Sunday, July 27, 2014

Slow Cooker Chicken Sweet Potato Tacos (say it with me now... Mmm, Mmm, Mmm!)

I'm not kidding... my kids chant Mmm, Mmm, Mmm! when they find out we're having chicken sweet potato tacos for dinner.  Or lunch.  Or breakfast...  

For this recipe you will need a slow cooker and people.  And some other ingredients.  But the most important thing is the people because you need someone other than yourself to eat these amazing tacos and then love you for making them.

I thought I made up this recipe all on my own.  I mean, I did because one day I had the idea to just throw some sweet potatoes and beans into our regular chicken taco thing...  I thought I was a slow cooker taco genius!  But it turns out there are lots of people out there eating chicken sweet potato tacos.  If "my" recipe is similar to yours, it is coincidental, and isn't it awesome that we discovered the same delicious thing independently of each other in our various parts of the world?!?!

Anyway, here it is...


2 large chicken breasts
2 large sweet potatoes, peeled and diced
1 can diced tomatoes (I use the "no salt added" variety)
1 can Rotel (diced tomatoes with chilies)
2 packets taco seasoning (I use Ortega 40% less sodium.  I also know there are several recipes for making your own.)
1 can black beans, drained and rinsed

Put all ingredients except the beans into a slow cooker on High for 3-4 hours.  Check to see if chicken is cooked.  Once it's cooked, shred the chicken breasts, stir all ingredients well, and continue cooking for another 1 hour or so.  Add black beans, turn slow cooker to Warm until ready to serve.  

Serve in taco shells or flour tortillas.  Add taco "fixins" - cheese, lettuce, cilantro, sour cream, guacamole, salsa...)

Makes approximately 16 servings a 1/2 cup each. 

Eating with diabetes??  Here's your carb info: Each 1/2 cup has 13 carbohydrates.  Served on an 8 inch flour tortilla (25 grams of carbs) a chicken sweet potato taco would be 38 carbohydrates.  (As always, it's safest to do your own carbohydrate calculations, but this should give you a good idea.)    

Enjoy.  (I'm sure you will!)  

p.s.  let me know if you make 'em and love 'em :)

Friday, July 25, 2014

Organizing My Yarn Stash

I organized my yarn stash this past week.  James helped.

Organizing your yarn stash is sort of like going yarn shopping, but better (!) because you find all this yarn that you really love and realize, "it's already mine!"   

I'm not a serious crocheter ("serious" meaning "I shop at real yarn stores.")  If you know a little about "good" yarn, you probably know that to acquire a sizable stash of "good" yarn you must work seven full time jobs.  With overtime.  

I am content to shop at ("serious" knitters and crocheters, please skip this part...) JoAnn's.  Well, I'm at least resigned to shopping there.  I mean, could you really be content with this...

if you could afford this...

But until a mysterious long lost great, great aunt leaves me her fortune (or her vintage yarn stash), I will have to make do with JoAnn's.  In JoAnn's defense, I've gotten some lovely yarn there, and have made some very lovely things with that  yarn.  And they take unlimited coupons.  I repeat, unlimited coupons.  So thanks to JoAnn's, numerous coupons, and my severely disproportionate creative ambition vs. time to actually create, I've managed to build myself a nice little yarn stash.   I've seen some pretty mammoth size yarn stashes, and thanks to photos of aforementioned towering stashes on Pinterest, I have gratefully put my own mini-stash in perspective.

My yarn stash is organized in a very efficient, very non-classy way.  I've used two sets of Sterilite plastic drawers (not classy, but still a huge improvement over the cardboard boxes and crumpled old shopping bags I had previously been using)  One set of drawers is just unimpressive acrylic yarns in varying weights.  The other, which I show you here, has my cotton, cotton blends, and wool blends, as well as my patterns and supplies.  I used fancy paper and scotch tape to label the drawers.  

While sorting through my stash, I realized it might be helpful to also label various yarns with the projects I had intended them for.   Smart, right?   I thought so.  

The top drawer holds my binder of patterns and ideas, hooks, and other various supplies (scissors, stitch markers, needles, etc...).  

On top of the drawers I'm keeping a few of my favorite baskets (read more about how much I love them  here.  Oh, and they're from JoAnn's!).  They're for storing (and transporting around the house) my current small projects/works in progress.  

There are still bits and pieces of my creative self scattered around the house.  It will take me a while to get it all under control, but at least the yarn has a place and it's not on the floor :)

Do you have a yarn stash that you love?  Every crafter knows there is no such thing as too much yarn, so there's no need to fret over that.  But if you're wondering how you measure up to other yarn lovers, you can take this quiz from

Let me know how you fair!  (I scored an 11)

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

One of My Favorite Books is Being Made Into a Movie (and Why I Don't Go to the Movies)

I read the book Unbroken (Laura Hillenbrand) about two years ago.  It is an astounding story.  It was exceptionally written.  It easily earned a spot on my top five non-fiction favorite list.  Unbroken is the phenomenal and disturbing true story of Louis Zamperini - delinquent Italian youth, Olympic runner, Second World War air force bombardier.  The book recounts one unbelievable turn of events after another, covering the time he spent drifting on the Pacific ocean in a life raft after his plane was shot down and then his rescue... by the Japanese, and then consequently, the time he spent as a Japanese prisoner of war.  It is hard to read.  But it is worth it. Because it is truly triumphant.

And they're making it into a movie.  From the trailer, it looks like they have done a fine job...


And I'm actually considering going to see it when it comes out in December.  Except...

I don' t go to the movies.  I just don't.  It hardly has anything to do with the fact that I have five unruly children that I'm hesitant to spring on an unsuspecting babysitter.  

(We interrupt this regularly scheduled broadcast to announce that just a few weeks ago, I got up the nerve to ask a high school student from our parish Vacation Bible School if she'd be interested in babysitting.  I was so nervous, I felt like I was asking someone on a first date to the eighth grade dance...  Anyway, she said yes!  Not only did she say yes, but she said she loves my kids, would love to babysit, and in fact is taking a child care refresher course this summer and is being re-certified in child CPR.   I've never taken a child care class or kept my CPR credentials up to date.......   So she's in!)

Back to my movie theater dilemma.  It's not because we can't land a babysitter or because I can't bear to have my precious angels out of my sight.  That's not it at all.  

Here are the reasons why I don't got to the movie theater and opt for DVD's at home:

1. Headaches.  The last movie I saw in the theater was King Kong.  Lame is the only word I can find for it, though I'm sure there are much more severe adjectives that will come to mind after I publish this.  Not only was it a bad movie, it was a LOUD movie and I got one of the worst headaches of my life watching that thing.  Movie headaches are wretched, but I'd almost be able to overlook it if they movie had been amazing - had been worth getting a headache for.  But no.  King Kong was not that kind of movie.  After that debacle, I vowed to never go to the movies again.

2. Volume Control.  (See above.)  I want to be able to turn the volume down on 30 minute car chases and turn it up when folks are quietly plotting their next heist or whispering sweet nothings to their lover.  At the theater, you are a prisoner of ear-drum destroying Dolby Digital Surround Sound.  

3. Bathroom breaks.  I want to be able to go to the bathroom when I want to go to the bathroom.  And I don't want to miss any of the movie while in the bathroom.  And I want to feel comfortable (and clean) sitting on the toilet in the bathroom and have a rug under my feet and not have to use foul-smelling public rest-room soap.  (Have you ever felt, as I have, that you're actually dirtier after washing your hands in a public restroom??)  

4. Snack breaks.  I want to eat reasonably priced snacks whenever I want to without missing any of the movie.  I want to be able to "pause" a movie and refill my drink six or seven times (and then go the bathroom six or seven times as the size of my drink warrants...)

5. Subtitles.  I never used subtitles until I met my husband.  He's not hard of hearing, but he does like to catch all the dialogue of a movie.  I used to despise the subtitles, but now I'm a fan.  Now I know what people are muttering in the background, and I even know when "Ominous Music" is playing.  The screen tells me.

6. Crochet.  It's too dark in a theater to work on crochet projects, and they generally frown on your wearing miners head gear in there so you can read your pattern.  At home, I can have all the yarn and hooks I want lying all over the living room floor and couch (as Russ reminds me daily...)  And if I miss a critical part of the movie because I was counting stitches, I can "rewind" or loudly ask Russ what I missed without disturbing the people in front of us (or behind us, or to the side of us).

7.  Romance.  If I'm not crocheting, I like to snuggle up next to Russ while watching a movie.  (For this purpose, we had the hard plastic arm rests removed from the middle of our couch.)

8.  Commentary.  You can't be a vocal critic in a theater...


9.  Expense.  We go out occasionally and spend money on a date night.  I like when we spend 30 dollars on Indian food (and date night conversation).  Once in a while, I may consent to spending a dollar on a Red Box movie.    

10.  Because homebodies *heart* home.  And we don't need an excuse to not go out.  We just need you to know, we love to stay home :)  

So, do you enjoy going to the movies?  What was the last great movie you saw?  And... do you think you'll be going to see Unbroken?  (read it first if you haven't!!)  

Monday, July 21, 2014

Embrace the Ordinary (Vol. 1)

I couldn't resist this new link-up from Gina at Someday (Hopefully) They'll be Saints! Embracing the Ordinary???  That's me, baby!

Today, the ordinary moment I loved was the kids slurping on homemade popsicles.  For my kids, having popsicles on a hot and sticky day IS what it means to enjoy summer.  They delight in popsicles like I delight in creamy iced coffee - so simple, yet so appreciated.  I hope I always remember and appreciate what a joy it is to have children who only need popsicles to make a summer's day a perfect summer's day.  

*   *   *   *   *   *
"...there is something holy, something divine hidden in the most ordinary situations, and it is up to each one of you to discover it."  St. Josemaria Escriva, Passionately Loving the World

Easy Handmade Teething Toys (a tutorial)

EDIT: There is some debate over the safety of using mineral oil on wooden toys for children.  You can read about the concern  here.  Pharmaceutical-grade mineral oil is generally accepted as an inexpensive and safe method for sealing wood.  If you are interested in sealing wooden toys with an alternative, here's a list of alternatives to consider.   Thanks to Ann-Marie for asking about the oil :)  Happy crafting!

It's no secret that I love making things for my kiddos.  A lot of what I make for them is meant to be lovely to look at as well as useful.  And if it's a simple project, all the better!  That's what these teething toys are - cute, useful (just ask my little guy who's working on two front teeth!) and simple.  This was another one of those projects that I completed with materials I had on hand.  I don't know why I had wooden beads and rings, I just did.  Let's say my craft room is "well stocked" and leave it at that ;)

Honestly, these teething toys are so simple, they hardly need a tutorial.  Even if you have very basic sewing skills, you can probably look at the pictures and figure them out.  But if you want a little more guidance for crafting these toys it's my pleasure to assist you!  

In addition to a sewing machine and basic notions, for the Beaded Teething Toy you will need:

3 1/2" x 20" strip of fabric (pre-washed and dried)
scotch tape 
3 natural wood beads (1"  diameter)
mineral oil (to seal the wood)
toy stuffing (I used poly-fil I had on hand)

Sorry for the yellowish photography... I don't know what happened. 
 1. Use a soft towel to rub a dab of mineral oil into the wooden beads.  Allow to dry.

2. Fold the strip of fabric in half lengthwise right sides together, and press.

3. Leaving a 1/2" seam, sew down the long side of the fabric, turning at the bottom and closing up one end of the strip.  (You now have a tube with one open end and one closed end.)

4. Turn the tube right side out.

5. Tie a knot at the bottom (the closed end)

6. At the open end, cut as shown.  Wind a 2 to 3 inch piece of tape around the tip to create a "needle" to thread through the beads.

7. Thread the first bead.

8. It's time to add a bit of stuffing.  If you can add it with the tape still on, that's great, but if not, then cut off the taped portion.  You will still have enough fabric to complete the teether.

8. Use a pencil eraser or other tool to push the stuffing down to the bead and create a puff.  (I think I used about a golf ball size amount of stuffing.

9. Repeat steps 6 - 8.  Add the final bead.  Tie a knot directly above the bead.  

10.  Cut off excess fabric, leaving about 1 1/2 inches.  Fold in the ends, press, and sew shut. 


On to the next one.  (see how easy this is!)

For the Wood and Terry Cloth Teething Toy you will need:

4" x 18 " strips of desired fabric, lightweight fusible interfacing, and terry cloth (I used an old bath towel.  It was old and un-needed, but it was thick and in good condition)
unfinished wooden ring (3 inch diameter) 
mineral oil
paper to create a simple pattern 

1. Use a soft cloth to rub a dab of mineral oil into the wooden ring.  Allow to dry.

2. Create a simple pattern on patter.  Should be about 15 inches long.  Make the 5 inches in the center narrower than the ends, about 2 inches wide.  I made two patterns, one with rounded ends, and one with squared ends. (both are pictured in this tutorial) I preferred the squared-off ends, but it's a matter of taste.  Experiment!  Cut out your paper patter.

rounded ends

squared ends
3. Iron fusible interfacing to the back of your fabric.

4. Using a pen or marker, trace the pattern onto the interfacing.  As you can see, neatness and accuracy are not important :)  It's just for a baby to chew on after all!  

5. Put the terry cloth and fabric right sides together.  Pin inside the drawn pattern line.  

6.  Sew along the pattern line leaving a three inch opening for turning.  

7. Cut the fabric and terry cloth a 1/2 inch out from the line you sewed, leaving more  like 3/4 inch at the opening.

8. Turn right side out and press.  Fold the opening in and press to match the shape of the "bunny ears."  Pin the opening closed.

9. Top stitch around the entire piece.  Be sure to sew the opening shut.

10. Place on top of the wooden ring like this:

11. Feed one "ear" in like this:

Do the same with the other side.  Pull and tug and pull until it looks the way you want it or like this in the front:

and this in the back:

You're done!  One of the nice things about this teether is that the fabric stays pretty well in place until it gets yucky and worn, and then you can take it off and toss it in the wash :)  Why, you could even make two of the fabric/terry cloth pieces to have a spare while one is in the wash!  Convenience and variety!  

Wouldn't these be a lovely addition to a baby shower gift?  My little James likes sinking his gums into these goodies, and I think your special little ones will too!  

If you try your hand at one or both (!) of these simple teethers I'd love to hear about it!  If you have any questions, please head to the com box!  I'll get back to you.

And as always, if you Pin it or blog about it, please link back to here!  Thanks!

Sunday, July 20, 2014

How Kendra Changed My Life (and Answer Me This)

Once in a very great while, someone touches
 your life in a deeply profound and unique way 
and you know that things will never be the same again.  
When it happens, the effect is immediate and intense, 
yet its impact is felt ad infinitum - like ripples in a pond - 
throughout your life for many years to come.  

This has happened to me.  The someone was Kendra.  My life has been drastically changed by her recommendation of the Tangle Teezer Original Professional Salon Elite Detangling Hair Brush (how's that for an over-the-top product name...)  My four-year-old Ruth, full of dramatic flare even when she's not having her hair brushed, has been contacted by Hollywood casting agencies for the part of the Keening Irish Woman once they heard tell of the spectacle she's capable of at hair-brushing time.  Weeping, wailing, screaming, howling, violent thrashing, are words that only begin to scratch the surface of what it is to witness Ruth having her hair brushed.  She doesn't even have that many tangles.  She's not even my curly girl.  She just has what I have termed DTSS - Diva Tender Scalp Syndrome - intensified by a tendency to hyperventilate at the mention of the word hairbrush.

Could an expensive plastic hairbrush really change all this??  I am always skeptical of things that promise to take the pain and suffering out of activities that by their very nature imply pain and suffering, such as chin-ups and brushing Ruth's hair.  I approached this hairbrush with my typical wariness, but Kendra's endorsement was too much to ignore.  I bought the brush.  

Oh. my. goodness.  Please consider the transformation that hair-brushing time has undergone as a result of this hairbrush...

Ruth before the Tangle Teezer Original Professional Salon Elite Detangling Hair Brush:

The Scream, Edvard Munch

Ruth after the Tangle Teezer Original Professional Salon Elite Detangling Hair Brush:

Girl Styling Her Hair, Pierre-Auguste Renoir
Or Ruth on a really good day after the Tangle Teezer Original Professional Salon Elite Detangling Hair Brush:

image from

Without subjecting you to a full account of how horrible it used to be, allow me to at least say, it was horrible.  Now, Ruthie is practically begging me to brush her hair.  Well, no... not really.  But she's no longer sending the neighbors running in terror with her blood-curdling screams when I mention that "it's time."  Brushing her hair is actually a pleasure now.  (And it works on Clare-of-the-Curly-Hair too.)  Thank you, Kendra.  Thank you.  

And to wrap things up...

When she's not recommending life-changing hair care products, Kendra is asking questions.  This week she wants to know:

1. What’s something you've won and how did you win it?
I don't usually win things - neither because I have mad skills and deserve it, nor out of sheer luck.  I'm just not the winning type.  I dug deep to find one thing that I won... a high school history award...  not too big a deal, though it's nice to know that at one time I was appreciated for my brains.  My intelligence is somewhat lost on my children...

 2. Do you save old greeting cards and letters, or throw them all away? Why?
I don't.  I throw almost all papers away.  Birthday cards, Christmas cards, Congrats on your new baby cards - in the garbage.  Our home is already fairly cluttered with useful things, there is hardly a good place for sentimental things.  I will long remember how much our new babies, etc... were loved without needing to re-read the store-bought greeting cards. Special love notes from my husband and handmade cards from my children (like the one illustrating my "big stumik" when I went to the hospital to have James) I do save.  But for the most part, I'm kind of heartless when it comes to getting rid of cards and letters.  It's not personal, it's what needs to be done.

3. When you’re at home, do you wear shoes, socks, slippers, or go barefoot?
I don't particularly care for bare feet.  I usually wear socks.  And since I live in a part of the country where the average temperature from November to April this past year was 29.7 degrees  it's not unusual to see me wear slippers in winter.  It's my hope that I'll be wearing some cozy handmade crochet slippers by next winter, but I haven't started on that yet.  

4. Who’s the most famous person you have ever met? 
Because my mother worked for a classical music radio station when I was growing up, we often got backstage time at great concerts and events.  In the world of classical music and public radio, I have met cellist Yo-Yo Ma, violinists Midori and Joshua Bell, and entertainer Garrison Keillor.  When I was in high school, my Girl Scout troop took a trip to New York City and we saw David Hasselhoff at a pay phone (remember those??)  

One of the down sides of being non-sentimental is that I couldn't find any of the photographic evidence to support these famous encounters.  They existed at one time, but I may have thrown them out thinking, "the memory is enough..."  

5. What has been your best work of art?
I'm always doing artsy things, but nothing ever too spectacular.  Can't think of the "best" right now.  I guess (like Kendra) my kids... and even then, I can't take full credit ;)

6.  What’s your strongest sense?
Smell.  Hands down.  I have very strong scent-related memories and I can smell faint wiffs of things that no-one else notices.  I also like some weird smells that most other people don't care for... like skunks, damp basements, and musty attics.  I don't know where I get that, but it's just one of those things. 

So now you know :)

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Defending Crochet (to Myself and to the Masses)

When I start to chat a little too much about crochet I get embarrassed.  And start apologizing to people. 

No more.

I don't want to lower my eyes and shuffle my feet anymore about this handicraft that I love so much.  I am prepared to defend crocheting to the masses, and to myself, if necessary.

I love to crochet.  I'm not even that advanced in the craft, I just love it.  I love yarn and new patterns and old patterns and learning new stitches and experimenting with different hooks and working on seventeen projects at once with little indication that any of them will be finished in a reasonable amount of time.   

But I'm also a little embarrassed.  

Isn't it super cool when you ask someone about their hobbies and they have answers like rock-climbing, or triathlon-ing, or skeet shooting, or excavating for Ming dynasty pottery at little-known Chinese archaeological dig sties?  When I tell people that I like to crochet the conversation falls a little flat.  And honestly, I think it's because crochet is typically associated with doilies and Little Old Ladies.  It's no wonder I feel like a Florida retiree every time I start to talk about hooks and yarn and the new pattern I'm trying out.  

There actually is a whole "movement" out there that is trying to legitimize crocheting as a hip and trendy craft.  Just look it up on Pinterest.  Type in "Not Your Grandma's Crochet" and see what you get.  There are a lot of crocheters out there trying to distance themselves from the Little Old Ladies.   But I ask you this: What's so wrong with Grandma's Crochet??  Nothing.  If there were no grandmothers crocheting, how would anyone else learn the craft??  

And even more importantly, all these people that are dumping on grandmother-type crocheters, are they going to stop crocheting when they themselves have their first grandchild lest they fall into that disdainful category of "grandmothers who crochet???" Something's got to give - procreating or crocheting - if you don't want to have to eat your words on that "not your grandma's crochet" business. I actually have a grandmother who crochets, and she even happens to be retired in Florida. She makes some awesome stuff and I would be lucky to accomplish what she has with hook and yarn by the time I'm retired (but I can pretty safely say I will never live in Florida.  I have one word for you: humidity.)  

a blanket from my grandmother to Ruth when she turned 3!
Handicrafts passed down from generation to generation are something to be cherished, not something to be ashamed of.  I'm proud that it was my mom who taught me to crochet my first chain when I was in middle school... even if the kids and counselors at summer camp thought I was kind of a dork when I brought it to the park.  (See what I mean??  I've been fighting the stigma for a long time!) 

Another reason I've allowed myself to be ashamed of crocheting is knitting.  To me, kitting was the highest of the needle arts and crocheting was the ugly stepsister.  Crocheting was for people that couldn't handle knitting.  You like yarn but can't figure out how to wield two needles??  Crocheting is your consolation prize.  You wish you fit in with the cool crowd, but really you're just an impostor - a crocheter - you might as well be a wallflower at the Knitters Ball.

If any of these thoughts resonate with you,  I understand.  I used to feel that way too.  I've slowly been able to leave those misconceptions about  crocheting behind.  If you're longing to start crocheting out in the open, out from under the shadows of knitters, spend a few minutes over at Obey Crochet blog.  Stephanie's clever artwork will cure you of all your disillusionment :)  

from Stephanie at

from Stephanie at

also from :)
And also...

Enough.  It is completely unjustified to be embarrassed of crocheting.  It's cool to crochet.  If you can crochet, you have a skill that will serve and delight you for years to come (just ask the Little Old Ladies.)  It can provide you with useful and beautiful items for your self, for your home, and for gift-giving.  

Doilies and toaster cozies might be ok for some, but I love when I can create something that looks nice and serves a purpose - mittens (of course!), hats, blankets, toys, baskets.   I will crochet on with pride.  Just reign (er, I mean rein) me in when I start hooking up stuff like this...

Not even a runway model could save this train wreck...
Then, it's time to step away from the crochet.  
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