miss out on the fun because I am still focused on plan A. They're just growing up so fast, you know!

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Saturday, May 5, 2012

Biscuits and Gravy.

There is no better way to impress the men in my home than with some sausage gravy.   When I married Paul, I learned that Sunday breakfast after church at his home growing up was a big deal.   (Although, I would imagine any meal that involved feeding 10 kids was kind of a big deal.)  Sunday morning involved lots of delicious food home-cooked by his mom, and his FAVORITE of those meals was biscuits and gravy.  I knew the very first time I had a meal at his mother's table I would never be the cook that she is, 'cuz she's pretty awesome, but as his new bride I was still determined to give him his favorite meal despite my lack of experience.  I had no idea how to go about it, but then one day while cruising down the aisles of east side Marsh I saw Bob Evans already-made-gravy in the frozen section!  I flipped over the box excitedly.  Just defrost and add biscuits!  SCORE!  I hurried home to cook them up and surprise my sweetheart.  

Now, I probably don't have to tell you that it was nothing like his Mom's. Paul would never complain, but I could tell I wasn't going to get off that easy. . .it was time to roll my sleeves up and figure it out for myself.  Here's the thing with Biscuits and Gravy.  The ingredients are really simple.  You just have to play around with it to get it right. . .stirring, adjusting the temperature, checking your biscuits so the bottoms don't burn, watching for the gravy to get to just the right thickness.   It's not fail-proof, but the time spent perfecting the details is worth it.  When my boys smell biscuits and gravy, they come-a-running.  Paul smiles and thanks me profusely.  Phil says, "YES!  My FAVORITE!  Biscuits and GRAVY!", (even though he won't actually touch the gravy, he still throws that word in there.)  Daniel shovels it in his mouth at record speeds, and even baby Josh squeals "GRABYYYY!!!"  Yep.  I found the way to their hearts.  It's the gravy way to say I love you.

So, here's the recipe, along with not-very-concise instructions on how to turn these ingredients into deliciousness.

Biscuits and Sausage Gravy Recipe


1 lb roll of sausage (I use regular or sometimes sage flavored sausage)
3 cups of milk (2% is ideal)
1/4 cup of all purpose flour
Salt and Pepper to taste
2 cans of Refrigerated Buttermilk Biscuits
Shortening (depending on the fat content of your sausage)

Preheat your oven and cook the canned biscuits as directed.  While the biscuits are cooking, prepare the gravy.

1.  Get a big skillet and warm it over medium heat.  You are going to start it on medium, but just turn it up or down as needed as you go along.  The entire recipe might require anything from medium low to medium high depending on your range.
2.  Brown and crumble your sausage over medium to medium high heat.
3.  When the sausage is browned, don't drain it.  I know that sounds fattening, but the fat makes for a better gravy.  If there is a ton of grease, you might skim off a few spoonfuls, or if there is hardly any grease in the pan, add a little bit of shortening, maybe a tablespoon or two.   Or, leave the grease in AND add shortening. Hey, nobody said this was health food!  This is SUNDAY food!
4.  Turn the heat down to medium.  Add the flour and some salt and pepper, maybe 1/4 t of each to start and you can add more pepper later.  Now you need to keep stirring the sausage until the flour turns from white to brown.  Watch your skillet, if you think it is getting too hot, turn it down more.  You don't want it to burn, just brown a little bit.  All of the flour should be incorporated with the sausage and look nice and uniform.
5.  Now slowly add your milk while stirring with your spatula.  You can crank the heat up to medium high as long as you watch the skillet and continue to stir.  It will take a few minutes, but watch for the milk to start to bubble.  Add more pepper now if you think you are going to want a more "pepper-y" gravy.
6. Once your milk starts to bubble, allow it to bubble for at least a minute while stirring.  You can turn the heat down to medium or medium low while it is bubbling.  You don't want the milk to burn, so temperature and stirring are key here.  Too high- it burns.  Too low- it won't thicken.
6.  Watch for your gravy to thicken.  Your gravy will thicken more once you allow it to sit out off the heat, but you want it to get to at least 80% of your desired thickness before you take it off the burner.  This could take anywhere from about 1-4 minutes.
7.  When your gravy reaches thickness, remove it from the heat.
8.  Allow the gravy to set and cool for a few minutes, then transfer to a serving bowl.  By now, your biscuits should be done and you are ready to serve!
9.  Break the biscuits in half, place on a plate and spoon gravy over the open biscuits.


Friday, May 4, 2012


I saw this on Pinterest this week and it made me laugh out loud.  Truer words have never been spoken.  How can you take this crazy trip called parenting, or LIFE for that matter, without humor?  Paul and I love to laugh together. . .one of the reasons I fell in love with Paul is that he can always make me laugh.  Maybe one of the reasons he fell in love with me is that I hysterically laughed at his jokes all the time.  (I mean, It's not very hard to make me laugh, but he didn't know that when we met. ;)  Early in our relationship, Paul and I bonded over funny movies.  Little did we know that one day we would give birth to a tiny David Spade and Chris Farley, and later on a small Adam Sandler.  I mean, we should have seen the warning signs.  I don't know how we thought two people like us would turn out perfect, angelic, and SERIOUS children?

Because of this, mealtime is a little insan-o at our house.  I told Paul that we need to get some acoustic tile for our dining room.  Or at the very least, some very heavy curtains.  Anything to absorb the sound of three little boys who just love to be together and will do ANNNYYYTHIINNNGGG to get each other's attention or make someone laugh.  All attempts at discipline fail as they get exponentially sillier and the decibel level goes up higher and higher.  They take on a life of their own.  They get so excited at breakfast, sometimes I just pretend like I need to clean the kitchen and eat my cereal in there alone where the Sound of Silliness is slightly more muffled.  Since hiding in the kitchen with my food doesn't seem like the most maternally appropriate option, I decided to go with the philosophy of, "If you can't beat 'em, join 'em."  If they want to be comedians, I am just going to start teaching them jokes.

So, I busted out my laptop at breakfast this week and pulled some of my favorites from Ellen's Classic Joke Monday. 

What did the tie say to the hat? I'll hang around, You go on ahead.

What kind of underwear do clouds wear? Thunderpants!

What do you call an alligator wearing a vest?  An Investigator!

Why did the cookie go to the doctor?  Because he was feeling crumb-y!

What does a nosy pepper do?  He gets jalapeno business.

Aw, yeah.  The kids ate this up.  They love to make people laugh.  They had them memorized before I knew it and when Daddy came home, they filled the dinner table with their jokes.  Win.

However, like all of parenting's ups and downs, you find something that works, but it doesn't work forever.  I am sure that the kids will outgrow jokes at the table and start trying to outsilly each other in different and newly challenging ways.  I mean, they haven't even scratched the surface of bodily function humor yet.  But, it keeps my sanity for this week and for that I am deeply grateful!  Plus, it brings more laughter into our lives.  

Against the assault of laughter nothing can stand.- Mark Twain

Nothing can stand.  Not annoyance, not exhaustion, or anger, or tension or fear.  Laughter vanquishes them all.   As silly as Paul and I can be, there have been many times as parents when we have just taken ourselves way to seriously.   We were the accountants who lost our spreadsheets.  We have approached our children many times with furrowed brows and heavy hearts, overwhelmed with the burden of molding our young sons into men.   We have often forgotten that God has given us the gift of laughter to erase all of our stress and perceived suffering, to lighten our burden and drive the dark clouds away.  Once again, I am pretty sure this is why God gave us Daniel.

Lord, help us to remember why you gave us laughter.  Help us to find the funny when things seem to go wrong.  Help us to look at our children with hearts open to the joy that they bring.  Remind us that it was laughter that brought our hearts together and got us into this beautiful mess in the first place! 

Our mouths were filled with laughter, 
    our tongues with songs of joy. 
Then it was said among the nations,
    “The Lord has done great things for them.”
Psalm 126:2 

***As a side note, a few days in to our comedic training they have started making up their own jokes.  To be honest, some of them don't make any sense at all.  But we're working on their comedic skills and timing.  
Here's the ones that made me laugh out loud.

Daniel's:  What did one cookie say to the other cookie?  (I don't know, what.)  Hey, do you smell cookies?  

Phil's:  What did one blueberry say to the other blueberry? (I don't know, what) How are you feeling?  Blue.

Josh's:  Knock Knock (Who's There?) Swiper.  (Swiper Who?)  AWWWW MAAANNNN!!!
(We watch enough Dora the Explorer for that to be hilarious to his brothers)

And I haven't told my kids my favorite joke yet, the one I learned from incredibly gracious and wise, (but never too serious) mentor teacher, Gary. . .

What do you get when you cross an elephant and a rhinoceros?  


Ten years later, that one still gets me every time.
Leave a comment and add to my joke arsenal, OK?