Book Review: The Gruffalo

But who is this creature with terrible claws and terrible teeth in his terrible jaws? He has knobbly knees and turned out toes, and a poisonous wart at the end of his nose.  His eyes are orange, his tongue is black, he has purple prickles all over his back.

Mon Cœur (MC) received this sweet little gem of a book for Christmas. After reading it a few times at bedtime, I wondered if it was a little too frightening for right before wishing her “sweet dreams.”

Although Gruffalo’s quite a beast, she is not easily scared away. She continues to choose this book among her top three every evening. Chouchou and I love this book, too, and happily read it to her with our most monstrous voices.

Three reasons we love The Gruffalo

1. Sing-song rhyming and repetition: The author, Julia Donaldson, has a gift with words. When I read it, it’s like the words are dancing across the page, spinning the story of the mouse and Gruffalo. She weaves animals, forest settings, and food dishes together to make silly rhymes. For example: “Where are you meeting him?” ” Here by these rocks, and his favorite food is roasted fox.”

In addition, I love the repetition of words and phrases. MC is at a stage now that she is able to figure our patterns of repetition and sing along with songs or “read” along in books. I enjoy any book that has repetitive, predictable phrasing so that she may participate in the reading with us.

2. Survival of the wittiest mouse: Poor mouse is just looking for a bite to eat, when three different predators try to “invite” him to their home for consumption. Mouse is so smart, he makes up the beastliest beast to scare each animal off, but then he realizes this monster of his imagination truly exists!  So then he has to outwit the Gruffalo, and in the end, that intelligent little mouse scares away any would-be predators and gets his snack.

3.  The formatting of the text: It may seem minor, or even silly, but I really love when authors differentiate between speakers. Yes, yes, they use quotation marks, of course. It just makes for an easier read and better flow when there is a little something extra. Donaldson uses italics to help the banter between animals flow back and forth.

The format of the text and images on the pages also reflects the predictable and repetitive phrasing I had mentioned earlier. It makes for an enjoyable reading experience, no matter how many times we read it.

I was surprised to learn that the Gruffalo is celebrating his 20th anniversary this year. I knew he was after my childhood, but I imagined he was younger than 20. There is an official Gruffalo website with resources, activities, and games that are tied to one of Donaldson’s many books. I found finger puppets for our next read, and a recipe for Gruffalo Crumble. Hmm, I was thinking a sweet crumble like apple or peach…but I suppose Gruffalo are saltier, as the recipe suggests. MC and I may still give it a go and we’ll keep you posted.


Five reasons I’m grateful this week

This week we are gearing up for our trip and getting super excited for the adventure and to see dear friends. While we are away, check my Instagram for daily pictures!

Old fashioned fun times with MC and Chouchou

Taking a permanent marker and some balloons blown up to make faces, and then just sitting and tossing them around. It seems we don’t take enough time to just have fun anymore. It was nice to press pause on life and just sit on the floor as a family for five minutes.

Ridiculously warm February weather

Great for walks and working in the garden. I was able to deadhead our Chrysanthemums and also had ambition to trim back our Rose of Sharon – trying to convince Chouchou that splitting it isn’t too ambitious of a project!

An independent little lady

She wants to fold laundry with me, crack eggs for her breakfast, make the coffee, but “I do it by self, okay?” If I can find a way for her to pitch in, she is right by my side, helping me.  And if I can’t, she is motivating me to figure it out!

Old friends

Dinner with an old friend and pal who loves and accepts me for me and allowed me time and space to be. It’s nice to have friends where words aren’t necessary and you can just be.

Our upcoming vacation

We haven’t taken a vacation in about 4 years, and this will be our first family vacation and we’re going all out with an international trip! We are packed and ready to go! We have an amazing house sitter and know that our fur and feather babies will be well taken care of so we can relax and enjoy. I also just found the most amazing app that can be used online or offline and will help us navigate Paris easy peasy. Space in our luggage is at a premium so I am glad to not have to pack my arrondissement map book. I think in the end the app will also save us time trying to find our way around (where’s the adventure in that, though?!), and help plan our daily itineraries.

Instant Pot Adventures: I can cook pasta in the Insta – wha?

I love Italian dishes – they are hearty and stick to your ribs.  But I hate cooking pasta – all that water wasted, and it takes lots of time to wait for the water to boil.  Recently we had dinner at a friend’s house and she made an Instant Pot pasta dish.  It took thirty minutes and was done.  It was also delicious.  So as I resolved to use my Instant Pot at least once a week and share my adventures here, I was on the search for a pasta recipe to try and share. 

Not all pasta can be cooked in the Instant Pot, I’d never try actual spaghetti, vermicelli, or fettucine. However, penne, bowtie, or shells could all work I think.

The following recipe was quick, easy, and absolutely delicious.  Chou chou put it in the top three favorite dishes I’ve ever made, and MC dug in with a large table spoon and fork.  She devoured this.  Kid friendly, husband approved, and quick?  Check, check, and check.

Instant Pot Tuscan Chicken

Click on the link above for the exact recipe I found online. Below are the ingredients I used and the directions for the way I made it.


  • 2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
  • healthy shakes (teaspoon or so) of spices of choice: rosemary, garlic powder, minced onion, Italian spices, salt & pepper etc.
  • 2 Tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 1 Tablespoon Italian seasoning
  • 1 small jar of sun-dried tomatoes, drained and roughly chopped
  • 2 cups chicken broth
  • 1 cup evaporated canned milk
  • 3 cups penne pasta
  • 8 ounces cream cheese, room temperature & diced
  • 1 ½ cups parmesan
  • 4-5 cups fresh spinach


  1. On a plate, shake spices of choice & blend together. place chicken breasts on plate, flip on both sides to cover in spices.
  2. Set instant pot to Sauté, once hot add the olive oil.
  3. Cook chicken on both sides for 2-3 minutes (until golden brown). Remove from pot.
  4. Add oil as necessary, then add onion and cook for 1-2 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  5. Add Italian seasoning and chopped sun dried tomatoes. Stir.
  6. Add chicken broth & with a wooden spoon scrape the bottom of the pot.
  7. Add pasta and evaporated milk and stir gently.
  8. Place chicken breasts on top.
  9. Cover & seal the lid. Make sure valve is sealed.
  10. Pressure cook on high pressure for 4 minutes.
  11. Once the Instant Pot has cooked on high pressure for 4 minutes, instant release.
  12. Open cover & remove chicken to a cutting board.
  13. Select sauté and add cubed cream cheese. Gently stir for 1 minute.
  14. Add parmesan and stir gently for another minute.
  15. Add the spinach to combine.
  16. Turn off the pressure cooker.
  17. Cube chicken and add to the pot. Gently stir one last time.

Surprisingly, I did follow the directions, more or less.  I didn’t have all the seasonings for the chicken, so I just used the ones mentioned in the above ingredients list (rosemary, garlic powder, minced onion, Italian spices, salt & pepper).

I also didn’t cover the chicken with foil at any time – it seemed to add a step when I was moving along through the recipe and the chicken stayed warm anyway.

Frozen prep version:

The recipe requires one cup of evaporated milk, and the cans that I have are two cups, so I made another batch to use the remaining milk.  I’ve frozen this to have a ready-made dinner upon our return from France. I’ll keep you posted as to how well this works out!

I had enough chicken, evaporated milk, and spinach, but I didn’t realize I didn’t have enough sun dried tomatoes until I was just about to make this again. So for my frozen version, I substituted a can of diced Italian style tomatoes for the sun dried tomatoes. Instead of 2 cups of chicken broth, I took the empty can of diced tomatoes and filled it ¾ of the way with water. We tried this version with shells instead of penne as well.

I hesitated adding the cream cheese and parmesan before freezing. I’m not exactly sure how that would turn out. I’d rather make a “sauce” with the cream cheese and parmesan when I thaw the meal. and then incorporate it together before serving.

Have any Instant Pot insights involving pasta? Ever had any success freezing dishes with cheeses? Share your tricks in the comments section!

Valentines three ways with Mon Cœur

Since Mon Cœur (MC) is at the fun age of two, we decided to make some valentines to send out to family and friends.

I love crafting, I love mailing correspondence, and I’m trying to pass these on to her as well. She always loves putting the “stickers” (read: stamps) on the envelopes and stamping our return address on the envelopes (sometimes more than once). 

We had a lot of fun making these three different types of valentines: 

Doily valentines

Materials needed:  Doilies, construction paper, glue sticks, coloring utensil of choice (we used glitter glue pens)

MC received some doilies as a gift and we had stashed it in her craft supplies.  For whatever reason, I associate doilies with Valentines, and thought it would be perfect to pull them out and use them.

We glued them to different construction paper colors.  I picked a few traditional Valentine’s colors (pink, red, purple) and MC picked out some colors too (blue, green).  She had a blast just adding glitter glue to them.  

I had fun experimenting – I cut hearts out of the middle of some and created rubbings of the doilies on others.

Collage valentines

Materials needed: scissors, glue sticks, scrap paper, card paper, modge podge & paintbrush (optional)

I’ve had a stash of old greeting card envelopes, greeting cards, paint sample cards, and maps that I’ve been saving forever, and MC is quickly building a scrap stash of construction paper.  We took scissors and with a few different papers of choice began cutting them into strips and squares.  Once we had a healthy pile of cut paper, I made a heart shape on cards and we began either filling in the heart or filling around the heart.  Afterwards to try to keep the paper down, I took a paintbrush and painted the modge podge on the papers to seal them down.

This was my favorite card to craft – there is something calming in the concentration used to piece together papers to create an image.

Stamp valentines

Materials needed: markers, stamps, construction or other paper for cards.

The collaging was a bit much for MC, it took some coordination and patience. So we experimented with just drawing hearts and letting her stamp the inside of the heart. She loved making these, because she loves to stamp. She can go to town just tap, tap, tapping away with her stamps and pads.

What’s your favorite Valentine craftivity?

Dear Dad: it’s been a year

This time last year we had transitioned Dad to hospice, knowing the end was near. He fought the good fight, and we’re so lucky to have had the time with him that we did. The last conversation we had was about Hot Lips Houlihan, and I’ll never forget the smile, his impeccable, gracious smile, he had despite the pain.

Dear Dad,

It’s been a year now since you’ve passed. As much as we miss you, we know you’re in a better place. I swear I heard morse code the night mom called to say you had passed – it was you talking to me. I remember being eight years old, sitting at the little red desk you made with your telegraph key and your Morse Code books and you teaching me all about it. You had a way to inspire and energize me in the way you shared your knowledge and view of the world.

Remember the poem I read at your celebration of life? It seems duplicitous now looking back after we lost Millie. She gave me my strength and force to have a brave face for you. But we are trying to love and go on, knowing that you are taking care of each other.

You can shed tears because they are gone, or you can smile because they lived. You can close your eyes and pray they will come back, or you can open your eyes and see all that they left for you. Your heart can be empty because you can’t see them, or you can be full of the love you shared. You can turn your back on tomorrow and live yesterday, or you can be happy for tomorrow because of yesterday. You can remember only that they are gone, or you can cherish their memory and let it live on. You can cry and close your mind and feel empty, or you can do what they would want: Smile. Open your heart. Love….and go on.

I found some old photos, and was walking down memory lane…

Dad Genius

You always had the hip technology and could answer any questions we had about computers. You were also able to answer any random question about what something was or how it worked.

I remember when you first showed us how to insert a floppy disk and play the games on your Apple Classic. We’d spend evenings just playing lemonade stand, the “Paul Bunyan” pioneer game, the helicopter game or a host of any other intriguing games.

Then one Saturday morning back in the late eighties you and your friends were so excited to have two computers “talking” to each other across town. This was pre-internet. You understood what was the future and were at the beginning of it all, while also cherishing the Apple Classic.

As a fifth grader, you came to the career fair and set up in the cafeteria with all of your engineering tools. I’ve forgotten all the names for those gadgets, but I remember being so amazed by your knowledge and wowed and proud. And was always so proud of my elementary book reports that were printed out on your dot matrix printer with the cursive font. We always got a kick out of tearing the perforated edges off and making paper springs out of them – we found ways to balance work and play.

Daddy and his ladies

I’ll never forget the nurses telling you at the hospital to get in the delivery room or go out to the waiting room, no standing in the hallway. I told you between contractions to come in if you wanted, but you were always so conservative, so you waited outside in the waiting room.

You got to hold Mon Cœur (MC) later that evening, after you brought me Chick-fil-A and a shake. I’ll love you forever for doing that for me – I was so famished. I remember you coming up the next day to bring mom and were so proud holding MC again. Another girl added to our family.

It’s a wonder we didn’t give you more grey hairs as we were growing up. We should have been easier on you, a house full of women, but you survived it, and you loved us despite all our crazy antics.

What does EIIGY | POCR OFF mean, exactly?

I used to ask mom and would get an eye roll and, “Ask your dad.” Well, I know what it means now that I can read between the lines, and mom offered me some of your teeshirts to remind me of you. My favorite, the EIIGY POCR tee.

Nothing like wearing that shirt and the neighbors coming over and staring at me. Either they didn’t understand or they didn’t like what it said. It’s not a personal greeting for everyone that reads it, but I still get funny looks. I don’t care; when I wear it, I think of you and remember my childhood.

Hugs & Kisses

Well, I think that’s it for now. I love you and miss you. Give Millie hugs & kisses from us all. MC says Skinamarink a dink I love you, Poopa. She loves that song, and every time I sing it to her, I think of you tucking me into bed.