Friday, February 27, 2009

Flashback Friday - Popcorn Pals

It's Friday again?! Yikes...

So here we go with another flashback. This is just a super cute series of pictures that I couldn't resist. Brenna loved to mother Beth from the day she was born. Always trying to help take care of her. Brenna often tried to help Beth eat, long after she was very capable of doing it on her own. Well, on this particular day, they were sharing some popcorn, and Beth decided to let Brenna have her way and feed her. It soon became a fun (and messy) game. So cute...

Fun times! So that's it. Just a fun look back at two girls growing a friendship through silliness!

Wednesday, February 25, 2009


This is all just going to be some random ramblings. I had something I really wanted to share, but technology is preventing me from saying it the way it deserves to be said. We had a very cool weekend at church, where Beth was able to be a part of many people sharing their testimony. I have a very poor quality video (poor because it's hard to hold a camera still when you need to wipe away tears), that I cannot figure out how to get on here. The instructions seem so simple, but it's not working. We are getting a copy of the video from the church this weekend, so probably better to post that one anyway. So I'll patiently wait to talk about that another day.

We've had a lot of opportunities lately to reflect on what we went through with Beth. And I think the biggest thing I've noticed through that is just how much healing has occurred. In the beginning, not being fearful was a choice. We purposed to not let fear have a place in our lives, especially in relation to how we parented. I could have easily turned into a mother that hovered and hyper-controlled. Initially, I jokingly would say that I would like to wrap her in bubble wrap (protection and flotation all in one!) until she was 18. I was only half joking. There is that human instinct to protect at any cost, especially when you have the images in your mind that Brad and I have. But now that we have chosen to not walk in fear for so long, we find that it has become more genuine, more natural.

There are places within us that will forever have a special tenderness, and things that will hit an emotional trigger. I don't know if we'd be "normal" if a pool ever became a completely relaxing environment for us. Even now, as Beth swims laps with her dad and works on her flip turns (she's training for the Olympics, you know), I have a piece of me that wants to yank her out of the pool and run. But it's a smaller piece. It doesn't dominate. Peace dominates. Thankfulness dominates. Praise for my God who orchestrated her healing dominates. Even today, as Beth went through having some x-rays on her back (not a big deal...pesky soreness), I watched her laying on that table in a hospital gown...and had a small emotional moment. I just would prefer to never see her in that environment again. There is a completely illogical impulse to cry at the sight of that. My logic knows better, but it was just a trigger. Not everyone understands that. And that's okay. If you don't understand that, give a little praise that you haven't been there.

Speaking of, here's a little tip for being compassionate...don't ever say, "I understand how you feel." You don't. Two people can go through the exact circumstances and "feel" very different. Just let them feel what they need to feel. Someone said to us once, "I don't have to have walked in your shoes to know how you feel." I cannot write what I felt in response to that. It was, in that moment, condescending and insensitive. Not intended to be hurtful, but it was. We were raw, and it didn't take much.

Brenna also had her own reflection this week. In her Awana book, she had to write about a time she saw someone who needed to be saved or rescued. Ah, the timing! So she had an opportunity to talk through that, and I see her healing. Oh, how I wish I could erase some of the things Brenna saw. My most tender child, and she saw things that were too much even for me. But there again, my God is just so much bigger than that. I am so thankful when I see in her such an absence of fear. She has such a quiet confidence, and watching the miracle that unfolded after what she witnessed has only exploded her strength. As merciful as it was of the Lord to spare me losing a child, it was as merciful of Him to spare Brenna losing her best friend. I cannot imagine those two without each other.

And, even now, we welcome any opportunity to give the credit to the One who heals. It took the CPR. It took the miraculous quick-response of paramedics. It took the amazing doctors and nurses. It took a strong little girl who revels in stubbornly proving she can do something she's told she can't do. But above all, it took a God who oversaw it all, who heard our cries and answered our prayers with a yes. I don't know why sometimes His answer is no and sometimes it's yes. But I do know that He always answers. 100%

Monday, February 23, 2009

Monday Menu

Here we go with another fun recipe! Another dessert, because that's just the kind of mood I'm's a drizzly, grey day outside and a good day for some comfort food. This is a yummy, yummy cake.

Oatmeal Cake

1 cup rolled oats
1 1/4 cup boiling water
1/2 cup butter

-Add water to oatmeal in a large bowl. Let stand 20 minutes.
-Add butter. Combine well.

1 cup sugar
1 cup brown sugar
2 eggs, beaten
1 1/3 cup flour
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. nutmeg
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. baking soda

Lightly butter (or use non-stick cooking spray) a 9x13 pan. Pour batter into pan. Before baking, add topping:

In saucepan, combine:
1 cup chopped walnuts
6 TBSP butter
1/4 cup milk
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 cup flaked coconut
1 tsp. vanilla

Mix together over low heat until butter melts. Spoon evenly over cake batter.

Bake at 350 for 30-35 minutes.
This is so good...warm piece of this cake with a hot cup of coffee or tea, and you will be warmed from the inside out!

Friday, February 20, 2009

Flashback Friday

*UPDATE!!* New scanner in and working! (The upside to a hubby who had a very trying week at work: he wants to successfully "complete" something, so he buys and installs a new scanner. The downside: he will be working Saturday to get un-buried at work.) is the picture that prompted this post. Just look at these two cute kids! June 1997...Alex had just turned two, thus the socially acceptable attire of a two-year old: nothin' but a diaper and a smile. Read on for more happy thoughts of the Merrell Family...

Today's flashback is slightly incomplete, because the picture that sparked the flashback is not going to be here. It's a scanner problem that we are going to remedy this weekend. But I still wanted to flashback to this great family, because we just miss them. Everyone should be so blessed to be friends with such a great here's to the Merrell Family! The picture that's missing is Alex at about 2, and Chase about 6, swinging on swing set together. So cute.

Shelley and I met at church in 1995. It was the Sunday that we had Alex dedicated at church, my birthday, and the Merrell's first time at that church as they were new in town. I remember her so clearly coming up to us in the foyer, saying, "Look, honey, this is the baby that was dedicated today." And she said it in such a sweet, endearing way. That is just who Shelley is. She loves very easily. Shortly after that, she invited me to a scrapbook evening, and we became fast friends. She's had a bigger influence on me than she probably knows. It broke my heart when they moved back to California, but we have only become deeper friends across the miles. Such an easy relationship. When we do get together, we hardly even say hello. We just launch into a continuation of whatever conversation we last had on the phone. (Oh, and we like Larry, too!)

Here we are in February of 2002, 7 years ago this weekend. (NOT the last time we've seen each other, but a fun flashback!)

My kids love this family as much as I do. Chase and Landon are 4 & 2 years older than Alex. Through them, Alex developed a love of Legos and a love of wooden train tracks. Wish we lived closer for these guys to share the daily stuff together, but they are still close in our hearts.

And here is the last time all the kids were together, August 2007. Now, Chase is a senior, Landon a sophomore. I can't believe it. Chase is the precious child who at age 4 recommended a Martha Stewart cookbook to me after eating a meal I prepared for him. They are amazing young men who are using their gifts to serve the Lord. Great leaders, strong convictions, talents galore. I'm so excited to watch their next season of life unfold. We love those boys so much. They are more man than boy, but always boys to us. And they are so busy, but if they stood still for a moment, I'm sure they'd realize they miss us too! :)

So, I flashback and look forward at the same time. Flashback to great memories, and look forward to many more!

Whatcha doing tonight, Shelley? Want to go grab a coffee? (just wishing...)

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Bribery or Motivation?

You may call it bribery, I choose to call it motivation.

Aggressiveness has never been in Brenna. I love her gentle spirit, it's one of my favorite things about her. On the basketball court, however, her lack of aggressiveness has made her lack a bit of confidence. She's great at passing to an open person, because basketball to her is like a game of "hot potato". The more quickly she can get rid of it, the better. But she has passed up a lot of great shots, not having the confidence to take it. Her coach has been wonderful to encourage her to take a quick shot, but she continues to try to get rid of it.

So, on Saturday I tried a new approach. Right before the game, spur of the moment, I told her I'd pay her $10 if she made a basket. Her eyes lit up, and she immediately held her hand out to "shake on it." Sure enough, Brenna took some great shots right away. She was actually looking for a good shot! She barely missed a couple...and then SHA-ZAM! She sank a great shot and immediately looked up into the stands to make sure I saw it. I gave her a thumbs up and waved a $10 bill at her. All the parents sitting around us knew of my "motivation" and were cheering enthusiastically for her. At half-time, Brenna asked if it was a one-time $10, or $10 for each shot. I took a chance and told her per basket. All said and done, I was only out $10 at the end of the game anyway. Money well spent to show Brenna what she can do if she tries!

Here's the money shot. Brenna's hidden in a trio of blue, but she's in there...

And here's the pay-off, er...reward...

Monday, February 16, 2009

Monday Menu - Special Request

By special request, I am posting a recipe for my Chocolate/Peanut Butter Torte. Here's the story behind this goes all the way back to when Brad and I were dating in high school. There was a restaurant downtown called "Crackers". We would occasionally go there for dessert, specifically for the chocolate/peanut butter cake. After eating it a couple times, I started thinking that I could probably make it. And, quite honestly, after having a dry slice one time, thought I could make it better. So I started experimenting, and after a couple tries this is the cake that emerged. It's an extremely simple cake to make, and so good. So rich.

I made it for Valentine's Day, so I'd have pictures to share. So humor me and take a look at the pictures! This cake is even better the day after you make it. At least make it early in the day when you plan to serve it, or the night before. And if you have kids, it tastes even better after they've gone to bed and you can have a big slice and a cold glass of milk. Brad prefers to pile ice cream on top of it, and it makes me cringe. Here you go...

Chocolate/Peanut Butter Torte

1 pkg. Betty Crocker Super Moist Chocolate Fudge cake mix, prepare as directed using 2 9-inch round cake pans (or hearts if it's Valentine's Day!). After pouring batter into pans, make sure to pick up the pans a few inches and drop the pans onto the counter a few times to force any air bubbles up to the surface. Then your cake will be more even, without all those large craters inside. Let cool completely.

Peanut Butter Frosting:
2 TBSP softened butter
1 cup creamy peanut butter
3 cups powdered sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
1/3 cup milk

Beat together butter and peanut butter. Alternately add powdered sugar and milk, beating until smooth. Beat in vanilla. Now, I do not bake to a science, I bake to taste. So at this point, just start tasting. If it needs more peanut butter, add it in. If it needs to be a bit thinner, add a bit more milk. Just keep playing with it until it's good.

Chocolate Frosting:

1/2 cup butter, well softened
2/3 cup Hershey's Cocoa
3 cups powdered sugar
1/3 cup milk
1 tsp. vanilla

Beat together butter and cocoa. Alternately add powdered sugar and milk, beating until smooth. Beat in vanilla. Again, if it needs to be a bit thinner you can add a bit more milk.

To assemble: Slice each cooled cake layer horizontally into 2 layers. You now should have 4 somewhat even cakes. I've tried the gizmos to evenly slice cakes, and haven't found them to be worth the effort. I just use a long serrated knife and eyeball it.

Now layer the cake and peanut butter frosting, starting with a bottom layer of cake, 1/3 of the frosting, and repeat ending with cake. Here's a picture in process:

Here's a picture of the layers put together:

Now just frost the entire sides and top with chocolate frosting.

I have to be honest about the chocolate frosting. This is my favorite frosting, and for special occasions I make it. However, this cake is very rich, and I went through a time when people I made it for would leave all the chocolate frosting on their plate because it was too rich. So I stopped going to the trouble of making it for those people, and instead would use canned chocolate frosting. Betty Crocker Classic Chocolate. They never knew. And I'm not saying who...I'm just suggesting this as an option. It does not take away from the cake at all. It's the peanut butter frosting that really make the cake. So don't mess with that.

And here's the best part: a slice waiting to be eaten. Notice how uneven my layers are. It doesn't matter. It all tastes great and still disperses the peanut butter enough that you get that flavor in every bite of cake. I love making this cake. Yum.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Flashback Friday, Valentine Edition

Happy (almost) Valentine's Day! Today's flashback takes us back to Valentine's Day, 2002. It involved a heart-shaped gel candle, a very sweet 4-year old, and a plugged toilet.

Brenna had been treasuring this candle for a couple days. Just couldn't get enough of this candle. Early in the afternoon (on Valentine's Day), a very sheepish Brenna came out of the bathroom and asked Brad to come help her. First it was, "I think I plugged the toilet." So Brad got the plunger and tried to unplug the toilet. It would not unplug. This went on for quite some time, with Brenna bearing a look of extreme guilt. Brad kept assuring her that it was okay, this kind of thing happens, and he would fix it. The more he reassured her, the more guilty she looked.

Finally, he asked Brenna WHAT had plugged the toilet. (Not a question that usually needs to be asked!) Her little lips tightened up and started to quiver, and she said, "Mommy's heart." WHAT??!

"Brenna, what do you mean, 'Mommy's heart'?"

"Mommy's little squishy red heart. I was wrapping it for her while I went to the bathroom and it fell into the toilet. I didn't know what to do so I just flushed."

She had been doing what so many kids do: find stuff around the house and wrap it up for someone you love. She just thought she would wrap that candle up and give it to me for Valentine's Day. Sweet gesture gone terribly wrong.

Ultimately, Mr. Fix-It had to take the toilet out of the bathroom, and fish that heart out. No amount of words could reassure Brenna, she continued to feel so sad about Mommy's little squishy red heart plugging the toilet. And she felt even worse when she realized that although Brad had retrieved the heart, it was still gone for good. Bye-bye Mommy's heart.

Brad and I had some good laughs over that. A day meant for romance had become a day that we were digging hearts out of the toilet. Such a picture of the path our lives had taken.

And I wouldn't change a thing. My "little squishy red heart" is full and overflowing.

This is another Valentine flashback too sweet to not share. Brenna was 2 years old, a somewhat reluctant valentine. But, oh, how can you not grab that face and kiss it?!

And, no Valentine's Day post would be complete without a mention of my valentine. I love you so much, Brad...and thank you for loving me so well.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Monday Menu - Brenna's Choice

Alex pointed out to me yesterday that I have been too unbalanced in my blogging. I have not given the precious middle child her fair time in the spotlight. If anyone other that Alex has noted that, hang in there. She's the full focus of my Flashback Friday this week. It's a gem of a Valentine flashback. And, to keep things further balanced, I let Brenna choose the recipe to post today. Hopefully this will appease Alex. I aim to please.

So, with no further ado, here is Brenna's choice...minus any pictures. It's never occurred to me, until now, to take pictures of my chicken. Next time maybe I'll remember and stick it in here. I love a picture with a recipe. Okay, so there was some further ado after all. Now, for real, the recipe...

Imposter Chicken Cordon Bleu

4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1 cup (?) flour
2 eggs
1 cup Italian seasoned bread crumbs
olive oil
4 slices Jack cheese
4 slices deli ham

Put chicken breasts between 2 layers of waxed paper. Pound until about 1/2 inch thick. Dredge each breast in flour, then in beaten eggs, then coat in breadcrumbs. (In case you care...the flour is to give the egg something to stick to so it doesn't slide right off the chicken. I put my flour and breadcrumbs on a sheet of wax paper for easy clean up.) Heat olive oil in large pan, cook chicken 3-4 minutes on each side or until cooked through. Place chicken on baking sheet. Top each with a piece of ham (or 2) and a piece of cheese. Broil for a couple minutes just until cheese is lightly browned and bubbly. Serve with some warm bread and a big salad and you've got yourself a full meal deal. The girls like to dip the chicken in ranch dressing.

Now, a disclaimer. The menu title is "imposter" chicken cordon bleu. My kids have no idea how un-authentic it really is. They will have no idea until the first time they order it in a restaurant and realize what a fraud their mother has been all these years. Please don't burst their happy bubble by telling them this dish is suppose to have a yummy sauce, etc. Ignorance is truly bliss. And my goal with this anyway is to keep a record of things my family loves to eat and maybe give anyone else a new idea. We all need new ideas. If you are one of those families that has "Meatloaf Monday" "Taco Tuesday", etc., every week...branch out a bit and try something new!

Sunday, February 8, 2009

New Room, Familiar Elbows

Alex spent the last 2 nights away at a junior high retreat. He had a blast...tubing at Snoqualmie was a big hit. We may head up to do that as a family soon. He insists I would love it. Come to think of it, the last time he told me that was in line for Space Mountain. I didn't love it. I had to sit for an hour and a half afterwards to let my stomach find it's way back to where it belonged. That's a story for another day...

While Alex was gone this weekend, we re-did his room. He was overdue for a larger bed, having outgrown this loft bed awhile ago. (Anyone want it?? It's still in our garage.)

He had picked out his bedding, and we went from there. Brad and I started Friday evening about 7:00 and finished by 10:00 Saturday night, including breaks for 2 basketball games (me and the girls) and a haircut (handsome Brad). We still have a couple shelves and window treatments of some sort to put up, but it's mostly done.

And here's what made me want to share this...after Alex was home and had a much-needed shower and something to eat, he went to take a nap on his new bed before he was off to his rehearsal. He crashed hard. Brad had woken him up once...he sat up, stretched and wiped the drool from his chin, then went right back to sleep. I went in to wake him again, and here is what I found...

Now, this only means something if I explain that this is exactly the way Brad sleeps! I cannot count the times I have rolled over only to take an elbow to the face. And I so wish you could hear the obnoxious snoring sound that emits from a body asleep in this position. I've always known he is like his father in so many wonderful ways, but now I'm sorry to see that he has also inherited this unfortunate sleep position. No wonder that twin loft bed was too small to contain him!

Saturday, February 7, 2009

4x4 Tag

There is this thing going on in the blog world, where you "tag" someone to post a 4x4 picture. Go to your fourth folder, and choose your fourth picture. Whatever it is. This is from the 4th folder since we replaced our computer, the other pictures are there, just not popping up conveniently. But this is another gem that is just so Beth.

It was March 2006. She loves to climb this tree, and has since she was a toddler and Alex would have her stand on the top of the slide and then hike her up there. Then she graduated to climbing up from the slide all by herself. Now she doesn't even need the slide. And she sits much higher in the tree. In the summer, this tree is a full canopy of leaves and apples, making a great hiding place. Look closely at the picture. You can see Edgar the cat standing proudly on a top branch, and Archie the dog longing to be agile enough to get up there and chase the cat. And on Beth's feet are her beloved frog boots. She wore those boots out. They were her footwear of choice long after she had outgrown them and all identifying marks of being "frog" boots had worn off.

And that scene still happens, minus the frog boots, 3 years later. The kids all still sit up in that tree. The cat still follows them. And Archie is still trying to figure out how to get up there.

Thanks, Kristine, for the tag!

Friday, February 6, 2009

Flashback Friday!

Today's flashback takes us to October 1996. Alex was 16 months old. Such a cute little man. Brad and I looked through so many albums last night, looking for a picture that told a cute story. There are so many with this first-born. We have a multitude of pictures of him just sleeping. We honestly had never seen anything more precious in our lives.

This particular story was a Friday evening. I was heading out, and had made cookies for the boys. They were cooling on the counter, and Brad and I were talking in the adjacent room. We watched out of the side of our eye as Alex put together the (almost) perfect chocolate chip cookie heist. He took a chair from the dining room table, and began to push it into the kitchen. No small feat for a 16 month-old. There was some grunting involved, and some extra heaving as he negotiated the chair over the carpet. Once he hit kitchen floor, the noise alone would have tipped us off to his scheme. Little did he know we were watching the enitre thing. Finally, he got that chair into place. We grabbed the camera and snuck around to get a good view, thinking he would grab one cookie and make a run for it. Oh, no. This kid knows how to seize an opportunity!

Alex began to pick up one cookie, take a bite, then put it back on the rack. Then another cookie. One bite and then back on the rack. He was on his fourth cookie when I started with the pictures.
He turned around after the camera went off, and with a bite still dangling from his lips, gave me his best "I'm so busted" look.

What doesn't show on the picture is what happened next. Without pulling that dangling bite into his mouth, he simply reached out his chunky hand and offered me his cookie. He knew, from a very young age, the key to his mommy's heart. Yes, I'm raising that boy right. He knows how to share a chocolate chip cookie.

And, really, if you take a close look at those cookies, who can blame him?! Now that cute little pudgy-cheeked baby is far from needing a chair to reach the counter. He's passed me in height (I'm still ahead in the weight category!), and has maintained a love for the finer things in's chocolate chip cookies. And he's still sweet enough to share his chocolate chips cookies. Well, most of the time.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

A Beautiful Quote

Today was our 2 week follow-up for our crawl-space invaders. Here is a portion of what was written on our service invoice:

"Removed 10 traps from sub-area (no more rats caught). Placed a rodent bait station in sub-area to further control any rogue rodents. I think we won!"

TA-DA!! As I said in the beginning, they messed with the wrong family.

I love it! I love it?!

I had to share these 2 new things that I love. Well, one I "love" in the most sincere form of the word, and one I choose to love.

Here you go:

I tried these chocolate chips last night, and I really love them. Dangerously love them. I am a self-admitted chocolate chip snob. I do not like store brands. I can totally tell a difference. I like Nestle and Ghiradelli. But now I love Trader Joe's chocolate chips. And please don't tell me something like, "I read an article that they are manufactured in the same plant as..." Don't mess with a girl's love for a chocolate chip. So if you are fortunate enough to be at Trader Joe's in the near future, grab yourself some semi-sweet chocolate chips for only $ will be giving yourself a gift. The gift of a party in your mouth.

And here's what I am choosing to love:

Because of a pesky foot injury, it will be 5 weeks tomorrow since I've run on my treadmill. Ugh! Five weeks! NOT good. But I can't do nothing, so 3 weeks ago I started this workout. I love this show. These people inspire me so much. I admit I am usually snacking while I watch these poor people come to the brink of throwing up or passing out, but I am genuinely inspired by what they are going through to change their lives. I couldn't do what they are doing. So my new friend is Bob, and he is kicking my...glutes. And my quads, and my shoulders, etc. I could go on, but I'll spare you. It's tough. Not perfect, and you have to put up with a couple work out partners you'd maybe rather not have (remember Heba?!), but it's a great workout. And I'm loving the variety and the different muscles I'm using that running wasn't getting. So if you need to shake things up a bit with your routine, here's my recommendation. Just a may be tempted to throw a weight at your t.v., and I truly do talk back to Bob. At one point he says, "Breathe through the pain." THAT makes me angry. It doesn't work. In childbirth or workouts. I didn't want Brad saying it, and I don't want Bob saying it. I digress again...

Happy eating and sweating!

Monday, February 2, 2009

Monday Menu!

Is it Monday again already?! Here are a couple fun recipes. I made these yesterday for our Super Bowl party, and they were a big hit. The sandwiches I found on another blog, were called "Bunco Buns". I called them "Super Bowl Buns", but whatever you call them, they are great. Great addition to any potluck, shower, party, etc.

Super Bowl Buns

1 pkg. 24 dinner rolls (I used 2 12-packs)
1/2 stick butter, melted (I just realized I used a whole stick! whoops!)
4 TBSP poppy seeds
4 TBSP mustard
4 TBSP Worcestershire sauce
Sliced deli ham
Swiss cheese

In bowl, mix together the butter, poppy seeds, mustard and Worcestershire sauce. Spread sauce on both sides of sliced rolls and put a piece of ham and cheese on each. Cover with foil and bake at 350 for 15-20 minutes or until cheese melts. Best served warm. *I used Colby/jack cheese instead of the Swiss, and some had turkey instead of ham. They were all great. Use any combination!

Brenna & Amanda~loving those buns!

Now for dessert! These are compliments of Paula Deen, and they are so good! There are so many variations of this to make. I'll suggest a couple, but use your imagination or go to the Food Network website and search "gooey butter cake." Here's the one we had last night...

Double Chocolate/Toffee Gooey Butter Cake

1 cup butter, divided and melted
1 pkg. chocolate fudge cake mix (18.25 oz.)
3 large eggs, divided
1 pkg. (8 oz.) cream cheese, softened
4 TBSP cocoa powder
1 box (1 lb.) powdered sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
1 cup toffee bits

Lightly butter 13x9 pan. In a large bowl, stir together cake mix, 1 egg, and 1/2 cup melted butter. Evenly pat into pan and set aside. In a large mixing bowl, beat cream cheese until smooth. Beat in remaining 2 eggs and the cocoa powder until well-combined. Reduce speed to low and add sugar; beat until combined well. Gradually add remaining 1/2 cup melted butter and vanilla. Beat until smooth. Fold in toffee bits with rubber spatula and spread over cake mixture.

Bake until set around edges, but center is still gooey, 40-50 minutes. These will look quite under-done when you take them from the oven. They can be tricky to not over bake, so don't let the gooey-ness fool you! Let cool completely.

Some variations: German Chocolate Gooey Butter cake: prepare as above, using a German Chocolate Cake mix. Omit toffee bits. Instead, stir in 1 cup flaked coconut and 1 cup chopped pecans. Bake as directed above.

Toffee Gooey Butter Cake: Use a yellow cake mix instead of chocolate. Omit cocoa powder in 2nd layer. Continue as above.

Lots and lots of options! Enjoy!

This picture has nothing to do with food, but too cute not to include! Beth and Thomas weren't too into the Super Bowl, so instead they had their own "Tom and Jerry" party!