Thursday, May 30, 2013

Thursday: Best-Ever Sugar Cookies. Soft. Delicious. Perfect.

This is the cookie dough after being rolled out 8 times. Still so perfect!
I have been searching all of my baking life for a perfect sugar cookie recipe. Mine always end up too crispy or don't roll well, or the dough doesn't re-roll, or it's too sticky, or it doesn't rise the right amount, OR they make you throw it in the fridge for a few hours..... (The cookie dough always tastes perfect, though.) Luckily for me, I finally found a recipe for perfect sugar cookies. They roll easily- they bake beautifully- they are great for cutting out shapes- they are soft and just the right amount of chewy- plus, you can roll, cut, re-roll, then re-cut out cookies umpteen times without the dough ever getting a bad texture. Interested? You'd better be!

* 3/4 cup butter/margarine (works fine with either)
*8 oz cream cheese (softened)
*1/2 cup sour cream (can sub vanilla yogurt, too)
*3 cups sugar
*4 eggs
*1 Tb vanilla extract
*8 cups flour
*1 tsp baking soda
*1/2 tsp salt
*1 tsp baking powder

Step 1 
(pre-heat oven to 350)
Cookies ready to go!
Cream together the butter/margarine, cream cheese, sour cream and sugar until smooth.

Step 2
Add the eggs and vanilla and beat until combined.

Step 3
Using a wooden spoon, add the flour, baking soda, salt and baking powder. You may want to sift these all together before mixing- but if not, just make sure you combine them all thoroughly.

Step 4
Roll the dough out onto a floured surface with a lightly floured rolling pin to about 1/2 thickness.

Step 5
I'd say these are slightly too browned- pull
your cookies out a little before they get
this dark
Cut out your desired shapes and place on a greased cookie sheet and bake at 350 for 7-8 minutes or until the tops of the cookies are just barely, BARELY tinged with  a light brown.

Step 6
Enjoy the heck out of these cookies. They are so soft and delicious.

P.S.- this recipe kind of makes about a million cookies (6-8 dozen, depending on the size of your cookie cutters), so you might be interested in turning the dough into Perma-Fresh Cookies.

Mothering Joy
It may not be much, but when I've spent all morning playing with my kiddoes and then put them down for nap-time, I like to use my mini break to straighten up my home. I love being able to sit down in a clean room with two sweet, sleeping babies just feet away from me. It makes me feel accomplished in a way that is better even than the sense of accomplishment I have gotten in the workplace.


Thursday: Perma-Fresh Cookies!

I don't know about you, but while I like cookies just fine, I don't necessarily NEED 14 dozen cookies every time I feel like baking. Nor does my waistline! So, make your life easier and freeze them, then you can pull out just a few cookies and bake them fresh whenever you want! Added bonus? (kind of) You'll always have some cookie dough on hand if you ever get the craving. Need a good sugar cookie recipe? I've found a recipe for the Best Sugar Cookies EVER ... I'm willing to share it. ;)

 Mothering Joy
A few days ago, my husband had already left for work by the time my toddler woke up. She got up out of her room, walked to mine, said 'Hello?' and then climbed right into bed with me, put her cheek on my cheek and fell asleep with her arms around me for about a half hour. It was just about the sweetest thing I could wake up to. ESPECIALLY from my crazy rambunctious daughter who rarely holds still for any reason at all.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Wednesday: You Know You're from Utah if You Get This

If you are from Utah, you'll know exactly what I'm talking about- especially this year.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Monday: 5 Ways to be Happier as a Stay at Home Mom

Being able to stay home with your children is an incredible blessing. In the hectic world we live in, more than ever, it seems like every family needs a dual income to survive, so to be able to leave one potential earner at home while the other goes away to work is sometimes miraculous. And there are many good reasons to do it- I have at least five reasons for being a stay at home mom.


Let's be honest.

While every stay at home mom loves her children (I'm sure) and wants all good things for them and feels grateful for them and enjoys time off from work and, and, and..... well, it can be tough. Frustrating. Hard. And it can make you feel unappreciated, dumpy, and undervalued. While hard work in an office can result in promotions, raises, and other forms of appreciation, hard work as a stay at home mom will result in great things- but often not seen or appreciated for years.


While I acknowledge the blessing of staying home and the wonder that it is, here are a few tips to help you be happier as a stay at home mama.

Go on walk!
1. Go outside every day. I'm sure you've had those days when you go to bed at night and realize you never once turned the doorknob to go outside. Whatever your reason, whether it's a walk, to run to the post office,  to get an ice-cream from Mc Donald's, I do not care. Just make sure that you see daylight (or moonlight) once a day.

2. Get completely ready BEFORE your kids are up. Whatever stage of life your children are in, make sure that you are up, dressed, hair done, and make-up (if that's your thing!) finished by the time they are up running around. If you don't do it first thing in the morning, it will often not get done at all, or else haphazardly done throughout the day. You will feel worlds different if you can face each day knowing you look your best and it's like sending a signal to yourself at the beginning of the day: I AM worth spending some time on. It is a real challenge sometimes, but fully worth it.

3. Always pursue at LEAST one personal interest. You love your little ones and most of your day revolves around them: changing diapers, giving baths, cleaning your home, making meals, and other incredibly repetitive tasks. In the midst of all of this, find one thing for YOU that YOU enjoy. This is NOT a free pass to neglect your children and focus selfishly on yourself; rather, it is a way to find joy and accomplishments outside of your children so that you can always feel that you, as an individual, have worth. Options? Gardening. Reading. Running. Gourmet cooking. Blogging. Photographing. Swimming. Just pick something you love and budget some time at least  once a week for you to do something for you.

4. Get adequate rest.  I say adequate because I know that you will not get all the sleep you want until your kids are out of the home. (And maybe not even then) You'll certainly be up late working on projects that can't be done with your children running around and then up again in the morning before they get up- but find some kind of balance.

Have your husband work on that late-night project so you can sleep. Or find a time every day when you can get an hour nap. However you swing things, do not allow yourself to run off of too little sleep. If you do, you will lose your temper far too easily, which will cause you to say/do things with your children that you will regret. You are staying home with your children to give them the best upraising they can get. Make sure it IS the best by giving yourself rest so that you WILL be your best self.

Make him cookies!
5. Love your spouse/significant other. It is easy to become wrapped up in your children's wants and needs. Very easily- because they want and need so much! Do not, however, allow this to take away from your relationship with your significant other. If you do not show love and affection for this person who is an integral part in your life, regardless of how perfect of a mother you are, you will not be happy. So whatever may work well for you, make sure to show your love to your husband each day in a different way. Bake him cookies, kiss him when he comes home, or hold his hand when you watch TV together. It doesn't mater how you do it, just make sure that you get it done!

Do you have other tips for what has helped you find joy in the journey of being a stay at home mom? Share them below so we can all benefit!

New to mom-ing? Check out 5 Tips for First Time Moms.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Thursday: 4 Ingredient AMAZING Honey Mustard Chicken

I've never really cared for honey mustard anything. However, we recently had some relatives visit who left us a bottle of mustard, something I didn't think I would ever use for anything. It stared at me each time I opened the fridge, staying, "Use me! Don't throw me away! Don't be a waster~!" and so, eventually, I caved in and discovered this amazingly delicious (and, of course, easy) honey mustard chicken recipe.

My sauce...

*2 chicken breasts
*1/2 cup yellow mustard
*1/2 cup honey
*1/2 cup brown sugar

Step 1: Mix the mustard, honey, and brown sugar together until blended.

Step 2: Sear the chicken breasts on both sides in a frying pan set on medium-high.

About to go in the oven....
Step 3: Pour the honey mustard sauce over the chicken breasts, cover the frying pan with an oven-safe lid/aluminum foil and pop it into the over at 350 for 25-30 minutes or until thoroughly cooked. (Feel free to take your chicken breasts and put them into a baking dish if your frying pan isn't oven safe)

Step 4: ENJOY! I sered mine with plain white rice and it was amazing. Freakishly delicious.

Bonus: Use the honey mustard sauce as a salad dressing, too! (I made a salad the next day and used this- incredible. I can't believe I never enjoyed honey mustard before this!)

Mothering Joys
My little girl was crying in her crib, waiting for me to come pick her up. I knocked on her door before I entered and heard her little voice say, 'Hello?', though it sounds more like, 'Hewhoa?' I opened the door, and though she had tears in her eyes, her face instantly lit up and she started to bounce, with her arms reaching towards me, waiting for me to pick her up. There are few things better than a sweet child who wants nothing more than for you to hold them.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Tuesday: 10 Ways to Save on Your Electric Bill

I have recently moved from a small apartment where my utility bill was combined with my rent payment to a large home where my husband and I are fully responsible for every drop of water every degree on the thermostat. While our home isn't terribly expensive to live in, our utilities are almost a quarter of what we pay in rent. That said, it is well worth my while to do things to cut back on my electric bill. And if you, like me, are looking for ways to cut down on what you spend each month, try out a few of these VERY easy methods. (I'm not going to ask you replace all of your appliances or paint your roof white)

1. Re-chargeable Flashlights Buy a few hand-crank, battery-free flashlights. Place them in dark closets or pantries where you may seldom go but each time you go into them, you'll need light. Rather than turning on the light bulb, hang one of these flashlights by the light switch and use it for those few moments when you're in the closet. You only need to wind them a few times by hand and you'll not only not have to pay for electricity to turn on the light, but you'll never have to pay for batteries, either. Added bonus: In case of emergency, you are good to go!

2. Run Your Washer at Full Capacity Your washing machine and dryer are both huge suckers of electricity. Get the most use possible when running it and always run full loads. Half and small loads, while using less water, will often use the same amount of electricity to run them. Just wait until you have a full load.

3. Find Your Dryer's Exact Drying Timing Again, dryers take a LOT of electricity to run. Save money by finding out exactly how long it takes your dryer to dry a full load of laundry. Many times, your clothes will dry completely in 40 minutes, but since your dryer is set to 60, it will wastefully keep running an extra twenty minutes. To find your dryer's exact drying time, put a full load in the dryer and check it every 5 minutes. (annoying to do once, yes- but you only need do it once!) Figure that out and then set your dryer to the time/setting that will get your clothes dry without having to pay for the additional fluffing.

4. Install a Motion Detector Light in Kids Rooms/Playrooms You are responsible and turn off the lights when you leave the room. Children either cannot because they are small or will not because, well, they're kids! Put a motion detector light in the rooms your kids play in and soon after they leave the room, the light will turn off all by itself without you having to continually watch it. The lights themselves are quite affordable and you can switch it to manual and turn it off altogether when you put your kids to bed.

5. Unplug the Microwave Between Uses Unless you absolutely NEED the microwave clock, unplug your microwave as soon as you finish popping your popcorn. Leaving it plugged in sucks energy without giving you hardly anything in return.

6. Unplug Phone and Computer Chargers As soon as you finish charging your phone/tablet/computer, unplug your device and then unplug the charger itself. Just having it sit in the plug will cost you energy (and, in turn, dineros...)

7. Unplug TiVo/DirecTV at Night While it is inconvenient to turn off your TV recording device when not using it in the day (as TVs often are turned on and off dozens of times a day), at night, there is no need to keep them on. As soon as you go to bed, go ahead and turn off your DVR altogether and save a few bucks.

8. Do a Night-Time Sweep You may have kids. A husband. Or just be forgetful yourself... which means that almost every day, there will be a light left on somewhere. Before you go to bed (when you're turning off your DVR), check the hallways, closets, basement rooms, etc., and make sure that the lights are all out. Try this for a few days and you may be surprised how often a light (or lights) would have been left on all night if not for your vigilance!

9. Set Your Water Heater to 120 Degrees At 120 degrees, you get a double benefit. One, your water, while hot enough, is not so hot that you create a danger of having your children accidentally scald themselves when they turn on the water. Two, (of course!) you save on your energy bill! According to the EPA, you can lose anywhere from $400-$461 dollars a year by having a water heater set at 140 degrees or higher because of having to keep water at such a high temperature or by having to bring fresh water up to that high of a temperature. WOW!

10. Move Fridge Away from Microwave and Oven Your fridge works very, very hard to stay cold. Keep your fridge in an area away from your microwave and oven (which work very, very hard to heat things up) and it will take less energy to keep your fridge and freezer at their cold states.

Hardly a bonus- because it seems so common sense- but open your blinds and pull back the curtains! Let in as much natural light during the day as possible and you'll find that you need to use your light bulbs less.

Do YOU have any other (EASY) tips? Leave them as a comment for other readers to benefit from!

Mothering Joys
The other day, my newborn son of three weeks was crying and very upset. I was in the other room and as I came into the room where he was crying, I softly shushed him, saying, "Hey, sweetie, it's mama, don't worry, mama's here,". As soon as he heard my voice, he stopped crying. I couldn't believe that at such a young age the sound of my voice would soothe him before I could even pick him up. It made me feel like my little boy loved me already.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Monday: How Much is That Baby in the Window? Actual Prices for Labor and Delivery

I just finished making baby numero dos. Wonderful to have two children, but, as everyone who has had children can attest to, it is also wonderfully expensive. I tried to prepare financially for both births, but had a difficult time finding reliable information online- all I could really find was general, "Your labor and delivery could cost over $10,000,". 

Well, ok. 

But how much to the hospital? 
How much to the doctor? 
How much for my epidural? 
How much will insurance REALLY pay? 

Needless to say, this information didn't do much to help me out. So, to give other new moms-to-be a leg up, I rounded up specific information for two live deliveries in the year 2013. You'll find the exact costs for each part of delivery, the insurance adjustments, and how much insurance paid. Hopefully it will help you to plan out your labor and delivery costs more accurately.

Stacy's Labor and Delivery 2013 
Insurance Plan: $250 deductible*, 90/10** after deductible is met.

Pre-insurance Price
Insurance Adjustment***
Amount Paid by Insurance
Final Cost
Obstetrician Fee
506.86 (this was the first bill and so the deductible of $250 was included in this)
Pediatrician (baby is looked at after delivery)
Mom Hospital Stay (mother left 24 hours after delivery)
Anesthesiology Bill (epidural)
Baby Hospital Stay (24 hours)
Final Out-of-Pocket Price

Brenda's Labor and Delivery 2013 
Insurance Plan: $2500 deductible*, 80/20** after deductible is met.

Pre-insurance Price
Insurance Adjustment***
Amount Paid by Insurance
Final Cost
Obstetrician Fee
Pediatrician (baby is looked at after delivery)
Mom Hospital Stay (mother left 24 hours after delivery)
2446.56 (most of $2500 deductible met in this)
Anesthesiology Bill (epidural)
Baby Hospital Stay (24 hours)
Final Out-of-Pocket Price

Just as an FYI if you need it 
*Deductible: Most insurance plans have what they call a deductible. This is a flat amount of money that the insurance company requires you to pay BEFORE they will pay for any services other than routine well child checks and the like. If you have a surgery that cost $249 and a $250 deductible, you would pay the full amount. If you had a surgery that cost $300 and had a $250 deducible, you would pay the $250 deductible, plus a percentage of the remaining $50 dollars.

**90/10 or 80/20 or 70/30: The most common insurance breakdowns. Most insurance companies will, after your deductible is met, pay a percentage of all remaining covered costs. For 90/10, for example, it means they will pay 90% of the costs of services AFTER the deductible is met.

***When you go to hospitals/doctors, you general try to stay 'in network'. If you go to someone 'in network', it means that your insurance company may have some kind of deal with them, aka "I'll let you be a doctor in my network and you'll get lots of patients from me. In return, I expect special discounts." These special discounts are called insurance adjustments and basically you get a discount off the full price just because you have insurance.