Saturday, December 28, 2013

Meet Jeffrey

He is Connor's pet rock. He has a blankie.

Some days I wonder if I am going to make it through the rest of Connor's childhood with my sanity intact. There is no reasoning with him or getting him to stop talking.

Jeffrey must sleep inside. 
We must have a picnic party. 
We must have a camping party. 
We must play "Cars" (the movie) with the Legos.
Mr. Bear must go with him on his lunch date with Daddy.
What are you going to do, Mommy?
When can I have a party?
When can I go to the hotel?
We need to buy a toy Frank.
I want to play with Hazel.
When can my friend come over?
Can I have something to eat?
Can I have some milk?
Will you play with me?
Sit there and I will tell you all about skeletons.
I hate the Grinch!
I love the Grinch!
When is Christmas?

I love that boy.
But my ears are starting to go numb.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Sick Mr. Bear

Connor has been very attached to this bear lately. He calls him "Mr. Bear". When we went to Olivia's choir concert Thursday night, he remembered a minute after we left that he had forgotten him. He cried, and cried. "I wanted Mr. Bear to hear the concert!" It was so sad, but we were cutting it close and didn't have time to turn around.

This afternoon, Connor insisted that Mr. Bear was sick and needed a nap on the table while he was working. He asked me to get the thermometer and take his temperature. Being the awesome and indulgent mother that I am, I acquiesced. 

Poor Mr. Bear...

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Reindeer Chow

My kids love "puppy chow" chex mix, so when I was faced with extra rice chex and almond bark last Christmas, it was only natural for me to attempt a candy cane variety. And thus Reindeer Chow was born. Christmas is just about the only time of year I make ANYTHING with almond bark, so it's kind of a luxury for both me a the kids. I like it because I don't have to bake anything and it's fast, the kids like it because it's delicious. Win-win, right? Plus, there are only 4 ingredients for this one, and I can buy them all at Aldi's. Go me!

Reindeer Chow

1 package vanilla almond bark (1.5 lbs)
1 box rice chex cereal
12 candy canes
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar

Start by crushing your candy canes. I shouldn't have to mention this, but just in case... PLEASE don't use fruity candy canes. You will regret it. Just get your plain old peppermint candy canes. You can crush them in a food processor unless you are lacking this cool kitchen gadget - like me. If so, never fear. Just stick a dozen in a bag and crush with a meat mallet. If you don't have a meat mallet, find something else heavy and hard. (No, your child's head should NOT be used to crush candy canes.)

Crush them so they are nice and powdery with a few big bits and set them aside.

One nice thing about the almond bark that Aldi sells is that the squares come already separated. There are actually 12 squares in the container, but because I prefer the cereal not too heavily coated, I like to use just 10. It's a personal preference. If you'd like the coating more heavy, just throw it all in. Either way, place it in the biggest bowl you own that will fit in your microwave. 

Melt it, stirring about every 30 seconds or so until smooth. This should take about 2-3 minutes tops.

Add your rice cereal. Mix together with the almond bark, using a rubber spatula to bring the candy coating up from the bottom. You're going to "fold" this rather than "stir" it. I hope you get the difference. If not, just do your best. Getting it coated well will take a few minutes of you folding and folding and folding and folding to make sure the almond bark is evenly coating the cereal. Be patient. It's worth it.

Eventually, it will look something like this.

At this point, start stirring in the crushed candy cane. I usually sprinkle half over the bowl, mix for a minute or so, then add the other half.

Mix it! Mix it good!

Then do the same thing with your powdered sugar. Don't skip the sugar - this is what keeps it all from sticking together when it cools and sets.

This makes a ton, so it's great to bring to parties or give out as gifts. It's so yummy!

Friday, December 6, 2013

Pardon Me, Your Opinion is Showing

This past week, Ben and I made a decision. I'd like to say it was a difficult decision to make. The reality is that it was a careful decision more than a challenging one. In other words, it was clear what we needed to do, but we didn't make it on a whim, and prayed about it for several days after we had decided to make sure it was right.

What was this decision we made? We decided to enroll Connor in public school. 

For those who may not realize, I have been teaching Kelsey (4th grade) and Connor (Kindergarten) at home this year, in addition to caring for Maddox (age 3) and keeping 2 kids for a friend (ages 1 and 3). I know some of you already think I'm crazy for even attempting to babysit in addition to my already full plate. Without going into a lot of details, I can honestly say that having these 2 "bonus" kids in my home every day usually does not add significantly to my stress. In fact, in many ways it has helped alleviate it. It is one of those rare, wonderful situations where they fit almost seamlessly into our home because of their ages and temperament.

But I digress. Over the past few days as I have been sharing this decision with loved ones, about half have responded with friendly support and acceptance. This "acceptance" includes an unspoken trust that Ben and I have consistently made good decisions regarding our children's education choices, whether they be to educate in our home or at public school. However, the remaining half of responses have fallen into one of two categories:

1. Some of my friends that are also homeschooling parents have responded with few words and unspoken reservations written plainly all over their face. Although they are too considerate and respectful to tell me so, they obviously feel like we are making a big mistake.

2. Others have responded with what can only be describes as mild enthusiasm. This sentiment is often accompanied by a comment that generally includes the phrase "you finally realized..." Thus, the implication comes that the original decision we made to homeschool was flawed.

These responses have led me to reflect on the judgments we make about others. While I am a firm believer in Christlike morals, right and wrong, and God's truth, I'm beginning to realize that most of the big decisions we make about our families don't fall into one of these categories. It's the little decisions that we make every day that have the greatest impact on our journey toward salvation. These include things like treating others with kindness, forgiving offenses, attending church, saying our prayers, and so forth. If we are doing these little things, than the "big" steps on our journey to salvation (such choosing to be baptized), aren't really a big question, are they? They are a natural and appropriate step along our spiritual path. 

But this isn't a blog post about morals and salvation. The point here is that big decisions that Ben and I have wrestled with over the years (along with many, many other parents) cannot be made by simply determining what is morally right and morally wrong. That's why they are hard to make. A few examples of these are:
  • Whether or not to homeschool
  • Whether or not to have more children
  • Whether or not I should be a stay-at-home mom
In each of these examples, our loved ones have had varying opinions. Some were positive and some were negative, but the ones we appreciated the most were those that were neither but simply an expression of trust that we would make the right decision.

I know there are a lot of people with very strong opinions about the benefits of homeschooling. In fact, I am one of them! I firmly believe that homeschooling is superior to an institutionalized, impersonal, public education. There is no possible way that even a committed, kind, hardworking school teacher with a class of 15-30 kids can compete with the type of personalized, loving, and creative environment that a homeschooling parent can provide at home in a family setting. Research shows this to be the case academically as well as emotionally when looking at homeschooling vs. public schooling as a whole.

One might ask why we decided to enroll Connor (and even Olivia) in public school if we believe so strongly about the benefits of homeschool. It's simple. I don't want what's best for my kid. I want what's best for my family. My family consists of me, Ben, and our 4 children. Every decision we make takes into consideration the needs of each person, and then we seek the will of God because He can see what we can't. It's as simple as that. 

I'm going to resist my very extrovert-ish inclination to tell you why we think allowing Connor to attend public school will be best for our family right now. I'm even going to tell you it's very possible that Kelsey will be returning to school again this fall. Our reasons are our own, and it is our conclusion that this is the best thing for our family at this time. It may not always be, but we'll cross that bridge when we get there. 

If you are a close friend or family member of ours, and you recognize yourself as #1 or #2, I really hope that you will come to trust our judgment as we trust yours. I understand that it's not that easy - I've been judgmental myself from time to time. When I am on the receiving end I try not to take it personally, but I am rather tender-hearted and it does hurt a little when it comes from a loved one. If you recognize yourself as someone who has been supportive without reservation, I thank you with all my heart. I strive to be like you when it's my turn to be the unbiased listener and supportive friend. But mostly, I hope that we will all take a moment to stop and think a little about what our unspoken thoughts are conveying to others.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

What A Piano Hides

Here's the picture of what our piano tuner and I pulled out, with the likely culprit. I've been missing that measuring tape for months!

On the bright side, our keys weren't really sticking. We had 55 cents wedged between the keys.

Friday, November 29, 2013


Olivia is growing her hair out, but got her bangs trimmed up and hair straightened. It's so LONG!

Kelsey got a cute a-line cut. Here it is from the front:

And the side:

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Thanksgiving Quips

This has been such a nice morning in the Ervin household. Kelsey and I have been rolling out our pie crusts, Ben made me an egg sandwich for breakfast, and I'm still walking around in my PJ's. Connor asked me if we were putting up the Christmas tree today, and I told him no. He was very concerned, so I explained to him that today is Thanksgiving and we don't put up the tree until AFTER Thanksgiving. This brought on another onslaught of questions, as is prone to happen these days with Connor. I explained that on Thanksgiving we get to spend time as a family and have a Thanksgiving Feast.

Connor asked, "What's a Thanksgiving Feast?"

Before I could answer, Olivia piped up from across the room, "It's where you get to eat a lot of food and nobody judges you."

Yep. That about sums it up.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Dessert: Connor's Philosophy

Connor was helping me with some baking after dinner. He wanted to know when he was going to get dessert. I explained to him that I was baking stuff for choir after church tomorrow, and that it wasn't for tonight.

"Mommy, what is for dessert then?"

"Nothing. You don't need dessert every night."

"Yes, we do! We have to have dessert!"

"No, we don't."

"Yes, we do! Jesus said we have to have dessert every night after dinner!"

Oh, sure.... pull the religion card...

Friday, November 22, 2013

Cardboard Houses

Made one for the boys tonight...

Here's the front:

Back view:

I might need to make 2...

To Be Understood: A Guide to the Extrovert Psyche

I've read several articles lately that seem to be painting a "how to" guide for interacting with and understanding introverts.  And while I'm all about understanding what makes my husband (an introvert) tick, I'm beginning to get a little peeved with the general implication that extroverts are people who pursue shallow, inconsequential human interaction while introverts are busy pondering the deep mysteries of the universe. Therefore, I have decided to come to the defense of extroverts everywhere. And while I'm fairly certain many introverts won't actually care about my perspective, this sates one of the deepest needs found in extroverts everywhere: to understand and to be understood by others.

It's true. When I am out in public and standing next to someone I don't know, I might just strike up a conversation with him or her. Not every time. And not everywhere. But sometimes I will come across someone with whom I appear to have something in common. Maybe she has a petulant toddler or a gaggle of kids. Maybe she looks nice. Maybe we are both waiting in line and annoyed with the same delays. But because I don't know this person well, any comment I make is going to relate to that superficial something we have in common. I am not demanding a lengthy conversation. In fact, if that person's body language is telling me they would rather not talk to someone, I leave them alone. But if they seem to be the friendly I-will-make-eye-contact-with-you sort of person, I may simply invite them to share my space for a few moments through conversation; to connect

Extroverts thrive on social energy. This doesn't have to be with people they don't know. Believe it or not, there are shy extroverts in the world! But we are more interested in the people around us than the things around us. And there is much to be said for people like us. Without extroverts, there would be no social glue to hold things together. We are important to the normal functioning of society - that's why there are more of us than there are of them (introverts). If my husband has to go to a social gathering, he wants me there. And not just because I am his arm candy, either. It's because that much human interaction with people he doesn't know very well isn't all that enjoyable to him. He's happy with one or two good conversations, but in order to get to those conversations, there are another 10 that have to happen that don't lead anywhere. As a non-shy extrovert, I don't mind taking care of that part. Do I love it? Nope. Do I thrive on them? Uh-uh. But I don't mind doing it in order to get to those "one or two" conversations that will truly be enjoyable for both of us.

Despite being an extrovert, I find that the older I get the less I want to have superficial, meaningless conversation with anyone. That office Christmas party with my husband's co-workers? I tolerate it because I love him, and because we get to dress up and have a nice dinner without the kids. I don't hate it, but it doesn't energize me or meet my social needs, either. However, that 2-minute conversation that I had with the lady in the check out line? It was nice. We commiserated over the fact that our kids are a handful at the grocery store. We got momentary validation from the fact that someone else understands. We didn't walk away with a lasting friendship. Neither of us were looking for that. But in a small, minor way, we connected. 

That's not meaningless.

Thursday, November 21, 2013


We have lived in our new house about 6 weeks, and we finally did it! We got both of our cars in the garage!

See? Picture proof!

Of course, we still have stuff to unpack...

Of course, not all of it is ours...

And we have boxes to recycle...

But maybe by the end of the year we will have it cleaned out, right?

What's that in Your Nose?

I couldn't make this stuff up if I tried.

Maddox came out of his room (after bedtime) to tell us there was something in his nose. Upon closer inspection, we realized the boy had pushed a small rock up his nose. Way up his nose. Left nostril, to be exact. Trying to avoid an ER visit, I pulled out the tweezers, only to find that he had blown it down low enough that Ben could work it out with his fingers. 

Imagine our surprise when this boulder landed in his hand. How did he get that in there? It's huge!

I'm not sure my nerves can take another 15 years of this.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013


This morning I had an errand to run, and I realized there was heated conversation going on in the back of the van between Connor and O. This is where I tuned into the chatter:

Connor: No, I blow you up!

O: No, I blow you up!

C: My bomb is 100 times big and your bomb is 10 times little, so I blow you up!

O: No, my bomb is bigger so I blow you up!

Let me just say that - to my knowledge - they have never watched movies with bombs and explosions and blowing people up...

Wednesday, October 30, 2013


The kids made their own robots today from cut up pieces of paper. Here's the results:

This is Connor's robot. His name is X.
"He uses his X-thingie to fire red ones and destroy all the good robots. He's got really big feet, but you don't see them. You don't see him when he's far, far away. You see him in the movie theater. It comes on next night."

Apparently, he's a bad robot. Not sure how I feel about that.

This is O's robot. His name is Gypsy Danger.
"He's a cool robot and he uses a to shoot kai juice."??

Need some translation here, I think!

And... Kelsey declined to post a picture of her robot. She made a Princess Robot for a young lady who lives down the street.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Candid Cook: Make-Ahead Lasagna

In addition to my chocolate cake mix issues, I'm also a lasagna snob. And while I can eat a frozen lasagna without dissing it, I will never be able to buy one. Lasagna is not hard to make, and you don't have to boil the noodles ahead of time. You know those "oven-ready" lasagna noodles they sell? Biggest. Ripoff. Ever.

So, to assemble your own lasagna, you are going to need a few things.

10-12 raw lasagna noodles
4 cups of spaghetti sauce + 1 cup water mixed in
(If you need a good shortcut spaghetti sauce, stay tuned. I'll post mine one of these days...)

3 cups shredded cheese
16 oz. cottage cheese (can substitute ricotta if desired)
1/2 c. shredded Parmesan (can substitute grated)
2 eggs
Natures Seasons or Salt/pepper

You can also add any extra meat or veggies you have on hand that would taste good in a lasagna. Ground beef or sausage, pepperoni, sauteed mushrooms & peppers, cooked spinach, etc. Whatever floats your boat. Just be sure to cook it first, whether it be meat or veggie.

Essentially, a lasagna is just layers of noodles, cheese, red sauce, meat and/or veggies if desired. Since you already have your noodles, sauce, and meat/veggies ready, let's assemble the cheese blend before we layer.

Combine cottage cheese, Parmesan cheese, eggs and Nature's Seasons in a medium mixing bowl.

Then mix in about half of the shredded cheese. If I were grating the cheese fresh myself, I would probably have used just straight mozzarella. However, when I use the "shortcut" pre-shredded cheeses, I always go with the Italian blend. In my experience it melts better.

Now take a greased 9x13 baking dish and spread a thin layer of red sauce on the bottom.

Layer 1/3 of your noodles on top.

Then 1/2 of the cheese mixture.

Because I was making this for my family which includes meat-hater kids, I just put meat on half of my lasagna. In this case, the meat was leftover chopped up meatballs. However, this is the step where you'll put 1/2 of any meat or veggies you want to have in your dish.

Top that with about 1/3 of the remaining red sauce.


Now put on your last 1/3 of the noodles...

...and the rest of the sauce. Admire the pretty layers.

Cover with a double-layer of aluminum foil and stick in your fridge for at least 2 hours. If preferrred, it can sit up to a full day if you want to make this the night before.

When you are ready to bake it, pull it out and stick it in the oven at 375 degrees. Leave the aluminum foil on. You are going to bake it - covered - for about 45 minutes. Then remove it from the oven and take off the foil.

Top it with the rest of the shredded cheese.

Bake an additional 15 minutes or so until the cheese is just starting to brown.

This serves up best if you let it sit for about 30 minutes before you serve it.
I know it will be hard.
But it will be worth it.

Trust me.

Candid Cook: Perfect Chocolate Cake

I have a confession.

Don't hate me.

I love chocolate boxed cake mix.

I mean love love it.

When I was a teenager I remember making chocolate cake from a mix and intentionally leaving some of the batter in the bowl so I could eat it with a spoon. It was so, so good...

My hubs and oldest daughter have been in South Carolina for a few days visiting family and friends. That has left me here alone with the three younger kids. Kelsey insisted we needed to bake and decorate Halloween cupcakes. I really wanted to take a shortcut here and indulge in one of the chocolate boxed mixes of my youth. Unfortunately, I read the ingredients.


It had propylene glycol in it! And for those of you who don't know... THIS is what propylene glycol is. Warning. This definition is not for the feint of heart.

pro·pyl·ene gly·col
  1. 1.
    a liquid alcohol that is used as a solvent, in antifreeze, and in the food, plastics, and perfume industries.

It's in antifreeze! And most shampoos! I may never be able to eat a boxed mix again. With that tragedy came the need to find a great chocolate cake recipe to fill the void in my life. I figured a chocolate sour cream cake should do the trick, since the sour cream can really keep a cake moist for a few days. So the search began. It ended when the Daisy brand's chocolate sour cream cake recipe which I found online. (You can see the original recipe here.) I wanted to make a couple of modifications of my own, so what I'm posting here is the recipe I will use forever when I want a light and fluffy chocolate cake.

Side note: There is only one egg in this cake. I was skeptical, but went along with it. When I got to the amount of baking soda, I triple checked it just to be sure I was reading it correctly. It really is one TABLESPOON of baking soda. That is why you only need one egg in the cake. Don't worry about it. It really does work!

Rich Chocolate Sour Cream Cake

3/4 c. olive or canola oil
1 large egg
2 tsp vanilla
1 c. brown sugar, packed
1/2 c. granulated sugar
3/4 c. baking cocoa
2 c. flour
1 Tbsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 c. warm water
1 c. sour cream

In a large mixing bowl or stand mixer, combine oil, egg, vanilla, sugars, and baking cocoa. Beat until well combined.

For the rest of the ingredients, you need to add them in this specific order I tell you. Trust me; I know what I'm doing. Oh, and pay no attention to the different colored pictures. My new kitchen has terrible lighting and I had to use the flash in some of the pictures. (I hate using the flash.)

First, you're going to add 1 c. flour, the baking soda, and the salt. Mix it well.

Then slowly pour in half of the warm water while it's mixing.

Once the water is mixed in thoroughly, blend in half of the sour cream.

Now you're going to repeat the steps again, but this time without the baking soda and salt of course. First the rest of your flour, then your water, then your sour cream. See? Easy-peasy.

Once your done it will make a nice thin cake batter. If you are making cupcakes like I was, invest in a cookie scoop with a thump-release handle. Two even scoops makes one cupcake or muffin. It's a lot less messy than my old method, let me tell you.

Bake at 375 degrees for about 15 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean. You know the drill.

See how perfect these look?

I meant to take more pictures of them done, but by the time I got around to it, we had packed them all up to give away or eaten them. This picture from before was all I had left. With whipped chocolate ganache for frosting. Fabulous.