Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Cinco de Cindy

My little girl turned 5! Where has the time gone? I swear that it really was just yesterday that I was out in Utah in the hospital thinking "What the heck just happened to me?" Ahh, memories...

Anyhow, I really wanted and intended to do a big friend birthday party for Cindy this year, but I just couldn't make myself do it. Too much commitment and time, and with Spring Break this week, I just wanted to enjoy the time off and not feel totally stressed. Or I am just a big giant wussie of a Mom. Either way, maybe next year, kiddo. So we just had a small family evening at Grandma Sweeney's house, complete with swimming in 74 degree water, hot dogs, cake and ice cream- and lots of Barbie. Here are some of the highlights from the day:

The Barbie electric toothbrush was a huge hit. She had brushed her teeth multiple times by lunchtime!

Is there a more appropriate gift I could have given my daughter than breakfast cereal?

I bought this singing Island Princess Barbie back on Black Friday last year and saved it til now (yes, I scored big on it- $10). She had been asking for the new Barbie Rapunzel doll that just came out, so when she saw this package all wrapped, she just KNEW it was Rapunzel. I feared a little disappointment, but she was totally happy when she opened it. She shrieked like, well, a little girl! Or Uncle Brian seeing a snake in a tree, as the saying goes...

Some sibling time with Cindy's new watercolor paint set (also a total score at $1.49 clearance at Walgreen's). That is the Birthday hat from Miss Kristie's class at Preschool, she LOVES it.

And now time for the big cake reveal:

I was pretty happy how it turned out, considering I had no real plan going into it. And Cindy was completely thrilled and that is all that really matters, ultimately. Her only requirement was that it have Barbie Diamond Castle on it somehow- and I ended up just cutting out those little pictures from a mini calendar I bought on eBay. Go figure!

We put up some streamers, a banner and balloons at Grandma Sweeney's. Cindy was in heaven.

And apparently she did not get the memo that this party was going to be just her cousins and grandparents because this is how she set the table. If this were a painting, I would title it "Optimism."

And once her cousins, Sadie and Ana, finally came, she was really in heaven! The pool was chilly- but they all braved the water and had fun.

Time for more presents! Sadie, Ana and Molly gave her the new Barbie Thumbelina movie! (And you can see Cindy's new black high heels from Grandma Sweeney- she LOVES them...)

She got more clothes, a new dress, shoes, and some books.

And of course, there was more Barbie! The Swan Lake Movie...

And she got her Rapunzel doll after all :) Thanks to Grandma Bingham.

Happiness :)

And what Birthday would be complete without an infamous Bingham Ball! Cindy did escape, eventually, and in this picture you can even see her other pair of heels from Grandma Sweeney.

Cindy has really turned into such a beautiful, fun, smart girl. I can't imagine life without her. And it's hard to really remember the time before we had her.

Plus, she has definitely come a long way since the 'evil hat' experience of her first birthday...

And now she is all about the FUN :)

Friday, March 27, 2009

As Luke would say, Try It!

Among my many obsessions in life- like those of using coupons, blogging, dreaming of playing the cello and not saving the planet in any way, shape or form- there is also the obsession with trying new recipes. But what I really love is trying those copycat restaurant recipes online. I love them! I always want to know if it is really possible to make restaurant food at home and have it taste just the same. So my latest experimental recipe was the knockoff for the Outback Steakhouse Honey Wheat bread. Jacob and I went to Outback a few weeks ago and their bread is probably my favorite restaurant bread of all time. (Finding the perfect restaurant bread is yet another obsession of mine...) So I Googled it and in .0234 seconds I had the recipe. With this recipe there seems to be a little debate, though, as the most popular recipe includes coffee granules and cocoa- two ingredients that Outback employees swear is not in the bread.

There was another recipe that received rave reviews that omitted the coffee, so in the end I chose that one. So did it work? In a word: Yep! And for that verdict to be coming from the world's most inept bread maker is saying something. I did not add the tons of food coloring that you need to get the true authentic color of outback bread, and my bread was definitely not that smooth little torpedo at the restaurant either, but warm and fresh out of the oven with some butter, it actually tasted like something you wanted to eat (so much so, that I ate one entire loaf in the five minutes after it was done baking). So if you want the recipe, you can find it here.

Some of my other favorites are:
Chili's Honey Lime salad dressing
Denny's French Toast
Sweet Tomatoes' Joan's Broccoli Madness Salad
Red Lobster Cheddar Bay Biscuits
Panda Express Orange Chicken

Next up for me to test out in the kitchen:
Chevy's Crispy Chicken Flautas with their Sweet Jalapeno Jelly (scroll to page 24)

And stay tuned to the blog for more adventures in baking as Cindy's 5th birthday is Monday and I will be attempting some sort of Barbie and the Diamond Castle cake/creation thingy- complete with turrets, multilevel construction, and LOTS of colored sugar :)

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Cindy's Words of Wisdom

So we were reading in the Book of Mormon the other day with Cindy, as we are want to do, and we were in Mosiah where King Benjamin was addressing his people. In his discourse he talks about the responsibilities of parents- things like teaching your kids about Jesus, not letting them quarrel with one another, and lastly not letting your children go hungry. Jacob was reading that night and after he read that, he said to Cindy "Did you know that? It is our job to make sure you have food to eat so that you don't go hungry." She reacted only mildly to this information. However, yesterday I was on the computer and she came in to tell me that she was hungry. I told her to wait a minute until I was done. She waited about 5 minutes and then finally she had had enough. She said to me "Don't you remember that King Benjamin said you cannot starve your children!? Huh, remember??" I guess she is listening after all.

And finally, just to prove that she is indeed SUCH a girl, I told her on Sunday that I had bought her a new white shirt to wear to church with her skirt I made for her. She was distraught. She absolutely had a complete and total meltdown about having to wear a white shirt. Through her tears and crying she finally told me that she didn't want to wear white because "it is not a color in the rainbow." Waaaaa!!!!

Monday, March 23, 2009

I've been sewing, daily sewing

I caught the sewing bug again the other day (it looks kinda like a beetle) so I decided to venture into the world of skirts. I have never made a skirt for Cindy before, so I altered a pattern I already had and came up with these. She is in love with them, I think they are average and not too bad for a first try.

AND all her wildest dreams have come true because on Saturday I bought her these:

HIGH HEELS just like her friend Maddie. Oh the joy! The rapture! The utter delight and sheer giddiness! She even slept in them Saturday night- which I thought was completely harmless until about 3 in the morning on Sunday when she crawled into bed with me and kicked the crap out of me all night in high heels. NOT COOL! (But otherwise I am happy because she is happy and it was not too much effort to make it so :)

Friday, March 20, 2009

Experience #5- Go Lawn Bowling (Winner takes, loser rakes!)

I was doing a little research about my home town online and discovered that right here in Lakeland there is the Lakeland Lawn Bowling Club. I had never heard of this in my life. Who knew?? I perused their official website and decided it would be totally fun to take them up on their ever-standing offer to give anyone free lessons. So my Dad and I laced up our required flat-heeled tennis shoes and headed out to the rink.

Our lessons were taught by Christine and Don. Christine is the President of the Club and Don is the Treasurer. Lovely people, really, and they wore their name tags and everything! They were very knowledgable and totally official! (Don even let me carry the tape measure) You also learn real quick that everyone out there playing has an accent- either English or Scottish and it totally adds to the authenticity of the game. At one point I felt like I was out on the highlands somewhere and that a sheep might come wandering through the green.

The basic premise of the game is that there is a small colored ball, called the jack, that is rolled out first and then points are scored by rolling the 'bowls' (seen at right) as close as you can to the jack. Sounds simple. The one caveat is that the bowls are not round and are biased to one side. Meaning, that when you roll a bowl it curves very hard to one side as it slows down. (Just make sure that you know which way it is going to curve- remember that the smaller dot on the outside needs to face the direction you want it to go. According to Don, "Everyone makes that mistake once in a while" which, in our case, "everyone" meant Mike :) Anyway, that is what makes the game fun and challenging.

Here are some other fun facts of note: The game is played on a giant astroturfed field, called the green, that is divided up into seperate rinks, similar to lanes in regular bowling. The rinks are 36.5 meters long, approx. 120 feet. The green is also completely surrounded by a small sand 'ditch' that catches your ball when you put a little too much heat on it (good thing for you, Dad!).

Anyway, Dad and I started out playing each other and I killed him. Just check out that score on the very official scoreboard:
Okay, okay, the score was not actually 53 to 2 (you can only score a maximum of 4 points per 'end' and we only played 4), but Don was amused at our hijinks, and hey, we aim to please!

After that whoopin', we teamed up to play some 2 on 2. Me and Don (I nicknamed him "Mr. Clutch") vs. Christine and my Dad. Playing 4 on 4 is really fun. After Dad and I bowled our four bowls a piece, it was then time for Don and Christine to go and they could totally wreak havoc on all the work we had just done. Don ended up being incredibly adept at smoothly 'bowling the jack' and Christine was very precise at whizzing her bowl down the rink and hitting out the jack and opposing bowls many times. However, Me and Don were victorious in the end, as this TRUE score would indicate:

And now I would just like to take a moment to show you this: That I bowled the jack from about 110 feet away! (Dad, your attempt to fluster me with the long ball did not work that time! Mu-hahahahaha!) And as you can see, Christine quickly marked it with a chalk X to indicate that whatever happened to that bowl, it was still 'live' because it had touched the jack. But you already knew that...

My amazing form... You can also see the 'rake' in the background. That handy dandy little device helps you scoop up all the balls when the 'end' is complete. I told them I needed one of those for all of Luke's toys. It would be genius! Plus, whichever team won the points did not have to rake up all the balls for the next turn. Hence the phrase, Winner Takes, Loser Rakes!

Well, I had never been Lawn Bowling and now I can say that I have! Who-hoo! I highly recommend it. And a big thank you to my Dad for going with me and not dressing completely in white as he threatened to do. He was pretty good, not as good as me, of course, but as he explains it, his poor performance was due in part to his "footwear holding [him] back." And I humored him by letting him change the scoreboard on this one too :)

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Boldly going...

The Space Shuttle took off Sunday night. If I hadn't happened to have the TV on in the other room and heard the live coverage I would not even have remembered that it was going to launch. But we quickly ran into the backyard and waited for the fireball to appear. And there it was! Definitely can't come anywhere close to the true night launch that my Dad and Cindy and I went to a couple months back, but the smoke trail it left in the twilight was absolutely gorgeous. It went from pink to gold to white and really was one of the more beautiful sights I have seen.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

What a Co-inkydink!

Let me give you some fascinating statistics I found on the Internet about the odds of certain events happening. Totally random, I know, but read on....

Odds of bowling a 300 game: 11,500 to 1

Odds of being an astronaut: 13,200,000 to 1

Odds of winning an Olympic medal: 662,000 to 1

Odds of an American speaking Cherokee: 15000 to 1

Odds of being killed on a 5-mile bus trip: 500,000,000 to 1

Odds of being struck by lightning: 576,000 to 1

Odds of dating a supermodel: 88,000 to 1

Odds of being born a twin in North America: 90 to 1

Odds of being on plane with a drunken pilot: 117 to 1

Odds of being audited by the IRS: 175 to 1

Odds of writing a New York Times best seller: 220 to 1

Odds of finding out your child is a genius: 250 to 1

Odds of catching a ball at a major league ballgame: 563 to 1

Odds of finding a four-leaf clover on first try: 10,000 to 1

Odds of striking it rich on Antiques Roadshow: 60,000 to 1

Odds of a meteor landing on your house: 182,138,880,000,000 to 1

Chance of dying from a mountain lion attack in California: 32,000,000 to 1

Chance of an American home having at least one container of ice cream in the freezer: 9 in 10.

Now, I want you to consider what the odds are of this event happening: Going jogging in the middle of a weekday afternoon, through a completely empty neighborhood and running directly into the path of an old woman who happens to be crossing the street at the exact same time you are running by- so much so, that you have to stutter step to avoid a collision with her. I am guessing that it is somewhere between a meteor falling on my house and getting eaten by a mountain lion, and yet this happened to me the other day! I couldn't believe it! There was not a soul in the neighborhood but I almost took this old lady down. Crazy! Furthermore, I was biking the other day through my neighborhood and a car backing out of a driveway had to stop and wait for me to pass (I was the only person on the street, of course). Not that unusual in and of itself, right? But then the following day at a completely different time, I was running by the same house and the same car was backing out of the same driveway and had to wait for me to pass- again. How does this happen? What are the chances? I decided to find, just for your reading pleasure, more stories of coincidence. So after hours of Internet research on everything from synchronicity, coincidences, chaos theory, and UFOs, I found a few stories, that, if really true, will blow your mind. Try this one:

When Sue Hamilton was working alone in her office in July 1992 when the fax machine broke down. Unable to fix it, she decided to call her colleague Jason Pegler, who had set off home a little earlier. Finding his home number pinned up on a notice board, she called him and began to explain the problem. But Jason quickly stopped her: "I'm not at home", he explained. "I just happened to be walking past this phone booth and when it rang, and I answered it!" .
The number Sue found on the notice board was not Jason's home number at all. It was his employee number - which was the same as the number of the phone booth he was walking past when she called.

Or this one about a guy named Arthur Butterworth of England:
During the Second World War, while serving in the army, he ordered a secondhand book on music from a London bookseller. The book eventually reached him at his camp - disguised by the usual military postcode -in the grounds of Taverham Hall, near Norwich. Standing at the window of his army hut, he opened the parcel and, as he did so, a picture postcard - presumably used as a bookmark - fell out. The writing on one side showed the postcard had been written on 4 August 1913. To his astonishment, when he turned it over, the picture showed 'the exact view I had from my hut window at that very moment . . . Taverham Hall.'

Or try out these little jewels I lifted off a message board: (These are real, I am not making these up. (How could I? People are hilarious!)
During last summer I was dancing in my aunt’s living room. Her friend Josh was there and he said “do you like Journey?” and I told him that I have never ever listened to them and he said “Well I will get you a CD” That night we went to a steak house in downtown Des Moines. I saw something shiny in the grass so i walked over. It was a mix CD labeled “Journey’s Greatest Hits!" I was astonished. Apparently God wanted me to listen to Journey that day. -----Sarah

Okay, one time I was reading this billboard (out of my peripheral vision) and I thought that the billboard said ”Eat more chicken”, like for a Chick Fil-a sign. It really said ”Beat Morris Chestnut”(it was for a gym membership and they were saying that you could be buff and beat him at arm wrestling). Then, like a week later, it was replaced with a Chick Fil-A sign that said ”Eat more chicken”. So it was like I saw it before it was there. ------Judith

Back in gradeschool, while studying in my room for a Science exam, I got a nosebleed and it dripped on my notebook. Guess where it landed? On the word “blood”. I thought that was pretty cool! -------DJ

I was listening to “Don’t wanna miss a thing” by Aerosmith before bed one night. Then I decided to turn my cd player off in the middle of the song since I wanted to get some sleep. But, for some strange reason I had this sudden urge to turn my radio on. When I turned it on, the same song was playing right where I had left off when I turned my CD player off. -----Josh

The website where I found all these user-posted coincidences is here if you want to read them. Warning: there are 81 pages of them! And not all of them are as short and funny as these, just FYI...

Anyway, coincidence and freak chance events are something that Jacob and I talk about a lot. (Mostly because it seems every time we come home and want to pull into our driveway there is a lone dog-walker in the way) but it certainly makes you wonder, doesn't it? If you have any weird coincidences like this and want to share, comment here or send me a note on Facebook. I would be thoroughly entertained with any stories you had. Besides, you just had a weird coincidence and then sat down to read this blog post, didn't you? Coincidence???! Maybe.....

Friday, March 13, 2009

Drumroll please.......

So the Electric Bill came today! Whoo-hoo! Are you ready for this? Last month I used 952 kilowatt hours and this month: 832 kilowatt hours. Suh-weet! I realize the difference couldn't all be from just unplugging my toaster, but apparently making a concerted effort to not let the lights stay on all day and all night really does add up. So what does this mean in dollars and cents? 15 bucks! Yup, we saved that much. Although now that my A/C has come out of hibernation it is going to be dang hard to top that. But at least maybe now that I have formed some good habits I might actually, truly stay within my electric bill budget during the summer months. I officially deem this experiment a complete success. Ta-da!

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Experience #4- Place in a Running Competition

This experience was totally not planned, but I cannot overlook it! My friend Susie and I ran the Strawberry Distance Challenge 5K in Plant City way back on Valentine's Day. (Thanks Susie for doing this with me!!) I saw this race on the Lakeland Runner's Club website and thought it would be a new challenge and anything remotely local is always a plus. Anyway, to make a long story short, I ended up with a time of 28:54 and it was good enough on this occasion to get me 3rd place for my age group! I was really only hoping for a time of under 30 minutes- something I have never done for a timed race- but when I rounded the corner for the finish line and saw that I could possibly be in the 28 minute range, I hustled my little behind to the end. Feel the burn! I guess training around here in my neighborhood with lots of hills and inclines has reallly helped me improve my time on the flat courses. So I walked away with a shirt, a medal, and a tummy full of as many strawberries as I could eat, which I think was about 22 or so. That could be the real reason I chose that particular race... The official race website took FOREVER to post the pictures of all the winners on it, which is why this blog post is very late in coming. Anyway, this really does go to show you that if even I, the worst runner in the world, can learn to be half-decent- so can YOU :)

Me and my biggest fan :)

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Experience #3- Make French Toast that Doesn't Suck

This has been a life-long goal, really. You all know that I love breakfast. Hands-down it is my favorite meal of the day. And not only do I love eating it, I love making it. But the one breakfast food that I have never been able to make very well is French Toast. It just never turns out very good. My main obstacles have always been the soggy middle, the bland flavor, the super heaviness of the bread. It just is not desirable in any way. I want to be able to make French Toast that tastes like what I get at Denny's, who I think has the best french toast in the world- it is light, it has crisp edges, and it is never heavy or soggy in the middle. So I decided to go straight to the source. I Googled and found the recipe for Denny's French Toast (written by a former Denny's cook, of course) and yesterday morning I busted out the griddle for some sweet breakfast action. And ultimately, I did it! I made French Toast that didn't suck! (I will admit that it was not exactly perfect- I think I had the griddle set a little too hot for a tad too much browning), but the batter recipe is spot-on and I will use it everytime from now until forever.

So without further ado, here is the recipe that made this wonderful moment possible: (I'm getting a little misty-eyed even as I type...)

Denny's® Fabulous French Toast
------by Todd Wilbur

This popular breakfast choice at America's number one diner chain takes center stage on the cover of the menu. Three thick slices of bread are dipped in a slightly sweet egg batter, browned to perfection and served up with a dusting of powdered sugar, butter and maple syrup on the side. Find the thick-sliced Texas toast bread in your bakery, or use any white bread that's sliced around 3/4-inch thick. This recipe will make enough for two servings of three slices each, and it's the perfect recipe for waking up a sweetie on Valentine's morn.

4 eggs
2/3 cup whole milk
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
6 slices thick bread (such as Texas toast)
3 tablespoons butter

powdered sugar

On the side
maple syrup
French toast test kitchen.

1. Whisk together eggs, milk, flour, sugar, vanilla, salt, and cinnamon in a large bowl.
2. Heat a large cast iron or non-stick skillet over medium/low heat. When the pan is hot, add 1 tablespoon of butter. If butter smokes, your pan is too hot, turn down the heat.
3. Drop each bread slice into the batter for about 30 seconds per side. Let some of the batter drip off then drop the bread into the buttered pan. Cook each battered bread slice for 1 1/2 to 2 minutes per side or until golden brown. Add more butter to the pan as needed to cook all the french toast.
4. Serve three slices of french toast per plate. Dust each serving with a little powdered sugar (tap it through a strainer), with some maple syrup on the side.

Makes 2 servings

P.S. Thank You to my Mom who found me the Texas Toast and even delivered it to my house :)

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Total and Utter Randomness

A few pictures from around the casa...

Turns out there was one last green pepper out in the garden that I could not see. In fact, I did not see it for so long, it turned into a red pepper. Yummy! Sorry, Rosa, but you are not getting this one.

Cindy stole my camera for a little while the other day. These are my favorite pictures that she took: (not bad for someone who is not even 5 years old yet!)

Apparently the bear said something about Elmo being stupid so Luke had to put the hurt on him.

This white cat hangs out in my yard so much I am going to start collecting rent. (and all the mail I get for Mrs. Cat Face is going to be forwarded!) I don't know why she is here all the time. But as you can see she makes herself right at home.

And she sleeps all day out near my fence by the giant bushes. So weird!

He is just so dang cute!

If only I could jar this up and keep things this way forever....Sigh..... :)