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!!!