Tuesday, April 30, 2013

CollageItPro Giveaway

Click here for a Rafflecopter giveaway.

CollageItPro has given me 20 codes to upgrade to CollageItPro for free (12 Windows, 8 Mac)!  Try it out free at collageitfree.com, then enter my giveaway to upgrade for free!  It's so simple.  You literally just drop your pictures into the program and select your collage set up.  You can customize it to fit your style, too.  But the upgrade makes it SO much better.  You have a great chance to win, so enter now!

Monday, April 29, 2013

Re-sizing jeans

I hate jean shopping.  I try on 20 pairs of jeans and none of them fit just right.  (Or I have to go into the size range this is not mine, just to get them on, but then they're saggy everywhere.  Or fit my hips by are so loose on my waist I could pull them off without unzipping/unbuttoning.  Or they're that awful low-rise fad that just increases my mama muffin top.  Not pretty.  Not sexy.  Just say no!  Well, when planning to go to Time Out For Women, I decided I really needed a nice new outfit that made me feel special.  It's been quite a while since I bought something new and just for me.  I really just wanted something that didn't have snot, peanut butter, or baby barf on it.  I know. It's crazy, but it was my plan.  So, I took a spare 30 minutes I had with a babysitter and went looking at the Surplus Store.  I also hate paying full price for things.  Knowing how much I detest jean shopping for the reasons I've already shared, I planned on finding a pair that was too big and hoping I could adjust it easily and make it work.  I bought a pair that were at least 2 sizes too big in the waist, but were just about perfect in the hips.  And they were only $13. Yes!  The legs were also bigger than the current style (see skinny leg jeans: blah!), but I adore the old boot cut/straight leg style anyway.  Basically, I bought these pants out of desperation and I was GOING to make them work.  When I got home, fed kids, and had a moment to myself, I started googling.  I came up with a couple DIYs that suggested ways to cut the jeans and resew the back seam, but that would put the pockets closer together.  For my wide bottom, I was worried it would make me look EVEN WIDER.  Then I found this totally brilliant tutorial.  I was giddy!  It was so simple!

Please look at her directions because they're well done for the beginner/intermediate. But basically you just cut a slit on the inside of the waistband and slip in a strip of elastic. Tighten it to the right place and sew it in.

Now, since my waist band was a bit large, it does look completely ridiculous when it's not on my body.  They're all scrunched up and funny looking.  But when I'm wearing them, I feel great and I look great.  We'll just cut out that absolutely huge number that was written on the jean size. ;-)

Don't forget to enter my CollageItPro upgrade giveaway!

Friday, April 26, 2013

My ideal spring outfit

My friend Stephanie Whitcomb has been making these adorable shirt designs for a while now.  Her trademark is taking designs from two well-loved characters and making them something extra special. We love them. But this one was just too cute to pass up. I was so excited when she said I could share it with you!

Isn't it perfect?  My daughters like hello kitty and I LOVE Princess Bride, so now we have a perfect combination. So much to love here.

Well, when Woolite asked me to share my ideal spring outfit, my thoughts quickly turned to Stephanie's designs.  Yes!  Add a pair of denim or khaki Old Navy bermuda shorts.  Slip on some cute diy flip flops from Delia creates and you're there!

So what do you think?  What is YOUR ideal Spring outfit?
If you're like me and want to buy other designs by Stephanie check her out on redbubble.  The Hello Inigo design is not yet available but will be featured on http://www.theyetee.com/.  I'll let you know as soon as it's up!

Disclosure: I was not compensated in anyway for this post, except for points earned on crowdtap.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

CollageIt Pro Giveaway!

I'm so excited to offer another giveaway so soon!  It officially starts Saturday, April 27 at 12am.  CollageIt is offering 20 codes for a FREE upgrade to their Pro software ($19.95 value). http://www.collageitfree.com/

Click here to find the giveaway: a Rafflecopter giveaway
Look at this cute collage I made.  So simple.  Just select your template and drop in the pictures.  This is the basic edition.  I'll upgrade to pro and see how it's even better.
I'll periodically update you on the features I'm enjoying with MY copy of CollageIt!

Disclosure:  I received a code to upgrade to CollageItPro.  My opinions are solely mine and are not changed based on compensation.

Time Out For Women 2013-Kansas City

The weekend of April 19 and 20 I went to Deseret Book's "Time Out For Women."  The theme for the year's tour has been "Higher," how we can be higher in our thoughts, words, actions, and connection with our Savior.  I was only able to attend all day Saturday, so Friday night I went to the Kansas City temple with my sisters-in-law.  I completely forgot to get a picture at the temple, but I did get one of us when we went to dinner later.
Sorry it's a little fuzzy, but you can tell we had a great time together.   Here, we're at Chipotle. Yum!
Anyway, it was fantastic.  For those of you, who don't know what it's all about, Time Out For Women is an amazing program put on by Deseret Book.  It's a time for women (mothers, daughters, wives, single women) to take a "time out" to recuperate, refresh, and revive our hearts, minds, and souls.  Speakers are invited from all over to talk about ways we can uplift ourselves.  People, it was wonderful!  I've gone before, about 5 years ago but haven't been able to go since.  My dear husband insisted I go and have a wonderful time and even spent the weekend with his brother and their kids so we sisters-in-law could have a great time together!  It was so what I needed.  I love my family.  I love my babies.  But sometimes we really need to remember ourselves and refill our spiritual cups without everyone else's needs.  It makes it so much easier to deal with the day to day things that happen and need our attention and patience and and and.

So here we are waiting for the show to start.  We are all made up.  I'm wearing earrings AND a necklace and no one has peanut butter or snot on her pants or shirt. Yes, it was a good morning. :)

I would love to tell you all about everything that was said, but I just couldn't give the whole program justice.  I will share a few thoughts that really touched me and encourage you to make the time and sacrifice to go to one of these programs offered all over the US.  It's only about $60 for the weekend, and if you order your tickets early enough and with a group, you can really cut down the price to about $42.  Amazing!

What I will talk about a tiny bit is the difference in the programs offered that weekend.  We were upstairs in this huge exhibit hall, talking about how to be above the world, think "Higher," pray better, come closer to our Savior, learn to rise above fear through the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and simply be better people inside and out.  The women there were of all shapes and sizes and from all walks of life. They were young and old.  They were married, single, divorced, and widowed.  They were mothers and grandmothers.  And some were not yet either of those.  Let me tell you: they were all beautiful.  They may never have won a beauty contest with their physical looks, but their sweet spirits shined through their eyes and you knew these women knew something special.  They were excited about a "time out" and about having such a spiritual feast and such a great clean fun time!

Aren't we lovely?!  This is my sister-in-law, a couple friends we bumped into, and me after the program ended.  We had such a wonderful time!  Can you see the light burning through us?  We had been so uplifted this whole time.  We had been filled. And, extra cool to me, this program came to us just a couple weeks after the General Conference of the church and this week is another women's conference for my stake.  So many great opportunities to grow!  Yes!

 Now, let me direct you to the event going on downstairs.

 Now, I realize it could have been so much worse. And I'm not saying that a pageant is necessarily even a bad thing.  There are some really beautiful people out there.  And I love to see beauty.  I see it all over and I like to appreciate it.  And, wow, having a group of physically beautiful women in one group is actually pretty great.  The problem is when we take the focus away from all the good.  When we take all the credit on ourselves.  When we start to tear one another down.  When we allow Satan power over us by thinking that maybe we aren't good enough and that we need to do some drastic work to make us better.  I see the before photos here and think they sure look nice to me. Fit and healthy is good, of course, but the vendors' purpose was to focus on the flaws and let their self esteem take a hit until they bought into their product or service.
 The other service I saw advertised there was some plastic surgery group.  They closed their booth down before I decided to get a picture, though.  Can you imagine with me for a second?  These are already beautiful people.  God gave them the gift of physical beauty and they are using that gift.  But then Satan steps in with the "You're not good ENOUGH, though," and they start doing plastic surgery to make it "better."  It blows my mind.  So, we walked passed this pageant and the vendors outside.  I saw the girls waiting for their turn.  They had trendy and beautiful clothes.  They had obviously spent time working on their hair, nails, and makeup.  They had airbrushed tanned skin.  Nice jewelry.  But I looked at their faces.  They were lovely, but they were nervous.  I would be, too, if I were standing in front of a group of people and asking them to judge me!
I prefer to be judged by my Savior and my Heavenly Father.   They don't look on the outward appearance but on the heart.
We were excitedly going up the escalator to the learn more and become "Higher."
 One of the speakers, S. Michael Wilcox, talked about becoming "Higher" in our prayers.  He said if he could change one religious jargon to another phrase it would be "saying your prayers."  We shouldn't just "say" our prayers.  We should be as Hannah in the Old Testament who so badly wanted a child. "And she was in bitterness of soul, and prayed unto the Lord, and wept sore" (1 Samuel 1: 10).  She "poured out her soul in prayer."  When we are filled with sadness or anger or loneliness, there's no room for healing.  We are already full.  We have to first "pour out."  Christ showed this to the apostles, on the road to Emmaus in Luke 24.  They were mourning the loss of their Savior and Friend.  Jesus, who appeared a stranger to them, was walking along the road also.  He asked them why they were sad.  They responded with surprise:  "Don't you know? Are you a stranger here that you haven't heard?"  And they tell him all that happened.  Jesus then expounds the scriptures to them, explaining that it was part of the plan.  It is coming on evening and they invite him to stay with them and eat with them.  At dinner, their "eyes were opened" and they realize that He was with them.  Then he disappears.  Did you see the healing that happened?  They were filled with sorrow. Of course our Savior knew why they were sad, as He knows why all of us feel.  He wants us to tell Him, to "pour out," so He can fill us with the Spirit and to heal us.  This completely changed the way I look at prayer.  I want to be filled with the Spirit.  He commands us to pray ALWAYS.  What a connection that He wants us to pray and "pour out" so He can fill us with Healing!

You can probably see why I love these programs.  They are so worth attending.  They bring growth and closeness to the Spirit of God and to our Savior.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Mom's Day Before Payday Soup

I think one of the hallmarks of a good chef is the ability to whip together a dish without a recipe.  And without really measuring.  My family's go-to recipe is what my mom called "Day Before Payday Soup."  It was always amazing, probably because Mom was a great chef.  Her "recipe" was to look through the fridge for whatever leftovers we had, chop them into soup-appropriate pieces, and toss in the soup pot with some sort of sauce.  Sometimes the sauce was tomato-based, sometimes cream-based, and sometimes broth based.  One legend of our family is the day Mom made soup from "what was left in the ketchup bottle."  I'm not kidding.  And dinner was always great and filling and flavorful.

Now with children of my own, I've carried on the tradition.  But I don't always make my soup when the groceries are running low.  I LOVE soup.  And so do all but one of my kids.  Poor, dear.  I usually forget that it's not even in her top 50 favorite things to eat until we sit down to pray over dinner.  Then I have the whole inner debate of whether she should be allowed to eat cereal (her absolute go-to food) or make a sandwich and whether I should require that she at least have a "no thank you" bite.  Anyway, I love soup.  I make it because the weather is cool.  Or because we're expecting guests and I want to feed a lot of people.  Or because someone is under the weather.  (Research really has shown that a good chicken soup can help you overcome illness quicker.) I bring it to family gatherings/dinners and on camping trips.  I love to make a lot and freeze it for a quick dinner night.  And the flavor possibilities are ENDLESS!

So here's my generic "recipe."  Bless you, if you can figure out how to feed your family with it.

  • I select a "starchy" food like potatoes, rice, or pasta.  If it's potatoes, wash and chop into bite-sized pieces and toss in the soup pot.  I like red and gold potatoes and keep the skins on. Do what YOU like.  I usually use about one average-sized potato per person I plan to feed.  If it's rice or pasta, I add it to the soup after everything else is added.  It's a bit of a science since it will thicken up your soup and draw out some of the liquid, but adding about a cup to a full stock pot is a good start.
  • Then I think about what protein source I want to use.  I usually go with prepared dry beans or drained canned beans, ground turkey, ground beef, chicken breast, or use whatever is leftover from a turkey, ham or whole chicken I cooked recently (or froze).  What I do with that information depends on whether it's cooked already or needs cooked.  If it's cooked, it goes straight into the cook pot.  If not, I saute it with the vegetables, see the next step.  The amount really depends on the situation, but I find that just a pound of meat can feed 8 or more people, if you have enough vegetables in the soup or sides to pair with your meal.
  • Whatever vegetables are around usually get washed, chopped, and sauteed.  For today's soup, I chopped up about a pound of carrots, a couple sweet potatoes (peeled), and an onion and started sauteing in my Lodge Logic L10SK3 12-Inch Pre-Seasoned Skillet with some butter, sea salt, pepper, basil, oregano, bay leaves, and Emeril's seasoning.  Normally, I would add the meat at this stage, but I had added a bit too many vegetables for them to all fit comfortably in my skillet.  So when the onions started to caramelize, I transferred the mixture to the soup pan.
  • I season the meat with sea salt, pepper, and garlic and whatever else suits me at the moment and cook until done.  If I'm using ground turkey, as I did this time, I cook until it's almost dry. It gives it more of a beef texture.  Sometimes, I also add some steak seasoning to really trick the taste buds.  There's nothing wrong with turkey.  It's lower fat and much less expensive.  But sometimes, you really just want some beef.
  • Once everything is in the pot, I start adding liquid, which includes liquids from whatever canned vegetables you decide to use.  Today I added corn, green beans, and diced tomatoes, juices and all.  Today I topped it off with water, frankly, because I'm out of broth, silly me. You can add bouillon cubes if you like.  I have a hard time finding one without MSG, so I try to avoid this.  Chicken, beef, or vegetable broths are all wonderful and flavorful liquids to use.  Leftover spaghetti sauce (and added water) work well. I add water until the vegetables start to float a little.  You can always add more, if needed.
  • Let the soup simmer until all the vegetables are tender.  If you're adding pasta or rice, this is a good time to do it.
  • Taste your creation and adjust seasonings, as needed.
  • For the most amazing flavor, turn off the stove and let it cool.  Place in fridge overnight and eat it tomorrow.  The seasoning really marries together and it's just wonderful.  But if you're in a hurry, eat it now.  It's great with a side of crusty french bread and a salad. Or just eat it as is.

Be sure to enter my 300pt Pampers Gifts to Grow unique code giveaway going on right now!

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Kids and cameras

Ever wonder what happens if you hand your kids a camera and let them have a great time? Well, I'll tell you. You end up with 128 pictures.  Of those, 68 were either completely black or so out of focus you couldn't tell what you were supposed to see.  Bu the others came out something like this.
You can probably tell who took most of the pictures since you can see who's in most of the pictures. ;)  But I think they turned out nicely.  Except it makes parts of my house look like an episode of hoarders. Eeek! I have very little excuse, except that at this time, my bathroom is under renovation so the rest of the house is messier to compensate for everything being torn out of there. Anyway, they had a wonderful time and I now have documentation of it! :D 

But now I'm intrigued about a new-to-me photo editing site, my friend and sister-in-law from Ozark Mama Reviews  told me about.  Maybe I can make these even better!  Let's see.
I'm new at this, so I'm sure with practice it will get better, but I think this is an improvement.  How fun for us!   I need to print this and save it for the future.  I think they'll cherish it as much as I do now. And boy, I really need to learn how to make a fuzzy picture look less fuzzy.  Or maybe teach my kids to stand still when they click a picture.  Either one. ;)

This is just the tip of the iceberg of the editing you can do with this website.  Many tools are free and some require an upgrade at a reasonable fee. Can't beat that, right?

Be sure to enter my rafflecopter giveaway going on right now!

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Children Have the Potential to Build Up Our Homes... Or Tear Them Down

Have you ever seen the movie "Yours, Mine, and Ours"?  I haven't seen the old 1968 Lucille Ball version, just the one with Dennis Quaid from 2005, but it was wonderful and fun.  I really recommend it, if you haven't seen it.  But maybe I should go watch the original, too.  They're usually so fun.  Anyway, we were watching it and I realized an important point that may not have been intended.  Near the end of the movie, the kids decided that they actually didn't want to break up the family after all.  That they actually liked each other and WERE a family.  So they find the parents and tell them the break up was all their fault, that they started the fight, but that they changed their minds and wanted them together again.  I think the important point here is that if they had the power to cause the family to break up, they also have the power to help a family stay together.  Now let's be fair.  Some parents truly have irreconcilable differences, including infidelity, abuse, and no desire to work on a marriage.  My comments here shouldn't be misunderstood to say that kids are responsible for holding families together or that some families don't have big problems.  My point is that children can make it impossibly difficult or so beautifully easier by their attitudes and actions.
Mary N Cook
Mary N. Cook, speaking to the young women in the church, shared this talk entitled "When you save a girl, you save generations." Sister Cook tells us how children can build up the home. She encouraged young women to search for and "stand in holy places."  She compared each daily act of obedience to God's commandments to putting oil in our spiritual lamps, as the wise and foolish virgins awaiting the call of the Bridegroom in Matthew 25:1-13.
"Living the gospel in your home will also add oil to your lamp and weave spiritual strength into your home now and bless your future family in countless ways. And furthermore, as Elder Robert D. Hales has said, 'If the example we have received from our parents was not good, it is our responsibility to break the cycle … and teach correct traditions for the generations that follow.'
Decide now to do all you can to fill your lamps, that your strong testimony and example may be woven into the lives of many generations—past, present, and future. I testify that your virtuous life will not only save generations, but it will also save your eternal life, for it is the only way to return to our Father in Heaven and find true joy now and throughout eternity."
I know I want my children to have strong testimonies of Jesus Christ and God's plan for us.  I want them to follow correct traditions and life lives of virtue.  I want them to be strengthened by these things and stand above the world.  I want them to "stand in holy places and be not moved." I want them to raise future generations of children who also know these things.  One way they can do this is to help make their homes "holy places."  We can read scriptures, say fervent prayers, and work to keep out the evils of the world.  We can work on being peacemakers in our homes.  We can be selective about what shows we watch, what music we listen to, and what content we allow on our computers.  We can be selective about what comes out of our mouths.  We can work to make our homes clean and orderly and keep our appearances tidy and attractive.

Parents have a responsibility to teach children what is right and to bring them up in a good environment.  And children can contribute to the peace in the home.  We can literally reverse and heal centuries of abuse, misuse, and neglect by caring for our daughters properly and allowing them to blossom.

300 pt Pampers Gifts to Grow Giveaway!

I normally use cloth diapers.  But some times, like when I'm visiting my parents for a week, who wants a pile of poop in the guest room?  Enter 'sposies.  And Pampers makes a pretty decent poop catcher.

So, I'm having my first giveaway! Who likes Pampers diapers?  Who wants to win some FREE codes for Gifts to Grow? I will randomly (using Rafflecopter) select 3 lucky people to win 100 points unique codes each! Click the link to enter: a Rafflecopter giveaway  Your chances go up with each entry, so start now!

Bonus link to share: 300 point giveaway

This Giveaway is over.  Congratulations to the winners!

Pampers just posted a new free code for Gifts to Grow, open to everyone worth 10 points. Go to Gifts to Grow and enter: FBAPR4WSRE8WT13 for your free 10 points. It expired April 20th!

Monday, April 15, 2013

"Whate'er thou art, act well thy part."

Sister Elaine Dalton, recently released General Young Women's President, shared this talk during the Saturday morning session of General Conference.  Isn't she lovely.?

Among other things, she talked about how parents can "instill in their daughter the ennobling and eternal truth that she is a daughter of God... How do we help her step out of the world and step into the kingdom of God?" Her answers? 
"Young women need women and men to 'stand as witnesses of God at all times and in all things, and in all places.' Never before has this been more important than now. Young women need mothers and mentors who exemplify virtuous womanhood. Mothers, your relationship with your daughter is of paramount importance, and so is your example. How you love and honor her father, his priesthood, and his divine role will be reflected and perhaps amplified in your daughter’s attitudes and behavior."
Have you taken a look around at this world we live in?  People, in general, have very little respect for one another.  They go on public forums and social media, picking fights with friend and stranger alike.  People attack others for their views on religion, politics, and health.  They slander those of a different gender, skin color, or culture.  Colleges are teaching young women how to avoid getting raped instead of teaching young men not to rape.  Families are falling apart because of physical, emotional, and sexual abuse as well as plain selfishness. Television and movies make sin appear heroic or ideal.  We have a desperate need for an internal change.  We need people to stand for what is right.  We need families to teach children by example how to respect one another, how to work for their living, how to live within their means.  We need young men and young women to "return to virtue" as a way of life.  

Sister Dalton asked, "What would the world be like if virtue—a pattern of thought and behavior based on high moral standards, including chastity—were reinstated in our society as a most highly prized value?"  Can you imagine?! Wouldn't there be less of a problem with pornography and more a focus on modesty? Wouldn't family relationships be more valued and divorces happen less? Wouldn't abuses be rare and proper affection become commonplace?  What if the media chose to uphold high moral standards instead of the next trashy, more shocking thing?  Wouldn't women finally be treated properly?  Wouldn't righteousness begin to abound?  Wouldn't we feel safer allowing our children to play in the street?  Do you remember growing up and playing in the street with your friends until the street light came on?  Were your parents watching you intently the way you have to watch your children today? 

We really need to start thinking of each other as brothers and sisters, children of the same God.  We all have the same potential in this life.  We have a noble calling to help one another, instead of tearing each other down.  Satan is real and he is really trying to destroy God's plan for us.  He wants to tear down everything that is beautiful, lovely, kind, innocent, and sweet.  We can fight that.  We need to start in our own homes.  We need to be examples to our children of how to be kind and respectful and honest and true.  We need to take the time to hear what our children are saying to us so that we can help them through their troubles.  We need to listen to the needs of our community and country and world.  But first, we need to build up our own homes.  As moths are drawn to the light, so will the Light of Christ call to the souls who are so wanting it.  Neglected children will be drawn to your family because of the love and respect and boundaries they see there. 

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Zoo day!

Usually we go to the zoo with at least 5 other families.  While that is fun, there's usually an agenda to follow and we always feel rushed.  Today we got to do and see exactly what we wanted.  Of course for my little loves that meant we had to start at the park. :)  And for little Ms K, this was her first time walking around a public place, so that was to be celebrated.  We soon made a beeline all the way to the back of the zoo where the elephants live.  How fun! She was plucking bits of grass from the ground with her trunk and eating it.  It was fascinating to watch.  Then the big girls saw the elephant statue around the corner and made a run for it.  We're busy around here.  Can you tell?

 Next we strolled around the zoo, completely at random and met some new and old friends.  We are major flamingo fans around here, so they were a requirement.  We found this strange reptile called the Mali Uromastyx.  That's one strange looking lizard.  It's got what looks like armor plating on its tail. The black bears (they look brown to me, but whatever) were taking a break from their semi-hibernation to enjoy the sunshine and they came right up to the glass/fence.  It was great.  This little guy seemed to be chomping on grass, too.  To each his own.  Almost at the last moment we went to see the giant tortoises.  And they're huge.  The tortoise in this picture was one of the "babies" and it must've weighed over 100 lbs.  The older two are about 100 years old.  I'd have to check my facts on that, but it's what I remember from previous visits.  It was such a nice day to be at the zoo.  A little cooler and windy, but so bright and sunny and just a perfect zoo walk day.

Last, but most certainly not least, were the SKUNK MONKIES!!!  And, yes, that exactly how it is said and spelled.  They're actually black and white Colobus monkeys, but my nephew dubbed them "skunk monkies" at our last visit and that is what they will always be called.  You can see why they would say that, I'm sure.  These guys are usually quite expressive and playful.  In fact, my niece played a game of "Monkey See, Monkey Do" with them a year or so ago.  Today, they looked a bit sad. Maybe they weren't happy about being separated.  Two were in the yard and the one my girls call the "Mama Skunk Monkey" was in the inside playhouse, apparently locked in.

Of course there were other animals.  These were just our favorites and what I managed to remember to snap a photo of.  I'm kicking myself over the hippopotamus.  Nearly every time we go to the zoo, he is sleeping in his water hole or inside with the staff.  Today, he was having a nap in the mud early in our visit.  When we made our loop around, he was swimming laps, making snorting sounds when he came up for air, and even gave us a sort of roar.  It was so fun.  Ms. K tried to jump the fence to get to him because she was so excited about him.  Each time he would come to the surface, he would wiggle his ears.  I think I enjoyed that more than the kids.  And enjoying life like a child is important.

I love the freedom of homeschooling.  We didn't make a plan for this field trip.  We didn't have to send permission slips to parents.  We didn't have to re-schedule for weather.  We just completed our morning school work and chores and left.  And we had a great time!  I hope we can enjoy more of this during the summer.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Who needs McDonald's oatmeal?!

On nippy mornings like today, oatmeal calls to me.  I like to avoid most of the excess processed junk they put in cereals, even in ready to eat oatmeal, so I make my own.  McDonald's has nothing on this.  When I saw that they were selling their fruit and maple oatmeal as a healthy breakfast, I actually thought, "Hey, that could seriously draw me in."  Then I realized I have all those ingredients at home and could make it for PENNIES.  So I do.  I make my own.  And it's fabulous and exactly how I like it.  And it's adjustable.  So, yeah, no need to DRIVE to get my breakfast. In the time it takes the water to boil, everything else is prepared.  All I do is stir.  This recipe is for a single adult serving, though my children eat it well, too, so sometimes I plan for that.  It's extremely easy to double or half for you needs.

My Fruit and Maple Oatmeal

Start the tea kettle to boil.
Combine in bowl:
1/2 cup or 2 packets plain quick oats (I have an excess from my WIC days, so I use that)
1 slice of green apple, chopped (whatever is leftover from breakfast gets munched)
1-2 Tbsp raisins (and/or craisins, nuts, coconut, etc)
1 tsp real maple syrup (pancake syrup is just flavored sugar water, but you at your will)
1 pat real butter (I refuse to eat that low-fat plastic butter substitute.)

When water is boiling, pour about 1 cup over your cereal and stir.  The boiling water softens the raisins and apples to perfection.  Let the oats soak up the water for a minute or two, then enjoy!  Feel free to modify with cinnamon or other spices, but the the fruit really has a great flavor and sweet all it's own.  The maple syrup adds a little punch to it.

Since I woke this morning feeling the affects of yesterday's high pollen count, I added a pinch of nettles to my oats.  It gives a subtle wholesome flavor without overpowering anything.  And now I can breathe.  Win, win. Oh, yes, and the kids love it this recipe.  Triple win.
I love their morning hair.  They just got up from a living room "sleepover."

Thursday, April 11, 2013

The Home: The School of Life

This talk from Elder Enrique Falabella in the Sunday afternoon session of the April 2013 general conference really touched me, The Home: The School of Life.

He starts out by telling us that the best university we have on parenting is called The Home.  I truly and honestly believe that we can make so much change for the good in this world, just by focusing more on our families.  Please, even if you are not a member of the LDS church, watch or read this talk and see what nuggets of wisdom you can find.  He teaches 6 special lessons.  First, the temple is the place. Second, to contend you need two people (and I will never be one of them).  Third, a child who sings is a happy child. Fourth, I need you to hug me.  Fifth, I love the Book of Mormon and my Savior, Jesus Christ.  Sixth, it's not enough to know the Scriptures; we have to live them.  We've made these are new family rules.  We talked about it as a family for Family Home Evening on Monday and we decided we could all work on these.  We repeat these words when conflicts arise.  I've already learned so much from this!

The temple is the place. It's a focus for our lives, for our families. It's a beautiful covenant that Andrew and I have made and that we want our children to make with their future families.  It's a promise that continues into the eternities.

To contend, you need two people. I follow some parts of the Love and Logic parenting/teaching system. One of their "rules" is "I love you too much to argue with you."  I feel this statement really falls in line with that.  It takes two to fight.  If you start a fight with me, I don't have to fight back. I love you too much to argue.  I can wait until you are calm, so we can talk out the problem.  Not fighting doesn't mean that I always give in.  It simply means that I value our relationship too much to argue and I value having the Holy Spirit as a visitor in my home.  I don't want to drive Him away with fighting.

A child who sings is a happy child.  This goes both ways.  Sometimes our children sing so much, we just can't stand to hear that same (usually incorrectly sung) line or verse one more time!  But we need to remember that they're likely singing because they are happy!  And we need to allow that.  We also need to consider that if our children aren't singing, how can we help them learn to be happy?  Are they not singing because they've always been told to be quiet?  Are they not singing because they were just fighting or disappointed or distressed by something?  We as parents can help our children to be happy and we can learn to gauge their happiness by how much they sing.

I need you to hug me.  So often this is an unspoken thing.  The children feel it or we feel it, but no one says it.  We need to say it more often.  When I read this new "rule" to our children, their eyes brightened up.  We are a hugging family, but maybe we haven't been hugging enough.  So now, whenever anyone is seeming sad or angry or tired or disappointed, one of us has started to say, "I need you to hug me" or to ask, "Do you need me to hug you?"  It has definitely brought more peace to our home.

I love the Book of Mormon and my Savior, Jesus Christ.  John 14:15 states, "If ye love me, keep my commandments."  And what are His commandments?  Where can we find them?  We can find them in the scriptures.  There are so many more than just the Ten Commandments of the Old Testament.  They are important and so many are still broken today.  But we have more commandments: to attend our church meetings, to pray, to love and care for our children, to teach our families to follow the commandments.  The Book of Mormon, the Old Testament, the New Testament, the Doctrine and Covenants, and the words of modern prophets are so important.  They contain the words and doctrine of our Savior, Jesus Christ.  We need to read from these words every day. We need to pray every day, personally and as a family.  We need to thank our Heavenly Father for giving us this world and for making this plan for us.  We need to thank Him for giving His Son Jesus Christ and that He followed through and did all the Father asked of Him.

It's not enough to know the Scriptures, we have to live them.  The ability to quote scripture or know where to find a particular story is good. It will help us in living the Gospel.  But if we don't LIVE the Gospel, it's worthless.  Our Savior came to this earth to overcome Sin and Death, so that we can become clean through Him.  We need to have faith in the grace from our Savior.  We need to believe in him and also believe Him when he says we can become perfected in Him (see 1 John 2:5, Moroni 10:32).

I plan to share through the next few months bits of the conference talks that really touched me.  There were just so many jewels throughout the conference that I really hope you'll take the invitation to listen, watch, or read the talks. I bear testimony that God knows you and your situation.  He has inspired these men and women to share messages that will have eternal significance in your life.  I'm certain you could select any talk at random and find an answer to a prayer.  Even talks that had nothing to do with my particular time in life were still so filled with inspiring information that I was able to clean truths for me from EVERY SINGLE talk.  I know you can, too.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Guilt-free snacking

Have you tried the latest foodie craze?  Well, maybe it's not the "latest," but it has become pretty popular.  It's healthy and tasty and really satisfies that need for ice cream.  I first heard of banana ice cream from pinterest.  I totally thought it was Chocolate Covered Katie's Dessert blog because she is chock-full of amazing healthy desserts, but a quick search of her recipes didn't reveal it, although she DID have several other "healthy" ice cream and frozen treat options, like this yummy melty four ingredient ice cream.

  So now I'm stumped where I first saw it.  Anyway, here's the yummy and so super easy recipe that I use:

Guilt-free ice cream

  • 1 ripe banana, chunked and frozen
  • a dash of salt
  • optional: 1 Tbsp peanut butter (I don't consider this optional.  It makes it completely creamy and amazing.)
  • optional: a bit of milk or plain yogurt and water (This is only optional if you use anything less than a vitamix-type blender.  My magic bullet works great, but still needs a little liquid to get things going. And I love using yogurt because then you get the added probiotic benefits.)
  • optional: add-ins like chocolate chips, coconut, sprinkles, etc

Toss everything but your add-ins into your blender.  Blend until smooth and creamy.  Then add your add-ins and stir or pulse until combined.  YUM!  Sorry, I completely devoured mine before taking a picture, but let's be honest: it looks like ice cream in a blender cup.  And Katie's picture, above, just looks so much prettier than mine would turn out. ;)

And, yes, I ate this for lunch, but really where is the harm in that?  Mine contained banana, peanut butter, and yogurt.  It's almost like eating an "Elvis special" (you know, a peanut butter and banana sandwich) without the added starchy carbs from the bread and with the bonus probiotics from the yogurt.  Sounds like a win to me!

So, I get on these various diet kicks.  Sometimes I feel like eating sugar-free.  And when I say sugar-free, I mean no added processed sugars or artificial sweeteners.  Stevia is not artificial because it is a plant and you can literally toss a leaf or two into your cooking.  It's not precise but it IS natural.  I personally use liquid stevia drops or stevia packets, which I realize aren't as natural, but that's all part of my soggy granola personality.  Bananas and dates are not added sugars.  Maple syrup, honey, and agave are sweeteners, but affect everyone differently, so I don't include them in my "sugar free foods," but I do use them otherwise because I think of them as better for you than processed white sugars because of the minerals and natural sweetness, but not as healthy for you as simply eating fruit.

Anyway, when I made this ice cream today, I really wanted some chocolate chunkiness without the added sugars.  The first time I ever considered making my own chocolate chips was when I found this recipe from Heavenly Homemakers.  I love that blog, too!

Homemade "Magic Turtle"

My version of this recipe, especially when all I want is to toss it in my ice cream and move on with life is just to melt a bit of coconut oil (a Tbsp or so is good), add in a Tbsp of cocoa powder and stir, then add a half dropperful of liquid stevia (about 8 drops).  Add more sweetener of your choice if it's not sweet enough.  Bonus, it works like "Magic Shell" on your ice cream.  Coconut oil's melting/solidifying point is just above room temperature, so pour it on your ice cream and you get little chunks. Yay!  I can make an entire post about coconut oil, but I think I'll save that for another day.

Progress and a Lesson On Being an Example

I'm really not going to blog every day about homeschooling.  Keeping track of it on my free tracker program is enough for me, but I like to preserve my pictures when I remember to take them.  I know the lighting is awful and the pictures were taken on my camera phone, so the quality is not great. But I have documented my work, so there!

Ms A is learning about the letter C, the sound it makes, and so on, so today, we made this paper bag cat craft. I already had white paper bags and the girls insisted on their cats being white. OK.  No problem. Print off the templates, let the girls color, and away we go. Ms. A named her cat "Abby" and insisted he was a boy.  Great job, kiddo.  Ms. Z named her cat "Belle."  That's what she names nearly every female animal right now.  That's cool.  She likes the name.  And may I take a moment to brag?  Yeah, she's totally reading her McGuffey Primer stories so well!  She needs a little encouragement at times, but she's doing great.  And I don't mean that in the "my kid is SO above average and I'm going to rub it in your face" sort of way. She's having a good time and she's excited to learn.  She definitely has problems with certain letter combinations and sight words are not really her thing, especially when they try and change things up like "cat" and "cap." But a month ago, she couldn't read for real.  She would memorize stories, which is still a great step in learning, and she would pretend to read scriptures (like she's doing right now), but she wasn't actually reading words.  Please excuse the spilled over laundry basket in the background.  My kids were making memories before I invited them to start school. ;)
Obviously she has a couple good examples to follow of people who like to read.  I read as often as I can and I tend to let other important things fall to the wayside while I'm reading.  If you're an avid reader (or love one), you know what I mean.  My husband has also been wrapped up in books lately.  So they girls have been really seeing people reading and loving it and talking about what we read.  This is SO important: if you want to have a child who loves to read, let them see you enjoy reading.  It's true in many areas of life.  If you want a child who loves to help, always (or nearly so) happily accept their help and don't criticize their work (at least not while they're small and learning).  If you want a child who is kind and respectful, use respectful words and actions, be a courteous driver, and generally serve people. On the other hand, if you can't figure out why your kids yell, tell people to "get out of the way," or refuse to share, consider how you treat them. Then consider how you treat other people.  It's not a cure-all, but if we want to make our world a better place, we need to start with ourselves and our children.  Courtesy and kindness really are contagious.  Give it a try. :)

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

We finally found a curriculum we like

We are so blessed to live in Missouri, where the homeschool laws are pretty easy to deal with, the 2nd amendment rights are basically free, the people are nice, the country is beautiful, and midwifery is no longer a felony.  Our big girl is not quite 5 yet, but she REALLY is excited about starting school.  So about a year ago we started "doing school," but I could never keep anything consistent.  She learned her letters and the sounds and she learned her numbers and shapes.  She learned about various animals and we got to explore things she found interesting. But I just couldn't keep up with things consistently.  Then, about 2 months ago, I re-found EasyPeasy.  It's awesome! This mom wanted to make a curriculum up for all her kids and not have to re-invent it when the littles grew and needed to take the same lessons again.  So she made this completely free blog with lessons from preK through high school. Full curriculum using free resources all around the web.  We're working through Get Ready 1 which teaches letters and sounds and eventually some sight words.  My middle daughter A started on day 1 and my oldest daughter Z started with the McGuffey Primer.  Really, truly, it's great.  Z can read little stories.  She picked up the cereal box a couple of days ago and was intent on reading it.  And she DID!!!  This is huge!  And she actually has decent comprehension, too.  I'm so proud of her.  A is having a great time with the letter animals and the sounds they make.  (Seriously, check it out.  You won't regret it.)  Plus there are the crafts and songs and games to play.  It's been perfect for us.  I'm excited for the future, too, because it includes bible study (but tells the kids to ask Mom and Dad what it means instead of causing rifts between different religions) with science, social studies, math, etc all on one organized place with links to free resources all over.  I can't say enough how much I love and am excited about this curriculum
.Easy Peasy

Then....I also found a free homeschool tracker that keeps track of attendance, resources, assignments, grades, report cards, field trips, and so much more.  I haven't found any limitations on the free version yet, so I'm becoming more curious what could be wonderful enough to need to pay for it!  I hope you'll check it out. It's made it possible for me to keep up with hours and assignments without having to continuously make lesson plans.

God Answers Prayers....Just In Case You Wondered

We just had the 183rd Semi-annual General Conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  I've been working lately on coming much closer to my Savior.  I've been praying to know how I can do this. I've been studying His word daily.  Not just a chapter here and there, but I've been REALLY digging deep into the scriptures and trying to understand more about the history surrounding a doctrine or event.  It's been awesome.  Then came Conference!  (For those who've seen "The Singles Ward," say it with the same awe and excitement as they had over the new big screen TV.) Our family makes a big deal about it.  It's like the Mormon Superbowl. I'm serious.  We have a blast.  The adults filled out our "Fantasy General Conference" brackets.  We guessed which apostles would speak during the Priesthood Session. We selected 10 of the members of the quorums of the Seventy who would speak throughout conference.  We guessed which hymns we would sing as a congregation, and we guessed which of the various auxiliary presidency members would speak. It was really fun to see a speaker come up and say, "Hey, I picked him/her!  That was MY general authority."  We spent the previous week or so preparing the kids for this awesome time.  They were SO excited!  When the apostles would come up (we were watching on a Roku at my in-law's house), they would excitedly shouted, "That's President Uchtdorf!" Or "That's Elder Packer."  It was sweet!  We had food and games and different hands on activities to keep the kids focused on the point.  We have a tradition of taking a walk around the neighborhood between sessions and I got to lead the walk this time.  The kids enjoy naming the kinds of walks they go on.  When they go to this one particular park, it's a "honey walk."  When they're grandpa takes them for a walk, they call it a "Shupaw walk" complete with Shupaw treats.  But with me, we took a "Crystal walk" and I will cherish that for years to come.  What sweet children!

OK, back to the actual conference.  Holy Cow!  I felt like almost every single talk was pointed at me and my questions lately.  I've had concerns in various areas of my life.  Some are too personal to share here, but I think one common concern is how to help my family come closer to Christ, how to bring more peace into my home, and how to deal with the growing evil in this world. Every single one of those concerns, and many more, were covered in conference, in multiple talks.  There were a few talks that I wouldn't have been surprised if the speaker had looked directly into the camera and said, "Crystal, we know you've been praying about this and Heavenly Father wants you to hear this."  It was THAT great!  I encourage you to listen to any and all talks that you can.  In a couple days, they'll be available to read as well.  The talks are translated into several languages, so if English isn't your first language, I'm sure you'll find your home language there.http://www.lds.org/general-conference/sessions/2013/04?lang=eng

Oh, yeah, I guess you'd like to know the winners of our little games.  My sister-in-law Amber (who couldn't even make it that day!) won the fantasy brackets with 9 correct guesses, I think.  I was 2nd place.  We also had a game to guess the number of members, new baptisms, and operating temples.  My brother-in-law Sam won that one. Then there was a group of pictures from when the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve were children and you had to guess which was which.  That was pretty cute.  My father-in-law Wes won that one.  He got close to double the correct answers of anyone else!