Funny Muffin Friday: Cowabunga, Donatello Dudes!

Funny Muffin Friday

As I am away from my computer (hopefully finishing my Christmas shopping with my mom and sister as well as eating Thanksgiving leftovers for breakfast, lunch, and dinner), I decided to have a bit of a nod to the previous holiday, Halloween.  This shot is classic…and one of the few in which Muffin wore his turtle mask.

Have a happy Black Friday, everyone!

We Plan Wednesday: Interactive Advent Calendar

We Plan Wednesday

I have a thing about Advent calendars.  My mom once made one out of felt, beads, rick-rack, and other sewing treasures.  The background is a tree, and each day you hang the individual ornaments (from the angel at the top of the tree to the Santa at the bottom of the tree) on the bead hangers.  As a child, I was obsessed with it.

There is not one that I’ve found since to meet it.

But…the Pinteresting Blogosphere has oodles of ideas about Advent calendars.  My new fave type is the advent calendar that has activities listed for each day of December.  A few years ago (after Christmas), I picked up an already-made felt advent calendar Christmas tree with little numbered pockets that you stick a candy cane in each day to track the season.  This year, instead of moving the candy cane, I’m going to stuff the pockets with activities.  And today, I will share with you the tags that I plan to place in the pockets.  I’ve even made a few extra if you don’t have the possibility of doing those particular activities.

The plan (by day) goes something like this:

December 1:  Make Christmas ornaments

December 2:  Watch the Frosty movie

December 3:  Family Christmas picture

December 4:  Write a letter to Santa

December 5:  Visit Santa

December 6:  Put up lights/Decorate the tree

December 7:  Christmas candy making day

December 8:  Mail Christmas cards

December 9:  Read Elf on the Shelf

December 10:  Polar Express movie night

December 11:  Unwrap a Christmas book to read

December 12:  Eat dinner by candlelight

December 13:  Create a snowscape with shaving cream and action figures

December 14:  Watch Elf (Hopefully, Muffin won’t fall asleep this time)

December 15:  Decorate the windows of Muffin’s room

December 16:  Write a letter to Santa about our elf

December 17:  Play a card or board game

December 18:  Baking evening

December 19:  Drive around to see Christmas lights

December 20:  Decorate cookies

December 21:  Decorate presents at Granny’s

December 22:  Go Christmas shopping at Dollar Tree (for Muffin to buy gifts for family)/Wrap presents

December 23:  Cooking day with Mom

December 24:  Leave out Cookies and Milk for Santa

Please see below for the printable file of each page.  Click on each image to print from Google Drive.

What are you planning for this December?  Are you obsessed with Advent calendars, as well?

Tip Tuesday: Getting Well (Cheaply) During Sinus Seasons

Tip Tuesday

Yup.  It’s that time of year again.  Sinus season.  On “bad” years, I actually end up with sinusitis twice.  If you are like me, you feel it coming.  The “death mask” of pressure behind the cheekbones that gets worse at night and presses on your upper row of teeth.  Eyes watering from the pressure not only there but also above the eye sockets.  A migraine headache when you don’t suffer from migraines.  Feeling the tingles in the ears as they, too, become infected, inflamed, and in pain.

Then comes the endless carousel of over-the-counter relief.  If you are quick enough (and can stand to do it), you neti-pot the problem out of existence (either using an actual Neti-pot or the ghetto version with a thick straw and a cup…with distilled water ONLY).  That’s how my dad avoids sinus infections.

So, then the pills set in.  Note:  sinus infections tend to creep up when my immune system is at its weakest, so I am especially prone when I’m not getting much sleep.  My sister recommended a form of Benedryl (severe allergy sinus headache) mixed with Zyrtec D for daytime.  I kept (stupidly) putting it off.

I should also note that I’ve had this lovely sinus infection (that began, interestingly enough, as a sore throat) since Monday after the anniversary trip.  During this episode, I have pretty much overdosed on Hall’s cough drops (at the height of the sore throat popping one an hour…even at work).  I am singularly unpleasant to be around when I have a sinus infection.  If you are within speaking (whining) radius, you know I have a sinus infection (not to mention the snorting, sneezing, coughing, strangled voice).  I am not a pleasant “sickie.”

By Friday, I was in desperation mode.  I slunk around campus and generally tried to talk as little as possible.  The weird thing is:  I would feel better during the day–but at night the “death mask” of pressure would settle again.  Finally, Saturday night, in desperation (because I had forgotten to get the Benedryl and Zyrtec and  Josh had just returned home after countless hours of overtime), I clawed through the “medicine” cabinet in the kitchen.  There, among Josh’s Wal-itin (Walgreens brand Claritin), was a packet of little red pills that read Pseudophedrine HCl.  As in, the real stuff.  The stuff meth lab scientists have rendered almost impossible to get.  As in, the stuff that works.

As a child, I very rarely had sinus infections.  Why? (And this epiphany hit roughly half an hour after I took my first dose of little red pills)  Because you could buy real Sudafed.  Not the fake stuff the Sudafed company now markets to pick up on pharmacy shelves when you are so sick, and so in pain, that you can’t wait in that long pharmacy line to flash your ID and sign the card scanner pad to receive your allotment of 2 packs of pills.  Seriously?  When I’m sick, I do not wait well in lines.  Especially to buy meds that should be available over the counter…truly over the counter.

Anyway, I didn’t have sinus infections as a child because my mom would dose me with real Sudafed once I started having signs of anything that could resemble congestion or sinus problems.

(By the way, American court system, I have a singularly creative answer to deal with meth lab addicts and their suppliers…it’s probably not legal, but it involves people suffering from sinus pain having free license to cause suffering to those found guilty of crimes involving meth.  I think if that were advertised as a solution…and if it happened once or twice…there would be far fewer meth labs.  I don’t have much empathy for those who have committed crimes that lead to it being difficult for me to obtain meds to keep me from getting sick or to ameliorate my symptoms.)

Anyway.  The truly wonderful thing?  Recently Walmart has started having bins of cheapie cheap meds (88 cents).  I believe this came from that same brand of cheapie cheap meds.  And…it works.

Meal Plan Monday: And the Dish That Made Muffin Ask Me Three Times to Make It Again!

Meal Plan Monday

Yah, you read that title right.  Muffin REALLY, REALLY loved a recipe I tried on Saturday.  He ate two helpings.  He danced around.  He begged me THREE times to make them again.

The recipe?

Dr. Pepper Pork Chops.

Five ingredients not counting salt and pepper.  Two ingredients that include one of Josh’s (and Muffin’s) favorite things on Earth (ketchup) and one of my favorite things on Earth (Dr. Pepper).

Six hours in the slow cooker.

A sweet, thick sauce (after a cornstarch thickener) coats the chops.  The original poster used bone-in chops.  I used chops that Josh cut from a pork loin (that normally would have gone into the “meat factory bee-sheen” to make ground pork), boneless.

I used ‘Red (my 5 quart slow cooker) to make it, but you could have gone even smaller.  I drizzled the chops with extra gravy for serving (and I drizzled the gravy on rice, as well).

Muffin ate it all.

Even the corn and green peas that I had mixed together.

And then he ate another chop.

Dr. Pepper Pork Chops (In the Slow Cooker)

Source:  Debbie Doo’s

6 pork chops (I used chops cut from a boneless pork loin)

12 ounces Dr. Pepper (The original recipe calls for a can and a half and my brain mixed this up to a cup and a half, so my recipe is more “tomatoey,” but Muffin loved it this way.  I have a feeling if I made it next time with the full 18 ounces, I would not be allowed to bring it to the table.)

12 ounces ketchup (half of a standard sized bottle)

2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce

salt and pepper, to taste

2 tablespoons cornstarch

In the crock of the slow cooker, whisk together Dr. Pepper, ketchup, Worcestershire sauce, salt, and pepper.  Arrange chops so that they are submerged.  You may have to re-submerge or turn them over during the cooking time.  Cook on LOW for 6 hours.

Half an hour before the 6 hours are up (at the 5 1/2 hour mark), remove roughly two cups of liquid from the crock.  Whisk into the liquid 2 tablespoons cornstarch until there are no clumps of white.  The liquid should thicken immediately to almost loose pudding consistency.  Whisk the thickened liquid back into the slow cooker.  If desired, spoon thickened liquid over the chops to coat.  Serve, drizzled with sauce, alongside rice drizzled with sauce.  Muffin ate his shredded and kept calling it “chicken.”

This is a shot of Muffin enjoying his second helping.

Did I mention this recipe was Muffin Approved?

Muffin Approved

But…back to the purpose of this entry.

This week is one of those crazy weeks.  For the un-United States peeps reading the blog, this is the week of Thanksgiving in the U.S.  I’m off work this week, and Josh is off Tuesday-Thursday.

We are heading to my sister’s on Wednesday (Josh will come back Thursday evening for work on Friday; Muffin and I will return on Saturday with my parents).

So, if things below look a bit crazy…that’s because they are.

Saturday:  Dr. Pepper Pork Chops (in the slow cooker!), rice and gravy, salad, green peas and corn

Sunday:  Rotisserie Chicken in the Crock Pot, stuffing (a la Stove Top), black eyed peas, salad

Monday:  Chicken Enchiladas, Spanish rice (one of the recipes of the December series), refried beans, chips and salsa/pico

Tuesday:  leftovers/clean out the fridge before the trip

Wednesday:  dinner at my sister’s

Thursday:  Thanksgiving dinner

Friday:  Thanksgiving leftovers for breakfast, lunch, and dinner (if I have my way)

Saturday:  Josh prep (He’s off, and Muffin and I will be returning home Saturday afternoon)

Sunday:  chicken taco soup (made from chicken frozen from the previous Sunday’s rotisserie chicken)

If all goes well, I will be posting this to OrgJunkie’s Menu Plan Monday.

What are you planning for this chaotic week?

Our Seventh Anniversary: The Recap

A week ago, Josh and I celebrated our seventh anniversary.  That’s the copper anniversary, by the way.  Josh and I try to theme our gifts by the traditions for each anniversary.  Copper is a difficult one.  Finally, I asked my techie hubs in desperation, “Isn’t copper in all electronics?”

His response:  “Uh…yeah.”

Score!

(By the way:  the eighth is worse…bronze)

In keeping with tradition, we decided to stay (with Muffin) at the site of our honeymoon (and where we have stayed several of our anniversaries…or just after…):  Dallas.  More specifically, the Westin Galleria Dallas, using points+cash (but that’s a story for Cent Saving Saturday).

The efficacy of our anniversary coinciding with the whirl of the holiday season is great for many reasons.  We can go shopping for Christmas gifts.  Certain locations are already sporting Christmas decorations (which makes Muffin…and his mama…and his dad…very excited and hopeful for the wintry months ahead).  We can go shopping for ingredients used to make Christmas goodies and gifts.  We can get out of town and take a deep breath before plunging back headlong into the holiday season chaos.

We also strive to make this a very Muffin-friendly trip.

We started out getting donuts at the local donut shop as we left the house just after 5 a.m. last Saturday.  Yes.  Five a.m.  By my choice.  Muffin may have been still asleep.

Then, we stopped at a great truck stop between Gladewater and Tyler, Texas.  They have “Canadian candy bars,” or rather exports of some of Josh’s favorite candy bars that he likes to stock up on when we pass through.  They have all sorts of sodas and beverages that are difficult to find anywhere else.  One that I tried there on this trip was on my “soda bucket list”…the holy grail of difficult-to-find sodas:  Moxie.  To put it as politely and succinctly as possible, I can now cross it off of my bucket list.  (as in…thankfully I never have to taste it again…It wasn’t kale jerky bad…just not something I would willingly reach for unless dying of thirst)

After that, just down the road in Lindale, we stopped at Collin Street Bakery.  Previously, they gave out free cookies to children.  Muffin had to pay for his this time.  Note:  these are the people who make the fabled Collin Street Bakery Deluxe Fruitcake (with the deluxe price of $27 dollars…32 if you want it sliced).  I’m going to attempt to make my own fruitcake.

Our first major stop in Dallas (other than the stop-go on I-635 for construction) was actually in Frisco…at IKEA.  This was a special trip to IKEA because it was the first time Muffin could go in the play place there called Smaland (because last time he was still in diapers).  Dropping him off did not bode well because this was the first time I had left him alone with someone who was not family (or not known to family).  There were tears…not Muffin tears…but Mama tears.

No, my independent son soon forgot that anything existed outside of Smaland…such as his mama or dad.

He was a bit disappointed when his hour was up…until I told him that there were more surprises in store.

We then went to lunch at Rainforest Cafe…which is kind of pricey.  The one saving grace, though, was that it had buy one, get one free coupons for Legoland Discovery Center…the next location on the trip.

Muffin really liked Legoland Discovery Center.  Last year, when we came to Dallas on the great anniversary trip (one week late), we went to the “store” part of Legoland…but we didn’t go to the Discovery Center part.  The line was way…too…long…at that point.

Then came the hotel.  Muffin loves staying in hotels.  When I first told him a week before that we were staying in a hotel, we had to count down from that day on the number of sleeps until we would be staying in a hotel.  Seriously.

There are many reasons I love this hotel.  The people who work their are fabulous…as in…call you to let you know that your debit card fell out of your pocket fabulous (and don’t tell your husband that you accidentally left his anniversary card for the next day at the table, as well).  Yes.  I did that.  Both of those actually.

And how can you not love a place that has a decorate your own cupcake bar at check-in on Fridays and Saturdays?

And we all love the beds.  Seriously.  Love.

And the window seat that, until shortly before our honeymoon seven years ago, would have been a locked balcony.

And…keep in mind that this hotel opens out into a mall.  Note:  If you did not realize when you booked your room that the Westin Galleria Dallas was attached to the Galleria Dallas and have issues with it…you might not want to be in front of me in line at the check-in desk.  Because a year later I will still be spreading that story.

But…if you are staying at the hotel (or visiting the mall) during the latter half of November or during December…you will be witness to this sight:

I think, for Muffin, the best part of staying at this particular hotel is that he gets to go to the play area on the third floor before the mall opens (when it isn’t crazy busy with kids):

In that same spot, fourteen hours earlier, you couldn’t walk without running over someone or being run over.

Sunday, after shopping at Central Market for our anniversary dinner (at home) of a cheese board as well as a few other items for making Christmas goodies and gifts, we ate lunch at La Mad before heading home.  This was Muffin’s first La Mad experience…and I was frankly worried.  Here is the shot with the food still on his plate.

And then the food disappeared.  I asked Josh what was in Muffin’s fruit cup because, when I looked up the next time, it was empty.  Josh said…”grapes.”

“Just grapes?”

“Well…there was other fruit.”

“What kind of fruit?
To which Josh replied…”Well…I couldn’t really tell.  It was gone too fast.”

The sandwich also went the way of the dodo bird…in this case in Muffin’s stomach.  Note:  Josh’s and my lunch consisted of tomato basil soup (a bowl for him and a cup for me) and the complimentary bread.

The trip was a great family vacation/bonding/anniversary trip experience.  One that we will doubtless do again.

Cent Saving Saturday: Find a Source for Free/Cheap Produce

Cent Saving Saturday

I may be biased, but I believe there are some things (particularly produce-wise) that Louisiana does best.  Strawberries.  Sweet Potatoes.  Rice.  Honey.  Tomatoes.  Peaches.  Greens.  And pecans.

The northern half of the state (especially the northwest of the state…yeah…there is a part of Louisiana that is not in New Orleans) is home to several pecan groves.  In our city, there were several pecan trees…and still are.  In one of the city parks, you can pick up pecans for free (the park caretakers really appreciate it because then they don’t have to clean them up).

I will be perfectly honest.  Last year’s pecan season locally wasn’t great.  It was late, after Thanksgiving, really, before they came in.  And the squirrels squirreled away most of those.

This year (for some reason, every other year is a good year), I was ready for it.  I managed to scoop up (for my mom, my sister, and me) just over 18 pounds in shell.  And, to me, they were great pecans…not bitter…full to the shell…and mostly without a blemish.

Cost (other than the gas to drive there and back):  free.

Cost of the 9+ pounds that would come out of the shells (retail):  probably in excess of $50.

And…we use pecans in our family.  Luckily, we are nut-allergy-free.  I make pecan pie, we use them in Nanaimo bars, and they are used in any other number of dishes…including pralines.

On a lighter note:  I felt like I was in a nonstop Easter egg hunt (with tiny eggs) while I foraged for pecans.

Here’s some of the bounty:

Pecan harvesting has become one of our holiday traditions.  Muffin sort of gets into it…but I did mention that the pecan trees are at a park, right?  So…Muffin looks for about 10 minutes and then plays at the park under the watchful eye of Granny or his dad while Mama runs around in search of pecans.

My dad is in charge of cracking the pecans.  My mom, my sister, and me usually “pick out” the pecans while we are at my sister’s over Thanksgiving.  To me, this is one of the best memory making times of the holiday for “us girls.”  We tend to laugh and joke and plan out the post-Thanksgiving shopping (also a mother-daughters bonding excursion).

What do you find locally for free or cheap?

Note:  I am not including this week’s sales (or next week’s).  I’m not too impressed by the offerings of Kroger or Albertson’s this week (and most of the deals last next week, as well).