Baked Butternut Squash and Sausage Ravioli

14 Oct

It’s been a while since a recipe (a post, really) has appeared on this here blog, but this one is a good one and worth the wait.

The other week, I made a Pinterest board dedicated to things I want to cook or bake this fall. It includes a recipe for pasta with a butternut squash sauce and sausage. I thought I might make the dish as an accompaniment to our Thanksgiving dinner. But I craved that sweet, autumnal butternut squash flavor now.

Last week, I picked up a jar of butternut squash pasta sauce at Aldi on a whim. I figured I would pour it over cheese ravioli for a quick meal, either for us or for the girls.

This week, I combined the two ideas into a unique and delicious, warm, comforting and hearty meal.

2014-10-14 19.31.19

Baked Butternut Squash and Sausage Ravioli

(Inspired by Skinnytaste and adapted from Damn Delicious)

This hearty bake with sweet Italian sausage and autumnal butternut squash pasta sauce is on the table in about 30 minutes, thanks to a package of frozen cheese ravioli and a jar of pasta sauce. Plus it’s covered in gooey mozzarella cheese. In the words of Ina Garten, ‘How bad can that be?’


1 package frozen cheese ravioli

20 ounces fresh sweet Italian turkey sausage (I used turkey sausage links and removed the casings. You easily could substitute pork sausage, in bulk or in links.)

2 cups butternut squash pasta sauce

1 ounce Neufchâtel cheese (or cream cheese)

2 cups spinach, roughly chopped

8 ounces fresh mozzarella cheese, sliced


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and spray an 8-by-8-inch baking dish with nonstick spray.

Cook the ravioli according to the directions on the package, then drain them and set them aside.

In a large nonstick skillet, cook the sausage until browned. Add the pasta sauce and cream cheese and cook for just a few minutes, until the cream cheese is melted into the sauce and the sauce is warm. Add the spinach and cook until the spinach is wilted.

Spread the ravioli in the bottom of the prepared baking dish. Pour the sauce and sausage over the ravioli. Arrange the sliced mozzarella over top.

Bake for 20 minutes, or until the sauce is bubbly and the mozzarella is melted.


Christopher and I really enjoyed this dish. It was so delicious – sweet from the sauce (hooray squash!), savory from the sausage and creamy from the cheese ravioli – and hearty and just plain good. It was perfect for the rainy nights so far this week.

Twelve months

12 Sep

Written Sept. 12, 2014


I like to write these posts right around the girls’ “birthday” each month, but I got bogged down by a very busy few weeks. I elected to wait a couple more weeks yet because Anna and Elise are changing and learning and doing so much; I wanted to have more to write about.

Confession time: I wrote that at least 2 weeks ago. I have been putting off writing this post for at least that long, if not longer. Why? Maybe I wasn’t ready to admit that my girls no longer are babies. Maybe I wasn’t convinced I could do their first year justice with a simple blog update. Maybe I just wasn’t ready to share all of this with the world; maybe I just wanted to crawl back into my mommy-and-her-girls cocoon, where it’s warm, safe, loving – free from staring eyes, prying questions and unwelcome advice, admonishments and oh-so-astute observations.

But, here we are. Anna and Elise are 13 months old as of Wednesday. Christopher and I couldn’t be more proud of or amazed by our darling little girls.

So, here are some notes as our girls moved from babyhood to toddlerhood.

Toy box collageLikes: Crawling, when it’s more efficient; walking; unpacking their toy boxes, throwing toys and knocking down blocks and other structures; pushing or sitting in their (indoor) wagon; playing with Mama and Daddy’s shoes; dancing; offering their Nuks as their greeting; eating finger foods; cuddling Dexter and, now, Mama and Daddy and, occasionally, each other.


20140725_072602Dislikes: Being taken away from their play space and/or toys, having their toys taken out of their hands, and (sometimes) going to sleep.

Weights: Elise was 16 pounds on Aug. 19, and 16 pounds, 10 ounces on Aug. 27, while Anna was 16 pounds, 8 ounces on Aug. 19, and 16 pounds, 14 ounces on Aug. 27.

In a year, Elise gained 11 pounds, 5 ounces, and Anna gained 11 pounds, 6 ounces. Both girls more than tripled her birth weight.

20140802_071421Lengths: Elise was 27.5 inches on Aug. 19 and 28 inches on Aug. 27, while Anna was 27 inches on Aug. 19 and 28 1/4 inches on Aug. 27.

In a year, Elise grew 9.5 inches, and Anna grew 9 inches.


Milestones: Both girls figured out how to stand unassisted (Anna around July 24, and Elise around July 26) and then, within about 2 to 3 weeks, took their first steps (Anna on Aug. 6, and Elise on Aug. 12). Because they are so mobile, they are getting bolder and trying to escape the cordoned-off living room.

20140808_084511They also learned how to give kisses, both prompted and unprompted, and learned how to wave “hello” and “bye-bye,” usually when prompted with a wave.

Anna and Elise started sleeping through the night with regularity at the end of July.

Anna throwing collage

Fine motor skills: Clapping, throwing, pincer grasp, stacking rings, sorting blocks, playing peek-a-boo, turning pages, self-feeding, drinking from a cup.

20140809_172713Gross motor skills: Rolling, sitting up, crawling, pulling up to stand, standing unassisted, walking unassisted.

Anna basket collage

20140804_130325Eating: Breast milk, whole milk, plus a variety of finger foods.

Favorite foods: Scrambled eggs, pancakes, toast with butter and jam or peanut butter, black beans, carrots, cheese, pasta and meatballs with tomato sauce.

We dropped a couple of feedings (the middle-of-the-night feeding and the midday feeding) about six weeks ago, and we are down to just two—one in the morning upon waking and one in the evening before sleeping, or about 7 a.m. and 7 p.m.

We also introduced whole milk, dropped formula and the bottle and pretty much dropped purees as a component of every meal. (We’re going through a finicky phase, so we’re using smoothies, purees and sauces to ensure the girls get the nutrition they need to grow big and strong.)

Sleeping: The girls are finally sleeping through the night—and have been for about a month now. One of them might squawk or truly wake up in the middle of the night, but she usually goes back to sleep on her own or with a little soothing.

They are still taking two naps a day—one at about 9 or 9:30 a.m. and one at about 2:30 p.m. The morning nap is usually 1.5-2 hours long, and the afternoon nap is usually 1-1.5 hours long.

Elise blanket collage 20140808_155439Wearing: Some 6-9-month, but mostly 9- and 12-month clothing; pocket (cloth) diapers during the day and size 3 disposables at night.

Music Fest collageNicknames: Anna Banana, Anna Bear, Elisey Bean, Elisio, Peanut.

20140810_065422 I wanted to write a tender, touching ode to my little darlings, but I just struggled to find the words. Christopher, on the other hand, penned this beautiful letter (with a few edits from me) to our daughters with ease and oodles of love.

Dear The Peanuts,

After one year of living, learning, and loving with you, we’d like to say thank you.

It’s such a simple message, but in this case, it needs explaining.

Sure, there’s gratitude for a good night’s sleep, for smooth meals, diaper changes and transitions to and from the car seat, for no longer cleaning up spit-up. That sort of thing.

But more so, it’s gratitude for a year unlike any other we’ve experienced, and the promise of so many more.

20140729_124327 20140729_124159

Thanks for showing us that we were wrong to think we’d be clueless as parents. Yes, we wanted you in our lives so badly. But we weren’t sure how we’d fare once you were actually here. Turns out, between you being such extraordinary kiddos and our learning curve not being as brutal as we thought, this is one happy-as-all-get-out family.

(And your mom, who many times said she didn’t know how to take care of babies before you came along? Holy smokes, you guys are like the Three Amigas. Every night when I come home for my break to put you to bed, everyone is so happy – as if you’re on vacation, and I’m finally able to catch up with the group. You’ve helped your mom become a rock star. She’s always been Bono. Now she’s Freddie Mercury, the unquestioned greatest performer of all time.)

We love laughing with you, so thank you for that. And it’s not just laughing at the silly things you do, like putting empty buckets on your head and then cruising around the living room blind. We’ve gotten much better at laughing at ourselves. And being willing to sort of throw our hands in say “Uh oh!” Or, in a less kid-friendly manner of speaking, “Live and let love.”

We both used to be wound much more tightly. I know that’s hard to believe. Thank you for helping us realize that something so simple – meeting Charlie Brown and Snoopy, walking around the county fair, whatever it might be – can be such an adventure.


On that note, thanks for letting us see the world through your eyes. We get to be kids again, sort of. It’s such a neat thing. When your eyes light up at the sight of something new, our hearts flutter. When you actually seem to listen while we read a book to you? Yeah, that’s awesome. As is watching you page through books on the floor – as long as you’re not tearing the pages.


Thanks for teaching us about whole new layers of love. I can’t tell you how exciting it is to see you in the morning. And, even when we need a break, how our hearts ache a little bit when we close the door to the nursery at night. We miss you very easily. We’ve been together so much this first year that we’d never be us anymore, if we didn’t have you. If we didn’t get to hear your giggles and wacky babbling, see your smiles, feel your hugs.

Thank you for teaching me to be honest. I’m never more “me” than when I’m with you and your mom. I sometimes find myself wishing I could be that true to myself and unfiltered at all times. But only you can bring that out of me. You make me feel so important, so unique, and so exactly what you want. There’s nothing quite like how I feel when I’m with my family.

So thank you for teaching us what family can be. Your mom and I have been a family for a while now, but we never knew how extraordinary every day could be until we got to see you grow and, in turn, grow ourselves.

And to think of all the years we’ll have to grow together. Thank you for setting the bar so high for everything we’ll experience together.

Oh, the places we will go. Always together. Always in love.

Love, Dad

20140810_122953Happy (belated) first birthday, Anna and Elise! We love you to the moon and back!

Our Insta-month: August

3 Sep

Editor’s note: The girls have passed the major milestone that is their first birthday, so I am going to stop posting monthly updates. I probably will do more periodic updates or weekend recaps, so stay tuned for those.

In the meantime, enjoy the final Insta-month post and look out for the final monthly update soon.

IMG_20140802_071734 Anna showing off her flexibility and her sweet Chuck Taylors.

IMG_20140804_152855 Elise watching “House of Cards” with Mama while her sister naps a bit longer.

IMG_20140808_160137Elise showing off the bling she got for her birthday!

IMG_20140811_161925Riding in style.


Hanging out with Aunt Mindy!


Sending greetings from South Haven, Mich.


Making Mama’s job look like child’s play.


Anna modeling the latest in headwear.

Race recap: Music in Motion 5K

6 Aug

I know what you’re thinking: Another race recap? I promise this will be the last one for a while. The weekends from now through the end of the month are booked, and as it is, only a few local races are going on between now and the half marathon Sept. 28.

But, we ran a 5K on Saturday, and I must tell you about it.

We ran the Music in Motion 5K, a run that raises money for the orchestra program in the local schools. The course begins and ends at the big sports complex on the far west side of town and makes a big out-and-back L on country roads bordered by cornfields.

Unlike any of the other races we’ve run so far this season, we got to take the girls along in the jogging stroller! Christopher agreed to push them so I could chase a good time.

We gathered at the starting line, sang the national anthem and took off at the shot of the starting gun.

20140802_075859 (Awkward family selfie alert!)

The course headed west, just out of town, and then north on a country road, past cornfields, pastures and farms. It was a rolling course, surprisingly enough, and made more challenging by the sun and humidity.

I struggled with my breathing and a side stitch almost right away, but I pushed through and eventually got comfortable. I didn’t run with the intention of blowing away my new PR, but I wanted to at least finish under 30 minutes, if not closer to 29 minutes. I knew that was possible if I just kept going.

The girls were a welcome distraction; they giggled and sang through much of the race. Christopher offered words of encouragement, too, which helped; he reminded me that while a new PR wasn’t possible, something close to it was.

We turned back onto the road that leads to town and to the sports complex, and we did our best to turn up the pace a bit. We crossed the finish line and got gummed up in the chute thanks to the stroller and a rather unpleasant volunteer, who was collecting the tear strips from our bibs, then we grabbed a couple of bottles of water and caught our breath.

We were able to hang around a little bit, because we didn’t have to hurry home to put the girls down for their nap, so we grabbed some goodies and all four of us had a nice breakfast.

The Music in Motion 5K is a local favorite; it’s organized by a longtime runner and president of the local running club. It’s small (about 300 runners) and affordable (no chip timing, but a technical shirt). I definitely think we would do this one again.

Here’s the part you’re waiting for:

Distance: 3.1 miles
Duration: 28:47 bib time (28:52 RunKeeper time – forgot to hit stop until we were through the chute)
Average pace: 9:13 per mile
Mile 1: 8:57
Mile 2: 9:14
Mile 3: 9:24

Our Insta-month: July

5 Aug

Today marks 5 days until Anna and Elise turn 1. It’s hard to believe. The time really did fly by. But before we celebrate the end of the baby stage, and welcome the toddler stage; before we mark the survival of one year of parenthood; before we marvel at how much our little family has changed in the last year…we have to recap July!

IMG_20140704_124444Celebrating the Fourth of July at Petunia Festival in Dixon.

IMG_20140705_090226  Hanging out with Mama and Daddy after the Reagan Run 5K!

IMG_20140706_155345 IMG_20140706_155427

Elise, left, and Anna, right, checking out the writing reference books.

IMG_20140711_180712 Anna munching on a coaster at The Rusty Fox.


Elise getting up close and personal with “Finding Nemo.”

IMG_20140726_171546 Anna hanging out with Grandpa at the Main Street Music Festival.

IMG_20140729_182639 Elise, left, and Anna, right, letting it all hang out before bath time and bedtime.

IMG_20140729_183414 Anna taking in the world from a different angle.

Race recap: 5K for the Knockout

28 Jul

I don’t know whether it was the impassioned pre-race speech or the familiarity course…or just my lucky day, but I shattered my personal best this past weekend.

Christopher and I tackled the 5K for the Knockout, a local run in celebration of a local girl, 18, who died of rare form of childhood pancreatic cancer last summer. The course was through The Meadows and on the Lowell Park bike path, which we used to run all the time when we were training for the Wisconsin Marathon.

The morning kicked off with a fiery speech about how running a race is much like making your way through life—how some of us start out strong, while others finish with a good kick, but that it is crossing the finish line with grace that is most important.

We made our way toward the front of the very loosely organized pack of runners, leaving the girls with my dad, and took off at the command of the race organizer. Christopher and I ran separately.

The course wound through The Meadows, on a gravel trail, and the Lowell Park bike path, a paved trail. It was a relatively flat course, save for a downhill at the start and an uphill at the end; it also was a quiet course thanks to the woods on either side of the trail.

I felt really good through the whole race. I went out too fast and got a side stitch, but then I settled in and relaxed my body into a comfortable, yet maintainable pace. I walked only through the water stops.

I absolutely blazed through the first mile at about 8:18 (my first two-thirds of a mile were done at less than 8-minute pace) and then settled into a more manageable pace; the second mile was 9:49, and the third was 9:46.

My RunKeeper app alerts me of my time, distance and average pace every 5 minutes. I knew, at 25 minutes, that I had about four-tenths of a mile to go and about 4 minutes in which to run them in order to beat my (pre-baby) personal best. I knew that a new PR was mine for the taking; I just had to run faster than a 10-minutes-per-mile pace.

I approached the finish line and could hear Christopher and see my dad and the girls in their big, red double jogging stroller. I ran my heart out. I crossed in record time—but I failed to look at the clock that entire stretch.

I caught my breath and wandered toward my family. I looked down at my phone and saw 27:50. I couldn’t believe it.

Christopher set a PR, too. First in his age division (11th overall) at 23:32. For those keeping score at home, that’s an average pace of 7:35. Say what?


I was sixth in my age division. 11th among females, and 38th overall.


The 5K for the Knockout, now in its third year (?), is a really nice race. It’s small but it’s got the perks of a larger event—including chip timing and post-race bagels and bananas. The course is wonderful—beautiful and peaceful—too.

And now, the deets:

Distance: 3.1 miles
Duration: 27:53 chip time (27:50 RunKeeper time)
Average pace: 9:00 per mile
Mile 1: 8:18
Mile 2: 9:49
Mile 3: 9:46

Eleven months

14 Jul

Written July 14, 2014

11 months

(Elise, left, Anna, right)

Likes: Crawling; pulling up to standing in their cribs or against furniture; unpacking their toy boxes and tossing toys about; playing with Dexter’s food and water bowls; playing with Mama and Daddy’s shoes; playing with Daddy’s cell phone; dancing; carrying around anything blue; eating finger foods; cuddling Dexter.


(Anna, left, Elise, right)

Dislikes: Being taken away from their play space and/or toys, having their toys taken out of their hands, and being laid down for diaper changes.

Weights: Elise is about 16 pounds, 6 ounces, up about 2 pounds from last month, while Anna is about 16 lbs, 12 ounces, up almost 2 pounds from last month.


(Anna, left, Elise, right)

Lengths: The girls are likely a wee bit longer, on account of the fact that their 6-month onesies are getting tough to button.

Milestones: On the communication front, both girls continue to babble like crazy. In fact, you could swear they are trying to tell you something with how emphatic and expressive they are with their syllables sometimes. They also mimic sounds and movements.

Tug-of-war collage

Both girls, all of a sudden last week, gave kisses and now do it without hesitation. They also are going through a bit of a sweet, cuddly phase; they will lay on your chest and nuzzle into you or lay on Dexter and nuzzle into his fur.

IMG_6081For gross motor skills, both girls still are crawling, fast and furious. They both are cruising – shuffling side to side against furniture – and are taking a few assisted steps. They are getting really strong.

Climbing collage Climbing collage 2 (We used to block off the rest of the house from the living room play area using two large body pillows. The girls quickly figured out how to scale those. We now use two long plastic storage tubs, stacked one on top of the other.)

Other developments? We have teeth! Anna popped out her first tooth June 18 and her second June 27. Elise popped out her first tooth July 9.

20140615_133620 (Anna, left, Elise, right, on Father’s Day)

Other “milestones” include celebrating their first Father’s Day and spectating Mama and Daddy in two 5Ks – the Pretzel City 5K on June 28 and the Reagan Run on July 5.

Eating: A combination of breast milk and formula, plus the usual lineup of purees (including yogurt) and a variety of finger foods. The girls have yet to turn up their noses at anything we feed them. They love their food!

IMG_6159Wearing: Some 6-month, some 6-9-month, and some 9-month clothing; pocket (cloth) diapers during the day and size 2 disposables at night.

Nicknames: Anna Banana, Anna Bear, Banana Pants, Elisey Bean, Elisio, Beanut, Peanut.

*     *     *     *     *

It seems that overnight our little peanuts turned into our little ladies.

Anna and Elise are such sweet girls. And so smart and strong. It’s incredible to just watch them interact with each other, with other people, with the dog, with their toys, with the world around them. They are so amazing.

Anna peekaboo collageThey are flexible and resilient. They are adventurous and curious. They are determined. They are charming, funny and sweet. They are smiley and giggly. They are social. They are particular. They are independent, yet totally connected to one another. They are smart.

IMG_6118Anna and Elise are simply awesome. We are so privileged to be their parents.


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