Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Our Favorite Chicken and Rice Casserole

After a busy weekend and even busier week ahead, my poor oldest son woke with a fever and sore throat yesterday.  Today is worse, so we are off to the doctor this afternoon.  Bless his heart he is so worried about trick-or-treating.  Hopefully if it is strep, the meds will kick in quickly and maybe, just maybe, we'll let him go a bit tomorrow night.  This is one of the biggest nights of the year, after all, for a five-year-old.  

Today I thought I'd share with you one of my favorite casseroles from my childhood.  We double the recipe (with a few exceptions) to feed our family and have some leftovers!  Enjoy!

Chicken and Rice Casserole

1/2 bag California Medley frozen vegetables (let thaw a bit before making casserole)
2 chicken breasts, cooked and cut up (if doubling recipe, add another chicken breast)
1 can cream of chicken soup
1/2 c. mayo (NOT Miracle Whip)
1 T. lemon juice
4 oz. Colby jack cheese
1 cup cooked rice; I use Minute (if doubling recipe, do 1 1/2 cups)

Mix together soup, mayo, and cheese to make a sauce.

Spray rectangular cake pan.  Place rice on the bottom, top with chicken and veggies.  Top that with sauce and drip lemon juice over top.  If cooking in the oven, cover with foil and bake for 35-40 minutes at 375 degrees.  Remove foil and cook 15 minutes longer or until bubbly.

*This is originally a microwave dish.  Use a glass baking pan and microwave on medium for 20 minutes.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

"Souper" Sunday

Whew, I am exhausted.  After a weekend prepping for our party, it went off without a hitch.  We had a little over thirty guests (20 were kids) and have a lot of food leftover to keep my sweet tooth sufficiently taken care of for the week.  I have a busy three days ahead and am looking forward to a relaxing day (I hope!) on Thursday.

Today I am sharing the soup recipe we made last night.  I had intended to serve it for leftovers tonight, but we were full enough from our appetizers and treats that we opted to just snack instead.  I have had this recipe for a long time and for some reason it intimidated me and I never made it.  I thought I'd give it a try this weekend and it turned out great!

Creamy Chicken and Wild Rice Soup

4 cups chicken broth
2 cups water
2 cooked, boneless chicken breast halves, shredded (I used rotisserie chicken; just took the white meat off the top)
1 6 oz. package quick cooking long grain and wild rice with seasoning
1/2 t. salt
1/2 t. ground black pepper
3/4 c. all-purpose flour
1/2 c. butter
2 c. heavy cream

In a large pot over medium heat, combine broth, water, and chicken.  Bring just to boiling, then stir in rice reserving seasoning packet.  Cover and remove from heat.  In a small bowl, combine salt, pepper, and flour.  In a medium saucepan, melt butter.  Stir in contents of seasoning packet until mixture is bubbly.  Reduce heat to low, then stir in flour mixture by tablespoons, to form a roux.  Whisk in cream, a little at a time, until fully incorporated and smooth.  Cook until thickened, five minutes.  Stir cream mixture into broth and rice.  Cook over medium heat until heated through, about ten to fifteen minutes.  Serve with sourdough bread.  Enjoy!

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Family Halloween Party

Tomorrow we are hosting a family Halloween party at our home.  We have invited some of our neighbors, new school friends, and old friends alike.  I always enjoy hosting this event, as our kids love Halloween and given that this is a tricky holiday to maneuver around with a peanut and tree nut allergy, we can have a lot of fun and be safe!!

Our party is late afternoon (after our naps!) and we will be serving some appetizers, desserts, and playing some fun games.  The kids will get to wear their costumes one more time and we will all have a lot of Halloween fun.  I thought I'd run through our party in case you are in need of any ideas for food or games for an upcoming party at school or home.

Our menu is intended to please kids and adults alike, while being easy for me to prepare ahead of time and have little prep work the day of the party.  This is our appetizer list:  crockpot BBQ little smokies, Rotel dip and chips, chips and salsa, veggies and ranch dip, apples and caramel dip, cheese and crackers, and "witch's brew."  Our "witch's brew" will consist of:  Teddy Grahams (bears), marshmallows (ghost poo), Cheese Balls (pumpkin poo), pretzel sticks (skeleton bones) and candy corn (I found some at the Dollar Tree that says "made in a peanut free facility!").  

For our sweet treats, we are serving pumpkin bars (my favorite!), cupcakes with buttercream frosting, and homemade caramel corn.  I'm also going to simmer some apple cider with cinnamon sticks all day.  Yummy!  

We plan to play some games as well.  We've cleaned out our garage so we can have a corn relay.  Very simple supplies:  a few mason jars, a bucket of shelled corn, and spoons.  Whoever fills up the jar first wins!  We are also playing pin the hat on the witch, Halloween bingo, having a scavenger hunt, pumpkin Bozo buckets (with eyeball ping-pong balls!) and ghost tag (my oldest son's idea).  Should be a fun time!  Another idea we are using for my daughter's Halloween party is the mummy wrap:  take strips of cloth or toilet paper and wrap up an adult.  Fun for the kids!  If time allows, we'll make a pumpkin craft as well using a paper plate and cut up tissue paper.

I have a lot of baking to do yet tonight, but I am looking forward to a fun day with friends and making memories with the kiddos.  They always talk about our Halloween parties and look forward to them each year.  Happy times!   

Friday, October 26, 2012

Organizing Your "Stuff"

Awhile ago I posted about a great organizational inservice I attended a few years back.  In that post I shared creating a folder for "A Day in the Life Of" your family.  I desperately need to update mine, but I hope that you have found that to be a helpful little resource to have on hand for emergencies or a, gasp, no children, vacation!  Today I'd like to share another component of that inservice with you.

I have a little "hub" where I keep our bills, mail, and other important pieces of information handy.  Here's a quick breakdown of the materials you will need:

For each member of your family, two colored folders (assign each member a color) plus two extra, one each in an unused color
A binder that closes (place for folders, zip pocket; I found mine at Office Max)
An organizer for mail, folders, pencils, etc.  (Wal-Mart or Office Max is where I got mine)

The first step is to create two folders for each member of your family in "their" color.  You will put one folder in your organizer and one in your binder.  The items you place in the folders in your organizer are those that you will use right away or soon.  Think school papers, medical information you need to take to the office, etc.  The items you put in the binder folders are items you will need to access, but not necessarily soon or on a regular basis.  For example, class lists, vaccination information, etc.

Create a folder for your binder for menus/coupons (think Bed, Bath and Beyond) and insert behind your family's colored folders.  This is also where I keep our "Day in the Life Of" folder as well as a folder for medical receipts.  In the front zipper pocket, I keep stamps, my address book, and any gift cards we receive.  This velcros shut and sits behind my organizer.

In the organizer, I place everyone's colored folders.  In the front we have a spot for writing utensils, bills or mail that needs to be sent out, our checkbook, and any cards that I will need that month.  You can also slip papers that need to be filed into your colored folders in the organizer, so they don't get lost and can easily be accessed if necessary.

I'm not going to lie, after awhile it can get a little messy and things need to be put in their correct files, but overall it's been a great system and one that I would recommend!

*I have pictures, but Blogger is not uploading correctly again.  I will add soon!


Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Who Am I?

This is the question many moms ask themselves.  Sometimes it is hard for me to come up with an answer other than "Mom" and "Wife."  This question has been put back into my mind, as I've been reading several books by the author Kristin Hannah (which I love!) and the last few have been about mothers, who once their children left the nest, had lost themselves along the way.  While these books are fiction, there are definitely real-life issues that are addressed:  this being one of them.

I know I've talked about this before, but it's definitely a question worth examining again.  Before we welcome another child into the world, I think it may be important for me to figure out who I am outside of the role of wife and mother.  It is so easy to get so wrapped up in those roles, not to mention the time commitment, that there often seems like there's just not enough time to do something for myself.

So, where do I start this journey?  I think my first step is to think about what brings me happiness outside of my family.  Most of the hobbies I enjoy are typically done at home, so that doesn't really get me out of the house!  Perhaps I could take my love of reading a bit further and join a book club.  I know it starts off about reading a book, but usually ends up as a night of chit-chat instead!  That may be a step in the right direction.

I also like to volunteer, organize, and be part of groups.  Before we moved, and my older kids were younger, I co-founded two mom's groups:  one online that brought mothers with young children together and one at my church.  These type of activities are fulfilling to me, because I enjoy bringing people together and having social opportunities.  I feel like these type of activities serve a purpose and I am a person who likes to see results and help others.  I think I should look for some organizations here that are looking for help or if there is a need in the community within my comfort-zone, then maybe starting a group should be explored.

My husband says that when it comes down to it, I'm a teacher.  While this may be true, teaching full-time just isn't something I can or desire to do right now.  I feel like I need to be at home and am lucky enough to do so, but I needed to find a way to channel the teacher inside of me and incorporate that into my life somehow.  Teaching early childhood classes a few days a week may just be what I needed.  I am enjoying planning the classes and putting my education to work, but I am still able to take the kiddos along.  I feel like it is beneficial for the community as well, as it brings people together and provides some fun, educational activities for the little ones.

After writing this, I feel like I have some direction and am on the right path.  Finding time to do everything may be difficult, but it never hurts to try new things.  The beauty of it all, is that if it gets to be too much, I can "downsize."  My next challenge is to find opportunities for my husband and I to escape every so often by ourselves.  Date nights are few and far between these days, but we really need to work on making it more of a priority.  That is for another day!

As a mother, do you feel like this is a question you need to find the answer to?  I'd love to hear your success stories if you find an answer!

Monday, October 22, 2012

Comfort Food for a Dreary Monday

While it may be warmer outside, the day is so dreary it doesn't matter.  Today is a very busy Monday for me.  I am prepping for my classes this week (and am just about done!), planning for a big Halloween party we are hosting this weekend, and coordinating my daughter's Halloween party at school.  I love to be busy, but this week will go quickly due to all of my commitments.  

I'm running out of crockpot recipes, so I am going to switch it up to some of our regular meals.  Today for dinner we are having one of my favorite comfort food recipes from my childhood:  Turkey Tetrazzini.  It is not a difficult recipe to put together and it tastes delicious, so it's a win-win in my book.  We will add some veggies, fruit, and my family's go-to, bread, butter and jelly.  Looking forward to tonight's meal!

Turkey Tetrazzini

1/4 lb. spaghetti noodles, broken into 2 inch pieces
1 jar Heinz turkey gravy
1 can mushrooms, drained
1 1/2 c. cubed cooked turkey (I usually get a 1/2 pound chunk at the deli)
1/2 c. evaporated milk
1/3 c. grated parmesan cheese
1/8 t. pepper
1/4 c. parmesan cheese

Cook spaghetti according to package directions and drain.  Combine gravy and the next five ingredients.  Add spaghetti and mix well.  Pour into 1 1/2 qt. baking dish.  Sprinkle top with remaining parmesan cheese.  Bake at 375 degrees for 35 minutes or until bubbly.  Let stand five minutes before serving.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Friday Fun

My oldest son did not have school today, so we are spending the day at my parent's house.  I rushed around this morning to get a load of the kids' laundry done, some cupcakes baked for an event tomorrow, and everything packed up for our day trip.  One of the wonderful benefits of living near Grandma and Grandpa!  The kids were thrilled to take a trip to the farm.

We are making today all about Halloween.  Grandma needed some help decorating her house, so the kids will be getting her house ready for the big day.  We are also baking and decorating cut-out cookies, which the kids will love.  We found a great assortment of sprinkles at Target that are made in a nut-free facility, so I'm sure the cookies will be covered in them!  To top it off, we brought along a Nickelodeon Halloween DVD and Halloween Mac and Cheese.  What a fun day for the kiddos!

It's been terribly rainy this week, so we had to have some indoor fun.  One of my kids' favorite activities is to bat around balloons.  Turn on some music and let them have some fun!  We try to see how long we can keep the balloon off of the ground.  They love the challenge and giggle away while they're playing.


Keeping those balloons up in the air!

We also did some painting this week.  We have a bucket of different "messy" items we pull out every once in awhile.  The little guy did this while the Princess was at school, so I could contain the mess (even though it still got everywhere!).  Crayola made some paints that could be used by holding on with your hand a few years ago.  I'm not sure if they still make them, but they are a little easier and less messy than hauling out the paints and brushes.  Needless to say, he had a wonderfully messy time!  Thank goodness for the smock.

The little artist

Now that the weather is starting to get chillier, I'll be working hard coming up with some fun, out-of-the box activities to do indoors.  Time to start using the creative side of my brain!

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Some Days are Like That

Today was a preschool day for the Princess, so I thought I would try to run some errands while she was at school and I only had the little guy.  Our drive to her school is about 15 minutes, so if possible, I try to stay in "town" instead of spending an hour on the road driving back-and-forth.  It's a time and money saver, so why not, right?

Wrong.  After I dropped her off, I began to daydream about my little plan for the morning.  First we would hit Target to get a few things, maybe browse around a few stores for some winter clothing, and wrap up our morning at the grocery store.  Once we were done, we'd pick up some lunch and head over to pick her up.  

My plan was going great, until we walked into Target.  The fight over riding or pushing turned into one of those epic temper tantrums where your child is screaming "NO" as loud as possible, crying, and not budging.  Thank God we had to walk down one aisle, grab the hand soap, and hit the checkout lane.  There is really nothing like tucking your screaming, slippery (thanks to his coat) toddler under your arm while pushing a cart trying to make your exit as quickly as possible.  I didn't interact with the cashier.  I quickly paid for our stuff and got the heck out of dodge, only to run into a neighbor while my kid is still screaming like a maniac.  This continued out into the parking lot where he stiffened up so it was about impossible to get him in his carseat.  I finally did and we headed for home.

What do all good mothers do in this situation?  Ignore the nonsense going on in the back and turn up the music!  For the lovely fifteen minute drive home I sang my heart out while he screamed away in his seat.  When we arrived home he was still screaming, shoeless, and tear-stained.  I carried him through the door and he insisted on having his shoes put on.  He sat down, I put them on, and then finally some quiet.  I only had to listen to him scream for 30 minutes.  Fun stuff.

Needless to say, my wonderful plan for getting anything accomplished this morning was wiped away by the little guy.  Some days are like that I guess.  We'll have to try again another day, though I'm not particularly looking forward to it.  And my husband wonders why I grocery shop on the weekend!  :)  

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Bananas and Breakfast

Breakfast really is the most important meal of the day.  I think this is especially true for my oldest son, as he doesn't eat lunch until noon and most of his learning occurs during the morning.  I don't want him to be hungry and distracted, so we try to my sure he eats a hearty breakfast.  I like to switch things up a bit and take a break from the usual oatmeal and cereal routine, so I try to make homemade goodies that we can eat now or freeze for later.

As you've probably figured out, I like to bake things for breakfast.  I think I've shared all of my muffin recipes that I use, so I thought I'd share our family's banana bread recipe.  My mom and aunt have made this for years and it's a favorite in our house now.  I always seem to have a few overripe bananas sitting on the counter, so this morning we enjoyed a freshly baked loaf of banana bread.  This is best with a little butter spread on top and goes well with a side of fruit, oatmeal, or cereal.  Enjoy!

Banana Bread

1 1/2 c. sugar
1/2 c. softened butter
2 eggs
2 c. flour
pinch of salt
1/2 t. baking soda
1 t. baking powder
1/2 c. buttermilk (may substitute powdered)
2 t. vanilla
2 ripe bananas, smashed

Cream butter and sugar
Add eggs
Alternate dry ingredients (if using powdered include mix with dry ingredients), add water in between dry ingredients
Add bananas and vanilla last

Spray pans.  Bake at 375 degrees for 45 minutes

*We have found it works best to use the disposable loaf pans (not the mini), it will make two loaves

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Freight Train Fun

Today I taught my first Toddler Academy class of the session.  Our lesson this week focused on colors and numbers and we used the book Freight Train by Donald Crews as our model.  If you're looking for an age reference for these activities, my youngest guy is two and could complete all of them.  I will give you some ideas to bump up the difficulty as well.

I recreated the train using a pattern I found online.  For storytelling purposes, I laminated them and put felt on the back to use on my felt board.  Each child was given a piece (or two, depending on the size of your group) and when the color was called, they brought the piece up and placed it on the felt board.

At one of our centers, we continued with this idea and used pieces of the freight train that I found online.  I placed the book on the table with the pieces and the kiddos had to match the colors and put the train in order.  I cut a piece of construction paper in two and taped it together so it was long enough to put all of the pieces on.

We also worked on matching colors.  The story focuses on seven colors, so I created trains and "stations" for each color and placed them on a table.  The kids were given several trains in each color and had to put them in the correct station.  If you would like to make this a little more difficult, you could choose one color to create the stations and number them 1-7.  Using the seven colors from the story, label each train with numbers 1-7 and have the kids match each train to the correct numbered station.

To work on number recognition and counting objects, I provided trains numbered 1-5 and marshmallows.  The kiddos were to put the train in order and then add "steam" (marshmallows) for each numbered train.  To make this more difficult, make your train go through ten.

These activities were fun and a great compliment to the story.  My little guy loved putting the trains in the stations and, of course, using glue to put the train together!  If you have a little train lover, these are some great activities to challenge your kids with as the weather turns cooler and you need some ideas for indoor activities.

Monday, October 15, 2012

How to Make Your Halloween Trick-or-Treat Handouts Nut-Friendly

Halloween is a little over two weeks away and the kids are so excited.  Our trip to the pumpkin patch was a wash thanks to all of the rain and wind we had this weekend, so we are hoping that the weather is good next weekend.  They are getting impatient and want to pick out and carve their pumpkins.  Carving is really more of a daddy and the kids project and I can't wait to see what they come up with this year!  I'm thinking the little guy is going to love playing with the "pumpkin guts."

While we have a lot of fun with Halloween, we also find it quite challenging at times due to our oldest son's peanut and tree nut allergy.  Trick-or-treating is the obvious time when his allergy poses a problem.  Bless his heart, each time he knocks on a door he tells the person that he has a peanut allergy.  We have tried to teach him what candy is "safe" and so if there's a choice, he goes on the hunt for those options.  Many times, though, he has to choose something that he won't be able to have.  We aren't really big into letting our kids gorge themselves on candy, but it is hard to watch his face while he watches us sort the candy and much of his "loot" actually gets taken away.  

While I understand that not everyone will go out of their way to accommodate children with these allergies, it is easy to do as there are some types of candy that are safe.  In case anyone would like to have some "nut-free" options on hand or choose to just hand out "safe" treats, here is a list of what we have typically found to be okay.  As always, be sure to double-check the label to see if there is any bold print about peanuts or tree nuts.

"Nut-Free" Trick-or-Treat Options:

Anything made by the Tootsie company.  Usually the large bags are called Child's Play Tootsie mix.
Wonka Mixups (contain Nerds, Laffy Taffy, Sweet Tarts, and Bottle Caps)
Kirkland Signature Funhouse Treats mix
Dum Dums lollipops
Hershey Milk Chocolate Kisses
Goldfish Crackers
Utz Halloween Pretzels
Betty Crocker Halloween fruit snacks
Oreo Halloween Minis
Swedish Fish
Pixy Stix
Fun Dips

I know there are more options out there, but this is just a list I could come up with off the top of my head!  We tend to buy bags of the first two, as it is a pretty good variety and we can give a few pieces to each kid.  If you really want to get creative, buy some Tootsie Pops, cover them in Kleenex tied off with yarn, put some eyes and mouth on them with a marker, and you have a cute ghost!

Happy Monday!  More Halloween activities, food, and tips to come!

Friday, October 12, 2012

"Frightening" Friday Fun

My kids love Halloween.  Everyday someone asks me how many more days there are until the big day.  In order to pass the time and play off of their excitement, I've tried to provide some daily activity to celebrate the occasion.  So far they are enjoying the activities and my oldest guy has come up with some of his own he'd like to try over the weekend.

Thanks to the internet-age, we have access to hundreds of free printable coloring pages.  You can go to this website or this one to find great Halloween coloring pages.  There are many, many websites that provide these, so slip it into a Google search and choose what works for you.  My kids wanted to color a jack-o-lantern first, so that's what we did!

The Princess working hard on staying in the lines

Another favorite activity of my kids is creating a haunted house using some construction paper and Halloween stickers.  I drew the house for them and let them go to work!

The little guy enjoyed putting the stickers on

The finished products

I thought I'd be fun and find another way to incorporate Halloween into our day as well:  dinner!  For this dinner I made "Mummy" hot dogs, "witch's fingers," and "eyeballs."  The kids got a big kick out of it.  We have had some other fun dinners as well.  Kraft makes Halloween macaroni and cheese that the kids like and we also have made "Mummy" english muffin pizzas.  I'll post some more Halloween food ideas next week!

Place 1/2 slice of cheese on a crescent roll.  Add the "mummy" and roll 'em up!

Our "Mummy" Hot Dog, Eyeball, and Witch's Fingers dinner

Holidays are fun.  I'll share some more of our ideas and activities with you next week!  Happy Friday!

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Mommy Bootcamp Update: Time to Bring it Back!

It's been awhile since we started our "Mommy Bootcamp" this summer.  I had a lot of success modifying some of the behaviors that were making our days miserable using sticker charts, the kindness jar, and chore charts.  Now that school is in full-swing, we are starting to have some trouble again.  This time I am working on targeting behavior during our morning when we're trying to get everyone out the door and getting ready for bed.  Everyone is at their wit's end, so it was time to bring back some of our incentives and charts.

Let's start with the morning.  Luckily we don't have to be out the door until 8:15 or we'd be in some serious trouble!  We have cut-off screen time before school and are now using it as an incentive.  Our oldest son (who is a major slow-poke) has some basic "chores" that make up his morning routine:  clear his breakfast dishes, make his bed, get dressed, and brush his teeth.  These can be found on his chore chart, both with the words and a picture.  I have tried to just use the chore chart and have him move the button over when he's completed the task, but it just doesn't seem to be motivation enough to keep him moving.  Enter in, a new weekly sticker chart!  I use a great site where you can customize your reward chart and create something fun for your child.  Along the top I have the days of the week and then down the side the tasks he needs to complete before school:  the above-mentioned chores and I have added put on shoes and put on coat.  If he can complete each task either independently or only being asked to do so once, he earns a sticker.  If he earns all of his stickers, he can watch a show after school.  Day one was a success and we even had time to spare!

A Halloween-Themed Sticker Chart

The Princess has three chores to complete in the morning:  make bed, get dressed, and brush teeth.  Unfortunately, she has become a perfectionist when it comes to making her bed, so it has turned into a big ordeal.  The slightest wrinkle sets her off.  I'm considering removing that chore, as it's really causing more problems than it's worth.  The problem I have with her is listening the first time.  I know she hears me, but she tends to ignore me and play with her animals instead of doing what was asked of her.  She is into My Little Pony these days, so I printed off a chart from this website capitalizing on her interest.  In order to earn a sticker, she has to listen to a direction the first time.  Once her chart is full, she will earn a reward (most likely an episode of My Little Pony!).

The My Little Pony Chart

My hope is that these sticker charts will motivate them enough to get moving in the morning.  While we are still using our time-out stickers, I have grown tired of putting them in time-out repeatedly to get them out the door.  There is nothing I dislike more than having to yell and nag at my kids before I send them off to school.  It would be nice if we could have a pleasant morning and leave the house without being rushed and angry with each other.  I know this is the goal of millions of parents around the country, but I am hoping it can become a reality for is, if even a few days a week at this point.  

Our kiddos love Yo Gabba Gabba and they have a Good-bye Song that I think I'm going to turn on when it's time to get out the door.  I know I had mentioned making a playlist, but knowing my kids it will distract them and they will sit and sing along and dance instead of getting ready.  Perhaps if we keep it simple it will work.  I think I'll give it a try tomorrow.  After all, it will be Friday and we can all celebrate that we will have a few days off from the hustle and bustle of getting ready for school.         

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Charitable Giving During the Holiday Season: Some Helpful Tips for Stretching Your Dollar and Time

This is the time of the year that I always slip into "holiday mode."  It seems like the last three months just fly by and before I know it the holidays have passed.  I am looking forward to being closer to family this year, so we do not have to spend so much time traveling and away from home.  Perhaps I will feel like it didn't all just pass me by in a blink of an eye this year, because we won't be so rushed and sleep-deprived!

This is also the time of year that I realize how blessed we are to be able to celebrate these holidays with our families and to provide food and gifts for these occasions.  We all know that not everyone is so fortunate.  Every year we set aside money in our budget to purchase food to donate to food drives or to provide a Thanksgiving meal for a family.  We also participate in Giving Tree opportunities, choosing one person for each member of our family.  As our kids have gotten older, I think it is important to include them in these charitable opportunities and help them understand that not everyone is as fortunate as they are.

Because we are on a budget, I work hard to make our money go as far as possible for these occasions.  I look for sales in the grocery adds and stock up when there are good deals on non-perishable items we can donate.  Another way to stretch your money a bit is to use coupons for popular items that you may not normally buy.  By the time the donations are requested, I have usually stockpiled quite a bit of food.

When we purchase gifts for the Giving Tree, I shop around for the best price.  After discussing what we should buy each of our people, we look in the ads or online.  A lot of times I purchase our gifts online to cut costs, as it seems like that is where you can get the most for your money (especially after using Ebates in addition to the sale price).  I love to buy books for our kiddos from the Scholastic book orders and will double up on some of the books, especially the $1 books each month, and include a few of them with the gifts for the children we choose from the Giving Tree.  I love to give the gift of reading!

Throughout the year I will check the clearance section at stores like Target and Kohls to see if there are some everyday basics on sale.  In the past I have purchased sheet sets, clothing, backpacks, and other necessities at a fraction of the cost they were during the peak season.  I store them away and pull out my "stash" when it's time to donate items.  By saving money on these items, we can help more people.

I know that at times you may get caught up in the busyness of the holiday season and adding anything else to your plate may seem overwhelming.  By doing some of the work ahead of time, you can contribute to wonderful causes during the holiday season and not feel like you've taken on too much.  A little planning ahead goes a long way and you will feel wonderful knowing that you've brought some joy to those in need.


Monday, October 8, 2012

If Life Wasn't Busy Already...

This is the big news we shared with everyone today!  Our life is busy and chaotic on an everyday basis, so why not add another little one to the mix?  Most people will think we're crazy, (and trust me, there are days we think we may be and the baby isn't even here yet!) but we always wanted a big family and in about six months we'll be a family of six.  

While I am excited about the addition of another little one, I am also nervous.  Our oldest son was very excited to hear the news.  He immediately wanted to know if it was a boy or a girl and what the name would be.  He'll have a long time to wait to find out those answers.  We don't find out the sex of the baby and often don't have a name right away once they're born.  He gave us some wonderful suggestions, though:  Carlos or Pilot for a boy and Sweet, Sparkle, or Laura for a girl.  Bless his heart.  The Princess was pretty impartial about the whole thing.  She says she is happy and excited, but I don't think she really grasps the concept yet.  She is already asking how old the baby is and how it will get out of my tummy.  The best line was, "Through your mouth?"  

The little guy is oblivious.  He was much more interested in the camcorder than the actual news.  I am glad we recorded the moment, because the reaction from our oldest guy was funny.  Moments like these are meant to be recorded!

Over the course of the next six months, I am sure to spend hours fretting about how life will be with four kids six (barely) and under.  I know it will be difficult, but I look forward to seeing my kiddos bond with this new baby.  They are quite the crew already and keep us on our toes.  I think they'll welcome this little one with open arms (most of the time) and before we know it the little one will be following them all over.  I love seeing how much they learn from each other and the way they express their love for one another.  Big families aren't for everyone, but I am thrilled that we have chosen that path.  There won't be much downtime for many years to come, but we'll have many wonderful memories to share when we have time to sit down, relax, and sleep again.  

Sunday, October 7, 2012

"Souper Sunday"

What a great day for soup!  We took a trip to a little fall festival in town with the kiddos and my husband's parents.  We are going to enjoy some baked potato soup tonight to warm back up.  Yummy!  I have another delicious potato soup recipe that I thought I'd share with you today.  A little different than the other.  Definitely not high on the health-meter, but delicious just the same!

Cheesy Potato Soup

1 box Julienne potatoes
3 c. water
2 1/2 c. milk
2 T. margarine or butter
1/2 t. dill weed
1 1/2 cups Velveeta, cut into cubes
Dash pepper

In a pot, put potatoes, sauce packet, water, and dill weed.  Bring to boil.  Reduce heat so it's bubbly.  cook 25-30 minutes until potatoes are no longer hard.  Stir often.

Add milk, margarine, pepper.  Warm for 5-10 minutes.  Don't make it too hot, though.  Just bubbly.

Turn stove to low.  Add Velveeta.  Let warm until melted.

Friday, October 5, 2012

A Fall Treat: Caramel Corn

Today is a cloudy, cool, and breezy fall day here in Iowa.  The leaves are turning and falling to the ground and our house is officially decorated for Halloween thanks to a big push from our kiddos.  We have a fireplace in our new house (we didn't before) and I think this may be the perfect night to fire it up.  If you're going to be enjoying a fire, you need a snack!  Today I thought caramel corn would be the perfect treat.  If only we had some apple cider to go with it.

My mom has made homemade caramel corn for years and it is a wonderful treat.  The problem is, once you start eating it, you can't stop!  Today I thought I'd share that recipe with you.  I have found it is wonderful to take to parties and holiday festivities, because it's easy to transport and definitely gets eaten.  Enjoy!

Homemade Caramel Corn

Roaster pan nearly filled to top with popcorn (I usually use yellow, because it's bigger, but white works as well)
2 sticks of butter
2 cups brown sugar
1/2 cup white corn syrup
1 t. salt
1 t. baking soda

Combine butter, brown sugar, corn syrup, and salt in a 2-quart sauce pan.  Bring to a boil and let it boil for five minutes.  Remove from heat and add 1 t. baking soda.  Mixture will get frothy and seem like it's going to overflow, but it won't!  Pour slowly over popcorn making sure to stir carefully to spread throughout the pan.  Bake for one hour at 200 degrees, stirring every fifteen minutes.  Spread out on wax paper and allow to cool.  

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Muffins...I Love Muffins!

I have another muffin recipe to share with you for a breakfast idea.  While it is fairly healthy, it does contain some chocolate chips.  My neighbor was poking fun at me and my love of chocolate chips, but what can I say, I love them!!!  This is one of my favorite new recipes I discovered this summer.  Our local grocery store had a great sale on bananas, so I bought a bunch so I can make a few more batches to freeze this week.  Enjoy!

Banana Chocolate Chip Muffins

1 3/4 c. all-purpose flour
3/4 c. sugar
1 t. baking soda
1 t. baking powder
1/2 t. salt
1 egg
1/2 c. vegetable oil
1/2 c. vanilla or french vanilla yogurt
1 t. vanilla extract
1 c. bananas (mashed ripe)
3/4 c. milk chocolate chips

Combine dry ingredients.  In a separate bowl combine egg, oil, yogurt, and vanilla.  Stir into dry ingredients until moistened.  Fold in bananas and chocolate chips.  Fill paper-lined muffin cups two-thirds full.  Bake at 350 for 22-25 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean.  Let cool 5 minutes before removing from pan to put on wire racks.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Falling Behind...

I feel like all I've done the past two weeks is take care of sick kiddos and it seems that another ear infection is upon us.  My blog has been neglected for this reason, so I thought I'd just do a quick post tonight.  I hope to resume my usual "Crocking Monday" recipe share next Monday!

Sometimes despite our best efforts, we fall behind.  We now have six weeks of school under our belt and I am still working on ironing out a decent morning and evening schedule.  My oldest kiddo is not a quick mover and really feels no sense of urgency when it comes to making it to school on time.  We always make it, but I usually feel guilty after I've dropped him off because I've had to yell at him to get him into gear.  One mom I know made a comment that she was going to create a morning playlist to cue her kiddos in that it was time to get ready and go.  I may have to try this out if things don't improve soon.  Sounds more positive than the yelling, nagging, and time-outs that have been happening here!

Though he has minimal homework, it seems like we are also having a difficult time finding a good time to work on it.  I like to give him time to unwind and play when he gets home, but then it seems like dinner, bath time, and bed time have crept up on us and we're scrambling to complete it.  It always gets done, but I think we need to work on our time management.  We do spend about twenty minutes a night reading to the kiddos before bed, so that makes me feel a little bit better that we are achieving his teacher's goal of ten minutes a night.  Have to find the positive!

The house tends to get away from me when the kiddos are sick.  I know that in the grand scheme of things it's not a big deal because they need their mama, but I hate looking around seeing bathrooms that need to be cleaned, vacuuming that needs to be done, and toys scattered all over.  My goal this week is to catch up on my housekeeping tasks that have been pushed aside.  I got a good start today, thank goodness, but envision a day spent at the doctor's office tomorrow and shuffling kids back and forth to school.  Probably going to be behind again.  Someday when my kids are grown and gone I'll have plenty of time to keep my house looking the way I'd like (at least that's what I tell myself!).

I have begun to realize that life is always going to be throwing curve balls at me and I'm going to fall behind.  Kids are going to get sick, appointments and meetings will take up a lot of time, and there will just not be enough hours in a day to get it all done.  I just have to cut myself some slack and realize that it's okay.  There's always tomorrow.  I'm going to do my best to remember that tomorrow when I'm fretting about the things that should be getting done, but won't!  Wednesday will be a new day.