Jester Park Natural Playscape

One of the best play areas we’ve ever been to is in the backyard of the Des Moines metro area – Jester Park Natural Playscape. It’s a mere 25 minute drive and worth it! 


We missed out on a play date earlier this weekend, and so made the trek this morning. Though it’s 82 and humid, there is some actual cloud cover and hardly anyone here! 


My kids plunged into the pond immediately. They played hide and seek with rocks, fished, made rock piles, climbed, splashed, jumped, and were totally engaged in creative play. 


There was minimal fighting and mama enjoyed soaking her feet and the views. 


The baby bison are just adorable. 


We had some lovely discussions about native plants and the organisms that benefit from them. 


The natural building area is a fantastic idea, however, we never made it out of the water! 


The metal work was one of my favorite views. 


These creatures were fun and functional! 

Oh Des Moines, I love how you’ve grown since I was a kid. I’m so excited for summer off with my kids and the adventures we have yet to have. Being a teacher enables me to remain a kid at heart with my two, and for that I’m so grateful.

Spring Gardening

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We tore out a section of our railing in April.  We left the section around the door, but the resulting space is along the walk to the house is quite wonderful – no more walking all the way around a paint flaking, rusty, shaky railing to get to the yard.

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After removing the railing, we immediately dug out two new beds.  I planted parsley, fennel, marigolds, purple basil, nasturtium, and sage.

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My other big front yard project has been adding two raised beds.  We filled them by the light of an almost-full moon, while listening to Prince, on the day we heard of his untimely death.  Night time gardening, when else can you get uninterrupted time to play in the dirt, when you have young children?

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The idea for the beds in the front yard came from the book, The Edible Front Yard, by Ivette Soler.  I have focused on planting edibles that we A. love to eat and B. look nice.  The kids have absolutely loved checking the status of the plants, weeding, and helping with watering.

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The same day I planted items in the front beds, I received a shipment of live plants – hops and rhubarb.  I also tore out the giant kale root from last year’s giant of a plant.  I’ll have to look for the photo I took of the behemoth.  The root is a good indicator of how much kale likes my front yard – two plants came back from last year and are ready to start harvesting already.  A happy thing for me, but a sure sign that this past winter was not a harsh one at all.

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This is how we have been spending our afternoons after school – outdide, as Q says.  We built a bigger better sandbox for these two diggin’ fools – more on that later.

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Now that crazy April is over, we will be doing more of this.  I am so excited for summer this year – talk about enjoying the long days and sleep-filled nights, now that Q is almost 2 and G is almost 5.

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The other best part of the beginnings of warm weather in Iowa?  Biking!  We have been getting out on bikes every day without rain.  We hit up Mullet’s one evening for dinner and enjoyed the scenery along Gray’s Lake on the way home, with a detour for DQ.  This mama is ready for summer!

Easter Brunch 2016

Easter was a little while ago, I know.  However, I have been busy taking two classes, testing the waters for big and exciting changes coming soon.  I actually started this post just after Easter and it has been sitting as a draft since then.  I have quite a few artwork drafts sitting around right now too, waiting for my classes to end.  More on those later.

coffee.cakeI have been raised on good coffee cake, however, it wasn’t until recently that I was given the best recipe on earth – my maternal grandmother’s recipe.  She was famous for this recipe – she worked in a diner and regular patrons would come in asking if she was working that particular day, and if so, had she made her coffee cake yet.  I have an adapted version of her recipe in this post, see below.

I love the Cup 4 Cup Gluten Free Flour for all my baking needs.  It is as close as you can get to typical gluten baking, and I have tried quite a few different kinds.

The struesel in this cake is perfect – due to mixing the sugar, cinnamon, and flour with melted butter, rather than cutting the butter in.  It creates the best and most even struesel I have had.

This Bagel, Lox, and Egg Strata  from Better Homes & Gardens, was a keeper – I will be sure to make it again soon.  We swapped out the regular bagels for gluten-free, found in the freezer section at The Fresh Market (one of my favorite stores from Greensboro that recently opened here in Des Moines!)

Notice the difference in egg color, above?  The brighter ones are from our friends’ farm, Lipes Family Farm, outside of Iowa City.  We have been buying eggs and meat from their monthly buyer’s club here in Des Moines for more than a year now.  If you are in the Des Moines Metro area, sign up for their e-mail list to join!

img_9591Brunch was delicious – smoked salmon, bagel, & egg casserole, fruit salad, mixed greens salad with lemon vinaigrette, and bacon from our friends at Lipes Family Farm.  Some of the best, I have been told, as I am no bacon expert!

img_9586I kept the kids busy and entertained during brunch prep with assorted washi tapes.  These are the best thing for my creative  & busy kids – they can tear off whatever size they like, and stick them everywhere.  The tape peels off of all surfaces easily and it comes in glitter, patterns, and bright colors galore.  The rolls are small enough to easily fit in my purse and take along for on-the-go fun anywhere.

 

Gluten Free Struesel Coffee Cake

For struesel topping, combine: 1/2 cup brown sugar, 2 tablespoons Cup 4 Cup gluten free flour, 2 tablespoons cinnamon, and 2 tablespoons melted butter.

For cake, combine: 3 cups Cup 4 Cup gluten free flour, 6 teaspoons baking powder, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and  1-1/2 cups sugar. Cut in 1/2 cup butter until mixture resembles cornmeal. Blend in 1 cup milk and 2 teaspoons vanilla.  Pour batter into a greased and floured tube pan.  Sprinkle struesel topping over top.  Bake at 375° for 35-40 minutes, or till knife inserted near center comes out clean.

 

Christmas 2015

pie.sliceThis year for our Christmas Day meal, I decided to make a blueberry pie.  It’s good to shake things up a bit, especially on holidays, I think.  Some of my family would disagree and say this is a terrible idea – why mess with a a good thing, especially on holidays?!  It is due to this sentiment that I left my Challah recipe alone this year.

blueberry.pieI was using a combination of a couple recipes – a terrible habit of mine when I am in the kitchen.  I ended up with a delightful, though a bit on the juicy side of a pie.  My youngest – a huge pie fan – almost perfected his ability to say the word pie due to his love of the blueberries in this pie.

I used my dad’s crust recipe with gin this time – I was out of vodka.  And the basic blueberry filling from my Martha Stewart pie wheel.  See below for both recipes.  I would add thickener in the form of tapioca or corn starch for future reference.  I topped it off with real whipped cream.  I accidentally bought a carton of heavy whipping cream instead of the kids’ milk, so I have been creatively putting it to use.

walkIt snowed on Christmas Eve day and so I enjoyed a wintery walk with my eldest child.  She is a budding scientist and makes keen observations that make her mama proud.  Here she is gingerly touching the thin crust of ice at the very edge of the pond.  She told me after doing this that she, “would hold on to my hand while we were near the water’s edge.”

familyWe enjoyed quality family time with cousins and grandparents.  Poor Q, Christmas is a lot of work when you aren’t yet 2.  Though it’s a lot of work when you are my age, too.

IMG_8487Here he is earlier in the day, a little calmer and still barefoot.

IMG_8492My daughter’s writing is exploding now.  She decorated my present herself, asking for spelling help with all her favorite characters.  If she hadn’t made me open it, I would have just left it wrapped like this forever.

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Santa visited my two little Batmen with some surprises, and some surprises for me – they are actually sharing in this picture!  My youngest little ham now slits his eyes when he smiles – not sure if he is trying to be funny or if this is how he thinks one is supposed to smile.

frostOn Christmas Day the foggy morning weather made everything a frosty white that surprisingly lasted all day.  It was absolutely beautiful and I found myself stopping and staring out my in-laws windows frequently during the day.

giftsWe opened gifts .  The chaos of this picture is perfect.

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The men did most of the cooking.  Eric is working on assisting my brother-in-law with his salted fish recipe.  The fish are covered in a salt and egg white mixture and then baked.  The salt crust is then peeled off and a perfectly cooked fish is left inside.  This was paired with a saffron risotto, challah, a salad, and yule log cake and pie for dessert.

all the grandkidsWe certainly missed Grandma this year, this image was taken last year at Christmas.  She would have turned 91 on Christmas Day – how lucky I have been to celebrate her birthday and Christmas, together, for so many years.  So, with the exception of losing loved ones, each year Christmas just gets better.  I am so grateful for my life, my family, my health, my friends, and the way I get to spend my time.  Here’s to 2016!

Dad’s Double Pie Crust

  • 3 cups sifted all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup butter
  • 4 to 5 tablespoons cold water
  • 4 to 5 tablespoons vodka
  1. Sift together flour and salt; cut in butter with pastry blender until pieces are the size of small peas.  (For extra tender pastry, cut in half the shortening till like cornmeal. Cut in remaining till like small peas).
  2. Sprinkle 1 tablespoon water over part of the mixture.  Gently toss with fork; push to side of bowl.  Repeat, alternating water and vodka till all is moistened.  Form into 2 balls.
  3. Flatten on lightly floured surface by pressing with edge of hand 3 times across in both directions.  Roll from center to edge, till about 1/8 inch thick.
  4. Trim lower crust even with rim of pie plate.  Cut slits in top crust.  Lift pastry by rolling it over rolling pin; then unroll loosely over well-filled pie.  Trim 1/2 inch beyond edge.  Tuck top crust into under edge of lower crust.  Flute edge of pastry as desired.

Blueberry Pie FillingMartha Stewart Pie Wheel, (click here for your own printable version)

Combine in a large bowl: 3 pints of blueberries, 2 tablespoons lemon juice, 1/2 cup sugar, 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon, and 2 chopped up tablespoons of butter.

Bake at 425° for 20 minutes with a Pie Crust Shield or aluminum foil on edges to protect crust edges.  Reduce to 350°, remove foil or shield, cook for 30-40 minutes more or till golden and filling is bubbling.

 

 

Mixed Media Necklace + Holiday Decor

necklaceI have been organizing my art room and basement craft stash this winter, in an effort to purge what I don’t need, use what I have, and make room for cold day play with my kids.  I discovered some fun unfinished projects in this process.

necklace.1My mom gave me a couple bags of Hand-felted Wool Felt Balls  a couple years back and I had made a few things with them, but they had mostly been pilfered by one of our cats as extremely entertaining toys.  I also came across my recycled paper beads I had made during a paper making lesson I taught my middle school students back in North Carolina.

The beads are simply paper pulp squished into bead shapes, which then dry, and are coated in Mod Podge, Gloss Finish. I used a small drill bit and drilled holes in each paper bead, alternating them with the felted balls.  The felted wool balls are easy to string as beads, just use a sharp needle.  I also added a couple pieces of coral with holes in it, found on a trip to Key West.  Now I just have to keep this necklace out of the reach of our cat – he has already nabbed it and dragged it down to the basement once.  I am not sure what the allure of these felted wool balls are to him, but he cannot resist them!

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Other things that have been keeping me busy – Christmas decor!  I used some more of the felted wool balls to create a simple garland for the chandelier.

garlandOne of these days I am going to do something about that chandelier – I am still not a fan of it.

mantelThe mantle is decorated with my odds and ends.

We started a new holiday family tradition – picking up our tree via cargo bike!  It was a chilly but perfect day, we biked to a tree lot just off one of the bike trails in town.  Eric let me ride it back – it was a little squirrely to ride, but much easier than I thought it would be.  Now our tree is up and decorated, though a little top-heavy – our youngest is still in the destructive phase.

My current favorite holiday decor – I finally got my deer skull hung up and decorated with a set of battery-powered lights.

What’s your favorite holiday decor or tradition?

Making Time for Those I Love

My dad has always told me, “You make time for the things you love.”

And I do.  However, the things I love are not as important as the people I love.

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Gramma came to visit me in Greensboro one fall. She requested a visit to my classroom to see me in action.

My Gramma (Gigi, as she requested to be called by my Greta) passed away, quite suddenly, at the end of August.  Mary was a spunky 90-year-old who was still driving, playing bridge, making her own grocery store runs, and calling me weekly to schedule our visit.  She looked forward to her daily walks, taking time to stop and say hello to her neighbors.  The kids and I would join her, almost every week, and fall into the familiar routine she created with us.

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Gigi’s kitchen table, the setting for many tea & cookie visits.

First, and foremost on visits to Gigi’s, we ate cookies. She sat us down at her almost-too big table, pushed against her oven door in her tiny kitchen. The treats were always laid out in advance complete with plates, napkins, silverware, cups, tea cups, and plates of carefully arranged goodies and Gramma fed us.  When we would go and stay with her when I was a little girl, she fed us elaborate multi-course meals of fruit salad, scalloped potatoes, stuffing, baked fish, salad, muffins, and always something for dessert.  I always hoped for the chewy molasses cookies, and I remember one time in particular she made an entire tin of these cookies all for me. In the more recent years though, the treats were more or less always the same store-bought items – iced pumpkin bars, chocolate dipped graham crackers, goldfish crackers, chocolate muffins, banana bread slices, pumpkin bread slices, Frito Lay chips, milk, and tea.  It was during this snacking when we talked and caught up on the weekly happenings of her residence and aging neighbors, bridge games, movie nights, and gossip and I told her about raising two young children and working.  The conversations would often drift to questions about the past – where did she acquire this set of china or what was it like living in Texas with two young boys in the early 1950s?  Gramma loved to tell stories – she had a sharp memory and would often correct me on the dates of the events where I was present.  She loved to recount stories and discuss weddings, memorable trips, growing up during the Depression, working in Minneapolis hospitals as a dietician, and her preference for Mid Century Modern design.

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Her refrigerator covered in her most cherished photos.

Every visit, without fail, while sitting in the cramped kitchen, I would find myself facing her carefully curated family museum of photographs on her refrigerator. Early upon moving back to Iowa, she had me hunting the aisles of Target to find small magnets that would not cover up the images she so cherished.

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Greta entertaining Gigi during brunch at our house.

Through all of this conversation Greta would listen, interject questions from time to time, and tell Gigi of her world of daycare, music class, and Tae Kwon Do.  Greta would always quietly demolish her Frito Lays (calling them Gigi’s chips) drink all her milk, and promptly ask for seconds.  My salty snack loving child would take two or three bites of her chocolate covered graham crackers, then pull paper napkins out from the hiding place in the kitchen table, wrap them up, and announce she was going to take the rest home with her.  Gigi would happily supply the baggies and supplement Greta’s small baggie with another tin heavily laden with goodies from the morning coffee bar in the lobby of her residence.

Gramma gave up baking and cooking her extravagant meals long ago, and since moving to Des Moines, found herself preferring the buffet-style communal meal once a day in the dining hall.  An avid card player, she often won the coveted extra dining tickets to share with us.  I admit, there were times when I wanted to avoid the dining room, as it always seemed to coincide with someone’s bedtime and an inevitable meltdown would ensue.  I was always more upset by this than anyone else in the room, and looking back on this, I wish I had seen it through Gramma’s eyes, and her that of her friends.  She was a lucky one.  She had family in town.  Family that visited, ate meals with her, walked with her, swam in the pool while she watched and laughed, and a great-grandchildren who enjoyed being paraded through the halls, smiling at all her friends in the process.  My two children soaked up this attention and loved spending time with Gigi.

After the routine eating, we walked the halls.  Gramma would always say, “Well, Greta, should we go walk the halls?”  Greta’s enthusiastic, “Yeah!” always made me smile.  Greta liked to run ahead, barking out orders at us, while I wore Quinton on my back, carried him, and then eventually held Quinton’s hand as he was learning to walk.  Gramma frequently made note of the “unfortunate changes” happening around her residence – the renters, the proliferation of dogs, and concrete angels popping up in the community garden.  “I mean honestly,” she would snort in her trademark phrase of disgust, “maybe someone buried their dog out here.”

We always walked down the long hallways, through the dining hall, stopping to admire the huge Christmas tree if it were winter, then head down the stairs, and into the swimming pool atrium.  Greta would bend carefully over the water, tightly grasping the hand railings, and gingerly at first reach down to touch the uncomfortably warm and chlorine-laden water.  Then, it was splash splash splash!  Her brother got harder and harder to contain as he got older, realizing what he was missing out on.  After much fussing from younger brother, I would cajole her into leaving, through the outside door when it was nice out, or retracing our steps through the building, when it was a bitter cold Iowa day.

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An early game of peek with Gigi when Greta was almost one.

When we returned from our walking, Greta always convinced Gigi to play hide and seek in the small seating area at the end of her hallway.  There was a table with a few chairs, a large fake plant, and a sofa table, and somehow the two of them would manage to play hide and seek in this small space week after week.  Greta and Quinton brought out her playful side, one I don’t remember seeing as often when I was younger, but relished seeing her use with my kids.  My most favorite recent memory is of Gigi leaning on her cane, standing behind one fake plant frond, while Greta shouts as loudly as she can, “I WONDER WHERE GIGI IS?!?”  Both are giggling hysterically.

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Gramma with her three grand-children and three great-grandchildren last Christmas. What a way to celebrate Christmas and her 90th birthday.

After these antics, we wrapped up the visit, gathered shoes, coats, bags, cookie tins, and hauled the circus out the car.  Gramma would always comment on how she didn’t know how I did it – carrying it all, keeping track of it all, working, and mothering.  She always commented on how busy I was, and early on in these visits, I took it as a negative comment.  I was an exhausted mother of two young kids, working part-time at a new job, freshly moved to a new town, juggling it all – of course I was feeling bitter and defensive.  How I wish I could take those reactions back.  In retrospect, I see that her comments were simply an observation by someone who has seen far more in her decades than I.  Someone who surrounded herself with her family as often as she could – whether it was routine visits with great-grandchildren, or snoozing upright on a love seat while the family frenzied around her preparing Christmas, or gazing at her vast collection of family photographs.  She often told me that her groupings of photos at her kitchen table got the through her physical therapy exercises while recovering from a broken arm.

I am frustrated with my past self wanting to rush home because someone needed a nap, someone was crashing from sugar consumption, laundry piles nagged my mental to-do list, I wanted a nap, animals needed to be fed, I needed to write lesson plans, did I mention someone needed a nap?, someone was hungry because cookies weren’t enough, we needed groceries, or that I just plain wanted to be alone.

Exactly what she feared.  Alone.

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Fall family photos before Quinton was born.

Oh let me be wiser and make time for those who I love most.  Or is it whom?  Gramma would have let me know.

So I may or may not use this blog the way I have in the past.  You know, I love taking photos, drawing, painting, concocting new recipes, decorating and dreaming up new projects.  My phone and cameras have a plethora of documentation of my creative outlets that are just begging to be shared.  I just can’t bring myself to do any of that right now, this blog is just simply time away from my loved ones.  It takes time to create things.  I want to make time, but I don’t know that I want to give this time up right now.  I had to write this all, and I try not to regret, but Gramma knew about this blog and always said, “You’ll have to show me someday, Chelsea.”  I should have gotten out my phone and showed her all of this, for you always run out of somedays with the ones you love.  Who knows why I didn’t.  Someone probably needed a nap.  Just know that there may be a few recipes on here in the coming months, from her two overstuffed recipe boxes.

High Trestle Trail Ride

 Last Sunday we finally made our way to the High Trestle Trail in Iowa.  We started in Woodward, Iowa, which is about a 30 minute drive from Des Moines.  We drove up after breakfast, fully loaded with snacks, water bottles, and the orange bike sticking out on either side of our car rack like an large orange dragon.  We parked in the High Trestle Trail parking lot and promptly realized we left the entire diaper bag at home.  So, off we road to a local gas station that was teeming with coffee sipping cyclists.  It’s amazing to see what a bike trail can do for small communities.  The best part – we were banking on lighter crowds due to the start of RAGBRAI.
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It is an easy 3 mile ride from Woodward to “The Bridge,” as it is dubbed.  The High Trestle Trail Bridge is a 13-story, 1/2 mile long bridge that was formerly a railroad bridge.  There are outlooks along the bridge that spans the Des Moines River, with informative signs detailing items such as river wildlife and cultural features.  There are 41 steel frames over the bridge which are meant to represent the frames used in historic coal mines.  The pillars at either end of the bridge have ceramic tiles created to look like coal veins.

We stopped the orange dragon at the first major scenic overlook, where we had nice views of the entire span of the bridge.  The kids were in great spirits and just wanted to be on the bridge.

I love taking this bike out – everywhere we go we get compliment and questions.  I think most people just assume that a bike trailer is the only way to ride with kids.  We used a bike trailer at first, but once we found out #2 was on the way, we started to explore other options.  We have discovered that a cargo bike is more enjoyable for adults and kids alike for a few reasons: A. it is lighter and easier to turn on a fully loaded cargo bike than you’d think. B. The cargo bikes can be configured in a variety of ways to suit your family. C. Kid passengers are not enclosed in a hot trailer, stuck in a reclining position, but are able to sit up and interact just as the adult cyclists are able to.

We bought our cargo bike from REI, but check around your area for dealers.  Even if you are not in the market for a cargo bike, I highly recommend the Yepp Bicycle Seat as an alternative to a trailer.  They can be used on regular bikes as well.
We stopped at an overlook for a selfie.  Yay for not being on RAGBRAI this year, and enjoying this inaugural ride with fantastic Iowa countryside views.  As you can see, the bridge is deserted!  It was not this empty on our return ride after noon, though.

 The verdant valley with the Des Moines River.  Lots of rain = a very green Iowa this year!
The pillars at the far end of the bridge.  We are heading on toward Madrid, Iowa (not pronounced like Madrid, Spain).

We found a great lunch spot in Madrid.  The kids split grilled cheese, fruit, and mac and cheese.  As my daughter said, “It is so good, it tastes like candy.”  There you have it, a strong endorsement from a 4-year old.
Saddles BBQ Bistro was the perfect mid-ride stop.  The kids were happy with their meal and Eric and I enjoyed our wrap and tacos immensely.  Madrid was a little deserted on this Sunday at lunch time, so we opted to eat our lunch outside.

 However, the inside of the restaurant was tastefully outfitted in cycling and Western riding decor.
We chose to dine al fresco in a small picnic area directly across the street from Saddles.  This way, the kids could stand and dance while eating.  They both get antsy after sitting on the bike for a while.

The weekday specials were prominently displayed in the front window.  After finishing our meals, we packed up and headed back toward Woodward.  It is only 6 miles between the two towns, so all in all, we ended up doing an easy 12 miles.
 My favorite shot from the day – selfie in motion.  Next time, we will ride more of the trail and hit up some of the infamous watering holes along the route. Cheers!

What’s your favorite bike route?

April So Far

I have no idea where March went and April is moving along at that pace as well.  It is hard to believe this school year has already begun the wrap-up – I guess that is what happens when you spend most of the year in new baby fog.  That fog is apparent in my blogging as well – not much to share around here lately.  I bake, cook, make art, and sew when I can.  If I have to time to document it, I do.  The bigger problem is finding time to finish projects and then do something with the documentation of the finished product.  You get the picture.  Well, anyhow, here is an April work-in-progress update…

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I am still carving out art-making time for myself, staying true to my New Year’s Resolution.  Except I have been working on larger and more time-consuming projects, so I have fewer opportunities to share them.  Soon, soon though.

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I have been keeping myself busy with updating one of our bathrooms.  So far we have ripped out and replaced flooring, installed a new sink, and repainted the walls.  Home projects move at a much slower rate when there are two small children to interrupt progress, so the finished product may or may not be ready for presentation sometime later this summer.

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We of course made time to celebrate Eric’s birthday this month – a whole 10 years old!  (That was Greta’s guess on his age.)  I love love love the expressions in this photo.

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I finally got Eric on Pinterest so I can share project ideas with him more easily.  He has found a plethora of amusing pyro projects for himself, including this little brick rocket stove.  Google it and you will find plenty of plans.  It is small, cheap, and burns fuel incredibly efficiently.  We plan to cook some meals on it in the near future.

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My number 1 kitchen helper these days is the youngest member of the household.  My little guy is on the move – crawling, pulling up, monkey around things, and trying to walk on his own.  It won’t be long now until I am running after him.  And with that brief update, I am off to enjoy the remainder of this rainy Sunday afternoon.  I’ll be back soon to share more artwork and a killer nacho recipe.  Enjoy!

Crayon Watercolor Resist Easter Eggs

I opted for something right up my art teacher alley for Easter egg decorating this year and went with the tried and true magic of crayon and watercolor resist.  Just as I suspected, they were a hit with my toddler!

We started with 18 hard boiled eggs, and only allowed them to cool slightly after cooking.  The heat from the still freshly cooked eggs caused the crayons to melt just a bit as we drew on them.  A folded up rag was a great way to hold the warms eggs in place while we drew.

After all the crayon was done, we cooled all the eggs off.  Then we broke out the non-toxic watercolor paints.  We used small dishes to hold our eggs in place while we painted.

Greta had plenty of help decorating her eggs while we cooked the Egg, Hash-brown, and Sausage Breakfast Casserole.

The eggs turned out beautifully.  I loved how the colors swirled and mixed together.  The wax crayons resist the watercolor paints to make equally interesting designs.  If you want brighter colors, allow the paint to dry and then add another layer.  We put them back in the fridge until the Easter bunny hid them the following morning.

WARNING: the egg whites beneath turn a funky color and I opted not to eat these.  In the future I am going to do this on blown eggs and perhaps try painting with natural dyes as well.  Also note that watercolor paint is not as permanent as dye and it therefore can rub off onto surfaces even when it is dry (in other words, don’t place them on white carpeting).

This is my easy as pie Easter centerpiece – fake eggs, paper carrots, my moss rock, and a pot of fresh bright green grass that I started from seed the week prior to Easter.  It just brightened my table and even my mood just seeing it.

After brunch, we headed outdoors to hunt for eggs.  Look at all the green!  I am loving the fact that spring is here.

Egg, Hash-brown & Sausage Breakfast Casserole

This simple 4 ingredient breakfast casserole is perfect for serving a large group or saving for leftovers.  My mother in law brought a similar one for our Christmas brunch and I’ve been thinking about it ever since.  Since I didn’t have her recipe, I winged it and was quite pleased with the results.  We had this delicious meal this morning with my side of the family for Easter brunch.  My mom even mentioned how great it would be to give as a food gift for new babies, illness, or deaths in the family.  She’s right – how nice to have something other than a lasagna!
I started off using the Lodge Cast Iron Wok I got for Eric’s birthday as the method of cooking the hash browns.  Thankfully, Eric quickly stepped in and took over.  I don’t know why I am so impatient when it comes to hash browns, but I always want to over stir them, flip them too soon, and just plain ruin them.  The wok was perfect for the job of browning hash browns – the heat stayed high enough and you could spread out the potatoes enough.

The cooked hash browns got dumped into a glass casserole dish.

I added eggs, almond milk, salt, pepper and cut up vegetarian sausage patties to the prepared hash browns.  One could easily swap our the vegetarian sausage for real sausage and the almond milk for regular dairy milk.  I used Alexia hash browns – they are fantastic and come pre-seasoned with garlic and onion.

I cooked this casserole last night, let it cool, refrigerated it, and then simply reheated in the oven while covered in foil, at 275° for about an hour.  We served this with my mom’s hot cross buns, fresh fruit, and coffee.  It was the perfect Easter morning family brunch.  Stay tuned for more on our Easter crafts, Easter eggs, and Greta’s Easter experiences.

Egg, Hash-browns & Sausage Breakfast Casserole

1. Prepare 2 bags of frozen hash browns (2 lbs), according to package.  Transfer to greased 9 x 13″ baking dish.

2.  In a large mixing bowl beat: 9 large eggs.  Combine with the eggs: 1 cup almond milk (or dairy milk), salt and pepper to taste, and 8 oz. crumbled veggie sausage (or real sausage).

3. Pour egg mixture over the hash browns and mix to combine.  Cover in foil, bake in a 350° oven for 50 – 60 minutes or until browned and egg fully cooked.  Serve warm.