Tuesday, December 16, 2014

DeBloAdMo and Elf Somewhat Weekly Update

I have failed DeBloAdMo this year (December Blog Advent Month). Mostly because I have failed advent this year. Half of the things the children have pulled out of the advent calendar have gone undone. But we've visited a lot of Santas!

Town Christmas Festival Santa:

Pampered Chef Christmas Party Santa (and Mrs Claus):

Elementary School "Game Night with Santa" Santa:

And we saw some pretty lights at the drive-through lights display.

Banoffee Pie has been hanging around a lot too. I have now forgotten about him three times... Mum of the Year. Fortunately, Fifi always comes to the rescue. Yesterday morning, she saved my bum by having Banoffee knocked over by an avalanche of lemons. Sadly, I never got to see this before Daddy cleaned it up (it was my lie-in day). I'll have to ask her to recreate the scene for a photo.

Besides that little slip, we have found Banoffee doing the following things:

Baking Cookies (Day 10):

Playing a Strange and Kind Of Disturbing Game of Hide-And-Seek - Care of Fifi (Day 11):

Baking Again (Day 12):

Making Chalk Announcements About Birthday Parties - A post for tomorrow perhaps? (Day 13):

Reading the Sunday Paper (Day 15):

And Stealing the Last Powdered Donut - Luckily there's another bag! (Day 16 - tomorrow):

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Fifi and the Great Hospital Adventure

I guess while I've got a cake in the oven is a good time to share what I alluded to in my previous post about Fifi.

On Sunday, she woke up complaining of lower abdomen pains. We didn't know what was wrong with her, so we gave her one of those microwavable cuddly toys to keep pressed against her tummy, and she spent the day in her pajamas sort of lying around, with a mild fever. The following morning (Monday), she came into our bedroom at 5.30am nearly in tears because she hurt so badly. She still had a slight fever. I warmed up her cuddly sheep again and set her up on the couch. I was beginning to toy with the idea of calling a doctor. Her pain appeared to be much more severe than it had been the day before. I gave her some children's Tylenol for the pain. Then she said, "It hurts over here now" and pointed to her lower right side.

Uh-oh, I thought.

The doctors' office opens at 8am, so at 8am on the dot, I called to make an appointment. After waiting on hold for fifteen minutes, I finally got through to the receptionist. Our family doctor didn't have any openings until later that afternoon, but the receptionist agreed with me that this needed to be seen to immediately and asked if she could schedule me with a different doctor at 10am. Of course!

I got the kids ready (Lolly was at school by now), and we were at the doctors' office ten minutes early and were seen quickly. The doctor wanted to get some tests run on Fifi to rule out appendicitis right away, so they did a urinalysis (to rule out UTI), a blood test and an x-ray. Fifi wasn't expecting the blood test - even though I'd mentioned before we left the house that they might need to do this - and she freaked out. She was still very good and still for the lab assistant but was in tears, on the verge of hysterical.

By this time, the Tylenol was wearing off, and her pain was returning, even worse now, as we waited for the test results. Even still, with her pain, I was beginning to think I really had been over-reacting and she was probably fine. She hadn't said anything about her right side again, and I began wondering if it was just painful "wind" or constipation. Then the doctor returned.

She told us Fifi had a higher than normal white blood count - another indicator of appendicitis - and she was scheduling us a CT scan at the hospital right away.

I still had Baby Jaguar with us at this point, but things were starting to look like a back-up plan might be needed. As I drove the kids the hospital, I spoke on the phone to various people - Scott, my dad, my mom, my step-dad, my step-mom, my friend Mike, the school - trying to arrange everything. Lolly would ride the bus to Mike's house. Dad would come to the hospital to take Jaguar home with him in an hour. In the meantime, Scott would come straight to the hospital to help with Jaguar until Dad got there. My step-dad, who works in the hospital, would meet me at the front door to park my car so Fi wouldn't have to walk, and then he'd sit with Jaguar while I got Fifi admitted. It was kind of a whirlwind. All the while, Fifi was clutching her belly and intermittently whimpering.

By the time we got to the CT scan waiting room, Fi was sobbing with pain. It was heartbreaking to watch. I was mentally planning an overnight stay, how I'd break it to her that she might need her appendix out, who would keep Lolly and Jaguar overnight, how I'd need to get my shift at work covered for the following night. We were finally taken back to get her scan, when it was explained that she'd need to drink a large barium drink and then wait another hour before they could do the scan. Poor Fifi was distraught. We did our best to distract her, as did another mother waiting with her teenage daughter for the exact same thing (suspected appendicitis). Thank you, Judge Judy, for your televised entertainment!

After an hour, Fi and I went in to get her scan. I'd shown her a CT machine on my phone so she'd know what to expect. What she did not expect was getting an IV. Again, she freaked out. The whole experience was really upsetting for her, getting the IV, getting the contrast dye injected into her arm, the big machine, and then the long wait with the IV still in her arm. Oh and the whole not having eaten since 10am, since they needed her to fast just in case surgery was necessary. By this time - 4pm or so - she was famished. We waited for ages for a doctor to read her scan. (So did the teenage girl in the waiting room with us, for that matter.) Around 5pm, the doctor had finally come around to look at the scans. The girl waiting with us was told she'd need her appendix out, and I was sure Fifi would see her again in a few hours after the same procedure. The doctor then asked for a second scan on Fi, since the first was not conclusive. The poor child had to go through another CT scan. The tech came out fairly soon after that and told us we could go home. It wasn't appendicitis.

We were kind of ... confused.

We never saw a doctor, so we had to ask the tech what was causing her pain and the fever and the high white blood cell count? He reminded us he couldn't say for sure, since he isn't the doctor, but that he was willing to bet it was some Long-Medical-Terminitis that mimics the symptoms of appendicitis, but the scan was clear: her appendix was fine.

We were relieved, naturally, that it wasn't her appendix and she wouldn't need surgery. However, we were a little unhappy with the lack of answers. The next day the GP who'd seen us originally called to tell us she thinks it was all just constipation and to give her Miralax. I asked why she would have a fever and high WBC if it was just constipation, and the doctor said that just happens sometimes. Scott and I didn't really buy that, but what else was there to do?

I kept Fi home from school on Tuesday to let her recover from her stressful day previously. By the end of the day, she seemed to be feeling better, had stopped clutching her belly constantly, had no fever, and the color had returned to her face. Whatever she had that was causing her pain seemed to have subsided. We just wish we could've gotten some better answers from the medical staff!

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

An Elf Update

Day 6:

The day I forgot the elf, and Fifi woke up disappointed and asked if she could go back to bed for a few minutes while I did something with him. (Luckily I kept last year's paper chain.)

Day 7:

The treasure hunt with *clues. Banoffee's gift of Elf on the Shelf pjs for the kids.

Day 8:

Instead of cleaning up Baby Jaguar's toys...

Day 9:

Too tired to think of anything else after a long day at the hospital with Fifi. Cue cliff hanger. (Spoiler: She's okay.)

* Christmas Indoor Treasure Hunt Clues updated from last year:

Before you do anything,
Go check your Advent letter.
I have a wee surprise for you
Run along now, friends, you better!
Banoffee Pie

Follow this clue to a very cold place,
where ice cubes and Popsicles fill up the space.
Go into the kitchen to solve this brain-teaser,
and open the door to the family’s _______.

Follow this clue to a very dark spot
Where bedding and linen and towels may be got
Go to mum’s bathroom (go there yourself)
The clue will be hidden up high on a ______.

When you're feeling less than fresh
or you want to have a laugh,
you wash and get all squeaky clean
inside a warm bubble _________.

Dora and Frozen, Spiderman too-
These are what kids like to see.
But Gilmore Girls, Scrubs and That 70’s Show
are what Mummy likes to watch on ________.

At breakfast and dinner
and lunch when we are able,
we set out the dishes and food
and we gather around the kitchen ________.

Our clothes just keep getting dirty
and we put them here to get them clean.
We like to take turns pouring in the soap
and pushing the buttons on the washing _______.

Up and down, and up and down
you climb these every day.
You've likely seen the clue on these,
but passed it anyway.

All year long these belong outside
But at Christmas you will often see
Families all over bringing just one inside
And putting decorations all over this ______.

When Mum needs a break,
You’d best not refute her --
A few moments to blog
and check up on Facebook,
She needs to play around on her __________!

This room is where your dad likes to sleep
Tiptoe very quietly in.
If you’re the first, you’ll hear the words,
“Congratulations… YOU WIN!”


Be the first back to the room
where this hunt did begin
If you're the first you'll hear the words,
"Congrats, to you... YOU WIN!"

Thursday, December 04, 2014


There's a lot of Elf on the Shelf naysayers out there, but to you I say HATERS GONNA HATE.

This morning, Banoffee Pie was found giving our little tree some sparkle. And he got a little tangled up in the tinsel in the process.

Tomorrow morning, the kids will wake up to discover that Banoffee has stolen my camera and gone around the house taking selfies... or shall I say elfies?

For the full album of Elfies, click here.

Sometimes I think I convince even myself that this little guy is real...

Wednesday, December 03, 2014

It's Getting Jolly Up In Here

It's not written in my destiny to ever attend the Wednesday morning Step Aerobics class. For the first time in months I was actually determined to go; even after a friend had to cancel going with me, I was still going to go solo. Then Fifi threw up. All over her bed. In the middle of the night, waking me from a glorious, deep sleep. So once again, it's a No-Workout Wednesday (name stolen from fellow Pampered Chef friend Beth - gotta give credit where credit is due!).

It will, however, be an errands day. I need to exchange some gifts (found the exact same thing at a quarter of the price elsewhere!) and post my Christmas cards that Banoffee Pie so kindly filled out for me last night.

I hope my UK postage won't cost me a small mortgage. (And I hope I get some UK post back, no hints or anything.)

Speaking of Banoffee Pie, he's been very helpful this year... so far. Yesterday, he made the kids a special breakfast.

On Monday, we covered Advent Activity 1: Decorate the tree. I love my hodge-podge, mismatched ornaments and our lopsided real tree. Looking at it makes me happy as I remember where each decoration came from, and Yoda at the top of the tree is a bit of a sometimes-tradition in the McFarlane house.

Yesterday, the kids were supposed to call Santa (it's free! US# 951-262-3062) but since I was working last night, the kids forgot about it. So we called him this morning after breakfast. Fifi read off her entire Christmas list and letter she'd penned to Santa, whilst Lolly sat their wide-eyed, grinning ear to ear (except when her jaw would drop) and then she froze up when it came time to leave a message. And Jaguar, well, here's Jaguar.

Today we are supposed to make Christmas cards for the kids' friends, except I switched shifts with someone at work so now I'm working tonight. I made up the Advent calendar activities to coincide with my estimated shift schedule, but it appears that's not always going to work. Oh well, maybe I'll just leave craft stuff lying out for Scott to deal with tonight on his own... Cue evil maniacal laugh.

And finally, in ever so important Christmas news, I now have all my stockings hanging, new lights on the tree (what is it with lights breaking between Christmases while doing nothing but lying in storage? Every year I open the box to find last year's lights don't work!), and all my wrapping supplies ready to wrap presents. I'm trying out an idea I read on a cute blog I follow, Natalie Creates, where instead of buying ribbon, which can be pricey, buying a 1/2 yard of Christmas fabric, cutting it into 1 inch strips and using that for ribbon. I chose three different patterns to differentiate the three different kids and will wrap everything in brown packaging paper. In my mind, it's going to be super cute... the reality may or may not comply.

Oh and most importantly, this year I finally decided to detangle and hang the Advent calendar that Scott's dear Ampy D made for us several years ago out of felt. Each pocket has three jelly beans. It's our first year without chocolate Advent calendars, so it was of utmost importance that we all get some kind of candy each morning of December, right?

I just gotta say, all this Christmasing has gotten me feeling pretty jolly!

As long as we don't need to clean up any more pukey sheets... (I'm looking at you, Fifi.)

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Welcome to December - and DeBloAdMo!

Tomorrow is the first of December and with December comes Advent Activity Calendars and the arrival of our Elf on the Shelf!

Scott and I took the kids to pick out our Christmas tree this evening. I had started wondering if we'd be better off getting an artificial tree again, but I'm glad we went with real. I love the smell!

And Banoffee Pie drove in this evening for the month. Nice to see you again, Banoffee!

And our Advent Calendars are filled with notes from the elves listing our activities for the month. This is my favorite of all the traditions we've started with our family. Instead of chocolate, we get to do something together to get us into the Christmas spirit. Some of the activities this year are fairly low-key since I work a lot of evenings now, but regardless, the kids will be excited to do them!

Here's what we have planned this month, in case you'd like to start a similar tradition and need some ideas to get you started!

1. Decorate Christmas tree.
2. Call Santa. (Free hotline: 951-262-3062)
3. Make Christmas cards.
4. Check email for message from Santa. (www.portablenorthpole.com)
5. Watch a Christmas movie and string popcorn.
6. Go to Girl Scouts Christmas party.
7. Make gingerbread men for the Christmas tree.
8. Donate food to charity.
9. Choose toys to donate to charity.
10. Cut out snowflakes and hang them.
11. Have a picnic in pajamas on the floor.
12. Eat dinner by candlelight.
13. Go to Lolly’s Frozen birthday party!
14. Drive around looking at Christmas lights.
15. Go out to dinner for Daddy and Lolly’s birthdays.
16. Film a Christmas video for Granny and Grampa.
17. Make a cake for Daddy’s birthday.
18. Open Lolly’s birthday presents.
19. Sleepover at Mimi and Poppi’s! (Still to be confirmed! Might have to change it!)
20. Make Christmas crackers.
21. Go on a treasure hunt to find an early Christmas present.
22. Make Christmas tree ornaments.
23. Eat Christmas pancakes for dinner.
24. Put out snacks and reindeer food for Santa’s sleigh team!!

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Mini Pumpkin Hand Pies

Tomorrow's Thanksgiving! One more pumpkin day to go!

I didn't make anything yesterday, because I have officially run out of pumpkin. Ten cans lasted me a good while, though. Now that I've experimented so fully with pumpkin, I am going to choose my favorite recipes for taking to my various Thanksgiving dinners. I will make a traditional pumpkin pie one day (because you just have to), the Pumpkin Chocolate Cheesecake Bars for another and Pumpkin danishes for breakfast on another. Today - if I get around to buying more pumpkin today - I'm going to try one last recipe I was sent to try. But before I get to that...

Mini Pumpkin Hand Pies!

(Why they are called Hand Pies, I don't know. I guess because you sort of use your hands to seal them?)

I used this recipe shared by Sugar and Charm on tablespoon.com, linked to me by my sister-in-law. (Phew! That was a lot of links.)

Rather than use round biscuit cutters, though, I used some cheap Thanksgiving cookie cutters I got for 69¢ at the Dollar General. Acorns, leaves, turkeys and pumpkins. So cute!

I won't copy the recipe here since it's all there in the link (and I always feel like I'm plagiarizing if I copy a recipe), but they were really easy to make. Just cut shapes out of chilled uncooked pie crust, fill with a small spoonful of filling (pumpkin purree, sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg and heavy cream - see the recipe) and seal with a fork. Don't overfill them, though, because they will ooze out the edges while you're sealing. Mix up some egg with cinnamon and sugar for the glaze before baking.

Fifi, who normally loves pumpkin pie, didn't like them. Lolly, who doesn't like pumpkin pie to start with, helped me make these. I think Fifi didn't like that they had too much crust and not enough pumpkin. But I liked them, and so did all the other adults I shared them with. So oh well. Fun to make with kids, maybe not fun for kids to eat. Maybe mine are just picky.

I settled down after bedtime with one of these on Monday night, a dollop of pumpkin pie whipped cream and a pumpkin pie spice coffee. Mmmm. Autumny.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

A Better Pumpkin Hot Chocolate Recipe

Since my previous (and disastrous) pumpkin hot chocolate attempt, I've been wanting to try my own version. It turns out, as I've come to realize, pumpkin in and of itself doesn't taste like much and it's the spices that make all the difference. So here's my (much tastier) hot chocolate recipe.

Pumpkin Hot Chocolate

1 1/2 cups unsweetened Silk brand coconut milk (carton NOT CANNED, and any other brand would do)
1 tablespoon cocoa powder
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 tablespoon pumpkin puree
1 small handful semi-sweet chocolate chips
whipped cream (I used pumpkin pie flavored)
cinnamon for sprinkling (if you want to add cinnamon or pumpkin pie spice to the recipe, I'd add only 1/2 tsp)

Combine coconut milk, cocoa powder, sugar, pumpkin, and chocolate chips (and cinnamon/ pumpkin spice if desired) into a microwave safe mug and heat for 2 minutes, stirring halfway through. Top with whipped cream and sprinkle cinnamon over the top.

This recipe could easily be de-pumpkinized by just leaving out pumpkin puree and the cinnamon spices and sprinkling the top with cocoa. And marshmallows. If I'd had marshmallows, they'd be in there too.

It's not too sweet so if you love super sweet hot chocolate, consider using sweetened coconut milk (or sweetened soy milk would work). I like the vague coconuty taste, and in fact, sprinkling a little coconut over the whipped cream would probably be nice too. Enjoy!

The Science of Pumpkin: Devil's Food (Pumpkin) Cupcakes

I consider myself an adequate, even good, baker. I can make delicious cookies, cakes, and breads from scratch. But I'm also a busy mum and have no shame in the fact that unless it's an occasion (or a weird month long food fetish), I will often resort to a mix. I learned long ago (from my own mom, passing down kitchen wisdom) that the oil in a cake mix can be replaced with applesauce for a less fattening option. (Now that I *on a good day* *obviously not this month* eat a low carb, high fat diet, I don't feel so grossed out by oil, but still.) After baking with pumpkin for nearly a month now, I feel I've come to be a bit of an expert on the science of how pumpkin interacts with baked goods. So I wanted to test my pumpkin hypothesis and see if it acts similarly to oil like I predicted. I bought a Devil's Food cake mix for 99¢ at Kroger and made cupcakes.

I simply followed the directions on the back of the box - combine mix, 3 eggs, 1 cup of water and instead of 1/3 cup of oil, 1/3 cup of pumpkin puree. I whisked it all up with a hand blender, and the batter appeared to have the right consistency. I taste-tested the whisk... tasted good to me!

And then I baked them. I baked them for the time stated on the back of the box for cupcakes, and they rose and baked throughout just as they were supposed to. The science behind it had worked!

But. How would they taste? Pumpkiny? Weird?

Drum roll please. They. Were. Perfect. I've used this particular mix before with oil and with applesauce. Both ways turn out great cupcakes. But perhaps it's just my obsession speaking, but I felt the pumpkin added a smooth velvety-ness that the other two ingredients don't quite match. They were a wonderful texture - not too light but not too dense - and were just... smooth. That's the best word I can come up with. I topped them with a can of chocolate buttercream frosting and oh man they are so good.

After baking my first dozen, I mixed the remaining batter with cinnamon to see if I could bring out the pumpkin taste. I would've used pumpkin pie spice, but surprise surprise, I've run out this month! I think I added just 1/2 tsp since it was half the batter. The cupcakes with cinnamon didn't have a very strong cinnamon taste but the subtle cinnamon flavor made me think a little more cinnamon wouldn't be too bad, and the slight spiciness made me think I should try crushed red chili peppers sometime too. Chocolate and chili - yum.

So there you go, another way to use pumpkin!