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Pasta with Sausage and Fennel

Pasta with Sausage and Fennel

Another random holiday photo share, and another recipe at the end.  Today’s pictures feature our gingerbread construction.  First, the gingerbread items arrive in the mail.  They are safely stored away until the ideal moment arrives.

On a calm afternoon, it’s time to pair off and go to work.  Two teams, two gingerbread projects, and the last of the coloring tablecloth to catch all the crumbs!

The finished products are proudly displayed for quite a while (although the jelly beans start disappearing remarkably quickly…)

Good work, builders!

Print Recipe
Pasta with Sausage and Fennel
This pasta recipe isn't that hard to assemble, and the fennel and fun pasta shapes make it a good meal for entertaining guests. Don't be afraid of fennel's licorice-y reputation. Its flavor mellows nicely when cooked, and no one at our table was bothered by it. This dish is also surprisingly good as a leftover, which is unusual for pasta.
Course Main Dish
Course Main Dish
  1. Bring a pot of salted water to a boil and cook pasta according to package directions. Drain.
  2. Heat olive oil in a skillet or electric frying pan over medium high heat. Add sausage and brown, breaking up large pieces with a wooden spoon.
  3. Cut thick stalks off the fennel bulb (reserving leafy fronds for garnish). Remove the core of the fennel bulb and slice the rest into thin strips. Slice the onion half thinly as well. Halve the cherry tomatoes or chop regular tomatoes.
  4. Add fennel and onion to sausage. Cook 6 minutes and reduce heat to medium.
  5. Stir in chopped tomatoes. Cook 3 minutes or just until warmed. Garnish with fennel fronds if desired.
  6. Serve immediately with plenty of Parmesan cheese.
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Pork and Veggie Enchiladas

Pork and Veggie Enchiladas

We enjoyed so many good dinners with friends over the holiday season!  This recipe was requested by one of our guests, and I am happy to share it.

Since I am not a food photographer, I will also add some unrelated photos to this post just to make it more interesting.  One of the fun things we sometimes do in a busy entertaining season is print up a large coloring tablecloth to be enjoyed by guests both young and old.  Here’s what the Christmas one looks like:

I think the adults have even more fun than the kids, sitting around with pencils and markers, doodling and shading while they talk.  It’s a great way for different ages to hang out together.

If we are careful, the coloring might even survive more than one dinner party.  We never get it totally finished, but it is fun to watch the colors and patterns grow over a few days before it is time to say goodbye.

(If you want more info about the tablecloth, here is the website where I purchased the file:  I’ve gotten lots of really good printables from them!)

Print Recipe
Pork and Veggie Enchiladas
These tasty enchiladas prove that you can hide all kinds of interesting veggies in a dish. As long as it is smothered in enchilada sauce and cheese people will love it! I started with a Penzey's recipe and modified it significantly to fit my tastes and what I had on hand. Don't be afraid to experiment!
Course Main Dish
Course Main Dish
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease two 9x13 pans, or one 10x15 and one 9x9. (I use a big one for company, and then freeze the little one for a later dinner).
  2. Brown the pork in a large skillet or electric frying pan over medium heat until no longer pink, about 8-10 minutes. Drain well.
  3. Add onion, bell pepper, carrot, celery, and Southwest Seasoning or other herbs. Cook until the veggies are softened, about 8-10 minutes.
  4. Add the beans, zucchini and corn. Add 1/2 cup of the enchilada sauce. Stir to combine thoroughly. Cook over medium heat until everything is heated through, about 10 more minutes.
  5. Spread a thin layer of enchilada sauce over the bottom of each baking dish.
  6. Microwave the corn tortillas wrapped in towels or plastic wrap for 1 minute or until steaming hot. (If they break when you try to bend them, heat them up some more!)
  7. Put a few spoonfuls of pork and veggie mixture in the center of each tortilla and roll as tightly as possible. Place seam-side down in prepared baking dishes. Continue until your pans are full, you run out of tortillas, or you run out of filling.
  8. Pour the remaining enchilada sauce over the enchiladas. Sprinkle evenly with shredded cheese.
  9. Bake enchiladas at 350 degrees for 35-45 minutes, or until the cheese is melted and beginning to brown around the edges.
  10. Serve with desired toppings--we like sour cream, avocado, lime wedges, and cilantro.
Recipe Notes

When I made this recipe, I ran out of tortillas before I ran out of filling, so I froze the rest of the filling for later use inside quesadillas or on top of nachos.  If you are freezing half the batch, cover the assembled enchiladas well with foil and plastic wrap.  A disposable square aluminum cake pan works great, and after covering it with foil it slides easily into a 1 gallon ziploc freezer bag.  Label and freeze!  When you are ready to use them, thaw as much as possible (overnight in the fridge is best).  Cook covered for 25-35 minutes, then uncover and cook 20-30 minutes more or until browned and bubbly.

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Up in the Treetop

Up in the Treetop

Look what’s happening in our backyard!


An unhealthy tree on the side of the house is turning into a treehouse!  With Than at the helm, the kids have been actively involved in the planning and initial construction of this much-anticipated new play space.


Thanks to a school holiday, the construction crew managed to get the basic frame and some decent flooring up in a weekend.  The rope ladder has been made, one wall is up, and some very good play has already taken place!

I can’t guarantee that every inch of our new project will meet the strictest of safety standards, but it is pretty good for a start!  We look forward to additional helpers in the form of grandparents and uncles to help with further construction.


Hopefully this is the site of many good adventures to come…

Cookie Time!

Cookie Time!

Cookie time is here!

Some of the cookies are mine to make, enjoying quiet time alone in the kitchen with just my thoughts and Christmas CDs for company.  I like the flavors and textures and smells, the time to reflect, and the joy of creating things that can bring joy to others too.  We might end up with lovely treats like these…


Or gooey messes like these…


But in the end there is always an abundance of goodness to share.


Some of the cookies are much more fun when others are part of the process.


The older the kids get, the easier it is to do cookies together.  However, there is one “kid” in this house who gets a little carried away with the candy decorations…


When it is time for gingerbread houses, the more the merrier!  The process is even more fun than the product.



Whatever the method, cookie baking is a core part of my Christmas preparation.  Not because anyone needs more cookies in their life, but because everyone (myself included) needs more joy, more encouragement, more reasons to pause and say, “Wow, God has sent good gifts to this world!”


Kids Being Kids

Kids Being Kids

Just a few random pictures of the kids from the past few weeks.  I don’t photograph them as often as I did when they were 3 years old and underfoot, but I am sure enjoying them every bit as much now as I did then!  They are developing into interesting, funny, engaging people that I enjoy spending time with.  (Yes, they are also still little people who can drive me crazy and make me holler with frustration, but those moments definitely don’t make me run for my camera!!)


Nathan participated in the annual rocket launch as part of our church’s Wednesday night clubs program.


Katya loves being a dogsitter, and was happy for a visit from the patient Coco who kindly lets Katya do all sorts of fun things with her.


Nathan and I spent a week or two working on this puzzle from Grandma featuring posters advertising the National Parks.  It is the first time we have done one this big together.


Katya and Nathan spend their fair share of time fighting, but when they come up with a good idea they can play together beautifully.  This was a fabulous block castle creation that involved lots of building time and plenty of playtime as well.

There is never a dull moment with these two around!  I am glad to be their mom.

Pinterest Projects

Pinterest Projects


A few more Pinterest projects, now that school has started and I’m looking back through photos…

Marshmallow Shooters

The basic idea is one we’ve done before, but for some reason it didn’t work very well this time.  Maybe my balloons weren’t big enough, and I didn’t review the instructions, so who knows were else we messed up.  Oh well, it was a good reason for Nathan and his friend to eat marshmallows and develop all kinds of other silly play in the backyard.  I guess that is success enough for me!

Black Glue Watercolors

Yes, another project with our liquid watercolors.  We found them to be a little liquidy for this particular task, maybe a problem with the paper we used.  However, drawing with the black glue was fun (and a good hand workout).  I also like two part projects, since we get double crafting time out of one idea.


Shoot paper cups with a water gun

We didn’t have any water guns on hand, but we tried close range pipette shooting and long range Dollar Store squirter shooting.  Basically the kids weren’t super interested in target practice for very long, it was just another reason to spray water all over the backyard.  Perfect.

What happens to an egg submerged in vinegar?

Cool pictures on Pinterest can lead a mom astray, all right.  Simple setup–just leave an egg in a glass of vinegar for two days and watch the shell dissolve right off.  What did I forget to think about?  Just because it feels solid DOESN’T mean it has become solid!  We were all excited to roll around our bouncy egg outside, but it broke instantly when I dropped it.  Mommy gets to clean up a sticky vinegar mess, and the kids are impressed anyway.  Go figure.


Sponge Bombs

I’ve had these on the to-do list for about three summers now, and finally got around to making them.  They were colorful and easy.  The instructions said tie them with fishing line, but I just used zip ties and cut off the long end.  Slightly more dangerous, I suppose, but that hasn’t been a problem so far.  We used about 10-14 pieces of sponge per ball, and had a mixture of foam sponges, cello-type sponges, and old towel scraps.


Erupting Chalk Paint

After one of our watercolor sessions, we turned the leftover paint into chalk paint.  It looked so pretty when I took it out of the freezer!


Playing with it wasn’t as fun as promised, however.  The chalk cubes didn’t draw very well.  Spraying them with vinegar did make a bit of fizzing reaction, but not quite as dramatic as I anticipated.  You win some, you loose some.  It was cool to watch the colors melt and blend all over the sidewalk.


Summer Play

Summer Play

After a few recent posts, you might be tempted to think that I spent the entire summer devotedly cooking and crafting creatively with my children.  Hah!  Just remember two things…

1) My blog is a highlight reel of the things I happened to remember to take pictures of.  NOT real life, only an edited glimpse of life.  Always keep that in mind.

2) I spend LOTS of time on the computer–having fun, writing this blog, wasting hours on Pinterest, and working for Get HOPE Global.  I also cook and clean and do laundry and whatever else.  That means lots of time when my kids are off doing their own thing.

And what, you may ask, do they do when they are doing their own thing?

There are the usual suspects: slogging through piano practice, doing household chores, fighting as siblings do, and hanging out in the corner with a pile of books.  I have been surprised, however, that the older they get the more fun they seem to have with each other.  It is neat to see their personalities interact, and to watch how the unique combination that is them turns into a variety of interesting activities.  Here are a few of my favorites from this summer:


Creating a miniature world with lots of little objects, plastic animals, and random other things from their rooms.


Turning the IKEA umbrellas into the base of a fort/ship.  Blankets, games, books, stuffed animals–all kinds of stuff ended up out there.




Crazy backyard water play.  We’ve sure gotten our mileage out of that kiddie swimming pool and the little toddler slide!


Garden experiments–mixing, stirring, lots of picking leaves and making mud.  This particular time they added some almost-dried-out paints and glitter glues that were headed for the trash.


Time alone–the scene above is a fairly typical one.  Katya keeps going with a project long after Nathan has left to go back to his book.  Sometimes they do really well at drifting in and out of interacting together.

Can you tell I love summer with my kids together?  Yep, I do!

Pinterest Projects

Pinterest Projects

Here’s round-up #1 of some of the fun projects we’ve done this summer.


Ice Cream Art with Real Sprinkles!

This turned out really cute, and it was fun to see the different ways each person customized the original idea.  Using real sprinkles was fun (instead of glitter).  Maybe I will make a smaller version for the front of a birthday card someday…  The downside?  Sprinkles bleed a little in the glue, and now they occasionally fall off the artwork and roll all over the floor.  (And no, I don’t require kids to dress up for crafting–the kids were playing butler and queen before we did the project above, hence the unusual artist attire…)

A great deal on tape from Sam’s Club put me on the hunt for duck tape crafts.  Our best use so far was covering the fronts of our summer journals.  On a different afternoon, we tried using the tape for various boats.  We tested out Sponge and Duct Tape Boats and Origami Duct Tape Boats.  The sponge ones floated better and are cuter, but the origami ones required less in the way of additional equipment.



I got some liquid watercolor paints for us this summer and we have used them in lots of ways.  My favorite is painting this modern house kit that we got from Target.  It turned out really cool and I had fun doing the project with the kids.


We have also used our paint for Crumpled Paper Art, traditional watercolor resist painting (painting over white crayon drawings), rubber cement resist, even shooting watercolor at paper using little pipettes.  Katya displays her favorites as an art gallery on her bedroom door.


Katya and I had a fun morning creating Ladybug Rocks which are now hiding in my garden.  We didn’t follow the instructions exactly, but ours turned out great.  It is so fun to find them peeking out of the garden wall around the patio!



In the “mommy only crafts” department, I worked with my new Sharpies (thanks, mom) to create these cool Kaleidocycle paper toys.  They are kind of mesmerizing to play with, although they did take a long time to color.

Wow, that’s a longer list than I thought!  I have a few more projects to share–some that worked, and some that really didn’t, so I guess I’ll make one more post.  Hooray for summertime crafts (and for actually DOING some of the things I so abundantly PIN!)


Pinterest Projects

Pinterest Projects


Following the same lines as my recent recipe post, here are the links to some Pinterest craft projects I’ve recently enjoyed…  (And no, I had nothing to do with the Johnny Appleseed hat and glasses shown in Katya’s photo above.  That cuteness was all school-produced!)

Printable Paper Gnomes

Nathan and some friends were playing gnome games of some kind or another for a little while, so I put together a few of these funny guys for them to use.

Pom-Pom Branches

When I gave Katya her own hot glue gun and a bunch of pom-poms for Christmas, I also included some printed cards to give craft ideas.  This was a simple one that turned out quite well.  We found some neat red branches on a bush in the yard and she did a great job gluing on random pom-poms to make an arrangement for the top of her dresser.

Playing Card Valentines

I made these cute Valentine people for the kids to hand out this year.  No, not because I’m trying to prove I’m an awesome mom.  No, not because I’m too cheap to buy Valentines at the store.  No, not because I think everyone should make everything.  I just made them because I like to make stuff, and I had fun!!

Pom-Pom Love Bugs

These were the little Valentine gift I made to give the kids.  They turned out so cute!!  I made a big one and a little one for each kid, and then a friend and I made a whole bunch more.

Doodle Cubes

These were a good excuse to just enjoy markers and crayons without needing to make anything in particular.  Our whole family participated on a snowy afternoon at home, and now we have a pile of cool blocks to play with for a little while!


Guest Post: If I Were a Seal

Guest Post: If I Were a Seal

This is the fourth and final book written by Katya this fall.  Inspired by our visit to the Seaside Aquarium, Katya wrote this while were were on vacation in Oregon.


“If I Were a Seal That Lived in the Sea”


My favorite thing to do is bathe on the rocks.  I would slap my belly when I was hungry.


I would dive under the water when I went to school, but I would wait for my friends.  When we got there, we saw our teacher.  We were so excited.


Our teacher’s name is Mrs. Octy.  We love our teacher.  She is so nice.  If we get our work done we can have free time.  We have lots of toys.  They are fun toys.  We have bouncy balls and we have blocks.  I have a lot of fun with my friends.


Thanks, Katya!