Monday, November 29, 2010

The best cookies EVER!

Do you tend to pass by the Christmas cookies because they're always the same-old same-old?

Yeah, me too. Until now.

I stumbled across a recipe on a blog for chili chocolate cookies. I'm in love with chili chocolate bars (Like the Lindt ones) so I thought they sounded great. I printed off the recipe and prepared to make it but realized there wasn't anything even remotely chocolate in there. I tried to contact the author but she didn't get back to me, so I went Googling for a new one.

I found a recipe for Aztec Chocolate Cookies at Savour Fare (on the site it says it was adapted from Martha Stewart)and decided to give it a try. Boy am I glad I did!

I went to the high end of the chili pepper and I found the need for some more liquid because my dough wasn't doughy at all, but very dry, so I added an egg, which worked out very well. I was probably a little heavier on the chocolate chips, too. It was so good, I ate a lot of the dough before it could even become a cookie.

The recipe, adapted from Savour Fare, which adapted it from Martha Stewart:

1 1/2 cups plus 1 Tb. all-purpose flour
1 tsp. ground ginger
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp. ground chipotle chili pepper
1 tb. cocoa powder
1 stick (1/2 cup) butter
1/2 cup packed dark brown cugar
1/4 cup honey
1 egg
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. vanilla extract
7 ounces semisweet chocolate chips (I basically gave each of my boys a handful of chips to snack on and just dumped the rest of the 12-ounce bag in!)
1/4 cup granulated sugar

Combine flour, spices and cocoa powder in a bowl.
In a separate bowl, beat the butter and brown sugar until fluffy. Add honey and vanilla and beat until combined.
Dissolve baking soda in 1 1/2 tsp. hot water. Beat half of flour mixture into butter mixture. Beat in baking soda mixture and egg, then rest of flour. Mix in chocolate chips and refrigerate dough for about a half hour. Try not to eat all the dough because it's awesome.
Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment or waxed paper. Scoop up spoonfuls of dough and roll into balls. (Original recipe said 2-inch balls. I think mine were smaller. Whatever.) Roll balls in granulated sugar and place on baking sheet. Flatten slightly.

Bake 20 minutes or so until surface is slightly cracked.

These taste like chocolate-chip gingersnaps with a warm afterburn. AMAZING! They're quite spicy but my kids even liked them, and we're all wimps when it comes to hot stuff.

I fully admit to eating about 90% of this batch myself. It was insanely good and I should probably not make them ever again or I'll gain ten pounds.

Hope you like 'em! :)

Oh, sorry there are no photos. I couldn't stop stuffing them in my face long enough to take any. They look like brown chocolate chip cookies.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

What little boys are made of

I love being the mom of little boys.
They're fun little critters.

Boxes are awesome.

So are mom's slippers.

And funny faces.

Nature is amazing.

Trees are good friends.

Monkeys like to hang from trees.

And tree forts are so cool. (Daddies think so, too!)

Kicking a soccer ball at Mom's face is a riot.

"Gone With the Wind is SO not my favorite book, Mom."

Boys. They're messy little dudes, but that's OK. I love 'em anyway!

Plus, they give great, sloppy kisses!

Friday, November 12, 2010

RIP Grandpa Johns

We lost Chris's Grandpa Johns yesterday. He was a good guy and I liked him a lot. I hope he's truly happy now, reunited with Grandma Johns, just like he wanted. Chris's dad said a smile crossed grandpa's face just after he passed, as if he was seeing something he liked. We're thinking it was Grandma, waiting to greet him.

Here's a pic of four generations of Johns men, taken in spring 2008, when we went to Florida for Grandma's funeral.

'Bye Grandpa! We miss you!

Friday, November 5, 2010


I am not good at decorating.

I have very little practice, for one thing, and for another, it's just not something I'd ever given any thought to. I am timid when it comes to color and picky when it comes to everything.

I prefer natural tones and things that remind me of nature. Greens, browns and maybe a little touch of blue thrown in, but I don't really like all-blue rooms (except Jordan's room at our old house, which we did in cornflower blue and white, and it was precious for a baby boy.)

Anyway, we moved in this new house and one of the things I liked was that the walls are all neutral, natural colors. The exceptions are the library, which is a pretty dark plum I'd never have chosen but I really like it, and the guest room, which has 2 light green walls and 2 brick-red walls that are really ugly, but it's the guest room so whatever.

I adore the living room. It's 2-story and has tall windows through which you can see the woods. It also has a fireplace. We don't have any experience with fireplaces, but the thought of having a fire is both tempting AND terrifying. I envision something going wrong and burning our new house down. Anyway, we probably won't be having a fire anytime soon. We'll see.

The previous owners had a huge mirror over the mantel. I didn't particularly like it. They seemed to have a thing for mirrors because there was an even bigger one in the master bedroom (Like, 9 feet tall. It was crazy!) Here's a photo I ripped from the listing of this house, showing the previous owners' mirror over the fireplace.

Well, they took the mirror when they left (I thought for some reason they'd leave it) and they left us a big huge bolt in the wall and some lovely soot marks.

This glaring, dirty, empty space has been bothering me since we moved in. It's just ugly. The problem is, I didn't want to just put up any old thing. I want to find something really special, preferably something that reminds us of the Traverse City/Sleeping Bear Dunes area, which is our favorite vacation spot.

The thing is, I don't think we're going to find just the right piece anytime soon. For one thing, something as large as we want will be expensive and we've already had to pay a lot of money to fix a few things around here, plus Christmas is coming.

So, that left me with that space mocking me every time I was in the living room.

Well, this week I got to thinking that a wreath might be a nice temporary fix. All the holiday decorations are coming out, after all. So, I made a trip to a couple big-box craft stores and checked out the wreaths they had. None were what I wanted. Too small, too Christmasy, too expensive, etc.

What's a girl to do? Make one herself, of course!

I should say, I don't particularly enjoy crafts. I was being quite brave for shelling out cash for supplies to make this wreath. I spent about $50. The plain artificial pine wreath alone was $20. But, the already-decorated wreaths that were about half the size of this one were selling for $35 to $50, and one this size already decorated would have probably been in the $100 range. Plus, of the $50 I spent, I didn't use everything, so I will be able to use the rest--like the stars--somewhere else in the house.

So, here's the naked wreath and the goodies I got to go on it.

And here's the finished product. I like it. The colors match our living room furniture and stuff, and it's not too Christmas-y so I can actually leave it up all winter. It took me probably a half hour just to make the bow!

I also put a candle arrangement in the fireplace so it's not this dark, dirty cavern. Now it's glowing and friendly and warm.

And, while I had the ladder out this morning, I decided to put my beloved collection of commemorative bottles up on the high window sills for a sort of stained-glass effect. These are gifts from my Grandma Anna, who has always displayed bottles like these in her own windows. I love it.

I think the finished product turned out quite nicely. I think my living room looks much more welcoming now. (Yes, the soot marks are still there. Hubby's planning to paint over them as soon as he gets a spare second!)

So, my next project is the boys' rooms. They are just bare and boring and un kid-like. I have considered rain gutter bookshelves like the ones Samantha made and wrote about on her Mama Notes blog. I am also thinking about possibly painting a mural, although I've never done anything like that before, either.

I would welcome any ideas you have to make these rooms more welcoming for children. I would also prefer NOT to paint the walls.

Here's Jordan's room now

And here's Logan's room

Like I said, I'd welcome any ideas to decorate these rooms!

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Loving LeapFrog

Last night, I hooked Jordan's My Pal Scout up to our computer and finally downloaded the LeapFrog Connect software so I could personalize the puppy.

I say finally because, well, I got Jordan this puppy for Christmas last year. Yep, I suck.

Anyway, I got everything installed and set Scoutie up with Jordan's name, favorite color (yellow), favorite food (bananas) and favorite animal (bird). Actually, I don't think his favorite animal is a bird, but he's been having lots of fun watching them eat on our deck. Whatever.

So, now Scout says Jordan's name, sings songs about him and more. I couldn't wait for him to get up this morning and hear it. It was really sweet. He got a big grin on his face and looked at me whenever Scout said his name. It was as if he was asking me "Did you hear that, Mom? It's soooo cool!"

Then Scout got lots of snuggles, hugs and kisses from my very happy little boy. It was like Christmas morning all over again.

We have a lot of LeapFrog stuff in this house. It all started way back when I was expecting Logan. I can't remember if I bought it or if it was a baby shower gift, but I came into possession of the LeapFrog Letter Factory DVD.

I remember putting it in one day when Logan was maybe three or four months old. I was trying to introduce him to solid food and I needed to distract him for a couple minutes for some reason, so I put the DVD in. He was instantly smitten. He didn't react to other television programs the same way--even animated ones or baby-centered ones like Baby Einstein. It was something about that Letter Factory DVD that really interested him. Eventually, it was almost like a magic trick. Logan could be having the world's worst meltdown, but as soon as he heard the opening notes of the movie, he'd instantly quiet down and start watching it.

I felt vaguely guilty at times, because he liked to watch it a LOT. Like, every day. There was so much information going around about how kids under 2 should watch NO television at all and so on, but I'll be honest. That movie gave me 30 uninterrupted minutes to get dinner going, so I used it. I convinced myself that it was educational, and wouldn't hurt him.

Then something happened.

I don't really remember how old he was but he wasn't much older than a year when we were reading an Elmo book and he pointed at the letter M, I think it was, and said "Mmmmmm."

What? Could I have really heard right?

I pointed it out and said "Logan, what sound does the letter M make?"

And he said it again. Mmmmm.


That day, I determined he could identify about five letters by the sounds they made. It was probably more, but he got sick of telling me.

I started kind of working with him, pointing out the letters on signs and such, and I'd sing the catchy little tune from the end of the Letter Factory DVD. We played with the LeapFrog Fridge Phonics letters, too, which also had a catchy little tune about the letter sounds.

It wasn't long before Logan knew his alphabet, but he didn't know it like other kids did. He would say the whole thing phonetically. Instead of "A, B, C..." he'd say "Ah, Buh, Kuh..." It was pretty amazing.

Logan was reading certain things when he was still two and really reading words--sounding them out--at age three. Now, at age five and in kindergarten, he is full grade levels ahead in reading compared to the rest of the class.

Jordan, who is 21 months old, already knows all the letter sounds. He can say them all on command (well, he has trouble pronouncing a couple, like J and V, but he comes close enough that you can tell he gets it, he just can't make his mouth say it correctly yet) and will point out letters on signs and make the correct sound. He is also getting the "real" names for letters, so if I ask him what this letter is, he'll say "A" and if I ask the sound A makes, he'll say "Ah." It's pretty neat and impresses people when they hear it. He's not even two!

Jordan isn't nearly as into the Letter Factory DVD as Logan was. He watches it maybe once or twice a month, but it was enough to teach him the sounds, and we also supplement it by playing with the fridge phonics and singing the Letter Factory song.

We also own the LeapFrog Talking Words Factory, Code Word Caper, Storybook Factory and Math Circus DVDs, the Word Whammer, Fridge Wash N' Go, Fridge Farm, a voice recording toy that goes on the fridge (not sure what this one is called), the Learn N' Groove Animal Sounds Guitar, Learning Drum and Phonics Bus, and Logan has a Leapster 2 game system with a number of different games.

Yeah, we have a lot of LeapFrog stuff.

For the most part, I like the toys, games and DVDs. I am not impressed with the drum or the guitar, and frankly, neither of my boys have had a lot of interest in those things. The rest of it, though, is awesome.

I can't stress how much I think the combination of the Letter Factory DVD, Fridge Phonics set and practicing with me out in the "real world" has contributed to Logan's reading success. It seems like Jordan is headed in the same direction, and that thrills me. I would recommend these LeapFrog products to any parents who want to help their child excel in reading, all through play.

I really like My Pal Scout, too. He's cute and cuddly and sings sweet songs. I don't think he teaches much, but he is lovable and watching Jordan smile and cuddle him is really heartwarming.

I am not exactly sure why I felt compelled to write this post about LeapFrog toys. The company didn't seek me out to do so, and they don't even know I'm writing it. They don't know me from Eve! I guess I just feel strongly enough about some of the LeapFrog stuff to want to share it with other parents who might be looking for some worthwhile holiday gifts for their kids.

I know one thing I have on Jordan's list this year is the My Own Leaptop. I think it's something he'd love to play with. For Logan, I might pick up a couple more Leapster games, such as the new Toy Story 3 game.

Well, anyway, that's about it. LeapFrog is cool. And it might even help your kid get smarter.

Oh, and if you're a LeapFrog representative and want to send me some LeapFrog stuff to have my boys test out, I'd be more than happy to do that, and blog about it. I friggin' LOVE LeapFrog!

Monday, November 1, 2010

Halloween 2010

Carving pumpkins. Logan and Hubby helped clean them out, Jordan stuck his hand in once and then started crying. He opted to watch It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown instead.

TWO pans of pumpkin seeds roasting in my brand-new oven!

Mommy got to carve all four pumpkins, lucky me. I did a robot, a monkey, a cat and a scary face.

Then we got our little robot and monkey ready for trick-or-treating.

The boys had fun trick-or-treating. Logan wasn't shy (finally) to say trick-or-treat and almost always remembered to say thank you. Jordan barreled up to the houses and everyone thought he was precious. He was afraid of some of the decorations, and cracked people up because he would point at decorations or costumes and loudly declare "EEeeeewwwwwww!!!!!" Hilarious.

Every year, Logan declares he's done trick-or-treating at the 45-minute mark. He just gets tired of it, I guess. That's fine. The kids got soooooo much candy between Crossroads Village, the neighbors bringing over goody bags and then trick-or-treating, it's going to take them eight months to eat it all.

Logan's favorite treat BY FAR was a mini bag of Fritos. He was soooo thrilled with it! It's all he wanted to have once we got home. Jordan had some Whoppers and M&Ms.