Category Archives: Uncategorized

October Relief Society Activity

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Each month the women in my church get together for an activity. I think every good Relief Society activity has three components:

1- Spiritual thought

I asked a lady in our congregation to spend about 15-20 minutes talking about Satan’s tricks. Here are a couple of articles that I sent her that I thought would be helpful to consider as she prepares her thoughts: https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/liahona/2017/digital/april/4-of-satans-best-strategies-and-how-to-resist-them?lang=eng

https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/new-era/2017/01/seven-lies-satan-wants-you-to-believe?lang=eng

https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/ya-weekly/2018/11/recognizing-satans-counterfeits?lang=eng

2- Activity

We decided that a powerful activity, instead of making a craft, would be for each sister to make a chocolate/caramel covered apple AND onion, each beautifully decorated to look scrumptious and desirable. She can then take the onion and apple home, and use it as an object lesson for her family: Satan makes bad things look good (like the chocolate covered onion). Personal revelation will help us know what is truly good, and what is not– because sometimes it’s SUPER hard to tell what is good verses evil.

3- Food and time to socialize

As people make their caramel apples and onions, they will have time to socialize. I usually try to keep activities to 90 minutes– then it’s not an overwhelming time commitment, but gives women time to be spiritually and emotionally uplifted.

Visiting Lauterbrunnen, Switzerland

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If you want to visit one of the prettiest places in the entire world, plan a trip to Switzerland! Knowing where to go and what to see can be a bit overwhelming… which is why I’m sharing our itinerary.

We enjoyed camping at: https://www.campingjungfrau.swiss/en (and did day trips from there)

I also recommend checking out www.swissfamilyfun.com for detailed information on lots of hikes.

Pro Tip if you’re traveling with kids: children under age 6 are FREE on public transportation (gondolas, trains, busses, etc). For kids ages 6-15, buy a Junior Travelcard; they’ll get FREE access to public transportation (when accompanied by a paying parent) for a 12-month period for just 30CHF. Pretty sweet deal. Even sweeter– it’s buy 2 Junior Travelcards, get 1 free.

Day 1:

Reichenbach Falls and funicular; Rent monster scooters (9am-5:15pm) Bahn/Monsterabfahrt CHF25/adult, 22/kid;

Aare Gorge (CHF10/adult, 6/kid, under 6 free)

Hasliberg Marble Run (park at Steinmühlestraße 40, Meiringen—walk along stream to cable car station. Meiringen to Alpen Tower cable car costs CHF 42/adult)

Day 2: 

Staubbach Falls FREE

Trümmelbach Falls (8:30am-6pm) CHF12/adult, 5/kid (under 4 not allowed) 

Day 3: 

St. Beatus Caves (9am-5pm), family pass CHF49. Walk through the caves and accompanying museum.

Drachen-Spielplatz (playground) along the path so St. Beatus caves

Weissenau Nature Reserve: walk along the pretty lake, golfing, horseback riding, paragliding, etc.

Fondue hike in Wengen 

Day 4: 

Grindelwald: Roundtrip to the top (which is called “First”) costs 34CHF/adult (kids are half-price, or free if you’ve got the Junior Travelcard). Bring a picnic lunch and plan to spend most of the day here. Also, since this is higher elevation it is a bit chilly (I wished I had a light jacket at the end of July!).

Cliff walk (when you get to the very top, “First”, this is a close walk away and is FREE)

Bachalpsee (FREE) This is about a one hour hike each way from where the Gondola stops at the top of “First”. The views are incredible, but the water is ice cold (you’re at the top of the Alps!)– so don’t plan to swim here.

First Glider zipline for those adventure seekers. You can also rent scooters or mountain carts to go down the mountain.

Playground (stop at “Bort”). Just another super fun playground (free) in the middle of the Swiss Alps.

Day 5: 

Kandersteg: Alpine slide 9am-5:30pm (much cheaper before 11:30am)

Hike to Lake Oeschinensee (Bring swimming suits!)

Day 6:

Cable car from Lauterbrunnen to Grütschalp. Hike to Allmendhubel flower playground and restaurant. Hike or ride funicular down to Mürren. This is a gorgeous, relatively inexpensive hike. You’ll walk past cows grazing, and have beautiful views of the alps the entire time. The first part of this hike is steeper, but then it levels out.

And the kids will be rewarded by this cool playground at Allmendhubel at the end.

Day 7: 

Maison du Gruyeres cheese factory (9am-6:30pm) This place is not huge—plan around 45 min to visit. 12CHF/family (2 adults + kids under 12). Pro tip: go before noon to see cheese making live (otherwise you’ll just watch videos of the process).

You’ll receive 3 pieces of Gruyére cheese aged at 6 months, 8 months, and 10 months. It is fun to taste the differences the aging process makes.

Château de Gruyères

Callier Chocolate Factory (10am-6pm) CHF15/adult, kids free. This has a neat walk-through theater-type experience that teaches about where chocolate began, and how the Callier Chocolate company started out.

Then there is an interactive scan and listen exhibit where you can learn even more.

All you can eat chocolate at the end!

You can also book chocolate making workshops online, which could add to the fun of your day.

Day 8: 

Bern: Great, close parking is at “Kurzparking Bahnhof Bern”. Then walk through the city and see some fun sights! Our friend (who lives in Bern) took us past the sights in this order:

#1: Parliament Building (there’s a farmer’s market outside front on Tuesday/Saturday mornings)

#2: clock tower

#3 Einsteinhaus (open 11am-4pm) Adults 5CHF/Kids 3CHF

#4 BärenPark

To finish up your day, enjoy swimming pools at one of the several free pools in Bern. Our friend also recommended getting ice cream at the famous “Gelateria Di Berna”.

Book list

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Reading and listening to books brings me so much joy. I love having my perspective broadened as I learn about other people’s lives. Here is a list of books that I have loved reading, or my friends have recommended to me:

Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand

Forty Autumns by Nina Willner

David and Goliath by Malcolm Gladwell

The Moment of Lift by Melinda Gates

Mrs. Mike by Benedict Freeman

A town like Alice by Neil Shute

When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanthi

The Hiding Place by Corrie ten Boom

The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls

Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother by Amy Chua

The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman

The Book of Lost Friends by Lisa Wingate

Daring Greatly by Brene Brown

Endurance by Alfred Lansing

Creating Magi by Lee Cockerell

The ONE Thing by Gary Keller and Jay Papasan

Mindset by Carol Dweck

The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg

Talking to Strangers by Malcolm Gladwell

Til We have Faces by C S Lewis

The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck

From Sea to Shining Sea by James Alexander Thom

Devil in the White City by Erik Larson

Darkest Hour: How Churchill Brought England Back From the Brink by Anthony McCarten

Remarkable Creatures by Tracy Chevalier

Born a Crime by Trevor Noah

Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea by Barbara Demick

We Were the Lucky Ones by Georgia Hunter

All the Light We Cannit See by Anthony Doerr

Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Startup by John Carreyou

My Story by Elizabeth Smart

Wonder by R J Palacio

The Hot Zone: The Chilling True Story of an Ebola Outbreak by Richard Preston

The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho

A River Runs Through It and Other Stories by Norman Maclean

The Remarkable Journey of Coyote Sunrise by Dan Gemeinhart

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind by William Kamkwamba

Heartless by Marissa Meyer

A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Bachman

Left Neglected by Lisa Genova

The Girl With Seven Names by Hyeonseo Lee

Mrs Mike by Benedict Freeman

The Chosen by Chaim Potok

Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah

Hot Monogamy by Patricia Love

Midnight Library by Matt Haig

Attachments by Rainbow Rowell

The Beekeeper’s Apprentice by Laurie King

To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han

Recursion by Blake Crouch

Becoming by Michelle Obama

The Sugar Queen by Sarah Addison Allen

The Wish List by Eoin Colfer

Beneath a Scarlet Sky by Mark Sullivan

The Giver of Stars by JoJo Moyes

Being Mortal by Atul Gawande

The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest For Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics by Tamar Adler

The Same Kind of Different as Me by Ron Hall and Denver Moore

The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

The Help by Kathryn Stockett

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloots

The American Plague by Molly Caldwell Crosby

My Sister’s Keeper by Jodi Picoult

Fun family games!

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Playing games is a great way to bond together as a family. But, unfortunately, not all games are actually fun! Here is a list of games my own family enjoys, along with recommendations from a few of my friends.

Carcassone

Bang

Ticket to Ride

Secret Hitler

Betrayal at House on the Hill

Settlers of Catan

Cover Your Assets (or “Cover Your Kingdom”)

Clue

Picwits

Guesstures

Citadels

Stone Age

Telestrations

Coup

Taco Cat Goat Cheese Pizza

Mexican Train Dominoes

Rummikub

Splendor

Seven wonders

Bohnanza

Camel cup

Christmas books for children

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A fun holiday tradition is to have a basket of Christmas books. My kids are constantly looking through the books, and I make a point of reading a special Christmas book every night leading up to Christmas. It is just one simple thing that makes the holiday season even MORE special! In addition to our own favorites, I have asked friends, family, and read reviews to compile this list of Christmas books you may want to add onto your own wishlist.

1- Christmas in the Manger by Nola Buck

2- The Gifts of the Animals: A Christmas Tale by Carole Gerber

3- The Legend of the Candy Cane, Newly Illustrated Edition: The Inspirational Story of Our Favorite Christmas Candy by Lori Walburg

4- The Year of the Perfect Christmas Tree: An Appalachian Story by Gloria Houston

5- I Believe in Santa Claus by Diane G. Adamson

6- Christmas Day in the Morning by Pearl S Buck

7- The Gift of the Magi (Holiday Classics Illustrated by P.j. Lynch) by O. Henry

8- Why Christmas Trees Aren’t Perfect by Richard H. Schneider

9- Christmas from Heaven: The True Story of the Berlin Candy Bomber by Tom Brokaw

10- The Christmas Wish (A Wish Book) by Lori Evert

11- The Twelve Days of Christmas by Britta Teckentrup

12- The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey by Susan Wojciechowski

13- Red and Lulu by Matt Tavares

14- The First Christmas Night by Keith Christopher

15- Jeannie’s Crab Lake Christmas (Crab Lake Tales) by David Mulford

16- Here Comes Santacorn (Llamacorn and Friends) by Danielle McLean

17- Peas on Earth by Jonny Marx

18- Christmas Is Joy (Emma Dodd’s Love You Books) by Emma Dodd

19- Santa’s Toy Shop (Disney) (Little Golden Book) by Al Dempster

20- Mr. Willowby’s Christmas Tree by Robert Barry

21- Little Blue Truck’s Christmas by Alice Schertle

22- Santa’s Twin by Dean Koontz

23- Snowmen at Christmas by Caralyn Buehner

24- Merry Christmas Mom and Dad (A Golden Look-Look Book) by Mercer Mayer

25- Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (Classic Board Books) by Robert L. May

26- The Nutcracker (Classic Board Books) by New York City Ballet

27- The Night Before Christmas Oversized Padded Board Book: The Classic Edition, The New York Times Bestsellerby Clement Moore

28- Christmas Train by Thomas S. Monson

29- You Are My Miracle by Maryann Cusimano Love

30- Llama Llama Jingle Bells by Anna Dewdney

31- Finding Christmas by Lezlie Evans

32- Room for a Little One: A Christmas Tale by Martin Waddell

33- The Littlest Christmas Tree by R. A. Herman

34- Little Red Sleigh: A Heartwarming Christmas Book For Children by Erin Guendelsberger

35- The Berenstain Bears and the Joy of Giving by Jan Berenstain

36- How the Grinch Stole Christmas! (Classic Seuss) by Dr. Seuss

Wedding Registry Must-haves

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My brother-in-law recently got engaged. I wanted to help them figure out what to put on their registry. When you’ve never had a home, it’s kind of daunting to figure out what you need or want! I tried to narrow down some of the most important things I feel help our home function. (Everything is hyperlinked, and I receive no commission if you click on the links)

For your wedding, ask for good quality stuff. Quality over quantity 100%! I’m kind of a brand snob, because oftentimes you get what you pay for with kitchen stuff! Brands I’m never disappointed with (and I’m easily disappointed with kitchen stuff): OXO, Kitchen Aid, Pyrex

  • Measuring spoons and cups (make sure the numbers are engraved or molded into the plastic/metal; printed numbers wash off over time. Also… plastic eventually snaps—unless it’s magical Tupperware plastic. Generally speaking, if you want something to last FOREVER.. go with metal)
  • Pastry mat (Mine is Pampered Chef, which I highly recommend. Pastry mats are great for working with any dough, or just having a clean and washable work space for… everything)
  • Silpat silicone baking mat (you’ll never need to buy parchment paper. I put these on top of my baking sheets for cookies, pretzels, granola bars, rolls, everything?)
  • Pyrex bread loaf pans (usually I make two loaves at a time.. so get two. Don’t get suckered by the fancy new silicone pans. They burn bread. At least for me. Glass is where it’s at!)
  • 9×13” pan (either Pyrex glass, or metal). You’ll use this for EVERYTHING. Brownies, yes. Casseroles, yes. Lasagna, yes. Cinnamon rolls, yes. Baked fish, yes. I’ve happily used my plain glass Pyrex 9×13” baking dish, but you can definitely go pretty fancy with a casserole dish.
  • 9.5” deep pie dish (great for pies. And quiche. I use this a few times a week) Ask for two—they stack inside each other, so you won’t use up precious kitchen cabinet space. And then you can always whip up two pies at the same time (eat one, give one. Or eat both. The options are limitless, really)
  • 9” cake pans. Cake. Enough said. 
  • 2-4 NordicWare half sheet pans. Quality really matters here (if you don’t enjoy unevenly cooked, burned food). After months of research, my Aunt bought me this brand because they are top-rated in America’s Test Kitchen. They haven’t disappointed.
  • Pots and pans. I cook for my family of 9 with three pots. Legit. A big pot, a medium pot, and a large round skillet (each with a lid, of course. Don’t forget a lid for each—they’re not always “included”). Ask for pots with great ratings that you LOVE. Our are Le Creuset (a fancy French brand, which I linked) that work on our super modern, high tech “induction” cooktop. I think that having pans be non-stick is a must-have. Unless you enjoy scraping food off your pots and slathering it in oil and butter while you’re cooking trying to prevent it from sticking. I just don’t have time for that worry in my life, so I insist on non-stick.
  • Enameled cast iron (dutch oven) pot. Use it on the stove, the oven, the freezer, even the campfire! Cook everything in it. I own two Dutch ovens—a pretty one for the kitchen, a less fancy one for camping trips (great for stews and Michael’s special peach cobbler over the campfire.. yum!). Dutch ovens were the workhorse cooking tools of our pioneer ancestors!. If you want a fancier one, there are lots of options. (I linked the one we have if you want to dream big, but there are TONS of highly rated more affordable ones)
  • Griddle. Either electric, or just a pan to sit on your stove (I use a pan, because it’s one less appliance in my kitchen)
  • Kitchen Aid rolling pin. I’ve had this exact rolling pin for over 12 years and it’s still going strong. It’s super heavy and durable. I’ve never seen a rolling pin I like better. (And yes, I’ve looked. Because there’s nothing more exciting than checking out rolling pins in every kitchen store. Don’t you agree?!) Would also work well as a home defense weapon.
  • Mini muffin tin. I use this WAY more often than normal sized cupcakes. They result in bite size morsels of joy… less commitment than an entire cupcake, so you can rationalize eating 3. Or 4. Haha. Important note: Unless you live in the land of teeny tiny ovens (Europe), basically every American oven can accommodate a mega sized pan. This means fewer batches, and less time with your oven on and you checking the timer every two minutes. Let me reiterate: get a mega pan!
  • Standard-size muffin and cupcake pan. Again, if you just want one pan for your muffin/cupcake needs, then go with the mini size. But I admittedly own both sizes. Remember… get a “mega standard size” baking pan. These will take up your entire oven, and you’ll be done baking in half the time. Also note—these are much, much cheaper on Bed Bath & Beyond or Walmart. Like half the price.
  • Blendtec Blender works as so many products in one. A food processor, an incredible blender, an ice cream maker, a soup machine, etc, etc, etc. We love ours. Side note: this company is based out of Utah, so you may want to check out factory seconds right there in town!
  • Crockpot (get one that the lid locks onto, so you won’t have a mess in your car on the way to church potlucks)
  • Bosch or Kitchen Aid stand mixer. I have a Bosch in Germany, and a Kitchen Aid in America. You’d probably love either. Have you ever made chocolate chip cookies by hand, without a mixer?…Michael has. Or kneaded bread, without a mixer?…Michael has.  I hope you NEVER have to do that. Get this. If I could only have one Kitchen appliance, this.is.it.
  • Toaster one of those often forgotten, frequently used appliances. Only get one if you make toast or freezer waffles regularly though, as this isn’t a highly functional item. This is the toaster we got for our wedding, and it still works awesome!
  • Waffle iron. They sell some that are multi-functional (grill, sandwich maker, and waffle iron.. but sometimes 3-in-1 products means they’re a jack of all trades, and truly brilliant at nothing. I prefer a square shaped waffle, because I think they stack better in the freezer (and then fit better in the toaster) when we have leftovers. Waffles and eggs are my go-to dinner on busy nights (or when we’re running low on food in the house because I’ve procrastinated grocery shopping too long…)
  • Plastic scraper spatula is definitely a must-have. I use it to stir food on the stove, cook eggs, and mix up stuff. This gets used daily.
  • Meat masher cooker thing, I don’t know how to describe this. But if you make ground beef or turkey, this is really something you’ll love having. 
  • Small cookie scoop. Makes cookies fast. And uniform-sized mini muffins and mini cupcakes and pancakes with the push of a button.
  • Pie server and also great for serving cakes!
  • Apple slicer get one that is made completely out of metal. The plastic ones just aren’t quite durable enough to get through tough apples. We eat approximately 97% more apples in our household BECAUSE we own this tool.
  • Silicone pot holder/trivet Explore the hundreds of options for these. There are lots of inexpensive, highly rated options. You’ll need at least a few of them. If you don’t put something underneath your hot pans, you’ll ruin your counters and table. You need these in your life.
  • Silicone oven mits (I hate fabric ones, because then when my thumb goes into the casserole, I have to wash it. Silicone = soooooo much better)
  • Flour bag kitchen towels. My friend who worked in a professional bakery let me in on this secret kitchen super hero. These are light weight (perfect for letting dough rise), yet absorbent (one towel can dry dishes for a large family), cheap (so you won’t go bankrupt replacing them as needed), and large (I can’t stand small, dinky towels in the kitchen). And if you have lots of time or creative energy, you can even cross-stitch cute designs on the corner!
  • Colander (extra points if it is collapsible.. because although this is a must-have, it probably isn’t something you’ll use every single day) Great for draining pasta and rinsing fruits/veggies off.
  • Nice knives. Don’t skimp here. I have a large knife set, but really I only use a few of them: small paring knife, bread knife, and a large chef knife. Sometimes it’s just easier to ask for a set that comes with a knife block (although one day I think I want to move past the knife block onto a magnetic knife bar, which seems more streamlined and doesn’t take from valuable counter space)
  • Kitchen shears (some knife sets come with one already, but if it doesn’t then get shears! Great for cutting meat and herbs. And always having scissors IN THE KITCHEN where they always belong and should never leave, to open up junk food.
  • Over the sink drying rack. These actually are heat resistant, too, so in our smaller kitchens this has been a LIFESAVER giving me more counterspace. They roll up and stow away nicely when you’re not using it (if you’re ever NOT using it).
  • Cooling rack. Get one that can actually fit INSIDE your half sheet cookie pans so it is more multi-functional… you can easily cook bacon and non-soggy grilled cheese sandwiches in the oven on the rack. Or use the cooling rack, of course, for cooling stuff!
  • Large metal spatula for serving up lasagna, casseroles, etc. We have this exact one. I like that it doesn’t have holes in it, because it is better for serving up runny casseroles.
  • Small metal server for when you’re serving smaller portions to kids, or for desserts
  • Plastic spatula (for flipping pancakes and bacon, and not scratching your pans)
  • Wooden spoon  affectionately known as a spanking spoon in our household for some reason. Weird. is must-have for making toffee… otherwise they’ll melt your plastic stirring spoon. Ask me how I know.
  • Plastic/silicone cook’s spoon really doesn’t need any elaboration. You’ll be glad you have it. Every.day.
  • Glass pitcher will be a beautiful addition to every meal.
  • Plastic stirring pitcher (we have the Pampered Chef Quick Stir pitcher, but the Rubbermaid one I linked is easier to get and also highly rated). This is how I make crepes. And juice. I use it at least a few times a week.
  • Silicone Whisk (get plastic so they won’t scrape your pans)
  • Oxo snap lock can opener is awesome, because it snaps onto your can and you just twist without having to continue pinching to keep the opener attached to the can. I have had this for 15 years, and it still works like new.
  • Potato masher (actually, I usually use this to mash bananas for banana bread. Cuz I’m a health nut in love with sugar. I also use this to mash black beans to make them unnoticeable amongst the ground beef in our tacos (a great way to make meat go further is to add in a can of beans! But only works if your family likes them, or you can “hide” them by mashing them).
  • Meat tenderizer. I hate owning tools unless I use them frequently, but there’s not really a good substitution here. You need this. You can hammer your chicken breast thin enough to cook quickly on the stovetop. You can also use it to mash up Oreos for puddings, or crackers for casseroles. Pro tip: put your meat/ingredient in a freezer Ziploc bag before pounding so you don’t have icky meat juice squirting all over the place.
  • Kitchen scale (most European recipes use weight. And weighing is actually a must more accurate way to measure ingredients)
  • Vegetable peeler. Every kitchen needs one.
  • Pot and pan scrapers are awesome for getting baked on food off your plates and pans. Also great for scraping dried on food off the floors and counters.
  • Dough Scrapers make working with dough so much easier. Can also be used to chop.
  • Cutting board. Plastic cutting boards always tempt me, but wooden cutting boards are actually more hygienic. You might also be tempted by cutting board sets. Just get one. You only actually need one. 
  • Microfiber cleaning cloths are one of those unexciting essentials. I feel like microfiber cloths are way better to wipe off counters and tables than your regular cotton cloth.
  • Dish brush. I hate sponges. They smell bad. I like this dish brush because it gets the job done, has a built in food scraper, the nylon bristles are removeable, replaceable, and dishwasher safe.
  • Utensil holder. This is NOT a must-have (especially if you want a really minimalistic kitchen). But they are handy to keep frequently used kitchen utensils organized.
  • Bread basket for serving and storing, because most meals are accompanied by carbs.
  • Fruit bowl. Even in minimalistic kitchens, choose to have a fruit basket. You’ll eat WAY more fruits and veggies if they’re readily accessible and displayed.
  • Pyrex 1 quart measuring measuring cup (probably my MOST USED ITEM EVER in the kitchen). I use it to heat veggies in the microwave, measure liquids for recipes, and for prepping food as I cook.
  • Pyrex stackable mixing bowl set with lids. I like Pyrex because they can also be used in the oven. But there are a lot of mixing bowl sets you can choose from. Just make sure they come with lids, and can stack inside each other to save space!
  • Immersion blender I don’t use this ALL the time, but it is small and quick to pull out for protein shakes and emulsify applesauce and soup without dirtying another pot
  • Boiled egg slicer, if you like boiled eggs or potato salad, is a must-have. Otherwise boiled eggs are just too slippery and difficult to cut using a knife!
  • Multi-colored plastic tumblers. Disclaimer: we don’t own these exact ones yet, but we want them. We assign each family member a different color of cup, and they are responsible for “their” cup. It saves me probably 40 hours a week from washing cups. 
  • Silverware. Remember, go for quality. This will be a wedding gift that will last your entire lifetime. If possible, go to the store in person and pick up the silverware to feel which silverware just fits awesome in your hand. Otherwise, linked is the silverware we have– Oneida is a great brand.
  • Re-play plates and bowls are made out of recycled milk jugs. And they’re what the entire family eats off 80% of the time. Haha. Smaller plates mean smaller portions.. so they help me to be more aware of exactly how much I’m shoving into my mouth.
  • Rubbermaid modular storage containers help keep the food in your pantry fresh and bug-free. I decided to invest in these when I saw a cockroach crawling out of a food bag. They also sell these at Walmart, and come in a variety of sizes. Stock up on them and use them for every single thing in your pantry. You might find something cheaper, but really I don’t skimp on products I use every day. We have had these containers for 10 years, they still look like new. These suckers will end up saving you money because your food won’t go stale or get bugs/rodents in it. They seal tight, and with my variety of sizes I can always find the “perfect” size for a bag of chips (or chocolate chips) or a bag of flour. They’re also see-through. For items I ALWAYS have (like oatmeal, flour, sugar..), we put labels on the containers. Otherwise, the containers just kind of house whatever random things we have in our pantry at the moment. Gosh. I had no idea I was so passionate about modular storage containers until now. Lol.
  • Rubbermaid Modular cereal containers. Okay, I thought I was done talking about containers, but not yet. Make sure to ask for several of these to keep your cereal in.
  • Rubbermaid Easy Find food storage are your containers for left-overs. What sets these containers apart from the rest is that the stack inside eachother, and the lids actually snap onto the bottom of each container (so you can actually keep them stored tidily. Storage container chaos is a serious first world problem. You’ll want your food storage containers to snap together so you’re not constantly searching for lids. I promise).
  • O-Cedar spin mop and bucket is awesome. You can machine wash the mop head, and it is fun to ring out the mop using the fancy bucket. If you’ve gotta mop, it can’t get any more fun than this. A quality product that has stood up for our large household!
  • Oxo broom and dustpan set. Once you have toddlers, you’ll sweep ten times a day. Invest now in a quality broom with a dustpan. Having this brings me joy every day.
  • Magnetic all-purpose clips for putting notes on the fridge or shutting your chip bag. You don’t need an enormous clip collection, just one pack of 4 should do the trick.
  • Spice rack. A place to put all your spices that will make your cooking so much better. I personally like this specific spice rack, because it perfectly fits the McCormick spice bottles that you’ll buy at the grocery store as you run low on the included spices.
  • Dyson Vacuum cleaners are especially nice because they have good suction and don’t use special vacuum bags. Just dump that dirt right into the trash. We’ve had our Dyson for 9 years, and having a quality vacuum cleaner has a significant correlation with having a happy life.
  • Card table and chairs isn’t the most glamorous thing to ask for, but we use these all the time. When we’re moving, when we’ve got guests, and currently as a permanent fixture in our family room as our kids are obsessed with playing card games right now.
  • Games, like Mexican TrainRummikubTicket to RideCarcassone, and Secret Hitler are some of our favorites.
  • First Aid Kit. Practical yet useful. Every house needs one. And also a fire extinguisher, if your apartment doesn’t come with one.
  • Ironing board and iron. My grandma once told me that she could tell which mothers loved their sons at church by which children had a freshly ironed crease on their Sunday shirt. I think about this every Sunday when my kids pull their wrinkly shirts out from under their beds. It’s best to have these on hand for church, dates, interviews, or when you have extra free time to burn.
  • Step stool. After we moved into our first home together, I realized this is one of those use-all-time-time things we made a special trip to Walmart for. 
  • Ergonomic kitchen floor mat will absolutely SAVE YOU from aching after you spend hours every week washing dishes. Love yourself, love your body, invest in a quality comfy kitchen floor mat to put in front of your sink.
  • Feather down comforter OR wool blanket (or both). Our bedroom here in Germany is freezing cold. We think it must not be insulated well, because even with our radiator on it is still quite cold. So… we don’t even bother turning our heat on. But between our feather duvet and a wool blanket, we actually stay comfortable. You will save sooooo much money if you turn down your thermostat and invest in good blankets.
  • Door hooks give you a good place to hang your purse and towels
  • Bath mats usually come with grippy stuff on the back side. Run away from those! They’ll peel in the washing machine/dryer, but worse, they will turn your bathroom floor yellow. I swear. Get bath mats WITHOUT the grip tape stuff on the underside.
  • Bathroom scales are helpful, even if you don’t like weighing yourself all the time. (Though I think it’s good to periodically check your weight). Another good use for a bathroom scale.. to make sure your suitcases aren’t overweight! (Yes, airlines most definitely do charge if your bag is 1 ounce over 50 pounds). 
  • Trash cans, and putting them on your wish list, are the biggest sign that you’ve entered adulthood. Welcome. 

German cheesecake!

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Today I learned how to make a German cheesecake. It’s really pretty inexpensive and easy to make, but without a step by step tutorial I would’ve had NO CLUE how to make this masterpiece.

Here are the ingredients you’ll need:

Schlagsahne (whipping cream)– find in the refrigerated section (approx. 2.50€)

Käse-Sahne– a special type of Gelatine that comes in a box in the baking section (approx. 1.85€)

2 Speisequark–comes in the cold section at the grocery store (1.04€)

Tortenboden— in the bread aisle (2.74€) OR alternatively, this can be homemade (see recipe at the end of this post!). This is pretty similar to angel food cake.

Now that you’ve got your 4 simple ingredients (Schlagsahne, Käse-Sahne, Speisequark, and Tortenboden), let’s move onto how to assemble your cake!

STEP 1: Place one layer of Tortenboden into the bottom of a springform pan. Spread some apricot jelly on top of it, then put the second layer of Tortenboden on top.

STEP 2: On top of the second layer of cake, you’ll put the delicious cream cheese filling! To make this filling, first mix together a few spoonfuls of apricot jelly in with about half a cup of water.

STEP 3: Add the Käse-Sahne (gelatin powder from the box) into the apricot and water mixture. Whisk together.

You should have a nice homogenous mixture that looks like this when it is all mixed up…

STEP 4: Add the two boxes of Speisequark and stir to combine. (If you’d like, you can also add a small amount of alcohol (about 1/4 cup) or a couple teaspoons of vanilla extract to add a little flavor).

STEP 5: In a separate bowl, make whipping cream– beat the Schlagsahne with a hand mixer until slightly stiff. Then add it to the Käse-Sahne/apricot jam/Speisequark mixture.

STEP 6: Stir well to combine (Käse-Sahne + apricot jam +Speisequark + whipped Schlagsahne)

STEP 7: Pour this mixture over your second layer of cake…

Smooth it out…

Pay special attention to get the air bubbles out, especially around the edges.

STEP 8: Top with the third (and last) layer of Tortenboden.

STEP 9: Sprinkle the top generously with powdered sugar…

STEP 10: Keep it in the springform pan (to give it structure while it sets) and cool in the fridge at least 4 hours, or overnight. Voila, you’re done!

Look at those delicious layers.

It cuts pretty easily. After it has been in the fridge 4+ hours, you’ll simply remove the springform and use a sharp knife.

For overachievers who want to make this COMPLETELY homemade from top to bottom, here is a recipe for the Tortenboden from Oma’s neighbor, Carmen. It’s important to make the Tortenboden the night before you’d like to assemble the cake because it needs to be completely cooled before you cut it in thirds for your cake assembly.

Homemade Tortenboden

Ingredients:

150 g white flour

35 g cornstarch

4 tsp. baking powder

185 g sugar

1 tsp vanilla extract (or 1 pkg Vanillezucker)

4 eggs

185 g butter

pinch of salt

Directions:

Whisk together flour and cornstarch. Add remaining ingredients and mix for 2 minutes. Pour into greased springform pan (26-28cm) lined with baking paper. Bake at 180 degrees C for 25 minutes. Let it cool overnight, then cut into three to make the cake!

Oma’s Igelkuchen

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A sweet old lady in our German village brought us an adorable porcupine cake for my husband’s birthday.It was super delicious– not too sweet. The entire family LOVED it, so I asked Oma for the recipe. Nothing is better than a recipe written by a Grandma on a scrap of paper that she has carefully saved in a box!

I looked at this recipe, and had no idea what she meant. American and German recipes are just… different. I asked Oma how much a cup is, for instance. Do German and American recipes use the same measuring cup?? Oma pulled out a little cup from her cupboard and declared that that was the cup she uses for baking.

It looks like about a regular sized American “1 cup”. So… here’s her recipe that I’ve rewritten exactly using her clarifications!

Igelkuchen Recipe

5 eggs

2 cups sugar

1 cup flour

1 pkg baking powder (15 grams)

1 cup finely chopped nuts (hazelnut or walnut)

1 cup coconut flakes

1 cup chocolate milk powder (like Nesquick)

1 cup oil

1 cup mineral water (she said you can also use “still” water–normal tap water)

Mix it all together. Then “bake it until it is finished,” Oma says. I’d say 350 degrees F for about 25 minutes.. or whenever a toothpick in the middle comes out clean.

One of the things that confused me the most about German baking recipes is that they use packages of baking powder (not like in America, where we use teaspoons and tablespoons). So the recipes in German say to use a package of Backpulver (baking powder). 

I am slowly learning the slight differences in how German recipes are written. And it’s worth the effort! I am a huge fan of the desserts in Germany because they’re not SUUUUPER sweet, and they’re usually so aesthetically pleasing. Oma says that after the Igelkuchen bakes and cools, she puts Nutella over top and then sticks the almonds in to make the spikes on the porcupine. Enjoy!

What to keep out during a PCS

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We’ve moved twice in the past year, and I’m thankfully getting much better at determining what we should NOT let the packers take. There is a lending closet on each base, but what they have to offer varies TREMENDOUSLY. I’ve found it is best to just keep out the bare essentials myself.

Kitchen Essentials

#1- A large sauce pan. I’ve used this to make pastas, soups, scrambled eggs, pancakes… basically anything made on stovetop I use this pan for! I’ve even used the saucepan in place of a large bowl to mix up some cake batter.

#2- A baking sheet. The movers packed our microwave, so using the oven is the only way to heat up essentials like chicken nuggets and pre-made cookie dough. It’s a definite essential.

#3- Casserole dish. This bakes everything else that you just can’t make in a saucepan or baking sheet– lasagna, chicken enchiladas, casseroles, German pancakes… all the “real” food after everyone gets tired of eating chicken nuggets! Ha

#4- large plastic spoon. Used to stir, serve, cook. It can even be used to flip pancakes (although if you have the room, I’d save out a spatula too)

#5- dish cloth. To wipe up the inevitable spills, dry dishes, AND (perhaps most importantly) to use as an oven mit when getting things out of the oven!

#6- plates, bowls, cups, plastic utensils. We have 5 kids, and I kept 7 plastic bowls, 5 plastic plates, and a box of plastic utensils. We have to wash between each and every meal, but this has been the bare essential that helped us get through.

#7- Berkey water filter. Hotel water always tastes disgusting, in my opinion. We purchased a Berkey when we were stationed somewhere with dangerous water. It is incredible and one of the most worthwhile investments we’ve ever made. We made room in our suitcases to fit it because having clean water is a necessity.

#8- can opener. So many things require a can opener… vegetables, soups, tuna, etc. Having this small kitchen essential opens the possibilities for meal options significantly, trust me.

Toiletries

#1- a towel for each person. We’ll be without our household goods for atleast a month at each end of our move. I forgot towels last time, and that was extremely inconvenient. Grab towels!

#2- soap and shampoo. Usually the packers won’t take this anyways.

Clothes

#1- atleast 7 outfits for each person (underwear, socks, shirts, pants).

#2- jacket or sweatshirt. We’ve moved in August expecting to get our things before cold weather hit, but things rarely work out as planned. We were very cold. I won’t move without a jacket ever again!

#3- two large mesh laundry bags. (One for lights, one for darks). Trying to keep clean clothes sorted from the dirty clothes is tough. Figuring out how to get a ton of dirty clothes to the laundromat without anything to put them in… 😬

Sleeping

#1- something for each person to sleep on (air mattress, cot, camp mat, Pack n Play)

We have a large family. This is how we slept everyone for a month in an empty house… an air mattress for me and my husband.

Three toddler sized cots for our little kids (these work great for ages 2-5)!

An air mattress for our oldest, and a Pack n Play for our youngest..

#2- sheets and a blanket for each person. I forgot this last move and really regretted it!

Entertainment

#1– phones, iPad, and chargers

#2– DVD player

#3– laptop

We also kept out coloring books and magazines, with the plan to pitch them when we leave the hotel.

Minimalist living isn’t as bad as it might seem. You’ll have SOOO much more time! We’re rethinking what things we want to keep once our household goods are delivered!

Fantastic baby shower gifts

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My mom asked me what I should get for someone who recently had a baby. The more babies I’ve had, the fewer baby items I’ve kept. Having just another thing to pick up doesn’t ease my mothering experience. I have become pickier about what I buy and about what I allow to stay in our home. Our baby gadgets are well-loved and frequently used. Here are some of my favorite things that would make great gifts!

#1– Bandana drool bibs

A lot of babies are really slobbery. Our little guy wears one of these bibs all day, every day (I change them several times a day!). I bought an 8-pack of “KeaBabies” bandana drool bibs on an Amazon Lightening Deal for less than $10 that I’ve been extremely happy with. There are many brands to choose from though; I’d let customer reviews and sale prices dictate what you buy. This is a great gift even for moms who have older children, since bibs stain and look “used” even after just one baby 🙂

#2– teething necklaces

New parents will really appreciate this gift when teething suddenly hits their little one. You can get an amber necklace for the baby to wear (a lot of people swear these help soothe their fussy babies), or you can get a necklace with beads that can be chewed on for mom to wear. I love wearing a built-in toy that also functions as jewelry! Having a fun necklace around my neck specifically for him to chew on distracts him from pulling my earrings and hair!! Haha. Here are two examples from Amazon…

#3– Teething toy

Having a great teething toy is a must-have. Mom and baby will both appreciate this. We own a “Sophie the Giraffe” teething toy, which has been an absolute favorite for our last 3 babies.

The Sophie is a bit pricey, so if you’re looking for a slightly less expensive teething toy, the banana brush is very popular among moms and babies!

#4– Aiden + Anais swaddle blankets

I use these blankets to swaddle my newborns, to shield my babies from the sun when they’re in the stroller and car seat, as a nursing cover, and as a clean place to play on the floor. They are so multi-functional! I like that they are lightweight, so I use them even during hot Summer months. And I also like that they are big (I find the size of traditional receiving blankets to be pretty worthless).

#5– Swaddle bag

I received one of these as a gift for our second baby, and several babies later I’m still using it! They are so great to calm fussy babies, and it’s much easier than swaddling a baby the traditional way (and for Summer babies, it’s much cooler!). One of our babies was an escape artist from traditional blanket swaddles, but having a swaddle bag kept him contained and calm. Swaddling replicates the feeling of the womb, and helps babies feel safe and secure. For our babies, it has made a HUGE difference in helping them to sleep well.

We own a “Woombie” swaddle bag…

Another brand I’m super fond of is ErgoPouch. They’re an Australian company, and I’ve been impressed with the quality of their things. Whichever brand you choose, look for one with a zipper (NOT Velcro). Zippers wash much better (Velcro snags on everything in the washing machine) and is much quieter to open and close.

#6– Sleep sacks

These are very common in Europe, but interestingly much harder to find in the United States. If I had to chose just ten baby items to keep, hands down this would make my list. Studies have shown that adults sleep best at a temperature around 65 degrees F; however, that is pretty cold for a tiny baby! I’m pretty frugal, so honestly I really started investigating sleep sacks when we moved to a place in the middle of winter that was heated with electricity (sooo expensive!!). Putting our baby in a sleep sack allowed us to keep our thermostat significantly lower, while also keeping our baby safely warm and snug (without the suffocation hazard of traditional quilts and blankets). For cold temperatures (between 61-68 degrees F), choose a sleep sack with a 2.5 – 3.5 TOG. We own and LOVE two different brands of sleep sacks– an ErgoPouch (with a 3.5 TOG) and a DeeDee Baby Sleep Nest Teddy (with a 2.5 TOG). I alternate between them; our baby sleeps in it every single night during the Winter!

#7– Baby shoes!

When parents bring their newborn home from the hospital, crawling might seem like such a long way off… but it quickly sneaks up on you! Having a good quality pair of shoes for a crawler is another must-have (otherwise baby’s toes end up with scrapes!). I have been extremely happy with Robeez baby shoes. They are nice quality leather, slip on easily, and stay on!

Our baby wears Robeez every day. (Without them on, he pulls off his socks and stuffs them in his mouth… 😂). Not only do the Robeez help his socks to stay on, but they protect his toes as he crawls around, and keep his feet warm.

It’s a challenge keeping socks on newborns, too. They kick and squirm so much! A great brand to look at for newborn shoes/booties is “Zutano”. They snap into place, so the new parents won’t constantly be searching for lost baby booties!

#8– Baby ComfyNose

This might seem like a weird gift. But I promise that when baby gets his inevitable first cold in the middle of the night, mom and dad will be soooo grateful to have this. You use the suction for your own mouth to clear out baby’s nose (using a tissue as a filter!). It’s been such a lifesaver for our sick babies.

#9– Baby toys

The usual go-to baby shower gifts are clothes and diapers. But six months down the road, the new parents are going to be especially grateful for entertainment for their busy baby!

Our favorite baby toys are:

-Tupperware shape sorter

-Wooden block stacker from IKEA

-Phone and keys

-Plastic stacking cups (great for bath tub play!)

-A few rattles and stuffed toys that make crunchy sounds

#10- Dinner

One of the best baby gifts we received was from my cousin Emily, who ordered us pizza delivery from Domino’s for dinner one night after our baby was born. Everyone needs to eat, and having food delivered to the new mom not only feeds her but also gives her time to rest and time to bond with her new baby. Make a meal and bring it to her. Or ask what her favorite restaurant is, and arrange for it to be delivered. My cousin lived over a thousand miles away, but she looked up our local Domino’s and paid over the phone to have dinner delivered to us. It was such a fantastic gift!