TheMomOfAllTrades

Mom of all trades- Master of very little

Checking in… with muffins!

Hey all!  Just wanted to check in and say hi, since it’s been a few weeks.  We have been busy a around here, but it has been the best possible kind of busy.  We are loving and enjoying the presence of the gorgeous and sweet Miss E.  She arrived, just as scheduled, on the 10th of February at 9:53 am, weighing in at 7 pounds 15 ounces and 20.5 inches.  She came out yelling but quieted down after about 5 minutes and since then has really only cried when she’s hungry or being changed.  She is calm and has adapted quite well to the noisy world she shares with her two very loud brothers.

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Miss E, practically perfect in every way

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Proud and happy big brothers, H and L

Alright… now that all the introductions have been made, I’ll take a break from my baby bliss to talk about something other than children, which I haven’t done in weeks.  I decided that I was going to give my oven a good workout this weekend.  Miss E had some visitors on Saturday, so I decided to try a recipe for Spinach Artichoke Lasagna from Lauren’s Latest.  If you have never heard of her, you should remedy that and check her out immediately, if not sooner.  She has so many delicious recipes you will lose hours just drooling over the pictures and imagining being awesome like her and making amazing meals for your family (your family will be starving by the time you eventually resurface and realize that you’ve somehow lost half a day).  The lasagna was met with rave reviews but I was a little bit sad that we had such a large group and a couple of big eaters, because there were no leftovers.  Next time, I’ll have to make two.  I added some extra spinach and threw in some red pepper for color, but I’m sure the recipe would be just as delicious if I followed it just as written.  I seem to have a problem with following recipes and always tend to start improvising as I go (probably for the same reason that I can’t blog about just one thing at a time).   Which leads me to the muffins…

I started out with a can of pumpkin puree.  I have a few of them and I LOVE pumpkin everything, so I planned to make a batch of muffins.  Fortunately, I also had a bag of cinnamon chips in my pantry.  So, I decided to make some sort of pumpkin cinnamon oatmeal whole wheat lowered sugar muffins.  Sounds delicious, right?  Well, they were, in fact.  The thing about making it up as you go is that, as long as you follow a few rules (balance of dry vs. wet ingredients when baking, for example), stumble upon a lot of deliciousness, basically by accident.  But that actually isn’t the recipe that I am going to share.  I’m not even sure I could replicate that one if I tried.  I really need to get better at writing things down.

Once I started on the muffins, I found more fun ingredients in my pantry, so after church on Sunday, I set to making muffins to sustain us through the snowstorm that was approaching (though fortunately it turned outto be a bust).  I made some triple chocolate cherry, after the pumpkin, and then I made some banana peanut butter chocolate chip.  H and L were happy little taste testers and quite patient while I played around in the kitchen.  It got to be about 4 o’clock and I realized that, while sweet muffins are delicious, I probably shouldn’t feed them to my children for every meal of the day.  Savory muffins however… well, that’s totally acceptable, right?  I have to be careful what I try to give the boys because children are supremely annoying when it comes to trying new things picky.  Since ham and cheese are pretty safe in or house, I decided to go with it.  I usually have a variety of veggies, fresh and frozen, in the house but I didn’t want to push the envelope too much, figuring I was already pushing it with a savory muffins, so I resorted to hiding some vegetable goodness and fiber in the muffins like a big fat liar good mom.  Now, I used ham and cheese, to be safe, but you could make these with just about any add-ins you want.  If you were in a veggie-ish sort of mood, I imagine some spinach and parmesan cheese would be delicious… or maybe some turkey sausage, peppers and mozzarella…  I’m beginning to feel another muffin baking session is in order.

Kid-Friendly Dinner Muffins

Yields approx. 36 mini muffins or 18 muffins

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2 1/2 c. Whole wheat flour (you could also use a combination of ww and all-purpose for a lighter muffin)
2 t. baking powder
1 t. baking soda
1/2 t. salt
1 t. garlic powder
1 t. onion powder
2 t. parsley flakes
2 t. sugar (or a sugar blend)
3/4 c. pureed squash
1/3 c. milk + a couple of Tablespoons, if needed, to thin batter a bit
3 T. oil (vegetable, canola, whatever your preference)
2 eggs
7 oz. Ham steak, finely chopped (about 1 1/3 cups)
1 1/3 c. cheese, shredded (I used reduced fat sharp cheddar)

Preheat oven to 350*F and line your muffin tins with liners.

Mix together all of your dry ingredients and set aside.

In separate bowl, lightly beat your eggs and mix in the rest of your wet ingredients.

Combine wet and dry, until just combined and stir in your ham and cheese.  The batter will be thick and relatively dry, but add some of your extra milk if you feel it it’s too thick.

Scoop batter into your liners and bake for 10-15 minutes, depending on the size of your muffins.  Check with cake tester or just press lightly on top of muffin to check “springy-ness”.  Your muffins should bounce back, not sink or jiggle.

Enjoy with your favorite soup or salad or some fruit!

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Worst blogger EVER… with a side of soup

Yup, that me.  Worst blogger to ever grace the internet.  I started a blog, wrote a few posts (just enough to get a few people interested) and then I just disappeared.  I am so sorry.  I would like to tell you that I had an actual reason, but all I’ve got is life.  An overwhelming sense of being overwhelmed.  Poor reason, I know.  There are plenty of people who manage to raise children, cook, bake, volunteer and still find time to write fabulous blogs and connect with readers.  I am clearly not one of those Supermoms.  As evidenced by my complete lack of photo evidence of our vacation in August last year, I am terrible at living in the moment and documenting it for posterity.  This year, I resolve to work on that.  I will work on making a better effort to fitting more in and, if I am going to blog, making it a priority and actually doing it, although time is certainly not going to become easier to find (more on that in a minute).

When last I left you, we were looking forward to spring and all of the fun and craziness it brings. I was about 30 pounds and 3(ish) months into a 6 month competition to kick start a healthier and happier new life.  I was looking for a 5k to run with some friends and was staring down the barrel of running my very first 5k. Well, to bring you all up to date, by the time our competition finished in July, I had completed my first 5k (which would have been much easier if I had realized that the tires on my jogging stroller were mostly flat, prior to starting… duh), I was down 60 pounds and I won the prize money.  Oh, and I donated my hair (sooo much hair) to Locks of Love and had a fun new cut for summer, after years of keeping my hair ridiculously long.  I was looking forward to the Electric Run 5k that we had signed up for, but never made it, due to some complications in an unexpected side effect of my weight loss.  Apparently, when you work toward getting healthy, not only are obvious health issues remedied, but things that hadn’t been working quite right, due to extra pounds, start to work right again.  In June, we found out that we were going to make our already crowded happy home even more so.  We are currently 4 weeks from welcoming little Miss E!  The husband and big brothers H and L are super excited to meet her and I am so looking forward to all of the pink and flowers and frills that will soon be filling our days. 
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Alright, now that I’ve gotten my excuses apologies out of the way, and we’ve sort of caught up, let’s get on with what you can expect.  I’ve been crocheting a lot of hats lately, for Miss E and the boys and also for friends and family.  Much of my crocheting is done like my cooking and baking, in that I have a general idea (or recipe or pattern) and then just sort of branch out and improvise from that starting point.  I’m going to start sharing some of these recipes and patterns with you, starting with a lightened up variation of a soup recipe from a cookbook of 400 different soup recipes that I received from my brother and sister-in-law for Christmas.  H picked out the soup that he wanted for dinner last night and we went from there.  Part of the reason that this soup got a lighter makeover may or may not be because I sent the husband to the grocery store and his attention to details, as they pertain to specific ingredients, isn’t always his top priority.  Oh well, he saved us all some calories and allowed us to feel like we were indulging in an incredibly decadent dish that wasn’t as bad for us as it tasted like it should be.

Asparagus Soup with Crab

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2 tablespoons butter
3 to 3 1/2 pounds asparagus, woody ends removed, cut into 1 inch pieces
Salt and pepper to taste
1/2 tablespoon garlic powder (or 2 cloves fresh garlic grated or crushed)
1/2 tablespoon onion powder (or 1/2 cup onion chopped)
6 1/2 cups low sodium, fat free chicken broth
2-3 tablespoons water
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1/2 cup light cream (can substitute milk to lighten up more)
6-7 ounces crab meat

In large pot, melt your butter and add asparagus, garlic and onion and seasoning. Cook for 3-5 minutes, until bright green but not browned.  Add chicken broth and bring to boil over medium high heat, simmer for 5-7 minutes longer (asparagus should be tender but still have a bit of snap).  Remove 1/4 to 1/3 cup of asparagus to use for garnish when serving.  Continue to simmer an additional 15-20 minutes or until all asparagus is soft tender. 

In batches, puree in blender (or food processor) until smooth and return to pot.  Bring back to simmer and combine water and cornstarch in a separate cup.  Whisk cornstarch mixture into soup and stir in cream. 

Ladle soup into bowls and garnish with a few ounces of crab meat and some of the reserved asparagus.  To brighten your soup up a bit, a little lemon juice can be drizzled prior to serving.

Enjoy!

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Thinking Spring… and Spaghetti Soup

Hey all, is it just me or does it feel like the past couple of weeks has stretched on FOREVER?! I have had a few annoyances over the past two weeks or so (minor, in the grand scheme of things) and have avoided coming here. I don’t want this to become a place where I vent my frustrations… isn’t that what Facebook is for? But, in all seriousness, I want this to continue to be a place where you can come to get a bit of inspiration, be it creative or otherwise.

I CANNOT WAIT FOR SPRING (to actually arrive)! I am looking forward to the warm weather and time outside, giving running a shot and playing with my crazy boys. I am looking forward H’s second year of t-ball and I am looking forward to softball for myself. Since the beginning of the year, I am down about 30 pounds and I am working very hard to lose a lot more. I owe my success to tracking my food (MyFitnessPal is a great free app to use for tracking) and also to my gym sessions, 2-3 hours 4 times a week. I have come to actually enjoy my time at the gym and I feel better after every Bootcamp, Cardio Kickboxing and Zumba class. That said, I am not a runner. I never have been. I’ve never claimed to be, nor would I. It bores me to even think about it. I do, however, love a challenge. In the case of running, I have decided to set forth a challenge for myself. I know that I can make it through a two hour workout, including an hour of non-stop cardio. Does that mean that I can run? Who the heck knows? My brother is convinced that my mixture of aerobic and anaerobic workouts will translate to a great base to start running. I think he severely underestimates just how terrible I could be at this. But, regardless, I have decided to give it my best shot. I had planned to run a 5K this summer and am still looking for the perfect one to sign up for, but my wonderful friend, Jen, has moved my timetable up. Thinking I had a couple of months to prepare, I haven’t really gotten out to run much because the weather has been miserable, but now I’ve signed up to run one on April 14th! That’s in 2 1/2 weeks! I must be out of my mind!

As for the 5K for the summer, a few friends suggested a “Zombie Run”, which would alleviate the problem of being bored while I run. Sadly, it would probably also result in the punching of zombies and my possible arrest. Now, I’m not a violent person, but I have very strong fight or flight reactions and if someone is running at me, I will stay and fight until I know that they will not be running after me and I can make a safe getaway. That does not bode well for the actors playing zombies or for my desire to not have an arrest record. My brothers (yes, both of my brothers in separate conversations) had serious thoughts of running the Tough Mudder with me. I love them both for their confidence in me, but I do not share such a confidence at this stage of the game. I am not getting myself healthy to go ahead and die right out of the gate. I will see how the running thing goes first and perhaps next year I will give the Mudder some serious thought. What’s a girl to do when she wants to tackle a new challenge but doesn’t want to wreck her new found confidence just yet? Like most important questions in life that no one asked to be answered, I found my answer on Facebook. A few people on my Friends list had “liked” the “Color Me Rad 5K” and some the “Color Run“. They’re both basically the same, but I suppose the Color Run is more well known (so registration closed just about the time that it opened). Just when I had settled on registering for “Color Me Rad”, registration for that filled up too. Drats! What now? Well, I am beginning to have a fonder feeling toward Facebook’s “sponsored” and “suggested” posts. Last night, they pointed me in the direction of the Electric Run which sounds awesome! On top of the amazing light show, it is also in the dark, which means people will be less able to see my beet red face. That is an all around win, I’d say! Now, as soon as I manage to get a response from the coordinators as to why their website is being sill y an won’t let me register we’ll be in business.

*UPDATE*- Just registered for the Electric Run! My husband and a few friends will be running it too! I didn’t think I’d ever be excited about running… weird.

Spaghetti Soup

Spaghetti Soup

Now, as for this Spaghetti Soup. Changing eating habits is not easy. It can be downright awful sometimes. When my doctor mentioned cutting out carbs, at my last check-up, I’m fairly sure I laughed at her and politely declined. I mean, healthy is one thing, but cutting out an entire (and really enjoyable) food group? It might be fine for some, but I really can’t imagine life without pasta or bread. No crackers or pretzels? No thanks! I am (now) a firm believer in moderation. I make smarter choices when it comes to carbs, but I won’t cut them out completely. I try to find alternatives with higher fiber and protein but without sacrificing the taste because, if you’re going to find a sub-par and less than delicious alternative to choke down, what is the point? I can do whole wheat pasta occasionally but only in specific (usually heartier fall recipes where it would add an appropriate nutty flavor) recipes. I adore Ronzoni Smart Taste and Barilla White Fiber pasta. They are higher in fiber and protein than regular “white” pasta, but you’re never know that you’re not eating regular. Even better, if you turn your bowl of pasta into soup, it stretches it and lessens calories so you can feel like you’re eating a big bowl of pasta without the guilt.

After high school but before children, I lived with my grandmom for a couple of years. For a long time she was my “port in the storm”. I think of her often in March because she would have been 89 on the 25th and also because, with a maiden name of Flanigan, you know we celebrated St. Patty’s Day. She passed away when H was about 9 months old and while I’m glad that she had the chance to meet him and love him, I’m sad that he and L will never really know her. She was a pretty amazing woman and I was lucky to have her and to have the relationship that I did with her. I learned all of my kitchen skills from her and my mom and she also taught me to crochet. I think the reason that I love my mom and my aunts so much is because they are all so much like her. I mean, how can you belong to and be raised by someone that great without picking up some of that awesome?

As per usual, I digress. When I lived with my grandmom, she would often get a hankering for this or that. Sometimes it was ham and cabbage, others it was a nice steak with baked potatoes and vegetables (always fresh vegetables), and sometimes it was as simple as macaroni and stewed tomatoes. But I always remember her “Spaghetti”. It wasn’t a typical Italian sauce (she was Irish and married German, for goodness sake), but it was delicious. It always tasted fresh and bright , never greasy and like you’d need to run 25 miles just to get it off. Spaghetti wasn’t something that she made often or fed her kids when they were growing up because my grandpop wouldn’t eat it. There was a story about him serving during WWII, being in New York on leave and someone telling him he had to try a particular restaurant because they had the best pasta around. Long story short, he ate so much he got sick and wouldn’t touch the stuff again. So, it was something that she probably ate more after he passed than she did during their marriage on the occasional night that he wouldn’t be home for dinner.

When she first showed me how she made her sauce (never gravy; gravy is derived from meat drippings), I kept waiting for the “typical Italian seasonings, but they just never showed up and she also never got a box of spaghetti out. She always called pasta spaghetti, no matter the kind, with the exception of macaroni, which was always macaroni. It was basic, easy and delicious and would probably make an Italian woman cry. If you are a “gravy” purist, you may want to stop reading now, as you may be soon be shaking an angry fist at your screen in an attempt to tell me that this IS NOT real gravy. Of course it’s not, but you have been warned.

My grandmom had a way of dicing vegetables perfectly. I could never, ever get them quite as uniform and tidy as she managed but let’s just chalk it up to a lifetime of experience. She’d start with piles of onions and green peppers, perfectly diced. She would then put a little bit of oil in her pot and put her meat in to brown. After that went her onions and peppers, which would cook until tender and then went all of the tomatoes, diced, paste, sauce or any combination thereof. Cooking in my family was never about following recipes which is probably why, when I tried to give my brother our meatloaf recipe when he was in the Army, I may have left out some important things, like eggs. It’s easier to do and show than to tell when you’re taught this way. My grandmom never really used a lot of seasonings aside from salt and pepper, and her food was always amazing. She didn’t like a lot of “stuff” hiding the taste of the important flavors.

This is about as "Italian" as this is getting

This is about as “Italian” as this is getting

So, while I stayed true to the basic flavor of my grandmom’s sauce, I did throw in a little bit of garlic to kick it up a bit and you could always throw in some red pepper flakes if you like things a little spicier. The tomato paste helps to make this taste more like you’re eating a big bowl of pasta, rather than a bowl of soup. The flavor is amazing and is low enough in calories that you can top it with some Parmesan or some low fat mozzarella to bump up the protein and really finish it off. A Caesar salad* makes this a complete meal, well under 500 calories. There is no better comfort food than something that brings you back to one of your favorite places and people, and to be able to do it while you’re “dieting” is not always easy but is definitely worth it. And if you’re having people over who aren’t watching what they eat, they’ll never know the difference.

*This dressing is delicious and you won’t miss the hundreds of calories of regular Caesar dressing. I find it in the refrigerated produce section of our grocery store.

Spaghetti Soup

1 package Shadybrook Farms lean Sweet Italian sausage (casings removed)

3 cloves garlic, crushed or grated

3/4 c. sweet onion, diced

1 1/4 c. each red and green bell pepper

1 small can (10 oz) tomato paste*

1 large can crushed tomatoes*

1 box (6 packets) Herb-ox sodium free chicken broth*

8 cups water

1 box Barilla White Fiber shells (or any Ronzoni Smart Taste shape that strikes your fancy)

*You can certainly use whatever type of ingredients you want and if sodium is not a big concern for you, disregard this, but I always try to find low sodium tomatoes and broth and season to our taste.

Start the way my Grandmom would, in a non-stick pot, put your sausage in to brown, with your garlic. As the sausage is cooking, break it up so it will spread evenly through your soup. Once your sausage is browned, add your onions and peppers and let them cook until tender.

Looks good already, doesn't it?

Looks good already, doesn’t it?

Once your sausage and veggies are good to go, add in your can of tomato paste and mix in until thoroughly coated. Add your can of tomatoes and add your chicken stock packets to your water and then pour in. Meanwhile, in a separate pot, boil water to cook your pasta. Cooking it separately and adding it to the finished soup will help you to avoid ending up with under or overcooked pasta (unless that is your thing, which is completely fine). Once the pasta is finished, throw it into your big pot o’ soup and enjoy with a little cheese on top.

The soup makes about 12 servings and each serving has 219 calories, 5 grams of fat, 6 grams of fiber and 14 grams of protein.

Now, I am off to take two little boys in (handmade) bowties (more about them next week) to see a bunny. Let the craziness of Easter weekend commence. If you’re celebrating this weekend, be it the faith, food or family of it, enjoy and I’ll see you back here next week! Happy Easter!

H, in his pre-final revision Easter finery

H, in his pre-final revision Easter finery

Baby Bunny L says, "Happy Easter!"

Baby Bunny L says, “Happy Easter!”

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Totally losing it…

Half of me, that is. Back in January 2011, the husband and I decided to place little wager to see who could lose more weight. Fast forward one month (I was leading, by the way) and we found out I was pregnant with L. After trying for over 3 years to have another baby after H, all thoughts of weight loss were gone and replaced with happiness and plans for our expanding family. Skip ahead two years and we have our two gorgeous, happy, healthy boys and a not so happy and healthy mama. That’s not to say that I hadn’t been keeping healthy things in the house or doing Zumba a few times a week over that time. I had and I was, but I let all of the things that I had to do (or felt like I had to do) trump what I NEED to do, which is to get myself in shape and be a healthy and strong example for my boys.

Forever after referred to as  "before" picture

Forever after referred to as “before” picture

So, last month, the husband and I resurrected our friendly bet and made plans to start again. While spending time with Jen, one of my best friends (and L’s supremely amazing godmother) on New Year’s day, I mentioned our rekindled attempt to get healthy that we’d be kicking off in a few days.  She said it sounded like something that her and her dad and sister might want to do and that she had done something similar, but on a bigger scale, at work.  The husband and I had originally said that we’d each put up $50 and the person who lost the most weight would get the money.  When Jen mentioned her interest, I dropped the amount to $25 and it just snowballed from there.  I posted about what we were doing on facebook and invited any friends or family who had a few (or more) pounds to lose to come and join us and Jen did the same.  Jen and I made some ground rules ( you know, no chopping off of limbs in order to take off a quick 15 pounds, stuff like that) and by the time we had our first official weigh-in, the following Monday, we had 21 people participating and a Grand Prize of $500.  Talk about extra motivation…

A little motivation

A little motivation

We’ve had three weigh-ins since then and as a group, we’ve lost over 150 pounds.  I have lost over 20 and am feeling better than I have in a long time.  That’s not to say that it’s not a challenge and that I haven’t had days where I struggle to make time for everything or that I don’t wish that I could eat what everyone else is eating when we’re not at home.  I would be lying if I said that I could do this all on my own.  Clearly if that were the case, I would have done this quite some time ago.  But it has been getting a little bit easier every day and in 4 1/2 months, when this ends, it will have been worth it.  You know the old saying “Charity begins at home”?  Well, so does change.  I made a commitment to myself that I am not willing to break and that, as well as getting healthy for my boys, is what has kept me going.  I WILL be going to the gym 4 days a week and I will be doing some combination of Bootcamp or Cardio Kickboxing and Zumba for 2 hours.  I WILL stay within a specific number of calories, while eating a well-balanced diet.  I WILL make sure that my children know the importance of being healthy and of feeling good about yourself.

My biggest motivation

My biggest motivation

I also have the support of the people who are in this competition with me.  Somewhere along the way, this group of people has morphed from my competition, to some of my strongest supporters.  After setting our rules and committing to do this, I started a group on facebook and there, we can celebrate out successes and seek encouragement or that extra push when we need it.  Some of us have posted about workouts or what we ate, to keep ourselves accountable and stay on target, and sometimes it’s just something we have seen that motivated us or that we think will help motivate others.  It’s not like the things you see on The Biggest Loser, with backbiting and alliances.  It’s just a bunch of people who needed a little extra push to make them work a little harder and stay on the path that they may have tried before but couldn’t quite stick with.  Some days, when I think I might not have what it takes, I think about them, and I decide that, while I may want an extra hour of sleep on Saturday morning or to have dinner or dessert that I know I shouldn’t have, I started this and I need to see it through to the end and to a healthier life.

Plus, $500 would be really nice to buy some new clothes when mine don’t fit anymore.

And now, for something you’ll really enjoy…

Crustless Spinach, Onion and Feta Quiche

Crustless Spinach, Onion and Feta Quiche

We tried this recipe a few days into our endeavor and everyone in our house LOVED it.  H cleared his plate and L ate all of his and then some of mine.  Rave reviews all around and it looks as good as it tastes, all while being relatively fast and easy.  Click the picture or here for the recipe from Spark People!  Enjoy!

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Keeping us in stitches…

We’ve had quite a week here. Everything was going just swimmingly, when L decided that he was going to fight with a wrought iron shelf. He was not the victor and Thursday night, we took a trip to the Emergency Room, where he screamed like he was being murdered  charmed every one of the nurses got 5 stitches.  I was doing some dishes when he had his run-in with the big bad shelf and since I have definitely had my fair share of being a klutz injuries, I know that any wounds to the head or face are going to bleed… a lot.  Since we already had H in bed, we called my brother to come and sit with him while we took the tiny brute to get checked out.  At the hospital they must have asked 15 times to explain what happened and I kept telling them about the shelf shaking and subsequent bowl that bonked his little bean.  In 5 1/2 years of H’s “Watch this!” daredevil antics, we have never had to take a trip to the ER but in less that 18 months, L managed to damage himself beyond what Mommy could fix.  Fear not, for L was back to scaling chairs and tables the very next morning and hasn’t stopped since.  Ah, the joys of being a parent.

Enjoying dinner Friday, none the worse for his wear

Enjoying dinner Friday, none the worse for his wear

The rest of the week was relatively normal.  Applesauce, soup, a few projects, you know, the usual.  Since I am hard at work to take off the weight that I’ve put on over the past few years, I have been looking for ways to lighten up recipes that I really like.  While I definitely feel much better when I’m eating good things and working out, eating healthfully can be pretty boring and isolating sometimes.  I just can’t do steamed chicken or fish, brown rice and steamed veggies all the time.  I seem to have found a reserve of willpower that I’ve never before tapped into, but that is just too much.  I would have given up weeks ago if that is how I had to eat all of the time.  So, while my ways in the kitchen have definitely helped me put the weight on, now I am going to use them to help me take it off.  My mom, as of late, has been making a really good and very light Minestrone soup.  It has lots of veggies and a little bit of pasta.  A big crowd pleaser that I’m known for is my Spinach Tortellini Soup but tortellini are not exactly figure friendly.   This recipe is sort of a hybrid of those two.   One of the nice things about soup is that you can adjust, very easily, depending on tastes.  I like a lot of vegetables in mine but figured the kids may want a little more pasta, so I doubled the tiny alphabet pasta the other night.  Even with the extra pasta this soup is only 157 calories per serving!

Very Veggie Minestrone (serves 8)

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Look at all of those delicious, bright vegetables

1 teaspoon oil

1 cup carrots, chopped

1 cup onions, diced

garlic, grated (to taste, I used about 3 cloves)

2 1/2 cups zucchini, sliced

1 large can diced tomatoes, low sodium or no salt added

6 cups chicken broth, low sodium

1 (14.5 ounce) can cannellini beans, well rinsed

10.5 ounce package baby spinach

2/3 cup small pasta (orzo, tiny alphabet, stars, ditallini)

Coat the bottom of a large pot with your oil.  Over medium heat, start your garlic, onions and carrots.  Cover and cook, stirring occasionally, for about 10 minutes.  Add zucchini and diced tomatoes and cook for another 5-10 minutes.  Add in your chicken broth, and cannellini beans and cook until your carrots are tender.  About 10 minutes before serving, throw in your spinach and pasta and continue to simmer until pasta are cooked and spinach has wilted.  Each serving has 157 calories, 1.3 grams of fat, 5.5 grams of fiber and 7.6 grams of protein.  For an extra 20 calories, serve with 1 tablespoon of Parmesan cheese.

I think tonight’s dinner will be some sort of soup with turkey sausage but inspiration hasn’t struck quite yet, but I’ll be sure to let you know what I come up with.  I hope you all have a great (and injury free) week!

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Applesauce and pickles

I know, the title seems like a strange combination (unless you’re pregnant, then, maybe not so much). They are not as closely related as said title makes them sound, but they are both on my mind today. We’ll start with the applesauce because it’s light and fun and, well, who doesn’t love applesauce.

I am very particular about produce. I definitely come by it naturally, as my grandmom was and my mom is the same way. I don’t remember having a lot of frozen or canned vegetables when I was young and don’t know that I knew that people ate beans that they didn’t have to snip ends off of themselves. I could spend twice as long in the produce section of the grocery store or a farmer’s market as I could anywhere else. There is just something so inviting about shiny, bright fruits and veggies. H is not a shopping enthusiast so he usually goes to play in the “Treehouse” (which may be the smartest thing any grocery store has ever done… EVER. Thank you Giant!). From there, it is usually my mom, L and me to do our gathering. As soon as we hit the very front of the produce section, L immediately starts yelling “Mama!”. That “Mama!” quickly morphs into “Nana!” and doesn’t end until I’ve weighed a few bananas, plastered the sticker on the bunch and removed one for him to eat while we shop (though that poor “nana” doesn’t usually make it out of that section).

This is how L grocery shops

This is how L grocery shops

This week on the menu, because it’s been so cold here lately and also because the husband is on night shift this week and next, I have three different soups (Minestrone, Veggie Cheese and Turkey Sausage Vegetable) which are all pretty produce heavy, so we did most of our shopping in one part of the store. As well as shopping for dinner items, I also, as I’m sure most of you do, try to keep different breakfast and lunch options in mind and also keep enough healthy snacks around because H can’t usually go an hour without asking for a snack. If I indulged him snacks as often as he asked, I don’t know that the child would stop eating all day. So, we always have Cuties (oranges), apples, bananas and an array of other fruits front and center in the kitchen to draw the eye. I will be the first to admit that, in my love of all things fresh and delicious, I sometimes over buy and despite my quest to get the very best fruit in the pile, the baggers at the store aren’t always as careful when handling the fruits of my meticulous inspection as I might like for them to be. So, I sometimes end up with apples, pears, bananas and other fruit that look a little less that stellar and begin to lose their shine after a few days. What to do with perfectly good “unperfect” fruit? Make your own fruit sauce, of course!

The first time I made applesauce it was actually supposed to be apple butter. Alas, H was about 7 months old at the time and that apple butter never made it past being sauce. To a tiny H, warm, sweet applesauce was the best thing he had had in his very short life. If you have a crockpot and a food mill, you too can make your own! If you have any other fruits lying around, throw them in to! The more the merrier in the crockpot! It really couldn’t be easier to make. Plug in your crockpot and turn it on low (don’t laugh, this is not an unnecessary note and I wish I had someone to stand behind me and remind me every time I make something… note to self: train children to remind me of useful things). Wash all of your apples thoroughly because you’re going to cook them with the skins on. Cut apples into slices and remove the core/seeds and toss them into the pot. If you are throwing any other fruit in (or veggies… carrots or butternut squash might be nice) prep them accordingly and throw them in too. Now, find something to do for the next 8 hours or so. Your apples will cook down without adding any water or juice and the skins that you left on will give it a warm brown color and great flavor. Once it is cooked down and all of your fruit is mush, place your food mill over a large bowl and, in batches, work your fruit through the mill. The mill will take out all of the skins and leave you with your delicious fruitsauce. Yum! You can funnel the sauce into mason jars and seal them, if you so desire, or you can just put it in some plastic containers and store it in the fridge. If you still have babies at home, you could also freeze it in ice-cube trays, transfer the frozen cubes to freezer bags and grab a few out when you need to feed Babykins. If you are making your own baby food, this method can obviously be used for most fruits and veggies or combinations of the two. It is an easy way to get things done without having to spend hours in the kitchen.

My slighty less that perfect apples...

My slighty less that perfect apples…

Into the crockpot...

Into the crockpot…

Delicious applesauce

Delicious applesauce

Good enough to eat

Good enough to eat

L tested, happily approved

L tested, happily approved

If you used only apples and want to continue on and make apple butter, just transfer your milled applesauce back to the crockpot add spices and continue cooking for a few more hours. The apple butter recipe that my mother gave me calls for 1 cup sugar (which I never add, as I find the apples to be sweet enough), 1 teaspoon cinnamon, 1/2 teaspoon allspice and 1/2 teaspoon cloves, per pint of applesauce. Cook it for a couple more hours, on low, to incorporate all of those spicy flavors. Trust me, if you ever make your own applesauce, you’ll never want store-bought again. Applesauce that you buy in jars, in the grocery store, has practically no flavor, while this applesauce is bursting with it, eliminating the need to add any sugar, though you may like some cinnamon, especially if you like to eat it warm.

Now, on to my second topic of pickles. I love pickles! I always have and I’m sure I always will. My tastes have changed over time and while I was once a strictly “dill” girl, I now appreciate a nice, sweet gherkin from time to time, depending on the meal. But this isn’t really about my pickle preference, or even about pickles specifically so much as it is about the names of things. Would a rose, by any other name still smell as sweet? Well, yeah, it would but it might have some sort of goofy, or even offensive name. Would you want your significant other to bring you home a dozen long-stemmed “hitlers” as a gesture of his affection for you? Well, if we knew nothing of a Hitler of the Adolf variety, you may not care so much, but as it stands, that name is not just difficult but impossible to separate from a horrible person and time in the history of the world, that we would never use it to name something as beautiful and desirable as a flower. There are words that will always have a terrible or offensive connotation and trying to gloss over them like they don’t just sets everyone up for failure.

I’m sure that I lost most of you with that last little bit, but give me a chance to bring you back. If you are lucky, you may have found, seen, read or even follow a blog by a pretty spectacular lady with a beautiful little girl named Addie. The blog is A is for Adelaide and I consider myself lucky to say that I knew Chelley way back when. I knew her before she was Addie’s fabulous mom, before she was an inspiring and insightful blogger, before she was fighting to make the world a better place by educating. I knew her when she was just a fun girl that I was in choir with in high school, an interesting, funny, sweet girl with short spiky hair who wore a pair of Chucks with a gown to the winter formal. As per usual, I digress, and I’m going to try to get us back on track here. Last April, Chelley became mommy to the gorgeous, charming and sweet Adelaide Eileen or “Addie”. When Addie was 9 1/2 weeks old, she was diagnosed with Achondroplasia, a form of dwarfism. Chelley and her husband, Dave, are both average height and so this was obviously not something that they had prepared for. Despite her initial fear, which most of us, as parents, feel every day, Chelley has taken everything in stride and is the most amazing mom that Addie could have been blessed to have.

Now, we finally get to where the pickles come in. A few months ago, Chelley was doing her grocery shopping and while browsing the pickle aisle, saw that Cains, under the parent company of Gedney Foods, still called their small dill pickles “midgets”. Now, I don’t know that I’d have really given it much thought, but Chelley has worked extremely hard to educate herself. being the parent of a little person. The word “midget” was classified as offensive in 2009. It is akin to calling a black person the “n” word. You see how I just typed that? I won’t actually type the word as it is horribly offensive, but most people have no problem using the word “midget” because they really don’t know any better. In fact, as evidenced by the presence of pickle jars, sports organizations for children and some small racing cars, we have absolutely no problem using the word “midget” in a different context. Seeing that word glaring out at her from the store shelves made Chelley a little bit upset. She thought she might just smash the jars, but she showed great restraint and instead she went home and blogged about it. She made a beautiful video of her beautiful little girl and posted it and shared it and made some phone calls. Eventually she spoke to Barry Spector, the president of Gedney Foods, who told her that, in keeping with the changing times, they would be changing the name of their product! Chelley should feel so incredibly proud for taking a stand for something that was important to her and working hard to show a big company that they don’t have to be complacent just because it is easier.image22

Instead, she is now facing backlash, after some local media outlets picked up on the story. People have written awful comments under the related articles and some have even gone so far as to visit her website to leave harassing digs. Is this really what we have become? Is this what we are teaching our children? That if you don’t agree with someone else’s opinion, it is totally acceptable to tell them as much, preferably in as crude, rude and obnoxious a way as possible? For people who take the “words are just words” stance, they sure are using a lot of ugly one to convey that message. The truth is, words aren’t just words, and that is the reason that Chelley took the stand that she did. Words are a very important part of our everyday lives. They can help you to express how you’re feeling, what you want or need, how you see the world. Words and their meanings are what you use to tell people that you had a bad day or that you had an excruciatingly painful day, the likes of which you didn’t think you could survive. Words can help us describe, in beautiful detail, the faces and memories of our loved ones so that , long after they are gone, we can have them with us again, if only for a fleeting moment. If words are so unimportant, how do you explain the joy that you feel the first time your child utters “mama” or says “wuvvou” (which is “love you” in L-speak). The truth is that words aren’t just words and that every word carries with it a significant meaning that differentiates it from all other words. I don’t have a child who is a little person but I can whole-heartedly understand why Chelley feels the way that she does.

Then, there are the critics who feel like the “PC Police” have taken things to far and are ruining everything for everyone. From everything I’ve seen, since this started to unfold, there are more than a few people in the world who could use a little bit of policing. Just because you can use words and you have your First Amendment rights to free speech, doesn’t mean that you should use them. There are a litany of words that are offensive to the groups of people that they affect and when we teach our children that words don’t mean anything, we end up with completely desensitized little ones who use terms like “That’s so gay!” or “That’s retarded!”, without a second thought about the group that they are speaking of. I, myself, have been guilty of using one of those words and, while it is not one of my prouder moments to confess that, I have tried very hard not to perpetuate use of the word at all, in any context. I don’t ever want to hear one of my children use a word that would hurt someone else, meant in an intentionally hurtful way or not. I can’t imagine being the parent who has to comfort the child on the receiving end of such words, but more terrifying to me right now, is the thought of have the child using those words. I understand there being a place, when dealing with young children, for the old “sticks and stones” adage. However, in this age of constant social interaction, there needs to be a talk about the reality of words not physically hurting, but spirits being broken and they are usually harder to fix.

As for the folks who go with the old stand-by that the word “midget” isn’t always used to mean an offensive word for a little person, I ask you this: Did you know that the swastika was originally a symbol that meant life, good luck, sun, power, and strength? Do we still associate that symbol with such things? No. Now, the swastika is a symbol of hate, violence, antisemitism, murder and death. How would you feel to walk into a grocery store and see a jar of pickles emblazoned with a swastika? Even if you’re not of Jewish descent, you still probably wouldn’t feel as though that symbol was appropriate. If the company originated hundreds of years ago,when that symbol was still one of good intent, failure to change the symbol when times changed would be inexcusable to most. That is how one particular mother felt about an offensive word. If her wanting her daughter to grow up in a nicer, kinder world is her worst offense, I think we could use some more moms like Chelley. We should all be teaching our children that just because something doesn’t directly affect them, they can still be sensitive to it and that one voice can make a difference.

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There was love, all around…

But I never heard it ringing.  Who would over the noise of three boys?  Valentine’s Day is, as most of us know, nothing more than a Hallmark holiday.  I tend to sway more toward the hearts and crafts of the  day, rather than the unrealistically high expectations. Does the husband run out to buy me diamond jewelry?  Absolutely not.  Do we go out to a romantic dinner, eat over candlelight, share a bottle of wine and whisper sweet nothings to each other?  Yeah… no.  We’d be lucky to eat dinner together, at a reasonable hour, and forget whispering… you wouldn’t hear anything over that ever-present dull roar of our house known as H, the 5-year-old, and L, the 16-month-old.  This year, we didn’t even eat together and were mostly just ships passing through most of the day.  We did each make it to the gym though, which is, right now, a great way of showing our love for ourselves, each other and our boys.  Our journeys to get healthy will last much longer and are better for us all than the beautiful roses that he brought me (not to diminish the husband’s lovely gesture).  So, while romance is not totally dead in our house, it is certainly not all about coinciding with a particular day.

Pretty, and definitely unexpected, flowers

Pretty, and definitely unexpected, flowers

I did, however, have fun with the crafty heart-filled and heartfelt part of the day.  H and I (read: H is in kindergarten, so mostly I) made Valentine’s treats for his class.  Now, in this day of allergies everywhere you look and uber health consciousness, I wasn’t all too keen on sending loads of candy home with already wired 5 and 6-year-olds.  Through my browsing on Pinterest (don’t lie- you’ve lost hours of time there too) I found a bunch of cute ideas, but most did involve candy or food of some sort.  Just before deciding that I’d have to concede to sending candy or just buying little paper Valentine’s emblazoned with superheroes, I figured I’d take a quick stroll through the Dollar Store and see if inspiration struck.  First I considered glowsticks with cute little “punny” sayings (I’m GLOW happy we’re friends.  You make my day BRIGHTER.) and then I realized that a lot of kids, at that age, still have a tendency to put things in their mouths.  Can we say YUCK?

I was starting to head back to the front of the store, where they had boxes of cards when I noticed that I was in the school supply aisle.  Crayons?  Nah.  Call me a Crayola snob, but Dollar Store crayons aren’t always reliable.  Markers?  Horrible visions of children with drawn on mustaches and tattoos whirled in my head.  Pencils?  Hmmm… Throw in a fun little eraser and you’ve got a valentine treat that any grade-schooler can appreciate.  There’s got to be some sort of cheesy joke to put on a card accompanying a pencil, right?  Right?  Write!  Got it!  Please tell me I’m not the only person who gets excited when I think of a fun project.  And so, for $4, I purchased enough pencils and erasers for his whole class (he has 24 in his class, perfect when pencils and erasers came in packs of 12).  I knew that I had some Avery labels in shipping size in my desk and red cardstock, though construction paper would have been fine too.  For an extra $1, I bought a 25 count pack of Valentine’s cellophane treat bags, but they certainly weren’t necessary. If you, like me, have rolls of pretty ribbon lying around for every holiday imaginable, you too could be making valentines for less that $5.

Our supplies

Our supplies

And so, with my loot in hand I headed home to get started.  In Kindergarten they are just starting with the basics of computer skills and I imagine typing would not be the most fun activity to partake of with H, so I just used a Word program to make some labels for our gifts.  I started with an easy clip art heart and added a few small words of friendship and voila, step one was complete.  Hot off the presses, I took the labels to H and had him sign his name to each one.  We did have a few extra, just in case (letters are just HARD sometimes).  H then helped me put one eraser and one pencil in each bag, we tied them shut with a small piece of our fun Valentine’s Day ribbon and then, after the boys went to bed (which is when I get my best work done), I finished up our cards.  I stuck the labels to some red cardstock and cut each rectangle out with different pairs of decorative edge scissors that I have.  The last step was another H friendly one and we used some solid colored heart stickers that we had used on his Valentine box to stick each card to a bag.  Easy, fun, cheap and heartfelt.  What could be better?

H did a pretty darn good job writing on so many labels

H did a pretty darn good job writing on so many labels

Our finished treats

Our finished treats

Speaking of love, I did make a nice meal the night before Valentine’s day, to show my boys some love, and also to show that healthy and hearty can go hand in hand.  If you are trying to lose weight, or even if you just try to be mindful or what you eat, venison should definitely be in your freezer.  Now, in some states, you can’t legally buy or sell venison so, if you don’t hunt, you should definitely befriend (or marry) a hunter.  My husband and brother are stellar outdoorsmen and can often be found hunting or fishing in their spare time.  My brother, who certainly spent a fair amount of time in a tree stand this year, used his trusty bow to bring down at least 7 deer this season ( I may or may not have lost count).  My niece and nephew even each got their firsts, with crossbows, no less.  My brother did so well that he even donated a few so that families in need could partake of the spoils of his hunt.  My husband, though he hasn’t been at it nearly as long as my brother, brought down his first buck this year as well.  So, as you can imagine, we all have pretty well stocked freezers.  Venison is one of the most nutritious proteins you will find, as deer are very lean animals.  With practically no fat, it can be substituted for beef in almost any recipe for a much lower calorie and fat count.

Simmering stew (photo courtesy of the husband, after I ran out the door to get to the gym)

Simmering stew (photo courtesy of the husband, after I ran out the door to get to the gym)

There is nothing better than a nice hot, comforting bowl of soup or stew on a dreary winter day, so while trying to decide on dinner, I saw that I had all the makings for beef stew, except beef.  Beef stew isn’t always a great choice for dieters, as stew cubes are not always the best cut and some can be downright fatty.  Spotting a few backstraps in the freezer. I pulled one out and forged on with my idea of “Hunter Stew”.  Normally I would brown the meat and put it in the crockpot for a few hours and then add all of my veggies in, but my meat took a little longer to defrost than I had intended, so I just threw everything in the pot early in the evening.  The stew was delicious, but I would definitely advise a longer cooking time, especially if you’re using venison from a buck right after the rut (when the deer do nothing but run around), as your meat may be a bit tough if not cooked very quickly or very slowly.  I used all of the normal stew veggies, but cut down on the white flesh potatoes in favor of a couple of sweet potatoes.  Not only are they a little better for you, but they added a really nice sweet earthiness to balance the savory of the meat.  Always use red skinned potatoes in soups and stew that are cooked for a while, as they hold up better.  They will hold their shape and texture, as opposed to Idaho or Russet potatoes that will turn into mashed potato soup.  Your sweet potatoes will break down a little more than the red, but they add nicely to the broth and overall flavor that way.  If you give this recipe a try, you won’t be disappointed.

Doesn't that look warm and delicious?

Doesn’t that look warm and delicious?

Hunter Stew

Venison backstrap, 16 oz., cubed

2-3 cloves garlic, depending on size and taste

2 red potatoes, peeled, cubed

2 sweet potatoes, peeled, cubed

½ large sweet onion, chopped

2 large stalks celery, chopped

½ sweet red pepper, chopped

3 large carrots, peeled, chopped

Salt and pepper, to taste

3 1/2 cups water

Reduced sodium brown gravy mix (optional)

In a large pot, sprayed with a bit of non-stick cooking spray (or 1/4 tsp. of oil, the calories are minimal) add venison to brown, with a bit of salt and pepper. While the meat is browning, grate your garlic into the pot and give a good stir.  Once venison is browned, add about 1 cup of the water and stir to help start your broth.  *If using a crockpot to finish cooking, pour meat and “gravy” into crockpot and add all remaining ingredients in.  Add your onions, celery, carrots and peppers and let cook until your onions are clear.  Add both types of potatoes and combine the gravy mix with the remaining water and pour into pot.  Cover and let simmer for at least an hour (longer, if possible). Enjoy!

Serves about 6.  Each serving contains approximately 225 calories, 3 grams of fat, 250 mg sodium, 4 g fiber, 26 g protein and almost your complete daily needs of Vitamins A and C.

I hope you all had a wonderful Valentine’s Day filled with love!  See you next time!

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Let’s Jump In

I “started” this blog months ago, and have not published a word.  That’s not to say that I haven’t thought about writing something. Between the time I came up with a name and actually came to WordPress and now, I must have cooked or baked hundreds of meals and treats, done dozens of crafts, made loads of gifts, crocheted more than a few hats and told numerous stories of the “out of the mouths of babes” variety. Most days didn’t pass without some sort of fleeting thought about writing about what we did, what was made, what was said. The biggest thing holding me back were those ever present (and annoying) thoughts in the back of my mind of, “What if no one reads what I wrote? Do I really have anything to say that is worth reading?”

Me and my boys, atop Currituck Beach Lighthouse, NC (the husband is a little afraid of heights)

Me and my boys, atop Currituck Beach Lighthouse, NC (the husband is a little afraid of heights)

So, what has changed, you ask? Well, I have, for one. I have been making big changes to move toward a happier life. I have come to realize that no matter what I do for my children, what I make for them, how I treat them, if I don’t give them an example of a healthy and happy life, then I will not have done the best job that I can for them. The biggest part of my goals for a healthier and happier life is really about taking the time that I need. I have always been so worried about what everyone else needs that it became all too easy to say, “Forget about the gym, there is just too much to do.” No matter how much you love your children, if you don’t love yourself enough for them to see that and take notice, you are doing them a disservice.

The husband and I (out without children, no less)

The husband and I (out without children, no less)

Another reason that I have finally started to jot a few things down, here and there, is that I follow quite a few (mostly ladies) who blog, and while I love what all of them do and write about, most are very specific to topic. I follow ladies who cook, some who bake, people on weight loss journeys, mommies who are trying to navigate through parenthood and some pretty crafty dames. As my name says, I tend to “do it all”. I love to cook for my family and friends, baking is one of the ways that I show love, I usually have some sort of craft project with or for the kids in the works, as well as a crocheting piece or six, my children are the joys of my life or the bane of my existence, depending on when you catch me, and now, I will be adjusting most parts of my life to accommodate the goals that I have set to get healthy.  You may come for a recipe or craft, but you’ll find yourself enamored with my boys and just may stay for a story or two (they are quite adept at drawing you in).

H, the happy elf

H, the happy elf

Perhaps one of the biggest reasons that I have decided to just jump in is that, despite my nagging feeling of no one ever reading any of this, perhaps one day, someone who needs an idea or a laugh or maybe some inspiration,creative or otherwise, will stumble upon my little corner of the internet and will get exactly what they were looking for. If I can reach even one person and make them smile or brighten their day, then I’ve reached one more than I would have if I never tried. Trust me, I will never claim to have all of the answers, always do things right, or even know where I’m going from minute to minute, but I do know that everyone: every mom, friend, sibling, daughter, wife, crafter, cook or “Cupcake Wars” contestant wannabe wants to master every endeavor they try their hand at. Trust me, very few of us will ever “get it right” and that’s totally fine. The only times you’ll ever completely fail are the times that you don’t ever try

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L, who never got the memo that he was supposed to be the quiet one

So, here it is, an incredibly boring first blog. I promise that I’ll spend the next few days posting about more interesting topics, crafts, meals and the like, so you can get to know me and what our life is about. As for now, I have to go make some clever Valentines for a class of kindergarteners who probably won’t be able to read or “get” the pun that is intended, but I’ll have pictures so my son may laugh about it… some day.

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H’s first ever Valentine box, which I don’t think he’s old enough for, but his birth certificate disagrees

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