Musings

Cookies N Creme Brownies & A Jam Packed Day

by Jennifer Wieland

Yesterday was a crazy, busy day with a little bit of everything. You see we had a day packed full of things we had to do and while some things were fun and happy others were sad and bittersweet.

Yesterday, would have been my mother-in-laws birthday. I adored my mother-in-law! She was an amazing woman who raised five pretty, great kids. She enjoyed living life and enjoyed being with her family. She had reached a stage in life where you just do what you want with no apologies. She was known to stick out her tongue at people and moon people. Their was even an attempted mooning at my wedding reception… lol. God, I miss her! She would knit everyone these amazing afghans and cook for the family all the time. We would spend Friday nights at her house where she would cook up chili and everyone would snack on her chex mix, drinking beer and playing dominoes. It was great and is sorely missed by the family now that both of my in-laws are gone. When my mother-in-law was ill she started giving people in the family things. Things she wanted them to have. She gave me her recipe box. For someone like me who loves baking, being the keeper of the family recipes is an honor and a privilege.

My mother-in-law Patsy and me.

My mother-in-law Patsy and me.

So my group and my sister-in-law went to go visit my in-laws at the cemetery. We had not been since my father-in-law’s service last year. Both of them were cremated and my father-in-law still wanted to keep her with him like he had been. So we made the drive to the cemetery on a grey and gloomy day and located their spot. It was nice having at least two of her children there to wish her a Happy Birthday.

From there we had to head to my dad’s family reunion. You see, yesterday also would have been my grandmother’s birthday. She was a great woman who raised 12 children. No, you didn’t read that wrong, I said 12. She was a tiny thing too. I think I was taller than her by 4th grade. I was always amazed at how happy she could be with her house always overrun by so many people on any given day, and holidays? Forget about it. Yesterday was the first time all 12 of her children were together in years. It was amazing seeing them all in the same place at the same time. They all had most of their children their too and the older ones in the group also had some of their grandchildren there as well.

Siblings

My grandfather with his twelve children in order behind him. My dad is the third kid.

It’s funny, you tell people how big the family is and they are like, oh that doesn’t sound so bad but then they see it and it is a bit overwhelming. (There are 34 grandchildren and over 40 great-grandkids.) Like I said not all of the cousins made it or it would have been truly mind-blowing. So it was bittersweet yesterday. It was great to have so many of us together but it would have been better if my grandma was still here to be a part of it.

Family Reunion Group

The family and this is not even everyone!

My brother did not make the family reunion yesterday. He had other, bigger plans. He called us there though to tell us when he was done. You see, he decided to finally put a ring on it and ask his awesome girlfriend of four years to marry him. My mom, sister and I have been huge nags where this is concerned. Kelly is a great girl and if he didn’t snap her up soon someone else would come along and do it. He got smart though and took the plunge and we were all super happy and excited!

So after the reunion we headed to my parent’s house to meet up with my brother and his fiancé. We ordered some food and all celebrated the big news. It was a good time for everyone. My brother proudly showed us the PowerPoint presentation he used to propose to her. It was a cute display of all of their firsts together.

Kelly's Ring

Kelly’s Ring

We then FINALLY headed home. I was exhausted and beat and happy for the day to end.

So what recipe do I have to share with you? Well, I made Cookies N Creme Brownies for the family reunion. They are definitely a little on the over the top side of things but they were good.

Cookies N Creme Brownies

Cookies N Creme Brownies
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6567 calories
1006 g
694 g
258 g
91 g
142 g
1539 g
3599 g
566 g
4 g
97 g
Nutrition Facts
Serving Size
1539g
Amount Per Serving
Calories 6567
Calories from Fat 2286
% Daily Value *
Total Fat 258g
397%
Saturated Fat 142g
711%
Trans Fat 4g
Polyunsaturated Fat 17g
Monounsaturated Fat 80g
Cholesterol 694mg
231%
Sodium 3599mg
150%
Total Carbohydrates 1006g
335%
Dietary Fiber 39g
157%
Sugars 566g
Protein 91g
Vitamin A
82%
Vitamin C
0%
Calcium
86%
Iron
120%
* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet. Your Daily Values may be higher or lower depending on your calorie needs.
Ingredients
  1. 1/2 c. butter, softened
  2. 8 oz. container Philadelphia Milk Chocolate Snack Delights, softened
  3. 2 c. sugar
  4. 2 lrg. eggs
  5. 1 tsp. vanilla
  6. 2 1/2 c. all-purpose flour
  7. 1/2 c. good quality dutch process cocoa powder
  8. 1/3 c. Jell-o Oreo Cookies N Creme Instant Pudding Mix
  9. 1 tsp. baking soda
  10. 1/2 tsp. salt, if you used unsalted butter only
  11. 2 tsp. milk
  12. 2 1.55 oz. Hershey's Cookies N Creme Bars, chopped
  13. 1 8 oz. pkg. Hershey's Cookies N Creme Drops
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 350° and spray a 9x13 pan with baking spray or grease and flour it.
  2. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment cream together the butter, cream cheese and sugar until well combined and fluffy on medium-high speed. Add the eggs and vanilla and mix until completely incorporated. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl and add the flour, cocoa powder, pudding mix, baking soda and salt and mix on low until combined. Add in the milk and mix on medium speed. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and stir in the chopped up Cookies N Creme bars.
  3. The dough will be thick. Press it into the 9x13 pan and then top with the Hershey's Cookie N Creme Drops, lightly pressing them in. Bake for 30-35 minutes and then cool completely before cutting. Store in airtight container.
beta
calories
6567
fat
258g
protein
91g
carbs
1006g
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Round 2 of Back to School and What Would You Do?

by Jennifer Wieland

This morning was to mark the new school year for my kiddos in elementary school. Luke is being integrated back into our home school district for 4th grade. Jackson is starting 1st grade with much less special support this year and Ellie was to start her third year of Pre-K. (Our district has Pre-K for those who is at risk of or already has delays. Ellie has speech and some minor developmental delays.) So, all of this should have meant that I would be sitting here enjoying some blessed alone and quiet time. As is typical of my life though, nothing went as planned. Instead I got vomit, a verbal argument with a cop, an email to and return phone call form a principal to start my day. Not such a happy back to school day.

Ellie did not sleep well last night, as has been her pattern for weeks now. She got up this morning though cheerful and excited to get ready for class because, Pre-K is still fun school. She put on her new outfit that she was so excited to wear because it was Hello Kitty and bounced around excitedly for 5-10 minutes. Then, just like that, her face lost all color and she said, “Mommy, I don’t feel good”. I thought, oh please just let it be nerves and that she will be happy and rosy-cheeked again in a few minutes. As in most households on a school day I then rushed off to make sure bags were packed with everything each child needed. To my immense relief, they were and we were moving ahead of schedule. Which in our house is a kind of miracle. Then Ellie appears and tells me, “Mommy I just threw-up.” in her most miserable sounding voice. She then proceeded to do so again on the kitchen floor. Really?!?! I have to call a kid in sick on the first day of school? Yes, yes I do. UGH!!! There went my two and a half hours of quiet cleaning time.

I then took pictures of the boys and they ended up not being nearly as fancy or nice as I had planned in my head but at least I managed to get them. That is the important thing. I then loaded up the minivan with the hubs and kiddos. We dropped off the hubby at the train and even got there early. We then headed to Jackson and Ellie’s school. We went to the office and let them know that Ellie would not be at school today and then got Jackson situated in his line for his classroom. Ellie was not feeling well again so we made a quick dash for the car where she clutched her bucket to her chin and just looked miserable.

Jackson First Grade

We then headed to Luke’s school. Our district is divided into learning centers. That means Jackson and Ellie’s school is for all Pre-K through 2nd grade. Luke’s school is all 3rd and 4th grade. He was nervous with the school switch. He did attend summer school at the new school but that was only a handful of students and teachers so it was not overwhelming to him. He has never been in a class with more than 14 children. This year he will start the year with 21 kids and 3 teachers plus his aide that works with him all in his class. So we arrive at the school. I know from taking my oldest here that you have to drop off kids on the side of the school. That’s fine. Luke’s aide though is supposed to be waiting to collect him and bring him into the school. The school has no place to stop and drop off children who are special needs. No place to stop for more than 5 seconds to drop off a child who moves and functions a bit differently. There are however about 10 police squad cars there to not let parents stop for more than a few seconds. Some of the police are standing about and some are in their cars. Luke’s aide I see is exiting the building. (Which is about 1/3 of a block away from the drop off point.) The police make me get Luke out and move on. Luke is clearly panicking at this point because he now does not see his aide. I saw his aide turn around though when a child spoke to him and take that child in the building. The problem was though that Luke was then confused and I was trying to yell from the window to tell him which sidewalk to follow. The police made me move. I drove down the block. Pulled into a driveway to turn around and as soon as I pulled out I had a cop there stopping me in his car. He proceeded to tell me that turning around in someone’s driveway was against the rules. That’s right, he said rules. You see it is not against the law. I told him I was just trying to get back by the school to make sure my newly integrated son found his aide and made it inside and wasn’t in a full-blown panic attack. He told me, “I don’t care. You can’t break the rules.” I lost it then. Really? You are supposed to be here protecting and serving these children but because mine has issues he matters less than the ones that can safely see themselves inside? I proceed to tell him that, “I would have parked the few blocks away and walked him up to the school but my daughter is vomiting all over my backseat at the moment.” Queue sound effects because she really was doing that at that moment. I tell him, “It is not my fault that the school does not have a spot to drop off children like my son.” Mind you this whole time I am looking between him and Luke, who I could still see. I have been able to see Luke wandering. I have been able to watch the worry and fear grow. Finally, I was able to see his wonderful aide get him and talk to him.

Luke Fourth Grade

When I reached home I emailed the principal. This is not something I do. I am not the squeaky wheel parent but I thought this was wrong. My child, while in 4th grade has some areas where he is not at the same level as other children his age. He does not like change. He can go into sensory/stimulus overload. He needs to see a familiar and friendly face to feel safe. I wanted his transition to be smooth today. I wanted to start off this big change the best way possible for him. It didn’t though and failed miserably. I can only hope now that the rest of his day goes well so he ends the day with a positive experience overall. The principal was great. She called me back immediately. She said that was not how she had wanted Luke’s day to go. She said the aide would be waiting there for him from now on. I don’t blame the aide. He was helping someone else’s child who needed it. The school should have a safe drop off place though for people who have to do a physical hand-off though to another adult. The police officer instead of keeping me tied up should have after hearing what was going on, got out and helped my son get to the door or had him stand with one of the standing officers until his aide came for him since I was not allowed to wait there with him.

Am I wrong about this? I was in tears talking to the principal. Should I have said anything or just let it go? I kept apologizing for complaining when I talked to the principal.


Just This Side of Crazy: Me, Not the Kids

by Jennifer Wieland
The young ones

Today there won’t be a recipe. Nope. Today there is going to be a larger peek into my life and the everyday craziness I see. You see I decided to write this while I am sitting here exhausted. I should probably be napping since the three young ones are still asleep but I’m not. Instead I am trying to do work for the blog that I am having to retype and re-read over and over again due to said exhaustion. I suppose I should also probably be cleaning but, well, again said exhaustion is making that not even an option.

I know what you are thinking at this point. Isn’t she always talking about how tired she is or how her kids didn’t sleep? Yes! Yes, I am. You see I have three of my six children with my current husband. My nine-year-old, Luke is a high-functioning Autistic child with SEVERE A.D.H.D., some mild O.C.D. and massive sleep issues. My six-year-old, Jackson is very high functioning Autistic. He only has Aspergers. To go with that though he also has A.D.H.D., severe speech problems, anger and aggression issues, sleep issues and depression to top it all off. Finally, there is my one and only daughter, Ellie who is four years old. Up until this point, we believed that Ellie only suffered from fairly minor speech delays. This summer though has been starting to worry us. You see, she started becoming more aggressive and more sensory driven. Okay, maybe not a big deal. Maybe she is just mimicking her brothers. Hey, it could happen. Then she started no longer sleeping at night. I mean she will fall asleep between 8:00 and 9:00 p.m. only to wake up between 10:00 p.m. and midnight, wide awake and rearing to go. Waking up everyone in the house to play with her. So then she stays up until 4:00 to 6:00 a.m. If it’s after 5:00 a.m. I won’t even attempt to lay down. I know I will sleep through the alarm and I can’t have that. I have to get my husband and my oldest up and out the door to the train for work. So why don’t I lay down after I get them off to work you ask? Well, by then the other kids are getting up and despite the fact that it’s only been a few hours my four-year-old will also be back up between 9:00 and 10:00 a.m. rearing to go again.

Luke, Jackson and Ellie my three youngest kiddos.

Luke, Jackson and Ellie my three youngest kiddos.

This is the vicious cycle of little to no sleep that my life has become this summer. I have not been able to do as much with the kids as I wanted. You see, being this tired means I get sleepy behind the wheel and I fear driving with them even short distances if my lack of sleep is particularly bad. My life and ability to function has not been this bad since Luke was about Ellie’s age. He can stay awake for days without prescription sleep medication.

So why don’t we put her on medication you ask? The thing is she has already been taking either Melatonin or OZzzz’s Sleep Aid for Children. When we first noticed the problems we got the okay to start her on the same things that Jackson uses. Those have been a life saver for us with him and were working with Ellie briefly. Now though she does not respond to them at all. The other issue I have is that I am kind of burying my head in the sand to a degree. I know, I know, it doesn’t help anyone but if I bring up the things she has in common with the boys they will want us to go to our Neuropsychologist for testing. I love my kids more than anything in this world and I wouldn’t change any of them. I know if she gets a diagnosis similar to her brothers that I will do what I have done each time. I will adjust, adapt and do everything I can to give each of my kids the best shot in life. It’s just so frustrating though to think that another one of my kiddos may be starting with more of a struggle ahead of them than they should have to face. I will also find a way to pay for all of the medications and therapies we have on a single salary. Who knows, maybe our medication management psychiatrist will give us a group price break or something or maybe I will win the lottery and then be able to afford the best of the best treatments for them. I suppose though that I should buy a ticket first.

So what does all this mean? It means that we will continue to be the nutty house on the block that never seems to sleep. The one with the loud mother ranting at people who never listen to her. The one with some kids stuck in emotional loops here and there that the neighbors sometimes get to enjoy. The house where six and nine-year olds are just learning to ride bikes because their motor skills were not up to par until then. We’ll be the house with a four-year girl who believes clothes are irritating and is running around in nothing but underwear. We’ll continue to be the house that makes the block interesting and it’s all led be me, the head nut trying to keep my sweet sanity any way I can.


Ten Things I Learned at BlogHer ’13

by Jennifer Wieland

BlogHer ’13 was my very first blog conference and just so happens to be the big kahuna of blog conferences. People come from all over the world to attend and for a few days we get to get some help with our blogs in learning sessions, talk with companies and P.R. people, meet our virtual friends, make new ones, get a ton of swag and have a lot of fun! It was 2-4 days for most people depending on special events you signed up for or were invited to attend. It is one non-stop, wild and crazy ride filled with parties and amazing speakers and did I mention swag?

Welcome to BlogHer '13

I learned so much about blogging from so many great an amazing people but I also learned things about myself, my life and things in it. So here goes….

The Top 10 Things I Learned at BlogHer ’13

      1.  Bring a large wheeled bag. Trust me your neck, back and legs will thank you for it! (Again, did I mention the swag?)
      2.  It was exciting to step outside of my comfort zone and just walk up to someone and strike up a conversation! I now know I can leave my comfort zone and be okay.
      3. Don’t be afraid to ask other bloggers that have more established blogs questions. They don’t mind answering questions and they are willing to help out a newbie blogger.
      4. BlogHer really needs a session called Blogging for Dummies that breaks things down to very fundamental levels for people who are just starting. I mean like S.E.O means search engine optimization and that no-follow links are the way to go.
      5. Even if the conference is in your hometown it’s still a better idea to stay at the hotel rather than commute back and forth each day. A) You need a place to drop things at, to change clothes from day to night if you want to (hotel bathroom or car not such a good idea) and the events start VERY early and run late so if you have to commute that shortens your sleep time even more. B) Who wants to go home each night and face children still up and running around, dishes, garbage that needs to be taken out, etc.
      6. Dress for comfort but be presentable. You do not need to wear heels and dresses if that is not you. Some people get fancy at night and some just stick with their day clothes.
      7. I am in need of a personal trainer, gym and new diet plan. (Carrying what felt like 50 lbs. of swag everyday is a lot of work!)
      8. I need a new phone! Now! Desperately! I tried to submit a tweet for a contest late yesterday afternoon and missed the deadline because my phone would not tweet for some idiotic reason. If I could have thrown the phone in the Chicago River from one of the hotel windows I would have. My reception also stunk.
      9. Did I mention the swag? Oh, yes, I did. It was immense and I was only invited to one special event and signed up for another special event. I had heard it was a lot but, ones mind does not comprehend it until one actually lives it. The companies there hand out so many things and run so many giveaways that everyone leaves with stuff. My favorite thing? The $100 Bed, Bath & Beyond gift card I won from Windex Touch-Ups.
      10. BlogHer knows how to throw one hell of a conference and parties!!!

In case you are curious I did meet Ree Drummond. She was very nice!

Ree_and_me

I saw Queen Latifah but did not get a picture with her. Austenland was a hilarious movie that would be great for a girl’s night out! Wilton was amazing and I was so excited to be included in the same group as some amazing bloggers!

Welcome to Wilton

 


Conference Craziness!!!

by Jennifer Wieland

This Thursday through Saturday I will be attending my first blogger conference. It is the BlogHer’13 Conference and luckily for me it is in Chicago. I have been looking forward to this since last year when I bought the ticket for it. I have been alternating between bouncing-off-the-walls excited to near panic attack. As I read advice from other bloggers via their blogs, twitter and emails I am thankful that I have been given some help along this crazy, chaotic path of blog conferencing!

I have been spending the last few days trying to get things into some semblance of order here at home. It’s not going well. So I am just going to have to trust that my parents and husband can handle it and that the kids aren’t to nutty for them and that none of them have gone missing while I am away. The young ones are excited to get to hang out with Nana and Papa sans Mommy and I have to admit that my parents do have some fun stuff planned for them. I though am not used to being away from them. I am also no longer used to having adult conversations for three straight days and nights or trying to sell my ideas in the business world. This is where the panic attacks come in. I just need to breathe through the nerves and remind myself that I can do this. My recipes are good, my photography is getting better along with my writing and I can be as good at this as push myself to be.
It’s kind of like that first day of high school or college. Will I fit in? Will I make friends? Am I going to be the girl with nobody to sit with at lunch? I feel a bit more secure after talking with and reading other newbie conference bloggers that I am not alone with these thoughts.

Now there are many fun and fabulous things that I am excited about. I have been invited to a special event on Thursday before the official kick-off of the conference at Wilton Headquarters with 14 other bloggers. There are also lots of companies I am anxious to meet with. I will also be there learning from those who have gone before me into the blogosphere. I get to attend a movie screening Friday night and there will be lots of amazing speakers and guests. Ree Drummond, Pioneer Woman, will be one of the keynote speakers. As a baking blogger, I can tell you that she is kind of my blogging crush. 🙂 I also found out today that Queen Latifah will be attending! Seriously, how cool is that?

As you can see this is going to be a crazy, jam-packed, fun and wild ride for a few days. I plan on blogging from the conference to share what it is like.

Wish me luck!


A Few of My Favorite Things and a Recipe Too

by Jennifer Wieland

With Mother’s Day next week I thought I would share some of my favorite things with you in case any of you are looking for some different ideas for Mother’s Day gifts for the moms in your life. I have come up with a list that I think covers lots of varying tastes.

Maybe if I am really lucky my husband will also read this. You see my husband is someone who always needs help with buying me gifts. I usually end up having to email him a list of things I want and he picks one and tells me to order it. I like the surprise of a present though so if I am ordering it there is no surprise. He also likes to spend a lot and I am a simple girl (think daisies over roses). Unless I want a new appliance of some sort (yes I have asked for appliances as gifts) I am a really cheap date.

So now on to the gift ideas…

Food Gifts

Gabriella Chocolates & Confections Shop

This Florida based chocolate shop makes these amazing toffee and dessert truffles! They are so unique and so addictive. The best way to describe them is a cake pop meets truffle. They are huge! (12 truffles is 1.8 lbs.)  You can definitely cut them in half or quarters and share with friends. I have tried numerous flavors but my favorite is the Cinnamon Swirl Streusel Cake Truffles.  Some of the other flavors are Mocha, Coconut, Red Velvet, Dark Chocolate and Lemon Citrus. Right now through May 10th enter coupon code CHOCOLATE to save 15% and orders over $50 ship free.

Photo from Gabriella Chocolates & Confections Shop

Photo from Gabriella Chocolates & Confections Shop

Sweet Addiction

My husband and I love toffee! It is something that we always try if it is available and we have tried a TON! Last year when I was at the Chicago Fine Chocolate Show there were a lot of toffee makers there. As a true connoisseur I did my duty and sampled them all. Sweet Addiction’s toffee really stood out from the rest for me. The name really does a perfect job to describe it because it is so addicting. This is made by hand from a family in Chicago and it’s from an old family recipe. The toffee comes packaged in silver tins with ribbons and can be ordered by the pound. They also make small favor sized orders too.

Photo from Sweet Addiction

Photo from Sweet Addiction

Pitaya Plus

I know from reading this blog that many of you probably think that I am just a sugar junkie. I’m not going to lie… I am. I do though have enough sense though to balance the sugar out with healthy foods. I have been on a smoothie kick lately. Trying different ingredients to make a really healthy smoothie as part of my breakfast. I found out about Pitaya Plus because they had a Living Social deal. Pitaya (aka dragonfruit) is really good for you. It is a low sugar/low carb fruit, it has antioxidants, fiber, vitamin C, calcium, magnesium and omega-3’s. In other words it is one of those super fruits. Pitaya Plus is also certified organic. I have bought the smoothie packs from them (you get 30 for $99.99) and they are really good. They suggest using the smoothie packs in smoothies, bowls or cocktails. You do get recipes to try with your order.

Photo from Pitaya Plus

Photo from Pitaya Plus

I do have a smoothie recipe to share with you using the Pitaya Plus. Isn’t the color pretty?

Strawberry Dragonfruit Smoothie

1/3 c. vanilla almond milk
1/3 c. Dole Peach Mango Orange juice
1 scoop frozen strawberry kefir
5-6 frozen strawberries
1 pitaya plus smoothie pack

Combine all of the ingredients in a blender and blend until combined.

Strawberry Dragonfruit Smoothie

Jewelry Gifts

Pearls by Laurel

Let’s be honest. At this time of year everyone is selling mother’s rings and necklaces. They all are very similar in my opinion and I have never been a huge fan of them because everyone seems to have one that is a mom. I like things that are different or unique. That is why when I saw Pearls by Laurel’s mother’s bracelet I immediately wanted one. It is a Swarovski pearl and crystal bracelet. You can customize up to six colored pearls for $29.95 and the bracelet comes in five sizes so it will be perfect for the mom in your life. (You can have up to 12 but pearls 7-12 are an extra $4 each.)

Photo from Pearls by Laurel's website

Photo from Pearls by Laurel’s website

Bradford Exchange “My Hero” Autism Awareness Personalized Pendant Necklace

For all of the moms out there with children on the Autism Spectrum here is a lovely gift for them and a portion of the proceeds are donated to the Autism Society. The heart pendant looks like puzzle pieces and an autism awareness ribbon hangs from it. On the back, it is engraved with I wear this ribbon for my hero, (name).

Photo from The Bradford Exchange

Photo from The Bradford Exchange


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