Thursday, July 31, 2008

Gas Goes Down

As I drove my daughter to craft camp the last two days, I noticed that gas prices have dipped below $4! (Of course we filled the tank up on Sunday, when it was $4.06.) I have had a lot of discussions with people about the gas prices of late. Of course, I don't like high gas prices any more than the next person. And seeing a charge of over $80 just to fill up the tank on my minivan sucks. But I'm so tired of the "oil companies gouging us" argument. I'm sure I'll take a bunch of crap for typing that, but the price of oil has gone up. The oil companies don't control that. They have to buy oil, process it into gasoline, and then resell it to us. Have you checked out the price of gas in other countries? It's scary. Yes, in this time of economic insecurity it sucks that gas (and nearly everything else) is rising in cost. My family has less money for extras (yes, I realize I'm writing this post way too close to the one about where we bought a Wii) and I shop at discount stores and the sales to get the best deals for our tight budget.

But just two weeks ago I was in Ohio visiting family, and gas there was $3.85, after we had paid $4.16 in Illinois to fill the tank up to get there. What's the difference? I am guessing taxes. Why aren't we yelling at our government, local, state and federal for all the taxes they levy on gasoline? Hell, I have heard Wisconsin is putting out ads (though I haven't seen them) suggesting residents of Illinois cross the border to buy their school supplies there because of the lower sales tax. I had never thought about it, but we will be in Delavan the week before school starts. It's not a bad idea, when cutting coupons and saving every penny is a major goal of mine.

Do high gas prices impact my life? Yes. But so does the high price of milk, bread, and cereal. For now, I'm going to be happy that gas is under $4 in my neighborhood, and hope it stays that way.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

More Yummy Muffins

I have been on a kick recently to make a lot more things from scratch. My most recent foray has been into muffins. My family loves muffins. My kids use them to fill their hungry bellies when they don't eat very much of the rest fo the dinner I've made, and they eat the leftovers for breakfast or a snack the next day. So I like that I control what is going into the muffins. No artificial ingredients, no preservatives, and I can sneak in some healthy stuff. For example, in this recipe I'll substitute 1/2 cup whole wheat flour for the same amount of all purpose flour. these really are tasty and anyone who likes cinnamon would enjoy these. If you like nuts, add about 1/2 cup to the batter before baking. I made these Monday because I had leftover buttermilk from some pancakes we had over the weekend.

Cinnamon Muffins
▪ 2 cups all purpose flour
▪ 2 teaspoons baking powder

▪ ½ teaspoon baking soda
▪ ½ teaspoon salt
▪ 1 teaspoon cinnamon
▪ ½ cup sugar
▪ ½ cup brown sugar
▪ 1 egg
▪ 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
▪ 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
▪ ¾ cup buttermilk
▪ Topping:
▪ ¼ cup brown sugar
▪ ½ teaspoon cinnamon

Preheat oven to 400 ºF. Grease and flour 12 muffin cups or line with paper liners.

In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and cinnamon.
In a large bowl, whisk together the sugars and egg until smooth. Beat in vegetable oil and vanilla. Working in 5 additions and beginning and ending with the flour mixture, alternate adding the flour mixture and the buttermilk to the sugar mixture, stirring until just combined.

In a small bowl, stir together the remaining brown sugar and cinnamon to make the filling and topping.

Fill each muffin cup about 1/2 full. Sprinkle with a scant 1/2 teaspoon of the brown sugar topping mixture into each cup. Evenly divide remaining batter on top and sprinkle evenly with remaining topping mixture.
Bake for 15-18 minutes, or until tester comes out clean. Transfer to wire rack to cool completely.

Yield: 12 muffins


Friday, July 25, 2008

Wii have a Wii

Ok, not a lot of time to post so I'm going to keep this short.

Last week the kids (all three of them) were in Ohio for the week. They were happy as clams because they were spending the week with my parents and their eight cousins.

I was a happy mom because I had the week off. First week off in nine years. It was a fun week. I had coffee with a girlfriend, had a scrapbooking night with a bunch of ladies and spent my week not having to clean and reclean the downstairs of my house. I decided to get all my hair chopped off on Wednesday, and donated the hair to Locks of Love.

But on Tuesday night, Brendan and I decided to buy a Wii. We've been discussing it, and not having the kids around was the perfect excuse to go out and get one. We only have Wii sports, but for now it's enough. The kids are thrilled (and incredulous that we actually bought a Wii!)

So today Ian downloaded the Nintendo channel and we discovered that he can do DS downloads right from the Wii! He downloaded Wall-E today. It's cool since in the past we had to go to Toys R Us or Gamestop to use that feature of his Nintendo DS. Now right from the comfort of our family room, virtually anytime he wants, he can try a sample of a new game. Pretty nifty, in my opinion.

Now, I just have to figure out how to get the bathrooms clean while still getting in my Wii playing time!

Monday, July 14, 2008

Fun Monday - Birthdays!

This week, Penny over at Dungarees Ablaze has given us our FM assignment, which is this:
Let’s hear about your favorite “Birthday”, it needn’t be your actual birthday just a "birthday" celebration. You can use one you planned, one you attended, one you crashed, just a fun time for this FUN MONDAY.

One of my most memorable birthdays was my 18th birthday. My birthday is December 30th, so even though my parents did an awesome job of keeping it separate from Christmas, I rarely got to celebrate with my friends on my actual birthday, just too busy a time for many people.

The day of my 18th birthday did not start well. Our basement flooded overnight the night before. I am the youngest, and therefore was the only one home with my parents. Guess what had to be done? Yes, I had to help clean the basement up, on MY 18th birthday.

After a long day of cleaning up, we were going to go out to dinner to celebrate my birthday. It is a long standing tradition in my family to take the birthday girl or boy to the restaurant of their choosing. My parents were lobbying for a pizza joint called the Rocking U. I just didn't feel like going there, and said, "No, I want to go somewhere else."

A little while later my mom got off the phone and announced that Ken and Jenni, my good friend Leah's parents and also friends of my parents, called, and that we were going to meet them at the Rocking U, and we'd go out to my restaurant another night.

Now, this should have been a HUGE tipoff to me. My parents had NEVER, EVER, in my life blown off my birthday, or my brothers' or sister's for that matter (excepting my sister's 16th, but that's another story for another time!). But, I had no idea. I just sulked as I called my boyfriend and told him we were going to the Rocking U for dinner. I mean after all, it was MY 18th BIRTHDAY, I had just spent the entire day cleaning up the basement, and now my parents were making me share my birthday dinner with Ken and Jenni at a restaurant I didn't want to go to!

I didn't complain to my mom and dad, although I'm sure they saw the sulking. My parents left ahead of me and the plan was for me to meet them there with my boyfriend. Derrick picked me up and let me tell you I gave him an earful about my parent's choices!

You can see where this is going, can't you? Well, in my 18 year old self-important haze, I didn't see it coming at all.

When we got to the restaurant we walked in the back and into a party room where there waiting were several of my friends. They all shout surprise and I collapsed onto the floor crying. I had no idea my parents had planned me a party and I was just about ready to chalk up my 18th birthday as my worst ever! What shocked me even more was who was there. It wasn't just my good friends, but some of the kids I considered "cool". Eric, and many of the other boys, who were my teammates in cross country, April and Heidi, popular girls who I played basketball with, Jason, my good childhood friend, as well as Carrie, Leah, and Allyson, my three best friends. There were others there, too. My mom had managed to invite all the different people who I spent most of my time with, who I cared about, who I cherished.

I think what made it so memorable was the horrible thoughts I was having about my parents were completely erased when I walked in that door that night. And I was truly surprised at some of the guests. If my mom had asked me who I wanted to invite to a party, some of those names wouldn't have been on there, not because I didn't like the person, but because I wouldn't have thought they would have wanted to come to a party for me. I knew my social place in high school, and I wasn't unpopular, but I wouldn't have put myself in the "popular" group, that's for sure! So to see some of those kids there, made me feel happy. Not because that meant I was popular, but because the friendships we had formed were important to them, too. I guess when it comes to judging others, it goes both ways.

Anyways! My 18th birthday was indeed a memorable and happy one for me. Now go check out everyone else's birthday plans!

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Creating Stuff

Today has been a very creative day at the McKillip house. This morning I took these:

They are tart Michigan cherries that I paid and arm and a leg for at the farmer's market yesterday (and well worth it!).

And I turned it into this:

This is a cherry crumb pie. I've never made one before (made lots of pies, just not this kind) and can't wait until dinner to have it for dessert tonight. My daughters helped me by pulling all of the stems out of the cherries so I could just stand and pit (and pit and pit!). They say they are going to taste the pie tonight - we'll see!

In case you couldn't see it well enough in the last picture, here's a close up of the crumb topping:

I stopped at the grocery store last night after Bunco specifically to buy some vanilla ice cream to enjoy with this pie tonight. I am soooooo excited.

Then this afternoon the kids and I built this contraption out of Legos:

I strung some yarn from the stairs to the drying rack in our living room and we have spent lots of time enjoying sending Lego men on a trip across the entryway. (My son attached the man on the bottom of the tram.)

Here's a little video of the tram in action:

Not sure what we'll create next but I'm sure it won't be long before we figure it out!

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Summer Revelations

In the past, if I wanted to go grocery shopping for my weekly trip, I would rather gnaw my arm off than take my three kids with me. I planned it around their being in school or other activities. I often shopped at night after they'd gone to bed. If I couldn't do that, and I absolutely had to go to the store with all three of them, I'd usually only get the necessities and either bring snacks or bribe them with a doughnut.

But this summer is different. My kids are older and I have realized I don't want to give up "my time" in the evening after the kids go to bed. I have taken them with me several times now, and it usually goes pretty well. Now, they do get a little silly sometimes, but mostly because they are just keeping themselves occupied by having fun with each other. That's not to say that their behavior is always appropriate, twice today they had to all stand next to the cart with their hands on the cart so they wouldn't be jumping around in front of other people and generally making me frazzled while I looked for dishwasher detergent. But when I think of their behavior, they're not being rude or mean, disrespectful or even difficult. They rarely complain when I say "no" to their requests (they're used to it, I must say it often!) and they usually keep up with me in the store. They're mainly just unaware of how their behavior affects the other patrons of the store, which I see as immaturity, not mischief. And I do correct them and have them apologize if they are obstructing someone's path or doing something else that causes problems. It actually is a pretty good trip now when we go to the store.

And despite the fact that I could probably get it done so much faster without them, I don't really mind it that much anymore. Except for one thing. I cannot leave the store without a few things that were not on my list and I probably wouldn't buy if they weren't with me. Last week it was a package of Little Debbie's Swiss Rolls and Nutty Bars. This week it was Pepperidge Farm Brown Sugar and Cinnamon Mini Bagels. But, if that is the only roadblock I face each week, I think I'll choose going with the kids during the day instead of by myself at night.

Happy Independence Day!

What's a holiday without special treats? Last year I made red, white and blue ice cream pops with the kids. This year I stumbled upon a cookie idea and yesterday the kids and I made them.

It is super simple. All you need is sugar cookie dough (we bought a tube at the grocery store), red and blue food coloring, sugar and nesting star cookie cutters. I had each child knead a part of the dough with either blue or red food coloring, and left one part of the dough plain. After kneading the color in, the dough was quite mushy, so I wrapped it in wax paper and froze it for about 20 minutes. when it was firm enough to work with, I rolled it out on a floured cloth and let the kids cut out which colors they wanted. I had to help getting the inside star out, but otherwise they did it themselves. The final touch was a sprinkling of sugar over the top before each cookie went into the oven. (This was definitely my kids favorite part!)

After 8 minutes in the oven we had perfect little cookies to celebrate the 4th of July with. Now I just have to ration them so that they'll last until tomorrow!

Cupcakes and Cousins

Last week my sister, Leanne, came from Ohio with her three kids and our mom for their annual visit. Ever since I moved out here in 2000, she's come every summer with her girls to visit. And it is such a blessing as my kids have gotten to know her kids well, and we get some well deserved sister time.

Leanne has three girls, ranging in age from 12 to 8. I have one boy, almost 9, and two girls, 6 and 4. Amazingly, they all pretty much get along great. Ian and my niece S get along great, or they don't. There's no in between. One year we saw them laughing and playing with each other one minute, and then literally rolling on the ground wrestling the next minute! But they always have fun, and despite being outrageously outnumbered, Ian finds ways to have fun with a bunch of girls. (I think it helps that he has two sisters.)

We had a fun week with two visits to the pool, playing on the "new" backyard playset my husband and father-in-law put together, going to the DuPage Children's Museum, making s'mores with our s'more maker and being treated to dinner out at TGIFriday's by our mom.

Every night the kids got a snack before bed, and being a cool and fun aunt, I wanted some yummy choices. One night it was the s'mores, another night it was ice cream, but on the first night I made special cupcakes for everyone. I always like to make at least one fun treat for their visit and this year was no exception. As I was searching for ideas on the internet I came across directions for making frog cupcakes. As soon as I saw it I knew that was what I was going to make. My niece, S, loves frogs. So it was a no-brainer. They turned out absolutely adorable and everyone was happy to gobble one down.

I guess now I need to start looking for fun snack ideas for next year!

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

What Was I Thinking?

Why did I vacuum the carpet underneath the kitchen table and then decide to make 4th of July sugar cookies with my kids?

Hot Summer Fun

So what are a bunch of kids to do on a hot summer day to cool off? Ask their mom to put up the Slip-N-Slide that their Grandpa bought them.

What you can't see in the pictures and video is that the attachment for the hose was missing. Of course by the time I figured this out the slip-n-slide was completely set up and tacked down. After a quick call to the hubby for direction, we decided that the sprinkler set near the slip and slide would have the same effect as hooking up the hose directly to the thing. (We did not have the receipt and my kids really wanted to jump on and slide.)

It was a great way to cool off on a hot day. I'm sure we'll be using it again soon.