Thursday, December 31, 2015

A HUGE Praise!!!

I am so excited to share a HUGE praise with you guys today!  This praise involves forgiveness, mercy, grace, provisions, and blessings - all straight from God.  Let me back up and tell you the back story first.  Like many people do I went to college.  I graduated with a Bachelor's degree in Business Education and a lot of college debt.  For many years, way too many years, we did not take this student loan payment seriously and we were wrong.  God really got a hold of our hearts about this and kept prodding us that we needed to take care of this student loan.  He kept showing us all the ways this large debt was holding us back.  So on January 28, 2015 we decided to get serious about paying off my student loans from college.  We first prayed for God's forgiveness for not taking these loans seriously and not using our money wisely.  Then we prayed that God would help us find a way to pay these loans off.  We prayed BIG because we knew it was a large debt and then we prayed HUGE because we asked God to help us pay the loans off by the end of the year.  It was a GOD-sized prayer because there was no way on our own that we could save enough money to pay off the debts on our own.  God answered our prayers this year.  He was faithful to us.  We prayed and HE started answering.  He provided step by step.  He provided opportunities for us to earn extra money that we would have over looked in the past or we would have used the money wastefully in the past.  God provided for us by having someone pay us back money that we had loaned them over two years ago.  This money was paid to us out of the blue because we thought we were never going to get the money back and we knew it was straight from God.  There are so many other ways through out the year that God provided the money for us to pay down the loan bit by bit, piece by piece.  We know that it is only through GOD and HIS provisions for us that today on December 31, 2015 we paid off my student loans.  While we were praying that God would use us for His purpose, He was saying that with this debt we would be anchored to it and it would limit us.  Additionally, He reminded us that we needed to have our "house" in order, so that our focus would be on His will.  The greatest blessing is that our kids were able to experience God's answer to prayer and see a little of what He is able to do.  This debt is no longer hanging over our heads and we are so grateful to God that He is faithful to us even when we have not been good stewards of our money.  God is so good and so faithful!!!

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Tuesday Tip

I know it is very late Tuesday night, but I still have a tip I want to share with you today.  Today my tip is about plastic film wrap.  Years ago I was at my aunt's house and she was covering some food.  She pulled out this huge box of film wrap to cover the food and it had a date on it.  She explained she paid once for the huge box and it lasted her for years.  So I started using that method.  I go to my local food service distributor and buy their huge box of film wrap.  It looks like this...

I bought this particular box on February 3, 2011.  I paid less than $20 for this giant box of film wrap and I just finished up this box on....

...December 17, 2015!!!!  That is over 4 years worth of film and I can tell you that we don't use this sparingly.  We use it VERY regularly.  I use it to cover baked goods going in the freezer, covering them multiple times to prevent freezer burn.  I use it to cover food for the fridge.  We use it to cover counters when rolling out cookies.  The list goes on and on as to how we use it.  So when I FINALLY finished this box, I went off to my food service distributor store the very next day and bought a new box for $15.99.  I wrote the date on the top of the box and we will see how long it lasts.  I also buy my foil there.  The last box I bought was February 3, 2011 and I am STILL using it.  So buy paying out once for these items I don't need to add it to my grocery list for YEARS and it is great quality film wrap.  I have never had issues with it.  I don't know how many boxes of film wrap I would have went through from the regular grocery store during this time if I was not using my giganta box (yes I am sure giganta box is the right term...ha!), but I do know at a minimum of $2.00 per box it would not have taken me long to spend well over $15.99 buying it and it certain doesn't last that long.  This is one item I save BIG bucks on over the years.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Pizza Soup

Fridays are pizza night around our house.  This is a tradition that we started this year and we love it.  We always know what is for dinner on Friday night - it's pizza!  What we don't know is what kind of pizza we will have.  We have had thin crust pizza, deep dish pizza, thick crust pizza, calzones, cauliflower crust pizza, pizza casserole, and the list goes on, but I will stop because I am starting to feel like I belong in a certain movie listing off types of shrimp.  Anyway since I started the THM plan, one of our favorites pizza dishes became pizza casserole which is super simple because there is no crust to be made.  I make it by layering whatever meat we are using, veggies, sauce, cheese, and then repeat (much like lasagna without the noodles or cottage cheese) and then you bake it for about 20 minutes until it gets nice and hot and bubbly.  So one Friday night we were having pizza casserole when my son said, "Hey Mom!  I bet this casserole would make a good soup, can I try it next Friday?"  I quickly said sure and he was excited to figure out what he needed to do in order to make the soup.  My son gave me his permission to share that he does like to cook and he did create this recipe.  The recipe is flexible because you just basically add what you would to pizza and that varies by your own personal taste.  So for this recipe's sake, I will be telling you what we add feel free to adjust it to what your family prefers.

Pizza Soup

Pizza Soup created by my son
1 roll of sausage. browned and drained
2 qt. of tomatoes with juice
1 can of black olives, chopped
1 onion, chopped
1 green pepper, chopped
1 head of cauliflower, chopped*
Pepperoni - 20-30 slices chopped up
2 cups Chicken broth
Salt - to taste
Pepper - to taste
1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper
1/2 tsp. garlic powder
Pepperoni Chips** for topping
Cheese for topping

In a large soup pot, brown and drain the sausage.  Return the sausage to the pan and add the rest of the ingredients except for the toppings.  Cook on medium high for 20-25 minutes until all vegetables are tender, but not mushy.  When you ladle your soup into bowls, top with the pepperoni chips and cheese.  This is one of our favorite recipes.  If I have more veggies, I add them to the soup.  I have also added mushrooms, kale, and zucchini depending on what we have in the fridge.  :)
*We use chopped cauliflower in this recipe to take the place of noodles.  The cauliflower keeps it THM friendly as a "S" meal.  If you are not following any sort of eating plan that requires you to eat low-carb, feel free to use noodles instead.
**To make the pepperoni chips - fold a paper towel in half on a plate and place pepperoni on top.  Pop the plate into the microwave uncovered for 20-25 seconds.  It will sizzle and crackle, but crisp your pepperoni and make them so they are crispy and you can crumble them over your soup. (I must warn you if you show your kids how to do this, you might go through pepperoni faster than normal.)

Let us know if you try this recipe and what you add to it to make it your own.  Enjoy!!!

Monday, December 14, 2015

Cutting Week Day Madness

A couple of weeks ago I showed you one way I cut my Monday madness by being prepared and by listing our school subjects on our makeshift "chalkboard."  I promised to come back the next week and give you another way I cut the madness in our house.  As you can see it is a couple of weeks later because things got a little crazy.  Guess I need to start scheduling posts rather than writing them on the fly....I will be working on that, could be my next madness post.  Anyway, here it is Monday again and it is time for another tip.

Before I give you my tip, I have to share a deep, dark secret.  I am a recovering procrastinator.  I am the one who thought I can put that off and still get it done in plenty of time.  There were many times in college I was up until 3:00 am writing papers the night before they were due.  These were papers I had known about for weeks and in some cases even the whole semester.  I was really, really, REALLY bad about procrastinating.  I still fall into my habit of procrastinating every once in awhile, but I am SO much better about it.  Procrastination is a habit I had to work hard to break, but by completing little steps at a time, I have gotten out of that routine.

So now that I am done procrastinating by talking about procrastinating...ha...on to my tip for the week.  I knew this school year would be harder for me.  Why?  I have one child in middle school and one child in elementary school, plus I babysit for a little girl that I help with homeschooling and she is also in elementary school.  At the beginning of the school year, I knew I needed to stay on top of everything or I would quickly get buried in grading, projects, and housework.  I knew that middle school work takes longer than elementary work and I would have to arrange my schedule so that I could work one-on-one with my older child.  So I had to be organized and I could not afford to procrastinate this year.  I had to come up with systems that work for me.  The first system I started this year is the one I shared in this post about putting up the book list for the day.  The second system I knew I had to keep under control is grading.  Grading work has not always been a top priority for me.  In the past I would always check the kids' work for the day just to make sure it was done and there were no questions, but then I would set it in a pile to grade later.  This system always left me with at least an hour of grading every other week or so and that was just CRAZY to me, I dreaded it so much that I would continue to let it pile up.  So I made a commitment to myself that I would not let the grading pile up this year.  I sit down every school day and grade the work.  I usually grade it right when they turn it in for each subject, but if I happen to be busy helping one of the other children with school, I will sit down at the end of school and grade it all.  If I have to wait until the end of school to grade the work each day, it take me no more than 15 minutes because I am not behind.  Having the grading done allows me to give instant feedback to our kids about how they are doing, I know if they are not getting a concept (yes, that does happen even in homeschooling), I can quickly figure their overall grades in a subject, and one of the best benefits is we can clean off the table by putting the books away at the end of the day and I don't have a huge stack of paper sitting around collecting dust.

Tip #1:  Be prepared - if you are ready, your kids can be ready.  I use being prepared by listing our materials for school by child on our sliding glass door (which we use as our "chalkboard").
Tip #2:  Stay on Top of Paperwork - Paper clutter can bury you, take the time to grade each day and give feedback to your kids.

I hope my cutting the madness tips are helping you out.  What methods do you use to cut the madness at your home?  I would love to hear them and maybe even try implementing them into my routine.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Homespun Holidays:Fall and Winter Review

Have you ever had a book that you opened and you just couldn't put down?  One of those books that you flipped through and you get so many great ideas you have to set it aside for awhile and think about only to open it again and read it cover to cover again?  I received one of those books the other day in the form of an e-book.  I was asked to review Homespun Holidays: Fall and Winter from The Old Schoolhouse Magazine.  I can honestly say I am super excited about this e book!  It is packed full of great ideas, crafts, recipes, and meaningful articles.  I have read it cover to cover at least 4 times and I can't wait to sit down and read it again.  It is really that good!

I received this title to review for free from the Schoolhouse Review Crew.  You can purchase this title for yourself at The Old Schoolhouse Shop where they have tons of great materials.  You can purchase Homespun Holidays: Fall and Winter by clicking on the title that I have linked or by clicking here:  Run and get a copy of this book for yourself, if you are like me, you will not regret it.  Keep reading to find out why I love this book so much.

As I read through Homespun Holidays: Fall and Winter, I found several projects that I wanted to try with the kiddos.  The projects are quick, easy, and the supplies were things I had on hand already.   I might have more craft supplies than the normal person, I can admit that I have an addiction to crafts, but I also have a lot of craft supplies for homeschooling and the homeschool group we are a part of.  I finally decided on trying the Trash Bag Wreath.  I picked this craft to try because it is something I thought that my daughter and the little girl I babysit for could do mostly by themselves and I was right.  The only part of this project I helped them with was shaping the hanger, cutting up the trash bags, and I tied on the ribbons at the end for a "pop" of color.  The wreath was the perfect project for them to work on when they finished school and I was still working on school with my son.  It kept them busy and it was easy for them.  They finished the whole wreath in about 2 hours.  It probably would have been done sooner, but the girls decided they wanted a really "full" wreath so they kept tying on trash bag strips.  Now the biggest question is who do we give this beautiful wreath to?
A wreath from common household supplies?
Tying on the strips

The finished wreath
The Homespun Holidays: Fall and Winter e book has many great recipes from their contributors in it too!  You all know that I am always on the look out for great recipes.  There are recipes for meals, desserts, and even for gift giving included in this title.  I loved reading through them because the recipe authors told the story behind their recipe.  I love knowing that!  It makes me much more likely to try a recipe if I know more about it - like the story behind it or if real families love this recipe.  I don't know why that appeals to me so much, but if I know it is a "tried and true" recipe I am twice as likely to try it.  This book includes so many great recipes I had to pick a place to start.  I am putting Autumn Soup on my January menu plan, even though the recipe says Autumn, I think this soup will be great year round.  I am also adding the Lentil Soup recipe to my January menu plan.  We love lentils in our family so this is a definite, must try for us.  I also found a few of my favorite recipes in here with a spin on them.  I have a recipe that my family loves for Hash Brown Casserole that is very similar to Tony's Hash Brown Casserole from the book so I am going to try Tony's recipe that is improved from my recipe with his spin on it and I know that my family will devour it.  I also found a recipe for a Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Dip.  I have never made this dip, but it is one of my favorite desserts that someone brings to church carry-ins.  The only problem is that it is usually gone by the time I get to it at the carry-in and I barely get a taste, but I do love it.  So I am excited to have this recipe that I can make now and I will finally get more than a taste of it.

I was also excited to find recipes in this book that we can use for our Holiday Tradition.  Every year we spend one Saturday baking cookies and treats for neighbors, friends, and Sunday School teachers.  We have our tried and true recipes that we use every year like Sour Cream Cut Out Cookies, but each year we like to try new recipes too.  There were several in this book that are perfect for our baking day and I have already added them to this list.  I plan to try the recipes for Mountain Cookies, Christmas Popcorn Balls, Caramel Corn this year for our platters we hand out.  I was also delighted to find a recipe for gift giving in this book.   It is the dry mix for Peppermint Cocoa.  I can mix the ingredients, put it in a cute little jar, and quickly type up the instructions to print out and include with each jar.  These cocoa jars will be the perfect gift for friends that we want to show some love this time of year.

I did try a couple of the recipes from Homespun Holidays: Fall and Winter.  I couldn't wait until our baking day and the authors of the recipes made them seem so easy, I had to try them.  I tried Brown Sugar Squares first.  The list of ingredients was very simple and they are pantry staples for me so I had to try it.  Oh my!!!  These cookie squares are DELICIOUS!!!  They are sweet, gooey, and have the perfect amount of crisp to the crust.  I will definitely bake these again, whether or not I share them is the hard question.  They took me 5 minutes to whip up and bake in about 20 minutes.  The hardest part of this recipe was waiting for them to cool and then trying not to eat them all.  I would buy this book just for that recipe, honestly.  The other recipe I tried was White Chocolate Snowball Cookies.  These cookies remind me of Mexican Wedding Cookies.  They are delicious too, a perfect companion to a cup of coffee.  Again I had all the ingredients I needed in my pantry and they were simple to throw together.  This dough is thick which makes it easy to roll into balls.  The dough took me about 5 minutes to whip up, another 5 minutes to roll into balls, and then they took about 17 minutes to bake.  When they are cooled a little, you roll them in powdered sugar and they are CUTE!!!  They are going on our Christmas platters this year too.  I did not have my children help with making these as they were working on school while I made them, but I did feel that I could hand them the recipes to these two cookies and they could easily make them.  The kids will definitely help next time.

Ingredients for the Brown Sugar Squares

Finished Brown Sugar Squares (pardon my use of an oval pan, my square pan is MIA)

White Chocolate Snowball Cookies in the oven

Finished White Chocolate Snowball Cookies - they are so CUTE!

Overall Homespun Holidays: Fall and Winter is a fantastic resource.  The crafts are perfect for kids of all ages and skill levels.  The recipes were simple and had common ingredients so you don't have to go to any specialty stores for ingredients.  I really appreciate that because that is what I need my recipes to be simple, hearty, and good.   I feel like I could hand my 12 year old any of the recipes from this book and he could make them.   I also loved the simple reminders to take time and enjoy this time of year.  The reminder of what the season is truly about.  I will definitely be flipping through my copy time and time again and trying much more of the recipes and crafts in it.  My daughter and the little girl I babysit for were excited that they could do the craft with very little help from me.  They both asked me what our next project will be, so now I have to decide that....decisions, decisions.  

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

December Menu Plan

December 1 already?  Seriously, where has the time gone this year?  The time is FLYING by and before you know it Christmas will have come and gone.  December is typically a very busy month for us with church plays, Christmas parties, family, and more so having a menu plan is a HUGE, HUGE, HUGE help.  I actually planned out December's menu when I sat down and planned out meals for November and found it really easy.  My family is very easy to please for dinner so they are always willing to try new things especially when we are mixing in family favorites.  I should also tell you that 2 of the 4 weeks were pretty easy to plan because my son is getting braces.  So the first week (this week) he had to get some separators put in which have caused a little soreness and we have had soft foods for dinner to help with the soreness.  Next week he will actually get the braces on so we have declared it a soup week.  I figure whatever we don't finish of the soups each night can be put in the freezer for those Sunday lunch meals.  Our December menu plan is made of recipes that I want to try off of Pinterest, recipes we love off of Pinterest, and recipes that are family favorites we use time and time again (I will try and put some of those up this month).  You can find my December Menu Plan board here on Pinterest:

  1. Brown rice spaghetti with homemade marinara
  2. White Chicken Chili
  3. Tacos
  4. Pizza*
  5. Low Carb Empanada
  6. Forgotten Chicken
  7. Italian Meatball Soup
  8. Broccoli Cheese Soup
  9. Spicy Chicken Tortilla Soup
  10. Cauliflower Chowder
  11. Pizza Soup
  12. Sour Cream Beef Enchiladas
  13. Crock Pot Beans and Rice
  14. Taco Bake
  15. Beef & Broccoli
  16. Lemon Butter Chicken
  17. Hamburgers
  18. Pizza
  19. Lasagna
  20. Chicken Bacon Chowder
  21. Chicken in Tomato Basil Cream Sauce
  22. BBQ Chicken Cobb Salad
  23. Taco Soup
  24. TBA - We usually have company on Christmas Eve so we decide a meal closer to that time
  25. Soups, Dips, and Appetizers - we have chosen to do easy crock pot and make ahead dishes so we can spend time playing and enjoying our family this day.
  26. TBA - not sure of our plans yet
  27. Slow Cooker Cheesy Enchilada Quinoa
  28. K-Mart Subs - if you ever ate the subs from K-Mart as a kid like I did, run to my December Menu Plan board and re-pin this recipe.
  29. Meatball Parmesan
  30. One Pan Mexican Quinoa
  31. Fireman Bob's Crock Pot Spicy Sloppy Joes

There it is.  Let me know if you check out my Pinterest board, try any of these recipes, or if you have any recipe suggestions for the next month.  Enjoy!!!

Monday, November 16, 2015

Cutting the Monday Madness

Mondays never really seem to be very fun, but I have found that it helps if I am prepared for the day.  I may not wake up bright and chipper every day, but I do wake up with goals in mind of what I want to accomplish each day.  I usually have a list of things I need to get done, a list of what extra things I would like to get done that day, and a list of on going projects to be worked on.  It sounds like a lot to do, but I am really just talking about breaking down the to-do list and making it manageable.  My Monday might look like this:

Have To Do:
A load of laundry (notice I just aim to get 1 load done, I try to do one load a day)

Would like to also work on:
Take out trash
Cleaning the mirrors and glass doors
Go through mail from the weekend
Zone Mission (I use the FlyLady system for cleaning so I follow her mission plans, check it out.)

On Going Projects:
Cleaning out the pantry
Craft projects
Rearranging the cabinets
Deep cleaning a room

I have found that separating what has to be done from what I wish I could accomplish in a day takes a lot of the stress off of me and I don't feel the need to be Super Woman and try and accomplish everything all in one day, especially on a Monday.  Mondays are the day everyone tends to drag and just feel sluggish.  They use to be horrible for me because I tried to get a week's worth of things done in one day and never accomplished half of the things on my list.  I just set myself up for failure.  I realized, I can't do it all.  Even the tasks I have listed I don't do all by myself.  I do have my kids help me with chores.  It isn't wrong, it is teaching them how to care for their home someday and it teaches them responsibility.

One of the tasks we have on Mondays (and every week day during our school year) is school.  This year I knew I needed to do a better job of staying on top of our school and being ready.  If I am ready for each school day and I have my part ready to go, it encourages the kids to have their stuff ready to go for school.  We do school, for the most part, at our dining room table which is right in front of our patio door.  We do have a room in our basement we use too, but I have found it easier and less distracting to work at the table for everyone.  I started something this year that is really working for me.  We use our patio door as our "chalkboard" all the time.  I used to use window markers on them, but I didn't like the way they clean off the glass or rather that they don't clean off the glass very well at all so I started using washable markers instead.  The washable markers clean off the glass well and don't leave near as much residue.   Anyway, every morning before school starts (or sometimes the night before if I am really on it) I make a list of what books/subjects each child needs to bring to school for the day.  This way there is no guessing, no forgetting to bring a book, or lost time spent searching for the books we need.  This has cut a lot of the madness out of our school days.  The kids know exactly which books they need and which subjects we will be working on.  This is what our patio door looks like on school days:

I am finding that it is the little things of being prepared that are really helping our days to go smoothly, especially on Mondays.  It doesn't seem to take as much time as I thought it would to plan ahead and it really is a huge blessing to have things already ready.  Next week I will share another way I help our days go smoother.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Friday Recap

It has been a crazy busy week here, but a fun one.  Remember when I posted my menu plan for the month I had a couple of special meals and top secret meals on there?  Those meals were because I knew we would be out of town.  My hubby had a business trip to Cincinnati and we were able to go with him on it.  We took our school and did school in the hotel room during the day and then played in the pool when we were done.  We also spent one day going to our (okay, MY) favorite places to check them out and stock up on items.

This trip was unique because we surprised the kids.  They actually earned their surprise earlier this year, but because of timing and cost it did not work out until now.  First I will tell you how they earned their surprise.  We made a goal of reading 100 books in a year as a family sometime in the middle of 2014.  We decided that we would pay a certain amount for each book read to a jar and build up a little slush fund.  As we got closer to finishing our 100 books, we decided we wanted to do something fun with our fund we had accumulated.  The kids decided a trip to Great Wolf Lodge would be the motivation they needed to get the books read.  My kids do read a lot for school because our curriculum is highly reading based, but I like to see them read for fun too so our goal encouraged them to do so.  We met our goal of 100 books in the Spring of 2015, but like I said the timing and cost of Great Wolf Lodge did not work out until this Fall.  The kids were okay with it because we have done some other fun stuff throughout the year.  So the kids thought we were going to stay in just a regular hotel and we let them think that.  They had no clue that we were going to the Great Wolf Lodge and that was a fun surprise.  As I got out of the car to check in at the lodge, my son just kept saying, "Are you messing with me?"  They couldn't get the car unpacked and their swimsuits on fast enough.  They were super excited.  That was our Sunday afternoon through Tuesday evening when we traveled back home.  Thank goodness for homeschooling and being able to take our school with us, we didn't get behind and they got work done before the pools opened each day.

While we were in Cincinnati I took the opportunity to go to Jungle Jim's, which I first posted about a couple of years ago.  It is an international supermarket that is just super cool in my opinion.  I stocked up on a few items that I just can't find around here or at a very good price on the Internet.  The look on the cashier's face was priceless as she rang up the items I had multiples of.  I am not sure she got the fact that Cincinnati is a once or if I am lucky twice a year trip for me.  We also went to Trader Joe's.  I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE this store, but all of them around me are at least 2 hours away.  So whenever I get near one, I stock up on items.  They are reasonably priced and they have so many items that fit into my eating plan.  Our other favorite stop in Cincinnati is Ikea.  I so LOVE that place.  I am pretty sure that I could buy one of everything in the store, but I showed great restraint and did not buy one of everything...this time.  I only bought a few items that I had really been looking for, mainly because we were out of room in the rental car.

Wednesday was back to school and a church night for us.  We heard a great message in our teen room from a Veteran on Veteran's Day.  Thursday was school and errands.  I might have been to Michael's Craft Stores a couple of times this week.  I am participating in a few Christmas craft swaps this year and had a couple of 25% off coupons that I needed  wanted to use.  Just because we were out and about near a Starbucks and they were doing a BOGO deal, I picked up coffee for hubby and I.  The bonus came when we were at the window paying and the clerk said they had made an extra cup of coffee that was not what a customer wanted, would we like it?  SURE!!!  The kiddos had fun splitting a Peppermint Mocha.  On to today - Friday - we are finishing up school for the week, having Pizza Soup for dinner, and just hanging out on this cold, windy day.  It has been a crazy busy week, but definitely a good one.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

17 Years and Counting

Seventeen years ago today, I told this man "I do."  I pledged to love, honor, and cherish him for all the days of my life.  We made a commitment in front of God, family, and friends.  We blinked that day and here we are 17 years later.  I still do.  I love this man to pieces.  He is a rock for me, he leads our family, he is Godly, he is kind, he is helpful, he is hilarious, he is wonderful, and he is mine.  I am SO grateful that God chose this man for me.  I love my handsome hubby and I can't wait for the next 100 years with him!!!
(This photo is courtesy of Photography by V, from our Fall photo shoot last year)

Friday, November 6, 2015

November Menu Plan

I admit it, I am not consistent at menu planning at all.  I go through phases where I plan for a week or two and then something throws it off and I stop planning and just wing the dinner menu plan.  Just winging it leads to eating out, going over the food budget, and wasting what is in the fridge.  It becomes frustrating.  So on Sunday morning, my hubby asked if we had a plan for lunch and I had to admit, I did not have a all.  My hubby is all for planning and that is a quality I love about him, because I am the one who likes to wing it and gets caught in a mess more often than not.  I knew I needed to stop being lazy about it and put together a menu plan for the rest of the month.  Once I sat down and started figuring it out, I actually created a dinner menu plan for the rest of the year, but I am just going to list out November's plan for now.  Never fear though, I promise to put up December's menu plan as that month gets closer.  I created our menu plan based on what we have in our freezer and recipes that we love or want to try from Pinterest.

Here is our menu plan for November:

2 - Salmon with zucchini and butternut squash fries
3 - Potato soup
4 - Green Beans, Potatoes, & Kielbasa
5 - BBQ Ranch Chicken Salad
6 - Pizza (Fridays are always pizza nights and I make some sort of pizza each week)
7 - Enchilada Bake
8 - Special plans
9 - Top Secret
10 - Top Secret
11 - Pretzel Dogs
12 - Skillet Chicken and Spinach Parmesan
13 - Pizza
14 - Just Like Real Lasagna
15 - Vegetable Beef Stew
16 - Cheeseburger Cauliflower Casserole
17 - Tilapia
18 - Hamburgers
19 - Nancy Soup - a recipe named for the friend who created it
20 - Pizza
21 - Tacos
22 - Taco Soup
23 - Cheeseburger Soup
24 - Beef & Broccoli
25 - Burrito Bowls
27 - Pizza
28 - To Be Announced
29 - Ham & Bean Soup
30 - Zuppa Toscana

You can find some of the recipes here on my Pinterest board, titled November Menu Plan.  Not all of the recipes are there because some of them don't require a recipe and some of the recipes are something I decide the day we have it, i.e. pizza.  Our Friday night pizza and what kind of pizza I fix depends on how we are feeling and what kind of pizza we are craving.  Also some of the recipes you might find on my other Pinterest boards.  I have listed some Top Secret Days, I do have a plan for those but I can't share it just yet with you.  Lastly our menu around Thanksgiving is very flexible because I am never quite sure how long family will stay and what we will be doing. While I always think it will take forever to menu plan, it really ends up saving me time and money because there is no guessing what will be for dinner, no unplanned trips out to eat, and no throwing away food because we didn't use it.  For now I just planned out dinners, but I want to get better at planning lunches and breakfasts too, but one step at a time....right?

Friday, October 30, 2015

Friday Fun

I LOVE FALL!!!  I love the changing of the leaves, pumpkins, cooler temps, sweatshirts, and tall boots.  Bring it on!  I can't believe how quickly this fall is passing by.  Tomorrow is already Halloween and Sunday is November, really?  Really...sigh...  Today I thought I would share some of the fun fall things we have been doing and lately I have been getting most of my ideas from Pinterest.  I LOVE that site, (you can follow me and my crazy number of pins by following the link in my sidebar) I get lost there in a good way. 

We had a lot of fun coloring these doodle pumpkins this week.  It was fun to see how each one of the kids colored them differently and they turned out very pretty.  I used these stained glass fall leaves when I taught the preschool class at home school group last week.  They were very easy to do with the 3-5 year old class and my kiddos were asking to make some too.  So I would say they are perfect for any age and they will be pretty on your windows for fall.  We also spent some time the week painting pumpkins which is one of our favorite ways of decorating the pumpkins on our porch.  I really wanted to use this crayon technique on my pumpkin this year, but when I painted my pumpkin we were at our church teen Harvest Party.  So I ended up painting my pumpkin with black chalk paint and white glow in the dark paint.  It turned out pretty cool in my opinion.  (I will try and post a pic of it).  I also love pumpkin drinks which are available now in pretty much every coffee shop, but I like to make my own at home versions that are cheaper and I can usually make many from just one can of pumpkin, here is one I have tried the Pumpkin Spice Latte.  Here is also one of my favorite pumpkin pancakes recipes.  I have to admit though, I eat it year round.  There are a ton more pumpkin recipes, crafts, and projects on my Pinterest boards that I want to do, but just haven't gotten around to them yet. 

Let me know if you check out these pins or try any of them.  I would love to see how they turned out for you.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Weight-loss Wednesday

I have been on a journey for a little over a year now and I think it is time that I share my journey with you.  The journey I have been on is not for everyone and some will say that it was not necessary, but it was necessary to me.  The journey I have been on is a weight loss journey.  In July of 2014 I knew that I needed to do something about my weight.  Many will say I was not that overweight or not that heavy, but the truth is my weight was really affecting my health.  My weight was affecting my asthma, my energy level, and my ability to keep up with my family.  I had discussed my need to lose weight with my doctor and she did agree that losing weight would help my health and she provided very sensible ideas for me.  The ideas she talked about lined up with an eating plan that a friend introduced me to.  My friend had been introduced to the plan by her friend who saw much success and my friend was having success on the eating plan so I decided to find the book and try it.  I really had nothing to lose (but weight) and I was at the point that I knew I had to do something.  So I jumped in....

In July of 2014 I started on the Trim Healthy Mama plan.  This plan is super easy, once you figure out the basics, and it doesn't require me to fix separate meals for my family.  They can eat exactly the same meals as I do and they like the on plan meals I fix.  The basics of the plan are to cut out the white things in your diet - white sugar, potatoes, white bread, white (regular) flour, base your meal on protein, and load up on the veggies.  Trim Healthy Mama focuses on keeping your blood sugar levels even so they don't spike (high or low) and cause big crashes which cause cravings, overeating, and lead to grabbing the first thing in front of you which in my case it used to be a not so healthy option.  I love that on the Trim Healthy Mama (THM) plan all of the foods are normal foods and many of the foods I already kept in my pantry and fridge.  The THM plan focuses on one meal at a time and if you have an "off plan" meal, you don't blow your whole way of eating and have to start all over.  If you go "off plan," you just jump right back in with your next snack or meal.  I am not hungry all the time anymore and I don't crave sweets ALL the time like I did when I was addicted to regular sugar.  I am very happy with the results I have had so far and I am very fulfilled with the food I eat.  I can eat at home, on the go, and at my favorite restaurants.  It is easy and I don't feel deprived at all.  The THM plan is not for everyone, but it does work.  I am not saying you should run out and try it, I am merely saying it is working for me.

I have lost almost 30 pounds and I am feeling much better.  The doctor is very happy with my results so far and she knows and has approved me losing more.  It took me almost a year to get the 30 pounds off, but I am okay with that.  I have learned a lot along the way and I feel by it coming off slowly, I will be able to maintain my weight loss.  You will see in my side bar that I am an affiliate for the Trim Healthy Mama store.  This just means when you shop through my link I earn a little extra money to buy my own products from the store.  Please feel free to check out the store through that link and order if you would like to.  Let me know if you decide to try THM for yourself.  I would love to cheer you on through your journey.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Friday Funday

Fridays!  Oh how I love you!  I LOVE Fridays.  They mean the weekend is coming, family time, and a relaxed schedule for the weekend.  No setting the alarm clock extra early on the weekend and no going to bed early to be up at the crack of dawn the next day.  These are just a few of the reasons I love Friday.  I also love it because school usually takes us a little less time on Fridays.  We almost always finish our school by lunch on Fridays (we don't eat lunch until about 1:00).  Fridays are just an all-around laid back day for us.  It is the day my hubby can usually be home earlier and the day we just get to chill for the evening.

Friday is also officially "pizza night" in our house.  We started this tradition earlier this year and it is a blessing to me because I know what will be for dinner on at least one night a week.  Sometimes we order pizza on Fridays, but more often than not, I make some version of pizza at home - calzones, thin crust pizza, deep dish pizza, pizza casserole, cauliflower crust pizza, or some other variation.  I guess now I will have to share some of my pizza recipes sometime.

Fridays also tend to be a game night for us.  Some of our favorite family games right now are Tenzi, Skipbo, Phase Ten, Uno, Yahtzee, and Farkle.  We own tons of games, but it seems we have been in a dice and cards phase lately.  We usually eat our pizza and then throw down some games while listening to music or watching TV.  It is a fun, family evening.  I am happy we have this tradition in our family.  It gives us something to look forward to all week.  What do you do for Friday Funday?

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

What I Have Been Reading

I have posted several times about my love of reading.  It is one of my favorite things to do.  I love to curl up with a cup of coffee or tea in my favorite spot on the couch and read.  I read a wide variety of books (check out my kindle app for proof of that), but lately have been focusing on a few different series.  I started each of these series of books not quite knowing what to expect, but I really ended up loving them both and I can't wait for my trips to the library to get the next book in each of these series. 

  • Kathy Herman - I LOVE her books!!!  I previously posted that I read through her Sophie Trace Trilogy Series  and the Secrets of the Roux River Bayou Series.  In the past year I have finished all of the books in The Baxter Series, Seaport Suspense Series, and Phantom Hollow Series.  I truly enjoyed each of these book series as they are Inspirational Fiction, mysteries, and for me they each raised questions about relevant topics - for example: Who is my neighbor?  Do I love my neighbor like Jesus does? and so many more.  I loved getting caught up in the characters and walking through these questions with them as they figured it out for themselves and I thought about what I would do and how I would answer them.  I also read the first book in the Ozark Mountain Trilogy and I am patiently awaiting for the next book to come out in this series.  I love Kathy Herman's writing style and the topics she writes about.  I highly recommend her books.

  • Neta Jackson - I have to admit when I picked up the first book in her The Yada Yada Prayer Group Series, I wasn't sure about it.  I wasn't sure if it was my kind of book as I typically stick to "mystery" books.  For me this series started off a little slow, but I am not a quitter so I kept reading and 3 chapters into the book, I was hooked.   I had to see how the story ended and then when it did I was sad and wanted to read more.  I ended reading this whole series in about 5 months and completely LOVED it.  I couldn't wait for the next book and my next trip to the library.  I loved the characters from the story and how their lives intertwined with one another.  By the end of The Yada Yada Prayer Group Series, I felt like I knew each character and they were friends.  I was sad to see that series end, but very happy to see some of the characters from that series pop up in Neta Jackson's next series The House of Hope Series.  I just finished the two books in this series and LOVED them as well.  I am anxious to get to the library and get the next book to keep reading. 

  • Lysa Terkeurst - This lady is one of my favorite Christian Non-Fiction authors.  Her books just touch me and deal with topics that are so relevant to me.  I joined an online Bible study from Proverbs 31 Ministries this spring and it went through Lysa's book What Happens When Women Walk in Faith.  WOW!!!!  This book was just exactly what I needed at the time and I was encouraged by it SO much.  When I was reading it, I happened to be going through a very rough period where two of my best friends passed away and my other best friend and her family left our church.  I think God truly wanted me to step out and study this book so that He could speak to me and He truly did through this book.  Go out and get it today if you want to change your life.
That is it.  These are the books that have been filling my reading schedule lately.  I am sure I have read others too, but just can't recall them at the moment.  Let me know if you check out any of the books I have read and your thoughts on them!

*I have in no way been compensated for this post nor was I asked by any of the authors to give my opinion.  All thoughts, reviews, and opinions are my own.  I simply love to share the good books I read with others so they can read a good book too.



Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Starting Again

I admit it, I am the worst at keeping a blog.  If you are still here reading this blog I am very surprised.  I have posted so infrequently it is ridiculous, but I really intend to change that.  I really want to get back to writing posts again and sharing the things on my heart.  Lately life has been so crazy busy that I have a bazillion thoughts running through my head.  As soon as I get some direction I will definitely start blogging regularly again.  Please stay tuned for more...

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Ups and Downs

I have been very excited that we finished our school year recently because it gives me more time to work on things I don't typically get to in a day - i.e. my blog.  It is not that I don't want to blog, I think all the time that I should reappear on here, but at the end of the day it just gets moved to tomorrow's to do list.  Part of the reason for this is that life lately has been a series of ups and downs that I just don't know how to explain to you because I don't know how I feel about them.  I am not talking just little every day things, I am talking big, extreme ups and downs the kind that shake your world and leave you drained.  The kind of ups and downs that you can't just process in a day, a week, a month, or a year.  They have shaken me, but I cling to God because that is all I can do.  I'm not writing today so anyone  can feel sorry for me or say, "Wow, her life has been pretty hard."  I am writing today for me because I need to share what is on my heart and mind.  It is therapy for me so if it rambles or is not grammatically correct, please forgive me. 

I think the ups and downs truly started about a year ago, but I have just really started to feel the extreme ups and downs this year.  They started when my Mammaw got sick last year about this time.  She went from a simple infection that can be cured with antibiotics to being in a critical care unit in a matter of days.  Her illness went from me being able to talk to her on the phone about it to her having multiple strokes in what felt like a heartbeat.  I was one of the last family members she was able to physically talk to once she went into the hospital.  I was able to tell her I love her and that hubby and the kids love her and hear her tell me she loved me and to tell hubby and the kids she loved them.  Those words I spoke with her are so precious to me now.  After that she began having strokes, the infection spread through her whole body and got into her blood stream.  A few weeks later she was gone, she is healed and with Jesus in Heaven now which is a blessing, but I still miss her and her phone calls.  I would love to pick up the phone again and have her tell me that she was sitting there drinking a cup of tea and talking to me.  I went through the rest of last summer in a daze, a depression, and all I could do was lean on God to help me through.

Last fall was better.  We attended family camp at a Bible camp and God just spoke to me.  He spoke to us, He challenged us time and time again.  It was wonderful.  School started, life went on and flew by.  My best friend's daughter got married which was very exciting because Baby Bear was the flower girl.  It was a very exciting time helping out and watching two young people that we admire plan their life together. 

During this time another dear friend became ill.  She started feeling more and more sick.  Around Christmas/New Years she was finally diagnosed with Primary Amyloidosis.  She was not much older than I am has a daughter the same age as my son and a son just a couple of years older.  She and her husband decided that they had to do all they could to fight this disease for which there is no cure.  She went through rounds of chemo to help kill of the bad cells and stop her body from producing amyloids.  The ladies of our Bible study took turns taking her to her appointments and making meals for her and her family.  I will always cherish the time I got to spend with her during her chemo treatment.  They decided a stem cell transplant could possibly help slow down the disease and after much thought and prayer, my friend and her hubby decided that they had to try this route.  She wanted to be here for her kids.  Ultimately God healed this beautiful woman, but He didn't heal her here on Earth.  He took her home to Heaven in March of this year.  She is healed and whole now, she will never have to worry about this disease again.  Our hearts hurt because we miss her dearly.  This lady was a Proverbs 31 lady through and through.  Although I have only known her about 5 years, I feel like I have known her my whole life and she was truly one of my dearest friends.  Her death leaves a hole that has not yet begun to heal in my heart.  Again I just cling to God because there is nothing else I can do.  He did exactly what we prayed for and healed her and I can't be angry or upset at that.  While I don't understand why I get watch her children grow up when she doesn't, I know that God is good and He has a plan for all of this.

Then came the month of April.  Life was beginning to get back to normal.  We took a mini Spring Break and we were starting to plan out things for Spring as the weather was starting to get nice.  I came home on Friday, April 10 to the shock of a lifetime.  We got home from our homeschool group and I got on Facebook to check some things and I started seeing posts about a friend dying.  I thought it was the worst joke ever until I learned it was true.  My childhood best friend that I have known since we were 8 passed away suddenly and unexpectedly from a blood clot.  I was shocked.  I had just been talking to her the night before she passed away.  It just felt like too much even though I know God doesn't give us more than we can handle, it certainly felt like it.  My world was shaken again.  There were so many questions and again a young mom died and left behind a young son.  I don't understand, I don't pretend to, I just cling.  I cling to God, His goodness, His promises, and His grace.  God knows my heart aches over these losses, but He also knows that I know He has a plan through all of it.  I miss my 2 friends desperately.  There are times I wake up missing them, wishing I could talk to them just one more time.  My heart aches and it is just heavy.

Currently we are dealing with two heavy situations that are unrelated that I do not want to talk about at this time, but it weighs on me.  I don't understand.  I don't know what to do during it other than pray.  I am clinging to God, His goodness, His promises, His word because that is all I can do.  While life has been very hard this year, it has also been good in many ways.  There are so many ways that God has provided for us and blessed us that I could write a post just about those and probably will.  God is teaching me to lean completely on Him.  He is teaching me that He wants my whole heart, all my attention and focus, and He LOVES me, truly LOVES me.  He is teaching me that I don't need to understand, I just need to trust and I can trust completely with absolutely no doubts.  I am in a growth phase and God is growing me, shaping me, molding me and I am at peace with that.  I am okay, I am good because God is at work.  I place my hope, trust, and life in God's hands and I know He is faithful, true, and just and has a perfect plan for me. 

"For I know the plans I have for you," declares the LORD, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future."  Jeremiah 29:11 (NIV)

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Kale Pasta - A comfort food

It is cold here today, no really COLD, like blizzard cold.  Oh wait, yes we really are in the middle of a blizzard today.  There isn't tons and tons of snow here, but it is blowing, drifting, limited visibility, and extremely windy - the perfect conditions for a blizzard.  When it is cold we like comfort food.  The stuff that warms your soul and makes your belly happy.  While we did not have this specific meal for dinner, this one is a family favorite.  We love pasta and we make it a little better for you by adding veggies.  Here is the recipe:
Kale Pasta
1 box of pasta (we like to use whole wheat elbows or penne)
1 roll of sausage (mild or hot if you like it spicy)
3 cloves of garlic, minced
1 small onion, chopped
1 cup chicken broth
Parmesan Cheese
Seasoning to taste - we like Trader Joe's African Smoke or a teaspoon of crushed red pepper flakes
1.  Brown the sausage in a large pan.
2.  When the sausage is almost completely browned, add in the garlic and chopped onion.
3.  While the sausage is cooking, boil the pasta according to package directions.
4.  Drain the pasta, reserving a cup of the cooking liquid in case you need it for the sauce.
5.  Drain any grease off of the sausage and then add the chicken stock and keep on low.
6.  Add the kale to the pan with sausage and wilt down - 3-4 minutes.  If you don't have enough "sauce" to coat the pasta, add a little bit of the pasta water you reserved.
7.  Once the kale is wilted, add the pasta to the mixture and toss to coat. 
8.  Place in serving bowl and add Parmesan cheese.
9.  ENJOY!!!

Sometimes we add a can of cannellini beans to the mix.  I toss in the beans and the juice when I add the chicken stock to the meat.  The beans help stretch the meal a little and add a little extra fiber.  Let me know if you try this recipe and what you think of it. 

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

New Computer

I am back up and running with a new computer so I can finally start blogging again.  Now if I can just figure out what to say first.....hmmm...more blog posts coming soon!