Veggie Chili

I’ve been impatiently waiting to cook up my first pot of chili for the season. About once a week since Labor Day I’ve texted my husband, “Too soon for chili?” as I mentally attempt to answer the “what’s for dinner?” question. This week he was finally ready! I’ve been eager to add my veggie chili recipe back into my dinner rotation because it is super quick and easy, it is very healthy, and I usually can get at least one night of leftovers out of it. I was a vegetarian for seven years. Another day I’ll tell you why I fell off the bandwagon and went back to eating fish and poultry. For now I want to share with you the chili recipe I created back when I didn’t eat meat. It is still one of my favorite meals to make on a cool fall evening.

First, you’ll need to combine all the spices included in my homemade chili seasoning. I’ve stopped using packaged seasoning mixes because they usually contain unappealing ingredients that I sometimes can’t pronounce and they always have too much salt. Some use MSG. It is super simple to make your own chili seasoning. You’ll have enough to set aside to use the next time you need to throw together a quick pot. You can use it to make this recipe or with a more traditional chili with beef or turkey. Cute little glass spice jars and sticker labels are available on the dollar rack at Target or at your favorite craft store.

Chili Seasoning MixDIY Chili Seasoning

1 Tbsp. chili powder

2 tsp. cumin

1 tsp. dried oregano

1 tsp. kosher or sea salt

1 tsp. onion powder

1/4 tsp. garlic powder

Combine spices in a bowl and stir well. Store in glass spice jar and label.

Veggie Chili Recipe

1 Tbsp. olive oil

1 cup onion, diced

1 bell pepper, diced

2 cans diced tomatoes

1 can sweet corn

1 can black beans

1 can kidney beans

1 Tbsp. chili seasoning (recipe above)

Heat oil in large pot. Saute onion and pepper until soft. Add canned goods and seasoning. Simmer 20 minutes. Makes 6 to 8 servings. I like to add fresh avocado and a little sprinkle of shredded cheese to the top. Serve with some corn bread, quesadillas or a nice crusty baguette. Sometimes we make baked potatoes the next night and put leftover chili on top. It is great with a Mexican salad too.

SimmerVeggie Chili

Here is the nutritional information for one cup of chili (without toppings). I use My Fitness Pal to track my calorie intake. This dish is low in calories and fat and high in fiber, protein, potassium and Vitamin C. It is filling and will warm you up on a cold night. You won’t even miss the meat.

Calories: 180

Fat: 3.4 g

Sodium: 550.2 mg

Potassium: 1,213.7 mg

Carbs: 29.9 g

Fiber: 7.1 g

Sugars: 8.9 g

Protein: 7.4 g

Vitamin A: 16.5%

Vitamin C: 94.4%

Calcium: 7.4%

Iron: 12.9%


Fall by the Falls

I’m lucky enough to live in a picturesque little village outside of Cleveland, Ohio called Chagrin Falls. I remember visiting here back in college to see Andy over holiday breaks and was astounded by it’s beauty. It’s like walking into a painting. Growing up in Pittsburgh as a Steelers fan, I was led to believe that everything about Cleveland was a “mistake by the lake.” I recall feeling a little confused and guilty that I found this city and it’s surroundings to be really wonderful. I loved it so much that I even left my pretty awesome advertising job in Chicago to move here in 2002 to be with my boyfriend, now my husband. A lot of people raised some eyebrows about that. We’ve built a life together here and now I’m thrilled to have the privilege of raising my own family here.

I am currently rereading the Chagrin Falls Historical Society’s book. Don’t worry, I won’t try to cram the contents of a 289 page book into this blog post, but Chagrin Falls has a very interesting past. The organized settlement of Chagrin Falls began in 1833 when the topography of the area and the powerful Chagrin River dictated the development of Chagrin Falls as an industrial and commercial center. The first families came from Massachusetts and included craftsmen, mechanics and carpenters whose skills would build a new village. By 1842, Chagrin River power supported nine mills including saw mills, flouring mills, foundries, an axe factory, a paper mill, woolen mills, a woodenware factory and a shoe peg factory.  In 1844, Chagrin Falls was incorporated as a village. Today it is a community bustling (in a suburban kind of way) with families, empty-nesters and young adults who have returned to set down their own roots. The village also draws “tourists” from around the region who come to visit the unique collection of gift shops and boutiques as well as popular independently owned cafes and restaurants while taking in the natural beauty of the falls and the acres of forests and streams surrounding it. Here are some of the photos I’ve captured over the last few weeks that depict a glimpse of fall by the falls.


All photographs are property of Ashley Weingart.

Whistle While You Work

Dead HostaWhile it seems as if the first beautiful green Hosta leaves were just poking up through the ground last spring, that same foliage has already faded to shades of yellow and brown. Thus it is time to begin the grueling process of cutting them back to say goodbye for another season. We literally have over a hundred Hosta plants in our yard, so, needless to say, this is somewhat of a time-consuming job. With our busy schedules and juggling the children’s needs, I usually can only plan to do a dozen or so at a time. But it goes a lot faster when I enlist a helper and a positive attitude. Today, my trusty assistant John was once again the man for the job.

Although it would not hurt the plant to leave withered foliage, I prefer to clear it away in the fall so as not to see dead leaves all winter long. It also makes for faster clean-up in the spring. Leaving the foliage gives slugs and other pests a handy shelter until spring too. I usually cut each plant away in a few different chunks. If you have another adult to help, have them hold the leaves up as you cut. Then your helper can dump those leaves as you move to the next plant. Cut stalks down to approximately two inches above the ground. They will fall away in spring when new growth begins.

Fall is a good time to divide and transplant Hosta too, as the soil is more moist than in summer months. I usually prefer to do this in the spring before the foliage gets too tall, but you can also do so this fall after you cut back the leaves to make the plant easier to manage. Next spring I’ll tell you why I have so many hosta plants, I’ll show you all the gorgeous varieties I have collected and I’ll share my tricks for keeping those darn slugs away. For now, we have work to do.

John was actually a big help. Of course, he can’t fit much in his tiny wheelbarrow so I did the heavy lifting, but he legitimately helped me gather up the clipped leaves, put them in the wheelbarrows, take them to the woods and dump them in the compost pile. While we were only at it for 30 minutes or so, we cut back and cleared away about a dozen plants. I promise, he actually volunteered to help. There were no bribes involved. Not this time at least. While I finished up, John searched for bugs, as usual, and was thrilled to make a new friend. When we came inside, I reflected on his willingness to help.

Children are capable of more than we sometimes give them credit. I’m not making a case for child labor here or suggesting that you send them out to get a job. Andy and I try to teach our kids, among other things, that life is not always about playtime. There is a lot of work to do (I don’t need to remind you of that) and Mommy and Daddy can’t always do everything for everyone on their own. We shouldn’t always have to be rushing around in the 2.5 hour window we have while our children are at preschool to cram in and check off as many things from our to do list as possible. Let them in on the action. Let them help you check things off your list. Of course you’re not going to make them spend the entire day working. It’s just for a little while and then they’ll run off to explore in the yard, ride their bikes or find bugs. But you will have taught them an important lesson about work ethic and responsibility. Encouraging children to do hard things and accomplish something that may have been new and a bit difficult for them gives them a big boost of self confidence too.

WormIn my experience, kids want to help (except perhaps when it involves picking up toys.) It’s all about the approach you take. I often marvel at the way all the kids in my daughter’s Kindergarten class rush to clean up when their teacher’s timer goes off after free choice. I frequently wish I had Mary Poppins’ finger snapping magic and angelic voice to help my children pick up their toys. What do both of these amazing women have in common? Mindset. They have taught the children that they are expected to help. It is not an option. It is part of the day. But, more importantly, they make it fun. Snow White was also really on to something as she whistled while she worked with her forest friends. “It won’t take long when there’s a song to help you set the pace.” And Barney has the same attitude, even though he annoys the crap out of me. I guess my husband already learned this lesson, as he has started putting on “dance party” music when he asks the kids to clean up the basement. Turns out it works a lot better than me yelling at everyone and launching into a tirade about how unacceptable it is for the basement to get so messy. The kids are downstairs jamming while they put things away and before they know it, it’s done.

Now, today I was not literally singing in my yard as John and I cut back Hostas. The point is that I enjoy working in my yard and my children see that, so they think it’s fun too. I understand not everyone likes yard work or cooking or cleaning. Do you think Snow White really wanted to clean up after seven dirty old men? Ah, no. I admit that I become like the Evil Queen some days when I am picking up after just three children. But lately I’m trying to trick myself into making the best of the things I DON’T enjoy. I’m trying to mirror my child’s Kindergarten teacher and maybe even Mary Poppins, Barney and Snow White.  “When hearts are high, the time WILL fly.” Sounds “Pollyannaish”, I know. But I can’t get mad at my kids for being grumpy about helping out if I’m grumpy too. If I’m trying to teach my kids to have a positive outlook, then I should probably do the same. On this day, John was not grumpy about helping with the yard work, because I was happy and having fun.

While having your children help in the yard may slow you down a bit, it ends up being a lot more fun and it’s a great learning experience for both child and parent. I taught John how to clear away Hostas. He reminded me to stop and smell the roses, or touch the worms in this case. We were whistling while we worked.

Zombie Dance Party Cookies

Halloween KitsIn recent years I have tried to steer clear of packaged cake and cookie mixes mostly because I enjoy baking and so I like to start from scratch. That way it really feels like my own creation. But also because even just a quick glance at the ingredients of boxed mixes usually reveals a long, unappealing list of unhealthy “fake” foods. When it comes to baking, I prefer to use the real stuff; flour (usually whole wheat), eggs, milk, butter, and sugar or honey when possible. It’s one area where I rarely cut corners to save time and calories. I have a favorite cut-out cookie recipe I use from my mother’s Joy of Cooking cookbook and I have a stand-by scratch recipe I use for baking cakes and cupcakes. These days I try not to even bake brownies out of a box unless I’m in a pinch. Of course, baking from scratch does take a little extra time and effort and sometimes that’s not in the cards. When a local company called Brand Castle reached out to me to review some of their most popular Halloween baking kits, I decided it might be fun to give them a try. After all, Halloween is almost all about treats and how many of us want to be a witch and tell our little ghosts and goblins they can’t enjoy special snacks at their school party. And that big bag of candy they bring home on Halloween is going to be full of goodies that are not “good” for them at all. So, I decided not to be a party pooper and agreed to accept these handy little kits for some baking fun on the run with the kids.

Making the doughThey were off of school AGAIN on Friday for ANOTHER four day weekend, so it was a perfect chance to have a ghoulish good time baking together. The kids went straight for the Zombie Dance Party Cookie Kit. Once you are no longer in preschool, apparently scary things are cool. Before you get started, look at the box to make sure you have the other ingredients that are needed including butter, egg, powdered sugar and milk. When we bake at our house, the kids usually take turns doing each step in the recipe. This almost always involves bickering about who gets to break the eggs, the most coveted of all the baking jobs. Once all the ingredients were added, I handled mixing the dough together with a hand mixer. The recipe didn’t say whether to use an electric mixer or to mix by hand, but the rest of the steps were pretty clear and easy to follow. At first, the dough seemed too crumbly and dry, but once I started mixing in the green powder color it began to come together. In fact, it ended up being a little too sticky. When I make cut out cookies, I always roll out the dough between two sheets of wax paper and then place it on a cookie sheet in the fridge for awhile to let it firm up. It helps the dough stay firm enough to not lose the shape of the cutter when you transfer it to the cookie sheet for baking. You might try doing this if you make zombie cookies as well. We managed to get all of the dough cut out without the zombies (or my children) losing any limbs. The kids thought the bright green dough was pretty cool. I, on the other hand, could only think of the “Yellow 5 Lake” and “Blue 1 Lake” artificial coloring used to make it. I’m not a fan of artificial anything which is one of the reasons I don’t usually buy these packaged kits, but I figured a few little cookies wouldn’t do any harm. If it really bothers you, you could probably leave out the coloring, but what’s a zombie if he’s not green?

While the cookies were baking in the oven, the kids ran outside to play and I made the frosting. When I make frosting I usually include butter, powdered sugar and milk. That’s it. The kit asked me to include these items as well, so I’m not sure what was in the packet from the kit and whether it was really necessary. It was definitely sweet and tasty though. Then it was decorating time! The cookies held their shape well while baking and didn’t get too puffed up. I gave each of the kids their own little bowl of the white frosting to spread on the cookies. The kit suggests using the supplied piping bag (which I used for the cookies I decorated), but a plastic knife or spoon is easier for little hands. We took turns using the red and black icing tubes to create scary faces and bloody parts. It would be great if there were two more of those tubes as my kids went through them quickly and we ran out. I have to admit, I was pretty certain that the cookie decorating was going to be a debacle. I figured the girls would be disappointed that their cookies didn’t look the same as the perfectly gory zombies on the box. We have a history of perfectionism in our house and tears and tantrums as a result. But, in fact, they all worked happily and the girls even commented that it was easier than they thought it might be. John did well too. His cookies didn’t look anything like the zombies on the box, but he didn’t care. He was too busy eating them. He’d smear on some frosting, take a bite, squeeze on a little more and repeat. I decorated a couple too and I have to say that it was a lot of fun!

The kids were eating their zombies quicker than I could get pictures of them, so there aren’t many photos of our final works of art. Each one was bloodier and scarier than the last. While it might have been nice for the kit to yield a half dozen more cookies, I do appreciate that I wasn’t left with a dozen extra to decorate once the kids got bored. And we definitely don’t need two dozen cookies sitting around here. I am excited I get to hang on to the zombie cookie cutters to use in future years.

All in all, the Zombie Dance Party Cookie Kit was a fun way to spend an hour or so of the kids day off of school. If your kids aren’t up for preparing the dough, rolling and cutting them out, do that part yourself and call them in for decorating. That’s what I do on occasion when I make a large batch of cut out cookies. The kids thought it was great fun and, as you can see, they enjoyed eating them too! Thank you to Brand Castle for sharing with us your fun and yummy Zombie Dance Party Cookie Kit along with the Brains! Cupcake Kit and the Crispy Rice Pumpkin Kit. Kits like these are great for families looking for fun holiday baking activities and who need a little help with inspiration. I could see a busy parent using these to bake up treats for a Halloween party. I only hope that in the near future Brand Castle might begin providing kits with more healthful ingredients free of artificial colors and “fake” food. These days there is a growing number of parents who strive to “eat clean” and to teach their children to do the same. Of course, at Halloween we can all splurge a little and use it as an opportunity to teach our children about balance. In my opinion, if you are always saying “no” to your children, I fear that someday they will rebel and eat everything you hoped they would not. Sometime’s it’s good to say yes.

Visit to see all the fun kits they offer and to find out where you can buy them.

Note: The baking kits featured in this post were provided to Running with Skissors by Brand Castle for my review.

ENTER TO WIN a free Zombie Dance Party Kit, the Brains! Cupcake Kit and the Crispy Rice Pumpkin Kit by commenting on this post below. Increase your chances by sharing this post on Facebook and again by liking my Facebook page, Running With Skissors. I will pick a winner at random later this week! 

Eat Clean Chicken Broccoli Casserole

Mom's RecipeWe can probably all think of certain meals that remind us of our mother’s home cooking and take us back to our childhood. For me, it is my mom’s chicken broccoli casserole. Here’s her recipe. Isn’t her handwriting beautiful? I’ve always wished I could write like her. Every time I make this dish for my own family, the aroma transports me back to my childhood home sitting at the table with my parents and my sister. Kind of like that moment in Father of the Bride when Annie tells her dad she’s getting married and he envisions her as a preschooler with pigtails sitting at the table. This time of year with the cooler, fall temperatures and the craziness of after school activities, a warm make-ahead casserole dish is perfect. I can prepare it while the kids are at school or even the night before and then just pop it in the oven when I am ready. By the time I’ve got their backpacks and shoes picked up from the middle of the kitchen floor and set the table, dinner is about ready!

Canned SoupIn recent years, I have been trying to avoid canned soup, one of the key ingredients in my mom’s recipe, as it is full of sodium and unappealing ingredients like “monosodium glutamate” and “butyric acid,” whatever those are. So I recently created my own version of my mom’s good old Chicken Broccoli Casserole, using “clean” ingredients. While it doesn’t taste exactly the same as my mom’s recipe, it’s pretty darn close.

What is “clean” eating, you might ask? Essentially it means eating fresh, whole, natural foods and avoiding processed and refined foods. Clean eating means consuming food in it’s most natural state or as close to it as possible. Packaged “clean foods” contain only a few ingredients or at least a short list of real, recognizable foods. It means buying organic and local whenever possible. I strive to eat “cleaner”. You can drive yourself crazy examining labels. And to be frank, I don’t the have time or patience to walk through the grocery store studying each and every box while my two-year-old is climbing out of the shopping cart. I focus on buying lots of fruits and veggies, whole grains, some organic meats and I have my stand-by packaged brands that I know have as few “ingredients” as possible. All of which are real, recognizable, healthy foods. Here’s a good article with more information about clean eating.

So here is my “cleaner” version of my mom’s Chicken Broccoli Casserole:


  • 2 to 4 spears broccoli
  • 2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
  • 1 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 4 Tbsp. flour (divided)
  • 1 3/4 cup chicken broth
  • 1 cup skim milk
  • 1 tsp. kosher or sea salt
  • 1/2 tsp. curry powder
  • 1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese
  • 1/2 cup whole wheat panko or regular bread crumbs
  • 1 tbsp. melted butter

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Place chicken breasts in casserole dish, brush with a bit of olive oil and salt and pepper. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes until internal temp is at 165 degrees. Chop broccoli into medium sized florets. Cook in boiling water for no more than 5 minutes. Drain well. Arrange broccoli in casserole dish sprayed with cooking spray. Cut chicken into slices, chunks or shred. Arrange on top of broccoli.

Chicken BroccoliIn a large skillet, heat olive oil over medium high heat and add garlic. Saute a few minutes until fragrant. Add 3 Tbsp. flour and mix well with whisk. Cook for a few more minutes. Whisk in chicken broth and cook for a few minutes. Add in milk and simmer until the sauce thickens stirring occasionally. Add remaining 1 Tbsp. of flour and whisk to mix in completely. Add salt and curry powder and stir. Top broccoli and chicken with cheese. Pour sauce over chicken and broccoli. Mix butter and bread crumbs. Sprinkle over top of everything. Bake for 20 minutes until bubbly and cheese is melted. If you want the top to look more browned, turn on the broiler for a minute or two. Makes 6 servings. Serve with brown rice.

With all that delicious creamy sauce you’d think this dish was a splurge. Nope! A serving is actually low in calories, high in fiber and protein and the benefits of broccoli make it high in potassium and Vitamin C. I use the My Fitness Pal app to track calories and nutrition.

Nutritional Facts for 1 serving:

Calories: 196

Fat: 7.8 g

Cholesterol: 32.5 mg

Sodium: 722.5 mg

Potassium: 496.2

Carbs: 16.5

Fiber: 5.6 g

Sugars: 4.1 g

Protein: 18.4

Vitamin A: 60.8%

Vitamin C: 99.2%

Calcium: 17.4%

Iron: 7.3%

I hope I’ve inspired you to try “cleaning up” some of your favorite recipes. It’s a lot easier than you might think. Enjoy!



RIP Afternoon Nap

IMG_1951It is with a heavy heart that I must report that little John’s afternoon nap has now been laid to rest. RIP nap time. Tear, sniff. I will miss you deeply and the hours of peace and quiet you have provided, allowing me to attempt to put the pieces of my life back together each afternoon following the chaos of every morning. You helped me get beds made, pick up toys, fold laundry, empty the dishwasher, get a head start on dinner, maybe get in a speedy workout and perhaps most importantly, on a special occasion, take a shower without a small curious peeping John asking questions. Many mornings just the anticipation of you and not being asked for anything for two whole hours has helped keep me from crossing the fine line of sanity. Thank you for your service dear, beloved nap.

Yep! Once the big boy bed transition was made, the nap died a pretty sudden death. I guess I was not surprised as this was the same sequence of events that occurred with both of my girls. I have been trying to hold on to hope by enforcing “quiet time” where I lure John into his room by bribing him with pacifiers. We go through the entire nap prep process and he starts out in his bed, but then shortly ends up climbing out. Before long I hear the “wee oh” of his fire truck, the “choo choo” of his Thomas Train and soon comes the incessant knocking and calling. “Momma! I get out of bed. Come out?” I can put him off for a little while as I do think it is good for him to have some down time and to learn how to occupy himself. Once or twice he has eventually fallen asleep on the floor of his room, but by then it is much too late. And then we have to repeat the struggle all over again at bed time when he wants to stay up and party until 10:00 p.m. Usually though, he doesn’t fall asleep and after listening to his calls to come out of his room I feel guilty and decide I should make the most of the time with him before the craziness of carting his sisters around after school begins. That’s when he is strapped in his car seat to go from school to dance class, then an orthodontist appointment, maybe the bank and the post office. None of which is for him.

SuppliesSo suddenly I am finding myself with many more hours in which I need to keep this busy little guy occupied. Yesterday afternoon I decided to get out some paints. I had in mind a couple of fall craft ideas that might keep him seated and stop him from coloring on the walls of his sister’s room like he has been known to do. I pulled out one small apple remaining in the fridge from our trip to the apple orchard which I decided to cut in half for him to use as a stamp. We also cut a small red potato in half which we would use as a pumpkin stamp. My night owl was ready to paint! I still can’t believe I actually let him use paint in my dining room over my new rug without being strapped into his booster seat. I must be crazy. I never would have done this with my first child. Actually, I probably had some really well thought out project planned for her, the supplies set out the night before and a monogrammed art smock. Then I would have sat and taught her each step as if it was an art class. Funny how things are different from first born to third. Now that Pinterest has come about, there are dozens of projects I have pinned that I could try with John. But in my experience, sometimes it’s better to keep it simple. Especially with a two-year-old. Just let them explore, be creative and get messy. Usually if I try to make some perfect and pretty craft with my kids, I end up doing most of the work and they end up crying because they have their own plan. It never ends the way I envision. So today, it was just going to be paint, paper, our homemade stamps and maybe a couple of brushes.

First we used brown paint to create an apple tree trunk. Then we dipped half of the apple in red paint and used a paint brush to make sure the entire apple was covered. John went to work stamping apples on his tree.

MeltdownWe were having lots of fun until this happened. No, he’s not hurt. This is called a temper tantrum. I don’t even recall now what caused this scene. Probably something to do with me wanting to help him get more paint on his apple. Apparently I wasn’t doing it the way he had hoped. Such is life as a two-year-old. You might be thinking I am terrible to post this picture of him. I have photos of each of my children that are similar. The girls and I pull them out every now and then and laugh. It’s good for them to remember what they put their mom and dad through so they will take care of us when we are old.

So while John cooled off in his room, I took a few minutes to paint my own apple trees. There is something strangely enjoyable and satisfying about painting and coloring even very elementary looking works of art. Brings you back to being a carefree child, I guess. I’m not sure, but it was fun! Here are our apple trees.

My Tree


When John was feeling better, we decided to try again and make a pumpkin patch using our potato as a stamp. First, John told me about all the colors of the rainbow. Then we talked about mixing colors. We mixed red and yellow to make orange for our pretty pumpkins. He was all smiles.

There are moments like the “meltdown” photo above depicts when I long for the serenity of John’s former nap time. But, all joking aside, now that I have been through this twice before and then witnessed just how quickly those children are hopping on the school bus and in the care of someone else all day, I am able to keep it all in perspective. Sounds cliche perhaps, but I know firsthand how quickly this time when they are “all yours” passes. So, I suppose for now the laundry, the mess, the dishes, the shower, it can all wait. For now we have pictures to paint, trucks and trains to play with, towers to build, books to read, tantrums to overcome and messes to make.


Baking Pumpkin Bread with My Pumpkin

Early BirdMy daughter Elizabeth and I are both early birds and this Saturday morning we were up even before the worms. After a quiet cup of coffee, I was ready to make the most of this rare alone time with her. Instead of flipping on cartoons, we flipped open my cookbook. One of my favorite things about fall are pumpkins. It seemed fitting to bake up some pumpkin bread with my own pumpkin.

Today I’m sharing with you a family recipe I made healthier by using whole wheat flour instead of all purpose flour. I cut out a whole cup of unneeded sugar and replaced one of the remaining two cups with honey. With whole wheat flour, less sugar and all the health benefits of pumpkin, you can enjoy an entire slice of this bread instead of picking at it like a bird. Pumpkin is low in calories, yet it is a good source of fiber, vitamin A and iron. My pumpkin bread recipe is quite simple to put together. Here I’ve made one loaf with nuts and one without. You could freeze one loaf and pull it out one night to thaw and serve as breakfast the next morning.



  • 3 1/2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
  • 2 tsp. baking soda
  • 1 tsp. nutmeg
  • 1 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 cup corn oil
  • 2/3 cup water
  • 2 cups canned pumpkin
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup honey
  • 3/4 cup chopped pecans

Future ChefIn a large bowl combine flour, baking soda, nutmeg, cinnamon and salt. Whisk together. Break eggs into a separate small bowl so that you can fish out shells if needed. Make a well with your fist in the middle of the flour mixture. Add eggs, oil, water and pumpkin. Beat with hand mixer until smooth, about two minutes. Add sugar and honey. Beat another two minutes until smooth.

Spray two 9 x 5″ loaf pans with nonstick spray. Add half the batter to one pan. Add 1/2 cup of pecans to remaining batter and stir to combine. To save time chasing renegade nuts, place them in a Ziploc bag before you chop them up. You’ll spend a lot less time cleaning up afterward too! Pour nut batter into second loaf pan. Sprinkle remaining 1/4 cup of pecans on top of nut batter. Bake both at 350 degrees for 1 hour and 10 minutes. Cool briefly then run a knife around the around the outside of the pan. Remove bread and cook on rack.

Enjoy the smells and flavors of fall!

My kids love to help me bake and cook. I enjoy teaching them what I know. Cooking together provides an opportunity to encourage them to try new foods and helps them learn about making healthy choices. The girls even put to use some of the math lessons they are learning at school as they count measurements or talk about how many half cups make a whole. Little John practices his motor skills by stirring, scooping and tasting, of course. It’s also a good lesson in helping out and cleaning up. (We need all the help we can get around here teaching that.) But today baking bread was simply a chance to spend quality time, talking and laughing, with my not-so-little pumpkin.

My Pumpkin

Pumpkin Bread


How to Make a Pillow Cover

I love pillows! I’m embarrassed to admit that I have a closet full of them that I swap out each season. My husband is thrilled about that! Pillows can transform the look and feel of a room instantly, but buying them from your favorite store can get pricey. They are actually quite easy to make on your own, and it’s fun to find a fabric you love for a completely custom look. I created the pillow I’m featuring today as a baby gift for a dear friend. It only took me a few hours to complete.

A few years ago I hadn’t the slightest idea how to sew a pillow. In fact, I wasn’t too sure I even knew how to operate a sewing machine since the last time I had used one was in Home Ec in middle school. Once you remember the basics of using a machine, making a pillow cover is one of the easiest projects you can do. If you need help with the basics of the machine, let me know and I will back up and start from the very beginning with some posts explaining sewing basics.

Here’s what you’ll need to make a pillow.


  • 16 x 16 pillow insert
  • One or two of your choice of fabrics. A home decor fabric will work best.
  • Thread in your choice of color
  • Sewing machine
  • Scissors

Step 1

Taking the fabric you want to make up the front of your pillow, cut it to 17″ x 17″. Then taking the fabric you want to make up the back of your pillow, cut it to 17″ x 21″.

Cut Front Fabric

Cut Back Fabric

Now, take the larger piece of fabric (the back of your pillow), fold it in half and push down to make a crease, then unfold and cut on the crease line. Iron all pieces of fabric if you haven’t already.

Cut Back Piece in Half


Step 2

Taking the two pieces of fabric for the back of the pillow you will want to finish the edges of what will be the envelope enclosure. The envelope enclosure allows you to remove the cover from the pillow insert to wash it without having to sew a zipper. Take one piece of the back fabric and fold the long side over 1/4″ (folding back toward the non-pretty side of the fabric). Press with iron.

Fold Over and Press


Then fold it over on itself again another 1/4″ and press with iron.

Fold Again and Press

Then using your sewing machine, stitch down ironed line with seam allowance in line with the presser foot. Repeat with other half of fabric for the back.


Two Back Pieces

Step 3

If you want the front of your pillow to feature an appliqué design, now is the time to do that. Please see my tutorial on appliqué to learn how. You will follow the same directions just sew the appliqué to the front of your pillow rather than the front of a baby shirt. If you just want a plain pillow front, move to Step 4 below.

Step 4 

Putting the pretty sides of the fabrics together, lay the front fabric and the bottom fabrics on top of each other. For the back fabric, overlap the finished ends (see image above) that you sewed in the middle of the pillow so that all unfinished edges of both fabrics line up with the 17″ x 17″ piece of fabric from the front of the pillow. Pin all four sides of the pillow together.

Line Up FabricsStep 5

Using your machine, stitch around all four sides of the pillow using a 1/2″ seam allowance, removing pins as you sew. Be cautious when you sew over the overlapping parts of the back envelope enclosure as there will be more layers of fabric to go through.

Step 6

Cut off any messy thread or fabric edges on the inside of the pillow that you’d like to remove. Then turn it inside out. Use your scissors to push fabric out of corners.

Poke Out CornersOn this pillow I also added some ribbon ties to the envelope enclosure just to make it look a little more special on the back. Cut four pieces of grosgrain ribbon. Measure 5 1/2″ down from the top and the bottom of the pillow and about 2 inches in from enclosure overlap for each piece. Pin down. Stitch down end of ribbons. Tie together.

Envelope Enclosure Pillow

Back of Pillow


Enjoy your handmade pillow! It makes a very special new baby or birthday gift.

Batman Plants Bulbs

Batman Plants BulbsWhile autumn is just beginning, I’ve already had spring on my mind. Not because I want to wish away fall and winter, but because October is the prime time to plant bulbs. After the long winters here in Northeast Ohio, those first daffodil leaves poking up through the earth are a welcome sign that the end is near. Like a victory flag they shout, “Hallelujah! Spring has finally arrived!” Somewhat anticlimactic though, when for the past few years, the daffodil leaves have not been accompanied by any beautiful yellow blossoms. Not one. I decided to do some research to figure out why. Here’s why daffodils don’t bloom and why it might be time to plant new bulbs before the ground freezes.

Why Daffodils Fail to Bloom:

  • DaffodilsNot enough sunlight. The more sun the bulbs receive, the more energy they have to produce flowers.
  • Age – Bulbs weaken with time and usually only produce flowers for four to six years.
  • Not deep enough. If you don’t plant the bulbs two or three times deeper than the size of the bulb itself, the bulb will freeze in winter and not bloom in the spring. However, be careful not to plant them too deep either. Otherwise, the bulb will have to work too hard to break through the ground and will not produce flowers.
  • Alkaline soil – Narcissus prefer alkaline soil. You may need to add some acidity to the soil.

After reading up and trying to remember with my mommy brain the areas where our daffodils were planted, I recognized that not enough sunlight and age were likely the culprits. We have lived here nearly ten years now and many of the bulbs were planted by a previous owner, so those flowers are well past their prime blooming period. The area leading up our driveway and to our front door is virtually all shade and that’s where most of our daffodils are planted. Clearly, it was time to add some new bulbs into the mix. So, I recruited my helper, AKA “No Nap Guy”, in his new favorite Batman boots to assist. Here are a few tips for an enjoyable bulb planting experience.

My Bulb Planting Tips:

  • Select an area that does not have rocky soil. A time saver to keep you from working those stones out of the dirt to get deeper. Plus you won’t have to back-peddle and explain to your kids that the phrase you just blurted out was actually “scram it” you “mother rock-er”, and not a less appropriate, yet similar sounding combination of words.
  • Use a bulb planting tool, called a “bulb dibber”. This handy helper is much more effective than a trowel. It will save you lots of time and effort digging. It tells you exactly how deep the hole is and you can use it to measure spacing. Plant your bulb two or three times deeper than the bulb is tall. Daffodil bulbs should be planted 6 inches deep and 6 inches apart. The bulb dibber also doubles as your tricep workout for the day.

Bulb Dibber

  • Dig all of the holes in one area and do not cover them in with dirt until they are all filled with their bulbs. If you dig each hole, plant the bulb, and then cover it up you will forget where the last whole you dug was. Note: this only applies if you are anal like me and you want the holes to be evenly spaced. Be sure to place the bulb in the ground with the pointy side pointing up and the roots touching the ground. If it is a bulb that does not show roots, the pointy tip should also be up.
  • Lastly, but perhaps most importantly, recruit a small helper. I have no memory of planting bulbs in years past. Now when my daffodils bloom each spring I am certain to fondly remember playing in the dirt with a little boy wearing Batman boots and a shark shirt, finding bugs and skipping to the next planting spot while singing songs. What’s better than letting your kids get dirty discovering earthworms and centipedes all while instilling a love of nature and gardening and teaching them to help out around the house? To me, that makes for a pretty great day.