Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Forget the Quaker Granola Bars! These are better!

Last week I posted a recipe for chewy granola bars and mentioned that I had another recipe that I wanted to try, but hadn't had the opportunity yet.  Well, my mom heard me talking about them, and decided to surprise us with a batch.  We tried them yesterday and they are awesome!

Granola bars are one of the snacks I miss.  Due to our son's peanut and tree nut allergy, we can't purchase them at the store.  These granola bars are similar to Quaker, but don't have all of the extra fillers and are crispier.  We initially thought a batch made way too many that we'd have to freeze some, but we can't keep our hands off of them!

This recipe is for chocolate chip, but I'm sure you could add some dried fruit as well and play around with it.  They are really quite healthy and definitely going to be a staple around our house.  My oldest son loved them, so I added one to his lunch today as a treat.  

Chewy Chocolate Chip Granola Bars
from Farmgirl Gourmet

2 cups crispy rice cereal
2 1/2 cups quick cooking oats
1/3 cup honey (local is best)
1/4 cup light brown sugar
5 T. unsalted butter
1 t. vanilla
3 T. mini chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 200 degrees.  Spray 9x13 pan with cooking spray and set aside (I am going to try laying down parchment paper and leaving an overlay instead next time).  In a large bowl, add the crispy rice and oats.  Mix to combine and set aside.  In a small saucepan, add the honey, brown sugar, and butter and bring to a simmer.  Heat for 3 minutes until it becomes syrupy and remove from heat.  Add the vanilla and pour over the rice and oat mixture.  Stir well to coat and pour into the prepared baking pan.  Lay a piece of parchment paper over the pan and press the oat mixture down.  Sprinkle with the chocolate chips and press down again.  Bake at 200 for 25 minutes.  Turn off the heat and allow to remain in the oven for 2 hours.  Invert onto a cutting board (or if using parchment paper, pull out of pan).  Cut into bars and store in an airtight container up to a week.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Crocking Monday!

When I had my third child, I received a beef stew Mommy Meal from a member of one of my mom's groups.  It was delicious and I had every intention of making it, but never got around to it.  Since I am trying to avoid dairy again, I have been looking for meals that contain no milk products.  This one came to mind and my mom offered to make it for me (bonus!).  

She prepped everything for me and we turned the original recipe into a crockpot meal.  It turned out quite well and I will be adding it to my growing list of crockpot recipes.  Here is our modified recipe!

Beef Stew in the Crockpot
Adapted from Paula Deen courtesy of a Peanut Blossom blog post

2 lbs. beef stew meat
flour, for coating meat
2 T. oil
1 1/2 cups beef broth (or half beef broth, half water)
1 T. Worcestershire Sauce
1 clove garlic, peeled (I omitted)
1 bay leaf
1 medium onion, sliced (I omitted)
1 t. sugar
1 t. salt
1/2 t. pepper
1/2 t. paprika
3 large carrots, sliced
3 ribs celery, chopped
4 red potatoes, peeled and sliced into large pieces (may omit and serve over mashed potatoes instead)
1/3 c. flour
*fresh mushrooms would be a wonderful addition!

Heat oil.  Coat meat in flour and cook until brown.  In a large bowl, mix vegetables and flour.  Add beef broth, Worcestershire Sauce, sugar, salt, pepper, and paprika.  Mix well.  Add meat and mix again. Pour into a lightly greased crockpot.  Place bay leaf on top and cook on low for 10 hours.  If adding the mushrooms, place in crockpot a few hours before it is done.  When reheating, may want to add some water to thin out.


Saturday, April 27, 2013

Mommy Bootcamp is Back!

We may have a new baby in the house, but this mama is not letting that be an excuse for my kids to blatantly ignore me or do the opposite of what I ask.  The not listening is driving me up the wall, so it is time to take some action.  You may recall that this past summer I did a little "Mommy Bootcamp" to try to discourage some behaviors that were causing problems in the house.  Well, it's back, and today was the prep day to devise a system to try to get our kids back on track and listening!

My goal was to make something simple that the kids can independently do quickly and see their progress.  I am a big fan of sticker charts, but this time we're going a different route.  Each kid got to choose their "logo," which is what they will move.  My little guy chose a dump truck, the Princess chose a giraffe, and my oldest son chose a baseball.  I printed them out, trimmed around them, and placed contact paper over both sides so they will be durable.  On the back, I attached a piece of Velcro.  

Each kiddo will have a road (covered on the front side with contact paper) with a designated number of Velcro spots on them (varying by age) that lead to their "destination" (construction site, zoo, and ballpark).  Each time they listen the first time to a direction, they can move their logo.  Once they arrive at their destination, they will receive a reward (a story, extra five minutes to stay up, a show, etc.).  I am hoping this will be a fun and motivational little game and soon we'll be back on track and listening again (at least better than they are now!).

I have hung this up on one of our kitchen walls so we have easy access to it and it will be a visual reminder to listen.  Cheers to Mommy Bootcamp!  

All ready to go!

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Math Activities for Toddlers with Food!

This morning I am home with my little guy (2 1/2) and of course, the baby.  I feel a bit guilty about the amount of time I'm able to spend with all of the kids right now given how much attention the baby requires, so I wanted to do something fun with him while my older two were at school.  We opted for a little math fun with food!

While it's not the healthiest food on the block, Fruit Snacks and Fruit Loops lend themselves well to sorting, color recognition and naming, and patterning (and they just happened to be in my pantry!).  This morning we just worked on sorting, counting how many in each group, and figuring out which group had the most and the least.  My little guy thought it was fun and especially enjoyed the end result:  eating them!  This activity would also work well with colored Goldfish.

Depending on the age of your child(ren), you could use the Fruit Loops to create pattern necklaces and make them as difficult or easy as your child can handle.  You could also take the colored Goldfish, provide cut out fish bowls for each color, and have your child sort them into the correct fish bowl.  There are many ways to play and learn with food!

Sorting Fun!

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

A Giveaway (The first!): We Need Help with a Name!

As I mentioned late last week, a friend and I have been working on a big project to help promote literacy and bring comfort to those in need with some awesome fleece tie blankets in our community.  We have been in the planning stages since before the holidays and are ready to forge ahead with our idea.  This is where we need your help:  we need a name!  Here's a little background information...

My end of the project is literacy.  Thus far, we've purchased about 100 books to be distributed to those who need to get a book in their hands and are looking to raise funds or receive donations of new books.  If your children are in school and their class participates in the Scholastic book order, you can get books for all ages for just $1!  While our biggest target initially will be young children, we are also looking to help tweens and teens as well.  Reading has always been such an important part of my life, that I want to do what I can to get some wonderful book titles into kids' hands.  I'm sure you all have some favorites from your childhood that you still are fond of today.  Wouldn't you feel great passing them along to others?

The other part of our project involves providing fleece tie blankets to those in need.  It would be awesome if our organization could provide a blanket for low-income children in schools and shelters, as well as those who are ill, and pair it with a book.  Our goal is to coordinate the blanket with the theme of the book to really tie it all together.  We will also be using a portion of our funds to purchase the materials to make the blankets, but this project is also wonderful for families and groups looking to help out in their community by making and donating new blankets or donating materials to make them.

We hope to someday make this an official non-profit, but that is a time-consuming process, so in the meantime, we're ready to get this project rolling.  It would be great to build our collection of books and blankets over the summer to help kick-off the school year on a positive note to those in need.  If you would like to help in any capacity, please let me know.  I'm sure we'll have a few fundraising activities and ideas to present soon, so stay tuned!  

Here's where you can help!  We need a name for this project and want to hear your ideas.  The winner of our contest will receive their very own book and blanket (or if you'd like we can donate the combo on your behalf).  Our contest will close on Saturday, April 27th, at noon, so get your minds working and leave us a name suggestion in the comment section below or on Facebook!  

We can't wait to hear your ideas!

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Granola Bars

There are several foods that we can longer have in our home due to our son's peanut allergy.  Granola bars are one of those items.  For some odd reason, this week all I've wanted was a chewy chocolate chip Quaker granola bar.  My mom gave me a recipe that seems similar to them and if I had the time or the hands to run to the store to get the ingredients, I would!  In the past, though, I have made these granola bars and we all thought they were pretty tasty.  They aren't the healthiest in the world, as there's quite a bit of corn syrup and butter in them, but they're good for a treat now and then.  I've frozen them with success, too.

Granola Bars
Recipe from Taste of Home Cooking for Kids Cookbook

6 cups quick-cooking oats
1 1/2 cups raisins (or other dried fruit bits)
1 cup packed brown sugar
1 cup butter, melted
1 cup corn syrup
1/2 cup miniature chocolate chips
1/2 cup coconut

In a large bowl, combine the ingredients; mix well.  Spread into a greased jelly roll pan (15x10x1)  Bake at 350 degrees for 20-25 minutes or until edges are golden brown.  Cool on a wire rack.  Use a knife to cut into squares or cookie cutters to cut into shapes.  Store in covered container.

Monday, April 22, 2013

It's Sink or Swim Time! Getting Organized with Kiddos!

Today officially marks my first day on my own!  My husband is back to work and my mom will help out occasionally now.  I was a little nervous about how today would go, but so far it's been a relatively peaceful and productive day.  By 9:30 I had showered, bathed the middle kiddos, made dinner to be cooked this evening, vacuumed, and completed a school project for my daughter.  I could really use a nap, but am not sure how I can fit that in with my middle two no longer napping.  Bummer!

I have come to realize that I am going to have to accept that I'm always going to be behind in some aspects of my life, but I am going to do my best to not get too far behind.  For the past few months I had been a little lenient about the weekly "schedule" I had created for myself, but it is time to resume old habits that made our household run a little more smoothly.  Today I thought I'd share a few ways I try to keep up with a busy household of kids!

Meal planning is one of the most beneficial activities I do.  One day a week (usually on Wednesday when the local grocery ads come out) I sit down and plan out our meals for the week and our grocery list.  If I have extra time, I'll look at Target or Coupons.com for some coupons to try to trim a few more dollars off of our grocery bill.  I've tried to make meal planning a little simpler by sticking with a theme a few nights a week.  For example, crockpot meal on Monday, breakfast for dinner on Thursday, homemade pizza on Friday, and a simple, kid-friendly meal on Saturday.  This leaves a few days a week where I have to sift through my recipes to come up with dinner, but it has really cut back on time!  My other time-saver is having chicken for casseroles in the freezer that is already cooked and shredded.  

Keeping my house clean is also quite the time-consuming task.  Each night I try to do a quick sweep through our main areas to pick up the toys and clutter that have emerged throughout the day.  Our kids are old enough that they are all assigned a task or two during this time to help cut down on clean up time.  The kitchen is also an area that is cleaned up each night, as waking up to a mess of a kitchen stinks!  As for the rest of the house, I try to break the house cleaning tasks, such as dusting, vacuuming, bathrooms, and laundry up by day.  Taking thirty minutes or less during the weekdays, I can keep up with the house for the most part.  This is something that I had slacked off of while really pregnant, but am trying to resume so I don't have to spend an hour or more on the weekends cleaning.

I am also working on teaching our kindergartener the importance of completing his homework and school tasks on time, preferably the day the assignment comes home, as they usually aren't due for a few days.  I made a bulletin board to pin all school things up on, so we can easily keep track of them.  We are also encouraging him to read to us for 30 minutes a day, so we are working on blocking out that time each night as well and keeping a reading a log.  

I realized a long time ago that there will never be enough hours in a day, but if we are mindful of what time we do have, we can schedule our time wisely and there will still be time leftover to enjoy some of the activities that we, as individuals, like to do, as well as fun family activities.  


Friday, April 19, 2013

A Big Project in the Making

Many posts ago, I talked about taking care of our corner of the world.  As horrific events have unfolded around us once again, I think we all realize that you can really never take a day for granted.  I am sure that many of us feel helpless and like we can't do enough, but if we take a step back and focus on our community, I know we could all make a difference.  I think the first step is to think about a few causes that you feel passionate about and channel your energy in that direction.  Set some goals, involve your family, and start taking steps to make a difference!

For me, I have two areas that I always come back to:  hunger and helping to promote literacy in children.  Today I am going to focus on promoting literacy in children.  I have spent a great deal of time over the past several months creating some goals to assist with this growing problem.  If you recall, I sent out a request for money to purchase books for a family service project at Christmas time.  Over the past five months, I have collected 100 new books to be distributed to those in need.  This is only the beginning!  It is my hope that we can continue to raise funds to purchase books or receive book donations from others.  

A friend and I have been collaborating on this project and we are beginning to contact school districts to reach out and find out how we can assist:  books for the classroom, providing a book for a child to take home, providing books for shelters, etc.  While my main focus is books, my friend's focus is on providing fleece tie blankets for those in need.  We have read some startling statistics about children in our area who have don't even have a bed to sleep on.  While we can't provide a bed, we would like to provide them with a book and a comfortable blanket to call their own.  We need to take care of the children in our community, as they are our future.

This project is definitely in the early stages of development.  It will take time to grow, but we are committing ourselves to making a difference for children in our community.  One of the wonderful things about this project is that it is child-friendly.  My kids can be involved in picking out the books and distributing them.  We can teach them the importance of helping others and they can see first-hand how beneficial it can be.  

I challenge you to come up with a family project, big or small, to make a difference in your community.  It's never to early to show children how to be compassionate citizens and the importance of helping others.  If your children are a little bit older, encourage them to come up with an idea and take the time to help them come up with a plan and follow it through.  I am sure they will be proud of their accomplishment and their eyes will be opened to the needs of others. 

If you would like to donate to this effort monetarily, please click on the donate button.  If you would like to help out in any other way, please let me know!

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Baby #4 Has Arrived!

Wow, what a week!  We finally welcomed Baby #4 into the world very early Saturday morning.  After many false starts, labor finally decided to full kick in on Friday:  on our daughter's birthday!  I didn't quite expect to be spending the day in labor.  As evening set in, the contractions picked up considerably, but we fit in all of the birthday festivities.  I joked on Facebook that you know you're on your fourth kid when you are making dinner in between contractions (our Friday homemade pizza night)!  We gave the Princess most of her presents in the morning, but had saved her bike for the evening.  We timed out the delivery of her gift:  once a contraction was over, we had about five minutes to spare, so my husband quickly brought it out and the look on her face was priceless!  We did the same thing with singing "Happy Birthday" and serving cupcakes.  It was really was pretty funny.  I'd say "Go!" when the contraction ended and we moved quickly.  Probably a day I will never forget.  I just kept praying this little one would hold off until the following day!

Once we got the kids to bed, we hung out with my parents for a bit and then hit the road for the hospital.  Once we arrived, things went pretty quickly and our little girl made her appearance at 2:07 A.M.  It was an amazing experience, so calm and intimate, and my husband proudly caught our daughter and announced her sex.  Definitely a unique experience and we were thrilled she arrived safe and healthy.  We spent a few days in the hospital and felt like we were on vacation because it was so quiet.  It was wonderful to spend those days bonding with our little girl and our other children were so amazing and loving when they came to visit.  She is definitely not going to be deprived of attention.  It was so wonderful to see how much they loved her and took her all in.  Definitely some teary moments!

We are so in love with our little girl.  It is amazing how my heart just grows with each new addition.  I spent a lot of time reflecting on how blessed we are those first few days (when it was so quiet!).  It amazes me how much our lives have changed in six years:  we've welcomed four children into this world!  All of our children have brought such joy to our lives and I was just overcome with gratitude that we have been so abundantly blessed.  It is so hard to put into words how I felt when I saw all of them together in the same room.  One of the best moments was when our oldest son was holding our daughter and the other two were gathered around looking at her.  That photograph is priceless!

We have had a few days to adjust to life as a family of six.  There are definitely going to be good days and bad days, but I know we will find good in each day.  I am just so relieved that we have made it to this point and look forward to seeing how everyone adapts to their new roles.  Sleep is hard to come by, but I am loving all of the newborn snuggles and bonding time we have had.  I know things will eventually improve, but until then, I'm just going to be grateful for what little sleep I do get!

Thursday, April 4, 2013


These last few days/weeks of pregnancy can best be summed up as a very wild roller-coaster ride.  This is particularly true for my emotions.  While I am physically tired, I am more emotionally drained than anything.  There is such anticipation waiting for this new one to arrive, both for us and our children, and I think we are all ready to meet our new little bundle.  Each night our oldest son tells me he hopes he doesn't see me in the morning, because he is so excited to meet his new brother or sister and he is afraid my stomach is going to pop!

If there is one thing that is true about pregnancy, it is that it is full of surprises:  from the gender (if you choose to wait) to when the baby will arrive.  For me, these last few weeks have been very trying waiting for the arrival of the baby.  Each day I wake up and wonder "is this going to be the day?"  The other night I woke in the middle of the night to contractions that were spread apart and soon regulated.  They were close enough to believe that we were heading in to have this little one only to have them stop.  It was very emotionally draining to be excited and sure that we were going to meet our baby soon to going back to the waiting game.  I'm trying to be patient, but I just want to meet our next addition!

This pregnancy has not been my easiest, but I love feeling the little one move around and I will miss those taps and stretches.  I'm trying to prepare for the possibility of this being our last baby, but I don't want to close the door on it quite yet.  Our lives are crazy, people think we're crazy, but a big family is something we always wanted and five children was our "magic number."  It is a decision that we will really have to think about and it is not a decision to be taking lightly.  If this is indeed our last baby, I will be sad to close this chapter in my life, but am grateful that we have been so abundantly blessed!

I know that the day is near and I have been trying to soak up the last moments with our three little ones.    The other night when I thought things were progressing in the right direction, it made me a bit sad.  I always feel this way right before another kiddo is about to join the family.  While it is a very joyous time, it always makes me feel a little anxious and sad to know that we are opening another chapter in our lives and the life we have settled into will soon be dramatically changed.  It's not a bad thing at all, it's just hard for someone as sentimental and emotional as myself.  I always worry how the other kids will react and hope that they don't feel slighted or not as loved.  Once the baby arrives, though, these feelings usually disappear and it feels like we've always been the family that we've become.  Needless to say, I'm sneaking in as many extra hugs, kisses, and snuggles as I possibly can!

This ride is about to end and I am praying that by the end of this weekend (if not sooner!) we'll have finally met Baby #4.  I am so excited and ready!  We are ready to roll and can't wait to start our lives as a family of six.  I am praying for a smooth and quick delivery and looking forward to our kids meeting their new sibling.  This day really can't come soon enough!