My Happy Crazy Life

Breakfast Basics

The old saying “Breakfast is the most important meal of the day” is true. Research supports the idea that breakfast is the one meal children (and adults) should’t go without. A nutritious breakfast can provide children with about one-fourth of their daily nutrition needs. Children who don’t eat breakfast may not meet their daily protein and calcium requirements.

In addition to providing the necessary nutrients for children to grow and have energy for the day, a good breakfast boosts “brain power.” Studies show that children who eat a healthy breakfast concentrate better, are more creative, and get along better with their peers.

One of my child care kiddos’ favorite breakfasts is Peanut Butter Roll-Ups: Simply spread a whole wheat tortilla with peanut butter, sprinkle with a little cinnamon, then roll and cut into 1″ pieces. Sometimes I slice banana or strawberries over the peanut butter before rolling them up.

Another favorite is Apple Bread Pudding, which just as quick and easy to make as it is delicious.

If your child isn’t fond of traditional breakfast foods, consider expanding your idea of what “breakfast food” is. Pizza, peanut butter sandwiches, and other favorite foods can be part of a nutritious – if untraditional – breakfast.

One of my favorite untraditional breakfasts is leftover grilled hamburgers with pepper jack cheese, while Peanut will chow down cheese pizza at breakfast, or any other time of the day.

Breakfast Basics - Pizza

What’s your favorite breakfast?

Amy Sue

Sickness Survival Kit

One of the things I love most about Facebook is the great ideas I get there. I love Pinterest for the same reason, but this idea came from a Facebook friend.

A family child care provider friend posted a photo of the “Sickness Season Survival Kits” she’d made for her families. She did a Doc McStuffins theme and filled paper bags with hand sanitizer wipes, antibacterial hand sanitizer, hand soap, kleenex, a book, antioxidant-rich raisins, and cookies.

It was such a great idea I decided to make some for my families too – with my own spin on it, of course. I was able to find all of the items in Target or the Dollar Tree, so the Kits weren’t too expensive.

Sickness Survival KitMy Sickness Survival Kit included:

  • An Olivia book
  • Campbell’s Chicken Noodle Soup
  • A small pack of tissues
  • “Cuties” – aka tangerines
  • Dial natural soap instead of antibacterial soap/hand wash
  • Antibacterial wipes

I’m generally not a fan of antibacterial anything, but I do like the wipes when there’s sickness sweeping through. I’d have preferred natural wipes, but those didn’t come in travel packs.


Other possible items that were on my list but weren’t included because I either couldn’t find them at all or couldn’t find them at the right price are:

  • Natural spray disinfectant
  • Lip balm
  • Liquid soap
  • Hand lotion
  • Vitamin C gummies
  • Small Vicks Vapor Rub tins
  • Boo Boo Bunny or similar “lovie”
  • Cute ice pack


Now that I’ve got a bunch of ideas for next year I can watch the sales and stock up ahead of time!

What would you include in a Sickness Survival Kit?

Amy Sue

Apple Habanero Margarita by Rick Bayless

Rick Bayless Apple Habanero MargaritaCollege Boy and Irish Girl are great at thinking of creative birthday presents that the recipient will really love, and this year they hit it out of the ballpark with Teacher’s birthday present.


Rick Bayless Apple Habanero Margarita - Birthday GiftAt first we were a little puzzled when Teacher reached into the bag and pulled out a bottle of apple brandy – we love a good tequila but aren’t really into brandy.

We were even more puzzled by the container of something that looked like applesauce, and when Teacher pulled out half a dozen habanero peppers I was really confused – and a little worried. I love Mexican food with a fair amount of heat but habaneros are usually beyond my tolerance unless used very sparingly. Six habaneros is NOT “sparingly”!

College Boy, that’s got to be one of the weirdest presents ever…

College Boy watched us with a huge grin on his face, then finally took pity and explained “It’s the basics for Rick Bayless’s Apple Habanero Margaritas.” Irish Girl found the recipe online and College Boy made up the apple habanero puree for us so all we had to do was add tequila; a staple in our house.

Ohhhhh, I get it now! Guess who’s having Apple Habanero Margaritas for supper tonight? Happy dance!


Apple Habanero Margarita by Rick Bayless

Rick Bayless posted the recipe online, but it’s also in his Frontera Margaritas, Guacamoles and Snacks cookbook. If you’re as big a fan of Margaritas and guacamole as Teacher and I are, you’ll want to buy this book! There’s no affiliate link and I don’t get any benefits from recommending it; I just think it’s a great cookbook that every Margarita and guacamole lover should own!

I was still working on Grandma’s Great Apple Dessert so when Teacher started putting together the Margaritas I handed Z-Man my iPhone with the instructions “Take pictures of Dad making the Margaritas, especially anything that looks interesting.”

It’ll be interesting to see what I end up with…


Apple Habanero Margarita by Rick Bayless – in Pictures

Rick Bayless Apple Habanero Margarita - IngredientsFor Rick Bayless’s Apple Habanero Margaritas you’ll need a nice reposado tequila, apple brandy, apples and habaneros, fresh lime juice, and ice. You’ll also need fresh ground black pepper, cinnamon, and kosher salt for Peppery Cinnamon Salt to rim the glasses.

Apple Habanero Puree

College Boy made the apple-habanero puree for us, but here’s how to make your own:
Peel, core and quarter 2-3 large tart apples – enough to make 3 1/2 cups of quarters. Toss with about 1/4 cup sugar and spread on a baking sheet with sides.

Halve the habanero – gloves are a good idea because you do NOT want to get habanero oil in your eyes. or other sensitive body parts. i.e. Be careful in the bathroom after working with hot peppers! Remove the seeds and membrane for less heat, or leave them in for more of a kick. Add 1/2 of the habanero to the baking sheet.

Roast 20 minutes at 400° then flip the apples and roast another 20 minutes, or until lightly brown and soft.

Puree the apples with 1/4 cup light agave or syrup and 1/2 cup water until completely smooth. Chop the roasted habanero into 4 pieces. add 1 piece to the apple puree and process. Add more habanero until the puree has the desired amount of heat. Cover and refrigerate up to 5 days. We froze the leftover puree College Boy made; it worked very well

A Pitcher of Apple Habanero Margaritas for a Party

The cookbook gives directions for a single drink or a “Pitcher Recipe for a Party,” and since Margaritas are always a party we never bother with the single recipe. You can halve the ingredients for half a pitcher, or look up Rick’s recipe for a single drink.


Rick Bayless Apple Habanero Margarita - Lime JuiceSqueeze limes to make 1/4 cup lime juice.

Add 1 1/2 cups 100% blue agave reposado tequila and 1/2 cup apple brandy.


Rick Bayless Apple Habanero Margarita - No More TequilaBut why is all the rum tequila gone?


Rick Bayless Apple Habanero Margarita - Add Apple PureeMix in 1 1/2 cups of the apple-habanero puree. Z-Man did something to make the photos look weird; luckily he realized it before taking too many photos.


Rick Bayless Apple Habanero Margarita - Ready to PourIt ends up looking like a watered-down applesauce.


Rick Bayless Apple Habanero Margarita - Rim the GlassesTo make the Peppery Cinnamon Salt combine 3 parts Kosher salt with 2 parts cinnamon and 1 part freshly ground black pepper. I used 3/8 tsp salt, 2/8 tsp aka 1/4 cinnamon and 1/8 tsp pepper.

Spread the Peppery Cinnamon Salt on a small plate. Rub the rim of your glass with a lime wedge I use the previously juiced halves and press the glass upside-down in the salt to crust the rim.


Rick Bayless Apple Habanero Margarita - DeliciousFill a cocktail shaker half full with ice, then add the margarita mixture and shake 15 seconds or so. If you don’t have a cocktail shaker, a large sports bottle works well but the tequila aroma may linger, so be sure not to send it to soccer with one of your kids. Lesson learned the hard way!

Strain into the prepared glasses, and enjoy!

Are you brave enough to try an Apple Habanero Margarita?

Amy Sue

Teaching Children to Care

Teaching Children to Care - A Hugs WSpend any amount of time on Facebook and you’re likely to come across someone complaining about kids who want more and more but give less and less. And it’s not limited to kids; many adults grow with a case of the “gimmies” – always looking to get something for nothing, while not appreciating what they already have or empathizing with others who have less.

Raising your child’s social awareness and nurturing a caring spirit is one of the most helpful things parents can do to promote a sense of caring in the family and the community. And when people care for others they learn to truly value themselves too.

Teaching Children to Care - G Comforts LMost young children demonstrate a willingness to share and comfort others. Even toddlers show an ability to empathize; when they notice a friend is unhappy they bring that friend’s “lovey” to her, pat her head or back, or even give her a hug. What prompts this kind of caring, and how can you promote it in your own children?

It’s not hard, but it does develop slowly over time. Young children are egocentric so it may take years of practice before they start to show empathy on a consistent basis. Remember to encourage and applaud all efforts by your little one; after all, adults aren’t empathetic all of the time either.

Teaching Children to Care - L Helps BThe best way to help your child to develop a sense of empathy and caring is for him to see you caring for others. Many parents routinely help others but their children aren’t aware of these caring actions. Don’t be afraid to let you child know how you care for others and why it’s important to you. Include your child so he can experience how good it feels to help others. Have him help you make and deliver a meal for a neighborhood family, or pick up some groceries for a friend. If you volunteer as a coach, classroom parent, scout leader, etc, explain to your child what volunteering means and why you choose to give up your time to volunteer.

Teaching Children to Care - Z Helps BThe holidays are great opportunities to focus on helping others rather than getting things for ourselves. Many organizations have a “Giving Tree,” offer to “Adopt a Family,” or sponsor coat and food drives to help the less fortunate in their community. Invite your child to choose a few toys or items of clothing she no longer loves to donate for a child who may not have as many toys or clothes. Let your child bag up the items and go with you to drop them off at your chosen charity.

Modeling caring and empathy for your child, discussing social issues, and involving your children in caring for others are the best ways to make a lasting impression that will follow them into adulthood.

One of our family’s favorite ways to show caring for our neighbors is by “Ghosting” neighbors in October. Although the kids are understandably excited about receiving mystery treats, they’re even more excited about putting together Ghosting treat for a couple of our neighbors. Every year they decide who to Ghost then roam the Halloween aisles looking for just the right treats for the intended recipients.

How does your family show empathy and caring for others?

Amy Sue

Drunken Sweet Potato Recipe

Drunken Sweet Potatoes Recipe - Teacher's Drunken Sweet PotatoesMy family has a tradition who brings what for Thanksgiving dinner at Uncle Ike and Aunt Elle’s. We always bring, in Uncle Ike’s words, “The weird stuff that only your family eats.”

Like Aunt Betty’s Stuffing, squash, Drunken Cranberries, and Drunken Sweet Potatoes. We also bring pumpkin and cherry pie, but apparently those aren’t considered “weird.”


Drunken Sweet Potatoes Recipe – in Pictures

Although Teacher makes sweet potatoes often, Drunken Sweet Potatoes are a special treat that he only makes at Thanksgiving.

Start by rinsing 8-9 sweet potatoes and pricking each one several times with a fork. Place the pricked sweet potatoes on a baking sheet lined with foil. Bake in a 400°F oven until tender, about 45-55 minutes.

I recommend organic sweet potatoes; we tried them once and they tasted so good we haven’t been able to eat non-organic ones since!


Drunken Sweet Potatoes Recipe - Make Brown Sugar SauceWhile the sweet potatoes are baking, mix about a cup of sugar and a stick of butter together in a sauce pan. Cook, stirring, until the butter is melted and the sugar dissolves.


Drunken Sweet Potatoes Recipe - BoilBring to a boil, then remove from heat.


Drunken Sweet Potatoes Recipe - Add Ginger and SaltStir in about 1/4 tsp salt, and about 1 tablespoon freshly grated ginger. We grate ours with a microplane – see it behind the by the ginger?


Drunken Sweet Potatoes Recipe - TattooNow for the secret ingredient… about 1/3-1/2 cup Tattoo dark rum. White rum will work too, but it won’t give as deep and complex a flavor as the Tattoo does.

If the sauce gets done before the potatoes you can set it aside.


Drunken Sweet Potatoes Recipe - Prepare the Sweet PotatoesWhen the potatoes are done, take them out of the oven to cool slightly. When you’re able handle them, remove the skin and cut into pieces. Place in a buttered 9×13″ pan and pour the sauce over them. Stir to make sure the sauce coats all of the potatoes.

Bake another 20-30 minutes, stirring occasionally.


Drunken Sweet Potatoes Recipe - Ready to EatIf we were staying home they’d be served from a pretty bowl, but we keep them in the pan so they stay hot during the drive to Uncle Ike & Aunt Elle’s. Either way Drunken Sweet Potatoes are so good you won’t need marshmallows, nuts, or any of that other stuff!

Amy Sue

Grandma’s Great Apple Dessert

Great Apple Dessert - Yum!When I was a kid my grandma and grandpa had a huge Cortland apple tree in their back yard. To me nothing tasted better than those apples, except maybe Grandma’s Great Apple Dessert.

Like Big Meat Bake Dish, this recipe probably has an official name, but we’ve always called it Grandma’s Great Apple Dessert.


Grandma’s Great Apple Dessert – in Pictures

This apple dessert is great served warm, cold, or in-between. Sometimes we like it with ice cream but most of the time we just eat it plan – it’s just that good! It’s also easy to make; the hardest part is cooking the corn starch.

Great Apple Dessert - ApplesYou’ll need 6-8 good “cooking” apples for apple dessert. Cortlands are my favorite for everything, but when they’re not in season MacIntosh will work just as well. Some people swear by Granny Smiths for cooking, but they’re too tart for me.


Great Apple Dessert - CrustTo make the streusel crust, mix 2 cups flour, 1 cup brown sugar, 1/2 cup oatmeal, and a little salt.

We use whole wheat pasty flour – it’s healthier and gives the crust a little depth of flavor without tasting too “whole-wheat” – and thick-cut oatmeal because that’s what we have on hand.


Great Apple Dessert - Crust Mixed Grandma’s recipe says to stir in 3/4 cup melted shortening, but we don’t use shortening anymore. Instead, I use coconut oil and College Boy uses butter; either option works well.


Great Apple Dessert - Keep Some OutSet aside about 1 1/4 cup for topping.

I put it in the coconut oil melting bowl; no reason to make extra dirty dishes, right? True Confession: I love this streusel so much that sometimes I make extra just to eat. Shhhh, don’t tell anyone!


Great Apple Dessert - Pat Remaining in PanPat the rest evenly into the bottom of a 9×13″ pan. Z-Man was my official helper, so he did the honors. “It’s hard to get it into the corners and make it even!” he said.


Great Apple Dessert - Crust Ready to GoSet the crust aside while you prepare the apples.


Great Apple Dessert - ApplesPeel, core, and slice the apples.


Great Apple Dessert - Apples in PanDon’t go so quickly that you cut yourself, but don’t dilly-dally either, or they’ll brown from being exposed to the air. Spread the sliced apples in the pan, over the crust and set aside.


Great Apple Dessert - Cornstarch MixtureMix 1 cup of sugar, 3 tablespoons corn starch and a teaspoon of salt. Add 1 cup of water and mix very well.


Great Apple Dessert - Heat, stirring, until the mixture bubbles, and becomes thicker and kind of transparent rather than white.


Great Apple Dessert - Pour Mixture over ApplesPour the cornstarch mixture over the apples.


Great Apple Dessert - Ready for ToppingDo your best to pour it evenly, but don’t be OCD about it because it’ll even out as it bakes.


Great Apple Dessert - Sprinkle Topping OnSprinkle the reserved streusel mixture on top.


Great Apple Dessert - Ready for the OvenPop the apple dessert into the oven until the top is lightly browned – about 30 minutes at 350°.


Great Apple Dessert - Serve warm, cold, or somewhere in between; it’s delicious regardless!


Grandmas’ Great Apple Dessert – Official Recipe

  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 cup brown sugar, packed
  • 1/2 cup oatmeal
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 3/4 cup shortening
  • 6-8 medium apples
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 3 tbsp cornstarch
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 cup water
  1. Combine flour, brown sugar, oatmeal, salt, and shortening in a mixing bowl. Pat evenly in a 9×12″ pan, reserving 1 1/4 cup for topping.
  2. Peel, core, and thinly slice the apples. Spread on crust.
  3. In a small saucepan, combine sugar, cornstarch and water. Whisk in 1 cup water. Cook until thick, stirring constantly. Pour over apples.
  4. Top with saved streusel.
  5. Bake at 350° about 30 minutes or until lightly browned.

Grandmas’ Great Apple Dessert – Mom’s Recipe

Here’s how the recipe came to me from my mom, which I treasure because it’s in her handwriting.You can always tell a good recipe by how beat up and dirty the recipe card or cook book page is. Obviously this one is a good one!
Great Apple Dessert -
Great Apple Dessert -

By the way, everyone in my family from Teacher to Little Guy will say that Grandma’s Great Apple Dessert is great for breakfast too. Whole what flour… Oatmeal… Apples… it’s almost health food!

I hope you enjoy Grandma’s Great Apple Dessert – if you do, comment below and let me know. I’d love to hear from you!

Amy Sue

Big Meat Bake Dish

You know those family recipes that you aren’t sure where they came from or what their real name is? This is one of those kinds of recipes.
Big Meat Bake Dish - I grew up on Big Meat Bake Dish. It was such a staple in my family when I was growing up that I can’t remember the first time my mom made it. I wouldn’t be surprised to find out that it was one of the first foods I ate after graduating from baby food.

Everyone in my family loves Big Meat Bake Dish, but no-one loves it as much as Uncle Jay does; Big Meat Bake Dish has been his #1 all-time favorite for as long as I can remember. Maybe HE was the one weaned from strained peas to Big Meat Baked Dish! I think it used to have another name but it was renamed Big Meat Bake Dish in my family because little Jay would ask Mom to make “That bake dish with the big meats in it.”

And this is how family recipes come to be.

Big Meat Bake Dish – in Pictures

Like most of the recipes I make, Big Meat Bake Dish is quick and easy. At our house, Teacher makes the complicated stuff and I make “kid food” – stuff that’s so easy a kid could make it. Since most of the ingredients are usually stocked in the average pantry it’s a great back-up meal for the nights that you forgot a major ingredient for your recipe, or don’t feel like making what’s on the menu.

Big Meat Bake Dish Ingredients

You just need a handful of basic ingredients to make Big Meat Bake Dish. We always make a double recipe so you’ll probably need to cut down from what you see here if your family eats less than mine, or plan to have lots of leftovers.
Big Meat Bake Dish - NoodlesWe usually buy whole wheat or organic pasta, but our grocery store doesn’t have organic or whole wheat egg noodles. Boo!


Big Meat Bake Dish - Condensed Cream of Chicken SoupWe were so excited when our grocery store finally started carrying organic condensed soups! Now if they’d just come up with an organic skim milk version…

If you’re not into organic, spend the few extra cents to spring for Campbells instead of a generic. The Bake Dish will taste so much better and have a nicer consistency. Yes, this is the voice of experience talking.


Big Meat Bake Dish - CheeseMy mom always used Medium Cheddar, but we can only get Mild and Sharp in organic so we combine the two. It averages out to Medium, right?


Big Meat Bake Dish - BratsMom used pork brats, but we do turkey because Angel Face doesn’t eat pork and Little Guy likes turkey better than pork. I actually do too, because turkey is less greasy, but don’t tell anyone or they’ll take away my Wisconsin card!

Uncle Jay sometimes buys precooked brat patties to save time, and says they’re almost as good as when you make them yourself. Keep a package in your freezer and it’ll take even less time to get Big Meat Bake Dish on the table.

Big Meat Bake Dish Directions

Fill a big pot with water and put it on the stove over high heat to boil. I didn’t take a photo because I know you can do it without a picture.

When the water boils add the noodles and cook according to the package directions.

While you’re waiting for the water to boil…


Big Meat Bake Dish - Shred CheeseShred the cheese. I think the original recipe called for 1 cup of cheese, but that’s never enough for us me. We used both blocks for our double recipe.


Big Meat Bake Dish - Brat pattiesRemove the brat skins and form the meat into small patties.

To do this I grasp the middle of a brat with the index finger and thumb of both hands, twist to “cut” the meat, then slowly squeeze the meat out the holes in each end of the skin. It usually works better to hold on to one half and squeeze the meat out of the other end, then wrap the empty skin around a finger so it doesn’t slip out of your hands and squeeze the meat out of the other end.

I divide each section of meat in half and squish it between my palms to form a patty. This way I get 4 patties per brat.


Big Meat Bake Dish - Soup and MilkWhisk together the Cream of Chicken soup and about 1/2 cup of milk. I use skim milk to reduce the fat a little, but don’t tell my kids or they won’t eat it! Heat on medium until simmering, stirring frequently so it doesn’t burn on the bottom. Yes, I know it looks nasty now, but it’ll taste yummy – I promise!


Big Meat Bake Dish - Fry BratsWhile the soup and milk mixture is heating and the noodles are cooking, fry the brat patties in a large frying pan. Be sure to cook them thoroughly. And don’t forget to stir the soup mixture!


Big Meat Bake Dish - Add Cheese to Soup MixtureWhen the soup mixture is simmering, reduce the heat and gradually stir in the shredded cheese a little at a time. Remove from heat when the cheese is fully melted and the sauce is smooth.


Big Meat Bake Dish - Assemble the Bake DishPlace the brat patties in the bottom of a baking pan, add the noodles, then pour the sauce over the top. Stir to combine.


Big Meat Bake Dish - BakePlace the Big Meat Bake Dish in a 350° oven and bake for about 30 minutes, or until the sauce has thickened and the top layer of noodles begin to brown.


Big Meat Bake Dish - Little GuyLittle Guy decided to cuddle Kippy while the Big Meat Bake Dish was baking. Kippy didn’t mind – he purred so loudly I could hear him across the room.


Big Meat Bake Dish - DoneAfter 30 minutes, remove from the oven and enjoy!

Sometimes we like to sprinkle a little extra cheese on the top of the Big Meat Bake Dish before baking it. When you live in Wisconsin there’s no such thing as too much cheese!


Big Meat Bake Dish – Official Recipe


Before you get to the official recipe, I have a disclaimer to make: I learned to cook from my mom, who rarely measures anything and seldom follows a recipe exactly. Instead, she cooks by intuition; adding more of this or that depending on the way it looks or tastes. Any “recipe” from her is more a guideline than an actual by-the-book recipe, so feel free to adapt the Big Meat Bake Dish recipe to your own tastes – she would definitely approve.

Here is the recipe exactly as I got it from my mom…

  • 1 lb brats, removed from skins, flattened and browned.
  • 1/2 pkg noodles, cooked and drained.
  • Combine meat and noodles in greased casserole.
  • In saucepan, heat and stir: 1 can cream of chicken soup, 1/2 cup cheese (I use more), some milk (1/4 – 1/2 cup).
  • Heat and stir until cheese melts and sauce is smooth.
  • Pour over meat and noodles. Mix gently. Bake at 350° about 45 minutes.

I hope you’ll try Big Meat Bake Dish with your family some night. And if you do, be sure to comment below and let me know what you think of it! I’ll bet you can even come up with some really yummy variations too…

Happy eating!
Amy Sue

Save Money on Halloween Costumes

Halloween can be an expensive holiday, and costumes usually top the list of expenses. Over the years we’ve found ways to keep costume expenses to a minimum – when you’ve got six kids finding ways to cut costs is a matter of survival!

Here are some tips to help you save money on your children’s Halloween costumes too:

Make your own. There are tons of easy patterns available at your local fabric store; don’t be afraid to try one out! A pattern was used for most of the costumes pictured in this post – either as written, or as a basis for me to build upon.

Save Money on Halloween Costumes - Princess, Jo-Bear, Angel FaceSock Hopper Princess, Angel Face Dorothy, and Three Musketeer Jo-Bear in costumes I made from patterns.


However, I do realize not everyone is a seamstress or has a sewing machine, but with a little ingenuity you can still make your own costumes.

When College Boy was a toddler I made him a lion costume from a yellow sleeper with a tail made from an old sock and some yellow yarn, and a “mane” made by hand-sewing yellow yarn to an old hat. I darkened his nose and drew whiskers with my eyeliner. So cheap, so quick, and soooo adorable.

Save Money on Halloween Costumes - Little Guy LighteningTeacher made this Lightening McQueen costume for Little Guy when he was in the midst of his Cars obsession. It’s pretty amazing to see what can be done with a box and some paint!


Be a hoarder. But only with Halloween costumes please! I realize it sounds like a no-brainer, but I know of people who gasp throw away their costumes every year. What a waste! Get a nice Rubbermaid tote or sturdy box and pack costumes away right after Halloween. Make sure they’re clean first, of course.

I’ve saved almost every costume our children have worn since College Boy was a baby. Every year we bring the totes down from the attic and the kids dig through them to see what piques their interest that year.

Save Money on Halloween Costumes - Z-Man DevilZ-Man’s adorable devil costume was originally worn by College Boy as Mickey Mouse, Sorcerer’s Apprentice.

Save Money on Halloween Costumes - Princess & Cowboy Minions, Peanut Sleeping BeautyHere’s Peanut in a Sleeping Beauty costume I made for Princess when she was 6 or 7. Princess and Cowboy made their Minion costumes from a combination of Goodwill finds and things they already owned.


Swap costumes. Instead of buying new, trade costumes with friends and family. Princess and Angel Face traded costumes and accessories with their friends many times, essentially doubling their choices.

Save Money on Halloween Costumes - Princess and FriendsI’m not even sure who borrowed what this year. Many Halloween afternoons were filled with giggles and belly laughs as the girls tried on different costumes.


Use what you have. Put on your creativity hat and dig through your closets. If your child is in a sport, use the uniform as a quick and easy costume.

Save Money on Halloween Costumes - Jo-Bear FootballOne year Jo-Bear wore his Colts jersey with a dress-up helmet I had for the child care.

Save Money on Halloween Costumes - Angel Face CowboyAngel Face is a pro at scouring the closets for Halloween costumes. Here she is in her own jeans, Teacher’s shirt, my bandana, a dollar store hat, and a gun/holster from when my mom was a kid.

Save Money on Halloween Costumes - Angel Face AbbyAngel Face strikes again! For her NCIS Abby costume we only had to buy a lab coat, spiked collar, and black hair spray; the rest of the outfit came from her closet. I used my mad Paint Shop Pro skills to whip up a NCIS ID with her photo, but you can’t see it in this photo.


Reuse what you have. When College Boy and Princess were little I made them Peter Pan and Tinkerbell costumes. The next year I paired the Peter Pan tunic with brown pants and hat, then swapped the dagger for a bow to change Peter Pan into Robin Hood. Easy peasy!

Save Money on Halloween Costumes - Z-Man Peter PanHere’s Z-Man in the Peter Pan costume I made for College Boy.


After College Boy graduated from High School his younger siblings used his graduation gown as the basis for Harry Potter, Hermoine, witch, and vampire costumes.

Save Money on Halloween Costumes - Jo-Bear Harry PotterJo-Bear as Harry Potter.

Save Money on Halloween Costumes - Angel Face HermoineAngel Face as Hermoine.


Buy a head. I mean “ahead” not “a head”. Costumes go on sale super-cheap after Halloween, so buying next year’s costume after this Halloween can save some serious cash. Keeping your child from changing his mind is another matter entirely…

Save Money on Halloween Costumes - All KidsLittle Guy in a Penguins jersey passed down from College Boy, Peanut in the Sleeping Beauty costume made for a young Princess, Love Bug in a Belle costume Irish Girl purchased on clearance after Halloween last year, Z-Man as Robin Hood in the popular Peter Pan costume, and Caesar Boy in a costume Irish Girl found in a second-hand shop. Does my family know how to save money on Halloween costumes, or what?!

How do you save money on Halloween costumes?

Amy Sue

Solea Tequila Dinner – July 2014

Solea Tequila Dinner July 2014 - Announcement

You know how sometimes you’re really, really looking forward to something, then when the time comes you’re not looking forward to it anymore?

That’s what it was like for the July 2014 Solea Tequila Dinner. I’d been looking forward to it for weeks, but when the day arrived I was just kind of “meh” about it. Princess couldn’t go with us, and Teacher and I were out of sorts with each other and with life in general, so I don’t think either of us was really excited about it when we got into the car.

But we knew once we got there we’d end up having a great time.

And of course we were right!


Solea Tequila Dinner July 2014 - Tequila TableAs always, there was tasting table where Tequila Dinner guests could get samples of each of the featured tequilas. I wouldn’t say Teacher and I are tequila “experts” by any stretch of the imagination; tequila “appreciators” is more like it. We love trying new tequilas and new tequila drinks, so we were excited to see a couple of tequilas we hadn’t tried before mixed in with others that we enjoy.


Solea Tequila Dinner July 2014 - TequilasRight to left: Centenario Reposado, Herradura Reposado, el Jimador Reposado, Herradura Silver, and Patron XO Cafe.

Unfortunately, like the last Tequila Dinner, the menu didn’t list all of the margarita ingredients so I’ll be guessing what was in them and/or Googling to see if I can find a similar recipe. I’m not as good as identifying flavors as Teacher, so this could be interesting…


Solea Tequila Dinner July 2014 - Chipotle Grapefruit MargaritaThe evening began with a “Chipotle Grapfruit Margarita” featuring Centenario Reposado tequila. I recognized but couldn’t remember if we’d tried the Reposado version before or not.

Although I’ve never been fond of grapefruit I enjoyed this Margarita. It was a basic Margarita with grapefruit juice instead of lime juice and a pinch of chipotle in the drink as well as chipotle salt on the rim. The chipotle salt gave it a nice bite – they use more chipotle than we do in our chipotle salt – and the grapefruit didn’t come through too strongly for me.


Solea Tequila Dinner July 2014 - CevicheThe first course was “Ceviche do Mariscos” – Seafood ceviche with octopus, shrimp, and sea scallops. The seafood was tossed with pico de gallo and garnished with parsley and a slice of buttery avocado.

This was SO good – fresh and light with a delicious seafood flavor that wasn’t the least bit fishy. I’m always a little skeptical of ceviche because the seafood is “cooked” in citrus juice instead of with heat, but I always end up enjoy it and kicking myself for being skeptical in the first place. How many times do you think I’ll repeat that cycle before I break it?


Solea Tequila Dinner July 2014 - CraigOur host, Craig the guy who’s standing, was entertaining as ever. He kept busy dispensing little tidbits of information about tequila, handing out tequila samples, and giving away free drink cards to people who answered tequila trivia questions correctly. And a certain someone I know who just shouted out “Kangaroo!” We’ll get to that story a little later.


Solea Tequila Dinner July 2014 - TeacherWhile waiting for the second course Teacher moseyed over to the tasting table to get our first sample of the night…


Solea Tequila Dinner July 2014 - Herradura SilverHerradura Silver.

I thought it was pretty good. Not as smooth as some silvers I’ve tried but not as peppery as the ones I flat out don’t like. I’m not as good at noticing the notes of vanilla or cinnamon or pepper or whatever as Teacher is but I enjoy trying to find those notes. In general I prefer silver tequilas in mixed drinks rather than sipped over ice.

Silver, or Blanco, tequilas are generally clear with an intense flavor. Some are bottled right after being distilled while others are aged in stainless steel tanks for a month or two.


Solea Tequila Dinner July 2014 - Free DrinkWhoopee!! This may look like an innocent business card, but it’s actually a Free Drink in disguise. And it’s mine, all mine!

I won it by bouncing in my seat while waving my hand in the air and shouting “100% Blue Agave! Blue Agave! Azul Agave! Agave de Azul!” in answer to the question “What plant is tequila made from?”

OK, back to our scheduled program…


Solea Tequila Dinner July 2014 - Shortly after winning my Free Drink our second Margarita arrived, a “Jamaica Margarita” featuring Herradura Reposado margarita.

Although it looks like it should taste like Fruit Punch Kool Aid it was surprisingly light and refreshing, with a subtle hibiscus flavor. I was surprised by how much I liked this one!


Solea Tequila Dinner July 2014 - Herradura Reposado SampleTeacher decided he wanted to try the Herradura Reposado by itself. It was good and definitely had a deeper, more mellow flavor than the Silver we’d tried earlier.

“Reposado” means “Rested.” Reposado tequilas are typically aged in oak barrels which give the tequila a deeper flavor. Sometimes the barrels were previously used to age other spirits like whiskey, cognac, or wine, and the tequila picks up a little of those flavors.


Solea Tequila Dinner July 2014 - Mexican BruchettaThe second course was “Montaditos de Queso de Cabra” – Toasted garlic bread with roasted red peppers, portabella mushrooms, goat cheese with chives, and jalapeño chimichurri sauce.

Wow, was this fantastic! It was like a Mexican bruschetta, but better because the toppings weren’t juicy so the garlic bread stayed toasty. I do not like goat cheese one bit it tastes “furry” to me, but it wasn’t too bad spread thinly over everything else. If Teacher were to make this at home I’d want to use an alternative cheese – but I’m not sure what. Other than the goat cheese I thought it was fantastic!


Solea Tequila Dinner July 2014 - JessicaLook – across the room – it’s Jessica & Jim, the friends we made at the last Tequila dinner! “Hi Jessica and Jim!!”


Solea Tequila Dinner July 2014 - TeacherOh Teacher, you’re so silly!


Solea Tequila Dinner July 2014 - Tamarind MargaritaHere comes the third Margarita – “Tamarindo Margarita” featuring El Jimador Reposado tequila. “El Jimador” means “the Harvester” – knowing that could be worth a free drink if you yell loud enough when Craig asks the question.

Teacher absolutely LOVES tamarind Margaritas – I do too, but not as much as he does. A tamarind margarita is basically your typical Margarita with the addition of tamarind nectar, and a little simple syrup to sweeten it because tamarind isn’t very sweet on its own. This version was excellent, with a stronger tamarind flavor than other ones I’ve had in the past.


Time Out!

What’s tamarind, you ask?

According to Google, tamarind is “the sticky brown acidic pulp from the pod of a tree of the pea family.” It has a sour or sour/sweet flavor that’s hard to describe but is a little citrusy and a little dried fruit-y.

What a great free drink trivia question!

Actually, the question that Craig asked was “What family does tamarind belonged to: fruit, legume, or vegetable?”

I’ll give you a hint – the answer is NOT “Kangaroo”!


Solea Tequila Dinner July 2014 - JessicaEven though Jessica aka “Cheater, cheater, pumpkin eater” won a free drink by bouncing in her seat while waving her hand in the air and shouting “Kangaroo! Kangaroo!” the real answer is “Legume.”

Just funnin’ ya, Jessica! The four of us should get together and use our free drink cards.


Solea Tequila Dinner July 2014 - Mahi MahiThe fourth course arrived shortly after Jessica’s triumph: “Mahi mahi a la crema de pistache” – Grilled Mahi mahi with pistachio cream sauce and chef veggies.

Heaven, I’m in Heaven…

The mahi mahi was done to perfection and the “chef veggies” – carrots, summer squash, zucchini and onions were perfectly tender-crisp. I know I used “perfect” twice in the same sentence, but it WAS perfect! The pistachio cream sauce was rich, smooth, and full of flavor; basically a pistachio molé sauce. Pistachio is another of Teacher’s favorites, so this course was right up his alley.


Solea Tequila Dinner July 2014 - CentenarioThe next tequila we sampled was Centenario Reposado, the one that had been in the very first Margarita of the night. It was rich and smooth, but still not something I’d drink just over ice. At home we use repososado tequilas to make deeper-flavored Margaritas.


Something interesting probably happened between the third and fourth courses but since I had to visit the Ladies’ Room I missed it. Oh well, what can you do?


Solea Tequila Dinner July 2014 - Herradura Silver Cucumber MargaritaI returned just in time to be served this lovely green concoction: the “Pepino Margarita” – a Cucumber Margarita featuring Herradura Silver tequila.

A cucumber Margarita may sound weird since Margaritas are sweet and cucumbers aren’t, but it’s absolutely delicious! The cucumber is light and refreshing, and the sweetness in the drink is subtle – not weird at all. The chipotle, sugar, and salt on the rim of the glass provided a spicy punch. Simply delish!


Solea Tequila Dinner July 2014 - MarcoIn between courses, Marco Sanchez – the Tequila Dinner head chef – visited all the tables, greeting new guests and repeat customers with the same warmth. I tried numerous times to snap a photo but the man moves too quickly! This is the best shot I had.


Solea Tequila Dinner July 2014 - Lamb ChopsThe fourth course was “Costillas de Cordoro con Romero, Ajo y Salsa de Ancho/Tamarindo.” – Roasted lamb chops rubbed with rosemary and garlic, drizzled with tamarind-ancho glaze, over creamy potato pureé.

This was my least favorite course of the whole meal. It was nicely executed and beautifully plated, but I don’t care for lamb it tastes “fuzzy” like goat cheese does to me and I wasn’t impressed by the potato pureé. I once tried to make white potatoes into baby food with the food processor intend of a beater, but they ended up all gummy and I threw them all out. This potato pureé reminded me of that experience.

On a good note, the cucumber Margarita paired very nicely with the lamb, and the deep-fried angel hair pasta was fun. I’m sure people who like lamb enjoyed the course.


Solea Tequila Dinner July 2014 - Smooth Operator CaféFinally, my favorite food group: Dessert!

The “Smooth Operator Café” featured Patron XO Cafe Dark Cocoa tequila, Frangelico (a hazelnut liquor) and cream.

Holy sweet and creamy yumminess, Batman! We are definitely going to try replicating this one at home.


Solea Tequila Dinner July 2014 - Patron XO Cafe Dark CocoaOf course we had to sip some Patron XO Cafe Dark Cocoa on the side too – this is my Number One favorite sip-over-ice tequila! It has Mexican chocolate and coffee in it, and we all know you can’t go wrong with coffee and chocolate. If you look for this at the store be sure to buy the one with the RED label; the one with the purple label isn’t the same.


Solea Tequila Dinner July 2014 - Peach Bread PuddingDessert was “Duraznos Flameados de Tequila.” There wasn’t a description on the menu but it seemed like a warm bread pudding with peaches, garnished with a pancake strip and strawberry stuffed with whipped cream.

Generally I believe dessert should consist of chocolate LOTS of chocolate and/or cherries cherry pie, cherry crumble, cherry turnovers…, but this was amazing! I’d definitely consider ordering it for a change if it were on the menu.


Solea Tequila Dinner July 2014 - New FriendsJust like the last Tequila Dinner, Teacher and I made new friends. This year we met Jeff, who is sitting across from his lovely wife Kennie, who is sitting next to their brother-in-law Steve, who is married to Jeff’s sister Dina, who was away on a business trip. Yes, I had to write that all down so I wouldn’t forget!

We’d been chatting across the aisle with each other all night, so after dessert Teacher and I scooted over to their table for formal introductions and to get to know each other better. We discovered that we all had quite a few things in common, but it’s too long and convoluted a story for now. Suffice it to say that it really IS a small world after all.

I think we could’ve stayed another hour chatting with our new friends, but our designated drivers – their daughter and Angel Face – arrived at about the same time to drag us all home. Party poopers! Oh well, we’ll probably see them again at the next Tequila Dinner – maybe we’ll all sit at one huge table table together.

What a riot THAT would be!

Amy Sue

From Scribbles to Drawings

Girl DrawingChildren use crayons, markers, and other writing tools in different ways as they progress through the stages of artistic development from scribbling to detailed drawings. Along the way children experiment with colors, shapes, space, and ideas. Working with crayons, markers and other drawing tools enhances creativity and self-expression while the movement of the tool across paper develops small and large muscle control.

Stages in Children’s Drawing

There are four main stages you can expect to see in your child’s drawings:

1. Random Scribbling

  • Large-muscle, whole arm movements.
  • Scribble may extend beyond the edges of the paper.
  • Drawing tools are usually held in the fist with minimal use of fingers.
  • Lots of exploration.

2. Controlled Scribbling

  • Smaller marks are made.
  • Certain marking motions are repeated.
  • Increased wrist control.
  • More intricate loops and spirals.

3. Named Scribbling

  • Names scribbles/drawings.
  • Holds drawing tools with fingers.
  • Makes a variety of lines.
  • Increased concentration.
  • Places marks intentionally.

4. Symbolic Representation

  • Draws recognizable geometric shapes.
  • Draws head to toe representation of the human figure.
  • Includes details like fingers, clothes, hair, etc.
  • Draws things that are personally meaningful.

Girl & Boy Drawing

Encourage Creativity!

You can encourage your child’s creativity by:

  • Put on music and encourage your child to turn the paper in a different direction during the silence between songs.
  • Provide textured surfaces for crayon rubbings like bark, concrete, combs, sandpaper, etc.
  • Bundle several crayons or markers together and secure with a rubber band for a new color experience.
  • Demonstrate how to use the point for making dots or thin lines, and the side for wide lines.
  • Provide tissues for “polishing” a drawing made with crayon.
  • Spray water on a drawing made with water-based marker to see what happens.
  • Have your child try drawing with both hands at once.
  • Try coloring heavily then lightly, quickly then slowly. Compare the marks made with each technique.

Girl Drawing

Amy Sue