Saturday, April 20, 2013

Ode To A Tree

I had a love/hate relationship with this tree:

I wish I had a good picture of it in the summer when it had leaves, but I just didn't think of it last year.  

Let me start at the beginning...
We had this 60 foot (or so) tall Cottonwood tree in our backyard.  It's probably at least 75 years old give or take a decade.  I've cussed that tree every single year that I've lived in this house.  Over 22 years, that's a lot of cussing!  These are the reasons I hated that tree for so long:

1.  The leaves are ugly.  They were an ugly green and just turned an uglier brown in the fall.  No pretty autumn colors here.
2.  It dropped leaves ALL YEAR!!!!  And with a tree that big, that's a lot of leaves!
3.  The only shade it provided us was over the one flat, garden appropriate spot in my backyard so I could never have a garden. (My MIL has been kind enough to share her garden with me through the years though!)
4.  It dropped sticks all year long, too.  In the last couple of years, it also dropped much larger branches.  You didn't want to walk under that tree on a windy day.
5.  It was slowly dying.

So, I told Lance if we did nothing else this spring, we were getting that tree cut down!  And we did.  Here's a little shout out to Plue's Tree Service for doing a great job!  

The first cut:

This is not a job for someone afraid of heights!

Some of the branches had to be carefully hoisted down with a rope after being cut, partially because of being near our garage...

but more importantly because of my lilac bush that sits right at the base of the tree.  You can barely see it in this picture right in front of the bucket truck.  Bless these guys for taking such good care of this family heirloom!  The lilac bush was planted decades ago from a start off of Lance's great grandma Sallee's bush.  I can't believe how they were able to cut branches and nothing more than a few twigs fell on that bush! 

To give this mess a little scale, here's one of the tree guys walking among the dropped branches.  

Again, my lilac bush is still standing, unscathed, in this mess!

The guy in the bucket cut this limb off and it fell just like this, standing straight up!

And it continued to stand even with all this other debris falling all around it!

Looks a little lighter after that trim!

Remember when I said this tree was dying?  This is the back side:

After about 2 hours of trimming, they're done fooling around.  They tied ropes to the upper branches of the tree and the other ends to their tractor and truck.  

Making that V cut: 

Are you ready?  Here we go...TIMBER!!!!!!

A 60 foot tree leaves one hell of a mess to clean up!  We only paid them to drop the tree, not clean up and haul away.  We have chain sawed limbs, pushed stumps with the tractor, and raked up more sticks than I could ever have imagined!

Anyone want to come over for a bonfire?????

I mentioned at the beginning of this post that I had a love/hate relationship with this tree.  I always knew I hated it.  I complained about it all the time.  That's why no one was more surprised than me when, while watching them cut the first branches, I got tears in my eyes.  First of all, I really do hate to cut down any kind of tree, but this one honestly was becoming a danger to us and our garage.  I'm not a tree hugger, but I do enjoy having them in my yard.  I also started thinking about all the things this tree had experienced.  Can you imagine the weather, the storms, that this tree had to withstand just to grow to this size???  Besides, Lance's grandpa planted this tree.  It probably stood watch while Grandpa Malcolm worked the field behind it.  It probably gave shade to Lance's dad and aunts and uncles while they were outside playing and working in the 1930s, 40s, and 50s.  I know it was watching over my own kids play in the backyard through the years as they hit baseballs, ran through the sprinkler, and had picnics in the yard. We've had family parties - birthdays, Father's Day, Mother's Day, weenie roasts, 4th of July celebrations - in this yard, under this tree.  It's played host to numerous squirrels, birds, and other country critters.  Even its dead branches have provided us with firewood so we could sit on the patio and enjoy late summer nights outside.  So yes, I did have a love/hate relationship with this tree.  It had to come down and ultimately I'm glad it did.  It's still just a little sad to see something so strong that stood guard over our home for so many years lay in a crumbled heap.  So long Mr. Cottonwood!  Thanks for the memories!


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Thursday, April 11, 2013

Eighteenth Birthday Cupcakes

I'm feeling a little old this week. Actually, this whole year. We have several milestones in our family throughout the year and it brings about some very mixed feelings for this mama.

First of all, Lance and I celebrated our 21st anniversary last week! Now I know that's not one of those normal milestone anniversaries like the 25th, 40th, or 50th. However, in this day and age, I think every year after 20 is a milestone because so many couples don't make it that far. Hubby was actually out of town on our anniversary for work, so we are going out to a nice dinner tomorrow night to finally celebrate!

Today, my son Kelin, who is a senior in high school, brought home his cap and gown and graduation invitations.  Now, I have always been a mom who looks forward to the next stage in my kids' lives.  I don't sit around and pine for the days when they were toddlers and we spent our days playing tractors on the living room floor.  I enjoyed that time just as much as I enjoyed watching them grow through elementary school, fumble through middle school, and excel in high school.  Kenny is already a sophmore in college so I'm familiar with that scene.  However, I got a little teary eyed when I saw Kelin's cap and gown on the table today knowing he's my last, my baby, about to leave the nest, too.  I'm looking forward to the next season of life and spending more time hanging out with hubby, but today gave me pause, realizing that life goes by way too fast. 

Which leads me to the real reason for this post.  Kelin also turned 18 last week the day after our anniversary.  It's hard to put a theme together for an 18 year old young man's birthday.  And after all, my SIL and I spend so much time making decorations for my niece's parties that I felt I had to be a little creative. :)  So, I got out our old pictures and found some great ones of Kelin at different stages of his life and created a display down the center of the table. 

Everyone really enjoyed looking at the pictures.  He was such a cute little kid! :)  (but I'm biased)
My favorite part though was the cake!  Or I should say cupcakes!  The cupcakes themselves were nothing fancy...regular boxed cake mix and buttercream frosting.  I lightly sprayed them with blue edible paint to give them some color and added sprinkles.  Nothing fancy.  Then I arranged them in the shape of an 18. 

I think it turned out pretty good!  I made 4 dozen cupcakes and used all but about 6 of them for the 18.  The board is probably a 2x2 piece of plywood.  I'm seriously considering making cupcakes for his graduation party in May and creating a 2013 with them. 
After graduation in May, our next milestone will be Kenny's 21st birthday in the fall.  Definitely not ready for that one! :)  Hopefully I'll have some internet appropriate pictures to show you from that celebration. 
In the meantime, be sure to celebrate every single day as if it's a milestone.  Life is short and time
slips away all too fast!
Happy 18th birthday to my favorite farm boy!

Somewhat Simple
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Monday, April 8, 2013

Slow Cooker Beef Stew

I searched for a new beef stew recipe for weeks!  Then I finally found this one from Movita Beaucoup.  I made it quite a few weeks ago and it was deemed a "keeper!"  It really isn't too difficult to prepare and tastes delicious.  Now that the temperature is climbing, I thought I better get this recipe posted since it's better suited to cold weather eating. 

Slow Cooker Beef Stew
2 lbs of stewing beef, trimmed and cut into 1 inch cubes
1 tablespoon olive oil
 2 medium sized onions, chopped into large pieces
 2 ribs celery, chopped
 4 carrots, chopped
about 20 mini-potatoes, cut large ones in half, leave smallest ones as is (red or yellow are good - I left the skin on)
 1  28 oz. can whole tomatoes (or crushed)
 1 1/2 teaspoons Italian seasoning
 3 cups sodium reduced beef broth, divided
 2 bay leaves
 1 cup frozen peas
1/4 teaspoon salt
 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat and then lightly brown the meat in batches. Transfer browned beef to a plate and set aside.
Dump the tomatoes into the slow cooker (juice and all). Crush them with a potato masher or the back of a spoon. Add the onions, celery, carrots and potatoes. Sprinkle the Italian seasoning over the vegetables and then add the beef and any accumulated drippings. Pour 2 1/2 cups of the beef broth over the beef and vegetables. Give the mixture a quick stir. Add the bay leaves.
Cover and cook on low for 8 – 10 hours.
About 20 minutes before serving, add the peas (no need to defrost first), salt and pepper. In a small bowl whisk together the flour and remaining 1/2 cup of beef broth, creating a smooth paste. Stir into the stew. Replace the slow cooker cover and cook until thickened (about 15-20 minutes).
Remove the bay leaves before serving.
Ok, first of all, I will use my biggest crock pot next time.  This was way too much for my smaller one. 
Also, I never brown my stew meat before putting it in the crock pot.  It still cooks just fine.  If you are worried about it though, by all means, brown your meat!  I put the meat on the bottom of the crockpot though rather than on top of the vegetables.  I think that helps brown it a little, too.   
I also didn't have any bay leaves, but I don't think it made a big difference.  Other than that, I followed the recipe pretty close. 
Looks pretty tasty, huh?  Of course I serve it with cornbread.  Everyone agreed that this is our new beef stew recipe.  It will be delicious next fall again when it starts to get cold.  But for now, I'm enjoying the mild midwest temps, sunshine and open windows!!!!!!



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Thursday, April 4, 2013

Rolo Stuffed Ritz

Maybe you've known about these delicious little treats for awhile. And if you have, why did you not tell me about them before?!!!!!!!!!! I stumbled across them on Pinterest one day and thought they had to be the perfect combination of sweet and salty with a splash of caramel. The original post came from Lick the Bowl Good. I finally had a chance to make them awhile back and let me tell you that I was not disappointed. 
The whole process is pretty self explanatory so here are some pictures:

I just bought 3 packs of Rolos.  FYI, there are 8 Rolos in an individual pack.  If you are making a lot of these, I'd buy the bag of singles.  The only problem there is that you have to unwrap each one.

Place a Rolo on each cracker and pop them in a 350 degree oven for about 3-5 minutes.  You want to soften, not melt the Rolo.  As soon as they come out of the oven, top each one with another Ritz.  

Let them cool completely before eating them.  Store in an airtight container. 

I have to admit that I really liked these better the second day after the flavors had completely melded together.  Kelin said they remind him of the Milano cookies and I agree that is a good comparison.  If you need a quick treat for a party or bake sale these would be perfect!
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Monday, April 1, 2013

Sesame Street Birthday Party

Do you remember last week when I posted about my 7 Layer Salad?  I made it for my niece's birthday party.  Here's that adorable little girl just in case you missed it the first time:

She's blowing out her candles on a Cookie Monster cupcake.  Her 2nd birthday party theme was indeed Sesame Street! My SIL, Bobbi, goes all out for birthdays and this one turned out awesome! (does anyone say "awesome" anymore????)  However, I will say that even though Bobbi goes all out by our standards, it was nothing compared to this party. Wow!
Party preparations started back in January with Bobbi and I shopping for some supplies and pulling a late night Cricut crafting marathon.  The party was originally scheduled for February 23rd but had to be postponed due to health reasons until March 23rd.  Everyone is healthy now and the party was a huge success!  I have so many ideas and decorations to blog about that I'm pretty sure this will be the longest blog post in the history of blog posts!  So grab your favorite beverage, find a comfy spot, and keep reading....

Where to start??? I guess I'll start at the beginning.  The craziness began when my SIL won a Sesame Street Cricut cartidge on an Ebay auction. You can't purchase this cartidge new from Cricut anymore so it wasn't exactly easy to track down.  But, she finally scored big and the adventure began.  We spent an entire Saturday making garland, cookie bean bags, and Cricut characters. 

First we made bean bag cookies for the Toss the Cookie game.  We traced a circle pattern onto tan felt using the inside of a roll of painter's tape and cut out the circles (we did 12 circles for 6 cookies).  We didn't worry about cutting the edges perfect because cookies aren't perfect anyway, right? 

After getting the circles cut, I sewed the cookies together leaving a hole open for the rice to be inserted. 

Bobbi filled the bags with rice (so technically I guess they're rice bags, not bean bags).

While I was sewing, Bobbi cut out brown felt "chocolate chips" and we used fabric glue to attach them.  I am not a professional seamstress and sewing circles is hard!  I think they turned out ok though. 

 Bobbi had the Cookie Monster head printed at about a size 11x17 at Kinkos and cut out the mouth.  The letters were cut using the Cricut.  

Here's an action shot of my niece playing her game.  She moves so fast now I can't get a clear picture of her!

My two big kids got into the act with the cookie game, too!  It's like playing "bags" to them!

After the cookies, we made this garland...

Did you know that you can sew paper on a sewing maching?????  This garland was probably the easiest thing we made!  Those paper pom poms were purchased at Party City (I think).  There are also a few tulle pom poms that I'll get to later.  First, Bobbi punched out a TON of circles.  We didn't count but they're 2 inch in diameter.  We didn't think to measure how many feet of garland we made either.  There was quite a few feet though! 

Here's a tip if you're going to sew a garland like this....position tape guides on either side of the sewing machine foot so you can keep a fairly straight line.

This also works better with two people so you can make a sort of assembly line.  Bobbi would hand me circles and I would feed them continuously through the machine.  It really went fairly quickly!  This picture is me just starting the garland. 

Here you can see how the garland is sewn together.  Pretty cool, huh?

Next came the hardest part of the entire party:  making the Cricut Sesame Street characters!  I had never made a layered Cricut image before.  Some of them are fairly easy, but some are very intricate and have a bunch of separate parts! Abby and Big Bird were probably the hardest because they had so many layers and parts!  Here's a step by step of putting Abby together:

This isn't even all of the steps.  There were so many parts!  Her eyes alone had 3 layers not counting the black.  Using tweezers is highly recommended for those tiny pieces. Another tip...there were a lot of intricate cuts on some of these characters and at first, we were having trouble with the Cricut just ripping the paper and not making a clean cut.  We (well, I hate to admit it, but actually it was my brother!) finally realized that it was the type of paper we were using.  Some of our card stock didn't have as smooth of a surface as the other paper did.  Be sure you are using extremely smooth card stock for cutting tiny, detailed pieces.

You know how when you are up late working on a project and you're so tired that everything is funny?  We got to that point and then probably worked another 2 hours!  I think we made characters until about 1 a.m.! 

Some of them were pretty easy, like Cookie Monster and Elmo.  I think we made these about 4 or 5 inches tall.   Bobbi made A LOT more on her own as you'll see later.   You can buy these on Etsy if you don't have a Cricut or just don't want to spend the time making them.

All the other decorations were made by Bobbi so I can't really give tutorials on those.  However, they're fairly self explanatory so I bet a smart gal (or guy!) like yourself could figure them out. :)

The walk up to the house included footprints from 3 of the most well known Sesame Street characters!

The green and yellow sign was a leftover retail display prop she got from a friend.  She painted it (it originally looked like a North Pole sign), bought a wooden sign at a craft store and added the letters and number. Genius, right???

Bobbi made the door sign by cutting out the "Sesame Street" with the Cricut, painting the wooden S and 2 white, then attaching both to a yellow ribbon and hanging from a wreath hook. 

The dining room table was decorated with the cute buckets, goldfish party favors, and wooden blocks (closeups to follow).  

The chair decorations were made with the Cricut and attached to ribbon.

Of course we can't forget to decorate the kitchen!

OR the bathroom!  I told you, she goes all out! :)

Here are some of the buckets she made for table decorations.  

Big Bird!!!!

Here is the cake and candy table.  The striped runner is just folded fabric.  

The clear fish bowls were filled with various candy:  Sixlets, gummy worms, and M&Ms.  The vase in the back was filled with magnetic letters.  Cute!

She also made dirt push pops with cake, frosting, and a gummy worm.  

Bobbi's sister makes some adorable cakes!  She gladly took on the challenge of creating the cupcakes for this party and did a fantastic job!

These little Goldy party favors are just adorable!  You can buy the small canisters at a craft store and fill them with goldfish.  The Goldy on the top was made with the Cricut of course.

I wish I had a mantel in my house!  This one was fully decorated for the party.  The large balloon is called a Walking Elmo.  It has rollers or something on the bottom so my niece could hold his hand and he would "walk" with her through the house.  I believe they purchased him at Party City.  

The mantel was filled with pictures and stuffed toys of some of her favorite characters.  

The garland was created with the Cricut of course and tied together with ribbon.

I don't have a tutorial on how to make these great tulle pom poms, but a quick internet search yields dozens of websites and Youtube videos.  Bobbi said they weren't that difficult to make. 

This was a "pin the nose on Elmo" game that I don't think we ever got around to playing.  Again, the picture was printed at Kinkos on 11x17 paper.

We had some delicious food!!!!!!  Italian beef, Italian chicken, pulled pork, 7 layer salad, fruit, cheesy potatoes, and so much more!

The picture holders that Elmo and Goldy are in can be found at craft stores.  I know I've seen them in the wedding aisle for holding place cards or table numbers

And yes, Bobbi even managed to find Elmo juice boxes for the party.  I've actually seen them at the Dollar Tree store, but I'm sure they can be found other places, too.  These happen to be Apple and Eve brand. 

Whew!  That was a long post!  Here are a few more shots of the birthday girl enjoying her very special day!

Taking Elmo for a walk.

Blowing out her 2 birthday candles!

Opening presents, everyone's favorite part of their birthday! :)

And my personal favorite, showing us her blue tongue from the Cookie Monster cupcake!

Happy birthday to the cutest niece ever!  


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