Friday, September 30, 2011

A Well Loved Baby

I haven't posted in 2 weeks, mainly because our house has been knee deep in the Pepsi Refresh Project.

We are trying, no make that going to, win a grant for $50,000 for our work with abused and neglected children.  The group of parents at ATN are very dedicated.  We work hard to help families.  Every person "on staff" is a volunteer and every person is parenting at least one traumatized child.  We know what the parents deal with, because we ARE those parents!

Today, in some down time, while we waited on the results of all the coding and entering that we have been doing with the power vote caps, I took a drive to see a couple who had just had a beautiful little baby.

These are friends of ours, and true friends at that.  Just a few hours after giving birth, they were helping us to win this grant!

I held this little girl and didn't want to put her down.  Babies are actually my favorite age.  I know many people prefer older children that interact, but I love the feeling of a baby in my arms.  The pure innocence, the way they snuggle into you, the smell and feel... It makes me so incredibly happy.

When I left the hospital today, I realized that this beautiful girl is the opposite of what we are fighting for. She was born to two parents who love her and want her.  There was no need for an adoption plan.  Instead, conceiving a child was their plan.  She will go home to a beautiful nursery, surrounded by friends and family who welcome her arrival.  Her clothes are neatly folded and hung.  Her mother took great care of herself during the pregnancy, and will continue to do so while mothering this child.

She has a daddy who loves her completely.  He maintains that he will be a strong father, and he will, but I also know that this man will also become a softie with his little girl.  He will stand strong and protect her with everything in him.

Besides the grandparents and other family members, she will have a group of "aunties" who will watch over her, protect her, and of course, spoil her. I am honored to be in that group.

All of this is so different from  the beginning of the lives of both of my children, and the lives of so many of the children that we work with.  The families we work with  have children who have been abused, neglected, or even unwanted in the first place.  How different their lives would have been if they had parents who loved them from the very beginning.

So while our group works hard to help the children who didn't get this start, I celebrate this beautiful baby who WILL have a great life and a family who loves her.  Welcome to the world little one.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Pepsi Refresh Project - ATN

So what is a self-professed Diet Coke addict doing with a couple hundred bottles of Pepsi in the living room?

If you read my blog post, Dumpster Diving For ATN, you've got a clue what's going on.

I volunteer for a group called the Attachment & Trauma Network.  We work with families who have adopted a child with abuse and/or neglect in their early life.  Many times this leads to emotional and behavioral issues.  We help the families find resources to help these children.

Every single person on staff is a volunteer.  Not one person collects a salary.  Every single person on staff is parenting at least one traumatized child.  We understand the parents we work with, because we ARE those parents.

What does this have to do with Coke and Pepsi?  ATN is in a contest to win a $50,000 grant from Pepsi.  To do this, we need votes of all kinds.  There are three different ways you can help us.

1) Go to the ATN page at Pepsi Refresh and vote for ATN every day.  You can login through Facebook or you can create an account and sign in that way.

2) Text 109066 to 73774 (Pepsi) every day from every text capable phone you have.

3) This is where we need the most help - get us Pepsi codes!!!  There are special bottles and packs of Pepsi that have a code inside of them.  Each of those codes is worth 5, 10, 15, 25, 50 or 100 votes.  We don't know how many until they are input in the contest page.  You can vote these codes for ATN, or you can e-mail the code to me and someone from our staff will vote it.  These codes make a HUGE difference in where we finish.

So, how do you know where to find the codes.  First of all, they are only on Pepsi, Diet Pepsi and Pepsi Max bottles and packages.  The caps look like this.

It's the yellow cap on the bottle, and the cap says "Refresh Your World" on it.  If the color is other than yellow, it doesn't help us for this project.  If it doesn't have the refresh your world on it, it doesn't help either.

The 12 packs and cases are different.

They say "Power Vote" in the corner of the box.  Look at the upper right corner of the 12 pack in the picture and you'll see what I mean.  The code is inside the box.  You have to completely open the box up to find it.  It's not on an end.

If you live in a state that has redemption centers, please ask them if you can get the caps.  Some centers are very helpful, others are not.  Schools, ballparks, hotels, service stations, anywhere that sells Pepsi, ask if they will collect caps.  This contest ends on 9/30/2011, so there isn't much time left.

I want to give a huge shout out to the Shell station on Hwy 33 and Hwy Z in West Bend, WI.  They helped me get over 130 bottles of Pepsi products today, carried them to my car for me, and even went back into their cooler to help find more.

So.... look for those "Power Votes" or "Refresh Your World" symbols and either Power vote those codes for ATN, or e-mail them and we'll get them voted.

Send this information to everyone you know or refer them to this blog.  $50,000 will help thousands of families!!  You can be a part of that.

If you want to help another way, you can donate to ATN to help us offset the cost of acquiring these codes.

If you have questions, feel free to drop me an email.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Kids Can Heal - Sometimes

Yesterday, my "little girl" turned 10.  We had a great day.  We started with breakfast in bed, which is a family tradition.  She received a few small gifts (and I mean few and small) then off to school she went.  This year she elected for forgo the regular party in return for a night out to dinner with Mom & Dad - not McDonald's.  We went to a Japanese Steakhouse and had a great time.  A bit of shopping afterward (Daddy's a big sucker for the little girl) and then home to bed.

Now, rewind the clock 5 years, and this would not have been the case. First of all, she wasn't our daughter.  She was living with a wonderful family, but she didn't want to be there and was making this quite clear.  Between the screaming 8 - 10 hours a day and the trying to choke her older brother, the clues were not subtle.  This kid was not happy and she didn't care who knew it.  It wasn't the fault of the family!  Let me make that perfectly clear.  They did everything in their power to help her, but she wasn't having any of it.  Social services made bad choices in this little girl's life that set this family up to fail.

When she moved into our home, she made a CHOICE to change her life.  Yes, at 5 years old she made the choice.  Think of all the people in your life.  I'm sure there are a few of them that you hope and pray will make changes in their life and turn things around but you know it has to be their choice.  It's the same with our kids.  They have to CHOOSE to receive the love we offer and to make their life good.  If they choose to stay stuck in the same negative patterns, they're going to get what they always got.  For many of our kids, they prefer the chaos and the emotions they know.  Putting their necks out and risking feelings they're not familiar with, well that's just too scary so don't even go there.

The kid I have is funny, smiley, laughs all the time, loves life, and overall is fun to be around - most of the time.  She is a 10 year old girl entering puberty after all.  I am glad, for her, that she made the choice.

However, for all the good things, my husband and I reflected upon a few things.  Our son would never be happy with what we did for our daughter.  It always has to be big and grand.  No matter how hard we tried, we were never able to please him.  He always wanted more from us, and it was always about what was in it for him.  Last night when we asked our daughter if she was happy with her choice of dinner over a party she said, "Yes, I get to spend time with Mom & Dad being a family.  That's the best."  Those words would never pass our son's lips.

The other issue is that our son has no idea it's his sister's birthday.  She has grown used to the fact that he doesn't acknowledge these events for anyone in the family, so didn't expect him to call or send a card, nor does she care.  This is not for lack of trying on my part - again, my effort.  At the beginning of the year, I gave him a planner with everyone's birthdays and anniversaries in it.  He has chosen to ignore them.  There is nothing it for him.  It would involve an emotional investment and he doesn't do that. I could call and tell him it's his sister's birthday and he needs to call her, but really, what's the point?  Why make him call her and tell her Happy Birthday when he really doesn't mean it?  Will that make her feel better?  Nope.  She was fine with her day exactly as it was.

So, while we celebrate the wonderful daughter that we have, we have a certain amount of heartbreak for all the love we have given our son that he so easily rejects.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Cookie Decorating - 101

You want to make pretty cookies, but you can never get your icing nice and smooth.  Well, that's because cookie decorators don't use old fashioned butter cream icing.  We use something called Royal Icing.  It's a very simple recipe, but it gives great results.

1 egg white (if you don't want to use an egg white you can use 3 T meringue powder)
4 C powdered sugar
ABOUT 1 - 2 T water

Mix the egg white and the powdered sugar, then add the water gradually to get the consistency you want.

It's that simple.  I actually use lemon juice instead of water to give a little more flavor to my icing.  If you use vanilla, it will tint your icing and it won't be white.  Lemon juice doesn't have that issue.

So, why use royal icing.  It gives a nice smooth canvas to decorate on, and the big thing, it dries "hard" so that you can stack cookies, unlike buttercream icing.

The procedure with royal icing is slightly different as well.

To start with, you want a stiffer icing because this is going to be your edge and what holds the next step together.  This should be about the consistency of toothpaste, or a little bit thicker, but you don't want to have to squeeze too hard to get it out.

If you're not going to be doing a lot of decorating, buy a set of disposable bags from a company like Wilton.  You can find the bags in craft stores in the cake decorating section.  You can also find them at Walmart.  Or you can use a plain old zip top bag.

There are a couple of ways to use these.  You can cut a small hole in the corner of the bag and use that, or you can buy tips, again, from craft stores or Walmart.  If you're lucky enough to live near a cake or cookie decorating store, you can find all kinds of neat tools.  You can also drop the tip into the bag and use it that way, or you can use a coupler.  With these the wider part goes into the bag, just cut the opening a little bigger so that the end comes out of the hole.  Then attach your tip and screw the ring on. This allows you to change tips without having to empty the bag.

This is what it looks like when it's put together.

Now outline your cookie.

Let this dry for a little bit.  This is the border that's going to hold in the next step, the flood icing.

To make flood icing, take your regular icing and add a little bit more liquid too it.  You want it about the consistency of glue so that it flows easily, but not too liquidy.

Squeeze this onto your cookie.  You don't need to totally fill the cookie with the icing, and if you do, you run the risk of it overflowing.

Next you take a toothpick, or something similar and spread the flood icing.  It will flow somewhat on it's own, but spread it into the corners and up against the edge, unless you want to leave a gap.

Let these dry, preferably overnight.  You will now have a nice blank canvas to add any details you want to. If you don't wait long enough, the designs and colors can bleed into each other.  Sometimes you want to do this on purpose, like I did with my tie dye cookie.

You can add coloring at any point in time.  My personal preference is Americolor.  I prefer them over Wilton for several reasons.  The colors are incredibly concentrated so you don't need as much.  These come in a squeeze bottle so it's easier to control the color, rather than Wilton where it's in a little jar and you have to scoop it out or dip something into it, then dip that into your icing.  I have had the caps on the Wilton bottles crack, or the jars leak, which leaves a giant mess.

Whatever you choose to do, have fun with it.  There are so many fun cookie cutters available now, and the only limit is your creativity.  If you want to see what I mean, check out some amazing cookie decorators.  SweetopiaJP Creatibles, and Sugar Belle are amazing blogs and the detail they put in their cookies is beyond description.  They are true cookie artists.

You can also check out my photos on my Facebook page.  I'm a work in progress, but it might give you some ideas or inspiration.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Sugar Cookies 101

I often get questions about the recipe for my sugar cookies aka: cut out cookies.  It's really a simple recipe.  I'll even share a few secrets with you.

Basic sugar cookies

3/4 C butter - room temperature
1 C sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla or other flavoring
2 1/2 C flour
1 tsp baking powder

That's it.  That's the whole list of ingredients.  About the flavoring..... I use vanilla.  You can use almond extract, rum extract, lemon juice, all sorts of things.  I use vanilla because everyone loves vanilla, it doesn't conflict with the icing (I'll put the icing in another post) and I don't have to worry about nut allergies like when using almond extract.  Really it's a personal choice.

Now, for the instructions.

Mix together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy.  This is a big thing.  Most people don't mix them long enough.

This is what it looks like when you start.

The color is a light yellow and it's rather stiff.  For this step it really helps if you have a stand mixer or a really good hand mixer.  Beat it until it's almost white.  It will get much fluffier too.  This takes 3 - 5 minutes with a stand mixer.  This is what it looks like.

It doesn't show up very well, but the color is much lighter and you can easily stir it with a spatula.

Next mix in the eggs and your flavoring, just until combined.  Slowly stir in the flour and baking powder.  The recipe calls for 2 1/2 cups of flour, but I usually end up using about 3 cups.  It helps the cookie keep it's shape when baking and keeps it from spreading.  Cookies made with butter tend to spread.  When you have it all mixed it should look like this.

It will be a little sticky, but should hold together well.  Now put some plastic wrap over the bowl and put it in the fridge for at least 2 hours.

Why?  There are a couple of reasons.  First and foremost it will make the dough easier to handle.  You will have a nice stiff dough that will roll out well without sticking to the rolling pin.  It will cut nicely too.  The other reason is that when the cold butter hits the hot oven, it creates cookie magic.

When your dough has been chilled, take it from the fridge and scoop out what you are going to work with at one time.  Put the rest back in the fridge.  You will have to work it a little bit to loosen it up, kind of like starting a new container of Play Doh.

Dust the cutting board with flour.  Do not use too much and do not use more dough than you can roll out a couple of times.  The more flour you add, the tougher your cookie is going to get.

Next important step - roll out the dough, but not too thin.  No less than 1/4" thick.  You can get bands that go on your rolling pin that let you know when you've reached the desired thickness.  If you roll it too thin, your cookies are going to brown or burn and get crispy.

Cut out as many cookies as you can from your first rolling.

You can take the scraps, make a ball and roll them out again.  I don't go for more than 3 rollings to keep the cookies from getting tough.  After that I mix the scraps into the next batch I'm getting from the fridge.

Place the cookies on parchment lined cookie sheets.  This is not mandatory, but it does make life much easier.  What is parchment paper?  It's a special paper made to go in the oven.  It keeps the cookies from sticking to the tray and the cookies don't stick to the paper.  You find it in the store where you find waxed paper, aluminum foil and all the other goodies.  It saves you from having to use a spatula to get the cookies off the sheet and you have less risk of breaking them.  Simply slide the sheet off the cookie sheet and onto your table or counter to cool.  Life is much easier.

Bake for 8 - 10 minutes at 400 degrees Fahrenheit.  If you put two sheets into the oven, move them halfway through so they bake evenly.  I don't go for the "brown around the edges" because that doesn't give me the soft texture that I want.  They are a little overdone (to me) at that point.  This is what mine look like when they come out of the oven.

Let them cool at least 4 hours, or overnight.  Now you have a nice blank canvas for decorating.  Or you can sprinkle the decorating sugar on before you bake them and just eat them that way.


Monday, September 5, 2011

Product Review - Burt's Bees

Over the past year or so, I noticed that my skin has become more sensitive to many things, fragrance in particular.  I can no longer wear perfume.  I turned 43 a few weeks ago, so I wondered if I was having some hormonal changes and if anyone my age, or older, had experienced this.

Well, where else do you ask these questions but good old Facebook?  I posted the question and got several responses, but the one that helped me the most was from my friend Amber, who happens to be much younger than me and isn't thinking about menopause even a little bit.  She told me to find a fragrance free soap without lauryl sulfate.  OK, I can give that a try.  Yeah, right.  I stood in the body wash aisle at Walmart.  I picked up bottle after bottle to find it contained the dreaded lauryl sulfate, or some variation thereof.

I returned home, frustrated, and began to research this dreaded sulfate.  Well, there's a good reason it's in everything.  It's the stuff that makes those bubbles we love so much.  After some more research I discovered that Burt's Bees does not contain the dreaded sulfate.  I ventured over to Target and spent time looking at the product.  I found a very simple body wash. The back very clearly showed no sulfates and boasted this as well.

I made my purchase and decided to give it a shot.  Am I glad I did.  Within a few days my skin started clearing up.  My chest and arms were covered previously.  I had used a product from Dove that I really liked and everything was fine.  It was lightly scented, but I didn't have a problem.  I ran out and bought a new bottle and broke out within a couple of days of using it.  Some brand, same scent, just a different bottle, but enough to cause problems.

Since the body wash was a success I also purchased a facial cleanser.  I am now sensitive to metals as well.  My beloved cross necklace that I wore every day for years, now makes me break out.  Hooks from earrings touching my skin causes breakouts.    In the past I had always used a cleanser with salicylic acid since I have oily skin.  I took a chance and bought a cleanser without it, and it's working just fine.  It has a tingle to it, which I discovered is probably from alcohol in it, but it cleans great.

In my research on the dreaded lauryl sulfate, I discovered that this stuff is in everything.  Even toothpaste.  People who are sensitive to it can develop canker sores.  Lo and behold, a couple of days ago, guess what starts forming in my mouth.  Luckily, I had received a sample of Burt's Bees toothpaste as a freebie, so I will be trying that tomorrow.  I will be switching my shampoo and conditioner as they run out as well.

A couple of months ago, I also received a freebie of Burt's Bees new tinted lip balm and I'm very pleased with it.  And this wasn't a sample size.  A full size tube of the lip balm arrived in my mail.  What's not to love about that?

If you're having issues with your skin, I recommend trying out the Burt's Bees products.  Yes, they are more pricey than other products, but they are working with my newly sensitive skin and I'm happy with them.  You can always e-mail them and ask for a sample.  They seem to run freebie give aways on a fairly decent basis.  It doesn't hurt to ask, right?!