Monday, October 29, 2012

Jessalyn's second room makeover.

When Jessalyn turned seven we had just moved into the parsonage.  It was the first time that she was able to have her own room.  Kirsten, Granny and Nana helped decorate her room and made it very pretty and perfect for her at the time.  She LOVED the day that her room was "revealed" to her and has enjoyed every aspect of the room since then.

As time has gone by, her tastes have changed some and her need to have a simple, yet functional space has become necessary.  Her busy schedule and the small space of her room usually equals a horrible mess...usually of clothes that don't fit in her dresser, or random scraps from various scrap projects.  On top of this, she has many wall hangings that are memories of different events and times, things that were made by her friends and other things that were sort of taking over the original decor on her walls.

One of the things that she's been asking for for the last year or so is a loft bed.  Really, a loft bed would work well in her room as space is limited and her stuff keeps multiplying.  We had some friends over just a few weeks ago who, in conversation, asked " guys don't happen to want a loft bed do you?".  Jessalyn also happened to not be in the room at the time.  We jumped on this offer and decided that this was the route we would go for her birthday.

Not knowing anything about the bed, I had her pick out some bedding for a "potential" birthday present.  She had fun choosing what she wanted..which turned out to be Nana's gift to her.

We had planned to do this room makeover while she was at school on her actual birthday...(today, Oct. 29).  What we didn't plan on is was that there was going to be a hurricane this day (Sandy) and that school was going to be dismissed early!  This put a kink in our plans, but the day still went well.  Jessalyn ended up home before we had time to finish the whole project, but she hung out downstairs as we finished things up.  It actually worked perfectly as we were finished the project at about 2:13pm..and Jessalyn was born at 2:15pm!  We brought her up and revealed her 12th birthday present at the exact time that she was born 12 years earlier!

She was VERY happy with her super clean, functional, rearranged room with a "new to her" loft bed!

The fun part is that I took pics of her when her room was revealed to her 5 years ago and took pics again today.  It's a fun comparison!



Monday, October 22, 2012

Is 35 really that far away from 12??

Jessalyn and I share a birthday month.  In fact, she was born exactly a week after my 23rd birthday.  I've always loved her birthday (as I do all of my kids), but I am not much of a party planner.  When they are little it is fun to celebrate with family,  but as they get older and they want friends to come it starts to require a bit more 'planning'.  I don't really enjoy it.  I've been saying ever since she was in kindergarten (which was about the time that 'friend' parties started) that I can't wait for the time when she is old enough to plan her own party and be entertained without requiring much planning on my part.

It has been getting better over the years, but this year was definitely that moment that I've been waiting for!  She celebrated her 12th birthday with her friends (a little earlier than her actual day) and it was a GREAT time.  There was a little work involved from Josh and I as we prepared the basement to set up her campout, helping her and her friends make pizza and then making them breakfast in the morning, but other than that I didn't have to plan a single thing to entertain the girls.

There were six of them including Jessalyn and they enjoyed partying the night away together doing the things that 12 year old girls do...or at least, what most 12 year old's do!  There was dancing, singing, hair do's, giggling, squealing, eating, running around outside....etc.

At one point they were upstairs hanging out with me and Truett (Josh and Ethan went to a movie, and Luke and Owen were at another birthday party).  They were talking about their "group" and how much time they spend together and how much they enjoy each other.  It instantly brought me back to when I was 12 and I started telling them about "my group" when I was their age.  They listened intently, quite interested and wanted to know who was in "our group".

I went on to list names....Emily, Viney, Sara, Natanya, Angela.... (I know there were more, but this was the core group of friends for the longest time)...

This conversation made me remember my 12th birthday and many other's with this exact 'group' of girls.  My sister in law Kirsten put it perfectly when she said "those were some of my best birthdays...old enough to stay up late, young enough to still be non-self conscious."

How true is that?!!

It is very bizarre to look back to when I was 12 and remember it like it wasn't 23 years ago!  Looking at Jessalyn and her friends brings back floods of memories of me and mine.  Looking back, I had no idea that the reason 12 year can have such great relationships has so much to do with just being accepted for who you are.

Of course, I remember always wanting to be one of my friends for one reason or another.  There were times when I envied the way that they were and stuff that they had.  I always wanted Emily's work ethic...and her clothes and swimming pool!  I always wished I was as smart and inventive as Viney...and love her mom and her super cool "A-frame" house, not to mention the bee's and sheep (and the big brother that I always had a crush on!).  I always wanted Sara's crazy fun personality and her PERFECTLY straight little "bob" haircut...with the natural wave in her bangs, also her house was always so fun to stay at.  We all wanted Natanya's log cabin and fun traditions that she got to do with her family during Hanukkah season!  Her mom was always super fun too....she definitely drove the "cool" bus!  And I always respected and wanted Angela's strong convictions and her hand writing!  And although she didn't go to my school, my friend Brandy who was the closest thing I had to a "sister" for a few years played a huge part in my life during this time as well.  I loved Brandy's family and the fun that we had there.  I thank Brandy for my mad "running man skills" as she was the best dancer I knew..who introduced me to how much fun it was to dance to "Color Me Badd":)

So many memories..I could go on and on.

But...even though I'm sure we all envied one another for one reason or another, we were all able to just BE who we were.  There was no faking, not a huge amount of pressure to be something that we were not.  I could still be "me"...the girl who would rather have a ball in her hand or riding a bike...the girl who never dressed up and always wore shorts/jeans and tshirts, had short hair...and who would be the only one still sleeping at 10 am after a sleepover.  "My group" accepted me that way.

I love that Jessalyn has friends like this right now.  Of course, it's not all happy all the time.  There is a fair share of drama that happens on a daily basis with this exact group of girls.  There is the added variable of technology that we did not have as 12 year old's.  Ipods, cell phones, texting, social changes how kids communicate today, but the overall relationship is much the same!  I'm thankful for her "group".

I'm also thankful that I still communicate (thanks to social media!) with all of my good friends from elementary school and beyond.  Of course, the girls that I listed above were my "12 year old group" and there were many additions and changes over the years.  I had very many friends who had a part in my childhood..and I fortunately have many good memories of this time in my life.

Was 12 really THAT far away?  It certainly doesn't feel like it at times!  Although, celebrating my 35th birthday and my own child's 12th birthday at the same time sure does make me feel old!!!

Also, interesting fact, my 12th year was the last year I spent without my husband in my life!  Will Jessalyn be fortunate enough to find her best friend...her husband... when she is 13?  I highly doubt it actually...if Josh has anything to say about it!!!  hahahaha

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Mac Daddy?? (somewhat of a review of Toby Mac's new album)

Eye On It.  Toby Mac put out a new album last month.  Being that Toby Mac is one of our family favorites we were quick to make the purchase on iTunes.  We love it.  It has us all groovin' in the car in typical Toby Mac fashion and of course each of us have our favorites that are requested often.

Jessalyn's favorite is "Favorite Song" featuring Jamie Grace.  Ethan loves one particular remix of  "Me Without You".  My favorite is "Forgiveness" featuring Lecrae.

Of course the "Loud and Clear" remix is a favorite as the kids loved the original version of this song and also because it was this song that prompted the naming of our Truett!  We will remember the time we were listening to the song and decided that Truett was a pretty cool name.  The TruDog songs are favorites of every album and it has been fun to watch (listen?) to TruDog grow each time a new album comes out and each time we hear his new song.

Which brings me to his new song on the Eye On It album!  It took us a good week to realize that the "Mac Daddy" song was TruDog!!!  Wow...what a difference a few years make!  Listening to the original  "Loud and Clear" song and then listening to "Mac Daddy" only a few years later is crazy!  TruDog is like 15...and has a deep voice now!  Too funny.

Of course, "Mac Daddy" is Owen's favorite song on the album.  He likes to listen to it and he likes to sing it. It gets stuck in his head.  The song is completely harmless and quite funny actually, but if you don't know all the words hearing a five year old walking around singing  "I want a mac, I want a mac daddy, I need a mac,  those apples don't grow on trees"...could come across kinda funny.

Definition of Mac Daddy as found in the Urban Dictionary:

"Mac Daddy" or Mack Daddy, is a term used to describe a man with an unusual power over women, and is derived from the French and later Louisiana Creole patois term "maqereau", which means "pimp". Adding "daddy" makes it mean "top pimp".

I'd rather not answer the questions from people who hear my five year old singing about needing a pimp!

Of course, the song is funny.  It's actually TruDog's request to his dad (Toby Mac) that he needs a in a Mac LAPTOP.  

Here are the clever lyrics:

I want a Mac, I want a Mac, daddy, I need a Mac
I want a Mac, I want a Mac, daddy, I need a Mac
Them Apples don’t grow on trees

I want a Mac laptop, packaging so posh
Fits like a glove in that tiny little white box
Pretty as a picture but it ain’t all show
At 8 Ram deep I be running logic pro
To make my own beats dad
Keep me off the streets dad
An xbox, would even take a back seat
So please give me a job so I can stack that paper
‘Cause this is major

I want a Mac, I want a Mac, daddy, I need a Mac
So I can make my own beats
I want a Mac, I want a Mac, daddy, I need a Mac
Them Apples don’t grow on trees

Yo I’m saving for a laptop and looking for some work
5 bucks an hour and I’m willing to serve
Ain’t no job to UG, L to the Y
I’d do almost anything to make that Macbook fly
Yo I’ll teach you to cross it over
Then play chess all day with roses
I’ll take whatever you think is fair
Dad, I’d even braid Marley's hair

I want a Mac, I want a Mac, daddy, I need a Mac
So I can make my own beats
I want a Mac, I want a Mac, daddy, I need a Mac
Them Apples don’t grow on trees

I want a Mac, I want a Mac, daddy, I need a Mac
So I can make my own beats
I want a Mac, I want a Mac, daddy, I need a Mac
Something that can Jesus bring

I want a Mac, I want a Mac, daddy, I need a Mac
So I can make my own beats
I want a Mac, I want a Mac, daddy, I need a Mac
Them Apples don’t grow on trees

I want a Mac, I want a Mac, daddy, I need a Mac
So I can make my own beats
I want a Mac, I want a Mac, daddy, I need a Mac
Something that can Jesus bring

So you really want a Mac son?
Yea, sir
Use it for the people
You mean we got that soul side

I do wonder if Toby Mac had any thought to the catchy tune and words of the chorus of this song?  Of course, this isn't going to stop us from listening or recommending this album but I wonder if Toby Mac realizes that he has such a loyal 5 year old fan?!

And just for's a little clip of Owen playing video games while singing the song that's in his head...

Crock on.

Beef and Broccoli

Throw some beef tips in the crock and cover them with a package of Mandarin Stir Fry Sauce.
Cook on LOW for 5-6 hours.
Add some frozen broccoli and cook for 1 more hour.  

I served it over brown rice with some yummy bread.
You can also add a chopped onion to this recipe and next time I might add some red peppers!

Swiss Steak

2 lbs of top round or london broil steak...or if you want to go all out steak tips or any other good cut.
1 can of cream of mushroom soup
1 can of stewed tomatoes
1 can of beef broth

Put steak in the crock.
Mix all other ingredients together and pour over steak.
Cook on LOW for six to eight hours.

Serve with a variety of yummy things...rice, veggies...whatever you want:)

Bacon Ranch Chicken

4 boneless chicken breasts
2 TBSP bacon bits
1 tsp minced garlic
1 pkg ranch dressing mix
1 can cream of chicken soup
1 cup sour cream
cooked egg noodles

Combine the bacon, garlic, ranch mix, chicken soup, sour cream and pour over chicken.
Cook on HIGH 3 -4 hours.
Shred the chicken.
Serve over egg noodles.

Tried and true folks.  We liked these ones.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Another crock pot fave.

Another tried and true (and EASY) recipe.

Sweet Baby Rays BBQ Chicken

Throw 4 chicken breasts in the crock pot.

In a small(ish) bowl mix the following:
     ~1 bottle sweet baby rays sauce
     ~1/4 cup vinegar
     ~1 tsp red pepper flakes
     ~1/4 cup brown sugar
     ~1 tsp garlic powder

Pour sauce over the chicken and cook on low for 4-6 hours.

I personally loved it with the red pepper flakes but it does give it a little 'kick'.  Ethan wasn't as thrilled with the 'kick' as the rest of us, so the next time I made it I didn't put the crushed red pepper in the actual sauce.  It still tasted quite yummy..just not spicy.

You do what you like:)

We had some mashed potatoes and veggies to go along with it.

Seriously delicious doughnuts.

My super awesome friend Beth introduced me to these seriously ridiculously super yummy homemade doughnuts.  I think we shall call them "SRSYHD's" from now on:)  Although, after I share this recipe, you might hate me.  Let's just get it out there.  

They're not exactly good for you:)  ....but what doughnuts are?  

Jessalyn saw Beth make them and just HAD to come home and make them for us.  Everyone is glad that she did.  I photographed the process.  It's easy.  Jessalyn did it all by herself.  

All you need is some oil, a tube of biscuits dough (you know, the kind like Pillsbury, that when you pop them open it gives you a heart attack), some butter (ok..LOTS  of butter), and cinnamon/sugar.  

Heat up some oil, crack open the biscuit dough, use a soda cap to cut out holes in the dough, put the dough in the hot oil, let it turn nice and golden brown, take them out, dunk them in some butter, then in some cinnamon/sugar....and put them on a plate to cool.  If you are like our family, the doughnut holes didn't last long as they taste extra yummy while they are still warm!  

Serious goodness.  A nice treat and fun project.  

Then run twice as far tomorrow or do twice the p90x or Insanity.  Whatever it takes.  

Waiting patiently...

Approval all around:)

Friday, October 5, 2012

Finding focus.

Well, I had a small amount of time today to play with  my decent light on a beautiful day.  Let's just say that I'm feeling much better about things already.  I think I'm figuring out which focus settings I like the best.

In the D7000 there are 39 focus points.  You can choose to use only 1 or you can choose to use them in chunks.  I finally figured out that using them in chunks for portrait type things is best...using about 9 focus points at a time.  And obviously for bigger landscape type pics I would use all 39.  I am enjoying how quickly and easily I can move from one setting to the other and didn't have a problem switching between people and landscape.

I still don't have the focus spot least not enough of the time...but I'm closer!  I'm happy to be getting more focused pics than not at this point.

Here are a few from today.

I found a flower with a fall leaf on it...and then this little bee flew into the picture just in time:)

I think after I get this focus issue figured out I'll move right into white balance...

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Happy Birthday to me!

Ahhhh...October.  The best month of the year.  Not only is it my birthday month...but it is also the birth month of my firstborn and third born.  October also brings with it the best weather and prettiest landscape.  

What better way to celebrate October (and my birthday) but with a new camera!!  I've had my D40 for four years and I can't even begin to guess how many pictures I've taken with it during that time.  The D40 was a GREAT investment and has proven its worth time and time again.  It was time though, for me to upgrade as I have been beginning to do more photography for more people (outside of my own family).  

After researching, I came to the conclusion that the D7000 was the right upgrade for me (and my price range!).  It has many cool features that are not available on the D40 and most of all it has even more customization options and most of the usual functions (f-stop, ISO, white balance etc) are just one click of a button away (rather than a process of scrolling through menu's like with the D40).  It has 16 megapixels compared to the D40's six!  It has 39 focus points as compared to the D40's three.  It has two SD card slots, a bigger review screen, the option of live view, it shoots video and is just an overall faster camera.  

With all that said, I wish I could run the thing!  

I knew that a new camera would have a learning curve.  I was expecting some work to learn where how to change the functions and how to navigate the new menus etc.  I was NOT expecting this camera to react completely differently!  It's hard to explain...but lets just say, I'm having issues:)

In my own defense...I've only had the camera for a little over 24 hours and every single hour of this has been raining or super dark.  The lighting has been horrific for any kind of photography so that has forced me to really try to 'work it' and mess with all the possible options.  I know how to get the most light in the camera by changing settings and things like that...but this camera is just different than I'm used to!

I knew my D40.  I could walk in a room and assess the light and immediately know what fstop I would need coupled with the proper ISO and shutter speed.  I am also quite familiar with the different auto white balance settings and could usually tell right away if I could use one of those options or if I would have to reset the white balance manually.  When I clicked the shutter button I could HEAR whether or not it was going to be a good shot.  If all of those functions are set correctly, you can just HEAR it!  

The problem I am having with the D7000 is that it has SO many options.  I had ISO options of 200, 400, 800 and 1600 on my D40.  The D7000 has a gazillion more...and I have no idea how 'noisy' any of them are.  The D40 had 3 focus points...and limited autofocus options.  The D7000 has 39 focus points and probably 10 different options as to how to use them.  

I do feel like I've started over a bit and because I wasn't completely expecting that, I will admit, I am a little frustrated.  But...I know I'll get it.  I will.  

I am eagerly waiting for tomorrow as it is supposed to be a beautiful sunny day and I'm hoping to have a bit of my confidence renewed.  We'll see.  

I will share the "best of the best" that I've gotten out of my camera.  It's sad..really, it is.  I get one somewhat in focus picture out of probably 8 at this point.  That's just not good enough...especially when you are doing photoshoots like the one I did last week (with my D40 fortunately) of 8 preschool kids (and some siblings).  There is a VERY short attention span there....and in order to do that right you need to get that focus and exposure/metering right on way more than 1 out of 8 times!  

Here are a few "sotc" (straight out of the camera) pictures...taken in horrible light, inside...of my kids in their jammas with bedhead:)

Rest assured...if you were to book a photoshoot with me in the near future,  I will come with my D40 in hand (after I borrow it back from my mom who is its proud owner now!).  I will not photograph any paying customer with my new camera until I am confident!  No worries:)  

Trying to work out the white balance here...

Oh wait...this one is not in jammas...and does not have bed head...and is not one of my kids (technically:).  

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Crock Pot Recipes...tried and true!

Gone are the days when I had the time to dice a gazillion veggies, chop a bunch of fresh herbs and spices...and spend hours in the kitchen making an amazing Pioneer Woman recipe.  Really, looking back, I'm not sure how I ever really had time for that....but I suppose I thought the meals were so yummy that it was worth it.

If we don't plan efficiently our 'dining' will consist of shoving down a bowl of cereal or yogurt in between our crazy evening schedule that looks something like this:

This week in the life the Brown Family.

Monday:  Josh meeting, Jessalyn One Voice practice

Tuesday:  Ethan soccer practice 3:15-4:30,  Jessalyn game 5:30...meaning pick Ethan up at 4:30 come home, bring Jessalyn at 5, come home, bring the rest of the family to the field at 5:30 to watch the game.  Then Josh had a meeting at 7:30.  

Wednesday:  Jessalyn piano lesson,  Ethan at a friends house after school,  Jessalyn game at 5:30, Pick up Ethan and friend at 5:15, bring Ethan (and friend), Luke and Owen to youth group with Josh from 5:30-6:30, then Josh has youth group from 6:30 - 8:30 and in between that Tru and I will be watching Jessalyn's game.  

Thursday:  A slow night....Ethan has a game at 5:00.

Friday:  Worship team practice at 5:30 for Josh and I.  

Add in there homework for Jessalyn, Ethan and Luke and dragging around a one year old... the time between 3pm and bedtime (hopefully around 9 or so) is quite intense.

And notice, dinner wasn't really in the schedule!

Because of this we have developed quite a relationship with our crock pot.  Finding something that ALL 7 of us like is a challenge as there are many different personalities and tastes in our family....but we are keeping track of the "keeper" crock pot recipes that make at least 6 out of 7 of us happy.  (The oddball gets cereal...or toast:)

(You were beginning to wonder if there were actually going to be recipes in this post, weren't you?)

This week's tried and true crock pot recipes:

Chicken and Wild Rice
Throw 4 chicken breasts in the crock (frozen is fine)
Cover it with one can of cream of mushroom soup.
You can also add a chopped onion in there too...if you don't have kids that will have a hissy fit about it.
crock on low for 7-8 hours

(I strongly suggest keeping an eye on any meal you cook for that long in your crock pot until you really get to know your own crock pot.  We have found that our crock cooks hot so we have to lessen the cooking time with almost everything.  I've learned that all crock pots are different)

Just before serving prepare a box uncle bens wild rice with seasoning package...this takes about 25 minutes (but it's easy!).  When the rice is finished, add it to the crock pot and your good to go.  I like to sort of shred the chicken in the's easier for my family, but you can definitely just serve each breast individiually.

(4 out of 5 of my kids LOVE LOVE LOVE this recipe and it tastes even better for lunch the next day! ....we won't name the name of the crazy kid who won't eat this.)


Steak and Rice
Throw some steak tips in the crock (frozen is fine)
Cover with a can of beef gravy.
Cook on low for 7-8 hours.

Easy as that.  Prepare some rice (not the flavored seasoning kind)...we use regular brown rice.  Serve steak tips over the rice.  Some bread and a veggie are a nice addition:)
(4 out of 5 of my kids love this one too!  Same crazy kid won't eat this either)

Mac and Cheese
I follow THIS MAC AND CHEESE RECIPE and miraculously ALL 7 of us like this one!!!

Italian Chicken Spaghetti
Throw 4 chicken breasts in the crock (frozen is fine)
mix a package of dry Italian seasoning mix with 1/4 cup of water and pour over chicken.
Sprinkle with some garlic

After cooking on low for 4 hours

Mix a package of softened cream cheese and a can of cream of chicken soup in a bowl and pour over the chicken.  This is when you can add some chopped mushrooms...if you don't have crazy kids.

Cook for an additional hour and serve over spaghetti (prepared as the package suggests).

The recipe suggests some parsley on top...I didn't bother:)

(4 out of 5 of my kids loved this too).

This is super yummy...even without the chicken.  A great pasta sauce if you are sick of marinara.

Salsa Chicken
4 chicken breasts (frozen is fine)
Sprinkle a package of taco seasoning on top of the chicken
Combine one can of cream of chicken soup, one cup of salsa, 1/2 cup of sour cream and pour over the chicken.
Cook on low for 7-8 hours
Shred the chicken with two forks and serve on a tortilla shell.
(4 out of 5 of my kids enjoyed this one)

Meatball Subs
A bag of frozen meatballs combined with 2 jars of marinara sauce....plop it on some bread and sprinkle some cheese on it.

(I'm sure there is some way better way to do this...including making homemade meatballs and sauce...but this whole post is to avoid having to take ANY time preparing I'll stick with SIMPLE during this phase of life!)

(4 out of 5 of my kids like this.  Are you seeing a pattern yet?)

Pulled Pork
A 3 - 4 lb "Pork butt"
Add a can of root beer.
Cook on low for 7-8 hours

When it's done, pull apart the pork with two forks (this can be easy...and can be difficult at times)

Add a jar of BBQ sauce and mix together.

Serve on some yummy bread!

Again, there are some super great YUMMY ways to make pulled pork amazing, but really...I don't have that kind of time:)  

( guessed's a NO GO for Owen.  I just keep reminding myself that Ethan was EXACTLY like this and has since grown out of this crazy food aversion stage of life!)

As I continue to find EASY crock pot recipes that a majority of our family enjoys, I will post them here to share.  I can't even begin to tell you how much easier it is for us to cook this way!  We still have the issue of finding the time to eat it, but even if we are all eating at 8pm, at least it's ready, I don't have to think about it, most of the mess is already cleaned up and we can just sit down and enjoy some yummy food after a crazy busy day for everyone!