5minutefridayTeam. I’ve never really been good at teams.

 I’m woefully unathletic. I’m seriously clumsy…like I was worried I would fall on my face while walking down the aisle on my wedding day kind of clumsy.

I’m completely type A. Control freak to the core. Probably why being on other teams can be so hard for me. I try to micromanage everything. It’s probably my very worst personal trait. I can’t help myself. And it’s only gotten worse over the years. At least I am aware of it.

But…I am a good player for one team. My little family of three. I’ve used my micromanagement skills to budget the hell out of our finances over the last few years. Those of you who remember the frivolous spending of my single youth, please don’t laugh. It’s true. Just ask the other half of the team, my husband. He will tell you that I actually do the monthly budgeting, the house hunting budgeting, the house renovation budgeting, the furniture fund budgeting, the meal planning budgeting…the list goes on. It’s something I’m pretty proud of considering my youthful monetary indiscretions.

I jumped on the Dave Ramsey train. I drank the kool-aide and am better for it. Well, our team is better for it. I miss out on some things due to strict budget matters: a girls’ week’s this year, a postponed romantic getaway last year, pricy gifts for each other at the holidays. But our team looked at the big picture and decided that our plus one requires us to be a little frugal for now. We are okay with that because we know it won’t be forever. There is a light at the end of the tunnel. We can almost see it, in fact. And when it’s so bright we have to put on sunglasses, maybe we can treat ourselves some tropical vacation.

Until that time, this team I’m on will keep the belt tightened just a little extra for the greater good. Don’t worry friends, I’ll be back out there soon enough on your team, again. Until then, have fun doing what you do and save a me a spot for the next girls’ trip.

I am participating in FIVE MINUTE FRIDAY.  Today’s word is:  team


The rules are simple. Write for five minutes flat. There is no extreme editing; no worrying about perfect grammar, font, or punctuation. It is unscripted. Unedited. Real

Three Years…and counting

Today marks two years since I started this blog with the post linked HERE.  I wrote that blog as a reflection of the time since my house flooded…documented HERE.  I’ve been MIA for the last twelve plus months.  Click HERE, HEREHEREHERE, and HERE if you want to see why.  Life is busy.  I know this.  You know this.  Your house floods.  Your mom dies.  You have a baby.  Somehow, the world keeps spinning.  But some things don’t change.

THREE years ago today, my home flooded.  We lost everything.  It was an epic Noah’s Arc type flood that destroyed our lives and set us on a path we never could have expected.  Three years later, we are still at a standstill.  The governmental help that was promised has yet to be executed.  WHAT?  How can that be?  I’m still unsure.  We were promised a buy out.  We have been shifted list-to-list between the Village and the County.  No one is in any hurry except those of us who are homeless.  What can you do but wait?

Well, you can plan for the future that WILL come.  Come hell or high water (pun intended), we will come out the other side.  We have purchased a new home for those wondering.  It needs a WHOLE LOTTA LOVE.  I want to start documenting the process of renovating our new home here on this blog.  When it is complete, it will be a reveal worthy of any HGTV show.

We are proud that through all of this, we have kept our heads above water with the generosity of family and friends.  We are moving forward while the little Lisle house stands still.  Stay tuned for pictures and updates as we move long on our new journey.


So, I haven’t done a Memory Monday in a very long time.  I haven’t actually blogged in a long time.  I guess being pregnant keeps you just a busy as the actual baby.  What have I been doing?  Nesting.  Nesting at work and nesting at home.  My classroom is officially set up for my maternity leave.  Lessons are planned, worksheets are copied, IEPs are written.  Very little left to do and if it didn’t all get done…no one would know but me.  Nesting at home…eh.  Laundry is done.  We had two BEAUTIFUL showers hosted by our families.  So many generous gifts…so much to organize.

My mom had 6 babies in 5 pregnancies.  I remember a little about my brother Ds pregnancy but I remember a LOT about her pregnancy with the twins.  I don’t remember her being nearly as neurotic as I am.  Maybe it was because these boys were her FIFTH and SIXTH children.  Maybe it was because she had pretty much everything she ever needed so prepping wasn’t necessary.  Maybe I just don’t remember as well as I thought.  What I do remember from then and years after, were a lot of easy to prep, budget friendly meals that could be put together with a toddler attached to you legs while you fed a couple of babies.  One of our of my sister L’s favorites…was chicken and rice.  Everything gets prepped and baked in one dish making it the ultimate meal of ease.  A few pantry staples and a package of chicken and you had dinner!  So…tonight, in honor of my mom and the upcoming arrival of Baby Boss…I give you Chicken and Rice!

Chicken and Rice

  • 1 lb chicken trimmed and cut to preference–I cut into long strips (more or less as necessary)
  • 1 can cream of chicken soup (I use LF soups)
  • 1 can cream of mushroom (sub with another chicken or even celery if allergies or preferences)
  • 1 can white rice
  • 2-3 cans water or broth
  • onion soup packet
  1. Mix together the rice, water/broth, and soups.  Top with chicken.  Top that with soup packet.
  2. Bake tightly covered with foil for 90 minutes on 350* to 375*
  3. Bake last 10 minutes uncovered.
  4. Serve with fresh bread.

Baby, it’s cold outside…

The polar vortex has reach Chicagoland again this winter.  It was a whopping -1* today with a windchill around -25* to -30*.  School was cancelled as it is again tomorrow.  What am I supposed to do besides a little kitchen maintenance?  Nothing makes me feel quite as accomplished as making sure all my spice jars are filled and my seasoning blends are made.

I used to keep my herbs and spices in their original containers in the cabinet.  The problem was, since I bought them at all difference stores, they were all different sizes.  It looked messy.  So many of them would be lost in the back of the cabinet…only to have me buy a duplicate.  After I moved into my parents’ house and took over the cooking in their AH-mazing kitchen, I came up with a new plan that I hope to bring with me to our new house when we get one.  It’s a spice DRAWER!!IMG_2961

I bought these little 4 ounce jelly jars at Walmart.  They were maybe $5 for the case at the time on clearance.  Make sure they fit neatly into the drawer you want to use or stack neatly into your cabinets.  I’m picturing a cute little 2-tiered Lazy Susan with the spices stacked 2 tall in one of those useless end cabinets.  Oh…now I want a spice cabinet!!

Then I started looking at the spices and herbs I REALLY use regularly.  I chose my 12 GO-TO spices and herbs and poured each one into the jars.  I made sure to label the top and side of each jar.  Anyone who cooks always ends up with their spices uncovered.  I found out quickly if you didn’t label both the top and side, you couldn’t match up the lid to the jar or you would have to sniff each spice to figure out what it was.  Not effective if you have a cold.  If I had really been on my game, I would have printed the labels with an awesome font instead of a permanent marker.  This works and took NO time.  IMG_2962

I took any leftover spices–either due to a large original container or duplicates or what have you–and put them into a simple plastic shoebox to store on a lower shelf of the pantry.  This is my back-up box.  I use this to keep my refill containers.  I will also buy in bulk when I can and store in emptied containers.  Think Sam’s Club, Costco, or even the grocery store bulk bins (they come in plastic bags usually).  I do keep some empty containers in there as I finish them off…you’ll see why in a minute.

IMG_2960Every so often, I simply lift each jar and see if it needs refilling.  If it does, I retrieve my handy plastic shoe box and refill away.  I replenish the shoe box items as they run out.  It is really simple.  It keeps my inventory relatively stocked without have duplicates or even triplicates (hello garlic powder) lying around.

Now, what do I do with all these spices and herbs other than my regular dinners?  I make spice blends!!  I have really moved away from packets for a lot of reasons–think taco seasoning, chili seasoning, and salad dressings.  One reason is that they are FULL of sodium.  I am not a health nut by any means.  But I do try to cut back where I can.  Those packets taste so damn salty to me.  Probably because of reason number 2–the MSG!!  So much of it is lurking in your packets as well as your bottled salad dressings.  It gives me major headaches.  This is one way I’ve gotten around that.  Number 3 is that they just taste better.  I can add what I like and remove what I don’t.  Not a fan of cilantro?  Eliminate it.  Prefer a little more kick?  Add some cayenne.  Finally, it’s so much cheaper.  I don’t usually use expensive, hard to find spices.  I can get most of them at Aldi–have I professed my love for that place?  They are under a buck there.  Make a blend that is equivalent to 10 packets and you have really saved a bit of cash.


So, listed below are my 4 favorite blends:  taco seasoning, chili seasoning, italian dressing, and ranch dressing.  I typically make them in a large disposable plastic cup.  That way there is a big enough neck for adding those larger amounts and to get in there with a fork (best utensil for this) to really mix them up before pouring them into their storage containers.  I use something similar to these 1 quart spice containers since I make larger batches.  I have no problem finding them at my regular mom-and-pop grocery store.  You might want to start off with a smaller empty spice container from one you’ve used up (remember I said I saved some) or even a glad ware container until you perfect the recipes for your tastes.  When I make the spice blend for someone, I will typically use an empty spice container and even type up the mix and recipe to tape to the bottle.  In my house, I am not that fancy.  I just write on the container in a permanent marker and keep the recipe in the notes section of my phone!

Bulk Taco Seasoning

adapted from:

1/4 cup dried onions , minced
1/4 cup chili powder
4 teaspoons cornstarch
1 tablespoon dried garlic , minced
1 tablespoon cumin , ground
1 tablespoon red pepper flakes , crushed (optional)
2 teaspoons beef bouillon granules
1  1/2 teaspoons dried oregano
2 tablespoons dried cilantro

2x recipe to fill 1 quart container


Combine the ingredients.
Store in an airtight container in a cool dry place for up to 1 year.
Add 2-3 Tablespoons to 1 lb. browned and drained beef with 1/3-1/2 cup water.

Store in an airtight container in a cool dry place for up to 1 year.
Add 2-3 Tablespoons to 1 lb. browned and drained beef with 1/3-1/2 cup water and 1 can diced tomatoes with their juices.
Simmer until reduced.

Bulk Chili Seasoning 

adapted from:
2 tablespoons flour
3 tablespoons chili powder
2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon red pepper flake
1 tablespoon dried minced onion
1 tablespoon dried minced garlic
1 tablespoon sugar
4 teaspoons cumin
4 teaspoons parsley
1 teaspoon basil
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon seasoning salt
1/2 to 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon paprika (smoked if you have it)

3x recipe to fill quart size container

You use about 2-3 tablespoon of the seasoning mix for 1 pound of meat, 1 can of chili style tomatoes, 1 can of hot chili beans, 1 can of pure pumpkin puree, and 1 can of tomato sauce. I promise…the pumpkin adds the perfect consistency, extra fiber, and just a little something extra. I also usually add a drizzle of honey and just a pinch of cinnamon. It’s that thing in the background that you can’t put your finger on but makes it delicious.

Keep a can of SPICY V-8 on hand if you need to thin it out.  Play with the seasoning recipe if you want.  You are going to get the spice from the red pepper and the cayenne–not the cumin.

Bulk Italian Dressing Mix–similar to Good Seasonings

adapted from:

1 tablespoon garlic salt
1 tablespoon onion powder
1 tablespoon white sugar
2 tablespoons dried oregano
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon dried basil
1 tablespoon dried parsley
1/4 teaspoon celery salt
1 tablespoon lemon pepper (VERY IMPORTANT)
1 tablespoon dried red and green bell pepper (if you can find–I only found it once–it’s fine without it)
2 tablespoons salt (I skipped salt all together)

In a small bowl, mix everything together.  Store in a tightly sealed container.

To prepare dressing, mix together 1/4 cup white vinegar, 2/3 cup canola oil, 2 tablespoons water and 2 tablespoons of the dry mix.  Shake until combined. Best left overnight.

Lower oil recipe:
Mix 2 tablespoons dressing mix with 1/4 cup vinegar and 2 tablespoons warm water.  Shake.  Then add 1/4 cup olive oil and 1/4 cup cold water.  Best left overnight.

Bulk Ranch Dressing Mix–similar to Hidden Valley

adapted from:

½ cup dry buttermilk powder (I find this at Walmart in the baking aisle)
1 tablespoon dried parsley for blending + 1 teaspoon reserved
½ teaspoon dried dill weed for blending + ½ teaspoon reserved
1 teaspoon onion powder
1 teaspoon dried onion flakes
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon garlic powder
2 tablespoons pieces dried portabello mushrooms (IMPORTANT INGREDIENT)
1 teaspoon garlic salt
¼ teaspoon ground pepper
½ teaspoon sugar

Add all the dry ingredients except the reserved teaspoon of dried parsley and the ½ teaspoon of dried dill to your blender. Blend until a nice powder.
Hand mix in the reserved parsley and dill – you want to see some herbs in your mix.
Store dry mix in an air-tight container or jar in your pantry for 2-3 months or in the freezer for 6 months or longer.

Hidden Valley Ranch Dip:
Mix 2 tablespoons of dry mix with ½ – 1 cup of Sour Cream. Chill for 2 hours and serve as a dip. If for some reason your sour cream isn’t very thick, and you want your dip to really set up thickly add in ½ teaspoon of unflavored gelatin.

Hidden Valley Ranch Dressing for salads:
Mix together
3 Tablespoons Dry Ranch Dip mix
1 cup of mayonaise
2/3 cup buttermilk


What Baby Wants…

Probably not a big shocker to most, but I am pregnant.  I’m about 26 weeks along on this new adventure.  I have been blessed.  I feel great.  I haven’t had the dreaded morning sickness or complete exhaustion.  It’s been a rather uneventful pregnancy so far. This must be a gift from my mom for sure.

***excuse me while I look for something wooden to knock on***

To answer a few questions:
1. I am due April 10.
2. We are not finding out if we are having a boy or a girl–in a couple of years of bad surprises, this one will ALWAYS be a good. You’ll get a boy or a girl EVERY SINGLE TIME.
3. We have a couple of names picked out but we aren’t sharing…you’ll just have to wait.
4. No–we will not change our minds about finding out or sharing names.
5. I do not have any weird cravings–see below.

So about those cravings…nope.  Sure, I really love all things noodles: buttered noodles, spaghetti, a good casserole, mac & cheese, even ramen noodles will hit the spot–but I try not to indulge too often!  The cuties were especially delicious this year. I like orange juice a lot but I’ve had a cold for 5 months so that could have something to do with it. But nothing I feel the need to send my husband out looking for in the week hours of the morning has struck my fancy. Lucky guy.

However, this week, the baby told me a secret.  The little bug really wanted my grandma’s homemade pizza. Now, there are a few conflicting recipes for this one. My Aunt N SWEARS grandma used Jiffy Mix brand pizza dough. The rest of us all are certain it was Pillsbury Hot Roll Mix so that’s what I use. Regardless of what dough we use–we all agree on the ground beef. An odd pizza topping for sure, but it is what grandma always used, what my mom always used, and what I always use. As a kid, that was the only topping on the pizza besides the ooey gooey cheese layer. As an adult, we added canned mushrooms and even pepperoni.

I call this homemade pizza but let’s be real, it’s a box crust, a store bought sauce, and refrigerator toppings. But I assemble it myself and that’s good enough. I don’t remember if there was a certain sauce used, but I tend to buy the Cantadina sauce in the squeeze bottle so I can keep leftovers in the fridge.

Grandma’s Homemade Pizza

1 box PILLSBURY HOT ROLL MIX (sorry N–we all agree on this except you)
1 can, jar, bottle pizza sauce
12 oz cheese (motz, Italian blend, etc.)
1/3 lb ground beef
1 small can mushroom drained
Pepperoni (I like turkey pepperoni)
Salt and Pepper

Make the dough according the the directions on the box. You use 1 1/4 cup hot water and 3 tablespoons olive oil. Mix and knead according to the box.

Push your dough out into a cookie sheet (I don’t know why a cookie sheet–it’s just what we use).

Use a fork to poke holes all over the dough, cover with Saran Wrap and a towel. Let rise for 15 minutes. This is a good time to start preheating your oven to 425*.

Add your sauce and your toppings. Grandma and my mom always used the ground beef raw–this creeps me out. I get worried it will not cook through so I partially brown it while the dough is rising.

Top with cheese.

Sprinkle with oregano, salt and pepper liberally. This is also where Aunt N’s memory differs with mine and my moms. She puts the oregano under the cheese and I’m pretty certain she doesn’t use the salt and pepper but I could be wrong. The oregano definitely goes on top. I don’t know why–it just does.

Toss in the oven for 15-20 minutes. I like to put the broiler on for the last minute or two so the cheese browns a little. Since the mushrooms are a wetter ingredient, it prevents this from happening on its own.

Allow to rest for a few minutes before cutting into squares.

That’s it. A childhood memory come to life right at the kitchen island. That’s were most of my memories start. Just the scent of sown thing familiar can bring me back to when I first experienced it.



Memory Monday: Taking Comfort

It’s been along time since I wrote for Memory Monday.  Of course, being Tuesday, I am still a bit late.

There are just those things I find most comforting.  I’m sure it is the same for everyone.  Some of my favorites include

  • the delicious scent of a pot of soup on the stovetop on a cool afternoon
  • cozy PJs in a bed with clean sheets–bonus if it was made by Marcella the super cleaning lady
  • the buttery decadence of family recipe known as Susie’s Favorite
  • and thunderstorms…

Well, it used to be thunderstorms.  As you can imagine, I lost my love of thunderstorms shortly after the flood.  I slept so soundly the night that the house flooded that I often wonder if I had woken earlier would anything have been different?  You cannot live with the shoulda, coulda, woulda‘s.  It’ll drive you batty.  Since the flood, I have been less than comforted by raindrops against my windows.  A storm now brings anxiety and stress…

…that is, until last night.  For some reason, snuggled up with the hubby, I was once again comforted by the sounds of the rain.  Maybe it was because I was just that exhausted.  Maybe it was because I finally have put it all behind me.  Who knows.  But when we went to bed at 8:00 last night…yes–8:00…I drifted off into a peaceful sleep waking only to lulled back again by nature’s lullaby.  I would like to imagine I had a lazy little smile on my face but that would be silly.  I was probably mouth breathing and drooling a bit.  Regardless, last night, I was comforted once again.

This weekend I indulged in another comfort, the infamous Susie’s Favorite.  I am sure that it was designed to feed a lot of hungry mouths for not a lot of money.  Most people are a little boggled by this bizarre family pasta that brings me back to the house on Ridgeway with the tiny kitchen.  I remember having it most often on Friday’s during lent or Saturday afternoons at Grandma’s house.  It could be made without milk–which I am sure we were always out of with 6 kids gulping it down at every meal.  I would guess that it has more bang for your buck over a few boxes of mac and cheese.  Nevertheless, it is the taste of my childhood.  Having introduced some childhood and college friends to this yummy dish, I am sure we were the craziest family out there to pass this off as some sort of normal meal.  I put it up there with those tomatoes with bread: an acquired taste that just reminds you of home.  Although I never asked {damn}, I am sure that the one-pot-wonder was named after my Aunt Sue.  I imagine that us 6 McKenna kids turned our noses up at this orange colored, mac and cheese wannabe.  Then I am guessing that my mom called it Aunt Susie’s Favorite.  Who could argue with that review?

Susie’s Favorite

1-8 oz. box of small pasta (my mom always used elbows while grandma’s house usually had shells–I like the shells better but will settle for whatever is in the pantry)
1 can tomato soup
1/2 stick butter or margarine

Make the noodles according the the directions on the box.
Drain and return to the pot.
Add the can of tomato soup and the butter–NO WATER…trust me!
Stir until the butter is melted and serve immediately.



Every ending is a new beginning. These past 15-17 months have seen a lot of endings and beginnings.

I ended my carefree single days but began a partnership with the love of my life.

I ended my time in the little apartment I grew into a home–first with my BBF then all by myself–and began converting the little riverfront bachelor pad into a newlywed nest…which quickly ended in disaster.

My mother’s earthly time was abruptly ended followed by her glorious welcome to the afterlife where she is our personal guardian angel. It is this ending and beginning which is the most difficult to understand and accept. In the 6 months since she’s left us, not a single day goes by without some vivid reminder of her. Sometimes it is a whiff of the lotion she always used. Other times it is a glimpse of  a new movie I know she would have loved. But most often it is the times when I am I reach for the phone. She was the first phone call I made EVERY SINGLE day as I left work.

-What are you making for dinner?

-Want to swing by Kohl’s?

-I’m stopping for a coffee. Want one?

Simple questions I would ask. Simple answers would follow. She was always up for Kohl’s or coffee. She was usually making something with noodles and sauce. I miss these conversations which were recordings of themselves. They came to an end without a clear new beginning for me.

I still have coffee with my mom at least once a week. I talk to her about my new beginnings and what had to end to start them. She’s not much for giving advice these days. But sometimes, if I listen really carefully, I can hear her pointing me in the right direction.


I am participating in FIVE MINUTE FRIDAY.  Today’s word is:  begin

The rules are simple. Write for five minutes flat. There is no extreme editing; no worrying about perfect grammar, font, or punctuation. It is unscripted. Unedited. Real.