Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Christmas Letter 2012

It's been a while since I (Brynn) have sent a letter with our yearly Christmas card picture.  So much has happened in the last couple of years that has not been blogged about, other than a post or two on Facebook, and I know not everyone is on Facebook. :)

But even though my last name is Earley, I am usually late.  So to save time and a tree, I'm posting our Christmas "letter" online!  It won't cover everything that has gone on, but it will bring you up to speed to where we're at now.

The last letter to go out in 2010 mentioned we were still in Colorado after trying unsuccessfully to move a couple times and we had 3 kids.

Well, we moved on from Pagosa in August of 2011 and are now in my birthplace of Austin, Texas!  Not that you'd know it was Texas.  Jason says he hardly ever meets people here who speak with a twang.  Which means the other big change to our family, Finnegan, probably won't grow up with an accent.  I'm pretty sure there is a blog post someplace on here with fabulous pictures of Finn's arrival on April 19, 2011...

I think that covers the "major" changes in our lives.  Oh wait.  Buying a house is probably something major.  We were blessed to get into our first home this fall and are soooo happy to finally be in our own place.  We are not as far out in the sticks as Jason would like, but being in suburbia has it's perks.  Though at times even I wish for the total peace and quiet we had in the mountains.

There are no mountains, just hills here.  The biggest "inclines" around are probably the freeway ramps.... Jason spends a lot of time traversing those!  Austin is in the top 10 cities in America with the worst traffic, so Jason leaves around 6:30am every morning to get downtown for work.  What is normally a 30 minute drive turns into an hour+ if he leaves much later than that, but we are so grateful for Jason's job with the plumbing company he works for that both of us try not to complain too much about the time spent getting to and from said job.  Jason is enjoying the fact he no longer has to be up all night shoveling snow for work, but tells me all the time it's hot here.  Just a few days ago it was 85 and he came home, took a look at the Christmas tree in the living room and declared it was all too weird.  He doesn't complain about the extra time he gets to play outside with the kids and go for bike rides however.  And he is planning and looking forward to putting in a small raised-bed garden in the new backyard soon.

On to the little people, tasmanian devils, ninjas, infectious laughter carrierstiny terrorists, kids.

Katie is 10 and in 5th grade at Blockhouse Creek Elementary.  Adjusting to a new place is not always easy, but in the last 16 months we have seen Katie grow tall, beautiful, smart, funny, outgoing and sweet.  Everyone is her friend!!!  Like her dad, she misses going to Wolf Creek and playing in the snow, but has found she loves the swimming pool!  Katie also loves to sing and is talking about being in choir in middle school next year.  She has hinted already at attending a volleyball camp this summer and was asking if she can learn to play the flute.  I'm still stuck on the fact that she'll be in middle school!  Katie is growing up way too fast!

Evie is 8 and in 2nd grade, also at Blockhouse Creek.  2 new schools, a new church and a very different place to live- it's been a harder adjustment for our sensitive "1st middle" child.  Evie is more inclined to the warm weather and would wear shorts or dresses every day of the year if I let her.  She is our girly-girl, has a lot of sass and loves her purses and lipgloss!  And we are overjoyed just this last week, as my dad said, "To tell her welcome to the new family of God, we are so glad she came."

Liam is 5 and attends a mothers-day-out program twice a week at a small private Christian school.  He is learning "lots" and is quite proud to be able to write his name and point out letters and numbers to me as we get groceries or read a book.  Liam is all boy!  He enjoys playing video games, working with his dad (and dad's tools) and is learning to ride a bike.  His current passion right now is Power Rangers.  I thought those guys disappeared back in the 90's, but was I ever wrong!  The list of Bandai Power Ranger Samurai BullZooka toys he requested for Christmas gave me a headache.  Liam is our monkey and the neighbors can probably hear me regularly asking him to stop climbing up the basketball hoop pole.

Finn is the baby.  I didn't think he would ever learn to crawl or even roll over as he had 3 devoted older siblings to bring him everything he could desire!  But at 20 months he now runs everywhere and we have recently discovered that he can talk too!  Only saying only 4 or 5 words up until the last few weeks, we've come to the conclusion that he was just biding his time.  Recently after Jason repeatedly tried to get Finn to sign and/or say "more, please" before the bites of pumpkin pie he was sharing with him, Finn decided he didn't want to wait, looked at Jason and yelled "NOW!"  Right now, seems to be how Finn rolls (I blame the 3 devoted older siblings who brought him everything he could desire, as fast as they could...) so we are working on understanding the words, be patient.  Finn is our smiley guy, dancing to every bit of music he hears.

As for me, well... except for the bugs, I'm pretty happy here.  I love the warm weather.  I don't think I'll ever be able to visit Pagosa when there is snow as I'd probably freeze to death.  I enjoy being closer than 2 hours away to places like Target, Sams and Hobby Lobby.  :)  There are lots of museums and places I'm looking forward to exploring.  And I hope to one day get in on the movie extras casting that goes on here for productions shot in the Austin area.  I greatly miss our church family and all our friends, but I love our new church here, the couples small group Jason and I are apart of and the weekly women's bible study I attend.  I still love to cook, watch movies and one of my (many) new year resolutions is to keep this blog up and running more than 5 times in a whole year.

So y'all check back in here and we'll be in touch!

Merry Christmas To All!

highlights from the last couple of years in photos:

We had Finn!

We moved to Austin!

The kids grew up.

We celebrated lots of holidays, birthdays and special occasions!










Christmas 2011

Halloween 2012

Jason + Brynn = 10 years of marriage!

We went to awesome pools!

Barton Springs
(the complete opposite of Pagosa Springs)

Quarry Splash Pad

Veteran's Memorial Pool



The water does strange things to kids here....

We killed bugs.

We bought a house!

We happily went to look at the bluebonnets and happily ripped them from their tranquil spot.

We went to Six Flags!

We visited Grandma and Grandpa Mackensen in Dallas!

We went to the Dallas Aboretum and saw cool stuff!

We went to cool outdoor concerts where it was super windy!

We went to see 4th of July fireworks over the river downtown!

We had FUN!
Come see us and join in the good times!

Much Love,
Jason, Brynn, Katherine, Evora, Liam & Finnegan

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Bulk Freezer Cooking, Tips & Recipes

OK, so once again it's been forever since I posted.  I really must get better at this.  I should probably get back to my blogging with a post about the house we bought... but instead I'm going to post a whole bunch of recipes.  Why?  Because I said I was thankful the other day on Facebook for a freezer full of meals and I had some friends ask how I go about accomplishing that.

I don't really like to "cook" I do however like to "bake."  (Sidenote: Jason asked me once how that is possible and I told him that a bout of baking lasts a whole lot longer than stuffed florentine shells at dinner time. Spending 2 hours making dinner to have it disappear in 20 minutes is depressing.  Loaves of pumpkin bread sitting in my freezer, ready to be defrosted and eaten is a much nicer thought.  Yes, I'm strange.)

Since I don't like to cook every night and eating out, every night, isn't an option I spend 2-3 days shopping and cooking once a month.

Pull the recipes you want to use, make your grocery list using those recipes (double them if you wish, you'll get more meals and it really doesn't add much more cooking time) and then go shopping.  Do your cooking the next day.

Try not to make super complicated recipes as they usually require lots of ingredients and you want to make the cooking as easy and as inexpensive as possible.

Here is a random selection of some of my favorite recipes!

Quick Tomato Sauce
Makes 8 c. (4 c. needed per lb. of pasta)
3 T olive oil
4 tsp. minced garlic
2- 28oz can crushed tomatoes
1- 28oz can diced tomatoes
6 T minced fresh basil (or 2 T dried basil)
1/2 tsp. sugar
1 tsp. salt

Heat the oil and the garlic in a deep pot, stirring frequently until fragrant, but not browned.  Only about 2 minutes!  Stir in the cans of tomatoes with their juice.  Bring to a simmer and cook till slightly thickened about 30-40 minutes.  Stir in the basil, sugar and salt.

You can then let the sauce cool and freeze as a "chunky" sauce, or you can cool it and use a blender or food processor to make a smooth sauce.  Store in 4 c. servings

I like to double, triple and even quadruple certain things like spaghetti sauce, because it's great to have extras.

1/2 c. parmesan cheese
1 1/2 tsp. basil
1 1/2 tsp. parsley
1 tsp. garlic powder
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes
1/4 c. bread crumbs
1 egg
1 lb. hamburger

Mix all ingredients together.  Shape into 1" balls and bake on tin foil lined cookie sheet for 20 min. @ 400.  Cool and freeze in ziplock bags if desired.  To reheat: thaw and cook over med-low heat in sauce pan for about 10 min.

I get certain items at Sam's or Costco- like hamburger.  My last trip I bought 8 lbs of hamburger and got out of it 32 burgers, 2 lbs of plain hamburger to make into meatballs or use for tacos, and then 2 meatloaves.

Crock Pot BBQ Chicken
10-12 pieces boneless/skinless chicken tenderloins OR 4-6 boneless/skinless chicken breasts 
(I throw them in frozen, makes this recipe even easier!)
1 bottle BBQ sauce (I use Sweet Baby Ray's)
1/4 c. brown sugar
1/4 c. white vinegar
1 tsp. red pepper flakes
1/2 - 1 tsp. garlic powder

Mix BBQ sauce and rest of ingredients in a bowl, place chicken in crock pot and pour sauce over top.  Cook on low 6 hrs.
I serve this chicken with the following biscuit recipe and a veggie side.

J. P.'s Big Daddy Biscuits
Makes 6 grand sized biscuits (I always double and can get 12-14 BIG biscuits)
2 c. all purpose flour
1 T baking powder
1 T sugar
1 tsp. salt
1/3 c. shortening (I use Spectrum Organic All Vegetable Shortening - can't tell any difference between it and Crisco taste wise.)
1 c. milk

Preheat oven to 425
In a large bowl, whisk together dry ingredients.  Cut in shortening and then stir in milk.
Turn out onto a floured surface and knead 10-15 times.  Pat or roll dough out to 1" thick.  Cut biscuits with a large cutter, repeat until all dough is used.  Place biscuits onto an un-greased baking sheet.

Bake for 15-20 minutes or until edges begin to brown.

Make sure you mix, knead, pat or roll and handle dough as little as possible - you'll get lighter, bigger biscuits this way!

Chicken Taco Chili
1 15oz can black beans (rinsed and drained)
1 15oz can kidney beans (rinsed and drained)
1 15oz can corn kernels w/ liquid
1 16oz can tomato sauce
1 28oz can diced tomatoes
1 packet taco seasoning
1 T chili powder
6-8 boneless/skinless chicken tenderloins

Put everything in the crock pot and give it a stir.  Cook on low 6-8 hrs.  
I serve it with the following!

Cornmeal Waffles
1 3/4 c. all purpose flour 
1 1/4 c. corn meal
1 T baking powder
1 tsp. sugar
1 tsp. salt
2 c. milk
3 T vegetable oil
2 eggs

In a large bowl mix all ingredients together, pour and cook waffles according to your waffle iron instructions.  (These are pretty thick, I don't have to pour as much batter on the iron as I do for regular waffles.  These are also great for breakfast with honey on them!) 

Chicken & Wild Rice Casserole
1 6oz pkg. wild rice mix (I get any quick cook 10 min wild rice mix- I don't have 40 minutes to cook rice)
1/2 white onion, chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped
2 T butter
1 can cream of chicken soup
1/2 c. sour cream
1/3 c. chicken broth
2 T minced fresh basil or 1/2 tsp. dried basil
2 c. shredded chicken
1/3 c. parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 350
Prepare rice mix according to directions
In a large skillet, saute onion and celery in butter until tender.  Stir in soup, sour cream, stock and basil. Stir in rice and chicken.
Transfer mixture to an un-greased 2-quart baking dish, sprinkle with cheese.  
Let cool and freeze OR
Bake uncovered for about 20 minutes or until heated through.
(If frozen- to reheat: thaw and bake uncovered for about 30-35 minutes.)

For awesome shredded chicken-
I buy fresh or frozen boneless/skinless chicken tenderloins, thaw them if need be and then boil them all.  After they have cooked, I toss them in my Kitchenaid mixer and using the paddle attachment turn it on high and watch that chicken shred itself up!  I will do an entire bag at once, cooking in batches, to use in multiple recipes.  I'll freeze what I don't use!

Balsamic-Garlic Crusted Pork Tenderloin
Ok- my grocery store sells tenderloins 2 per pack.  So what I do is divide the original ingredient measurements into 2 gallon ziplocks and then toss a tenderloin into each one.  Roll up to get the air out, seal and freeze!  

Into each gallon ziplock add the following:
2 tsp. minced garlic
1 T balsamic vinegar
1 1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. pepper
1 T olive oil
1 pork tenderloin

Seal bag and sort of twist and turn tenderloin so that the garlic, oil, etc. is dispersed evenly, then either freeze or marinate overnight in fridge.

To cook:
(thaw if frozen)
Preheat oven to 400
Heat a small amount of olive oil in a saute pan over medium heat.  Add pork and brown all over about 5 minutes.  Transfer pork to foil lined baking dish and roast, turning occasionally, about 30 minutes.  Transfer to a cutting and try to let it rest 10 min before slicing.

I buy a big pack of tin foil pans at Sam's and use them to freeze casseroles, cinnamon rolls, meatloaves, etc. They are easy to stack once frozen, just cover your dish with tin foil and write the contents and date on top.  

Honey-Orange Marinade
1/4 c. honey
1/4 c. orange juice
2 T olive oil
2 T worcestershire sauce
2 tsp. soy sauce
2 tsp. minced garlic

Mix together and pour over chicken breasts in gallon ziplock.  Marinade overnight or freeze.  Cook however you wish!  We like to grill them!

Buy a jar of minced garlic.  I love my garlic press, but it's way faster to just scoop a tsp. out when I need it.

Yeast Raised Waffles
Best thing about this recipe is you can make it at night and eat them in the morning, or if you want breakfast for dinner, make it in the morning and it's ready that night!  I used to make these with my grandma! :)

Mix 8 hrs. ahead of baking:

1/2 c. warm water + 2 tsp. yeast
Let stand 5 min.

2 c. lukewarm milk
1/2 c. melted butter
1 tsp. salt

2 c. all purpose flour
2 eggs
Pinch of baking soda

In a large bowl, mix milk, butter and salt, add yeast mix and then add flour.  Mix well.
Let stand covered loosely with plastic wrap in the fridge a minimum of 8 hrs.
When ready to bake, add eggs and pinch of baking soda.
Beat well, batter will be thin.
Cook according to waffle iron instructions.
Waffles will be thin and delicious!

Saturday, July 7, 2012

keeping cool- veteran's memorial pool

I've been reading a lot of blogs and Yelp reviews to find fun things to do this summer, so I thought I'd try MY hand at writing a "review" type "blog" about our latest adventure!

Summer is upon us here in central Texas and that means the temperature is on the rise!  We had a steady week of 100+ temps, but then this week we were in the high 90's - like ya' know 99....

Due to the fact that we will soon be paying $1400 a month for our apartment and they still can't seem to pay someone to keep the pool clean (when Jason went to check it out last night, he couldn't see the legs of the guy swimming in it, it was so cloudy) I am on the hunt for the perfect pool.

The perfect pool would be entertaining to all 4 of my kids, not too boring for the older 2 (a few fountains springing up out of the ground keeps them occupied for only so long,) adventurous enough for Liam (he likes to jump off of stuff...) and yet mild enough that I don't have to hold Finn the entire time without fear of him drowning.  He may only be 14 months old, but he weighs enough that my arms get tired of constantly carrying him around.  Oh and of course it would be free.  :)

Veteran's Memorial Pool located up here in Cedar Park gets 3 out of those 4 "perfects." While it's not free, it cost $18 for all 6 of us to get in, it was a major hit with all 5 of my kids!  Oh wait, I guess that technically Jason isn't a kid, but he still had fun.

Finn was able to stand or crawl through about half of the "kiddie" pool and he enjoyed having some freedom while still being close to mom or dad.

Liam was ALL over the place, they have a ton of lifeguards that keep a very good eye on things, so I wasn't panicking over the fact that I physically couldn't keep an eye on him the entire time.

Katie spent her time alternating between the high dive and the slide.

And Evie really seemed to enjoy the floating-log-rope-bridge thing.

In addition to all of these fun things I've pictured, they also had water basketball and an area for plain old swimming.  By the playscape the surface was very beachy and had a gradual slope into the deeper parts of the pool, there were gentle fountains here for the super little ones.  There was also a separate mini slide apart from the one on the playscape.  My goodness there was a lot to do here!  (And when you get tired there were covered areas with picnic tables or sunny lounge chairs to lay on.)

The best part of this pool however was the giant bucket on top of the playscape!  It would fill up and then tip over and dump on the suspecting and unsuspecting alike!  (Do be warned that very little kids could get flattened by this sucker.)

Finn wasn't the biggest fan of the bucket...

Liam was though!

I think that Veteran's Memorial Pool was a hit and I'm sure we'll be back.

Stay tuned for another "what to do in Austin" type review of whatever water hole we visit next!