Sunday, December 8, 2013

Peg doll fun!

We've been busy! How about you? Our homeschool co-op had a great little  Thanksgiving program. And I forgot my camera! So no photos but just know it was sweet with a handful of toddlers, preschoolers, and a few kindergartners.

 We had our obligatory turkey nap at Grandpa's house.

Visited Santa at his workshop.

Fought bears.

Played in the snow.

And mostly just had a lot of family time and togetherness. And opportunities to show our individuality.

We've also between getting ready for Christmas. We're trying to focus on giving instead of what we get to receive this year. It's a though sell for kids this age, but everything takes a little practice. Yesterday, we went to the Library Station's "Holiday Store," where the big kids could spend a little allowance money on gifts for family and friends. They would even wrap the items up for the kids. Such a good experience. But kids being kids, they still wanted things for themselves. I'll let you know how the experiment works, but we already plan to do it again every year.
As for me, I love making gifts for my children. Some may need to be purchased, but there's something really special about a gift handmade by Mom. One year I made hobby horse type animals (a unicorn and a giraffe). These are still wildly popular around here. This year I found the idea for making peg dolls and I love them!
They are many for different sets of children in the family. And they all have different characters they love. Two of my girls will be receiving a set of their own and I'll probably add a doll house to at least one of them. I wanted to make a turtle van and a castle and an X-wing or something for the different sets, but I just don't have the time or energy for those right now. These are still a lot of fun anyway! My littlest caught me in the design phase and started playing with them, so I know they'll be a hit with at least one kid. ;-)  The bridal set was originally all was I going to make, since my girls are really excited about weddings right now. I remember lovely weddings and brides and all, but surely I was at least 7 before all that craze, right?! Anyway, I've had a lot of fun with these! What projects are you working on?

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Back to Home School Fun

We officially started our 2013-2014 school year yesterday.  What a big girl!  She's been so excited to finally start kindergarten.  There's not a huge difference in our routine from over the summer, except that we've added history, science, art/music, and PE, but we won't necessarily be doing all those every single day.  So far, it's been going well.  We're following the Easy Peasy curriculum still, which we both enjoy.  Ms Z is doing the "Getting Ready 2" program for language arts/reading (their version of Kindergarten following the McGuffey Primer), 1st grade math, and the Year 1 elementary level program of study. Click the link above to get most of your questions answered.  We'll be learning about the Egyptians for History and making connections in the Bible.  Today we read about Joseph and Mary escaping Herod with Jesus to Egypt and made a pyramid and learned what they were for. We also talked about why the Egyptians would set up a civilization on the Nile River.  We're building a lapbook as we learn more.  For Science we're studying many things.  Today we learned about what organisms need to live and learned to distinguish between living (biotic) and non-living (abiotic) things.  We did a little observation game where we gathered several objects, both living and non-living (and previously living) and picked them from the bag.  About halfway through the game, we really got the idea of what was living (or had been living) and what was non-living.  For the purpose of our discussion, we considered something made from wood as non-living, even though it was previously a tree.  Here are our results. The non-living objects were a screw, a nail, some crayons, a clothespin, a block, and some rocks.  The living objects were some grapes, a carrot, some leaves, some flowers, and an avocado.  I considered putting a bug in the bag, but I wouldn't want to pick that up blind, so decided against it. ;)

 Some of the words in the online text are a little advanced for kindergarten, but I explain them on her level.  Even if the kids don't understand everything, frequent exposure to new words and vocabulary and an inviting conversation and relationship helps them learn a lot.  In math, she's been learning even/odd, skip counting by 2s, learning to write number words, and ordinal words (like first, second, third).  We were doing some school work through the summer and she's really been enjoying math, so we're a bit ahead in that area.  The music and art subjects are nice.  Yesterday, we explored some of the "first music"--nature-- and got to use a program to make our own music compositions from animal sounds, nature sounds, instruments, and everyday sounds.  We've done a bit of ballet each day, too.  It's been fun and instructive and is good exercise, so we'll see how it continues for us.  The girls usually stick around through the stretches and plies, then come back for some of the jumps.  It's cute and I get a nice exercise. ;)

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Calendar Time

Since we're starting up our new year next month, I decided it would be a good idea to start having calendar time.  Or at least preparing for it.  I searched for the perfect printable, but just couldn't find exactly what I wanted.  Of course that means I had to make my own! ;)  Feel free to use mine and edit it or share it around but please don't post my work on your blog.  Make a link to my page, please.  And sorry.  I'd planned to upload the documents to google drive, but it changed my formatting.  I'll work on that and see if I can upload it later.

The plan with the calendar is to color in or trace name of the month and year on the first class day of the month and color or trace the date number each day.  I also want to talk about exciting things happening that week or month and put some sort of marker or sticker on the date we're looking forward to.  For example, when the kids get to visit grandparents we'll put a special mark.  When we're planning a field trip, we'll have a different mark.  I'm hoping this will help develop an understanding of time passing.

The plan with the weather graph is to check the weather each day.  We'll keep track of the weather patterns for each month and begin an understanding of making graphs.  Look there!  That's math AND science.  I'll let you know in a few weeks how it's going!

I love homeschooling!

What are you doing to prepare for "Back to School" time?

Friday, July 26, 2013

Freezer Cooking: Making a plan that works for YOUR family

Do you freezer cook?  I used to try and follow someone else's plan for a month of freezer meals, but invariably had to make changes to their plan anyway.  They'd either have recipes with too much unhealthy crap many processed foods or too many weird new foods for my family to try in a month.  I like new foods.  Don't get me wrong!  But sometimes I want to sit down to an old favorite and know at least 4 of us will ENJOY it.  One kid might whine grumble for a little while, but that happens no matter what we eat.  So I'd end up either using only 2 of their recipes or making so many changes I might as well have made up my own plan.

Meal Starters

I've experimented, with great success, on making "meal starters" in the past.  That's when you make up several packets of cooked ground beef, chopped up soup vegetables, sauces, and so on that go in the freezer.  So when it's time to cook, you've already got a start and it takes less time and dishes to make dinner.  This is great, especially if you KNOW you don't have time to make 18 meals in one day.  It's crazy sometimes!

Double Up

Another idea I've tried successfully is to double up a recipe that I'm already making and freeze the extra for another day. It's brilliant!  If you're already so short on time you can't make extra food but you already are making dinner, it takes maybe 2 extra minutes to put together the second batch of whatever since you've already prepared the ingredients for the first one.  This works great for lasagna, pasta bakes, enchiladas, soups, chili, pancakes, cookies, and muffins. It's a great start.  And it's helpful when you don't have much freezer space.  It's still perfectly possible to do a "big cooking/freezing day" with just the freezer connected to your fridge, but it takes way more planning.

My Plan

So back to the big cooking day.  I decided to just make up my own plan since I was basically doing that anyway for so long.  I'm not going to post all my recipes.  You probably have a favorite recipe for all or most of the family favorites I'm going to share anyway.  If not, I'll post them eventually, if you ask nicely. ;)  I just wanted to share my method.  And, by the way, I love how this turned out.  I love the food.  I love that I have meals ready to go in my freezer.  And I love that still have the flexibility to make dinner from scratch if that bug bites.  Honestly, sometimes I LOVE to cook.  But most days I'm scrambling around trying to figure out if peanut butter on crackers qualifies as a meal a little lacking in my planning.  When I do plan, though, WATCH OUT!  I'm gonna makes things happen!

Make a list of family favorites

So, first step is to make a list of recipes your family likes.  It helps if many of the recipes share some common ingredients, but you don't want the meals to get boring by ALWAYS having the same thing.  I had a list of 10 recipes (plus the sauces I was making from scratch) and then ended up with extra chicken so I made some other meals, too.  I doubled those recipes so we would have each meal twice.  That makes 20+ meals.  We usually have leftovers, which we eat either for a lunch or for a "leftovers night" during the week.  If you're running short on ideas, consider doing what the "Food Nanny" suggests and making a theme for each day of the week.  She has her own plan, but our family just does things differently.  Sunday is "traditional/crockpot".  Monday is "ethnic."  By that we mean, it's a good night for Mexican or Asian.  We might toss in Indian food at some point.  We LOVE Mexican, but we also enjoy a good stir fry or sweet and sour sometimes.  Tuesday I have prenatals almost all night, so we call that "Fend for Yourself" night.  Mostly that means The Boy Scout makes something strange unique weird for the kids and himself while I either bring dinner or buy Qdoba while I'm at the office. Wednesday is "Italian."  My husband would eat pasta for every meal, I think, if it were up to him.  I'm not kidding.  He has made some fantastic breakfast pasta, even.  Thursday we have fish.  Partly because we like fish and want to eat more of it and partly because a friend told The Boy Scout that eating fish twice a week will help with his cholesterol numbers.  The other meal is usually tuna fish sandwiches for lunch.  Friday we either grill out or have soup (or go out to eat on the oh so rare occasion).  We're thinking if it's too cold to grill, we want to have soup anyway. Saturday is for comfort foods.  Some of our favorites are stroganoff, gumbo, and jambalaya.  We ARE southerners, after all. ;)  When I plan my weekly shopping trips, I plan on 6 meals plus lunches and breakfasts then write out all the ingredients I need for those recipes, adding those on my shopping list I don't already have stocked up.  My "shopping list book" has a long list of meals our family EVER eats.  You might consider something like this.

Make a list of recipes you want to make this month

Consult your long list and pick what you want to make this time.  Some foods freeze better than others.  Some shouldn't be frozen at all.  Some need to be frozen before cooked.  Some need to be prepared then frozen.  It'll take a little research and experimenting to figure out what works for your recipes, but it's worth it for the money saved and the hassle gone.  Anyway, here's my list for this time: beef/turkey (red sauce) enchiladas, chicken (white sauce) enchiladas, Taco soup, cheeseburger soup, broccoli-cheese casserole, lasagna, stroganoff, chili, cabbage rolls, and meatballs.  Notice how some of these contain VERY similar ingredients?  It's planned that way.  I also made my own spaghetti sauce and enchilada sauce for these recipes. These are just the recipes I wanted to put together.  We also have fish every week, but I didn't need to prepare it in any way.  If you like marinated steaks or chicken breasts, those count as meals, too but all you have to do it dump the ingredients in a bag and freeze them. :)

Make a list of ingredients

Calculate how much you'll need for all the recipes.  If your one recipe says you need 1/2 cup of parmesan cheese and you're making a double batch, you should buy a new container of parmesan, since the opened container in your fridge probably doesn't have enough for both recipes.  It's really frustrating to run to the store (or deal with substitutions) when in the middle of cooking all this food.  The same goes for seasonings. Chili always requires more chili powder than I think it does.  I've started buying it in bulk, too.  In general, it's better to buy too much ingredients than not enough.  You can always freeze the extras.  Consider containers, too.  I buy the 10 x 12 foil pans and lids from Sam's.  These freeze nicely, bake nicely, and have perfectly smooth lids for writing on.  Some people like to print labels.  I like to use my permanent marker.  You may want quart and gallon size freezer bags.  It's worth spending extra on the name brand bags.  Trust me.  Or learn the hard way.  Hard plastic containers are also nice since there's less waste.  I pick mine up from Aldi when the come in.  I think the brand is Sterilite, or something like that.  I love them.  They are freezer, microwave, and top-rack dishwasher "safe."  Plus they have a little vent you can open when microwaving.  You'll find the right containers for your meals.

Buy in bulk

Buying items in bulk is a huge money saver.  Buying those 5# bags of cheese from Sam's club saves at least 25%, even from the sales prices.  Buying those big #10 cans of diced tomatoes and tomato sauce saved me over 50%.  Bonus: I was trying to save money by reducing the amount of beef I bought.  Some recipes HAD to have fresh ground beef or turkey because they were meatballs or whatever.  Some recipes could be completely substituted with a meat replacement like beans/rice.  Some recipes really needed to contain some amount of meat just so we wouldn't feel deprived.  So when I went to Sam's Club to purchase my meat, I couldn't bring myself to buy the huge chub of beef they had at $30+ and they didn't have turkey in stock.  I went to Aldi next since their frozen turkey is so cheap and their fresh beef isn't extraordinarily expensive.  Here's the bonus.  In the fresh meat section, they had fresh turkey and fresh beef chuck but at almost the same price.  The also had fresh sirloin that needed cooked by the next day (my cooking day!) with a "$2 off per package" sticker.  This made the sirloin cheaper then the turkey!  I bought 6 lbs. Happy dance time!

I also usually buy two whole chickens that I cook in the crockpot or roaster oven, depending on the time I have available.  I use the meat from one chicken in my recipes to freeze and save the meat from the other for meals to make "from scratch."  Depending on my plans I'll either fridge or freeze it.

Plan to spend ALL day cooking

Planning means you have something for the kids to do, like a babysitter or a new activity that will keep them out of your hair.  It also means you make any early preparations the night before.  Have a clean kitchen.  Crockpot your chicken or beans or whatever overnight.  Have all the vegetables chopped up and ready to go.  Make sure you have easy snacks/lunches available to keep everyone fed and not cranky.  When you wake up in the morning, have a good healthy but fast breakfast and then get going.  It's not a race, but if you're still putting dinners together well after you wanted to stop for dinner, you're going to wish you'd gotten up earlier.  Expect to wash the same mixing bowls 3 or 4 times in the day.  It's just going to happen, so plan on it.  Clean up in between so it's less of a mess at the end of the day.  Also, have flat surfaces to prepare on, to cool foods on, and to hold foods between steps on.  I used my dining table and the top of my freezer for these.  You don't want to put hot foods in your deep freeze.  It just has to work harder to cool and then thaws some of your foods. A final thought: do NOT plan your shopping and cooking day as the same day.  You CAN plan on prepping on your shopping day, but you don't have to.

Make Like Foods at the Same Time

I love my cabbage roll recipe.  When I make cabbage rolls, I always quadruple the meat portion and make half of those into meatballs.  Then I make 2 batches of cabbage rolls and 2 batches of meatballs.  I cook all the ground meat either the night before or the first thing in the morning. Then I make my spaghetti sauce and enchilada sauce, then put together enchiladas, taco soup, chili and lasagna (or make the sauces the night before and assemble cold ingredients in the morning).

Here's How I Planned My Cooking Day

Night Before 
  1. Set chickens to cook overnight in crockpot.
  2. Set chili beans to cook overnight in crockpot. (I made my from dried beans instead of buying cans.)
  3. Chop all vegetables
  4. Brown 10# of turkey/beef/meat substitute
Cooking Day
  1. Combine taco soup ingredients and freeze.
  2. Combine chili ingredients and freeze.
  3. Make spaghetti sauce and enchilada sauce.
  4. Make lasagnas and freeze.
  5. Make beef enchiladas and freeze.
  6. Make chicken enchiladas and freeze.
  7. Make broccoli cheddar casserole and freeze.
  8. Make cheeseburger soup and freeze half.  Save other half for lunch today.
  9. Make up stroganoff sauce and freeze.
  10. Make up 4 lbs of cabbage roll meat.
  11. Make half ^ into cabbage rolls and freeze. 
  12. Add Italian seasoning to other half and make into meatballs.
  13. Bake meatballs in muffin tins.  Cool and freeze.
It happened mostly the way I planned, except that I had to cook the chickens in my roaster oven since my crockpot was no where near big enough for two chickens.  I forgot this as I usually cook one for "cooking day" and one on Sunday for my "traditional meal" night.  So those were cooking in the morning while I prepared other recipes.  I also ended up making the meatballs and cabbage rolls first instead of last, but I still made them together which was the point.  We ended up having cheeseburger soup for dinner instead of lunch.  For lunch we made up sandwiches and pressed on. Many people plan on ordering pizza the night they cook big meals, but I think that defeats a purpose.  Do what works for your family.

Note: Sorry for no photos.  I'll add them later.  I didn't take ANY pictures while cooking, even though I KNEW I should have.  But this gets you started if you're looking for a way to do a "Freezer Cooking Day."

Edit:  I forgot to mention that in addition to the meals I made above, I also bought fish for a couple weeks, ingredients to make a family favorite that doesn't freeze well, and enough stir fry vegetables for two meals.  We keep a decent store of foods in the house, so we fill in the empty places with other meals.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Pioneer Day Celebration

Our co-op got together today to celebrate the pioneers.  For those who don't know, July 24th is Pioneer Day.  It celebrates the day the first group of Latter-Day Saint pioneers entered the Salt Lake Valley in Utah in 1847.  In Utah, it is a HUGE celebration, perhaps rivaling Independence Day celebrations.  But around here in Missouri, it's only observed by the few LDS who make a point to celebrate it.  

The kids posed for a picture at our Pioneer Day picnic.
We didn't do anything huge, but we wanted to introduce the children to some of our history.  Mostly we sang pioneer songs, like "Pioneer Children" and played some pioneer-style games, like "tug of war" and "jumping rope."  We also enjoyed some really tasty foods the pioneers had eaten.  We had potato cakes with ketchup and Swiss Apple-Cherry pie.  Yum!  You can find the recipes for them here, if you want to try for yourself.  Another friend made up a recipe she found in Nauvoo for Haymaker's Switchel, a pioneer version of Gatorade.  Apparently, when the pioneers would go work in the field they would take some of this drink to stay hydrated.  I agree it would do the job!  It was a sort of ginger root tea flavored with molasses, lemon juice, and vinegar.  Two out of my three girls slurped it down.  And I thought it was pretty good, too.  A bit like a "real" ginger ale. 

I tried to make some ice cream by following this recipe, but the bag started to leak and we just poured the cold and sweetened half and half over our pie. :)  That'll teach me to try things out BEFORE showing them to the kids!  They were so excited about my promised ice cream that we had to have a cone when we got back from the park.  We spent the rest of our morning chatting and playing in the park.  It was such a gorgeous day we couldn't let it go to waste!

Coming soon: NOT Back to School Party!  What would you do to celebrate homeschooling?
My girls playing while waiting for our friends.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Tree Ring Analogy

Have you missed me? Well I've been contemplating the words in this talk by Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf entitled "Of Things That Matter Most."

He starts with this wonderful observation.
It's remarkable how much we can learn about life by studying nature.  For example, scientists can look at the rings of trees and make educated guesses about climate and growing conditions hundreds and even thousands of years ago.  One of the things we learn from studying the growth of trees is that during seasons when conditions are ideal, trees grow at a normal rate.  However, during seasons when growing conditions are not ideal, trees slow down their growth and devote their energy to the basic elements necessary for survival.

Nothing really huge has been going on in our lives, but there have been a lot of little things.  I've had to slow down and devote my energy to the basic elements necessary for survival.  I call this "survival mode."   It's no big deal.  Most everyone, at some time in their lives, finds the wisdom in going into a survival mode.  We've been catching up on rest, eating simple meals, enjoying family time together, learning new things, re-enjoying old favorites, working on talents, and thinking on the future.  We just cut back on many extras like blogging, excessive social media time, shopping, and too many extracurricular activities for a little bit.  We "unplug" everyday for at least an hour or two.  This sounds pathetic, but since we do most of our homeschooling online, we enjoy listening to streaming music, and much of our communication happens using some form of electronic device, you can probably understand.  This time allows us to focus on more important things like enjoying our family relationships and developing talents or skills.

Have you ever gone into "survival mode"? What gets axed first?

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Celebrating America and Learning about Independence Day

We met with our co-op last week to learn about Independence Day.  We started out by reading a few books.  George Washington's Breakfast was a great way to learn some interesting facts about our first president through a story.  Then we got to eat some of George Washington's breakfast!  If you don't know what it was, I won't ruin it for you. Wink, wink.  (So sorry I didn't take photos, though!)

Later, we read a little about from Joining the Boston Tea Party to learn about what life was like for the colonists and why they would start a revolution against Great Britain.  The kids got to start coloring their Boston Tea Party lapbooks, which in retrospect were a little advanced for them, while I told a condensed version of the story.

Last, we made our own American flags and had a parade!  After the parade we ate some great snacks then played in the library's children's area. We love homeschooling!  Today we're reading the preamble to the US Constitution. We figure that's about as much as they can handle in one sitting, but it's so very important to understand. Tonight we're going to join some friends in celebrating our country's independence.

What are you doing to celebrate our country's independence?

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Digging at the Dinosaur Museum!

We visited the Missouri Institute of Natural Science Tuesday and got to dig for fossils!  Real ones! We started out in the museum and looked at our favorite exhibits again.  Then moved to the ice block table.  Dinosaurs were frozen in a big chunk of ice and the children learned how researchers have to slowly removing rock or ice or dirt from fossils so they can be removed in one piece.  They showed this by allowing the children to put warm water one drop at a time on the dinosaur toys until they FINALLY came out.  Some kids didn't even get one out in their time.  Sometimes researchers have to pass on the responsibility, too.  Good lesson here.
Next, the researchers showed us some real fossils that are found in Missouri.  These are called crinoids.  They told us that crinoids are underwater animals that look like plants, much like coral.  The segments we find are the stalk of the plant-like animal.  Click here to learn more about the crinoid.  Then we went for a short walk up the hill to find our own crinoids.  Can you see them here?  The black arrows are pointing at the donut shaped crinoid fossils in the rock.  This is evidence that Missouri used to be underwater!

Next, we set to work.  Here's my little paleontologist on the hunt for her own crinoid fossils.  We got quite a good collection.  We even found a rock that looks a lot like a seashell.
Kids on the fossil rock at the "Dino Museum."
Wandering around after our "dig."

 After we found our fossils we took a look around at what activities the library had for us.  Ms K really enjoyed the Alphabet dig.  She found quite a few letters!

Ms Z made a rubbing of a leaf that looked a lot like how fossil would look.  All the kids enjoyed reading some dinosaur and ice age related books, making their own stegosaurus with a model and clothespins, and playing with clay and models to make foot prints and impressions just like fossils.  We had a great time and learned so much!  What fun things are you up to lately?

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Field Trip Shirts and ID cards

Thursday is our co-op day.  Since it's summer time, we expect to do even more field trips. One day on a field trip this year, it occurred to me I couldn't remember exactly what my children were wearing.  What if they got lost?!  It was a pretty busy day at the zoo that day and completely possible, but a lot of the children there were in large school groups with matching shirts.  So I've been thinking on this idea for some time.  If we had matching shirts, I could easily see my kids from a distance and could describe what they were wearing if we still managed to be separated.  My sister-in-law has a cutting machine so we designed our school shirts, cut out the stencils, and painted the shirts.  The kids had a nice time finger painting, too.  Ms A wasn't in to it and I was, frankly, afraid to let Ms K have a try.  But Ms Z enjoyed exploring paint possibilities.  We just used the craft paint since we had quite a stash to explore with.  And it washed off their hands easily.
 I think the shirts turned out nicely.  Each kid has the same front.  The back has their initial pretty large on the back and their hand prints, for those who didn't mind touching the paint. I look forward to calling to the kids "Put on your field trip shirts!" and seeing the look of wonder at what adventures we would go on today. :)  Bonus:  I bought 5 shirts for about $8 and only used 3.  I already had the paint and my sister-in-law already had her cutter and paper.  That means this craft cost me about $2 per shirt and I have 2 extras!  Whoot!

Said sister-in-law also has Adobe Photoshop, so we designed some pretty swanky ID cards.  The QR code goes straight to our website, in case there's ever question about the validity of our school, and it lends a certain professionalism to them, I think. We'll update cards and photos each year, probably in the summer so there's little rush and excellent opportunities. Feel free to copy our design.  The black bars are for privacy of our information.  We had such a tough time finding a free download for a Photoshop compatible template that we designed our own.  We had to leave her house before we could finish making a generic template, but once we can, I'll post it here for anyone else who wants one with all the layers editable. We plan to order these cards as photo prints and laminate them for protection.   In case you don't know, ID cards are great for getting discounts at museums, movie theaters, and more.  If you bring in your report cards, many companies offer free or discounted items for As each semester/term.  The cards serve as identification for obtaining your own library card.  There are probably other advantages to making your own identification cards for your homeschool, but these are a few that come to mind. Bonus:  I ordered these from Walgreens for about 21 cents each!  Extra whoot! What do you think? Do you have "official" t-shirts or ID cards?

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Happy Father's Day!

We sure love our Daddy!  The Boy Scout is quite a man.  He works so hard at work then comes home and takes care of things around here, too.  He is so supportive of my work in midwifery. It's my passion and he has so much patience for the strange hours required.  He loves to play with the girls.  They are his biggest fans.  Many times he has commented how he feels like a rock star when he comes home.  "Daddy!" is the battle cry while the mobs charge forth to hug him. He is one fantastic cook!  There are a few things he makes extremely well.  We call him the "Master of Leftover Masterpieces."  I like to cook so that we have leftovers and he makes them over into something completely different and wonderful.  For these and many more reasons we wanted to do something special for him, so we went to the park on a gorgeous day with a good friend and my sister-in-law, a very talented amateur photographer.  The kids had a lovely time and we caught some great photos.  And these were just taken on a camera phone!  Can you believe it?!  Anyway, she did great.  Then we asked the girls questions about "Daddy" and added them to the collage.  Round it out with chocolate candies and breakfast in bed and he thought this was quite a wonderful morning. :)  
Bonus: Walgreens was running a free 8x10 collage print! I should have shared that with you all, but I blanked out, so apologies!  But I totally took advantage of that and also made a smaller collage of all of us that he could keep in his wallet.

Monday, June 3, 2013

For Peace At Home

Have you ever had a hectic day? Maybe the children have been at each other's throats all day.  Or perhaps the day started out with stress. Maybe you went off track a little today, made some poor choices, and are now regretting them.  Of course you want to have peace in your home!  But how can you invite that peace back?  Our family has been experimenting with "resets."  We return to the important starts of our days.  Our day is "supposed" to start with prayer and scripture study and perhaps a song or two. Some days we do this and still have a hectic day.  More often, we forget and have a pretty tough time.  When I notice we're having a tough moment, I call for a reset.  Everyone comes to the living room or wherever most of us are, we turn off technology, and we return to our Father.  We often start with a prayer, but sometimes we need a song to draw in the Holy Spirit first. Then we find a scripture to read together.  Most of the time, we find a good teaching moment here. We once again feel the peace of the Spirit.  We pray for more guidance in our day.  As we have practiced this "reset" idea, we have been doing better about starting our day out the right way, but we also have gotten better about resetting our days in the right way.  Our Heavenly Father is waiting for us to speak to Him.  He has answers for us, if we'll only turn to Him. Our homes can be temples to the Lord.  As we practice these little things, they can grow our faith and our testimonies.  As we center our life on Christ, we can have true peace and happiness. Simple consistent good habits lead to happiness. Are we perfect at this?  Of course not!  And we still have tough days where no one remembers we need a reset.  But we're trying and this is helping.

Where did I find this idea?  Well, it's been evolving for some time, but a part of it came from Elder Richard G Scott's talk in the April 2013 General Conference "For Peace at Home." He begins his talk with these words (emphasis added):
Many voices from the world in which we live tell us we should live at a frantic pace.  There is always more to do and more to accomplish.  Yet deep inside each of us is a need to have a place of refuge where peace and serenity prevail, a place where we can reset, regroup, and re-energize to prepare for future pressures. The ideal place for that peace is within the walls of our own homes, where we have done all we can to make the Lord Jesus Christ the centerpiece.
He tells us that parents are not the only responsible party here.  Children can be taught to help keep the peace in the home. 
Children who are made to feel accountable for their actions...grow to be trustworthy citizens in the kingdom of God.
He also encourages us to be wise in our use of technology.  The fact that we can communicate instantaneously with anyone in the world through the internet is amazing.  We can find answers to many worldly questions, connect with loved ones, and study the scriptures and other important works.  But it can also be a source of filth and distraction.  We should be very careful about what we allow into our homes and what we allow to take our attention away from the most important job we can have: helping our children grow up in righteousness. I know I've been struggling to find a balance.  We need "free time" just as much as our children do.  But our children also need times of our undivided attention.  They need to experience all the beauty that life can offer and they need us to guide them in those experiences.  We need to get out more.  We need to get down on the floor with them more. We need to talk with them and not only to them.  We need to focus our lives in service to others.  The internet can be a great tool to organize and research. But don't allow this tool to use you!

On that note, I'll leave you to read or watch Elder Scott's talk yourself, while I take my children out to experience this world, after we start our day right, of course. ;)
Read, listen to, or watch his full talk here.

Friday, May 31, 2013

Mmm. Granola

We are granola freaks around here.  Well, I am actually.  The kids put up with it when there's nothing else around.  I eat it with yogurt, kefir, milk, ice cream, as trail mix, whatever!  Love it, love it, love it.  And it's so easy to make, I don't know why people would want to buy it.  Hmmm, maybe I should start SELLING mine!  Anyway, sidetracked.  I've tried out different recipes over the years, tweaking them until I've found my favorite.  And I may still tweak it again.  And, of course, sometimes it's just nice to have a different flavor or variety.  As with so many other recipes, I like a basic formula that I can adjust to my mood.  You can easily use a different nut, type of oil, or use maple flavor instead of vanilla extract. Today, I'll share the recipe I  made this morning.

Excuse me while I rescue my 16 month old daughter from the bunk bed.  She literally climbed the ladder herself and then, when she saw me, she climbed back down.  This is just plain scary! But look how pleased she is with herself!

Anyway, here's the recipe.


Preheat oven to 275F
Combine in a large bowl:
6 cups old-fashioned oats
1/2 cup wheat germ
2 Tbsp brown sugar
1/4 tsp salt
2/3 cup pecans
2/3 cup coconut
2 Tbsp ground flax, optional

In a medium saucepan combine and heat to a simmer:
2-3 Tbsp real maple syrup
2 Tbsp molasses
3 Tbsp coconut oil
1 Tbsp water
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp cinnamon

Drizzle the liquid mixture over the oat mixture and stir well to combine.  Place on two large ungreased baking sheets and bake for 20 minutes.  Stir then bake an additional 20 minutes.  Remove from oven and stir in 2/3 cup raisins.  I just put mine back into the bowl I used earlier.  Allow to cool completely then store in airtight container. 

Mmmm.  If you want to make this a trail mix, add in some dried bananas, sunflower seeds, coated chocolate candies, chocolate chips, butterscotch chips, and/or peanuts.  So good!  We took it with us on our camp out with some peanuts and chocolate covered raisins mixed in. :D

Last chance for my giveaway!

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

My weekend away

My darling husband knows me very well. Some days he's fairly clueless, like many men we love, but when it came to celebrating 6 years together, he did remarkable.  His plan was to surprise me with a weekend away at the beach, camping.  It didn't come out exactly that way, but it was pretty close.  He arranged for my parents to watch our 3 girls ages 16 months to almost 5 years and then took me deep into the quiet Mark Twain National Forest.  We camped at this camping "resort," which basically means it's slightly pampered camping.  You could pay for the cabins, which we don't consider camping, or you could camp in the field with a fire pit, picnic table, and free firewood.  A quick walk away is a covered pavilion with washing sink, next to the bathroom and shower house.  Another quick walk brings you to the trading post, stocked with such necessities as sunglasses, bug spray, lighters, water shoes, and medicines.  They even have small packages of cornmeal, oil, and flour if you forgot food. And of course ice and candy bars. ;)  It was a true vacation for us, since we usually camp as primitively as possible: digging latrines, searching for firewood, and eating whatever camp-worthy food we could manage.
Our "pampered campsite"

Do you like our tent?  We were so geeked-out over finding a canvas tent with attached floors, zippered windows, and a true double door at a yard sale.  We got it for a STEAL of only $15!  These things retail at over a thousand.  It needs a little love, but it's still excellent and huge. It sleeps 8 and is tall enough for my 6'1" Boy Scout to stand up and can still reach his arms up.  We hate changing clothes in a 4' tall tent!

We loved just sitting in those chairs and listening to nothing but birds, watching squirrels going through the woods, and taking in all of God's beauty.

The view from our tent door
Don't you love that sweet trail there?  There were so many squirrels, birds, and lizards making use of the area and we just had to explore. And this picnic table was great.  We're excited about bringing our kids on another day to enjoy the fun here. There was also a playground, volleyball net, and horseshoes game set up, but I neglected to take pictures.

My Boy Scout carving a "chicken stick."
On a previous camping trip, the Boy Scout brought a cornish hen to rotisserie.  It was EPIC, apparently, and he wanted to share his joy with me. We started with a hike to find just the right sticks: two for the stand and one to hold the chickens.  Then he had to shave off the bark.
In your best imitation of Crocodile Dundee, say "Now, THAT's a knife."

Put the chickens on the stick and rotate, as needed, about every 15 minutes.  We seasoned these with salt and pepper and played various games while waiting for them to finish cooking.  Remember: you shouldn't walk away from your fire, even if it's in a fire pit. Just before they were done, we poured some buffalo wing marinade over one.  It was awesome.  I'd post a picture of the completed chickens, but it was rather dark and they were so amazingly tasty that I couldn't bring myself to take a picture.  Suffice it to say, they lived up to the legend and we will TOTALLY bring hens on every camp out our family does.
Rotisserie chickens
The next morning, we got our adventure on!  We went for a walk down to the "Bat Cave," then since the owners gave us permission to go off trail wherever we liked, we went on an adventure.  We climbed up passed the cave and explored.  It didn't take long before we were going nearly vertical so we decided to travel back down.  We found some fun rocks to pose on and then took a little stroll back to our campsite.
Our morning hike/adventure

Next, we went to play in the river and discovered we had floated passed this very place the last few years.  Don't let that calm-looking water fool you.  This river has some strong current!  We couldn't walk upstream, so we tried different paths and ended walking through the woods to explore other parts of the water.  When we got to the "island" in the middle of the river, we found deer tracks in the stream running through there.  So very cool.  And so was the WATER!  It was COLD!  After a little while we got used to it, or maybe our legs went numb.  It's a hard choice, but it was still nice to hear the bubbling stream and listen to the bird calls.  There was one in particular who was quite loud, but I couldn't get a good shot of him.
Showing off at the river.
If you're looking for a little getaway, whether you enjoy "roughing it" or prefer cabin camping, we highly recommend "Lost Cabins Resort."  They also rent canoes and tubes for float trips.  They have some that only take a couple hours to float, or you can go for a few days. We weren't in the mood for a float trip, so we passed this time, but maybe next time we'll rent the family sized one!

Playing around with CollageItPro.

Don't forget about our giveaway. It ends tomorrow night at midnight!