Monday, October 27, 2014

Recipe: Easy Crock Pot Chicken Pasta

A few weeks ago I came across this recipe on Facebook.  It looked easy and tasty.  Plus, I love my crockpot.  I gave it a shot and both Mike and I really liked it.  It reminded me a lot of tuna noodle casserole, but with chicken and cream of chicken soup.

For an easy switch up, I might try cream of mushroom soup or try adding peas to it.

I can't wait to try this one again!

Easy Crockpot Chicken Pasta


4 chicken breasts
1 packet ranch dressing mix
4oz cubed cream cheese
2 cans cream of chicken soup
2 cups penne pasta
Bacon pieces (if desired)
Shredded parmesan cheese (if desired)


Put chicken in crockpot.  Pour soup over chicken and then sprinkle with ranch dressing mix.  No need to stir.  Cook on low for 4 hours.  15 minutes before done, add cream cheese.  Do not stir.  Cover and continue cooking until cheese softens and melts, about 15-20 minutes.  Remove chicken.  Add pasta to sauce and stir.  Cover and turn off.  Shred chicken with a fork or cut into small pieces (I shredded it).  Add to crockpot and stir.  Serve.  Sprinkle with bacon pieces or parmesan cheese if desired

Monday, October 6, 2014

One Year!

It’s hard to believe that Ben is one year old already.  The year has gone so quickly, yet it feels like just yesterday we brought him home.  It’s also easy to say that the tough times felt like they lingered on while the good times zoomed by. 

Ben has started to become his own little person with a distinct personality.  He’s funny and goofy and likes to laugh (and we like to hear him laugh).  He knows how to test his boundries and will often look back to see if mom or dad notice that he’s getting into mischief.  He can be a drama queen (king?) especially when he gets hurt in the slightest or you take away a cord or other strangulation hazard he so loves to play with!  He hates taking medicine or getting his nose wiped.  Occasionally he will hold still long enough to get his diaper changed.  He doesn’t like to hold still for longer than 20 seconds.  He will not quietly sit in anyone’s lap.  Instead, he climbs in and out of it 15 times before he decides he’d rather do something else; like play with Gilbert’s toys instead of his own.  He loves to eat and makes ‘happy food noises’ the whole time.  He's definitely more daddy's sidekick than a momma's boy.  I think it's because daddy can juggle and has a bigger lap.  But, I'm fine with that.

One Year Stats:

Height: 32.25" (99th percentile)
Weight: 23lb 8.5oz (80th percentile)
Head Circumference: 18" (35th percentile)
Shoe size: 5.5
Words we think he says: Daddy, doggy, hello
Teeth: Six.  Four upper, two lower
Growing out of size 12 month clothes, but 18 month pants are still quite long.
Favorite Foods: peas, raspberries, cheese, chicken, scrambled eggs
Weaned off of all bottles/formula during the day.  This went surprisingly well.   We will soon be eliminating the bedtime formula bottle.
Not walking on his own but loves zooming around with the walker and crawling like a mad man. 
Favorite Toys: walker, fishy, trucks
Security item: thumb, burp cloth
Sleeps: very well; usually 11 hours at night and two 1.5-2 hour naps during the day
Illnesses to date: a few minor colds, Hand, Foot, Mouth, and pink eye last week.
Daycare friends: Henry 1, Henry 2, Vivian, AJ, Devica, Gaby, Jaxson (they go on opposite days but I always find them together when I pick Ben up on a day when one of them is there on an 'off day').
Enjoys going for walks/runs, swinging and sliding at the park, sitting in and getting pulled around in a laundry basket, eating, throwing food to Gilbert, ‘talking’/screaming, throwing toys.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Favorite Baby Items

I have now been a mother for a year.  A whole year!  It seems like just yesterday that I brought a new baby home and looked at my husband with a ‘now what?’ look.    Learning to care for a baby definitely has a learning curve.  If only they could talk and tell you what they wanted/needed.  In the hopes of making my son happy, I bought many baby products.  Some of them were helpful and some of them were not.  Every baby is different and this is a list I compiled of items that worked for us.

What we loved:

Floor gym:  This was used a lot in the early days when all he did was lay around.  It gave me a place to put him and I felt like he was entertained.  He enjoyed it more when he could kick and bat at the toys.

Bouncer:  We borrowed this and I’m so glad we did.  He sat in there a lot!  He took a lot of naps in it as well!

Sophie the Giraffe:  This was a gift.  I’m not sure that I would have spent the money on it myself, but my son seemed to like it a lot.  It also came with a stuffed Sophie rattle.  That was one of the first toys he seemed to notice and we dubbed it his girlfriend.

Merlin’s Magic Sleepsuit:  In desperation to get him to take naps we bought this.  I couldn’t get him into his crib without his arms flailing and waking him up and this was supposed to help.  I wouldn’t say it was ‘magic’ and really can only say that I liked it.  My husband liked to use this a lot though.

Halo Sleep Sacks:  I’m not sure what made me buy the first one, but we now have three and use them every night and for every nap. They are a nice lightweight cotton and worked well for the summer months (with the AC on).  I only wish they made some with sleeves so I don't have to make sure he wears long sleeved PJ's during cooler weather.

Baby Breeza Formula Pro:  See my review of this here.  We really made use of this baby!  We spent a week away and had to mix formula by hand.  Though not terrible, making it with the formula maker was nice.  Especially for those nighttime feedings or when he wanted to eat NOW.  I am looking forward to getting this off of my counter top though!

Nose Frida:  This snot sucker looks gross, but it works!  My son doesn’t really like it but it has to help him breathe better to get all that snot out.  I can’t wait for him to learn to blow his nose!

Puj Tub – This was a gift from our registry.  We used this sink insert for the first 3-4 months, I think.  I really liked it.  I liked that it unfolded flat to dry.  We just hung in on the back of the bathroom door.

Chicco Infant Carrier – No complaints about this.  Easy to use, easy to install.  Still, I couldn’t wait to get a convertible seat because he was just too heavy to be carrying around in there!

BOB Revolution Stroller – I received this as  a birthday gift and love it.  I’m tempted to use it as a permanent stroller because it drives so smoothly and is so easy to steer.  I dislike that you need to buy the snack tray and parent tray separately though.  And the storage underneath isn’t as big as the other stroller.  I think it’s bigger and heavier than the other stroller, but not by much or much that I really notice.  Ultimately, the smooth ride and maneuverability make up for the downsides.

Green Sprouts Bibs:  Between 3-6 months this boy DROOLED.  I was looking desperately for bibs that caught drool and protected his clothes.  Ones that came in various colors to match his outfits too (I like things to match).  These were pricey, but I loved them.  So much that I went for another walk to find one that we had dropped on a previous walk (never did find it).

Small steamer:  I use this all the time to heat up/cook small amounts of veggies/fruits.

Fruit of the Loom socks:  These were recommended by a friend to stay on chubby feet.  They did…until he learned to take them off!

Humidifier/Sound machine:  We received this as a gift.  I like that it’s two items in one.  We use the sound machine all the time and the humidifier in the winter or when he has a cold/seems stuffed up.

Triple Paste:  After a bad bought of diaper rash, this was the one cream that worked.  We’re so paranoid of that bad of a rash happening again that we still use it at night or when his butt seems red.

Aquaphor:  This was recommended by his pediatrician (along with some hydro cortisone) to help his minor eczema. We use it after every bath or on dry spots.  I like it for myself too!

Next installment?  Items we didn't like or didn't use much of.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

A New View

Do you want to know how you can gain approximately 1600 more square feet in your backyard?  Cut down a bunch of trees!

When we purchased our house we sort of liked all the trees and the natural feel of the yard.  However, we quickly realized how overgrown much of the yard was, specifically the 'woods' along the lot line in the far backyard.  We also realized how much maintenance these trees required; fall leaf removal, trimming by professionals every few years, removal of sticks and branches after storms, spraying for disease, injections for health...there are some days an empty lot sounds amazing!  Many of our pine trees had needle cast and were dying (not to mention the fact that for the longest time I thought I was finding needles from the Christmas tree in the house...nope, they were needles from outside that the dog tracked inside!).  After 'operation garlic mustard removal' two more pine trees completely kicked the bucket; most likely from our liberal application of weed killer. It was time to take care of all of these problems.

First, the electric company came to trim up the trees that were above the power lines, leaving us with half trees!  Next, our tree guys came and took care of business.  All in all, we had three solitary pines cut down and four more pines, a black walnut (the one that allowed easy access for raccoons to use our shed as a toilet), and various other small trees and shrubs (aka 'the woods) cut down.  It's amazing how much more space we have in the backyard now!

It will be some time before this project is complete.  Our plan is to put up a fence so that we can't see the busy street or our neighbors sheds and so that Gilbert can't mistake the neighbor wiener dogs as rabbits. Once that is done we will have to grow a lot of grass and do a bit of landscaping.  The removal of all the trees in the back hopefully makes way for more sunshine.  Maybe we can grow grass in areas where there is currently just mud and moss.  And maybe I can manage a better vegetable garden!  In a few years the extra space will be nice for a swing set too.

Backyard, before
On either side of that scrawny pine tree are two more pine tree halves.
You can sort of see one on the right.
WE Energies had already come and chopped them when this picture was taken.

Backyard, after
It's too bad the power lines are more visible now.
No more black walnut tree behind the shed for raccoons to climb up!
A different view to show how much space was gained.
The area from the shed to a few feet past the perennial garden was cleared.
They did leave a few plants that you can see here on the left.  We'll have to replant those since
they are kind of just hanging out in the middle of the yard now.
Tree by shed, before

Shed, after
You might notice that we now have a spot for our wood burner. LOL!
Mike just happened to be burning some branches that fell during
the last storm a few days prior.

Front of house, before
Front of house, after
This picture was taken at a different time of day when the front yard is full of shade
 so it doesn't look like much has changed.

Side of house, before
Side of house, after
A different angle.
 I'm just glad Gilbert won't be dragging pine needles into the house anymore.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Recipe - Mexican Meatloaf

If you know me well, you know that one of my favorite types of foods is Mexican food.  Tacos, enchiladas, burritos, tamales, chimichangas, tostadas, salsa, guacamole...I like it all!  My recipe box contains MANY Mexican inspired dishes.  Most are not authentic; I leave that up to the professionals.  But I like the flavors and make Mexican versions of many things.  Mexican lasagna, Mexican stuffed peppers, Mexican quiche, a Mexican type pot pie, and the highlighted recipe of this post, Mexican meatloaf.

Growing up, I was never much of a fan of meatloaf.  As an adult I like regular old meatloaf more, but I really like this Mexican version.  The gooey cheese and sour cream inside sold me right off the bat!  If you're looking for a new take on meatloaf, try this recipe!


2 pounds lean ground beef
1 can (8 ounce size) tomato sauce
1 cup dry bread crumbs
1 package taco seasoning mix
1/3 cup chopped green bell pepper
1/3 cup chopped onion
1 large egg
2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
1/2 cup sour cream
1/4 pound Cheddar cheese, sliced


Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

In a large bowl combine ground beef, tomato sauce, dry bread crumbs, taco seasoning mix, green bell pepper, onion and egg; mix thoroughly and set aside.

In a medium bowl combine cheddar cheese and sour cream. Place half the meat mixture in loaf pan. Make a deep well the length of loaf; place the cheese mixture in the well, then place the remaining meat mixture on top. Bake for 1 1/2 to 1 3/4 hours.

Pour off the drippings. Top the meatloaf with sliced cheddar cheese, overlapping. Let stand for 8 to 10 minutes.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Projects 52 (26) - June

With June in the books I have decided to call my Project 52 quits.  I've been thinking about it for the last month or two and decided I think I might enjoy my life more if I wasn't doing this.  I can take a few things off of my neverending 'to do' list.  Theoretically, because I did two projects and submitted two photos each week, I did complete 52 photos!

I haven't been getting anything out of either project.  The host of one of the projects quit and the amount of photos submitted each week for that project were low (like, less then ten).  The other project has more photo submissions but it's not very active (at least from what I see).  I don't know the last time I've had a comment on a photo; good or bad...if ever.  I will say that I rarely make time to comment on other's photos myself, so I shouldn't expect much since I'm sure others struggle to make time for hobbies as well (though I'm pretty sure the one project I'm involved in is a bunch of professionals because my photos look like &$#@ in comparison!).

But, I got to thinking.  What's the point?  The two days a week I am able to pull out the camera I'm trying to work around a 9 month olds schedule of eating, sleeping, and pooping so that I can set up a shot that fits a certain theme?  Or I'm using precious nap time to set up some shot of a weekly theme.  I'd much rather be playing with said 9 month old (he smiles more when my face isn't behind the camera) or using nap time to clean my house or to go out for a run if Mike is home.  Yes, I think I may enjoy cleaning my house or exercising more than taking pictures I don't really want to take.  I would also rather use that time to sit quietly and stare into space!  If I felt like I was getting something out of it....learning something, getting constructive criticism...maybe I would have stuck it out.  But, I feel like I'm wasting my time.  It's a lot of effort for little return at this point.

So there.  I quit!  Again.  Two years in a row.  I'm such a rebel.

I actually wrote this post a week or two ago.  I did get a comment on my 'shadow' photo, but as I completed my last Project 52 photo last night I felt like a weight was lifted off of my shoulder!

As a farewell, here are my final submissions:

23/52 M4H Blur
The purple flowers in my garden shot from above.

24/52 M4H Motion
A stacking toy ring spinning on it's end.

25/52 M4H Dreamy
Ben Ben dreaming.

26/52 M4H Old
And old pair of frayed denim jeans.
They are old and have seen better days, but they still fit after all these years!

23/52 LSL Joy
I think of Yoda when I see this picture.

24/52 LSL Favorite Song
It's tough to get some of these themes to work for a baby!
Ben was really liking this musical table we borrowed from friends.
This shot would have worked for the next week's theme too!

25/52 LSL Shoot from Above
I got a few okay shots, but I chose this one because it's not often I showcase a sad face.
I like that you can see his two bottom teeth.

26/52 LSL Shadow
Hitching a ride from daddy.

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Projects 52 - May

Another month and another four weeks of pictures added to my project 52 groups.  I can't say I've felt challenged or did anything amazing with these photos.  Sometimes I wonder if the themes hold me back. Maybe I need to be challenged by mastering or learning a new skill with my camera instead of being tied down to a theme?  Maybe I should make use of all the various blogs I read on different photography topics and keep a running list of things I should try from what I learned?  I just wish someone would set it up for me!  Plus, it's no fun doing it alone.

I found out this month that the blog writer of the 'kid project 52' is taking a hiatus.  I was bummed.  That's the group I like the most at this moment since my subject tends to be Ben most of the time anyway.  Luckily she agreed to continue adding themes to the Flickr site and it looks like she's added themes for the whole month at one time....which is nice.  I can think ahead.  Sometimes I just don't have time to pick up my camera until Saturday and most submissions are due by Monday or Tuesday.  I guess I really don't have to submit by the deadline.  But, I like to do things by the book.  I never turned in homework assignments late!   I just wish there were more active participants.  As of today (Saturday) there isn't a single posting for the theme that came out on Tuesday...and only about five since I submitted last week.

So, here are my homework assignments!

18/52 LSL Up Close
Eyelashes.  I still love his eyelashes
19/52 LSL Every day activity outside of home
We were supposed to take our big girl cameras to places we normally wouldn't take them.
The thing is; I don't take Ben to places like the grocery store or Target or on errands.  I could have taken a picture of him in the car on the way home from day care, but who has time to think about doing that when you have to get home to get started on the craziness of the evening?  So, I took a picture of him on the swing on an outing to the park.
20/52 LSL Love
I would have liked to get a cute shot of Ben and daddy, but that didn't happen.
Ben has always like, er, loved, Sophie though!

21/52 Favorite Color
Since Ben doesn't have a favorite color I gave him this color book and snapped a picture of the first page he turned to.
Purple it is!

22/52 Get in the Frame
That's me!  I was having issues with my remote but managed anyway.
18/52 M4H Moody
A teething baby is moody
19/52 M4H Faces
I just submitted this one because I had nothing else!
20/52 M4H Light
I reached on this one.  Ben made me this at day care.  His feet as sun rays.
After taking this I thought that maybe this would be a good way to save all of his artwork....just take a picture!
I'm already feel like I need to save his art (that he didn't even really do!) and feel guilty about throwing it out!

21/52 In my backyard
This is actually in my front yard, but I liked the lighting and the interesting petals.

22/52 My Life
Ok, so I just used a photo from my other projects assignment to fit the theme for this project.
A bit of cheating, but at least I made the deadline.  It does show what life with an eight month old is like.