Archive | July, 2012

The Almost Sleepover Birthday Cake

27 Jul

Elizabeth turned 10 earlier this month, which meant she got to host a couple of friends for an “Almost Sleepover” last weekend. The Almost Sleepover is also sometimes known as a Mock Sleepover or a Half Sleepover. It’s when the guests come with pj’s on, sleeping bags and pillows in hand, and do all the typical sleepover type stuff (pizza, cake, movies, games, presents) but then right before bedtime, *poof!!* they go home!! The Almost Sleepover means that everyone gets to actually sleep! It’s one of my favorite birthday parties of all.

When Caroline had her Almost Sleepover two years ago, I coincidentally received an email earlier that month, from Kraft Foods, showing a slumber party cake, which I adapted here at home for her party. Here’s what her cake looked like back in 2010.

Caroline’s Almost Sleepover Cake from 2010. So cute, right?

I decided after making the cake once, that I’d do it slightly differently the next time around, which was now for Elizabeth’s party last weekend. Here’s what I did differently:

I used brownie as the base, rather than cake.

I used one quarter of a graham cracker for their sleeping bag instead of whatever I’d used here. That allowed me to make smaller people and fit more of them on the cake than just six. I like everyone to get a person to eat and there’s already three girls here before any guests or adults arrive.

I couldn’t find the rainbow candy for the hair this time around, I think it was from Halloween that year since Caroline’s birthday was in October. But, Elizabeth found some gummy worm type of candy in the checkout lane at Walmart when we were buying our supplies, so we used those, which worked out fine.

So here is what Elizabeth’s Almost Sleepover Cake looked like:

The Almost Sleepover cakes are so fun to make and the guests always love seeing it, almost more than eating it!

There was plenty of space for candles too:

Make a wish!

And in case you’re wondering what we did for a craft at the party, it was decorate-your-own pillow cases:

Everyone had different colored pillow cases to choose from. Elizabeth had everyone sign hers so she’ll always remember her 10th birthday party.

The party was fun and easy and the cake was delicious! Best of all was seeing Elizabeth enjoying her special day:

Happy Tenth Birthday Elizabeth!

What’s For Dinner Wednesday: Grilled Chicken Kabobs

25 Jul

Really, is there anything better than grilled veggies in the summertime?

It’s HOT here in the summer. Our goal is to go as long as possible in between having to turn on the oven and if it’s an official “heat wave,” we don’t turn it on at all, no matter what we have to do.

When we went camping last summer we cooked on the campfire pretty much every night. We alternated cooking meals with the other family that we were with, and one night when it was their turn to cook, Grilled Chicken Kabobs were on the menu! They were SO delicious.

So last week during the latest heat wave, we were going over our menu for the week and realized we had everything we needed to make the kabobs. I’d been craving them.

The best thing about kabobs is that you can add whatever you want to them. You can create them based on whatever you have in the house or by what you’re craving, what your family likes, or really however you want to! You can do chicken, seafood, beef…the possibilities are endless.

For last week’s kabobs we kept it simple, marinating the chicken for a few hours in bottled Italian dressing and then loading zucchini, yellow squash, onions and mushrooms onto the skewers along with the chicken.

They were amazing! I can’t wait to do them again. The kids had mixed reviews as to who liked what on the skewers but I threw an extra veggie on the table that everyone liked so it didn’t matter to me who ate what from their skewers as long as they all had vegetables on their plates. It was fun to watch them negotiating with each other if someone really liked or didn’t like something, they’d trade.

Next time you’re looking for something fun for dinner, try throwing some kabobs on the grill!

Broccoli and a side of couscous made for a perfect meal during our most recent heat wave.

The most exciting news EVER….

24 Jul

What could my exciting news be??


You won’t believe it.

I’ve been keeping this a secret for SO LONG, more than a month, and it was SO HARD!

Okay I told *a few* people.

And of course my immediate family.

But that’s it.

Do you want to know??? I know you do!

Okay here it is.

I would sit down if I were you. It’s big.

Caroline and I are going to Washington DC.

We’re going to meet THE FIRST LADY!!!!

That’s right! Michelle Obama!! We’re meeting Michelle Obama!!!

Yes, seriously!

Okay. Let me regroup. Here’s how it happened….

Back around the end of May, my editor at the Cranston Herald, Meg, received a press release from Senator Jack Reed’s office announcing a recipe contest that Epicurious was putting out in conjunction with the White House. One winner, a parent/child team, would be chosen from every single state. You can read a similar press release here.

Now Meg is a big fan of The Whole Bag of Chips. She emailed me the press release and said, “You should enter this with one of your kids.”

I took a look, and thought, “Hmmm….maybe I should.”

So I broached it to my kids, but there was one problem: you could enter with one child at a time, ages 8-12, but if you entered with more than one child, only one could win and if one was a winner, the whole family doesn’t get to go to Washington, just the one winner and their parent.

Right off the bat, Alex is seven, so I couldn’t enter with her. My first initial thought was to enter with Caroline because she cooks more in the kitchen than Liz and is slightly more independent in the kitchen, and additionally, she’s 12, the top age. She couldn’t enter again if it ran next year.

But, Elizabeth, upon hearing about the contest said, “Well, I’m between 8 and 12 I want to enter too.” So I explained the whole thing about not being able to win with both, even though I could enter with both.

Elizabeth said, “That’s okay, if Caroline won, I’d be happy for her.”

Caroline said, “I don’t know. If you won, I think I’d be too sad. I don’t know if I can do it.”

I was stumped. I didn’t know what we should do. We had some time though, I let them think on it, and I hoped that Caroline would come around and both of them could enter.

One day at the beginning of June, I received an email from Caroline that said, “Okay, I’ll do it.” (I’m pretty sure she wrote that email from in our house, with me right in the house with her, but it didn’t matter to me. She wanted to do it.)

And so, we did it.

Elizabeth and Don with their contest entry, a tuna wrap and all the fixins’!

On June 9, after dinner we got down to business.  Separately we had to come up with our meals, cook up our meals, type up our entries which included the recipe with ingredients and step-by-step instructions and a photo of a complete meal including side dishes and beverages, as well as a short essay.

We have a tiny kitchen. We had to take turns.

Elizabeth had chosen to enter with Don because their healthy lunchtime recipe was one he makes for her lunch a lot: a tuna wrap with lettuce and tomato. On the side she had celery and carrots and a glass of coffee milk (a delicacy here).

Lunch anyone?

Caroline and I came up with an egg white omelette with broccoli and mozzarella cheese because she will only eat egg whites, and she loves broccoli. On the side we had wheat toast and mixed fruit (kiwi and nectarines).

We sent in our entries that night. The deadline was June 17, the night before the last day of school.

That Friday afternoon, following the deadline, I received an email. Caroline and I were finalists for our state. I couldn’t believe it. I asked Don if he’d gotten one, but he had not.

We had to tell them.

I let Caroline see the email first. Then we told Liz. I was worried at how she’d react. Her eyes got bright, but she said, “Caroline, I’m so happy for you. Here, have my lollipop stick,” and she handed her the empty stick. That was the end of it.

I emailed Meg, “We’re finalists! OMG” and began filling out all the paper work needed to complete the next level of the contest. We had five days to get it filled out, notarized and postmarked.

Then, we waited.

We knew from the rules that there could be up to three finalists per state but that’s all we knew; that and the fact that only one of those finalists would win.

And waited.

We wondered. We’re a small state. How many entries could there be?

And waited.

It was agonizing. The original notification date was supposed to be by July 16. I slept about ten seconds the night before.

But we didn’t hear anything.

I checked in. “Just checking to see if all the winners had been notified yet?”

No. Not yet. No one.

We were still in the running. The winners would be notified that week.

So we waited and waited some more. Every day seemed like a week. I checked my email ten million times a day if we were home, to see if we heard anything yet.

By that Thursday I checked in again. A formal email went out. Competition was tough this year. They needed more time. The official notification date would now be Tuesday July 24. We’d hear either way.

And now here it is, Tuesday, July 24.

And guess what???  Well you know already. WE WON!!!!

Caroline and I will be traveling to Washington to represent the state of Rhode Island at the Kids’ State Dinner, which will be held next month!!

I’m so incredibly excited!! But even more so, I’m so incredibly proud of my kids. I’m proud of them for taking the risk to enter, proud of them for being healthy eaters, for being cooks in the kitchen, and for loving each other and us, enough to want to compete against each other and yet be willing to support each other at the same time. To me, and I’m choked up as I write this, that says a lot about the strength of their bond with each other and their bond with us. I love my kids so much, and I’m so, so proud.

I am incredibly proud of my kids!!

I will keep you updated as the trip takes place and you can be sure there will be photos to go along with it. They are creating a free downloadable eBook containing all the recipes from all the winners for each state, so our recipe will be published in that cookbook. I’ll let you know when that becomes available as well.

We won. Can you believe it?

Our healthy lunchtime recipe: Egg white omelette with broccoli and cheese.

What We’re Doing For Fun This Summer: Summer Timeline Update

23 Jul

As promised, here’s a quick update on our Summer Vacation 2012 Timeline. If you’re a new reader, you can check out how our timeline began by clicking on the link here.

It’s been just over one month since school ended and our timeline began, and so far, so good. I wasn’t sure what to expect; how often we’d add to it, what we’d be doing to put on it, if the kids would lose interest or not.

No worries, the timeline is full.

Visitors, parades, birthdays, staycation time…it was a busy month!

The kids have really enjoyed adding their posts to the timeline, and they take turns adding things on. If it’s a particular event that happened to one of them, they let that person write it and put it on. Otherwise, they take turns. We make sure to add the dates, of course. We did blue paper for June, yellow for July and probably will do pink for August.

I print the photos out nine at a time, since my photo printing program prints nine 2×3 photos per page.  I don’t waste paper that way and I’m not running around printing photos every other day. The kids love seeing what pictures I’ve added overnight, when they wake up in the morning. I try to be equal, making sure to put up approximately the same amount of photos of each kid, each time, or the best bet: photos containing the three of them.

I also learned pretty quickly that one row of photos just wasn’t enough. I’m a photographer with three kids. Two rows was definitely a must. Luckily our Doodle Roll is wide enough to accommodate two rows. Luckily it doesn’t accommodate three, because I could totally go there.

The beginning of July tends to be busier for us and more eventful than the end of the month, because that’s when Don takes his vacation time (and some again in the beginning of August) so we do a lot. There’s the Fourth of July holiday in there as well as Elizabeth’s birthday, so there were tons of things to add to the timeline, every day. Once he went back to work and we were out of the holiday time and back to a more routine schedule there was less to add, so it balances out so far.

The kids had questioned me as to what would happen if we ran out of space, and we did. My answer had been not to worry, that we could always add to it, so we did. We went around the corner and onto the next wall in the dining room. (I have no qualms about hanging “kid stuff” up anywhere in the house, so this was not an issue for me. I have many years ahead to have grownup stuff or no stuff, on my walls.)

The second half of our timeline, ready and waiting for our upcoming events in July and August.

Personally, as a scrapbooker and a person who makes photo books often, I love this project. If I get no further than taking this off the wall in September and rolling it up to put it away, at least we have this much: a record of all our summer memories from 2012, photos to go with them, and even samples of the kids’ handwriting and spelling from this summer to go along too.  If I decide to make a photo album or scrapbook, I can use these pictures and their posts. If I want to make a photo book, I’ve already sorted the “best of” pictures into a separate folder on my computer for printing, so making a photo book will be that much easier. But, I won’t have ANY guilt because I know that we have this much, which is better than nothing!

Summer is my favorite, favorite, favorite time of year. I love having my family around me, my husband gets some time off, and we do lots of fun things together. I am so incredibly glad to have this fun reminder of these days together. I know that one day we’ll look back and say, “Where did the time go?”

And then, I’ll pull out our timeline and we’ll know.

Peanut Butter Swirl Brownies by Karen

20 Jul

There is nothing like a summer’s night on the beach!

Last week we attended the annual summer concert on the beach that I’ve been attending since I was young. I’ve missed one or two, but in the 37 total years it’s been in existence, I have been to almost all of them.

It’s a huge affair and it is one of my all-time favorite summer traditions. I love sharing it with my kids. Everyone goes down to the beach first thing in the evening and sets up their space. We bring blankets, chairs, tables.

And then comes the food and the wine, and the dessert. Oh…the dessert.

This year I was looking for something unique to bring. Something that we hadn’t already done this summer at another night on the beach or parade or cookout. I like to keep things interesting so that no one gets bored. Namely, me.

I looked through a cookbook or two, and then I remembered Karen’s Cookbook, and the fact that last time I’d gone through it I’d seen an old favorite of mine: Peanut Butter Swirl Brownies.

I knew I’d found my dessert.

Melting butter and chocolate chips…what a beautiful sight!

As I was cooking them, melting the chocolate over the stove, I could literally see myself making them all those years ago, my college roommate Karen and I living in our house we rented during our college years. This is what I love about recipes: the traditions and memories that go with them. I always say recipes are the ties that bind people together, and I do truly believe that. I thought of Karen and all the fun we had, as I was cooking.

So today, I share with you Karen’s Peanut Butter Swirl Brownie recipe. I love that it’s a “from scratch” brownie recipe, and I love the step where you turn the batter into one part peanut butter batter and one part chocolate batter and then swirl them together. You’ll see, it’s so cool.

When you make them and eat them, I hope you make some special memories too!



1 six ounce bag chocolate chips (I used one cup)

3 Tablespoons butter

3 eggs

1 cup sugar

1/2 tsp vanilla

1 Tablespoon sour cream

1/2 cup flour

1/4 tsp. baking powder

1/3 cup peanut butter


Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Grease 9×13 pan.

Melt chocolate chips and butter until fudge-like.

In mixing bowl, beat eggs, sugar, vanilla and sour cream.

Add flour and baking powder to the egg mixture.

Pour 3/4 of the batter into the melted chocolate and stir well.

Add peanut butter to remaining batter.

Pour chocolate batter into the pan.

Spoon peanut butter batter over and swirl with a knife until proportionate.

Bake 25-30 minutes.

Ready to eat!

Someone got hold of my camera, apparently.

What’s for Dinner Wednesday: Don’s Broccoli Bake

18 Jul

A great twist for a simple veggie.

Broccoli is a vegetable our whole family enjoys. I buy it both fresh and frozen. I use it in my main entrees as well as on the side.

Recently, Don came up with a new way to make it and it was delicious. Everyone devoured it, especially me!

Don’s recipes come from in his head, so I don’t have specific measurements for you or a step-by-step recipe, but I’ll do my best to tell you how he made it.


Place cooked broccoli in the bottom of an oven-safe baking dish.

Sprinkle with bread crumbs, bacon bits, parmesan cheese, salt and pepper, garlic powder.

Drizzle with melted butter.

Bake for about 20 minutes at 350 degrees.

Top with shredded mozzarella cheese and broil until all the cheese has melted.


What we’re doing for fun this summer: The Great Playground Challenge

16 Jul

Making a mountain out of a molehill isn’t always a bad thing.

They say not to make a mountain out of a molehill, but oftentimes at our house, we do, and we do it on purpose.

When I was a teacher, I always found that if I really talked something up, like an upcoming unit of study, the kids would be super-enthused about it, just because I was. Their response was all in how I presented something to them. They followed my lead. With our own kids that’s often what we do.

We make mountains out of molehills.

Today’s post about our Great Playground Challenge is one example of how you can present something to your kids in such a way that you can get them enthused about a simple thing, and have fun with it.

Here’s how it started:

It was the girls’ first day home from school for the summer. Don was at work and it was my deadline day for the newspaper. Sometimes I can type ahead of a deadline day to get things in early, but the end of the school year was so crazy that I could not. I had to spend their first day off, typing. They got their own breakfast, they played on their own and watched some TV. Not the way I normally like to kick off the summer, but when you work from home, sometimes that’s how it has to be.

The zip line at this playground is what they loved most. Five stars….

As a reward, I decided to stop by one of the city playgrounds on the way to the grocery store later that afternoon (also not a fun first day off task, but one that had to be done if we were to eat dinner that night.)

This playground is one we’d been to years ago, but not recently, and I remembered it as being a particularly fun playground with some unique equipment. It was on the way, so I stopped off there for an hour or so. I brought my book to read, my camera (which is almost always with me) and a bottle of water.

I wasn’t thinking of making any mountains out of molehills yet.

They had a blast. They played for the hour and when we got in the car to go to the store, they were chattering away about this particular playground and how it compared to other ones they’ve been to. Just the day before on the last day of school they’d played on the city playground that’s adjacent to our school, so they were comparing it to that one as well.

All their conversation got me thinking. I thought of all the playgrounds in our city and surrounding areas. I thought of all the different types of equipment on the various playgrounds we’ve been to in the past. I remembered waaayyyy back to The Blizzard of 1978 when my dad made up a game to keep us busy when we had no electricity for a week. He called it The Great Race. I was seven and I still remember it.

My wheels were turning for sure.

Overall opportunities for fun are part of the playground experience, not just the equipment.Shady spots are great for just hanging out.

The Great Playground Challenge was born, right there in my car, on the way to Aldi’s.

I said to the girls, “We should spend part of our summer going to all different playgrounds and rating them to see which ones you like best. Then by the end of the summer we can see which one is your top favorite of all of them.” I asked them to think about how they’d rate the one we’d just been to.

They thought this was a great idea and they were very excited to get started playing on different playgrounds right then and there, but we had to wait.

We did our shopping and when we went home I took our big roll of white paper and made a poster for the wall outside their bedroom. I used bright colors and made it look exciting. I made a chart where we could put the names of the playgrounds and spaces for them to rank each one themselves as well as a space for an overall rating.

A “fancy” new poster to record our findings makes it that much more exciting, and it’s something we can look back on for years to come.

I wrote in the names of the playground near our school and the playground we played on that day. I showed the girls how the chart would work and I let them rank the two playgrounds we’d done so far. A quick lesson in averages and we figured out their overall ratings.

Game on.

Practically every day they ask if we can go to a playground. Sometimes we can, sometimes we can’t. Even if we’re driving at night, they spot one and ask if we can stop. Usually we can’t.

But, the point is, this is such a simple thing. Playing on a playground is not an expensive outing. It’s free. It’s beyond Caroline in a lot of ways but oftentimes she’ll come for the ride just to see the playground and hang out, even if she’s too big to play on the equipment. It gets them outside, active and thinking. It keeps them enthused, and I’m pretty sure it’s something they’ll remember for years to come.

I have no idea how many we’ll get to over the summer. I made spaces for ten playgrounds, but there’s plenty of room for more if we get to them. We’ll see how the summer goes. There’s lots of other fun stuff to do, so The Great Playground Challenge is often for those days when there otherwise would be “nothing to do.” Alex has made it a personal goal to be able to master the monkey bars by summer’s end, so this will help her achieve that goal, hopefully, before school starts.

It’s just one example of a time when you *should* make a mountain out of a molehill.

There are playgrounds all over the state, just waiting for us to come and try them out.