If Evolution Really Worked I’d Have Way More Than Two Hands

Man, I thought I’d be able to keep this thing up at least twice a week but life has taken over. Today is the first time I get to sit at my computer to write anything since my last blog post!

Lots of things going on in the Panda cage right now: Mardi Gras is Tuesday, the kids haven’t been to any parades yet but my house looks like we’ve thrown a carnival. This past weekend I spent in revelry with adult friends because well, I earned it. How’s that saying go, “Working mother is a redundant phrase”? Yeah, that’s me. So I had a blast, made gumbo for an army of people and went to a parade where I had tons of fun catching beads and throws for my friend’s daughter, Cadence. The panda cubs were with a sitter for the weekend.

At Wal-Mart, shopping for last minute lawn chairs. Yes, I dress in theme for most holidays. Don't mind the smeared makeup, I fixed it shortly after the picture was taken!

For Valentine’s day Maverick and I had more cupcake adventures, which were awesome. We made “sweetheart cupcakes”. Basically, devil’s food and strawberry cake batter baked in cupcakes. Hollow out the middle, and fill with a blended mixture of cherry preserves, cream cheese, and powdered sugar. Make a ganache, dip the cupcakes in the ganache frosting, and then decorate. They were DELICIOUS. We brought some to my grandfather and other family members on Valentine’s day and then last night I delivered the leftovers to some friends of mine, to prevent me from eating all of them.

Sweetheart cupcakes!

With the hollowed out middles of the cupcakes (as you know I’m frugal and don’t like to waste ANYTHING) I blended more cream cheese and then dipped in melted semisweet chocolate. VOILA: Cake truffles!

Cake truffles with sugar crystals!

Also last week we turned my rock garden into a raised flower bed for annuals. We have had lots of rain and back and forth between cold and warm weather so I haven’t sowed any seeds yet, but mostly will be planting wildflowers there. Maverick and I can just throw the seeds and wait for the pretty to happen!

This will be full of colorful flowers by summer time

While digging out the earth for the raised flower bed, Maverick made some new friends. Insects. Worms. Earwigs. All sorts of gross things. It’s always amazing to me how little boys will touch, hold, play with DAMN NEAR ANYTHING and not be bothered by it. We now have a pot of soil and worms outside, and he checks their progress daily. By checking their progress, I mean he pulls them out of the soil and flips them around in his hand a bit then puts them back into the dirt. I’m getting the creeps just thinking about it.

The tiniest worm on earth. His name is "Sam"

On the gardening subject, all of the tomato plants have sprouted true leaves, so that meant last night I had to ELIMINATE THE WEAKER ONES (MWAHAHAHAHA) ok that’s enough of the mad scientist gardner. So now, we have 15 tomato plants in our coldframe.

Here they are! In all their glory. Ethan took out the markers so I have no idea which pods contain what varieties but hey, all tomatoes are delicious so I'll be happy if even ONE of these makes it to bearing fruit. The two pots on the sides are sunflowers, the one in front of the tomatoes is a cluster of basil seedlings that is struggling to survive, and the aluminum pot has some violas. I'm hoping to make a window box with those, it gets too hot here for them to survive the summer outdoors. They are only a couple weeks old at this point. Gardening takes SO MUCH patience.

My little artists decided to draw on the sofa today, and I read on google that HAND SANITIZER and PAPERTOWELS would remove ball point ink. And it worked! So for all you moms out there with kids that are as creative as mine, commit that tip to memory. The last time this happened I paid to have the sofa cleaned… this time I just used a lot of elbow grease and remedied the problem myself.

I also would like to mention here that I am participating in a fundraiser for the Autism Society of Acadiana… and if you read this blog I’d like you to share it on your blog, or maybe donate. I’m 100 dollars away from my goal. Please, follow this link and read the story associated. Help in any way that you can. Rock for Hope

I hope that everyone has a blessed week, and I promise that once Mardi Gras settles down I’ll be posting more, it’ll be my Lenten Devotion this year: BLOG MORE OFTEN!


The Panda Cubs are Growing (and so is everything else)

Phew, it’s been a busy few days in the Panda Cage. (Fun new name for my house, right?)

Maverick’s lessons this week are centered around “Mardi Gras”. For those of you who don’t know, Mardi Gras is the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday, a celebration of revelry before lent. For people in Louisiana, “Mardi Gras Season” begins January 15, on the epiphany (for Catholics). This week we’ve done lots of crafts to celebrate. (Mardi Gras fall on February 21st this year).

Mardi Gras parades are one of the best things to happen during Mardi Gras season. Maverick LOVES them, the music, beads, toys, people, everything about a parade. So, we made a miniature Mardi Gras float on Monday.

Shoebox float

This craft is incredibly easy for anyone to do. We printed from the internet a picture of a Mardi Gras jester, and Maverick colored it. We used an old shoebox, covered it with construction paper and thin cuts of tissue paper. The Mardi Gras colors are purple, green, and gold, so we stuck with that theme for the most part. The “stage” on top is just the lid to the shoebox cut to look like stages on Mardi Gras floats.



The big project for this week, though, was our Mardi Gras Cupcakes! These were so much fun to make.

Below is a photo tutorial of how we made them:


Split your cake batter into three bowls, and color each bowl whatever color you like. We used purple, green, and yellow, for Mardi Gras. Just layer the batter by spoon fulls into muffin cups until you have filled each up about 3/4 of the way. Follow the directions your cake batter comes with for baking.


Let your cupcakes cool before frosting, obviously. This is what the tops looked like after baking.


Hollow out the tops of the cupcakes and fill with whatever you like. We used blueberry pie filling.


Frost and decorate. We also colored our frosting and used gold crystal sugar and green sugar to top them off. This colorful cupcake can be done with any batter, we plan on doing them again but with valentines day colors and maybe trying for a striped effect!


Aren't these ADORABLE? You can see some of the coloring under the icing on the green one.

In addition to all these Mardi Gras goings-on, I think both boys are in a growth spurt. I can’t stop either one of them from eating everything in sight. Ethan is noticeably taller and Maverick’s waist seems bigger, I had to adjust the drawstring on his pants (adjustable waist bands for thin children!) this morning because he couldn’t button them. They’re both getting so big, so quickly.

My insomnia has returned, full-force, and as such I’ve become holly hobby the gardener. I converted an old footlocker into a cold frame for my tomato plants, and today I’m going to transform my rock garden outside into a flower bed. I’m pretty excited about everything I just wrote. For those who are wondering, here is the cold frame:


I drilled a fluorescent light into the lid so that it hangs inches above the plants, and lined the inside with reflective insulation so that they get the maximum amount of sunlight possible. They're only a week old and thriving in here.The whole project cost me about 15 dollars (light, fixture, and insulation) with lots of insulation left over in case I find something else I can convert into another one. The small planter is full of viola seedlings I'm trying to encourage and the terra cotta planter off to the side has basil seedlings.

Later this week we are making home-made Valentine’s Day gifts for Maverick’s favorite people, and making sweetheart cupcakes! I’ll post progress on those, too. Have a happy Wednesday!

Frugal Soup for the Soul

It’s a rainy day in Lafayette, Louisiana today. I’m sitting in my home-office typing to you with the window slightly open, rain pouring off the gutters on my roof. The temperature outside is 70 degrees, arguably too warm for soup but the rain gives enough chill to validate my desire to make soup. This morning, also, I was followed by blogger John Bryan-Hopkins. His blog outlines national food days. Today, is national soup day. Who can disagree with that? The only way I could possibly be more convinced that today is a day for making soup would be my vegetables chopping themselves and jumping into the pot!
Most of my friends know that I am a “foodie”. Though I generally detest the term (it’s like the culinary “hipster”, it makes me cringe when I hear it but I can’t say I’m a chef so “foodie” it is) I accept this label and the gifts that come with being one. For Christmas this year my surrogate family (mom and brother) gave me an indoor herb garden and a book called “1 Stock, 100 Soups”. Everyone who cooks should know how to make a vegetable stock but in case you don’t this is the basic recipe for vegetable stock, which I will be using to make my soup today:

Makes 4 Cups:

  • 2 tbsp oil
  • 1 onion chopped finely
  • 2 leeks thinly sliced
  • 2 celery stalks finely chopped
  • 1 large potato, diced
  • 2 carrots, thinly sliced
  • 2 small parsnips, thinly sliced
  • 1 small turnip, thinly sliced
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 6 fresh parsley sprigs
  • 2/3 c dry white wine
  • 4 cups water

Heat the oil in a large pan. I use sunflower oil because I love it. Add the onion, leeks, celery, and potato and cook over a low heat until softened and just beginning to color. Add the rest of the vegetables and white wine, and cook for two minutes until the alcohol has evaporated. Increase the heat to medium, pour in the water, and bring to a boil. Lower the heat, cover, and simmer for an hour. Remove the pan from the heat and strain the basic vegetable stock into bowl. (I get really intense here to get the most flavor out I use a food mill on the vegetables and then wring them out in a cheese cloth to get the most stock out of them. This is optional, you could just strain them with a fine mesh and you’d be fine, I’m sure.) Then, I strain it again in a finer strainer. .

**photos of stock**

It will keep in the refrigerator for about 2 days, or in the freezer for up to 3 months. I pour mine into an ice cube tray once it has cooled, and once the stock cubes are frozen I bag them in a gallon ziploc container, this way when I need stock it defrosts quickly and it saves space in my tiny freezer! Making your own stock is one of the most rewarding and money saving things you can do in your kitchen. I am notorious for cooking dinners that take less than a half hour to prepare and the secret to the flavor in them is using homemade stock in nearly everything.

It’s raining today so I’m not going to go to the store for my soup ingredients, nor will I follow any particular recipe. I went pantry shopping and found a soup! Ingredients:

**photos of ingredients**

  • 6 frozen stock cubes
  • 1/2 c pearl barley
  • 1 bag frozen baby carrots
  • 1/2 lb ground chuck (frugal tip: Be friends with your butcher! If roasts are cheaper than ground meat, ask him to grind up a roast for you. Yesterday, chuck roasts were on sale for 1.50 a pound! Ground chuck pre-packaged was 2.49 a pound (sale price!) I asked at the counter for the butcher to grind up 10 pound of roast and picked up my ground meat on the way out after I had bought my produce)
  • 1 can tomato sauce
  • 1 bag frozen brussels sprouts

Optional for garnish

  • 1 onion sliced
  • 3 cloves garlic sliced

Put the barley into a large pan and cover with water. Bring to a boil and then reduce heat, cover, and simmer gently with occasional stirring until all the water is absorbed. Add your ground chuck and cook until browned. Throw in stock cubes, frozen carrots, and Brussels sprouts. Continue to cook over medium heat until vegetables are tender and no longer frozen. (Would probably be a lot better with fresh vegetables, but I’m not leaving in this horrible rain!) Pour in your can of tomato sauce (I used a 15 ounce can). Stir frequently, add in no more than one cup of water if your soup looks thick, the vegetables will lose water and add it to the soup as it cooks.

My grandmother taught me this way of garnishing soups that is very elegant and tasty. Slice up onions and coat them lightly with olive oil. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Spread onion slices out onto a cookie sheet and bake at 425 degrees, checking every five minutes for browning. When the onions seem brown or sticking to the pan, stir them a little. When the onions are mostly colored lay the sliced garlic in the pan and coat it in the olive oil and seasonings that have accumulated on the bottom of the pan. Continue cooking onions and garlic in the oven for about 20 more minutes, checking for browning every five minutes and stirring. In about thirty minutes you have deeply flavorful carmelized onions and garlic. Put a spoonful of the mixture onto each bowl of soup before serving and it takes the soup to a whole other dimension of flavor! (Or just eat it out of the pan, it’s that good.)


Note from thepandamother: UNFORTUNATELY my phone will not upload the pictures, I think some drool (Ethan’s, not mine) got into the usb port. I’m currently storing it in a bag of rice to absorb the moisture (cool trick for electronics that get wet!) so it should work in the next couple of days. I will post the photos then.

Iced Coffee, Dollar General Shopping, and Baby Bobos


Kind of fuzzy but that really dark spot is where the flap of skin got liquid stitched.

Today and yesterday have been an incredible whirlwind of emotion for everyone in this house.

Yesterday, Ethan fell and got quite the knot on his head. No long term damage, but the resulting injury looked so bad that I brought him to the emergency room anyway. Luckily for Ethan, the bobo was on his forehead, which the ER physician told me was the toughest part of the skull. Also, apparently babies are engineered to handle falls from walking height. Thank God for intelligent design, amiright? A little liquid stitch on the broken skin and some prescription infant pain killer for the next couple of days to ease the headaches and WHAMMO, Ethan’s first concussion!

Today was also the first full-time school working hours paycheck we received of Michael’s, which was a whole other added stress. It’s the beginning of the month so of course rent is due, utility bills are due, we just paid car insurance at the end of January… needless to say, things are very tight right now. Michael has more of a problem with this than I do, because I know that as long as the roof over our head is paid for, and our electricity and water are working, and I have some food in the house, my family and I will be fine. I think he may be reconsidering our decision for me to stay home with the kids, but if they were still in daycare we’d be spending well over 300 a week in gas and daycare costs, which was only a couple hundred less than what I was making. Not to mention the gas for me to and from work, the cost of working in general, etc. I stick by our decision and know that the next few years of living in frugality will benefit us in the long run. Example: I used to spend 100 dollars at the grocery store, minimum, per week to feed a family of four ONE meal a day and three meals a day on the weekends. We never ate breakfast or lunch at home. NOW, I can spend 50 dollars a week at the grocery store and feed us ALL breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I’ve been couponing, shopping sales, buying reduced meat specials, and making really big, filling meals out of next to nothing. For instance, two nights ago I found two very large chicken breasts in my freezer. In the pantry I had about a half pound of spaghetti noodles, a can of crushed tomatoes, a can of tomato sauce, and a jar of parmesan cheese. Always on hand I have flour, eggs, milk, vegetable oil. I made chicken parmesan and spaghetti for all four of us, double servings. I don’t have a cost calculator but I’d estimate about 1.50 per serving, honestly.

For Christmas a very dear friend of mine gave me a basket full of Community Coffee, another friend gave me a french press, and Michael trumped them all by giving me a keurig coffee maker. Keurig pods are EXPENSIVE, so while I use it for its convenience I’ve limited myself to one cup a day and have been cold brewing coffee for iced coffee using the french press and gifted coffee grinds. It’s very simple.


Place 1 cup of coffee grinds into french press.

Cover with water. Stir. Place press on top of pitcher. Let grinds sit overnight.

After about 12 hours slowly depress plunger and pour into a pitcher.

Pour desired amount over ice with splenda and splash of milk and you have iced coffee, for approximately 40 cents a glass! Beats commercial coffee chains ANY DAY.


Iced coffee (I don't like a lot of ice in it)

Found Recipe for Today

Every day for the past few weeks I’ve been trying to “shop at home” first, creating meals out of things I already have on hand to save on the grocery bill. Since I have two boys who eat a LOT, and we are at home all day, we go through a lot of food. Currently we are between paychecks and our kitchen is INCREDIBLY bare. HOWEVER, using my previous dieting experience I found enough things in my cabinet to make some “Oatmeal Cakes”.

Here are the ingredients, things most of you might have in your cabinets anyway:

Milk, eggs, old fashioned oats, salt, vegetable oil, canned pineapple chunks, cinnamon, baking powder, almonds, honey

This is probably the simplest recipe I’ve ever come up with, based on a basic flourless muffin recipe.

First, line your muffin tin and preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Then, get your ingredients ready:

  • 2 1/4 cups oatmeal
  • 1/4 cup nuts
  • 2 cups pineapple chunks with juice from can
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 2 tsp cinnamon
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil

Combine all ingredients and stir well. Let it soak for about 5 minutes if you’re using old fashioned oats, like I did, because they won’t cook quickly. After soaking, transfer all ingredients into a blender and puree all the large chunks out of it. The mixture should look liquid and grainy.

It looks pretty gross, actually. But trust me on this.

Pour into your muffin liners (fill the cups all the way, they will not rise very much!) and bake for 15 minutes or until the tops are medium to dark brown and the tops of the muffins spring back when touched. This recipe makes 12 cakes. Allow to cool thoroughly before serving. The texture is like a very dense, moist sponge cake. Cook some bacon each morning or a few slices of ham and serve one muffin with some fresh fruit and margarine, you’ve got breakfast for a family of four for three days.

Half-eaten oatmeal cake... these are tangy and delightful and super filling.

“Bob Books”, Maverick’s “Lesson Tree”, and Ethan Scaring People

About three months ago I went through this phase of putting decals on my walls. You know what I’m talking about: stencil outlined dark black images, quotes, etc. My significant other was not a huge fan of the tree I put on our living room wall (this is an understatement) even though I thought it was elegant. I’ve converted this tree into Maverick’s “Lesson Tree”. Every time he masters something we put a symbol for it on the tree. Originally it was going to be a place to display his various worksheets and craft projects but that got out of hand entirely because I keep him so busy. Now, it’s a visual progress report that he can see and add to himself every week.

Today’s major accomplishment was recognizing all three sight words and reading most of a first grade level book on his own. This is the second book in the Bob Books series, and it took him about a week to master it. We actually had two big steps in one day, he’s able to recite “itsy bitsy spider” on his own now, without any help. He’s very proud of this and entertains his brother a lot with the rhyme. So, today, the sight words “he”, “ate”, and “little” got added to the tree along with an “itsy bitsy spider”. The worksheet for the spider also was a test of his skill with scissors, as he had to cut out the legs following a zig-zag line. He did great. Already on the tree we have the sight words “are”, “good”, and “now”, along with some plums, to celebrate his mastery of the first book in the series “Plums are Good”.

Maverick's Lesson Tree

Tomorrow we are starting on the third book in the sight words series, and this weeks letters and phonics are “H”, “short O”, and “S”. Concepts for this week are “rhyming” and “opposites”. Theme this week is “Mardi Gras”, I have two craft projects lined up. Tomorrow we will make a “Mardi Gras Float” using a shoe box, and Friday we will make a “Mardi Gras Mask”.

Ethan’s major accomplishments so far this week are way more walking going on in this house, and extreme levels of independence displayed. Poor kid has an ear infection and upper respiratory infection right now (because Louisiana’s climate is RIDICULOUS and the mold levels are EXCEPTIONALLY HIGH) but he is still ripping and roaring (quite literally). He has recently learned how to say “RAWWWWWWR” and uses it pretty frequently to “scare” people. He will launch at you with incredible strength for a fourteen month old and shriek “RAWR” then pretend to eat you. I’m pretty positive this is behavior learned from Maverick’s obsession with zombies, since I caught Maverick yesterday trying to make Ethan say “BRAAAAAAAAAINS”. Ethan also has developed a general disregard for all things potentially dangerous. Namely, the staircase. Sometime this weekend I am going to install a hardware mounted safety gate at the top and bottom of the stairs, because both he and Maverick know how to take down the tension mounted ones: just throw yourself at it. Lately my security for the stairs has been a giant recliner pressed up against the bottom so they cannot climb up unattended, and just keeping the door shut when I’m upstairs in their room with them. It works, but I’d like to have a gate installed. Ethan is also talking a lot more, and Maverick seems way better at understanding him than we are. He will say “Yes Ethan, that’s right!” when Ethan even sounds remotely like he’s pronouncing something correctly. All I can understand from Ethan is whenever he screams “DADA” which is synonymous with “mommy”, basically all adults are called “DADA”. He says “bubba” for Maverick, “bobba” for bottle or sippy cup, “eat” when he’s hungry, and “bye bye” pretty much any time you wave at him. He can say “dog” if we see one, “duck” if we see one, and “book” if we’re reading. Mostly it’s a lot of babbling, though. If I’m watching the news, Ethan will walk up to the television and yell vehemently at the “talking heads”. He even slaps his hands in defiance of them talking over him. He’s far more vocal than Maverick was at this age but way behind Maverick in physical development. He’s not behind according to his pediatrician, but Maverick was a mostly silent walking, climbing, crawling, running toddler.


It’s funny, last night I was talking to Michael about Maverick, thinking how incredible it was that at his third birthday we were begging Maverick to speak, and now we can’t get him to shut up and he’s saying words like “incredible” and “awesome”. He still gets subject-verb agreement messed up but pretty much anyone can understand him. His godmother says Maverick was just waiting until he was ready, and I can agree with that. The language explosion I’ve seen from him in the past two weeks is literally shocking. I’m not sure if it has much to do with being taught one-on-one now, or if he’s finally figured it out. Either way, he’s amazing.