2014 Elf on the Shelf Adventures!

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Here are the highlights of our Elf on the Shelf Adventures for 2014! Our Elf had many creative adventures but also had some simple “hanging from the curtain rod” maneuvers – but the kids were entertained by both the extravagant and the simple.

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The Photo Bomb

 

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Open Mic Night

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Cirque du Soleil

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Minute to Win It!

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Drive In Car Hop

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Lego Penalty Box

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Dancing with the Stars

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Paratrooper Elf

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Last Day of School

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Donuts and Tea

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Cannonball!!!!!

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Holiday Photo Cutout

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Heading home (complete with individual behavior reports)

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Hanging with the Angel

 

Elf Bistro with the “Selfie Waffle”

Deep Slumber

Batman Line-Up

Crock Pot Black Bean Soup

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It’s getting chilly and I have been looking to add to my crock pot soup collection!! This weekend I thought I would try out a black bean soup (with just enough kick to taste it, but not so much that the kids can’t take it!).

This recipe made me excited for a few reasons:
1) My kids liked it (that is always a reason to be excited about a new recipe)
2) I finally found a reason to use the immersion blender I got as a wedding gift 15 years ago!!

So without further ado…here is the latest Cup of Judy crock pot recipe!!

 

 

 

 

Crock Pot Black Bean Soup 

(serves a family of 5 with left overs – you can cut this in 1/2 if you want a smaller portion)

Ingredients:
1 Medium Onion Diced
1/2 Large Red Pepper Diced
4 Celery Stalks Thinly Sliced
2 Tsp Minced Garlic (or 4 cloves if you are using fresh)
4 15.5oz Cans of Black Beans (I used 2 low sodium and 2 regular)
4 Chicken Bouillon Cubes
3 Cups Hot Water
1 Tsp Cumin
1 Tsp Crushed Red Pepper (or more to taste)
2 Tbsp Lemon Juice (or use the juice of 1 fresh lemon)
3 Tbsp Cornstarch

Directions: 

  • Cut up the onion, celery, red pepper and put in crock pot.
  • Add the garlic, black beans, cumin, crushed red pepper chicken bouillon and water. 
  • Cook on low for 4-6 hours.
  • Stir in corn starch and lemon juice. 
  • With an immersion blender, puree the soup (I like to leave it with some whole black beans or you can make it completely smooth).

Serve with sour cream, shredded cheese, fresh cilantro, tortilla strips or a fresh baguette.

Turkey Meatball and Kale Calzones

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These easy calzones made for a quick and yummy alternative to Saturday night pizza (and they have kale – don’t tell the kids!).

Ingredients: 

13 frozen fully cooked turkey meatballs 
1 package of chopped frozen Kale 
1/2 package of frozen peppers and onions
2 refrigerated pizza crust dough 
1 jar marinara sauce
1 1/2 cups mozzarella cheese 

Directions:

  • Preheat oven to 425
  • Spray cookie sheet with cooking spray.
  • Microwave the turkey meatballs  (times vary – follow guidelines on the bag)
  • Combine frozen kale with peppers and onions and microwave for 3 minutes
  • Cut up the meatballs into smaller pieces.
  • Add meatballs, marinara sauce and cheese to the kale, peppers and onions. 
  • Mix together and set aside. 
  • Unroll the refrigerated dough onto a cookie sheet and divide it into quarters. 
  • Add the filling to eat quarter and fold over. 
  • Press edges with a fork to seal. 
  • Cook in the oven for 15 minutes or until the dough is golden brown.

When I cooked these the first time, I only made 4 calzones so I had extra filling. I added my extra filling to cheese tortellini for a quick meal later in the week! It was also delicious!!

The BEST Goulash Recipe – EVER!

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“Dad, you’re the BEST cooker, ever!!!!”

This is what my kids say when they have my husband’s goulash. Any recipe that kids willingly devour every time it is served is worth sharing!! This is also a great make ahead recipe (it is what we make for the Grandparents when they are watching the kids for the weekend!!)

Doug’s Best Ever Goulash: 

Ingredients:
1lb Ground Turkey
1 can corn (drained)
1 can chili beans (**this is the secret ingredient!!)
1 can kidney beans (drained)
1 can diced tomatoes with chilies or salsa if you want some spice
Pasta – we use elbows but you can pick your favorite kind of pasta
Parmesan or Cheddar Cheese

Directions:
Brown the ground turkey in a large skillet.
Add remaining ingredients to skillet and bring to a boil.
Reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes or until the pasta is tender.
Top with your choice of cheese

Easy One Skillet Chicken Stir Fry

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This dinner is one of my kids FAVORITE meals and it is sooooo easy!! You can add more veggies, try out different stir fry sauces….lots of opportunities to change this up!!

Easy One Skillet Chicken Stir Fry 

Ingredients:
1 lb boneless chicken breasts 
2 bags frozen stir fry vegetables (or one stir fry veggies and one broccoli)
1 can water chestnuts (my kids love these, so I put in extra!)
1/2 cup stir fry sauce (my favorite is the Wegman’s brand)
Optional – garlic powder 
2 cups brown rice 
1 1/2 cups water
Directions: 
  • Cut the chicken breasts into bite sized pieces and cook in the skillet until no longer pink.
  • Add frozen vegetables, water chestnuts, stir fry sauce and water and bring to a boil. 
  • Stir in rice, reduce heat to medium and cook for 5 minutes.
  • Stir and remove from heat for another 5 minutes

Family Schedule Command Center

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My twin boys starting Kindergarten inspired me to plan out a MUCH needed command center for our hectic family life. I’ve been using for about 2 weeks now and it has kept me on track, kept my counters clear of clutter and made me feel like I was able to bring some control to our chaos!!

Here are the areas that were needing some organization and how those were incorporated in this design:

Misplacing Paperwork (because they were in piles on my counter)

I found these great wall file holders at Staples – Martha Stewart has a line of organizational products!! There is now one for each of the kids and then one for mail. The labels are chalk board labels which were also from the Martha Stewart line (I love her!!).

 

 

 

 

 

 

Constantly losing the “To-Do” and Shopping lists

Generic white board (also from Staples) serves two purposes:

1) To keep track of my reminders – when papers are due, things that we need to complete, etc. (In other words, those tasks that wake you up in the middle of the night or that you think of in the car and forget as soon as you are able to write them down!).

2) My ongoing grocery list!! Plus, I got this smaller holder (from Martha’s line at Staples) that I use for coupons. The idea is that when I write down an new item on the grocery list, I pull any relevant coupons and keep them in this holder. I actually use the coupons that I’ve cut instead of not using them because I finally have an hour to run out to the store and I don’t have time to sort through my coupon pile!!

 

No Dinner Plans

 

I found this white board weekly planner at Staples in the white board section and I am using it to write out my weekly meal plan each Sunday. I love that it has a cork board and magnets so if I find a recipe, I pin it up there.

This also coincides nicely with the grocery list so that I make sure I have the right ingredients on hand for the week.

 

 

Appointments, sports schedules, school events…Oh My!

We have always used our calendar, but only for bigger events and I was feeling like the little events were being missed or remembered at the last second, causing undue stress. This calendar holder from Target also includes a cork board so I pin birthday invitations, appointment reminders, etc which keeps them off my fridge!

Never a Note Pad or Pen When You Need One!


This is one of my favorite parts – I was always leaving my note pads in different places (never where I needed it when I was writing notes for school!) and pens were just as bad. We installed this shelf from Target and mounted this note pad (Marshall’s) on the wall never to be lost again! My pens are now located near my note pad and we also add a change jar and our phone charger station.

Crockpot Chicken Philly Stuffed Peppers

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Fall is in the air and Football season is starting up…who doesn’t love a Chicken Philly Sandwich?!

I decided to try a recipe that satisfied the craving without sacrificing too many calories (and it’s in a slow cooker so it saved me on time!!)

Crock Pot Chicken Philly Stuffed Peppers

Ingredients: 

4 large peppers
1 lb boneless chicken breast
1 Onion (Chopped)
2 tbsp chopped garlic
1 can sliced mushrooms
4 Tbsp Steak Sauce 
Provolone or Mozzarella Cheese

**You could also add rice or quinoa to this recipe if you wanted 

Directions: 

  • Cut the tops of the peppers off – chop up the pepper tops for the filling.
  • In a skillet, cook the chicken with onions and garlic with margarine until no longer pink
  • Combine chicken and onions with chopped peppers, mushrooms and steak sauce.
  • Put peppers in the crockpot and add the chicken filling
  • Cook on low 8 hours
  • Before you are ready to serve, add cheese into the peppers so it is melted.

Crockpot Summer Vegetable and Chicken Sausage Soup

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This recipe was perfect for the end of summer and I think you can alter it to make different soups or just to your specific tastes (add lentils instead of orzo, add peppers or other summer veggies!!).

I used the tomato soup ingredients from my Crockpot Hamburger Soup as my base (tomato soup, garlic and beef bouillon) – it is so easy and gives the soup a really nice flavor.

When I did this recipe, I doubled it so I had enough to freeze and enjoy once the school year gets underway and we are running to different events with little time to cook a healthy meal! 

Summer Vegetable and Chicken Sausage Soup: 

3 Chicken Sausage links (I used fully cooked- no prep!) 
Corn (1 can or 1/2 bag of frozen or 1.5 cups fresh)
Green beans  (1 can or 1/2 bag of frozen or 1.5 cups fresh)
1 Zucchini – cut in half and then sliced
1 Can of Diced Tomatoes (I used onion and garlic flavor)
1 Tsp minced garlic
1 Can condensed tomato soup
1 Beef bouillon cube
2.5 cups water
1 Cup Orzo Pasta (add in 30 min before serving)
Salt/Pepper to taste

Fun Food Ideas: Angry Bird Waffle

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My daughter was on a special trip this week which left two sad and envious brothers at home with us. I thought that a breakfast in one of their favorite themes might just cheer them up!!
 
This is a pretty easy creation and you have some options on the fruits and toppings to make the Angry Bird itself, but I’ll show you how I put mine together:
 

Ingredients:

1 Large Frozen Waffle
2 Mini Frozen Waffles
Strawberries, Watermelon or Raspberries (for red body)
Mango, Peach, Nectarine or Orange slice (for beak)
Blueberries or Chocolate Chips (for eyes and eyebrow)
Vanilla Yogurt or Whipped Cream (for eyes)
 

Directions:  

1) Slice up your red fruit (I used strawberries and watermelon) and place them on the plate in an arch, leaving a wedge at the bottom.

2) Cut a wedge out of the large round waffle (after it has been toasted, of course!)


3) Place the waffle wedge onto the plate in the space you left for it.

4) Add yogurt or whipped cream to the 2 mini waffles and add blueberries for the eyes

 
5) Add the mango, peach or orange foe the beak´╗┐
 
 
 
 
6) Add blueberries for eyebrows

5 Things I’m Buying When I’m Done With Daycare

The day I have been anxiously awaiting is just around the corner….the last massive daycare check!! While many Moms will be shedding tears on the first day of Kindergarten, I will be playing the Hallelujah chorus as my twin boys take their first step onto the bus!!!!

Between my daughter and the boys, we have written a check every Monday for the past 8 years that makes me vomit in my mouth just a little bit and even more so in the last 5 years with the twins going to daycare! I can’t bring myself to do the math and figure out what I have spent in total on daycare, I honestly think I would vomit for real (I’m ready to lobby for a portion of the school to be named after my family with the funds we’ve provided!).

Before I go any further, I would like to put forth a disclaimer….I don’t regret being a working Mom (most days), I love this day school and I am grateful that I am able to afford the quality care that my children have received for the past 8 years. My kids have been happy there, they made great friends along the way and the education they have received exceeds my expectations. This in itself is worth it’s weight in gold.

But back to my original point. I only have ONE more large check left which has made me start to daydream about things that could possibly be put back into our budget due to the increased cash flow. If you have ever paid for daycare, I know you’ve had the same thoughts of the things you could buy with that money!!! Of course, my fantasy budget would include a housekeeper, monthly massage, interior decorator……but here are my top 5 realistic items: 

1) Return to Starbucks
I don’t even mean a daily trip to get a Grande Non-Fat Vanilla Soy Latte Extra Foam (I said I had extra cash, not extra time!!). I just mean buying the Starbucks ground coffee for my Cuisinart!! We’ve been using the store brand coffee, which is fine….but I long for the first sip of my Pike’s Place or Sumatra blend that kick starts my day in away that the store brand coffee could only hope to!

2) 50 Strands of Grey Be Gone!
Maybe it’s the daycare checks or surviving the first 5 years of twin boys…whatever it is, my hair is going grey but I only have the budget for 2 salon visits a year or color from a box. I tried to color from a box and I ended up with black hair that made me look like an anemic Elvira. I dream often of the days that I used to have standing 6 week (not 6 month!) appointments at my Aveda salon where my stylist, Andre would give me a glass of wine and a hot towel on my neck that was scented in lavender….honestly, I just want to look in the mirror and NOT stare at my increasing streaks of grey and feeling like I am letting myself go.

3) Mr Sandman….Bring Me Some Sleep!
No shocker here but I’m sleep deprived and since I can’t buy MORE sleep, I want a better sleep!! I remember first being married and feeling like our Queen bed was ginormous…but over the course of our parenting years, growing children start making that feel quite small!! I’ve been dreaming of a getting a King size bed so we have a larger space on those nights of little ones not feeling well, having bad dreams, etc. While I’m at it – let’s add in a fabulous mattress – the one where I don’t feel my husband’s every twitch and move all night long which often results in me laying awake going over the endless to-do lists in my head!

4)  Dear Target Cardigan…It’s Not You, It’s Me. 
I love TargetI love the convenience, I love my Cartwheel App and I have had a steady love affair with their clothes for 8 years because that is what I could afford (especially since most never made it longer than one season due to spaghetti sauce fingerprints, spit up, mashed peas…). But, I’m longing to return to my old loves – Ann Taylor, Banana Republic, NY & Co…. To those Pinterest outfits that I’ve been pinning to my “style board” for two years…I’m ready for you!! Maybe I could treat myself to a new pair of heels or cute boots while we are at it!!!

5) Sayonara Swagger Wagon!
Last, but not least….the minivan. She has been a real trooper these past 5 years and those automatic doors were a lifesaver when I was carting two baby carriers back in ’09. But…..I never EVER wanted to drive a mini van  – is there really anyone who does?! But now that the boys can buckle themselves in and my oldest doesn’t need a car seat anymore, it is feasible to consider a 3 row SUV. The lack of daycare checks also makes it feasible to take on a car payment again! I’m also thinking heated seats, leather interior and car starter… :o)

Alright….the reality is that we will likely increase our college fund contributions for the kids and our 401K contributions for ourselves. We will increase our savings to take more family vacation and I will more than likely drive my minivan until it quits on me.

But on my first week of not writing a daycare check, this Mom just might make a hair appointment, get a coffee at Starbucks and buy at outfit at Ann Taylor in celebration of my daycare check freedom!!!!

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