rod & gun park photo shoot // eau claire, wi

every summer i like to have one single photo shoot with the kids at a park in eau claire.  two years ago i chose randall park.  and last year was phoenix park.  this year the rod & gun park was calling our name.
seriously, this park.......



recipes: mocha nut bread

last week my sister-in-law and her family were on vacation and they asked if we could tend to their home and cat.  so every day after swim lessons, i headed over to their house to do my duties.  the last day of taking care of business, however, eric came along.  and when i finished my tasks, the four of us played hide-and-seek.  we had a really fun time hiding in unfamiliar places and i, of all people, found the best hiding spot and sat there for literally 20 minutes until i came out of hiding.  yeah, i'm a hardcore hide-and-seeker; take that as a warning.  and i didn't spill my secret spot, either. 

afterwards, when we were all tired out (20 minutes of sitting is strenuous), the kids found their cousins' toys and i found my sister-in-law's cookbooks.  and i found this wonderful recipe that i adapted to my own liking.  when i make something with nuts, i chop them very finely so my picky boy can't detect them.  also, regarding the starbucks via - you can use any instant coffee.  i just happen to love via.  and starbucks.  win-win.  additionally, i put cappuccino chips in this bread.  there's a cute little amish-run store just outside of town.  they have a bunch of novelty items.  and that's where i buy my cappuccino chips.  if you can't find them, don't sweat it.  you can substitute more mini chocolate chips.  or peanut butter chips sound delicious, too!

this bread was good until the very last slice.  not that it lasted very long!  i think it's hard to get any quick bread recipe just right the first time.  but i wouldn't do anything different from the initial time for when i make this in the future.  it's very chocolaty with the coffee just heightening the cocoa goodness and taking it to the next level.  everything is so well incorporated that you really can't even tell the nuts are in there (for the sake of a picky eater!), but the flavor of them is undoubtedly there and uncanny.  the bread is so moist that you can't even detect the chips.  i've never made a bread like that before!   the sour cream is definitely the 'secret' ingredient.  after taking a few bites the flavor is reminiscent of a delightfully decadent chocolate mayonnaise cake.
mocha nut bread

2 c flour
1 c sugar
1/3 c cocoa powder
2 packets of starbucks via
1 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
2 eggs
1 1/2 c sour cream
1/3 c butter, melted
1/2 c mini chocolate chips
1/2 c cappuccino chips
1/2 c pecans, finely chopped

in a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, cocoa, coffee, baking soda, and salt. 

to a stand mixer affixed with the paddle attachment, add the eggs, sour cream, and butter; beat on medium speed until smooth.  pour and stir into the dry ingredients until just moistened.  fold in the mini chocolate chips, cappuccino chips, and pecans.

pour batter into a greased standard loaf pan.  bake @ 350° for 55-60 minutes.  cool for 10 minutes on a wire rack before removing from pan onto the wire rack to cool. 

serve warm with butter and enjoy!


us lately

 happy midweek!
here are some photos of
us lately.......
 calico critters & tea parties,

happy mail, reading & passing the time a swim lessons, and baking breakfast.

and just a swimming side note:
last year i signed the kids up for swim lessons in june, like right after school was out.  i learned from that mistake because it was still pretty early summer and the mornings were kinda chilly for the kids as their lessons are at the outdoor pool.
so this year i thought i would sign them up for the last sessions.  being mid/end of august i didn't think i could possibly go wrong as far as the weather goes, even being at 9:00am. 
but thanks to the unpredictably cooler summer we've been having, it's been between 60 and 65 degrees every morning.
they've seriously been troopers throughout the whole time, though.  they're tough!
sewing, shopping at cool stores in big cities.......

.......and pie, omelettes, treats, drawing for each other, and new cute etsy purchases!
 this boy is an angel - of course he is!

a girl & her cat.
 one saturday molly took it upon herself to grab a bunch of pillows and blankets from her bedroom and set up a comfy/cozy nook in front of a window in my bedroom.......so free, so fine.

i spied a cool coral econovan while stopped at a red light.
impromptu fort-making on a friday afternoon, and equating dan-the-cat with beanie baby cats.
 this crazy-cute girl got glasses and became even cuter.
i didn't even think that was possible, but clearly it was.
so i ordered a dirty chai for the first time.
which is a shot of espresso + a chai tea latte, in case you were wondering.
but mine was an oprah chai from sbux.
so i ordered it saying,
"i'd like a grande iced oprah chai with a shot of espresso."
and the barista responded,
"a dirty oprah chai?"
then we both looked at each other, smiled, and giggled.
glad i wasn't the one to say it.
: )
 like my new clearance string lights from target?
i do!

wisdom, and a girl who wears many different hats, literally and figuratively.

what our home life is like on most days:
the top right shot of julian is one i took when he was done making homemade tunnels for a hamster.  that kid is so stinkin' thoughtful.
 and molly in a romper just slays me every time.

friday night shenanigans.

an unexpected date at a local coffee shop.
where there happened to be a kook who kept carrying on about eric's beard and talking about zz top.  you know, because everyone who has a crazy long beard is a fan of zz top.
*rolls eyes*
i made a back-to-school banner.  and i'm shocked that i didn't ruin it or mess it up while i was painting the letters on the pennants or sewing the pom-poms on.

school officially starts for us in less than two weeks!
i, along with everyone else it seems, cannot believe how fast this summer went by.
it really feels like i was just getting stuff together for a fun last day of school.
that's ok, though.  i say
bring on the fall!!


seven snapshots from last saturday

last weekend my oldest niece got married (we're actually only five or six years apart).  she was seriously one of the absolute most beautiful brides i have ever seen.

all the members of my extended family are so beautiful inside & out.

brother-in-law and youngest niece.

this is baby alden being occupied by his moms bag and the ordinary treasures in it!

father/daughter dance.

mom's reaction to the father/daughter dance (being comforted by her older bro).

girl cousins.


more mama secrets & tips

two years ago (yes, TWO), i posted some mama secrets.  and i've recently been inspired to post some more!
1)  shop at target.  for everything.  no, i'm not being paid to say this.  but come on!  i really don't know why people go to grocery stores.  in my humble opinion, they are so grossly overpriced.  i can spend the same amount at one as i do at target and get a literal tiny fraction of what i can get at targs spending the same.  even with gimmicks like gas rewards or whatnot, it still doesn't add up.  so once you've made the decision to make grocery stores a thing of the past (like i think they are soon going to become anyway) and start shopping at target, sign up for a red card debit card while you're there.  this is NOT a credit card, so don't sweat it.  it is linked to your bank account.  BUT - you still save 5% on everything like you would if you had their red card credit card.  another thing - get the cartwheel app.  this is available on your smart phone or tablet.  and i imagine the iTouch as well.  basically, cartwheel helps you save money like you would with coupons.  but without coupon-cutting.  win-win!  so when you make your grocery list, log into cartwheel and look up if there are any offers from your list and add it!  easy peasy.  and the more you save, the more offers you are allowed to add.  since the end of last october, i've saved $200.  just from the cartwheel app alone.  this does not include my 5% savings from using my red card debit card.  but the savings from that is posted at the bottom of every receipt produced when you use the card.  i was sharing with eric the other day about how much i save when i go there and as i was explaining and getting really excited i simultaneously thought, wow.  this is what my life has come to.  i am officially that housewife, that mom.  the highlights in my life are coupons and saving money.  these are the conversations i have with my husband nowadays.  i digress.
but let me also say that target has a great line of organic & natural products called simply balanced.  other than trader joe's, these products are pretty much the most inexpensive you can get.  and they have a fantastic variety!  what i can't find at targs i just get at trader joe's (and yes i definitely have musts there, too).  but other than those two stores, i don't get groceries anywhere else.

2)  keep a jar of coconut oil in your shower caddy.  when you're done shaving, moisturize your legs and under-arms with a scoop of coconut oil.  and in the winter, at the end of your shower, moisturize your skin wherever it tends to get dry.  naturally beneficial AND it won't leave a gross slippery greasy mess all over your body.  i also read it aids in smoothing cellulite!

3)  pick a way to keep family memories.  it can be seriously so overwhelming with all the ways you can go about this nowadays.  but instead of subscribing to the countless avenues that help make this happen, pick a few.  say, three or five - tops.  choose what is naturally appealing to you.  that could be photography, good ol' fashioned photo albums, digital photo books, scrapbooking, digital scrapbooks, blogging & blog books, videography, instagram, writing & authoring a memoir, etc. etc. etc.  see what i mean?  what are you most intrigued by?  now, do it!

4)  have a list of go-to recipes.  you know, those ones that you and your husband (and hopefully kids) love the most that you cook.  the ones that are usually pretty easy, made with ingredients that you commonly have on hand, and that you can make without looking at the recipe.  i have one of these lists and it has saved me when the day just gets away from me.  that happens to me a lot and it happens quickly!

5)  two words:  storage containers.  i need/use them for everything.  my favorites are old-school metal lunch boxes.  i use two for markers, one for crayons, and one for colored pencils.  i've found three of them at old navy on clearance (we're talking like $2-$3 each), and i even found a very inexpensive-but-cool one at wal mart.  i also love the transparent sterilite totes you can get at target for 97¢ each.  sometimes they even go on sale for 84¢ at which point i stock up.  i use them for everything from storing & organizing homeschooling supplies, to bulk grocery items, to acrylic paint bottles.  i even store baking novelties that i use only once or twice a year on a couple and put them in my basement pantry.  they're perfect and handy for just about anything.

6)  read to your kids.  this does NOT have to be a daunting task.  seriously, it doesn't.  pick a chapter book or a children's book series and make your goals small.  it adds up!!  my goal is to read one chapter of whatever little house book we're on to molly every day.  ONE.  that's it!  totally doable.  and with julian i read one chapter to him from a chapter book of his choice, then he reads one to me.  do i miss some days?  of course i do!  but the more i do it, the more i remember to, and the more i am bonding with my children.  it's also a way of really calming molly down and getting her back on track when she's upset about something.  doesn't work for julian, but it totally does for her!

7)  say "yes" as much as you can.  what mom out there wants to be remembered for saying "no" to virtually everything?  and especially be mindful of saying "yes" to what their ideas of fun are.  i know, fun usually equates to messy and time-consuming.  but it doesn't always have to be.  they wanna play a video game?  "yes!"  just set your kitchen timer for 20 minutes.  that way the answer was yes but you're not letting things get out of control. 

8)  don't let being a grown-up get to you.  continue to do fun stuff even if it's not "normal" standards according to others in your weekly mom's group.  you love a band that's popular among college kids and they're playing a show close by next month?  by tickets and go!  you like anything disney and want to adorn your home with cutesy figurines?  even if none of your friends or sisters-in-law decorate that way?  go for it anyway!  singing's your outlet?  go ahead and bring your iPod to the bathroom, lock the door behind you and sing your heart out!  your kids will actually love it, not think you're weird.  promise.

9)  save a few special articles of clothing every time you weed through your kids' closets and dresser drawers - no matter what age they're at!  i don't have to get specific here, you know which ones are special and mean the most to you.  do this so you can pass them back to your kids when they have kids of their own or for keepsakes for yourself when they move out. 

10)  create a peaceful household ambiance.  yes, this can be in the way you keep your interior (whether it's organized & tidy or how you decorate), but even more so this has almost everything to do with YOURSELF.  do you yell at the drop of a hat (whether it's to your kids, your spouse, or your dog/pets)?  how do you communicate with your spouse?  you two need to talk through something?  can it wait until bedtime?  if not, go to a room away from the kids and try to talk about it.  explain to them that the two of you have something that requires you to communicate.  don't be ambiguous, they know what's going on!  how else can you change your ways in the way you communicate? 

11)  with all of this said, don't let your standard be perfection.  being "that perfect person" for your kids is intangible, unattainable, and na├»ve.  if that's where you set the bar for yourself, you will always fall short of it and in turn you will actually become depressed.  so stop believing/practicing that as soon as possible.  i think it's ok to set high standards, but there is a difference between high standards and thinking you want to/should be perfect.  that also creates a critical and judgmental spirit within you.  because then you start scrutinizing your friends and family and their parenting standards.  and little will divide you and others more than being opinionated about parenting standards.


our weekend in milwaukee

so we spent this last weekend in milwaukee.  this was my second time there since i moved to Wisconsin 11 and a half years ago.  my niece got married (!!!) and since our whole family was in town, we decided to take advantage of the opportunity and see some sights with them.
this was some random (rainbow!) ferris wheel i spotted from the highway on our drive there.

when we arrived in milwaukee, eric and i knew we wanted to go walk the pier with the kids.  yeeeaaaah, great idea except that there was a triathlon (insert eye-roll) and there was nowhere to park, it was hard to get around because numerous roads were blocked. 
but alas we found a spot to park, but then we had to hike over to the area we wanted to be but we were pretty far from the pier and couldn't get over there anyway because of the multiple people running all over the place.
so we got as far as we could and then had to turn back because we had to check in to our hotel and get to the wedding.  another time, i guess!

but i was able to take a few snapshots while we were there!
the milwaukee art museum.

lakeshore state park (on the lakefront of lake michigan).

this orange 3-d asterisk-like sculpture is named the calling.

third ward building.

and we also visited the zoo with family while we were there.
the giraffes were my favorite.

and, needless to say, the big cats were molly's favorite.

and julian was most excited about the wolves. 
you can't see in the photo, but they're in that den there!