Saturday, September 12, 2015

Easy Mexican Crockpot Chicken

I love my crockpot and as a working (outside of the home) mom, I need to use it more.  Here is a recipe I found on Pinterest from RecipeMothers.  I changed it up a little, so here is my version.  It's so easy you won't believe it.

Boneless, skinless chicken breasts (I made 6, but whatever fits in the bottom of your crockpot)
can of black beans
can of corn (leave the liquid in)
can of Rotel
8 oz block of cream cheese
taco seasoning
ranch dressing mix
rice or tortillas (or both)

I always use a liner in my crockpot because I HATE cleaning it afterwards. Place the chicken breasts on the bottom of the crockpot. Dump the beans, Rotel and the whole can of corn (including the liquid) over the top of the chicken. Because I don't trust my husband to do too much, I put these ingredients in a bowl the night before.

The original recipe called for Fiesta Ranch dressing mix, but I couldn't find it so I improvised.  I used a taco seasoning and ranch dressing and mixed them together.  I used most of both packets because I had 6 chicken breasts, but use your best judgment as to the amount of seasoning you want. Dump it on the top of the vegetables.  Finally, place the block of cream cheese on the top.  No need to chop it up (unless you really want to).

Turn the crockpot on low for 6 hours.  Some versions of this recipe use chicken that is still frozen, so in that case I would plan on 8 hours. It would probably work well if everyone is out of the house all day. If you have a husband who forgets to turn the crockpot on at the right time, it will still work in 4 hours on high.

When it is done, stir so the cream cheese gets spread throughout.  Pull out each chicken breast, cut it up and return it to the pot.  You will probably be able to shred it with a fork - it is so tender!  Serve over rice or use in tortillas.  We did both.  The rice thickens it really nicely so it isn't runny in the tortilla.  My kids loved this and they are not generally an easy sell. 



Saturday, August 29, 2015

Tie Dye with Acryllics

I've been collecting a lot of pins on Pinterest and haven't had a chance to try all of those cool crafts. My extended family met at Kentucky Lake over the 4th of July, and never missing a chance to try a craft, my very own Craft Diva and I tried out this tie dye method from Ricochet and Away!  I found it to be easier than most dyeing methods I have seen and it's something kids can easily do.  However, I would not expect to wear the finished product for at least 24 hours due to drying (and possible need for re-dyeing.) I found everything I needed for this craft at Walmart:

White cotton shirts
Acryllic Paint (I used Waverly Inspirations Chalk Paint in Ocean, Peacock and Pool)
Plastic spray bottles (one for each color)
Package of rubber bands (office supply section)
Plastic gloves (acryllic will come off your hands, but the scrubbing is a pain)

I started with damp shirts and instead of rolling them the way described in the tutorial, I wadded them up into a ball.

This, my friends, is the wrong way.  I had to repeat the painting process more than once because I didn't roll the shirt, but wadded it up into a ball.

Next, combine the paint with some water in the spray bottle.  I used about 70/30 water to paint ratio, but you have to try for yourself.  Too much paint will result in a stiff mess.  Now spray.  We alternated these complimentary colors for the best effect.

After spaying them thoroughly, I put each shirt into a plastic shopping bag and squished them to get the paint distributed.  It didn't work as well as I wanted, because as I said, I wadded up the shirts the wrong way to start.  After removing the rubber bands and seeing big blank white spaces, I realized my mistake and had to roll the shirt up again for another round of spraying.

Once you get the desired amount of paint on the shirts, you need to let them dry completely before wearing (or you will wear the paint).  I also wanted to make sure my shirts didn't accidentally run in the laundry, so before I washed them, I soaked them in cold water and vinegar for an hour.  (It's probably not necessary, but it's the best way to set dye of any kind.)

I made shirts for all of the cousins, but here's the one that turned out best from my grand-nephew.



Wednesday, August 26, 2015

STG Top 5 Kid Crafts

Creativity in kids should always have an outlet and my daughter is the original Craft Diva. Unfortunately, as she gets older, she's less interested in crafting although she is still really creative. Today I'm reliving the best Craft Diva crafts for kids.  These are easy to do and your kids will be proud of the results. Click on the title to see the original post with detailed instructions.

1.  Origami Ninja Stars - This has to be one of the most popular posts I ever wrote.  This is a craft Kenzie found on her own and her instructions are very simple because we managed to take some good pictures.  Use multicolored copier weight paper for the best results.

2.  Corn Syrup Painting - This is definitely one of my favorites.  You need to use a heavy sketch book paper for this one because the "paint" is heavy and thick.  You will love the shiny smooth effect you get using the paint, but don't forget - it needs lots of time to dry!

3.  Yarn Mache Bowls - These are messy, but even the youngest kids can do this craft (once you make the paste).  This is a great way to get rid of yarn stashes and your child will like having a functional bowl for small items.

4.  Tie Dye with Acrylic Paint - This is an easy tie-dye you can do with acrylic paints.  Great instructions that are easy to do, even with small kids.  It especially works well as an outdoor craft to avoid messy clean up.

5.  Melted Crayon Drawing - We saw this craft many times before we did it, so it wasn't too hard to do.  We were going with a slightly sophisticated product with a black canvas and black paper wrapped crayons from Michaels.  It's a little tricky to do it in a circular pattern like we did, so you might want to stick to the horizontal version.  Also, be careful with those hot glue guns, hair dryers and melted wax crayons with little ones.

So that's it!  While I've been writing this, my now-12-year-old Craft Diva noticed the post and commented that she wants to do more crafting.  We'll see, but if she does, you will see it right here.

Keep those kids crafty!


Monday, August 24, 2015

Please - No - Not Yet!

I'm starting to see things - things I just don't want to see yet.  It's just disturbing.  I'm only going to describe it, not show pictures because it's just too disturbing.

Reminder - it is still AUGUST.  Summer is not quite over even if kids have gone to school.  Fall is definitely not here yet.  I'm not ready to see pumpkins and harvest decorations on Pinterest.  Halloween blogs posts are most certainly premature.

I live in Arizona so it is even more shocking to the system to see these images when the daily temperature is still averaging 103 degrees.  On the other hand, I'm not sure there are too many (if any) places where the leaves are turning or spice mulled cider is in order.  Don't push me!

I'm asking for a moratorium on Halloween, harvest decorating, pumpkin recipes and God forbid - Christmas, until at least September 15.  Would it kill you to wait that long?  There will still be time to decorate our front porches in highly flammable dead corn stalks and plant mums. We will still be able to try every conceivable meal course with pumpkin as the primary ingredient. The spooky clever Halloween treats that look like spiders, witches and guts can wait.

Step back from the harvest leaves and take a breath.

Thank you.


Sunday, August 23, 2015

Adventures in Fundraising - Gourmet Meals for a Year

As some of my readers may know, I am the chairperson for the Mission Campaign for our youth choir, Pueri Cantores St. Bernard of Clairvauxand my husband is the director.  We are raising money to travel to Rome on December 26 and sing for the New Year's Day Mass of Peace with Pope Francis!  It is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for 46 singers, ages 8 through 18, and it's even more special because we will be sharing the experience with 5,000 young singers from every continent!  I get the shivers every time I think of the trip for my 2 kids.

We had some pretty intense fundraising activity last Spring and are gearing up for our last push before we make our final trip payments in mid-October.  We did a number of "basket raffles," and made about $3,000.  As one of our "basket raffles," we raffled off 12 months of homemade gourmet meals, one per month.  Our winner was a nice couple in our parish choir.  I've made several of these meals and although it is a bit of work, it's fun for me.  I wouldn't call my self a gourmet cook by any stretch (don't tell them that!), but I can follow a recipe and enjoy trying new ones.

This month's menu includes:

Cucumber Ginger Sesame Salad
Honey Mustard Chicken
Garlic Parmesan Mashed Cauliflower
Meyer Lemon Pound Cake
Peach Raspberry Sangria

I've linked two recipes to the items above (none are original to me!).  The other items I found inspiration, but in the end changed them in favor of my own recipe.  One of those was the Cucumber Ginger Sesame Salad:

It's very easy - cucumber, carrots, edamame and toasted sesame seeds.  I used a store bought Asian Sesame dressing.  The best part of this recipe was cutting the cucumber.  Using a potato peeler, I worked around the top of the cucumber to make twists that are so pretty! Before mixing them with the other ingredients, I laid them out to dry a little.  I hate when cucumber salads are watery because of the cucumbers.


These meals are delivered on the third Sunday of every month.  I try to make extra of everything so I can feed my own family as well.  This month I started about 24 hours before delivery with the pound cake and sangria.  I will admit I'm cheating a bit, using a store bought mix. This one is from Krusteaz and if the smell while baking is any indication, this is going to be seriously yummy!


I have always wanted to make sangria, especially a white peach version.  For the fruit, I used 2 yellow peaches and 1 white nectarine with raspberries.  Then I added 1/2 c. of peach schnapps, 1/2 c. of brandy, 2 12 oz cans of 7-Up and 2 bottles of Moscato wine. That will make about 10 good servings of sangria. A good sangria requires at least 8 hours to mix and I'm gave mine 24. And oh, it was worth the wait!

I was also pleased with the Honey Mustard Chicken (see link to recipe above).  I served it over white rice.

Hey, if you appreciate this fundraising suggestion, the recipes or just my blog, we would love your support.  Our YouCaring fund is HERE and even the smallest donations are appreciated!


Saturday, August 15, 2015

College Week - Dorm Room DIY

I could not let the end of College Week go by without a DIY day.  There are some really cute college DIY projects out there, and I think my teen daughter and I will be trying a few for her room (not in college).  While I haven't tried any of these specific projects, here's a short list of projects that will personalize your room without compromising functionality.  Click on the title for the specific DIY instructions and be sure to visit the fine DIYer who brought you the product (and the picture):

1.     Storage cube ottoman - This is the cutest design from The Eager Teacher.  These would be ideal tucked under your bed for storage and brought out when you have extra guests or need a foot rest.  Two notes - make sure the store bought crates will support your weight and consider a fabric loop/tab to stick out on the side of the cushion so you can easily access the storage space in the crate.

2.     Frame jewelry/picture hanger - From the UK, Love Chic Living describes this as a way to make an easy photo collage.  I think it's cute as that, but would also be a great way to hang your jewelry, especially if you added a little background cork for earrings.  You can find the little "clothes pins" at Michaels.

3.     Shoebox Charging Station - I really liked this one from Country Living because (A) it's easy; and (B) it's functional.  One thing I would note - you should probably leave the lid of the box open when you are charging your items so it doesn't overheat and be sure to unplug fully charged devices (your manufacturer's instructions for your electronics will tell you that part too).  I also would not use this for a full-size laptop because the cords are bulkier and they definitely get hot.

4.     Frame organization/note board/calendar - There are a ton of variations of this project, but the concept is pretty simple - picture frame, paper/fabric background in frame and dry erase pen to use on the glass.  However, this one from Tangles and Tangents was super cute and had great instructions.

5.     Ping pong lights - I'm not a huge fan of the Christmas-lights-in-the-dorm-room look, but I know it's popular and this way of doing it from Say Yes is at least a little original. (I would never put these over a crib, but your bed is OK)

This is just a small sampling of DIY projects I found for your dorm.  You can see lots more on my Pinterest board "Dorm DIY"

Happy DIY decorating!


Thursday, August 13, 2015

College Week - Don't Go to School Without These Apps

College students are so lucky today.  I didn't have apps in college.  Heck, no one had a cell phone.  In fact, no one at school had a PC, much less a laptop.  We had pencil, paper and books and we liked it!

Some of these apps may be on your radar screen, but if not, you really need to check them out.  Most have a website to describe them (click on the names) and many have YouTube videos.

1.  Evernote - This powerful app helps you keep and organize everything through the Cloud while synching to all of your devices.  Take notes, recordings, pictures and files wherever you go and access them on your laptop, tablet or phone.  It's free and available for Android or iOS devices.  There is a huge presence of Evernote videos on YouTube, but here is one specifically for college students:

2.  QuickVoice Recorder or Smart Voice Recorder - These two apps basically do the same thing - record - which is awesome for lectures.  QuickVoice Recorder works on iOS devices and Smart Voice Recorder is for Android.  Each has a few special features, and both are free.

3.  iStudiezLite or iStudiezPro - These are the same basic apps, but the Pro version isn't free.  iStudiez helps you stay organized, track deadlines, grades and more across Mac devices.  It synchs in the Cloud and integrates with iCal.  The Pro version is only $2.99.

4.  Quizlet or STUDYBLUE - Need some flashcards or other study tools?  Each of these apps offers a variety of study tools that you create to help you prepare for those big tests.  STUDYBLUE also synchs with Evernote, which is a plus.  Both are free.

5.  XMind - This is one of several free mind mapping apps that helps you brainstorm for assignments or even your entire semester course.  I'm not going to explain mind mapping here, but you can find MANY videos about it on YouTube.  Here's one specifically about XMind:

Some other notable mentions for college must have apps are EasyBib (scan ISBN tags on books to get full bibliographic information in proper citation for papers); Chegg (order textbooks and e-textbooks at great savings); and Wolfram-Alpha (compute ANYTHING instantly, including scientific standards of measurement and complex equations).

Good luck at school!


Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Decorating the Dorm Room - A Few Hints

If you've read some of my other College Week posts, you know I was in college in the Stone Age.  While some things have changed, most dorm rooms have not.  For each person in the room, there is a bed, desk, chair and usually a wardrobe or closet.  My freshman year, I lived in a triple - yes, that is 3 women in a room.  No, the room wasn't much bigger.  Decorating a dorm room can be daunting, but there are two basic rules to remember:

1.  A dorm room is SMALL so don't cram too much into it.
2.  Decorating decisions need to include your roommate(s).

If you get these basic concepts, the rest flows from there.  Hopefully, you will wait to decide on decorating details until after you are at school, but most freshmen just can't help themselves.  Consulting with your new roommate over the summer is a great idea (fits criteria 2), but without seeing your new room, it might be hard to meet criteria 1.

You can find lots of examples of great dorm rooms online and I've collected a lot of pictures and tips on my board Dorm Decorating on Pinterest.  For now, I just want to make a couple of points about dorm room decorating:

1.  Maximize the use of space - including airspace.  Raising your bed it a great idea.  If you can get the bed high enough, you can put your desk underneath.  Make sure to check your school's policies on this and make sure you are being safe.

2.  A dorm room is not as big as your room at home - unless you live in a trailer.  Unless you share a room in a trailer with someone else, your room at home doesn't have two beds, two desks, two chairs and two closets. Don't try to copy pictures of rooms that are clearly bigger than your dorm room.  Wait until you get to school and take a careful look at what you have.

3.  Keep it functional.  Don't bring in extra furniture - really.  It might be cute, but not so much when you are tripping over it in the middle of the night.  You can have a beautiful and functional room without extra furniture - really.

4.  NO CLUTTER.  There are lots of cool products - shelving, storage bins, side tables, etc.  Clutter makes your room look messy, unorganized, and, if it's possible, smaller than it actually is.  Leave the knick-knacks at home.

5.  Talk to your roommate and coordinate.  You both might have great taste, but it isn't fun to have different decorating themes in one little room.  Compromise - you're just getting started.  Everyday you come in to see a schizophrenic room, it will remind you that you and your roommate can't compromise.

6.  If you or your roommate intend to study, relax or sleep in your dorm room, don't plaster the walls with thousands of high school pictures and then hang Christmas lights around it.  See above.  It's not only tacky, it is very distracting and certainly not condusive to concentration or relaxation. 

7.  Make your function pretty.  You can have some storage under your bed that looks good.  You can add some nice curtains that keep the excess light out while masking those ugly blinds.  If you would like extra seating, turn a storage bin into an ottoman. (But not two in the middle of the room!)

8.  Get a nice rug, but consider throw rugs instead of bigger carpeting pieces.  Your carpet will likely never see a vacuum unless one is available for common use in the dorm.  However, a throw rug can be washed.

9.  Use light colors.  When winter comes and you get stir crazy in your little dorm room, you won't want to be surrounded by dark colors covering the walls and your bed.  Just like dark paint, dark decorations dominating the bed and walls will make your little dorm room smaller.

10.  Keep it clean!  At the risk of sounding like your mom, a clean room will keep you and your roommate happy.  Just like a happy wife, a happy roommate makes for a happy college life!

Don't forget to check out my Pinterest account for more college ideas!


Tuesday, August 11, 2015

College Week - What Do I Need?

It's been a long time since I was in college - a really long time.  However, I did spend 4 years in a dorm - 2 as a resident advisor - so I know more than most about living in a dorm room.  I'm focusing this week on things you need to know to live happily in a dorm room for one or more school years.  I know my college week is late - many have already left for college.  If you're smart, you realize that unless you have complete dimensions to your dorm room and know your room, it's really not possible to buy everything you need for your room.  So, whether you haven't left for school yet or are already there without the perfect dorm room, here's some things you need (and some you don't).

First, you need to read two great articles from Grown and Flown - "Dorm Shopping: What to Ask Before You Spend" and "Ten Commandments of Dorm Shopping." Here are some of my must haves:

Bath Stuff 

  • Monogrammed or patterned towels - they don't get "lost" as easily 
  • Plastic bath caddy.  I personally like the plastic bath caddies you can carry because when they inevitably get grungy with soap and shampoo residue, you just take them in the shower and hose them down.  Mesh caddies are harder to clean.


  • A good mattress topper - not just the mattress cover.  
  • A sleep mask can be very useful if you and your roommate keep different study hours. 
  • Bed risers, but only after you actually see the room and the bed. 


  • Tech corner - charging station, headphones, extra long charging cord and wireless speaker
  • Laptop with cover.  The cover is a must for all of the traveling your laptop will see.
  • Power strip - look for a flexible one that can curve around furniture

Closet/Storage Area

  • Full length mirror on closet door - use Command hooks
  • Laundry bag - I like this better than plastic baskets because they can hang, take up less space and are easy to sling over your shoulder (or dragged) even when they are full
  • Storage bins - It's important to get the right size for under your bed - whether it is raised or not. Again, this might be one of those things that might wait until you are actually at school to see the bed.
  • Over the door hanger/basket/pouches for storage.  Hopefully you are able to put the full length mirror on one side of the closet door and the hanging storage on the other side

Other Important Stuff 

  • Filtration bottle - while a Britta pitcher would be ideal, the space in your refrigerator is probably limited.  You can also take the bottle with you.
  • Fan - Cooling, air circulation and white noise when you're trying to sleep
  • Disinfecting wipes - I can't describe all the ways you might use these
  • Command hooks - you can't put nails in the walls.  Tomorrow I will show you a special hack for hanging posters.
  • First aid kit/common medicines/prescription list - the first time you get a cold you will be happy you have this.  You will need a Band-aid at some point and a complete list of your prescriptions (with dosages, pharmacy information and doctor) is important
Finally, when I was in school, there was no technology.  Today, there are so many gadgets and apps you can get to make your life at school easier, more organized and successful.  Keep your music online or in digital format.  Use your phone to watch TV or movies.  Use of technology is not only more efficient, but solves one of the biggest problems of dorm living - lack of space.  


Monday, August 10, 2015

More Dorm Organization Tips for College

Last year I found some great suggestions for ways to keep your dorm room space maximized.  Here are those tips again with a few extra added suggestions!

You're off to college with all your stuff!  Now where are you going to put it?  That is perhaps the most important question you will answer during the first week and it may define how well you coexist with the stranger with whom you will share a room for the next 9 months.  Here's a compilation of some of the best ones I have found.  Some even have a tutorial to show you how to make/do what you see in the picture.

1.  The key to dorm room (or small apartment bedroom) organization is maximizing space - storing as many things as possible in the smallest amount of space.  In a room with limited square footage, the key is using the vertical space.  Here is a great article from BuzzFeed that has some great ideas

2.  Bedside Solutions - Keep your reading materials, phone, remote and other things close without a bedside table.  The second caddy hangs between the mattress and base of bed.  You can make lots of those caddies to go around the bed for odd storage.

3. Keep your electronics charged without losing cords or small items.

4.  Keep your desk space clear.  Here's a clever way to move your desk supplies up on the wall by attaching small magnets to your desk items and putting them on a metal board.

5.  Over the door storage - the back of the closet door is prime real estate.  You can use the clear plastic bags or baskets that hang behind the door.  If you keep the storage high enough you will still have room for some hooks toward the bottom of the door for wet towels, etc.  Click on the first picture for more over the door storage ideas.


6.  Maximize the space under the bed.  The higher up the bed, the more space you will have under it for storage (or living).  Warning - be careful not to prop up a bed in an unsafe way!  Depending on how much space you can get under the bed, you can put things as big as your desk or as small as under the bed plastic storage bins.  Use a flat sheet to create a decorative "curtain" to hide stuff under a raised bed.

7.  Closet organization.  In addition to the over the door storage I already mentioned, you need to use hangers that maximize the vertical space.  Try a skirt hanger that can handle six items at once, or soda can tabs or chains to stagger multiple hangers.  Use a tie rack for camisoles or tension rods on the sides of the closet for shoes.

For many more links to dorm room organization, must-have items, decorating ideas and more, check out my College Organization board on Pinterest.

Strategic planning is best for the dorm room, but don't forget to involve your room mate in the process! Good luck at school.


Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Potty Training and Algebra

What, might you ask, does one have to do with the other?  Oh, I think, more than you know.  First, they both cause anxiety for kids and parents.  Another is that they involve practicing step-by-step operations.  Third, they both involve crap.

Let me say up front that I don't like algebra.  I didn't like it in the 8th grade when I was expected to teach it to myself.  I didn't like it much as a freshman with Mrs. Huber and I positively hated it in college.  So when my son struggled with 8th grade algebra, I called my husband the "Mathlete" and asked him to step in.  Funny thing for my husband - when you are good at something, it's not always easy to understand another person's inability to "get it."  I now have to relearn it myself.

Potty training this particular child was also difficult.  Why doesn't he get it??  We would go through each step from sensing he had to pee to washing his hands.  It was just too many steps and a lot of bad aim.

So after failing algebra, we knew we had to do something, because as everyone knows, all math classes build from algebra.  We signed Christian up for an online summer school and braced ourselves.  My first shock was to discover that his professor was Mr. Huber.  What?! That was the name of my freshman algebra teacher!  This was going to be scary.

Now into our third week, we are progressing.  Our biggest struggle is getting him to write out the steps to solve equations.  He is good at deciphering in his head, but with multiple computations in algebraic equations, it doesn't work.  He seems determined to do it his way, and I see that obstinate little boy who can't consistently make it to the bathroom.  At least then he didn't give me the backtalk with the stubbornness.  Tonight after our nightly lesson, I asked him why he had to be so stubborn about not doing it the "right way."  He responded that he was just like me.  Ouch.

Maybe that's why I never really "got" algebra.  Maybe this time will be different for me and him.  Hey, we always used to say he would not go to college in diapers and we were right about that.


Monday, May 25, 2015

Hey, My Etsy Store Is Back!

It's Spring (almost Summer) so that means my creativity came back.  I've also been very inspired by my friend's new baby, Mary Alice (heck, all things baby).  What's a girl to do? Make baby stuff to sell!

Pretty Pretty Cindy has some new stuff and I'm really excited.  I've been working on some really beautiful and functional burp cloths, gorgeous blankets and there's more to come.  I'm having such a good time, but now I need some CUSTOMERS!  Here's some of the new items you'll find right now at Pretty Pretty Cindy:

Here's some of those famous burp cloths (click on the picture or title for the Etsy listing):

Girl Pastel Daisy Block Crochet Afghan

There are more blankets and a few bibs too!  If you, or someone you know is having a baby, the things in my store make perfect gifts!  Soft, cuddly and pretty - that's the goal with every item.

I can't wait to make more stuff, so keep watching at Pretty Pretty Cindy