Tag Archives: Motherhood

Catching Up

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Nathan’s 2014 Calendar – I love these calendars the kids make at school and will be so sad when the year comes that they are all too big to make them anymore.

I’d say it’s about time we do a little catching up.

No, I have not given up blogging.

No, I was not kidnapped by Aliens.

No, I did not move to the south of France to hide away from the world. Although some days, that is still on the table.

We have had a pretty challenging couple of months with some big losses in our family and my heart has been processing it all. Throw in a couple big holidays and a birthday and this unprepared lady just had no time to write or visit my favorite blogs.

I’ve missed you guys.

In early November, we received a call that my father-in-law, who had been battling cancer for last 10 years, was being moved to Hospice care with only a few days to a week before it would be his time. My husband immediately hopped on a plane to be by his dad’s side. Proving that he is absolutely the toughest guy I know, dad fought to live for another three weeks. I am so thankful my husband was able to spend most of that time by his dad’s side. After dad’s passing, our whole family flew out to say goodbye to grandpa. Well, goodbye for now anyway. We know he’s saving us a place at the best fishing hole around.

We stayed with our family in Indiana for a bittersweet but very blessed Thanksgiving.

While in Indiana, we were also able to squeeze in a trip to the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis…

Sara was off with her cousins so I only have boy pictures and boy did they have a great time! True to their nature, David loved the history and “fact” finding opportunities and Nathan was all hands on energy. We only lost him once. He knew where we were and was evading. Nearly every gray hair I have is his doing. Nearly. They aren’t all his fault but I’m still sending him the cumulative salon bill someday anyway.

It was hard to leave grandma Judy and the family, the big blue Victorian house, the crisp fall air, the falling leaves, the warm fire and the quiet time.

We love you grandpa and we will miss you everyday. Until we meet again.

After getting home from Indiana, there was not a moment to waste getting ready for Christmas. Christmas cards and letters, decorating, shopping, baking, teacher, neighbor and co-worker gifts, brunch, parties and even a Women’s Ministry event thrown in for good measure! Thankfully, my trusty staff was on hand to help – see picture below., way below.

Oh, and a Birthday to celebrate too!

Happy Birthday, Sara!! One year from now,  we’ll have a teenager. Actually, less than a year from NOW.  Gulp.

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We try very hard to keep her birthday separate from Christmas and just celebrate her. With all that had gone on and all of the “Christmas catch-up” I had to do, Sara was very gracious about having a simple, low-key celebration this year. Low-key was officially supposed to come next year as the last of the “big” parties is sixth grade; says the parental management team. With the exception of Sweet 16 of course.

Instead of a big party, we decided it would be just as much fun to take her and as many friends as I could safely fit in the van to Jump Street where they could trampoline themselves to their hearts content.

Fun. Did I say fun? Oh my will I have to tell you all about it some time. For now, I will just let you imagine a half an hour in a car with six 11-12 year old girls, too many cell phones, too much perfume, lip-gloss and nail polish (all of which were opened, sprayed, dripped and gooped in my car at least once) and far too many pre-teen hormones. They are fun in groups of three or less. Anymore than that and a pack mentality seems to set in. A half an hour EACH WAY. Did I mention that.

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We do have a special birthday tradition just for her that we never miss. Every year, on her birthday, we take her out to dinner at the Cheesecake Factory and give her all of her gifts from the family. It is always a special evening and she loves it.  This year’s coveted birthday items – crazy knee socks, floral combat boots and anything with a moustache print on it.

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Nope, I wasn’t kidding. Don’t ask me?? If it is safe, appropriate and makes her happy, I don’t question.

One day soon, I will do a series of posts on some of the kids’ past parties. We’ve had some fun ones! For now you can check out the two I have posted; David’s Duck Dynasty Bash and Nathan’s Despicable Me Party.

In other news, Noodles the Elf on the Shelf was back for the Christmas Season so there was much Elf Management to be done …

The Elf Management team wasn’t quite as creative as last year but we got the job done. Mostly. When you have a six year old who misses nothing and wakes up instantly hyper-focused on a mission to find the elf, it can be complicated if the elf has not in fact been moved because management was dragging into bed at 1am and … gasp … forgot. “Oh, no someone must have touched the elf” came in handy more than once.

And then, all too soon, it was Christmas …

I love Christmas. Everything about it. Next year, my goal is to have posts ready ahead of time so I don’t miss sharing this wonderful season with my blogging friends. Unless you are prepared in advance, It is just too hard to write and keep up with all of the “busy” while desperately trying maintain focus on what truly matters. Lesson learned.

Desperately busy. Which leads me to December 26th and hibernation. I am an extrovert who becomes an introvert for about two weeks a year; December 26th until the day the kids go back to school.  I’m done. Finished. Spent. Turtle in her introverted shell. I may stay in my PJs all day. I may watch movies with the kids all day. In my PJs. ALL DAY. For many days.

Needless to say, I am not a New Year’s party girl. Well, I’m not really a party girl at all (anymore – for any of my college friends who might be reading) unless it is a dinner party or a birthday party or there’s cake. You know what I mean.

New Year’s Day consisted of bike riding and a picnic out back oh, and we did share the week with one very special and adorable house guest “Buster” or “Sassy McNoodle” as we like to call him.

And New Year’s Eve?

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Well this is about as exciting as it gets around here folks! H.I.B.E.R.N.A.T.I.O.N. Only one kid made it to midnight. I’ll give you one guess. Yup. The youngest. Party animal – just look at that face.

JanuaryAnd so, here it is the middle of January and sadly, 2014 has not had an easy start. We just returned from Oklahoma after saying goodbye to Gary’s incredible cousin Mike who passed away just after the New Year. I will tell you about Mike sometime as I will tell you about dad. For now, I will just share this from a card that was sent to us by Gary’s uncle Chuck after dad’s passing …

My prayer for you is a little light in the midst of this darkness. “We will never be the same as we were before this loss, but are ever so much better for having had something so great to lose.” – Leigh

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Indeed we are. And we are grateful to the God who loves and sustains us and we praise Him in all things. We trust in Him an look to Him for comfort even when we can’t find understanding.

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This one’s for you cousin Mike – Boomer Sooner!

Yes, it has been a difficult and busy few months for our family but we are moving forward and I am so glad you and I are finally catching up. Thank you for hanging in there with me and for your readership and friendship. A special welcome to the new visitors who have stopped by and the readers who have so graciously followed Welcome Company. I have a long list of recipes, ideas, plans for the Hacienda, stories to share and adventures to come.

I am looking forward to all that 2014 will bring.

I hope each and everyone of you had a wonderful holiday and got some time of your own to “hibernate” with those you love most. May 2014 be a year of blessing, adventure, friendship, family and fun. And may we be thankful to the God who loves us in all that may come.

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. – Romans 15:13

Blessings my friends!

 

S’Mores Cupcakes

With the start of the school year, we are back in full swing with Cub Scouts. I love to blog about Cub Scouts because it is such a big part of our lives and has been an incredible experience for our whole family. The Scouting program is awesome and I love sharing all of the fun and important stuff we do with all of you.

This past weekend, our Pack got together for a lesson on the Scouting principle of Leave No Trace. Leave No Trace means just that. It focuses primarily on camping and outdoor activities but the underlying principle applies to all areas of our lives. Take care of your environment; whether it is the outdoors, your school, your home, your room, the park, the movie theater; you get the idea. Wherever you go, whatever you do, be mindful of the environment and how you have an impact upon it.

And ALWAYS leave a place better than you found it. Which means sometimes we have to pick up after others too.

Rather than just talk about it with our Scouts, we wanted them to experience the lesson first hand. The best lessons are often learned by seeing and doing. So this past Saturday, our boys and their families spent a few hours cleaning up along the banks of the Salt River.

The lower Salt River is a major recreation site in our area and unfortunately, not everyone respects the privilege of enjoying such a beautiful place. A LOT of trash gets left behind. It was important for our Scouts to see first hand how even a little waste has a big impact when the effects of so many visitors is combined.

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They worked hard and cleaned up a lot of trash.

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We are very proud of our “Bear” and his understanding and respect for nature and the need to care for and protect the environment. He is passionate about it. Now, if we could just get that same passion to carry over to his room.

After all of that hard work and a lot of hand sanitizer, it was time for a treat. It was way too hot to roast marshmallows (and open fire isn’t allowed right now) so I decided to improvise and turn Scouting’s signature dish into a cup cake.

S’Mores Cupcakes

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I love to bake from scratch and have some wonderful chocolate cake recipes from my grandmother. But there are times when practicality wins out and you just have to break out the cake mix. I adapted a recipe from the cookbook “The Cake Mix Doctor” by Anne Byrn and came up with a yummy chocolate cupcake, perfect to feed a lot of hungry Cub Scouts. Three batches yielded 60 cupcakes. If you don’t “overfill” as I tend to do, you might just get 24 cup cakes in a batch.

Cup Cake Ingredients

  • 1 package Milk Chocolate cake mix
  • 3 Tbsp. unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1 1/3 Cups buttermilk
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 tsp. pure vanilla extract

Cup Cake S’More Toppings

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  • Graham cracker crumbs
  • 1 Bag of jumbo marshmallows, each marshmallow cut in half
  • Graham cracker pieces or mini graham crackers for garnish
  • Chocolate pieces for garnish

Cup Cake Directions

In pure cake mix fashion, put all of the ingredients together in your stand mixer and blend it all on medium to medium-high for a minute. Scrape down the sides and blend for another minute or until well combined and smooth. Line your muffin/cup cake tin with paper wrappers and fill each 3/4 of the way full.

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Then sprinkle with graham cracker crumbs (about a teaspoon each). I made the first batch with the graham cracker crumbs placed in the bottom of the wrapper and the batter poured on top. It didn’t adhere to the cake like I wanted so I opted to sprinkle the crumbs on top.

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Bake in a 350 degree oven for 20-25 minutes.

I love how they look with the graham cracker crumbs on top.

Next … the fun part.

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Set your oven rack, two spaces down from the broiler and then turn the oven to the broil setting.

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Put your cupcakes on a sheet tray and place a marshmallow half on top of each one. Place the marshmallow topped cupcakes under the broiler for 1 minute and 45 seconds. That is the exact amount of time my oven took to perfectly toast the marshmallows. The time needed in your oven may be different so keep an eye on them.

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Finish the cup cakes off in true S’Mores fashion with wedges of graham cracker and chocolate. The crackers can go on right away but let the marshmallow cool a bit before you add the chocolate or you’ll have a melty mess.

The boys and families of our Pack spent and afternoon doing our part to clean up a bit and leave things better than we found them. But our day wasn’t all hard work. Yes, there were yummy cup cakes but did I mention there was a also helicopter?

No? Ohhhh, there was a helicopter!

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Our Wolf Den Leader is a Sheriff’s Deputy and he arranged quite the surprise for our boys. For all of us, actually. When he told me he was setting up something cool, I was just thinking a few sirens and lights. Nope. There was a helicopter.

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Of course the boys LOVED it. And they deserved it. Hard work always has its reward!

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I know one little boy in particular who was in heaven!

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Really, does it get much cooler than that?

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We also had a visit from these deputies who patrol the river on ATVs. Very cool too! In fact, I’m pretty sure they have their own action figures. Well, if they don’t they should.

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The perfect spot to watch a helicopter take off!

A special thanks to Rob and our friends from the Sheriff’s Department for the work you do to keep our community safe and for so graciously giving a little of your time to make a kid’s day.

You guys rock!

When Did He Get So Big?

Guess what has happened around here in the last week?

Any guesses? Give up? Okay, I’ll tell you.

School started.

My kids went back to school.

MY KIDS WENT BACK TO SCHOOL!

I love my kids. You know that.

I love the first 3 1/2 weeks of summer.

And then, I LOVE it when my kids go back to school. Well, I mostly love it.

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But this year was a little different and I will admit, mommy had some added back to school anxiety. I always have a little back to school anxiety (especially with some of our unique challenges) but this year, my  youngest, my baby, started Kindergarten.

And it was hard.

For me.

Thankfully, not for him.

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When did he get so big?

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When did he become so independent?

He did not want to walk with me. He wanted to do it ALL. BY. HIMSELF.

I want him to be independent and I want him to hold my hand too.

Yes, that big expanse of grass between us in just one big metaphor. Incidentally, you’re not supposed to walk on the grass so we started Kindergarten by breaking the rules. See, he should have held my hand.

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But this boy was too big for that and he was all business! All of the friends and teachers we ran into welcomed him and I would say Nathan, tell them what grade you are in. After about the fourth time, he turned and looked at me and said …

“MOMMY, I tell you already … K – I – N -D – E – R – G – A – R – T – E – N ! !” If only I could express to you his far too grown up exasperation at my apparent inability to remember what grade he was in. It won’t be the last time I exasperate him, you can be sure of that.

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Eventually, we made it to the classroom, Nathan ten feet ahead of me, where he lined up and waited patiently to go in.

A big kid.

Yes, my child is 4x larger than every other Kindergartener on the planet but that isn’t really what I meant.

Mama doesn’t have a baby anymore, which he so often reminds me when I try to tell him he will always be my baby. “Mommy, I not a baby. I’m a big boy!”

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And so he is.

And then my big boy gave me a hug and marched independently into his classroom and got right down to business.

I have to tell you,  technically I should not have this picture. We parents should have stayed out of the classroom and given our children their space. Bless my son’s perceptive and gracious teacher who sensing our neediness, allowed us into the classroom for a few quick last goodbyes and hugs and a Kindergarten paparazzi of flashing cameras. Yes, we kindergarten parents are a sad lot – at least on the first day.

Thankfully, we are now through the first few days of school and all of my kids have settled in well.

And so have I.

I miss them but I know they are in good hands and are happily busy and learning and are no longer bored or fighting with each other or making me hide in my bathroom just to make a phone call.

My house is cleaner. And quieter.

And I can write again. Oh blog and blogging friends, how I have missed you!

And I am peaceful and happy to see them at the end of their day and hear all about everything they did.

Nathan LOVES Kindergarten and it has already been really good for him. Instead of his usual Three Stooges burp, he made a quiet burp the other day with his little fist to his mouth and said “mommy, my teacher show me how to burp quietly.” I have shown him how to burp quietly too, but sometimes you just need a little back up.

And they need a little independence.

 

 

A Duck Dynasty Birthday Bash!

Up until a few months ago, I had somehow managed to live a Duck Dynasty free life. Blissfully unaware of what I was missing. No knowledge or care for the antics of Willy, Jace, Uncle Si, Phil or the rest of the gang of duck call millionaires.

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Internet Photo

Then, one fateful day in February, my sister posted on Facebook just how “Ha-Pay, Ha-Pay, Ha-Pay” she was that the new season of Duck Dynasty was starting that night. Duck what? I commented. What are you talking about?

She tried to explain but ultimately said “you just have to watch it for yourself”. I was hesitant as I am not a reality TV show watcher; House Hunters, House Hunters International and about a million cooking shows are as close as I get. But a show about millionaire rednecks? “It is so funny” she promised. Why not. Curiosity won out and my family and I tuned into Duck Dynasty for the very first time.

And you know what? We laughed.

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And laughed and laughed and laughed.

And watched about 9 straight episodes because it was funny and kind of like a train wreck where you just can’t seem to look away.

There was a lot to like and a lot to laugh at. Lots of funny one-liners, sibling rivalry and the antics of adult men who act like 10 year olds. An I am who I am and proud of it attitude and of course crazy Uncle Si and his wild stories and complete annihilation of the English language “I’m what some people call, hey cultured, ok? I’m like a fine stinky cheese”.

Cultured. Not exactly what I was thinking.

Actually, watching Duck Dynasty was a lot like being back in my husband’s small hometown in Indiana. Seriously, his little brother’s groomsmen had names like Meat and Cletus and Buck. I’m not making that up and I’m still hoping there was a nickname or two in there.

But “cultured” isn’t what Duck Dynasty is about and something I’m pretty sure those guys could care less about. In fact, the patriarch of the family, Phil “The Duck Commander”, would refer to anyone who is cultured (or lives in a sub-division) as a “yuppie”. And he doesn’t mean that in a good way.

What Duck Dynasty is about is family, faith, sticking together, praying together and loving each other no matter what. It’s about being comfortable with who you are and where you come from. It’s good clean fun and something I feel good about letting my kids watch. That is saying something these days.

And, it’s funny.

My nine-year-old in particular LOVES it so when it came time to start planning his birthday party, I thought how about a Duck Dynasty birthday party? FUN! He was all for it!

Here’s how it turned out …

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A Duck Dynasty Birthday Bash

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The birthday boy bearded up and ready to party!

The Invitations

I love to make my own invitations and always have a lot of fun trying to be clever. Don’t laugh at me but I use word … as in Microsoft Word. I do everything in Word, it is all I know. Not very sophisticated or computer savvy but effective enough.

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I put a cast photo from the internet at the bottom of the invitation and then folded over the top two-thirds, concealing the interior of the invitation. The Duck Commander logo, which I also found online, along with “You’re Invited” printed on brown cardstock and then adhered to the plain white “fold-over” completed the outside of the invitation.

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For the interior of the invitation, another internet picture – this time of Uncle Si with his famous “HEY JACK!” started things off just right. The rest of the invitation read …

HEY JACK!

IT’S A PARTY!

Ha-Pay, Ha-Pay, Ha-pay (which is what Phil always says and that’s how he says it Ha-pay) Birthday David!

Let me be more “pacific” … (remember how I said Uncle Si has a gift for completely butchering the English language?)

Where: On Brewer Land (something is always happening on Robertson Land which flashes on the screen regularly) with our address.

When: Date and Time

Come sharply dressed in your best cammo and bring a swimmin’ suit. And come hungry ’cause Miss Kay’ll (the family matriarch famous for her cooking, including some non-mainstream livin’ off the land type ingredients) be cookin’ up squirrels and frog’s legs.

RSVP to the Duck Commander at …

It is easy, fun and inexpensive to make your own invitations. If Microsoft Word and I can do it, believe me, you can too!

If you would like to print my invitation, you can do so by clicking the following links and then going into the text box(es) and changing the wording as you like.

Duck Dynasty Invitation Printable.

Duck Dynasty Invitation Front Art Printable.

The Decorations & Favors

I had a great time putting this party together. I love planning the decorations and decking out the dining room table. Our dining room has been adorned with many themes over the years … Spiderman, Princesses, Cowboys, Surfin’ at the Beach, Alvin and the Chipmunks, Thomas the Train, CARS, Artist easels and canvases and now … Duck Dynasty.

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We camo’d up for this one. I ordered duck blind fabric for the table-cloth and plastic camo netting for the background – which I hung from the chandelier.

Oh the things that have hung from that chandelier.

The wooden crates came from Michaels and added some elevation to the table scape. I like to make the cake the centerpiece of the table and then decorate around it.

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I printed up a lot of fun Duck Dynasty images from the internet and incorporated them into the design, along with a lot of swamp creatures and critters that I picked up at Michaels.

Here are the images I used along with a couple of funny quotes …

Duck Dynasty Party Image Printable

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This was the birthday wish on the cake. I mounted the photo and salutation on orange card stock, taped a drinking straw to the back and stuck it into the cake. Easy. Cheap. Awesome!

Here is the Printable Cake Topper – just go into the text box and change the “name” before you print.

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This is my favorite part. I found some of the funniest one-liners and quotes from the show, printed them out and hung them from the chandelier with raffia.

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I don’t care how cultured you are, that’s funny!

Especially to adolescent boys. Who are not cultured.

And their dads. Hmmmmmmm.

Okay, and me.

Here are the quotes if you would like to use them …

Duck Dynasty Funny Quotes Printable

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I have a confession. I’m funny about party favors. I like quality favors. It isn’t about how much you spend but quality is better than quantity; whether it is one cookie decorated in the party theme and wrapped adorably in a cellophane bag or a few items kids will actually play with. All of those little junky plastic piñata fillers make me crazy. Please don’t take offense to this. I’m not judging. I’m just saying that at my house, those little things end up in the garbage about 4.2 seconds after we walk in the door; sadly making their way to the nearest landfill. I know I’m not alone here.

The Duck Dynasty Party Favors

Nothing was very expensive but it all fit the theme well and hopefully will be useful and/or played with. And will avoid the landfill at least for a while.

Duck-Dynasty-Party-10I know my kids have been wearing beards and bandanas for days. And blowing duck calls.

Loud duck calls.

Okay maybe the plastic spinning tops that don’t spin and dog choking rubber bouncy balls aren’t so bad.

Click the items listed above for the link to purchase. If there is no link, they were not purchased on-line and were purchased at a party or craft store (Michaels or Hobby Lobby).

Additional Party Supply links …

Camo Party Supplies

Duck Dynasty Party Supplies

The Food

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Whenever I throw a party, I like to lay out all of the platters and serving dishes ahead of time and then put the items on them that they will be used for; well the non perishable ones anyway. That way I won’t be scrambling around at crunch time looking for service items. It frees me up to scramble around at crunch time in other ways.

It is either organization and good planning or OCD. Either way, it keeps me straight. And sane.

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I also like to make descriptive food “place cards”. Who am I kidding, I LOVE to make them.

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Especially when you can make them theme oriented and fun!

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The Duck Dynasty Party Menu

  • Gator Tail with spicy BBQ dip (grilled chicken skewers, gator tastes remarkably like chicken)
  • Miss Kay’s Boudin Sausage Bites with BBQ dip
  • Buffalo Style Frog’s Legs (curiously similar to hot wings)
  • Bayou Baked Beans
  • Pulled Pot o’ Squirrel (pulled pork in the crock-pot)
  • Swamp Grass (coleslaw – a must with pulled pork and soft rolls)
  • Caprese Salad, Yuppie Food
  • Watermelon and blueberries, arranged into “Pretty Yuppie Food”
  • BBQ chips, tortilla chips and salsa
  • Purple grapes
  • Veggie tray with carrots, grape tomatoes and sliced cucumbers
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Do you see my note pad and Sharpie there? My list is never far away. Nor is my Sharpie. I’m partial to orange at the moment.

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And of course, no Duck Dynasty Party would be complete without a big pitcher of Uncle Si’s famous (or infamous) iced tea.

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Only ours wasn’t sweet. Sorry all my southern friends, we’re Yankees – or south westerners at least. There’s no “sweet” in our tea.

Printable Menu Tag 1

Printable Menu Tag 2

The Cake

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I use this three-tiered stand a lot and decorate it according to theme. It is easier than a stacked cake and leaves more surface area for decorating. Of course we had to have ducks and a few beavers and their dam; which the Robertson men do battle with on a regular basis. I used stick pretzels to make reeds on the side of the green duck cake and to make the beaver dam on the chocolate cake.

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Which by the way was a Sugar-free/Gluten-free chocolate cake.

And it was delicious. And I got to have cake.

Ha-pay, Ha-pay, Ha-pay!

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I also put out a pecan bars and peanut butter and jelly bars.

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David loved the cake and that is what matters most!

And he got all nine candles out in one breath!

The Fun

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Well, cammo, bandanas and beards are fun of course! And Nathan is fun!

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And friends are fun!

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And water balloons are fun!

Duck-Dynasty-Water-BalloonsEspecially when you have to toss them to your partner without breaking them.

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And built-in entertainment is fun.

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And easy for mom and dad.

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We had also planned to do some duck target shooting with Nerf guns but as is always the case, the kids really just want to run around and play and swim. So that’s what we did.

Family, friends, food, fun, cake and presents.

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And a Duck Dynasty floor mat. The greatest gift ever.

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An attempt was even made to redecorate the entry hall.

Sadly, a line had to be drawn.

As a kid, I didn’t have big blow-out parties with thirty of my “closest” friends at giant expensive venues. Don’t get me wrong, those parties are just fine and great fun; we just did it a little differently. We did family parties at home and I loved it. Those are some of my favorite memories and that is how I approach birthdays now that I am the mom. I have done a few of the big venue parties but for the most part we stay at home, in the company of family and friends. And lots of food.

I hope my kids will one day look back with the same fondness that I do. I hope they too will have wonderful memories of the fun we had at home with the people we love.

And of how they were celebrated.

Happy, Happy, Happy Birthday David.

Note: The “printables” shared in this post contain images obtained from the internet and are not official Duck Dynasty merchandise or for sale in anyway. They were created for use at my son’s party and I am simply happy to share. There is a link in the post to official Duck Dynasty Party Merchandise.

In Real Life, There is Autism

I know, I promised you food this week. I’m sorry. I also had wanted to share a little bit more about the Trim Healthy Mama (THM) plan that has been such a gift in my life and has changed my eating and health so dramatically in the past month. But each time I sat down to write the easy stuff, God reminds me that there is something more important.

He does that to me a lot.

I pray for the words and He steers me in a direction that I don’t always want to go. Stubbornly, I fight to go my own way and write what I want, what is easier, and ultimately find that I can’t write another word until I have surrendered and written what He has for me.

He has given me the love blogging and storytelling because He has a story He wants me to tell.

It is a joy and a pleasure to write about daily life around the Hacienda, to share good food and recipes and to connect with other bloggers and readers. It has never felt strange or wrong for me to put my family and my life “out there”. I felt such a leading to do so when I started this blog that I had no fear or hesitation.

After all, how can you write a blog about good company and creating community from behind a closed-door?

I trust God with our story. With the sharing of it and with the direction He takes it.

And while I struggle with it sometimes, I know that sharing our story means sharing more than just the fun stuff, or the yummy stuff, or the easy stuff. It means sharing the real stuff too.

Real life.

And in real life, there is Autism.

This past week, our sweet boy Nathan was diagnosed with autism.

Nathan. Autism.

Nathan has autism.

Nathan is autistic.

I think that may be the first time I have truly put those words together.

So, there is no easy this week. In my head and on my heart, there is only autism. Hours of reading and research already. And prayer.

How did I not see this? What did I miss?

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Nathan, autistic? But he makes eye contact, he is funny and engaging, he has a sense of humor and is full of life and personality. He is social and happy and doesn’t throw huge fits or tantrums. He connects. He is kind and empathetic, loves animals and small children. He is talking now and telling stories and plays imaginatively and independently.

He is all of those things and more. And he is also autistic. I didn’t see it.

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I have read some incredible blogs in the last several days, written by mamas with autistic children. I tell you what, you can read all of the clinical information you want but if you really want to know something, read the words of a mama who lives it everyday. Their stories are both similar and unique but the universal theme that runs through each is  … “I knew something was wrong.”

I knew something was wrong at six months, twelve months at the very least by two. I knew something was different.

I didn’t. I didn’t know. At least not that early.

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As an infant, my son did not display many of the things I have read about. He made eye contact, he tracked, he smiled and laughed and responded to us in all of the right ways. He loved to be held and cuddled and snuggled.

What did I miss? What did I dismiss? I have racked my brain thinking back.

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He had a very sensitive startle reaction (he would cry every time Gary sneezed – it’s a loud sneeze, but still), he hated tummy time, he walked at 10 months but didn’t talk until after 16, he was a tip-toe walker, he couldn’t tolerate loud noises and was very sensitive to sound. But that’s it and except for a sensitive tummy and some digestive issues, he was an easy baby; a great sleeper, not overly fussy, happy and content. We considered ourselves fortunate as he had been methamphetamine exposed the majority of his birth mother’s pregnancy and despite a rough start, was absolutely thriving.

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As a toddler, we were concerned about his delayed speech so we set up early intervention services for him and he had speech and language therapy for a year. He was displaying some rigid behaviors and inflexibility and had a need for control and had some obsessive “quirks” but truthfully, that describes me too (I’m getting better, truly  I am) and it was all easily managed. He otherwise continued to be the happy, healthy, delightful little guy who was advanced in so many other ways. He blew us away with his early ability to focus on and figure things out, to do complicated puzzles, find hidden pictures with little effort. He was a mover and a shaker.

Nathan-6Truthfully, my husband noticed more than I did. I remember him saying “have you noticed how his cars always have to be lined up perfectly and are always arranged by color? Do you see how upset he gets when he can’t get things to work just how he wants or when things are moved around or messed up? His temper concerns me a little.”

I would dismiss it saying, “oh he just has a bit of a temper and he likes to have things just so.” Now, it sounds so obvious. Why does hindsight always sound so obvious.

In retrospect, there were whispers of concern in the back of my mind and I even read a bit about Autism but so many things didn’t fit that I just put it away and dismissed it.

I didn’t read enough.

It wasn’t until pre-school that we started noticing social difficulties and trouble relating with peers. He was easily overwhelmed and overstimulated in a large groups of children. He could be aggressive and was often too rough. We had him in a Montessori type of pre-school setting and it was a disaster for him. It was his sweet teacher who finally pulled me aside and said very honestly “I don’t know how to work with him. I love him and I want what is best for him but I don’t think he is getting what he needs here.” That was the first “bubble burst” and prompted an initial round of testing last fall and my first true inclination that something wasn’t quite right.

The testing we had done was academic and behavioral as it related to an academic setting. His cognitive levels were off the charts. I will never forget the testing process or the amazement of the testing administrator as she would place a series of picture cards in front of him in a particular order, telling him he had several seconds to look at them before she would take them, mix them up and give them back to him for him to put in order again. He would barely glance at them and then shove them back to her, look right at her and say “I ready”. Wanting an accurate test result, she would say, no, Nathan, you can take a little more time.

“No, I ready.”

So she gave him back the cards and in a matter of seconds they were all in exactly the same order she had initially placed them.

The pictures got more and more complicated but the results were the same.

“I ready.”

Eventually, she ran out of cards. “I don’t have any higher level tests with me to give him, we don’t usually need them at this type of testing.”

Concern came when she would give him auditory tests like a simple sequence of words or numbers and ask him to repeat them.

“Nathan, can you please repeat these numbers for me. One. Eight. Four. Two. Six.”

“One. Eight. Four …… what dat nex one? Mommy, what dat nex one. I dohn no.”

And then he would refuse to do it at all because he knew he couldn’t.

Precious boy.

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And so the testing continued and we eventually ended up with a diagnoses of Expressive Language Delay and Sensory Processing Disorder and an IEP including speech and language and behavioral and social goals.

Still no Autism anywhere on the radar.

His diagnoses qualified him for specialized services and we enrolled him in a special needs pre-school. He did much better in a setting with only 11 other children a teacher and three aides but he still struggled and our concern grew, especially with kindergarten and a mainstream classroom of 28 kids on the horizon. So, I made an appointment with Wendy, our older son David’s incredible behavioral health caseworker whose expertise and opinion I value greatly. Her evaluation led us to the office of the Child Psychiatrist who observed and interacted with Nathan, reviewed his IEP, asked me just the right questions and then leaned forward, looked at me and said “you aren’t going to like me but your son has autism.”

And there it was. Autism. Your son has autism.

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I took in what he said as I held my wiggly five-year-old in my arms. Innocent and unaware of what was hanging in the air. Impatiently rubbing my face and poking at me to get my attention; “mommy I ready to go home. We go home now.”

We went home and I began reading. I wasn’t convinced. So much didn’t fit.

And then I read about High-Functioning Autism and a picture perfect profile of my son began to emerge from the pages. The pieces came together and they did fit. Autism.

Because he didn’t fit the typical signs of Autism, it was easy to dismiss and to simply assume he was just a bit type-A; believe me, type-A is familiar around here. We accepted the “unique” and incredible things he did as a sign that he was probably gifted and advanced. We were dealing with his speech issues and used a lot of signing to communicate with him. We were patient, certain the speech would come with time.

What we dismissed as just personality, a bit of OCD and a little quirkiness were truly the signs of high functioning autism. We just didn’t know enough about it to suspect it. Or we didn’t want to see it.

I didn’t want to see it.

In the book “Children with High-Functioning Autism” author Claire E. Hughes-Lynch talks about her journey with her own daughter’s diagnoses; “I can look back now and say, ‘Ahhhh, so that was the autism coming out.’ But at the time … I have backgrounds in both gifted education and special education, and my gifted education experience means I tend to look at kids from a strengths-based perspective. I see things that could be the germ of a talent or activities that show promise of great thinking … I tend not to look at things from a deficit view.”

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This really resonated with me. I have always been amazed by my son and chose to focus only on the strengths and great thinking that I saw in him. I found ways to explain away the other things I saw.

In hind sight, I think we missed some of the signs with Nathan because we were dealing with so much with Sara and David. They had come back to us when Nathan was about 18 months old and we had hit the ground running with their healing and trauma therapy. Nathan was our “normal” kid … whatever that means. Sara and David’s psychological wounds and needs were so extreme that I’m pretty sure I just didn’t have it in me to handle the realization that something could be wrong with my precious baby too.

That isn’t pretty but it is real and it is honest.

God’s timing amazes me. Always. But never more so than now. He restored our family at exactly the time He intended. He knew that we would walk with Sara and David through some very dark and terrifying places in the process of their healing and restoration. He knew that they were going to need every bit of us for that journey.

He also knew that it would ultimately be the end of me.

My reliance on Him who sustains, restores, redeems and strengthens me made absolute under the weight of my own weakness.

Complete surrender.

Then, and only then, would I be ready to hear and accept the words “your son has autism”.

For my strength is made perfect in weakness.

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My son has autism.

My son has autism and he is still the exact same funny, sweet, incredible little boy he was before the word ever entered our lives. In fact, so many of the things that I love about him, the things that make him unique, that make him Nathan, are the “autistic things”. He is wired differently, yes. But he is fearfully and wonderfully made. Created perfectly for the work God has for him to do.

He is truly a gift. He came to us in such a miraculous way and I have always been so thankful to God for entrusting me to be his mama. But now more than ever before, I am humbled and grateful that my husband and I have the privilege of raising this precious boy.

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My son has autism and he will always know love and acceptance and the promise and hope his future holds.

My son has autism. And it’s okay. That is real life.

God has a beautiful plan for him and we will be blessed to watch it unfold. I hope you will join us for the journey ahead.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding;
 in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight. Proverbs 3:5-6

Summertime and the Schedule is Craaaazy!

C.R.A.Z.Y. Soon we will get into our summer groove though and the livin’ will be easy as it should be. This first couple of weeks has been an adjustment and my beloved routine is all out of whack. With all three blessings home or headed to numerous camps and activities, I am busy and running in three different directions at once.

My blogging routine is non-existent and may have to switch to more of a Tuesday/Thursday posting with a Saturday thrown in here or there. A lot of healthy, yummy things have been happening in my kitchen and I am eager to share; so hang in there with me. I promise to have some fun stuff up soon.

Regrettably, not a lot of yumminess has happened on the baking front as I am still learning to work without sugar and am being very picky about an authentic flavor. I am turning into a bit of a mad scientist and doing a lot of research on combining natural sugar substitutes in an effort to get far, far away from the bitter aftertaste that leaves me wanting to scrub my tongue with lye. Okay, well that may be a bit of an exaggeration but you didn’t try the gluten-free/sugar-free carrot cake I made the other day.

It was pretty. But awful.

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Pretty awful.

In small doses, like muffin in a mug or the cake in a mug I am now loving (and will share), Stevia is fine. A wonderful alternative to sugar. On a larger scale when much more is needed, bad things seem to happen. Well at least bitter and yucky things.

Thankfully, all is not lost.

Not with Salmon Tacos, Portobello Sliders, Trimmed-Up Broccoli Salad, Cheeseburger Pie, Italian Sausage and Vegetable Gratin and a gorgeous Greek Appetizer Platter just waiting to be written up and posted.

Starting next week. I promise!

For now, I’m off again to pick my girl up from theater camp. I would have gotten this post out earlier but I had an important movie date with my littlest. Ironically, we went to see The Croods, which was perfectly suited for my little caveman. Who, while waiting for me to finish writing, has made a tent under the dining room table out of my grandmother’s antique linen table-cloth that I had out for photos.

Caveman.

One last thing, my middle guy turned nine yesterday. NINE.

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I was so busy getting he and his dad ready to leave for Cub Scout Camp that I didn’t have a chance to post a proper Happy Birthday! He was so excited about his first big Cub Scout Campout. Four days of fun and adventure with Scouts from all over the valley.

And with his dad.

Which is the best birthday present ever!

Happy-Birthday-DavidHe even got a birthday can of coke for the road. Trust me, that is a BIG treat in his world. They called me from camp last night just before bed and I could tell how happy and excited he was. The whole camp sang happy birthday to him and my heart was full knowing he felt special and would soon fall asleep, exhausted, with a big smile on his face; a whole day of adventure ahead of him.

His official birthday party is just a few weekends away. I have been busy planning and will be sure to share photos and tell you all about it. The theme? I’ll give you a hint …

It’s gonna’ be a party, JACK!

Can you guess? Anybody?

Quack!

Muffin in a Mug

It is confession time, my friends. Seven months of baking and blogging have taken their toll. Well it really isn’t the baking or the blogging, it is the over-consumption of the baking that has led me to today’s post.

I have pretty much always lived a healthy and balanced life. Exercising, sleeping well and eating right kept me on track. I have never had the luxury of being able to eat whatever I want in whatever quantity. I have always had to be mindful of maintaining a healthy body and weight. And for the most part, I always have – with a few slips here and there like when I spent the majority of my twenties living low-fat/high-carb and obsessively exercising. I was skinny but very unhealthy inside and out. Thankfully, my body (and my husband and my mom) forced me to come to my senses and I found balance again.

Taking good care of yourself isn’t hard when you only have you to think about. Add a husband to the equation and it doesn’t change things too much as they are usually fairly self-sufficient and the nurturing required in their care leaves a decent amount of time to maintain some personal focus. My husband is rolling his eyes.

Enter motherhood. Ahhhhh, motherhood, the game changer. And for me, not just motherhood but children with special needs and the deep wounds and challenging behaviors of severe trauma and loss. Every bit of my time and energy was focused on their healing and needs. My life was no longer my own and changed dramatically.

So did my habits.

I have always loved to cook, bake and eat but my kitchen became my therapy and my escape. Food became my comfort. It also became an important way for me to nurture and comfort the little people in my life.

Fast forward a few years, over 40, well over my ideal weight, not sleeping enough, out of balance again.

I have no regrets.

I love being a mom, even on the hard days.

Every sacrifice is worth it and leaving “all about me” behind is a journey we all have to take as we mature and gain perspective.

Especially if we become parents.

Unfortunately, what we tend to do is completely forget about ourselves. We accept the expanding waistlines, dark circles, wet ponytails and stretchy black yoga pants as part of motherhood. An outward sign of our personal sacrifice. After all, it isn’t about us anymore.

Or is it just me?

Still no regrets but it is time for me to find balance again. My children are healthy and happy, healing and thriving and growing up. I don’t have babies anymore. My youngest will start kindergarten in August and I will just be with me again a lot of the time. Well, Ethel’s youngest starts kindergarten too so I’ll be with her at Zinc Bistro lunching on French food. And I’ll probably be in Nathan’s classroom a lot just so I can be near him helping out. But you get where I’m going with this.

It is time to find and focus on me again.

This blog has been a huge step in that direction and I love it so much. I love sharing family recipes and stories with you and that will continue but I do have to make some changes. My body is demanding change and balance.

At the risk of giving you way more information than you could possibly ever want to know, I will tell you that I have a pretty significant wheat sensitivity that I like to ignore. I tested negative for Celiac but it is still an issue for me. It isn’t too big of a problem for me if I am careful but I can be reckless … my high-carb/low-fat 20’s and now the somewhat obsessive amount of baking I’ve been doing since I got my hands on my grandmother’s recipes.

Reckless.

I also have to tell you, crazy things happen to you over the age of 40 and your body doesn’t bounce back and recover like it once did. At least mine doesn’t. I needed to start listening and being more mindful of my health and longevity. It is amazing what we take for granted and can get away with when we are younger.

A friend recommended an incredible book to me that I can honestly say has opened my eyes to health and nutrition in new and inspired ways. It has also spurred me on to do further reading and research into a low glycemic and gluten-free lifestyle.

Many of the principles in this book are not new to me as over the years I have read just about everything published on diets, health and nutrition. But this is different. This is not a diet or a fad. This is biblically based and just makes sense to me; a “where have you been all my life” kind of sense.

It is how I truly like to eat and how my body feels and functions best and I am adjusting to the loss of flour and sugar. Counting and tracking calories, fat grams, carbs, points, etc. and logging every morsel I put in my mouth throughout the day; I hate that and I won’t do it. That is about weight loss – this is about a strong, well-nourished, healthy body and a healthy weight is a happy side effect.

Listening to my body and making a few small changes to nourish and care for it. That I can do. That I have to do.

So, I have made a few small changes and I have been gluten-free/sugar-free for almost two weeks now and I feel like a new woman. And I have to tell you, almond and coconut flours are incredible. I am still working out the “sweetener” to my liking but have a few recommended Stevia products on order that should be better for baking.

I promise, I will still post traditional recipes but will be working on healthy tweaks and modifications as options. And I and will soon have pages atop my blog with indexes for traditional recipes and low-glycemic recipes (as I test and post more and more of them).

For now, I would love to share with you one of my favorite discoveries from Trim Healthy Mama by Serene Allison and Pearl Barrett – you didn’t think I was going to forget to give you the name of the book did you? – Muffin in a Mug.

The best thing about these muffins is that my kids LOVE them and are eating them just about every morning. They are so simple to make and are loaded with flax meal. It makes me feel great knowing that with every bite, they are filling their bodies with healthy life-giving foods that taste like a treat. I have taken the basic recipe in the book and tweaked it into two versions that we absolutely love, pumpkin and chocolate.

Sugar-Free/Gluten-Free Muffin in a Mug

Pumpkin

Muffin-in-a-Mug-Ingredients

Ingredients

  • 1 egg
  • 2 Tbsp. golden flax meal
  • 1 Tbsp. + 1 tsp. almond flour
  • 1 tsp. pumpkin pie spice
  • 1 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp. baking powder
  • 3 packets Truvia or other Stevia based sweetener (adjust to your sweet-tooth)*
  • pinch of kosher salt or sea salt
  • 1 Tbsp. unsweetened pure pumpkin puree

*Note on Stevia – the small amount of Truvia used here does not leave the bitter aftertaste that it does when baking in larger quantities. I’m still working on that.

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Crack the egg into the bottom of a coffee cup and whisk with a fork.

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Add your dry ingredients.

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Add then the pumpkin puree and mix ingredients together vigorously until well combined.

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Here’s the crazy part. Put it in the microwave for one minute.

I know.

I’m still trying to get my head around it.

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Turn it out onto a plate and you have a pumpkin muffin. An ugly pumpkin muffin, yes but a healthy and delicious one. Add a little whipped cream and berries and it gets prettier.

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My husband and my kids LOVE the pumpkin muffin and I think it is delicious but the chocolate – it tastes like cake. Truly, like rich chocolate cake.

Chocolate

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This muffin is made the same way but with a slight tweak to the ingredients.

Ingredients

  • 1 egg
  • 1 1/2 Tbsp. golden flax meal
  • 1 Tbsp. + 1 tsp. almond flour
  • 1 heaping Tbsp. unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1/2 tsp. cinnamon (I added this as I love what a hit of cinnamon does for chocolate)
  • 3 packets Truvia or other stevia based sweetener
  • 1/2 tsp. baking powder
  • pinch of kosher or sea salt
  • 1 level Tbsp. coconut oil

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Add the ingredients in the same way you did for the pumpkin muffin and pop it in the microwave for 1 minute.

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It is so good, I promise. The coconut oil adds a little more fat and calories than the pumpkin puree but it is a good healthy fat. Coconut oil is something I have been reading up on and I am impressed. Take a look at The Coconut Oil Miracle by Bruce Fife if you want to learn more about this incredible super food.

Flax and almond flour can be found at most grocery stores now and they are just the beginning of the incredible possibilities available in gluten-free cooking and baking. I can hardly wait to experiment and share more with you!

Enjoy!

And be sure to let me know what you think!!