Sunday, October 13, 2013

Seasonal Changes & Lots of Learning Opportunities

Autumn is my favorite season.  I love the change of the leaves, pulling out the sweaters and scarves, and all the wonderful seasonal favorites -- apples, pumpkins, cardamom, and cinnamon.  

Here are a few of my favorite fall images.  

One of the first trees to turn.

I love the crunch of the leaves, the smell of the trees and the sounds of the forest animals.  Having returned to teaching, there is also the opportunity to teach the children to appreciate these things.  Our entire month has been full of tree related learning and I am loving every minute!  

Our 3-D model of the parts of a tree.

"Why we love trees" list.

A display on the wall of the math center.

Sorting, counting, and patterns with acorns and leaves on the
light table.

Graphing our favorite types of trees.  

Menu Planning October Week 4 & the Importance of Drinking Water

I have never been a water drinker.  I think that my distaste for it occurred when the suburbs gained access to "Chicago water" from Lake Michigan which from my research started around 1985.

I have found; however, that I feel better when I drink water.  Pinterest and food blogs all over the internet are full of "fruit water" recipes some with sugar some without.  Experimentation has lead to my own favorite concoction of lemon, orange, and cucumber.  I even freeze some in the bottom of my water bottles so that I can enjoy cold water all morning at work.  Preparing it on a large scale in mason jars ensures I always have some on hand.

Here is my menu for the week:

Monday breakfast:  homemade muffins, fruit water
Monday lunch:  Meeting at work - lunch served
Monday dinner: beef sandwiches with peppers, homemade sweet potato fries

Tuesday breakfast:  cold cereal, almond milk & banana
Tuesday lunch:  leftover chicken and noodle bake from Sunday, green salad
Tuesday dinner:  chicken enchiladas verde, rice, ff refried beans

Wednesday breakfast:  apples with peanut butter, fruit water
Wednesday lunch:  eat at work
Wednesday dinner:  shrimp fettuccine, minted peas

Thursday breakfast:  homemade muffins, fresh fruit
Thursday lunch:  eat at work
Thursday dinner:  ham steak, baked apples, scalloped carrots

Friday breakfast:  oatmeal, fresh fruit, fruit water
Friday lunch:  eat at work
Friday dinner:  Mexican Potato Casserole  from the website Mennonite Girls Can Cook.  It is my "testing" recipe for the week and I promise to have a review for you next week.

Saturday breakfast:  eggs & bacon
Saturday lunch:  BLT sandwiches, potato salad
Saturday dinner:  spaghetti and meatballs, garlic bread, and green salad

Sunday breakfast:  hashbrown casserole, fruit salad
Sunday lunch:  beef and vegetable soup
Sunday dinner:  beef fajitas with peppers and onions, fresh tortillas, sour cream and avocado

Friday, October 11, 2013

Thursday Photo Challenge: Monochrome

The theme for this week is monochrome.  I have some photographs I have changed to black and white or sepia but I think this one (which is actually untouched) is a better photograph.

 Our trip to St. Louis, Missouri.  The day was dreary but it stopped raining long enough for my husband and I to walk across the street from our hotel to visit the arch.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Menu Planning October Week 3 & Pantry Cooking

This past week was pretty smooth despite not having finalized my menu here.  I have to say that the corned beef hash from two weeks ago was hubby's favorite meal - he was disappointed to hear it was gone.

Since purchasing our new car, we've been trying to economize and grocery shopping seems a natural place to start.  Continuing with that theme, my menu plans for the next few weeks will focus on using up what we have in the freezer and pantry.

In addition, I am craving some traditional autumn dishes and did purchase some canned pumpkin, sweet potatoes, butternut squash, and apples.  More on those in the next post.

Here is my menu for the week:

Monday breakfast:  blueberry muffins, lemon water
Monday lunch:  bean and cheese quesadillas, green salad, lemon water
Monday dinner:  chicken noodle soup, crusty bread

Tuesday breakfast:  cottage cheese, fresh plums, buckwheat tea
Tuesday lunch:  leftover soup, lemon water
Tuesday dinner:  meatloaf, mashed sweet potatoes, green peas

Wednesday breakfast:  oatmeal, almond milk
Wednesday lunch:  leftover meatloaf, sweet potatoes, green salad, green tea
Wednesday dinner:  BLT sandwiches, homemade potato chips

Thursday breakfast:  cottage cheese, fresh apples, lemon water
Thursday lunch:  bean and cheese quesadillas, green salad, lemon water
Thursday dinner:  mini pepperoni pizzas, green salad

Friday breakfast:  toast with peanut butter, fresh apples, lemon water
Friday lunch:  bean and cheese quesadillas, green salad, green tea
Friday dinner:  garlic pasta with chicken, tomatoes, and spinach, crusty bread (I love the recipe from the Pioneer Woman.)

Saturday breakfast:  pumpkin pancakes, hash-brown casserole
Saturday lunch:  macaroni and cheese with bacon and peas
Saturday dinner:  chicken lettuce wraps

Sunday breakfast:  scrambled eggs, turkey sausage, leftover casserole
Sunday lunch:  rice cake soup
Sunday dinner:  ham steak, baked potato with broccoli and cheese


Thursday Photo Challenge: Shadows

In honor of this month's spooky holiday (I assume), we are playing with shadows this week.  Here are my submissions:

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Thursday Photo Challenge Blue II

This week's challenge is blue.  I shared a number of photos a few weeks ago so I searched my archives and found another that I had not included.  This photographs is of the Chicago Public Library on State Street in Chicago, Illinois.  When I was a consultant, I often traveled past it on my way to the DuPaul Building to visit the Chicago Health Department.  I love architecture and this is one of my favorite structures in the city!


Menu Planning September Week 3 & The Importance of Menu Planning

Trying to stay organized has always been a struggle for me.  Without a meal plan, I tend to forget what I have, over purchase, or forget a key ingredient necessary for a meal (can't make tacos without tortillas).  A late summer cold and a broken toe provided the excuse for failing to create a plan last week.  Given how difficult it was at work, meal preparation was even more difficult.  One day, I had to run out for buns, another day I worked until 6:45 - didn't start dinner until 7:30, Wednesday we ate from a box, Thursday I hit the drive through and Friday I gave up and called for take-out.

No excuses this week!  I am jumping back on track and made a mini grocery shopping trip at 6:30 a.m. just to get a few necessities (almond milk, eggs, fresh fruit and veggies).  While there, I happened upon a wonderful find!  Fresh, all natural chicken leg quarters marked down for clearance to $.74 a lb.  I picked up two packages, along with my other items and headed home.  

I separated the legs from the thighs.  I do not like chicken legs but my husband does.  I also prefer white meat to dark but I'll suck it up for the sake of savings.  We also differ on skin (I don't like it).  

For him, I made an Asian inspired cooking liquid with soy sauce, brown sugar, garlic, and ketchup.  I know this sounds weird but its part of the list of ingredients used in my version of PF Chang's lettuce wraps so I know it is good!  When finished, these should have a caramelized sauce.  

For the thighs, I removed the skin and placed them on a rack over a baking dish, sprinkling them with Weber Grill's Roasted Garlic and Herb seasoning plus a few shakes of taco seasoning!  The house smells so good!  I'll shred the thighs (perhaps I can trick myself into thinking it is breast meat) and serve in tortillas with sour cream and salsa.  Hubby will enjoy the legs with a baked potato.  Because we differ so greatly on our food choices and since it is just the two of us, I often make two different meals but that is another post for another time.  

Here is my menu for the week:

Sunday breakfast:  sausage gravy with biscuits for him, scrambled eggs and biscuits for me, fresh fruit 
Sunday lunch:  chicken quesadilla for him, bean and cheese quesadillas for me, fresh fruit and broccoli slaw
Sunday dinner:  Leftovers from the freezer  - corned beef hash (I love Elise Bauer's recipe on Simply Recipes), fresh salad, and fresh fruit

Monday breakfast:  fresh fruit smoothie
Monday lunch:  leftover chicken tacos, fresh fruit
Monday dinner:  sausage and pepper sandwiches, fresh fruit

Tuesday breakfast:  toast with homemade jam
Tuesday lunch:  leftover sausage and peppers, fresh fruit
Tuesday dinner:  chicken lettuce wraps, fresh fruit

Wednesday breakfast:  oatmeal with pecans and bananas
Wednesday lunch:  leftover lettuce wraps, apple
Wednesday dinner: fettuccine alfredo with shrimp for him, no shrimp for me, garlic toast, spinach salad

Thursday breakfast:  cereal with almond milk, fresh fruit
Thursday lunch:  leftover pasta, fresh fruit
Thursday dinner:  homemade mini pizzas (using refrigerator biscuits as crust), 

Friday breakfast:  Treat - JAMBA juice smoothie (I have a coupon for this!!!)
Friday lunch:  eat at work (my favorite school lunch is being served)
Friday dinner: EAT OUT  

Monday, September 2, 2013

Menu Planning September Week 1

The long Labor Day weekend is coming to an end.  As we approach 10 pm my time, I realize just how many things I did not get to finish.  Oh well, I did finally organize the dining room and clean the carpet.  I'm hoping to finish the kitchen the bedroom this week.

So . . . my grocery shopping was sort of haphazard this weekend.  Many stores were out of items I had coupons for or wanted to purchase.  Here is what I came up with using what I have on hand or was able to purchase.

Tuesday breakfast: banana bran muffins, watermelon chunks
Tuesday lunch:  lunch @ work day
Tuesday dinner:  citrus chicken, sweet potatoes, steamed broccoli

Wednesday breakfast:  banana bran muffins, fresh apple slices
Wednesday lunch:  leftover chicken made into a wrap with lettuce, tomato, light ranch dressing
Wednesday dinner:  marinated eye of round steak, buttered egg noodles, broccoli slaw

Thursday breakfast:  yogurt, pineapple chunks
Thursday lunch:  leftover steak, noodles, and slaw
Thursday dinner:  Spanish rice with chicken, salad

Friday breakfast:  cottage cheese and peach slices
Friday lunch:  leftover Spanish rice, watermelon
Friday dinner:  taco salad with homemade salsa in baked shells

Thursday Photo Challenge: Fire

Wow - it has been a busy week!  It is Monday evening and I am just now getting to this post.  Anyway, our theme this week is FIRE.  I immediately thought about the photo below.  I love my fireplace.  Enjoy!

Saturday, August 31, 2013


I love the rain.  I love the sound of it on the roof and windows, the smell of the grass, and the cool breeze that often follows.  It brings to mind family camping trips, long weekends inside with my siblings, and my first date with my husband.  All wonderful memories.

All week here in Chicagoland, the weather has been hot and humid in anticipation of a severe summer storm. Finally, on Friday evening, the storm rolled in.  My route home includes a long stretch of road past forest preserve lands.  As I approached the section of road, I could see the storm moving.  It was fast and rolled in almost appearing like waves in the sky.  (I don't know what I will do if they outlaw photography while driving!)

Sunday, August 25, 2013

The Busy Weekend

Tomorrow is the first day of school.  Hubby and I do not have children but I work at a preschool and our it is also the first official day of our school year.  This weekend was busy as I had a curriculum meeting yesterday morning, spent the afternoon setting up my classroom, and the evening at a family birthday party. We woke up early this morning for breakfast at our local diner, stopped for hubby to get a haircut, picked up a few things at the hardware store, and finally grabbed a few last minute things for school.  It is now 6:30 p.m. and I am just beginning to plan for dinners this week.

We didn't make it to the farmer's market so I will have to rely on the grocery store (still dreaming of those blue potatoes -- they were so yummy).

Here is my plan for this week:

Sunday dinner:  take-out

Monday breakfast - cottage cheese,  wheat crackers
Monday lunch - turkey sandwiches, fresh pineapple, spinach salad
Monday dinner - lemon chicken, white rice, leftover grilled corn on the cob 

Here is my Lemon Chicken Recipe (variation of Martha Stewart's):

4 boneless skinless chicken breast halves, split in half (butterflied)
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 cup chicken stock
Juice of 1 lemon
2 teaspoons of lemon zest

Place chicken breasts between two sheets of plastic wrap; pound with a mallet to an even thickness. In a shallow dish, combine flour with a generous amount of salt and pepper. Dredge chicken in the flour mixture, tapping off excess; set aside.

Heat 2 tablespoons butter and the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat until the butter is foamy. Add chicken, and cook for 2 minutes. Turn, and cook for 2 minutes more. Remove chicken from pan, and keep warm. Pour off any excess fat,

Add wine, the remaining 2 tablespoons butter, the capers, and lemon juice. Cook, swirling the pan to melt the butter, until reduced and slightly thickened, about 2 minutes. Pour over chicken, and serve immediately.

Tuesday breakfast - oatmeal with peach slices
Tuesday lunch - leftover chicken & rice
Tuesday dinner - baked ziti, spinach salad, garlic bread

Wednesday breakfast - cottage cheese, mango chunks
Wednesday lunch  - turkey sandwiches, spinach salad, applesauce 
Wednesday dinner - leftover ziti, spinach salad, garlic bread

Thursday breakfast - fruit and yogurt smoothie
Thursday lunch - EAT OUT
Thursday dinner - ground beef tacos with fresh salsa

Friday breakfast - cottage cheese and fresh fruit
Friday lunch - leftover tacos and salsa 
Friday dinner - BLT sandwiches, fresh fruit, cucumber salad

Saturday breakfast - scrambled egg whites, toast, fresh fruit 
Saturday lunch - hot dogs on the grill, cucumber & tomato salad  
Saturday dinner - Spanish rice with chicken (onion and peppers inside)

Sunday, August 18, 2013

A New Ride . . . An Adventure in Car Buying

I didn't start driving until I was 18 and was dating my first husband (who had just moved from Chicago to the suburbs and didn't drive either).

Since learning to drive, I have purchased 4 vehicles but only 1 without the negotiating assistance of a parent. My last vehicle was a Chrysler Sebring and had been a fairly quick decision.  I had gone to the dealership with internet printouts of two vehicles I wanted to drive - the Sebring and a smaller Ford SUV.  Although I really wanted the SUV, I was driving for work and the Sebring had fewer miles, a lower interest rate, and two years left on the factory warranty.  So I traded in my Dodge Intrepid and drove the Sebring home.

Fast forward 6 years, two jobs, and 95,000 miles later to a moment earlier this month.  I returned a missed call to the dealership where my Sebring was towed after overheating the day before.  At this point, we had already spent over $3000 during the past 11 months on engine sensor repairs, new tires, and brakes.  As Andy (the service rep) explained the problem, I waited to hear a total . . . and gasped when he finally said "$1700 to replace the water pump because we have to remove the engine to get to it". I began to panic -- there was no way Hubby would authorize that type of money given the amount we've already spent.  There was only one option . . . we would need to buy a new car.

Over the next ten days, we looked a newer used cars, purchased a one month subscription to Consumer Reports to do research, consulted friends via social media, and considered our options.  After looking into a number of options, we opted to secure our own financing.  This would save us from having to deal with the wheeling and dealing of the dealership financing department.

We finally settled on a Jeep Patriot.  It is the car I've always wanted and Hubby said he wanted me to have the car I had been talking about for years (I love how thoughtful he is sometimes).

I spoke with a number of dealerships to find their best price on the vehicle.  Our wishlist was simple - air conditioning, power windows (yes, they do make manual ones), and a CD system (again, they do have some with radios only). We ended our search at a dealership who was able to come in below our budget (at least before we added a lifetime warranty).

The process was fairly simple and not as time consuming as we imagined and I have to admit -- I love driving it!


Farmer's Market Finds

We woke up early today and after stopping by our favorite local diner for breakfast, I headed to the Farmer's Market.  Lots of wonderful items on display this morning but I forgot my camera in the car.  I'll add photographs after my trip next weekend.    

My first purchase was a few Michigan peaches, which I could smell two booths away.  Although I had imagined grilled peaches with sour cream and brown sugar, hubby saw them and insisted I include them in his lunch box during the week.  Oh, well, grilled dessert will have to wait until next week.

My second purchase was a pound of blue potatoes.  Although I have eaten blue potato chips, I had never seen fresh ones available at the market or grocery store.  When I saw baby carrots in the next booth, I knew I would be roasting veggies for dinner.  

I peeled and chopped everything to a relatively uniform dice and tossed them into a bowl.  I drizzled with garlic olive oil, three cloves of garlic finely minced, salt, pepper, 1/4 of a diced onion, and Italian seasoning.  I tossed to coat and poured onto a foil lined cookie sheet.  I roasted them at 400 degrees for 25 minutes.  

Here is what they looked like . . . 

I served them with spicy cheddar chicken fingers.  Hubby was thrilled!  

Here is my plan for the rest of the week:

Monday breakfast - cottage cheese and cantaloupe
Monday lunch - leftover chicken fingers, leftover carrots and potatoes
Monday dinner - baked ham slice, stuffed mushrooms, baked apples

Tuesday breakfast - oatmeal with peach slices
Tuesday lunch - lunch meat sammies, peach slices, baked chips, and angel food cake 
Tuesday dinner - ravioli with meat sauce, garlic bread, cucumber and tomato salad

Wednesday breakfast - fruit and veggie smoothies
Wednesday lunch  - leftover ravioli, fresh cantaloupe, cucumber slices and dressing
Wednesday dinner - ground beef tacos with fresh salsa

Thursday breakfast - oatmeal with bananas
Thursday lunch - leftover tacos and salsa
Thursday dinner - bratwurst and peppers on a bun, fresh pineapple

Friday breakfast - cottage cheese and fresh fruit
Friday lunch - leftover sausage and peppers, fresh fruit
Friday dinner - french bread pizza, fresh fruit, cucumber and tomato salad

Saturday breakfast - pancakes with cherry compote, turkey sausage 
Saturday lunch - EAT OUT (Julie has a curriculum meeting all day)
Saturday dinner - grilled homemade pizza
My baked apple recipe is from a cookbook titled Cooking From Quilt County by Marcia Adams.  It is a wonderful book filled with recipes and beautiful images of the Amish and Mennonite Communities.  I highly recommend it.  


Thursday, August 15, 2013

Thursday Photo Challenge: Blue

In reviewing my current photos to see what would fit into this category, I realized that MANY of my photos include blue skies!   Here are a few of my favorites:

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Thursday Photo Challenge: Wet

This week's photo challenge is "wet" and I have a few to share.  Enjoy!

This was taken in Long Grove, Illinois while on a "girls only" shopping  event  in May 2012.

Taken at Disney Resort in November 2009.  

Monday, April 29, 2013

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Thursday Photo Challenge: Spring

This week's theme is SPRING.  This is a photo I took of some trees near my home.  I love the contrast of the light colored blossoms and the dark trunk of the tree.  Enjoy!

Happy Spring!

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Thursday Photo Challenge: Round

The theme for this week is ROUND.  I was surprised how many of my photographs fit this theme.  Here are a few of my favorites.

This photograph was taken while sitting in traffic.  As a
preschool teacher, I always keep my eye open for unique
images that I can share with the children. 

This is an image I also captured while sitting in traffic.
It was taken at the site of the O'Hare Airport Expansion.