Saturday, December 31, 2011

Recipe - Monkey Bread

I made monkey bread for our dessert on Christmas day. We all love this scrumptious bread. Greg, Sariah, Nancy, Palmer, Brody and I ate the whole thing in one evening. It's a bit addicting, being so easily accessible. There's no need to dish up or cut yourself another piece. Simply place the bread in the middle of the table and everyone just pulls and eats to their hearts' content. It also serves as a great breakfast.

Monkey Bread

4 small tubes refrigerated biscuit dough
1 cup white sugar
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 cup margarine
1 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup chopped walnuts (optional)
1/2 cup raisins

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease one 9 or 10 inch tube/Bundt pan. Mix white sugar and cinnamon in a plastic bag. Cut biscuits into quarters. Shake 6 to 8 biscuit pieces in the sugar cinnamon mix. Arrange pieces in the bottom of the prepared pan. Continue until all biscuits are coated and placed in pan. If using nuts and raisins, arrange them in and among the biscuit pieces as you go along. (I only like raisins and I arrange them in a single layer through the middle of the monkey bread.) In a small saucepan, melt the margarine with the brown sugar over medium heat. Boil for 1 minute. Pour over the biscuits. Bake at 350 degrees for 35 minutes. Let bread cool in pan for 10 minutes, then turn out onto a plate. Do not cut; the bread just pulls apart.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Christmas Eve and Christmas Day

Christmas Eve:We started our Christmas celebration with a Hess family party at Grandma Nancy's house. We ate lunchmeat & roll sandwiches, vegetables, chips and dip and apples with Skor dip. We had a white elephant exchange, and then exchanged real gifts to each other.
Then we headed to the Riding's home for a Nichols family party. We munched on a variety of appetizers (we brought clubhouse squares and more apples and Skor dip). The little boys (Braedon, Trevor, Davis, Palmer and Brody) all dressed in matching pajamas that Grandma Betty had made and then we had our gift exchange.

Christmas Day:Greg and I sang in the choir and in a double quartet during sacrament meeting. Sariah came to church with us and sat with the boys in the pews, she also spent the rest of Christmas Day with us at our home. We opened gifts after church since church was early, at 9:00 am, and our boys are young and didn't know better. It was good that we waited because they took a long time to open gifts. Each gift they opened they wanted to play with instead of moving on to another gift. Santa really spoiled us this year! Palmer's favorite gift this year was a Leapster. Brody's favorite gift was a golf caddy. Rie's favorite gift from Santa (I'm guessing from her reaction) was a Roald Dahl book set. My favorite gift was a Sillhouette Cameo (yay!) and Greg's favorite gift (which slightly pains me to say) was the complete Star Trek movie collection on Blu-ray. Rie and I made steak pie for dinner, a longtime going Nichols' family tradition. Sariah and Nancy joined us for dinner and then we ended the evening playing Xbox Kinect: Kinect Adventures and Dance Central 2 (another favorite gift of mine!).

Monday, December 26, 2011

Pajama Eaters


These little monsters found their way under our Christmas tree this year. They look cute, and soft, but beware, they will eat your pajamas right up! I think these are the most complicated sewing project I have taken on to date. And it was a bit crazy getting them done during the hustle and bustle of Christmas preparations, but when I saw the boys' excitement, I was glad I had found the time and spent a few very late nights pinning and sewing away. You can find the tutorial for the pajama eaters here.

Palmer and Brody think the pajama eaters are just great! Palmer was a bit nervous this morning when I fed his slightly worn pajamas to his monster. But after some reassurance that the monster would give them back this evening, he thought it was hilarious.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Recipe - Five Cup Cream Cheese Frosting

For cake group this month, I made red velvet cake with cream cheese frosting. I used a mix for the cake since I have yet to find a good from scratch recipe for red velvet (please let me know if you have one). The frosting is another one of my sister's winning recipes (I've also posted her milk chocolate buttercream frosting and her strawberry buttercream frosting). This cream cheese frosting, like the other two, is delicious! And how could it not be, having two packages of cream cheese in it? I really do love cream cheese. It's pretty much a guarantee that if a recipe has cream cheese in it, I will like it.

Five Cup Cream Cheese Frosting

2 (8 ounce) packages cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup butter, softened
1 (32 ounce) package powdered sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Beat cream cheese and butter at medium speed with an electric mixer until creamy. Gradually add powdered sugar, beating until fluffy. Stir in vanilla.

Monday, December 19, 2011

CCNA Certified

Greg is now CCNA certified. He passed the second part of the exam this past Thursday with a very high score. He's been working towards getting this certification for a long time (no classes or seminars, he studied, learned and prepped on his own), and we are very happy that all his hard work paid off. We are so proud of him!

Everyone in Greg's department has the goal to be CCNA certified by 2012. He was the first in his company to get the certification. And as a reward for being the first, he was given an Xbox 360 with Kinect. We haven't had a whole lot of time to experiment with our new toy, getting ready for Christmas and all, but the couple times we've been able to play it, it's been really fun. Palmer especially gets a kick out of it. Since he's so hyper and moves around so quickly and easily; he gets a lot of coverage on the screen and is pretty good at it. Below is a video of our crazy, hyper three year old playing the Xbox Kinect. Honestly, I feel exhausted just watching him!

video

If you're wondering what Palmer keep saying in the video, it's, "I got a tick tock!" or in other words he picked up a clock icon in the game giving him more time to play.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Dear Santa

Last year Palmer wrote in his letter to Santa that he wanted a snowman and a new friend. Awww.... cutest request ever, right? This year when I asked him what he wanted he said, "Money." What? Where did that come from? The kid has never even had, let alone used a single dollar bill in his life. How did our little man go from adorable, sweet innocence to the no-frills/no-magic teenage take on Christmas gift giving in just one year?

Thankfully, his request has changed a few times, mostly depending on what he is currently focused on at any given store, i.e. a marshmallow gun, or a popcorn tin. And when the actual big moment came, as Palmer found himself on Santa's lap, and Santa asked, "And what would you like for Christmas, little boy?" Palmer replied... "A candy cane." Santa replied, "Well, that's easy," and the wish was instantly granted by jolly Kris Kringle. Brody, seeing Palmer's success, followed with the same request. The boys were very happy with their candy canes that evening.

Hopefully when Christmas Day comes, they will be just as happy with all the gifts Santa brings. I have a suspicion that we might even find some "money," a.k.a. chocolate coins then as well.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Holiday Activities

It's only the 9th of December and we are in full holiday swing at the Hess home. We started preparing and celebrating Christmas right after our Thanksgiving meal. I love this time of year. I love the music, the lights, the overall feeling of good will; I love Christmas spirit. It has been so very fun to take the boys on little Christmas adventures. Nothing tops living the excitement of Christmas through a little one's eyes. It's crazy to me to think that many of the activities are firsts for my children. Yes, I know they have only been on this earth for two and three years, but it's hard for me to fathom never having seen The Grinch's heart grow three sizes, or telling Santa what you want for Christmas for the first time, or realizing that you can make an entire house out of cookies, frosting and candy. Christmas truly is a magical time of the year!

So far we have happily participated in the following holiday activities:

  • Lights at Temple Square - We went to Temple Square early this year, remembering how bitterly cold it has been in the past. It was a bit chilly, but much milder than it is late December. As always the lights around the temple were beautiful. I especially love the nativity that sits upon the water in front of the temple.

  • Festival of Trees - We are big fans of the Festival of Trees. I haven't missed attending the festival in years. It is always on the top of my list of places to go in December. This year we were able to go on a Thursday morning, which was much less busy and better with two toddlers in tow. Greg's favorite tree was a Lego themed tree, my favorite tree was a tree based on the movie A Christmas Story, Palmer's favorite tree was a snowman tree, Brody's favorite tree was a firetruck tree. The boys had so much fun playing in the kids' corner. They especially enjoyed being inside a big bubble. We also made sure to check out the amazing gingerbread houses.

  • Elves at Gardener Village - This was a new outing for all of us. We've gone to see the witches at Gardener Village for the past three years, but I didn't even know they displayed elves until this year. The boys got excited about each elf we found, and we made sure to drop into the candy store and the toy store for even more fun.

  • Gingerbread House - Another new adventure for our family was making a gingerbread house. Greg impulsively put it in our cart at Costco, and we are so glad he did. It was great fun putting it together with the boys. They had a great time decorating and a great time eating the extra candy. It currently sits on our bookshelf; we have debated if we should display it all month or rip into it and enjoy its sweetness.

  • Walk with Santa - The local fitness center does an annual Walk with Santa. Santa comes riding in on a firetruck (to Brody's utter delight! Brody is all about firetrucks lately) counts down to the lighting of the trees outside the building, and then leads those in attendance on a walk around the park to look at blow up holiday characters. Then everyone goes inside to sit on Santa's lap, get their faces painted and go on a candy cane hunt. It's makes for a fun, and free night.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Trimming the Tree

We got our tree up nice and early this year, just after Black Friday. While Greg and I were fanning out the branches, the boys took it upon themselves to start trimming the tree.
They decorated the tree with gloves, utensils, game pieces and small toys. And they were very proud to show off their work to Mom and Dad. Silly kids! They sure do know how to make the holidays fun.

We eventually took down their makeshift ornaments and decorated the tree properly. I love our Christmas tree; all the ornaments on the tree are from Greg's and my winter wedding. Not only do I find it beautiful to look at, I get to relive the winteresk fantasy of our lovely January wedding that occurred almost seven years ago. It makes our holiday season even more special and memorable.

Jump, Climb and Roll

During Greg's week off, we took the kids to Classic Fun Center for the first time. The place lived up to it's name, and we had a lot of fun. And thanks to a coupon it only cost $5 for the family. We were able to bounce around in the bounce houses (mostly Greg did this with the boys, after the first bounce house I was feeling pretty sick - ended up having the stomach flu that evening). And I went through the jungle (a huge soft play maze) with the boys. Palmer and Brody had their first experience with skating and thought that was really cool. And we ended the fun with a few arcade games and redeeming tickets for prizes. Good times!

Monday, November 28, 2011

Recipe - Chocolate Cream Pie

My older sister London, who is an amazing cook, made chocolate cream pie for the Nichols' Thanksgiving get together. It was the best chocolate cream pie I have ever had! There is no way I can go back to instant pudding mix in my chocolate cream pies after trying this recipe. It is super sweet, super chocolatey, and melt in your mouth super yummy! Top each piece of pie with homemade whipped cream (this a must in my family's book; you will never see Cool Whip accompany any of our desserts) and it is absolutely heaven.

Chocolate Cream Pie

1 pie crust (use your favorite recipe or even pre-made refrigerated dough)

Filling:
2 tablespoons butter
1 1/3 cups semisweet chocolate, chopped
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2/3 cup granulated sugar
3 tablespoons cornstarch
2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
1/8 teaspoon salt
3 large egg yolks
1 cup heavy cream, divided
2 cups milk

Topping:
1 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup confectioners' sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Cook pie crust and allow it to cool completely.

To make filling - place the chopped chocolate, butter, and vanilla extract in a 2-quart mixing bowl; set aside. In a medium saucepan away from heat, whisk together the sugar, cornstarch, cocoa and salt. Whisk in 1/4 cup of cold heavy cream until the mixture is smooth, with no lumps. Repeat with another 1/4 cup of the cream. Whisk in the egg yolks. Place the saucepan over medium heat, and gradually whisk in the remaining cream and milk. Bring to a boil, whisking constantly as the mixture thickens; boil for 1 minute. Remove the pan from the heat and pour the mixture over the reserved chocolate and butter. Whisk until the chocolate is melted and the mixture is smooth. Pass the filling through a strainer into a bowl to remove any lumps. Place plastic wrap or buttered parchment paper on the surface to prevent a skin from forming, and chill thoroughly. Once completely cooled add filling on top of cooled pie crust. Chill until ready to serve.

To make whipped topping - place the heavy cream in a chilled mixing bowl. Whip until the whisk begins to leave tracks in the bowl. Add the sugar and vanilla and whip until the cream holds a medium peak. Spread or pipe whipped cream on top of chilled pie or serve each piece of pie with an individual dallop of cream.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Thankful

We had a lovely Thanksgiving this year. Greg had the whole week off, so it was even more wonderful! We had two meals, one with the Nichols side of the family the Sunday before and we ate on Thanksgiving with the Hess side of the family. I sadly had the stomach flu most of the week, and was just starting to feel better by Thanksgiving. However, it was still a great week and we couldn't help but reflect on all the many blessing in our lives. This year we are especially thankful for...

Lera:
  • my wonderfully kind, funny, spiritual and hot hubby

  • my fun, energetic boys

  • my extended family, especially my sisters who are my best friends

  • the gospel and our ward family

  • my health and the ability I have to be active

  • our home

  • friendship

  • our jobs and that we are able to provide for our family

  • uplifting and entertaining books

Greg:
  • my wife and that she is always there to help and for the wonderful mother that she is

  • Palmer and who energetic and playful he is

  • Brody and how sweet and innocent he is

  • my job and that I am appreciated there, and also for good management, and coworkers that I get along with

  • our ward family and friends and the past and present Bishopric

Palmer:
  • Mommy, Daddy and Brody

  • Grandmas and Grandpas and Aunties

  • friends

  • preschool

  • games

  • paint

  • candy and macaroni and cheese

Brody:
  • Mommy, Daddy and Palmer

  • Grandmas and Grandpas and Aunties

  • his stuffed teddy and hippo

  • Yo Gabba Gabba

  • animals

  • candy and pop

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Family Photo Shoot

We had family pictures taken this month. It was a rough day. You'd think family pictures would be a time of unity, happiness and love, but in my experience it has been anything but. The boys fought me all morning getting ready. I was literally running out the door to get to the appointment on time. Once we arrived, Greg was nowhere in sight. I called him a couple times, and finally got through to him. I asked him where he was and his reply was, "Oh shoot!" He had forgotten to leave work to meet us for the shoot. He said he would leave right then. The photographer moved the appointments around and said she could squeeze us in for a quick session in about 20 minutes. We'd start with the boys' pictures if Greg wasn't there yet. I tried to entertain the boys and to keep them from getting into things, but wasn't very successful at doing so. Right before our session started, I realized Palmer had picked all his product out of his hair, so I quickly ran Brody to the bathroom and washed the product out of his hair to match. Greg arrived just as we were going to start. At that point Palmer was overly hyper and unable to focus and Brody had been crying almost all morning long. Needless to say, we were all frazzled by the time the camera came out. The results, I think, are only okay. But there is no way I am going to go through another family photo shoot, so this is it. I've posted the few good, and few decent pictures from the session.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Let It Snow

Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow, is what Palmer and Brody say. These boys absolutely love the snow. Seeing it fall, trampling through it, playing around in it, eating it, it's all good in their opinion. To the boys' absolute delight, we had a couple snow falls last week.

The first only left about 1/2 inch of snow on the ground, and it only lasted for about an hour, but that didn't dispirit Palmer or Brody. They were outside having a good time the moment they realized there was white fluffiness on the ground, and they enjoyed it until each and every flake had melted away.

The second time it snowed, it was a bit more plentiful, and once again, they were as happy as can be to be out in it. Since the snow never melted away this time, the boys played for a couple hours straight before we persuaded them to come inside for some hot chicken noodle soup.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Palmer at Brody's Two Year Photo Shoot

Palmer enjoys being the center of attention (like his mom!). He did great encouraging Brody to smile and be happy during his photo shoot, but he was very anxious to have a turn in the spotlight. As the shoot concluded, Palmer asked if he could have a turn. I replied that we would be back the next week for his turn during our family picture session. The photographer kindly interjected with an offer to take a few shots of Palmer right then, which made Palmer's day. Since he was overly excited, he pulled a couple very funny, cheesy and silly poses. But among those goofy shots, this little gem emerged.
Palmer's preschool teachers often tell me how Palmer is so very animated (like his dad!), and it's true. I love how alive and full of life this little boy is! He was practically born with a big cheesy smile on his face, and I wouldn't have it any other way.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Two Year Photo Shoot

We took Brody to JCPenney Portrait Studio to get his two year old pictures taken. I am very happy with the results. He is such a beautiful boy, with his big bright eyes, and his great smile; it's almost hard to take a bad picture of him. He brought along his new favorite toys - his tools that he received for his birthday. He plays with them nonstop and is often found "fixing" things around the house with any number of his toy tools.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Recipe - Trudy's Chili

This recipe comes from Trudy, a special education teacher I worked with. Trudy ate this chili for lunch almost daily during the fall and winter months. And once I tried it, I knew why she ate it so often. I would never think olives would be appetizing in chili, but after my first taste, I was hooked. It is delicious! I made it for a couple chili cookoffs last month, and it tied for first place at one of them.

Trudy's Chili

1 pound Jimmy Dean Hot Sausage
1 onion, chopped
1 large can stewed tomatoes
2 cans black beans
1 can white pinto beans
1 can red kidney beans
1 can olives
1 small can green chilies
1-2 teaspoons chili powder (depending on how spicey you like it)

Brown sausage and onion and drain. Add tomatoes. Drain juices off all beans and olives and add them to the pot. Add green chilies and chili powder to your liking. Let all ingredients simmer together for 20-25 minutes.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Trick or Treating and Other Halloween Fun

We have candy coming out of our ears at the Hess home! The boys brought in sugary sweets by the bagfuls this year. We definitely celebrated Halloween to its fullest by...

  • ...going to the Safety Fair at the local fitness center. We played a couple games and trick or treated around the facility.
  • ...trick or treating at Greg's work. The boys got so much candy there that they couldn't physically carry it out of the building and had to drag it in a bag behind them.
  • ...attending a Halloween party with Greg's coworkers, just Greg and I. Greg dressed up as a three hole version of himself (thank you Jim Halpert from The Office for the inspiration) and I was a Post-It note. We visited, played a lot of games and ate yummy food.
  • ...participating in the ward Chili Cook Off and trunk or treat. Aunt Andrea and cousins Amaya and Alyssa joined us for the fun.
  • ...trick or treating with Palmer's preschool class; his teacher kindly invited Brody to join them. After trick or treating, Palmer enjoyed a Halloween party with his preschool teachers and friends.
  • ...trick or treating Halloween night around Grandma Nancy's house in Daybreak. We also had a family dinner with Grandma and the Baarz/Terrillion family.
  • ...eating lots of candy, and possibly even more chili. We had chili Friday night at Greg's work party (our chili tied for first place at that cook off - I will post the recipe soon. It's delish!), Saturday night at the ward chili cook off, Sunday night as leftovers and Monday night at the Hess family dinner.

And here are our now very experienced, cute trick or treaters decked out in their pirate costumes.Thanks to our friends The Hepworths and The Christiansons for letting us use their previous costumes for our Halloween festivities this year. They boys loved being pirates and were often heared proudly exclaiming, "Arrrr!" in proper pirate fashion.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Painted Pumpkins


For our last Family Home Evening activity we combined two of the boys' favorite things: painting and pumpkins. I know that sounds a bit extreme to say our boys have a love for pumpkins, but they really do. Before we got around to painting our dear gourds, Palmer actually slept with his in his bed, put it on the couch with him to watch morning cartoons and took it to the kitchen table with him for breakfast. Now that they are painted, they sit proudly on our front porch. Every time we come or go, the boys give them a loving pat, and point out who's pumpkin belongs to whom. Greg painted Muno from Brody's new favorite show, Yo Gabba Gabba on his pumpkin. I painted the pumpkin with the stars and swirls. Palmer painted the "artistic" pumpkin with the splotches of different colored paint and Q-tips stuck to it, and Brody painted his orange pumpkin with orange paint.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Making Fat Cry

I saw this picture on Pinterest and instantly loved it! And I do honestly love making my fat cry! I still jog at times and do enjoy it, but I have discovered a new love, a love verging on obsession, for Zumba. Thanks to Greg's and my employment benefits, we both have free premium memberships, or in other words, free aerobic classes along with our gym memberships at our local fitness center. I really enjoy the classes at the fitness center; the instructors push me harder than I would normally push myself. I've tried many of the different types of aerobic classes and many different instructors. I am not a fan of yoga or step classes; I'm not flexible or very coordinated. I do like kickboxing. With a good instructor, I get a really good workout from kickboxing. And anyone who knows me well, knows I like to shake my groove thing, so Zumba is a perfect match for me. I leave the classes red-faced, sweaty, smelly, revitalized and very, very happy.

I've also been watching what I eat. I along with my sisters, my dad's wife Betty, and a couple of my friends have all been following the Weight Watchers PointsPlus plan. I'm really liking this new plan, and have had a lot of success with it. Instead of counting calories, the plan counts carbohydrates and focuses on incorporating more whole grains, more fiber, more protein and more fruits and vegetables. In fact, all fruits and most vegetables are free, so I never go hungry.

With working out and eating better I've lost 18 pounds in the past seven weeks. My goal was 20 pounds in two months, and I think I'm going to make that goal. And after that, I plan to just keep going!

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Witches at Gardener Village

For Family Home Evening we went to see the witches at Gardener Village. We had a great evening there. The boys were thrilled to find each and every witch! I can tell Halloween is going to be a lot fun with them this year. And yes, in our family picture, my two year old is totally feeling up the witch sitting next to him on the bench.