Tag Archives: cooking

What a Weekend!!

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What a full weekend we had. It was packed to the gills with projects, places to go, and things to do. It was a crazy weekend, but a productive weekend…and boy did we all sleep well Sunday night!

Here is a peek into all the craziness we crammed into a 48-hour period…

Saturday began at 7:00 am. Rusty had a bike ride scheduled with the other young men from church. They planned to meet up at 7:45 and would be gone most of the morning. The plan was to conclude their excursion at the comic book store where an annual basement blowout was being held, offering thousands of comics for only $1.oo/each.

Rusty “rolled” back home around noon, tired and happy, eager to show off his comic book finds.

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The big task of the day was canning. A friend from church found a great deal on apples that we couldn’t pass up. We bought two bushels and the plan was to spend the day turning our bushels of apples into applesauce and apple pie filling. When these plans were made I thought I’d have a whole crew of helpers in the kitchen with me for the day, but soon other opportunities began to trump canning, leaving me in the kitchen with a revolving door of helpers coming and going through the day.

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My first helper of the day was Tyler. He had a few hours until he needed to leave the house and eagerly jumped on the task of coring and peeling apples for applesauce.

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At 10:00 am he had to leave with Toby and the girls jumped into his place as second and third in command.

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Tyler and Toby were off to Pittsburgh for some unexpected fun. The previous night, while out with friends, we were offered two free tickets to a Pitt football game at Heinz field. It was decided that Toby would take Tyler. Tyler is by far the biggest football fan in the family and we knew he could use some Daddy/son time after the unsettling week he had had seeing Ozzie leave.

It was just what they both needed. They were able to escape for a few hours and enjoy some mindless fun and male bonding over football and popcorn, and they had a perfect day for it. The weather was beautiful!

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At 11:00 am I lost Grace and Molly as canning helpers when they left for an event at Gracie’s school. As part of Gracie’s American Sign Language classes, she must attend a certain number of deaf events each semester. This is something Grace looks forward to and on this particular Saturday her ASL club was hosting a tie-dye activity at the school. Grace decided to invite Molly along. Molly has struggled a bit with the life changes that have occurred in our home lately. The absence of Ozzie and seeing less of Grace due to Gracie’s busy school and work schedule, has left her feeling a bit lost. Noticing this, Grace invited Molly out for a sister date. They made plans to attend the tie-dye activity and then go to Rita’s for an Italian ice after the event was over.

Both girls had a wonderful time. The ASL club had a good turn out and everyone enjoyed getting messy. The club supplied socks for everyone to tie-dye, but participants could bring other items to tie-dye as well. Grace and Molly each brought a pillowcase to color. It was a fun activity for them to share. Molly enjoyed getting to know some of Gracie’s college friends, and enjoyed getting to use some of her ASL skills.

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At noon Rusty returned home, thanks to a kind young men’s leader who dropped him off on our doorstop, and then Rusty jumped into the fray of apple canning. At this point I was onto apple pie filling and Rusty helped me peel, core, and slice apples for the pie filling. He was a great help and my efficiency increased significantly with another set of hands in the kitchen.

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We also made a large batch of oven dried cinnamon apple slices to enjoy as snacks. As the slices slowly dried in the warm ovens the entire house took on the delicious smell of autumn.

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Around this same time Toby was heading back out of Pittsburgh to pick up the girls (after they dropped off Mimi Joy’s car that she graciously lent them for the day) and head up north for Tyler’s equine therapy.

He had another wonderful session on his horse, Smokey, and he enjoyed sharing his experience with Toby and the girls. He is a natural on the horse and we are finding the lessons to be hugely therapeutic.

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After lessons Toby and the kids made a quick stop at Baldingers Candy Shop for some sweet treats.

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It was now 3:00 pm and things were winding down in the kitchen. The apple slices were dried and the canning was complete. My legs ached and I was covered in dried, sticky, apple juice…but what a satisfying feeling it was to gaze upon the fruits of our labors!

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It also happened to be General Conference weekend, a twice annual event in our church where we have the opportunity to hear from leadership in the form of a worldwide broadcast. It is a special weekend comprised of 4 two-hour sessions that we can watch from the comfort of our own home and receive counsel, guidance and uplifting messages from inspired speakers. We try to make it an extra special experience with a fun breakfast, activities, and booklets to help the kids take notes and stay engaged.

On Sunday morning, Rusty volunteered to be in charge of breakfast. He stumbled across a recipe online that he wanted to try. It was peanut butter and jelly French toast…and it was delicious!

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While Rusty cooked breakfast, everyone else sat down to write a letter to Ozzie. This will become a regular Sunday task. My plan is to help facilitate connection between the kids through pen pal letters. There is healing that needs to occur and written letters seem a good way to foster a renewed connection in a safe and non-threatening way. The stack of letters will then be mailed one at a time through the week, creating a steady influx of mail for Ozzie, hopefully making him feel of our love and letting him know he is not forgotten.

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For General Conference, I printed out our traditional bingo game and filled a bowl with our “prizes,” as well as created note taking doodle packets for the kids to use as they watched.

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It was wonderful to spend that time as a family and receive inspired guidance and direction.

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Sunday afternoon we also had a visit with Ozzie. It couldn’t have gone any better. He is doing beautifully and this Momma’s heart overflowed with gratitude to see him so at peace. It was a joy to get that time with him to catch up and reconnect.

Sunday night we enjoyed a game night for our Family Night activity. Friends from co-op, who also are avid board gamers, lent us an escape room game they purchased. We love these sorts of games and this one was no exception. We had a blast racing the clock and working as a team to solve the puzzles needed to win the game.

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We were successful!

It truly was a non-stop, crazy weekend…

Filled to the brim with busyness…

Filled to the brim with blessings!

A Berry Busy Day

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On Friday we left the house at 10:00am and didn’t return until 2:00am. It was a very full day filled with an abundance of blessings.

Our day consisted of strawberry picking, a graduation party, a school bus inspection, a two hour drive to pick up Tyler’s biological brother for a weekend visit, an unexpected request to babysit two of our little friends for the weekend, and an evening at the drive-in movie theatre to see “Finding Dory!”

That is a lot of crazy crammed in one day, but we pulled it off!

Due in large part to Toby!

 Not every man would so willingly take on as much as my man does. He is a living example of being “all in.” He doesn’t flinch. He doesn’t waver. He doesn’t run. When asked to take on three extra kids over Father’s Day weekend he just smiles and says, “What’s one more? …or three more?”  🙂

I think I won the husband lottery and have no idea how I got so lucky. Our life is often crazy and messy and loud and chaotic but there is no one I’d rather be navigating it with than this man. Today, as I write this blog and try to catch up on recording all that happened this weekend, I reflect on the blessing of my husband. Today is our 19th anniversary and I can’t help but think how boring my life would be without him.

It was Toby that called Friday morning from work and told me to have the kids dressed and ready to go. He was done at work and suggested we go strawberry picking as a family. It was a beautiful day, sunny and not too warm, a perfect day to be in the fields.

We drove out to Catalpa Grove Farm. Friends introduced us to Catalpa’s six years ago and it has been our go-to “you pick” farm ever since.

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This was Ozzie’s first time picking strawberries with us since we didn’t make it out to Catalpa’s last summer. He was very excited and the kids were eager to share the experience with him.

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When we arrived we stopped at the front booth to pick up the wire baskets that hold our quart containers. Then we drove out to the fields where we were assigned the rows that we were to pick from.

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We were told to pick as much as we liked (The cost was $3.00/qt) and to enjoy sampling the strawberries while we worked. 🙂

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It took us about an hour to pick 24 quarts. Each person was given three quart containers to fill when we arrived, and then those who finished first helped fill the last few.

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As I knelt in the wet hay that lined the aisles,

with the sun warming my shoulders and the scent of strawberries in the air,

I counted my blessings…

All 6 of them

with strawberry stained lips.

Everyone had a good time picking, visiting, and sampling.

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When we were done we headed back to the front gate to pay for our haul

then we parked and headed inside for another Catalpa tradition:

strawberry slushies!

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Catalpa’s yummy strawberry slushies have become our annual reward for everyone’s hard work in the field. They are made from the strawberries grown there and are a delicious, cold treat.

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After enjoying our slushies we drove back home to put the berries in the fridge to keep until we could process them on Saturday morning,

before we headed back on the road for the remainder of the day.

The next morning, with the “help” of 8 children we cleaned, cut and prepared 24 quarts of strawberries for jam and freezing.

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Half the strawberries were turned into jam (30 jars of jam) and the other half were bagged for future recipes and to be used to make smoothies.

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Even Harley got to enjoy the fruits of our labor when we gave him the bowl of strawberry foam that was skimmed from the top of the jam.

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All in all it was a “Berry” good day!

Baking for Make-A-Wish

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I believe, as parents, we all desire certain things for our children. We desire happiness for them and good health. We pray that they will have discernment and that they will be wise, and then we pray for their safety for those times when they aren’t so wise.

We hope they will feel loved by us, and others, and most importantly by their Father in Heaven.

We want them to find friends, good friends, that will strengthen them and make them better.

We raise them to have roots, deep roots that will ground them and secure them when the winds of adversity blow, but also raise them to have wings that will allow them to take flight and soar high above the pull of the world.

We work diligently to teach them, and guide them, and help them grow in stature and spirit. We work hard, hoping we aren’t messing them up too badly, as we work to grow good kids, happy kids, healthy kids, strong kids, righteous kids, respectful kids, kind kids.

We struggle to find the balance as we affirm them in hopes of growing secure, confident children without indulging them to the point of handicapping them with the chains of entitlement.

We want our children to be bold in their faith, beliefs, and convictions, but kind and loving to all.

We pray that our sons and daughters know their value as a child of God, but humbly recognize all that they are and all that they have comes from God…not from them.

We want to raise children who are aware of all that exists outside themselves and whose hearts burn with a desire to touch the world… and change the world… and make it a better place.

We hope our sons will develop into gentlemen and our daughter into ladies, with all the lovely attributes those titles inspire.

We want our children to think of others, not because they have to, or because their parents said to, but because they have discovered for themselves the joy that comes from being a blessing to others, from living outside one’s own self focus, and from the practice of observing the needs that exist around them and working to meet those needs.

We want our children to understand that so many of the attributes the world holds up as a measure of worth and a standard of a well lived life (wealth, power, appearance, wit, status, etc.) are fleeting, but doing good, and being kind, and loving others…well, those attributes never lose their shine. Those attributes are the real deal. They are the real measure of a well lived life…of a happy life.

We are blessed to be part of a co-op that shares a similar philosophy.

In addition to the many other benefits we gain from being part of this cooperative learning group (friends, support, traditional school experiences, holiday celebrations and enriching field trips) the kids also have the opportunity to serve.

Each month our co-op takes on a service project, giving the students the opportunity to discover the joy of serving others. One of the favorite service projects for the year is our annual bake sale in which the money raised is donated to the Make-A-Wish foundation. This is a charity close to our co-op’s heart due to two of our co-op families having received a wish granted by this amazing charity.

The co-op kids take ownership of this service project by making treats to sale, as well as by breaking into their own piggy banks to have the funds needed to support this charity by buying treats…and eating them, of course! The kids love this annual event!

Each of my kids knew they wanted to make something to donate to the bake sale, but I knew that Tuesday was going to be busy with five different appointments that day, so we decided that for Monday’s family night we would have a family bake-off in the kitchen so that everyone could get all their treats ready for Wednesday.

The kids all knew what they wanted to make:

Grace- Nutella cupcakes

Molly- Oreo balls

Rusty- No bake bars

Ozzie- Chocolate chip cookies

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Tyler- Baymax cupcakes

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Everyone got to work, claiming a portion of the counter space as their own. Toby helped coordinate the oven usage by running the timers and adjusting the temperatures when the next baked good went it.

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We turned on Disney music and the kids had fun baking, visiting, and singing along as they worked. I answered baking questions and acted as site supervisor for the project. 🙂  It was a really fun way to spend the evening as a family, while also accomplishing a big task on the to-do list.

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Co-op was a blast on Wednesday. They kids loved showing off their cooking creations, as well as checking out (and taste testing) their friends’ baked goods. The little boys loved “shopping” for treats with their own money, and everyone was excited to raise money for the Make-A- Wish foundation!

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Good job Kids!!

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Once a Month Cooking…Let’s give it a try.

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When it comes to crossing things off my “to do” list I have found I am best at big event planning, you know

holidays, trips, parties and classes, traditions, special occasions and simple celebrations.

And while planning a holiday party or putting together a child’s birthday party is easy breezy for me, the every day tasks are not. Unfortunately it is those everyday tasks that make up the majority of our lives.I think this is why I depend on schedules and routines. Without a schedule to direct me through my day I find myself wandering, overwhelmed by the many tasks that lay before me, uncertain of where to begin.

I love “one time events” because they can be crossed off the “to do” list and then you don’t have to think about them anymore.

– host Christmas party….check! Done.

It is the never-ending, daily tasks, those things that can never truly be completed, and reappear daily on my “to do” list, that leave me weary and resentful.

Nothing makes me want to cry more than walking past the laundry basket, minutes after I’ve folded and put away the last load of dirty laundry, and seeing a newly deposited pair of dirty socks taunting me from the bottom of the basket.

Or shutting off the light in my clean kitchen after washing dishes, sweeping the floor, and shining the sink, only to have a teenager pass by me with a dirty ice cream bowl in hand. All I want is ONE morning where I wake to an empty sink…Ahhh!

And then there are meals…

I feel like the majority of my life is spent planning meals, shopping for food, putting away food, preparing meals, and then cleaning them up.

Just imagine the time I would have on my hands if nobody wanted fed,

and it doesn’t matter how much I feed the troops, they always want to eat again when the next mealtime rolls around. 😛

I try to remind myself daily of the great blessings associated with these daily chores:

How blessed we are to have the means to feed our children daily and tuck them into bed with full bellies.

How blessed I am to have a sink full of dirty dishes because it means everyone was fed.

How blessed I am to have a washer and drier in my home to wash those dirty clothes made by kids making childhood memories.

I know my ancestors would roll their eyes at my whining,

as they recall laundry taking all day to wash, done on the shores of a creek…

which is why I try to keep my grumbling to a minimum.

I know a day will come when I miss the fingerprints on the window and the mess of Legos on the living room floor.

As Thomas S. Monson said:

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But even with that realization I can’t help but always be seeking an easier, more efficient way to tackle those never ending, daily tasks, so I can move on to the tasks I can actually cross of the “to do” list. 🙂

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With the start of school and nightly football practices I have been searching out a better way to handle dinner preparations. Our evenings are full and I would love to spend more time sitting around the table eating with my family than fixing meals and eating it in a rush to get boys into bed on time.

As I was cleaning out my recipe book cabinet I came across a recipe book given to me years ago by a friend. She was in a season of life in which this book was a great blessing to her and she wanted to share this helpful tool. At the time I wasn’t in a season of life where I needed that time saving tool. I was home all day with little ones so I couldn’t relate to her time pressures,

but I took it gratefully

knowing someday it would be a blessing for me too.

That season has arrived and when I came across it in my cabinet I had a “Eureka” moment.

The book is:

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And the premise is simple…

Devote a day to planning, shopping, cooking and cleaning up dinner and have meals for a month.

Rather than going through those steps daily you make it a big one time event for the month.

This REALLY appealed to my love of big event planning

and the best part:

At the end of the day I could actually mark “Make Dinner” off my “to do” list for the month!

Having never tried this before I wasn’t sure if I would like it, but having done it once I am sold. Not that I won’t allow for the flexibility of an impromptu menu change if I suddenly have the urge to cook, but how nice that I don’t have the dreaded “What’s for dinner?” question hanging over my head all day.

Having done it once and seeing the fruits of that labor, I can see how it would be a great solution for busy moms, single moms or working moms.

The process for making two weeks worth of meals to put in the freezer took us 3 hours. (Next round I’m going to try a month’s worth.)

The cookbook is broken up into sections based on the protein used in those dishes. There are a few chicken sections, beef, ground beef, turkey, pork, salmon, tuna, and vegetarian dishes.

I picked a chicken section and a ground beef section of recipes for our first time attempting this.

We began with grocery shopping. The beginning of each chapter of recipes has a shopping list printed out, already organized by sections of the grocery store, to make for easier shopping.

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We came home, laid out all the groceries on the counter and turned to the next page in the book that listed all the advanced prep work needed. It is in this section you find out what meat needs precooked, which pasta needs preboiled, and what vegetables need to be chopped and sliced.

The kids were HUGE helps with this process and it became a fun family project as we worked together.

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After the prep work was done we began assembling individual dishes. It was so easy since all the prep work was done.

Then each kid picked a recipe from that section of the cookbook to be in charge of. That completed recipe then became their dinner night meal that they would have been responsible for on their individual nights. Now they only have to warm it up and choose their side dishes when their dinner night rolls around.

During the next few hours we assembled 12 dinners. Each dinner was placed in a freezer bag or casserole dish, labeled with the date and cooking instructions and placed in the freezer. If additional ingredients were needed, like shredded cheese, we placed it in a smaller freezer bag and stapled it to the dinner bag.

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It was a lovely thing watching the freezer fill with completed meals. 🙂

I also gave Molly the job of assembling salads for the week.

All over Pinterest you can find “salads in a jar.” It is the latest fad as you can see in this tongue-in-cheek definition of Pinterest:

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It is a clever idea. You layer the ingredients of a salad in a large mouth mason jar, beginning with the dressing, meats and cheese, vegetables and top the jar off with lettuce or spinach. The result is fresh salad all week with none of the hassle of daily chopping.

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Molly was in charge of making 10 salads in a jar.

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By the time our cooking session ended we had 10 jars of salad and the following dinners in the freezer:

Cheese and Chicken Shells

Artichoke Chicken Bake

Chicken Mushroom Rolls

Spiced Chicken Sandwiches

Chicken Enchiladas

Chicken Broccoli Noodles

Sweet and Sour Chicken

Meatballs and Sauce

Beef Loaf

Pizza Burgers

Macaroni and Beef

Tortilla Casserole

Not bad!

Next time I think I’m going to try out some crock pot freezer meals that can be dumped straight into your crock pot in the morning and cook all day.

Since I must accept the fact that my family will continue to expect meals on a regular basis, regardless of my reminders that they just ate at the last meal, this seems like this is a good solution.

It is either this or a family 30 day fast.

Hmmm, I wonder….

😉

Happy Birthday Rusty!

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Well, it is official…I now have three teenagers. Where did the years go?!

Rusty turned 13 years old yesterday and we had a wonderful time celebrating his special day.

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The day began with us waking him up before Toby had to leave for work with a piece of Red Velvet cake and a Happy Birthday serenade.

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Rusty enjoyed a day of play. A homeschool birthday in our home means a day off of school, a day free of chores, and birthday boy’s choice on all major decisions…like what TV show to watch. 🙂 Rusty enjoyed his free day of lounging and playing video games.

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For Rusty’s birthday treat we decided to surprise him with something special. After all it was his 13th birthday. So instead of cake we had

“The Kitchen Sink!”

Let me explain…

When we went to Disney World with just the big kids when Rusty was 9 years old one of his favorite experiences occurred on our first day there. Friends had told us about a little known gem at the Beaches and Crème Soda Shop called The Kitchen Sink. It is, in essence, the world’s largest, most delicious ice cream sundae. When you order it lights flash and people shout in celebration. It is brought out in a Kitchen Sink and includes:

1/2 cup of fudge topping

1/2 cup of butterscotch topping

1/2 cup of peanut butter topping

1 banana, sliced

1 cinnamon spice cupcake, quartered

1 angel food cupcake, quartered

2 scoops of vanilla ice cream

2 scoops chocolate ice cream

2 scoops strawberry ice cream

2 scoops mint chocolate chip ice cream

2 scoops coffee ice cream

3 Tbs. chocolate syrup

1/4 cup marshmallow crème

1/4 cup pineapple topping

1/4 cup strawberry topping

1 brownie, quartered

4 Oreos

1 crushed candy bar

1 Tbs. toasted almonds

1 Tbs. chocolate shavings

1 Tbs. chocolate chips

2 Tbs. sprinkles

and 1/2 cup maraschino cherries

It literally includes everything you could imagine putting in a sundae…including the kitchen sink. This left quite an impression on a certain nine-year-old little boy and when Rusty found out that we were going back to Disney World his number one request was to have The Kitchen Sink once again.

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On day one at Disney we drove over to Beaches and Crème to introduce the little boys to the ultimate ice cream sundae only to find out that they now only take reservations and not walk in guests. The kids were sorely disappointed. This is what led us to the idea of recreating the Kitchen Sink experience at home as a birthday surprise for Rusty.

Step one: find an unused kitchen sink. (This is when it is nice to be married to a contractor.)  🙂

Step two: bake, buy, chop and prepare the 25 ingredients that make this massive sundae.

Step three: assemble quickly (ice cream melts!)

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Step four: surprise the kids with The Kitchen Sink. (Listen for the audible gasps)

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Step five: hand out spoons and enjoy!

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Everyone did a valiant job of emptying the sink.

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Happy 13th birthday, Rusty!

We hope it was unforgettable!