Meet the Sullivans: September 2014

September 30, 2014

DIY Pumpkin Spice Play Dough

Playing with play dough is an activity that I don't think ever gets old. I'm not sure O will ever tire of playing with it, and frankly, I don't think Keith or I will either. There are so many fun variations of things you can do with play dough -- there are the obvious things like, sculpt animals or objects, roll it with rolling pins or even cut it with cookie cutters, and then there's scented doughs! I thought with it being Fall and all O might enjoy some pumpkin scented play dough!

Not only is play dough fun, but it also has many benefits! It encourages fine motor skills and helps strengthen all the small muscles in their little hands. It encourages creativity and can be used to create pretend food, little scenes with animals (zoo, ocean, forest), jewelry -- the list is as endless as a child’s imagination!


recipe source: small friendly

Ingredients:
1 cup flour
1 cup water
1/4 cup of salt
1 tablespoon coconut oil
2 teaspoons cream of tartar
2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice (or a mix of cinnamon/nutmeg/cloves)
optional: food coloring or natural food based dyes (such as beet juice and turmeric)

Instructions:
  • Combine all ingredients, omitting the food coloring, in a large pot.
  • Stir over medium heat until a big ball forms. It should be smooth and no longer sticky.
  • Remove from pot and allow to cool until the dough can be worked by hand.
  • Divide the dough into however many different colors you want.
  • Work the colors into the dough by adding a few drops at a time and then kneading until the color is evenly incorporated.
 

I made red (about 5-6 drops of red food coloring), orange (about 5 drops of red and 10 drops of yellow food coloring), yellow (about 5-6 drops of yellow food coloring) and brown (left as is) dough since they're fall colors. 

 

We've been having so much fun with our scented play dough! When we're done playing with it I simply roll the colors into balls (hopefully without too many of the colors mixed together) and store them together in a small plastic air-tight container.





September 29, 2014

This, That and Motivational Monday

-The One Year & Beyond Series kicks off again this week starting on Thursday when we'll be sharing our Toddler Diaper Bag Essentials. So, if you'd like to share what you keep in your toddler bag, write a post, and then please come back on Thursday and link up with us!

-After going back and forth for a few days O and I finally settled on a Halloween costume for him. First he said he wanted to be a dinosaur, then expressed some interest in being a Jedi, but eventually came back around to dinosaur, a Tex Rex Sharp Tooth to be specific. I showed him a few different dino costumes on a few different occasions and he always preferred this orange Raptor one from Amazon.


-Have I told you yet that my (younger, cooler, more stylish) sister started her own health, beauty and lifestyle blog, The Pretend Cookie? I've been telling her to do it for a long time now and I'm so excited she finally did! I always look to her when I want to know what's cool. 


-I've finally found another book worth reading. When I read that Erin had just finished reading Big Little Lies and proclaimed it the "bestest book ever" I knew it was worth a shot (she has a history of having great taste in books in my opinion). And people, so far it is really good, check it out: Big Little Lies.


-I drew the giveaway winner for the Thirty-One Bag giveaway, and believe it or not my MOM won! Yay, mom :) I think she's pretty darn deserving, (and there was no rigging here -- see screen shot from the giveaway widget above) if I do say so myself -- she's probably the first person who ever read my blog!


-I'm pretty sure I'll be buying Seriously Delish any day now. I've been holding back since I've been trying to not add more cookbooks to my collections, but I just love Jessica's blog and all the recipes I've tried of her's are fantastic, so I'm sure it would be a good choice to buy it, right?!

Now some motivation....

Goal: Make healthy choices for me and my family, including making conscious (healthy) food choices and staying active.

Progress to date: No loss this week -- 4 lbs lost since starting.
 
Highlight of last week: Finding some jeans! This is a huge accomplishment for me since I usually have a hard time finding something that fits my hip to waist ratio-- and I want jeans that I can spend all day in, which is hard to find. I need to be able to put them on in the morning and not want to change into something else when we're playing cars on the floor. I've found the Julie pants and the Curvy denim from Ann Taylor Loft are consistently a good fit for me.

Challenge of last week: My gym was closed most of last week because of Rosh Hashanah and after my workout on Sunday I developed a bit of sciatica, which was a pain -- literally. 
 
Workouts: Only one. Ek!
 
Lessons I learned this week: When I'm active (i.e. going to the gym) I am more likely to make good choices nutritionally. 

Here's the plan this week: 
 
Monday - Lettuce Wrap Turkey Burgers with sweet potatoes
Tuesday - Grilled Salmon, Roasted Cauliflower and green beans
Wednesday - Turkey Chili
Thursday - Lightened-up Taco Pasta
Friday - Out

Have a nice week!!

September 26, 2014

10 Steps for Writing a Sincere & Simple Thank You Note

When someone takes the time to think of you, in form of a special visit, gift or favor, you should take the time to show your appreciation and how thankful you are for them by penning a handwritten thank you note. Even if you say thank you in person upon receiving the gift,  it is also nice to show your true gratitude and that you have not forgotten their good deed!

I know most people who don't write thank you notes aren't ungrateful or forgetful, they just know how to express their thanks in words, or feel silly and forced in writing them. My best advice is to read the steps below and then write the note as though you were talking directly to the person you want to thank. A simple note, and the gratitude expressed within, can truly make someone's day.

Little Houses personalized address book from Minted.

1. Start with the necessities: 
  • beautiful paper. I have a gorgeous set of white monogrammed thank you notes that I've had since our wedding, but I'm quickly running low, so I've been looking for a new set that will be just as versatile. I love these and these notes from Minted!
  • address book. I like keeping an old-fashioned paper address book. It makes writing notes to loved ones easier and lots more fun! I'm using this one Little Houses from Minted.
  • stamps. unless you plan to hand deliver them, which is a nice touch too.
  • return address stamp. I have this one and have loved it -- I have never gotten ink on my hands when using it.
  • blue or black pens.  Keeping your notes simple with classic colors will help get your point across while not taking the focus off your gratitude.
2. Always hand write thank you notes. Even in a professional setting. A hand written note send the message that you really appreciate what you are thanking the person for, and took the time to write a note to express it. Of course, if you only have the person's email address, a nicely written email is better than no thank you at all.


3. Address the recipient. Start with "Dear" and follow with however you would address that person if you ran into them on the street and needed to introduce them to someone else. If it is a professional relationship, then keep the thank you note professional by referring to them as "Mrs. Jones / Dr. Jones / Mr. Jones", and if you know them (a friend, friend's parent, an acquaintance) well feel free to address them by their first name.

4. Start with a sincere thank you. Thank the person for anything material they may have given you, a favor or even their presence. "Thank you so much for the beautiful flowers, and for coming to our housewarming party", "Thank you so much for the fun new toy for Owen and for stopping by to visit with us", "Thank you so much for taking the time to rake the leaves from our front yard".

5. Follow with how you plan to use the gift, have been using it or how the gesture affected you positively. For example, your neighbor rakes the leaves from your lawn for you, you might want to bake some cookie and write a nice note to thank them for their kind, and neighborly gesture. You might say something like "It was such a nice surprise to return home from our trip to a neat and tidy yard. You lifted a huge weight from our shoulders." Or for a material gift, "The scarf you gave me has received many compliment and has been keeping me warm!"



6. Show interest in the gift giver. Express interest in seeing them again soon or joy from having spent time with them, for example "I enjoyed catching up with you at the reunion and hearing all about your wedding plans. I am so happy for you!" or "I am looking forward to seeing you next week at dinner".

7. Say thank you again! Bring the focus of the note back to the original purpose by ending with one last "Thank you!"

8. Close it up. Wrap it up with a close that expresses your final thought. You can say, Regards, All the Best, Sincerely, Gratefully, or Love, if appropriate.


9. Send it! Address the note properly, add postage and send it along in the mail. I like to keep my paper address book (the Little Houses personalized address book from Minted) in the same drawer as my thank you notes, this way I never have to search around for the address I need when I have a moment to write a quick thank you note.

10. Check it off your to-do list! I don't know about you, but I am always happier when I'm able to check things off my never ending to-do list.

If you're looking for more tips on writing a thank you note here are a few more great exmaples:

How to Write a Charming Thank You Note (Southern Living)
How to Write the Perfect Note (Real Simple)
Thank You Note Etiquette (Good Housekeeping)

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received the products or services mentioned above for free in the hope that I would mention it on my blog. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will be good for my readers. 

September 25, 2014

Crunchy Caramel Apple Pie, Revisited

This recipe was originally posted on August 21st, 2011.  I decided to bring it up out of the archives today to re-share this fantastic apple pie recipe -- seriously, you could make it for a church or school bake sale, or even a holiday dinner-- and because I recently took some better pictures of it!

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I can't believe I have been making this apple pie recipe for almost 10 years! It is my go to recipe for a great dessert--it has always been thoroughly enjoyed by the people I serve it to.

Last night we went to our friends the Points' house. The guys were having their annual Fantasy Draft Party (if you don't know what that is consider yourself lucky). The guys basically get together with their computers and "draft" their players for their Fantasy Football teams and eat and drink. We ladies got smart a few years ago and decided that while our husbands / finances / boyfriends were having their draft we would have an Anti-Draft Party, which is pretty much us talking and eating and having a few drinks (see a pattern here?). It's always a good time and the Points family are such gracious hosts. We love them :)

Back to the point: I made two of these pies to bring to the party.



Crunchy Caramel Apple Pie
For a printer-friendly version click here. 

Ingredients for Pie: 
1 pastry crust for a deep-dish pie 9-inch (I used store-bought)
1/2 cup sugar
3 Tbsp. all-purpose flour
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/8 tsp salt
6 cups thinly sliced peeled apples (I use Fuji)
1 recipe crumb topping (see below)
1/2 cup chopped pecans
1/4 cup caramel topping (the kind in the squeeze bottle works best) 

Ingredients for Crumb Topping:
1 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup quick cooking rolled oats
1/2 cup butter 

Directions for the Crumb Topping:
1. Stir together brown sugar,flour, rolled oats.
2. Cut in 1/2 cup butter until topping is like course crumbs. Set aside. 

Directions for the Pie:

1. In a large mixing bowl, stir together the sugar, flour, cinnamon and salt.
2. Add apple slices and gently toss until coated. (I used my mandoline on its thickest setting)


3. Transfer apple mixture to the pie shell (You can remove the store-bought pie shell from the aluminum pie plate and transfer it to a 9-inch pie plate of your own, but you do not have to.)


4. Sprinkle crumb topping over apple mixture.
5. Place pie on a cookie sheet so the drippings don't drop into your oven.
6. Cover edges of pie with aluminum foil.
7. Bake in a preheated 375 oven for 25 minutes. Then remove foil and put back in for another 25 to 30 minutes without foil.
8. Remove from oven. Sprinkle pie with chopped pecans then drizzle with caramel on top.
9. Cool on a wire rack and enjoy warm or at room temperature. Serve with vanilla ice cream for best results.


After I filled both pies with the apple mixture (and topped them with the crumb topping) I still had a bit leftover. Instead of tossing it I filled two ramekins with the leftovers and re-heated them tonight--best decision I've ever made!


Recipe courtesy of Marsha Brooks, Good Morning America Apple Pie Contest 2001

September 24, 2014

Maxi-Cosi Kaia Stroller Review

Ah, the ease of strolling with a stroller, how I've missed thee! O is not really into riding in a stroller these days and it is killing my back. He's over 30 lbs these days, and often wants to be carried, and it's not too often he'll sit happily in the stroller. Yes, I'm married to a physical therapist, but it's probably better to just nip the problem in the bud and get O to ride in a stroller when he refuses to walk, right?

Well, luckily I have a bright, new, comfortable stroller, and chocolate ice cream, on my side. I'm not above bribery!



The Maxi-Kosi Kaia is an umbrella stroller with all the bells and whistles of a larger stroller. It folds up easily with little to no bending and pulling on my part, which I love. It has a padded, comfortable 5-point harness. The Kaia is a perfect travel system and can be used from birth with the use of an infant car seat. Maxi-Cosi adapters are included-- and while you can easily remove the seat to use it just for the infant car seat, you do not have too. It works both ways!

There is so much to love about this stroller...


  • comfortable handle bars 
  • sturdy cup holder
  • easy to fold
  • lightweight
  • large storage basket
  • easy to manuver
  • fully reclinable, comfortable, padded seat
  • large sunshade
  • clearly labeled brake system
And possibly one of the greatest perks this stroller has is that while it's a lightweight umbrella stroller I can still hang my purse on the handles when O isn't in the seat and not have it tip over! <---this is a huge plus on my list!

You can see an entire video review from Baby Gizmo about all the details this stroller has to offer.


The cup holder is sturdy (and it comes with the stroller -- no need to purchase it separately!), which means I don't have to worry about spilling my ice cold drink while we meander around the store!

 
The soft and plush seat cushion is removable, which is incredibly convenient for us, since O does a lot of snacking when he rides in the stroller. The seat reclines all the way back


I love the spacious storage basket too! You can easily fit your purse inside it, as well as all your other junk necessities. The space between the basket and seat is large enough to be able to access it from the side when the child is in the seat.



It folds with ease, stands on its own for easy storage and at about 18lbs, I can easily lift it into the trunk of our Jeep. The stroller is also compact enough that I can keep it in the trunk at all times without having to leave it home for a big trip to Costco, for example.


The seat is a great size! With a 13-inch wide seat, 19-inch high seat back, and a 50lb weight limit I know we'll be able to use this stroller for the long haul.



We're so happy with our Maxi-Cosi Kaia that I'm pretty sure we'll be putting our Maclaren umbrella stroller up for sale soon.

Is there a must-have feature you look for in a stroller? Share in the comments below! 

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received the products or services mentioned above for free in the hope that I would mention it on my blog. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will be good for my readers.


September 22, 2014

Weekending + Motivational Monday

I hope you all had a lovely weekend!

We had big plans to find an apple picking farm to bring O to, but after lots of research, we can't find one close enough to where we live -- they're all at least an hour+ from us, which is just too long to pick some apples and then turn around and come home. If you're local, and know of something please share!

Now onto the weekend...

Saturday was really low-key. Keith headed out to work before we woke up, and we just played in PJs until my mom and sister came over. I literally only left the house to pick up lunch from the deli on Saturday and it was lovely. We considered going out to dinner somewhere new, but in the end we decided on ordering pizza. I love trying new (to us) restaurants, but O has been such a homebody lately that I knew he'd rather stay home, so we did.


This picture is not from the weekend, but it is just too cute, so I had to share!

Sunday morning the three of us had coffee and milk in bed before Keith left to play basketball with some friends. O and I filled the time with a trip to Costco with B (Keith's mom). Next to Target, Costco is definitely my favorite place to wander and browse. We stocked up on essentials, fleece PJs for O (get 'em while they have them) and I bought a this Marc New York quilted coat for $40 -- can't beat Costco prices.

When we came home Keith was home from basketball, so I headed out for a marathon shopping trip. I'm on the hunt for non-skinny, non-denim comfortable casual pants. I want something I can comfortably wear while playing on the floor with O and then wear to the store and not be embarrassed by what I'm wearing. I usually wear yoga pants or these pants from Target -- but I'd really like to steer way from wearing workout clothes when I have no intention of going to the gym.

Anyway I'm also looking for a dress for our girl's trip to Vegas to see Britney. I was successful at finding neither, pretty much. I found a dress that's okay at F21, but I'm not sure it's the one.

Don't get me wrong, I love to shop, but the whole time I was out I was thinking "I hate this. I hate shopping", because I hate looking for something specific and I can never find what I'm looking for. Anyone else experience this?

The rest of the day included football, grocery shopping, dinner and Caramel Apple Pie baking. 


Now, onto motivational monday!

Goal: Make healthy choices for me and my family, including making conscious (healthy) food choices and staying active.

Progress to date: Down a 1/2 a pound this week, 4 pounds total. Not a huge accomplishment, but better than a gain.

Highlight of last week: Increasing the weight (35 + 35 + 25 = 95lbs) on the leg press. I have an on going problem with my right knee, so I'm really happy to see my legs getting stronger. 

Challenge of last week: Avoiding the desire to bake something! I made Oatmeal Pumpkin Spice cookies last week and gave away as many as I could. After Sunday (when I made them) I avoided having anymore. Also, Pumpkin Spice Lattes -- I indulged in one this week (grande, non-fat with only 2 pumps).



Workouts: 3 great weight training workouts on Wed/Thurs/Friday along with 3 cardio workouts on the Arc trainer, and some shopping cardio yesterday!




Lessons I learned this week: When I make a healthy dinner and save leftovers for lunch I'm more likely to be successful in making good choices because I'm not tempted by snacks while I wait for my lunch to be ready.

Here's the plan this week: 
Monday - Honey Dijon Pork Tenderloin in the slow cooker + brussels sprouts + whole roasted cauliflower
Tuesday - Easy Oven Fajitas w/ corn tortillas
Wednesday - I'll be out, so ordering pizza for K + O
Thursday - Skinny Taste Meatballs + veggies and quinoa pasta
Friday - Slow Cooker Minestrone soup

Have a nice week!!

September 19, 2014

The Newest Must Have Thirty-One Bag

I'm so excited to share my review of the newest Thirty-One bag, the All-Day Organizing Tote, with you today! For the longest time I've had my eye on these super versatile totes and bags. I have been on the hunt for the perfect bag that I could use for everything from the park to school to the gym, and I think I've finally found it.


The All-Day Organizing Tote has interior pockets and zip-top closure to keep everything organized and secure, as well as a sturdy, hard bottom so the bag won't cave when it's packed to the brim. There is also a front pocket (on the other side) that can be personalized, and is perfect for holding your phone or keys.


Here's a picture of me with the tote, just to give you an idea of how big it really is! It can hold a lot and the really great news is that the bag is the September special!! Get the All-Day Organizing Tote for $15 with every $35 spent!*


Did I mention I'm going to school too? I have one class left to complete for my teaching credential and after a 2 1/2 year hiatus I'm finally back! I love that the bag can handle the weight of my books, notebook, planner, computer and water.


I usually bring so much to the gym, especially if I'm showering there or if we're swimming, so it's nice to know I can fit it all in one bag!


Although O doesn't usually need too much these days I like to be able to bring whatever I think he might need with us to the park, especially is we plan on staying for a while. I really like that this bag can be used for all of our many needs! 

My Thirty-One Gifts consultant, Stephanie, also told me about some of the other great specials going on this month, like the September Hostess Special. If you'd like to host a party yourself you can learn more here. There are some great incentives! And please check out and follow Stephanie's Thirty-One Gifts Facebook group Bags With Heart for updates and information about specials!

And now comes the really exciting part! You can win one of these awesome bags. All you have to do to enter is use the widget below. Good luck and thanks so much for reading!

a Rafflecopter giveaway




September 18, 2014

Loving Your Post-Baby Body

Welcome to the second week of our One Year & Beyond series! Today we're talking about learning to love our post-pregnancy bodies.



The changes you go through as a pregnant women are truly amazing. It is mind boggling to watch your stomach grow and expand and know that your body is growing a tiny human inside. I know some people get tired of the weekly updates a mom-to-be posts detailing the week to week changes she's going thorough, but I never get tired of it-- it never ceases to amaze and mystify me all of the amazing things our bodies are capable of. 

                Six months pregnant. 

With all the changes happening in the short nine months a baby is being grown you can only imagine what your body might be like when you're all finished. I went home from the hospital incredibly bloated and puffy after being induced, on an IV forever and going through a c-section (read O's birth story, if you're in the mood for a long winded story), and at that point I could not have cared less about all of that mess. I was more concerned with adjusting to life with a newborn child than with how my clothes fit or what my stomach looked like.

     Proud (sleep deprived) new parents!

The first two months went by so fast. They were pretty much a blur. By the time we got back into some what of a normal life / routine I had somehow lost all the weight I had gained while pregnant. I chalk it up to new mom anxiety, putting feeding myself low on the priority list and breastfeeding. Not the healthy way to lose the weight, but it's what happened.

Flash forward over 2 1/2 year later and I've definitely gained back some of the weight I lost initially, but things never got back to the way they were before having our sweet baby boy, even when I'd lost the weight. Even 130lbs, for example, looks much different on a pre-baby body than it does a post-baby body. Not necessarily bigger or softer, but redistributed. It's just not the same.

It takes some getting used to, but this new body isn't so bad. I've got quite the prize to show for it, after all. The one thing that really makes me feel great is taking the time to get tot he gym. I've definitely got some weight I'd like to lose right now, but at the same time I'm very happy with the progress I've been making at the gym. I started increasing my weights about 5 weeks ago and I can see and feel a definite difference-- I'll expand more on how I fit in my workouts later in the series!

Have you learned to love your post-pregnancy body? Check out the other mama's blogs for their stories. And be sure to link up with us below if you also have a post on this topic.

In the difficulty of motherhood, it's so important to find other mamas to relate to. Toddlers can be a handful and leave you wondering what to do next. This series is here to help you navigate through toddlerhood while being able to relate to other mamas going through the same thing. We may not always know what we are doing but we give it our best shot anyway.

Come back each week to check out our new topic and read along with the other hosts of our One Year and Beyond series!


 
Oct 2: Toddler Diaper Bag Essentials

Oct 9: Learning to love your post-pregnancy body

Oct 16: Busy Toddler Activities

Oct 23: Keeping in Shape While Caring for a Toddler

Oct 30: Sick Day Tips

Nov 6: How to Not Lose Your Patience with your Toddler

Nov 13: Favorite Toddler Outings



September 17, 2014

Oatmeal Pumpkin Spice Cookies

You know what? I love Target. Not a surprise, because I think we all feel that way. You can buy almost anything there, and now with the semi-recent additions of a grocery section you can justify a  trip there almost daily -- much to my husband's chagrin. But don't worry, I usually only make it there once a week.

Anyway, what I really love most about good 'ol Target is that they always seem to have the newest grocery products. I can always count on them to have the newest seasonably appropriate flavors of International Delight coffee creamers, the trendy Chobani Greek Yogurt Flips and of course the best selection of holiday appropriate candy!

Enter the Toll House Pumpkin Spice baking morsels (I hate that word, morsels. Yuck):



My mother-in-law told me about them last week and so I had to run out on Saturday and pick me up a bag. And what do you do with baking morsels? You bake! So I decided to whip up some Oatmeal Pumpkin Spice cookies with them. And you guys, they did NOT disappoint!

They're soft and chewy in all the right ways and perfectly pumpkiny! I hope you're ready for Fall and all things pumpkin because you're going to want to make these!



INGREDIENTS: 
1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
1/2 white flour
1 1/2 cups oats
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons cinnamon
2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup butter, softened
3/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 cup pumpkin puree
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 egg
1 cup Nestle Toll House Pumpkin Pie Spice baking morsels
3/4 cup dried cranberries (optional)
3/4 cup chocolate chunks (optional)


INSTRUCTIONS:
1. First take out all of your ingredients, preheat your oven and make sure your butter is sitting out. Next put the oats, flours, baking soda, salt and spices in a medium size bowl -- stir to combine. Set aside.


2. Combine sugars and butter in a large bowl and use a hand mixer, or a stand mixer if you have it, to beat them together. Do this just until they are well mixed and fluffy.


3. Next add the egg, vanilla, pumpkin and beat together until combined.




At this point in the cookie making process I started to worry that the cookies might be too pumpkin flavored (is that possible?), so I thought some chocolate would help cut the flavors a bit. I didn't have chocolate chips on hand, so I used what I had, which was two 1.5 oz Hershey's Milk Chocolate bars. I unwrapped them and threw them in the blender for a few seconds to create chunks. This step is totally optional though.


4. Now you can mix in your Pumpkin Spice Morsels and whatever other add ins you desire -- I added 3/4 cup chocolate chunks and 3/4 dried cranberries. Make sure you mix these ingredients by hand using a wooden spoon -- the paddles on a mixer are too harsh and might break down the chips.


5. Now scoop them out onto a prepared baking sheet. I like to use my MIU baking mats to line my cookie sheets, but you could also use parchment paper. Scoop out balls of cookie dough using either a tablespoon or cookie scoop.


6. Bake in your preheated oven for 20-25 minutes. Let cool on a baking rack before serving.


These go perfectly with a hot cup of coffee! Enjoy!