Thursday, November 26, 2015

Happy Thanksgiving!!

From my little people to yours, have a safe and happy Thanksgiving holiday!  

For more Turkey-day fun check out:

Thanksgiving 2014
Thanksgiving 2013
Thanksgiving 2012

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Broccoli Cheese Potato Chowder Soup

I tried a new recipe last week when we had a cold fall day.  I thought the combination of a chowder/cream based soup and lots of fresh vegetables would be a comforting dinner for my family.

The upside to this recipe is that it's delicious, keeps well (wonderful leftovers the next 2 days) and is kid friendly.  The only downside is that it took quite a bit of prep/cooking in order to prepare all the veggies and to keep the soup going.  I'd say I was on my feet for about 1hr 20 min total.  Sigh. was worth it and I'll make this recipe again for sure!

I found the original recipe here but that one called for heavy cream, more milk, more butter and more flour.  My version is a bit lighter calorie wise but still tastes very creamy!

Broccoli Cheese Potato Chowder Soup
3 1/2 Tbsp butter, divided
1 1/3 cups chopped carrots (about 3)
1 cup chopped celery (2 stalks)
1 cup chopped onion (1 small)
2 cloves garlic, minced
4 cups chicken broth, divided
3 1/2 cups peeled and cubed potatoes, cut 1/2-inch to 3/4-inch thick (I used 3 medium red potatoes)
3 cups chopped broccoli (from about 2 heads)
1/4 tsp dried thyme
Salt and black pepper
5 Tbsp all-purpose flour
2 cups milk (preferably 2% or whole)
2 cups shredded cheddar cheese (or cheese of your choice)
1/3 cup Parmesan cheese (1 oz)

In a large pot over medium heat, melt 1 1/2 Tbsp of the butter. Add carrots, celery and onion and saute 3 - 4 minutes. Add garlic and saute 30 seconds longer. Stir in 3 cups chicken broth, potatoes and thyme and season with salt and pepper to taste. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, then reduce heat to medium, cover with lid and cook 15 minutes. Stir in broccoli and cook 5 minutes longer or until veggies are tender (took me closer to 10).

Meanwhile, melt remaining 2 Tbsp butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Stir in flour and cook, whisking constantly 1 minute. While whisking vigorously, slowly pour in milk and 1 cup chicken broth (whisk well until no lumps remain). Cook stirring constantly until mixture begins to gently boil and thicken. Remove from heat and once all veggies are tender pour into the soup and stir. Remove from heat and stir in cheddar and Parmesan cheese until melted. 

Bon Appetite! 

Friday, November 20, 2015

Fisher Price Friday - Dept 56 Ornaments Part III

I'm back with my final installment of this year's 2015 Dept 56 Fisher Price Ornaments.  There were a total of 10 this year so I've had to split them into three parts.  This week we have the: Little People Plane, Barn, School House (Dept 56 names).  We know these toys as Play Family Farm #915, Play Family School #923 and the Play Family Fun Jet #183.

We have had other jets at our house (including the #996 Airport Jet pictured above) but not the Fun Jet that they ornament is miniaturized after.  I put it next to my jet since they are basically the same size, just different colors and lithographs.  The Dept 56 ornament is made out of plaster and has no moving parts.  Because it's all one piece there is a solid white band underneath, not as cute as the original but the sparkly wings are a nice touch.

Although I didn't have the #183 Jet full sized toy I do have the Hallmark version from 2010.  The Hallmark version is by far superior as it has a plane door that opens and shuts.  Also sweet little faces peer out of the plastic windows.  Tons of detail!  It is made of plastic so is nice and light.

The lithographs on each plane are pretty much the same which is adorable considering their size.  This photo also shows two of the little people faces looking out the windows while the Dept 56 ornament has only red painted windows.

Up next the Play Family Farm.  This might be my favorite, it's so cute and full of tiny details.  The school is made of plaster and has no moving parts.  It is a bit heavy so put it on a lower branch of your tree. :)  

The front of the school has the same dog, clock and flowers.  It also appears to have the same brown masonite base.

The sides of the school also look very similar.  The right side has the Fisher Price logo (with happy children) found on earlier versions of the school.  The left side has windows but does not show little school children looking out like the original.  

Dept 56 added tiny drawings of the magnets found with the set.

From far away the Dept 56 ornament looks very much like the 2010 Hallmark version however up close you can see the differences.  The Hallmark ornament is on the left and is made of plastic with moving parts including a bell that rings (in the tower).

The sides look very similar although the Hallmark version has people peeking out from the windows like the full size toy.

The Hallmark ornament opens just like the full size toy and even has little people inside.  Isn't it amazing?

Both ornaments have the same Fisher Price happy-children sticker on the side and red handles (but the Hallmark version's handle moves).

The back of the ornaments have the exact same lithographs but the Dept 56 versions aren't quite as crisp and are a bit close together.

Last but not least the Play Family Farm ornament.  I have the same family farm but please note that the silo is not the correct one.  It's the same size but it came with a much later version.

Like all the other Dept 56 ornaments the barn is made of plaster and has no moving parts.  But doesn't it look so perfectly tiny?

The back has the same circus poster, sleeping dog and striped walls.  And yes, I realize that I forgot to move the silo when setting up this photo, I think I was in a hurry. :)

I am fortunate to have a 2008 Hallmark version of the Play Family Barn. It was the second Fisher Price ornament produced by Hallmark and is usually priced very high ($100+) online.  It is a special little ornament with moving parts and even a barn door that moos!

The Dept 56 ornament doesn't do anything but when you put them side to side I have to admit that it looks more like the original full sized toy than the Hallmark version.  

The Hallmark ornament has doors that open to show a farmer, his wife and a cow inside.  The door also moos thanks to batteries.

The rear of the barns have the same lithographs on both barns, slight differences on the silos.  Note that again the Dept 56 barn looks more like the original with a brown (masonite looking) base and even the slope of the roof is closer.

My final comparison is of the sides where I will again admit that the Dept 56 ornament is a more accurate copy than the Hallmark ornament.  The Dept 56 lithographs have the same long multi paned windows and the flowers in the corner.  

So perhaps this is my favorite Dept 56 ornament of 2015!

They're all adorable and I can't wait to put them on my tree next week!!  Let's just hope all these beauties fit, I may need to buy a bigger tree. :)

To see more Fisher Price themed ornaments check out these prior posts:

For Hallmark Fisher Price Ornaments: 

2007 - See 'N Say 
2008 - Play Family Farm 
2008 - View-Master 
2009 - School Bus 
2009 - Chatter Telephone 
2010 - Play Family Fun Jet 
2010 - Zookeeper Says 
2010 - Play Family School 
2011 - Music Box Teaching Clock 
2011 - Play Family House 
2011 - Little People Lil' Movers Fire Truck (not a vintage toy) 
2011 - Snoop 'N Sniff - Limited quantity 
2012 - Corn Popper 
2012 - Two Tune TV

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Too Much of a Good Thing at Starbucks

Earlier this summer I shared our favorite Starbucks drinks including a FREEBIE for the kids.  A "WC w/chocolate or WC only" would give my sweet girls a free tiny cup of whip cream (w/chocolate sauce dribbled on top if they liked).  This was a perfect little (Free!) treat for my girls while I ordered my favorite drinks.

However, over the last couple months I noticed that I was sometimes charged $.60 for our "WC only".  Not a biggie but I also noticed the cups were gradually getting bigger and bigger.

And then one morning this happened.

My friend and I had ordered 3 kids "WC only" to be added to our drive through order of grown up items and when we pulled up to the window this is what we got.  Wowza!  When we questioned the gargantuan size he replied that it was "always this size" and "policy".

Did I mention that we had 3 and 4 year olds in the car?  Can you imagine a 3/4 year old eating all that?  Fortunately my friend had a plan and she discreetly got rid of the majority of the cup while we drove down the freeway.  Let's just say I took the van through the car-wash the next day. Ha!

So this morning I asked my local barista what gives and how to avoid too much of a good thing at Starbucks.  She informed me that they'd recently changed the procedures for whip cream and that they had to charge for any dairy product over 4 ounces.  But..if I asked for a small shot cup of just whip cream I could still get it for free.


My little one was thrilled and we once again have matching red cups of reasonable sizes.

Thanks Starbucks!

Friday, November 13, 2015

Fisher Price Friday - Dept 56 Ornaments Part II

Happy Fisher Price Friday!  I'm back with Part II of my review of this year's Dept 56 Fisher Price Christmas Ornaments.  For Part I go here.

Today it's three more cute little versions of full sized toys.  What is it about little things that we find so irresistible?  Or is it just me? :)  Dept 56 refers to these three as: See N Say, Teaching Clock and Record Player.  We know them by slightly different toy names.

First up the Music Box Record Player #995.  The ornament looks exactly like the full size toy!  It has the same lithograph designs, colors and records.  The ornament version is solid and has no moving parts (made of plaster).

Looking at the top you can see the same record colors (4 fit in the storage compartment) as well as the yellow handle.  Wonderful attention to detail on this one!

Created in the 1960s and produced for many years after that (you can get classic and current versions still today) the See N Say The Farmer Says toy was actually produced by Mattel and not Fisher Price.  However, since Mattel merged with Fisher Price in the early 90s this classic toy has been thrown in the mix.  I do not have a full size toy to compare it to, although I remember playing with these as a child.

I do have the Hallmark ornament version of the See 'N Say, which was released in 2007.  This happens to have been the first Fisher Price ornament that Hallmark released.  It is quite the wonder as it actually plays the same sounds as the full size toy when you pull the string (takes batteries).  

As you can see the Hallmark ornament is quite a bit thicker than the Dept 56 (to hold the batteries and working mechanisms).  So asthetically the Dept 56 looks closer to the original toy.  The Dept 56 version is made of plaster and has no moveable parts.  As I mentioned before the Hallmark version works (dial actually spins and the animal sound plays according to where it lands) and is made of plastic.

Last but not least is the Music Box Teaching Clock #998.  I have the full size toy to compare as this beauty happens to be the actual toy that I played with growing up.  It's been well loved and the handle is broken off but you can still get the idea. 

The front face has the same lithographs showing night and say as well as the little children and animals.  It is missing the stripes on the face.  The back also looks very similar down to the bird ringing the bell!  

In 2011 Hallmark also made a Teaching Clock ornament (seen on the left).  At first glance the two ornaments look very similar in size and appeareance.  However, the Hallmark ornament is far superior to the Dept 56 version.  Once again the Dept 56 ornament has no moving parts and is made of plaster covered in stickers (some of which are crooked on my ornament)  The Hallmark ornament has moving clock hands, a plastic front (like the original toy) and actually plays music!  It also has the same stripes on the front and is basically a tiny version of the original down to the yellow plastic handle.

The Hallmark ornament (left side) has a yellow turn dial that actually turns and winds up the music box.  Otherwise the back lithographs are very similar (as are the ones on each side).

Come back next week for the last installment of this years 2015 Dept 56 Ornaments.  Also check out the following Links for more Vintage Fisher Price Ornaments:

For Hallmark Fisher Price Ornaments: 

2007 - See 'N Say 
2008 - Play Family Farm 
2008 - View-Master 
2009 - School Bus 
2009 - Chatter Telephone 
2010 - Play Family Fun Jet 
2010 - Zookeeper Says 
2010 - Play Family School 
2011 - Music Box Teaching Clock 
2011 - Play Family House 
2011 - Little People Lil' Movers Fire Truck (not a vintage toy) 
2011 - Snoop 'N Sniff - Limited quantity 
2012 - Corn Popper 
2012 - Two Tune TV

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Fabulous Fall Slow Cooker Beef Stew Recipe

Evidently fall makes me more creative in the kitchen as evidenced by all the recent recipes I'm posting. Soups, donuts and now stew...delicious cold weather foods!

Today's slow cooker beef stew recipe is a variation of another recipe I've used in the past.  I pulled up that recipe last week but didn't have all the ingredients on hand, so I made this variation instead.  It is a little more simple to prepare and alcohol free as I didn't have red wine on hand (sadly).  It takes about 20-30 minutes of prep and then you're good to go.  Your house will smell A-mazing the entire day as it cooks.  Yum!

Fabulous Fall Slow Cooker Beef Stew

1 1/2 - 2 pounds cubed beef stew meat
¼ cup all-purpose flour
salt and pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/4 cup carrots (sliced)
4 medium russet potatoes, cubed
1 tablespoon dried parsley
1 yellow onion, sliced
6 oz fresh mushrooms, whole or in halves
2 ¼ cup beef stock
3 sprigs fresh thyme (or 1 Tbsp dried)
3 bay leaves


1. Place meat in a large plastic bag. Combine ¼ cup flour with ½ teaspoon salt; pour into the bag with the meat, and shake to coat. Remove from the bag and tap the excess flour from the meat. 

2. Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add stew meat, and cook until evenly browned on the outside. Remove meat and in the same skillet, add the garlic and cook for about 1 minute. Add the stock, thyme sprigs and bay leaves and stir to dislodge any brown bits.  Then pour contents of the pan over the beef in the slow cooker. Add the carrots, potatoes, parsley, mushrooms and pepper.  Stir to combine.

3. Cover, and cook on high for 30 minutes. Reduce heat to low and cook for 6 hours or until meat is fork tender.  Remove the bay leaves before serving.  Add more parsley, pepper and salt to taste.

The stew is wonderful alone or with some fresh hot bread.  Enjoy!

For more Beef Stew recipes check out:

Spring/Summer Vegetable Beef Stew

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Anthem Veterans Day Memorial

Happy Veterans Day!  Today my girls and I headed up north to see the Anthem Veteran's Memorial.  This memorial is a monument dedicated to all branches of the military and those that served.

The monument was designed so that on 11/11 each year at precisely 11:11am the sun shining through illuminates the Great Seal of the United States.  How cool is that?  We have not seen this amazing feature before so we decided to try to see it today.

Unsurprisingly many many other people were up there trying to see the memorial too.  There was a hour long ceremony to mark the occasion and to recognize veterans.

After watching part of the program I brought the kids to the playground nearby.  I attempted to get close to the memorial around 11am but the crowds were large and thick.  People standing around quietly as the minutes ticked closer to 11:11.

Since I was at a distinct height disadvantage I asked tall people ahead of me to take photos for me and this is what they saw.  I also heard from people in the crowds that if I come back tomorrow at the same time I'll see almost the exact same light, just a bit less.  

It was a lovely morning and I was glad to be able to show my girls so many Veterans and to be able to greet them and say thank-you.

Our family is especially proud of Veterans because we have so many relatives that have served.  I thought I'd share some from my family with you today. 

First up my very handsome Father.  He served in the Navy at the very end of the Korean War ("clean up crew").  This photo was taken in Hawaii with his aunties.

Both of my grandfathers also served in the Military.  My Paternal Grandfather was in the Navy (in the 1920s he served on the USS Arizona) and my Maternal Grandfather served in the Army Air Corps in World War II.  

Most of my uncles served in the military.  My Dad's brothers served in the Marines (pictured above left) and Navy (not pictured).  His uncles (my great uncles) were in the Army.

My husband's family also had military veterans including his grandfather who was a decorated Lieutenant Colonel in the Army Air Corps during WWII, the Korean War and Vietnam.

And last but not least my good friend Major Anne Marie is serving in the Army and has toured in Iraq not once but twice!  I am very proud of her service and talents for our country.  Oh and if that wasn't enough her husband is also in the Army and they have had to live apart for months or even years on end when stationed at different parts of our country or world.  

So thankful for their sacrifice and for all of the Veterans in our proud country!

Friday, November 6, 2015

Fisher Price Friday - Dept 56 Fisher Price 2015 Ornaments

It's that time of year again, well almost.  I'm going to share the 2015 Department 56 Fisher Price ornaments with you!  They actually came out in July and I've been holding out until now to show them off. :)

Department 56 has been producing Fisher Price themed Christmas ornaments for the last three years.  In the past they have been available at Target (1st year only), Lowes and other random stores at Christmastime.  I bought this year's ornaments online (Amazon) but will keep a look out in local stores and update if I see them.

The ornaments are sometime sold in individual boxes but more often that not they are shipped only in bubble wrap.

For 2015 Dept 56 released a whopping 10 (vintage) Fisher Price themed ornaments.  Last year there were only 5 (vintage) ornaments and in 2013 only 3.  So clearly they are responding to supply and demand!  

These ornaments are especially in demand since Dept 56 is the only manufacturer currently making Fisher Price themed ornaments.  In the past there have been collections from Hallmark (2007-2012) and Basic Fun (stopped in 2006) but those can only be found on eBay or while treasure hunting now.  The current Dept 56 ornaments sell for around $15 each.  

The Dept 56 ornaments are cute and have many sweet details but are made of plaster and are heavy, clunky and sometimes poorly put together (stickers off base, chipped or missing paint, etc).  They're low budget and the quality reflects that.

But hey, they beat having no ornaments right?

Today I'll introduce four of the ornaments and will have more to come in the next couple weeks.  These four cuties are the Riding Horse, Little People Bus, Firetruck and Push Toy.  Those are the names given by Dept 56 but we know some of them by different names. :)

First up the Play Family Fire Engine #720.  The ornament looks very much like the original, it's quite impressive.  Although nothing moves on the ornament (tires, ladder, etc) it has similar lithographs, details (hose, driver with a tiny hat) and color combinations.

Next up is the #978 Riding Horse and the #757 Melody Push Chime.  Unfortunately my family has not had the pleasure of either of these toys so I can't show you comparison photos.  Like the other ornaments they are made of plaster and do not having any moving parts.  The push chime has a plastic stick and is a little more light weight of course due to size.

Last but not least the very familiar and beloved #192 School Bus.  The longest running Little People toy, Fisher Price has made one of these for every version of LP from the original "classic" to the newfangled type they sell today.  The bus version shown in the ornament is an early one as it has a stop sign on the side.

The ornament is solid with no moving parts but has very realistic and accurate lithographs on each side of it.  Super cute, even the driver has the same side-eye smile. 

Of the four ornaments I introduced today the School Bus is the only one that has been released in prior years by other manufactures.  Both Hallmark and Basic Fun had their own take on the familiar and friendly bus.  

Here is a side by side comparison.  On the left is the Basic Fun Christmas decorated bus version with happy elves instead of students.  In the back is the current Dept 56 ornament and on the right is the Hallmark ornament released in 2009.

The Hallmark ornament has plastic windows and adorably painted and tiny people inside (3 plus the driver).  It is my favorite and can still be found on eBay for a pretty reasonable price ($16-20).  The Basic Fun bus is harder to track down and costs a bit more ($40's).

Come back next week for more ornaments!  While you're waiting check out past years ornaments on the following links:

For Hallmark Fisher Price Ornaments: 

2007 - See 'N Say 
2008 - Play Family Farm 
2008 - View-Master 
2009 - School Bus 
2009 - Chatter Telephone 
2010 - Play Family Fun Jet 
2010 - Zookeeper Says 
2010 - Play Family School 
2011 - Music Box Teaching Clock 
2011 - Play Family House 
2011 - Little People Lil' Movers Fire Truck (not a vintage toy) 
2011 - Snoop 'N Sniff - Limited quantity 
2012 - Corn Popper 
2012 - Two Tune TV