Monday, December 21, 2009

Simple Woman's Daybook

For today, Monday December 21, 2009 - First Day of Winter

Outside my window...
sunny and cold. The grass was "crunchy" this morning when Sport took out the trash and our outdoor table and chairs have a thick layer of frost on them.

I am thinking...about craft projects I saw online last night and wish, wish, wish I had the time and supplies to get them made up for Christmas gifts this year. Can't believe I have to wait a whole year before I can get back to them!

I am thankful for...Christmas break! I had planned on homeschooling up until my parents' arrival on Wednesday. Then by the grace of God I realized the reason I wasn't enjoying Christmas this year was because I was too focused on school every night to relax and enjoy the season. So now we're taking a few days off so I can do just that.

From the learning rooms...
Even though we are on break, I'm still going to try to sneak in some math here and there for Sport. The kids have also been working furiously on homemade Christmas gifts.

From the kitchen...chicken and dumplings tonight, ravioli tomorrow and who knows for the rest of the week. Come Wednesday, I'm letting the family chef (my Dad) take over.

I am wearing...
jeans, a soft maroon ribbed turtleneck I picked up at our last swap (i.e. FREE), brown socks, and brown shoes.

I am creating...
a few last minute Christmas gifts to be finished up. Can't tell you what they are though. Someone might be snooping!

I am reading...
nothing at the moment unless you want to count my new Sneaky Chef cookbook. Will hit the books again after Christmas. Guess my Books Read In 2009 sidebar is finished for the year. I am halfway through a couple of books, but will have to wait until 2010 to add them to the list. Oh well, at least I averaged a book a month (barely).

I am hoping...the kids can control themselves today and tomorrow with all of their free time and not make me wish I had kept school going. : )

I am hearing...
Christmas music coming from the kitchen and Sport and Spice building with Lincoln Logs upstairs.

Around the house...
Looking Good! Did a quick clean up for friends who came over this morning, laundry is all caught up and even put away, Christmas lights are twinkling from every corner...maybe I should cancel school more often!

A few plans for the rest of the week:
Tennis and Lego Club tomorrow, my parents' arrival on Wednesday, Spice's last minute Nutcracker Ballet themed birthday party on Sunday, and just in case that's not enough, we've got CHRISTMAS! (Which is also Hubby's birthday by the way.) A full week as usual.

Here is picture for thought I am sharing...


You know all those cute Gift In A Jar mixes you read about this time of year? Well if you ever plan on giving one, plan ahead. Way Ahead. I had no idea canning jars were seasonal items until I went searching all over town for them a few weeks ago with absolutely no luck. We planned to give Cookie Mix In A Jar gifts to all of Sport's fellow book clubbers and Lego clubbers. I had enough jars on hand to take care of Book Club and thought I'd find more before Lego Club met. No such luck so an hour before our last meeting, I dug out three Pringles cans I'd saved for candle making and, in a moment of desperation (that's when I get most of my ideas), tucked bags filled with flour, sugar, and M&Ms in each one. I covered each can with wrapping paper, tied a recipe on with ribbon and viola...three cute little gifts ready to go! I love how the M&Ms show through the clear lid.

Visit Peggy for more Simple Woman's Daybook entries.

Posted by Picasa

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

The Elf on the Shelf

He's baaacckkk! Our favorite friend from the North Pole comes to visit every year around this time. We first invited the Elf on the Shelf into our home about two years ago. He arrives every year around the first of December and takes his job as a scout elf for Santa very seriously.
Here's how the elf works in a nutshell. He shows up one day in some unexpected place, like on the Christmas tree. All day long he keeps an eye on the kids, making note of behavior problems as well as good deeds. At night after everyone's asleep, he flies back to the North Pole to give a daily report to the big guy in red. The next morning, he's back in some new and unexpected location. Alvin, our elf, does seem to get his days and nights mixed up at times though. Some days we'll wake up and he'll be in the exact same location as he was the day before. Then he'll zoom off to the North Pole when no one is watching and show up again somewhere else in the house. The other day he had the bright idea of hiding in an apothecary jar. Apparently, he got stuck because he was still there the next morning, much to Spice's chagrin. I took the lid off the jar very carefully (you're not supposed to touch the elf) so he was able to make his rounds later that day while we were at church. He does do a good job of keeping the kids in line during this very exciting time of year though. Anytime a behavior problem begins to rear its ugly head, a quick reminder that Alvin is watching is usually enough to set everyone straight again.
If your family hasn't invited one of Santa's helpers into your home yet, we highly recommend it. The Elf on the Shelf works for us. For more great tips, visit We Are That Family.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Simple Woman's Daybook

FOR TODAY...Monday, December 7, 2009

Outside my window... it's dark except for Christmas lights twinkling here and there from neighbors' yards. I love this time of year!

I am thinking...of what I need to do to finish up Christmas gifts.

I am thankful for... friends, happy kids, and warm clothes.

I am wearing... green and white fleece pj pants, black shirt, gray and black fleece pullover, my nice and thick LSU socks. Yes, I am a mess, but I'm comfy and warm.

I am remembering...the fun of our museum trip today.

I am work on some Christmas projects as soon as I'm finished here.

I am currently reading...This Way To Christmas by Ruth Sawyer. It's actually the Dec. selection for Sport's book club, but we're all enjoying it.

I am accomplish a lot tonight...Christmas gifts, clean house, school plans for the rest of December, gifts wrapped...too much really.

I am hearing...Clothes twirling in the dryer and "Oh Come Let Us Adore Him" on the radio. I love listening to 104.7 The Fish this time of year.

On my mind...peaceful Christmas songs.

Noticing that...I'm not as prepared with my homemade gifts as I thought I was. I have plans for everyone, just very little actually made.

From the kitchen...catfish, Italian Parmesan baked fries, Sister Schubert's rolls, and salad.

Around the house...Christmas remnants everywhere from all the decorating. I hope to pack it all away tonight and call it a day on the decorating.

One of my favorite things...the giddy excitement of kids at Christmas.

A few plans for the rest of the week...
Dance, Mass, Lego Club, tennis, and basketball practice tomorrow. All.In.One.Day. That should be enough for the rest of the week!

Visit Peggy's blog to read more Daybook entries.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Baby's First Gift

If you have any new little ones in your family this year, consider this idea for baby's first Christmas gift: Purchase a basket or bin and fill it with some of your favorite children's books to get baby's library off to a great start.

You can buy pre-made book gift baskets online, but they are uber expensive. I hit upon this idea a few years ago and it has become one of my favorites for welcoming a new baby and one that is greatly appreciated by new parents. This is also an easy gift to plan ahead for. You've got a good 8 or 9 months to get things together right? Be on the lookout for book sales and you can put together a great gift for very little moolah. Some of my favorite places to pick up gift books are Scholastic's Book Club or warehouse sales, Target's dollar spot, and Kohl's. The Kohl's Cares For Kids program offers classic children's books in hardback for 5 bucks. Right now they are selling the Laura Numeroff series If You Give A Mouse A Cookie, If You Give A Pig A Party, If You Give a Cat A Cupcake...This is a great deal! I picked up the last few titles we didn't already own to add to our collection. You can also snag one of the stuffed animal characters to fill out your gift basket.

We also love to make homemade gifts around here. Here are links to some of our favorites:

We make a couple of these ice candles from Family Fun every year.

Spice and I have been making treasure soaps similar to these for her Little Flowers group. We put silk flowers inside.

I love these coasters! I'm making these for the kids' teachers. You would think with homeschooling we would not need teacher gifts, but that's not the case. There are church teachers, dance teachers, tennis coaches, co-op teachers... I think these make a beautiful gift without breaking the bank. One tip though that I learned the hard way: If you take on this project, use very thin coats of sealer. Don't even worry about covering the entire tile at once. Just spray a light mist, let dry and go back and hit spots you may have missed. I ruined 2 sets last night by getting the tile too saturated on the first spray. I was not a happy camper standing there watching all of my ink run together.

We Are That Family's special gift themed WFMW post has a ton of other ideas if you're just getting started on your Christmas list.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

DIY Advent Wreath

Putting together a new Advent wreath has been at the top of my holiday to-do list since last Christmas. Seeing as though today is the first Sunday of Advent, I figured it was the perfect time to actually get off my fanny and get started on the project.
We've had an Advent wreath for years, but sadly, the only way I can seem to remember to light it every night is if it's sitting right in front of me at the kitchen table. Our old wreath was just a tad too big for the center of the table and Hubby and I would always have to engage in a bit of a nudging match all through Advent. I'd nudge the wreath his way just a tad to make more room for my plate and he'd nudge back to make room for his. after day.
I saw a wreath in a catalog last year that I really liked and filed the idea away in the far recesses of my mind until I could get around to making a new one. I use the term wreath loosely, because there isn't a traditional evergreen wreath base involved.

Here's the finished product (and yes, there is a 4th candle hidden on the other side):


I picked up four dark purplish candles at Hobby Lobby a few weeks ago because I'm so good at planning ahead. I know one should be pink, but there were no decent looking pink ones available. My original plan was to tie a pink ribbon around one of the candles, but I forgot about that somewhere along the way. In the meantime, I saw fall colored candles wrapped with a Thanksgiving theme and decided to go with that for this project. I printed the words Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love in brown ink on cardstock as a reminder of what the four Sundays of Advent represent. I used the Porcelain font downloaded from ScrapVillage and added a fancy dingbat at the beginning and end of each word for a sophisticated look.
Aside from candles, a traditional Advent wreath uses a circle with no beginning or end to symbolize the eternity of God and evergreens to represent continuous life. Although I did not use a traditional wreath, I wanted to keep a circular base. I used a decorative bowl we received many years ago as a wedding present and if you line the candles up just so, they are a perfect fit. My original plan was to use a silver charger I picked up at Dollar Tree last year, but I liked the looks of this better. To fill out the wreath, I added a few clippings of an evergreen bush from our yard. We like to keep a white candle in the center of our wreath to light on Christmas Day, but the bowl wasn't big enough and if I used a bigger dish well...we'd be right back to nudging. I'll figure something out when the time comes. I've got a whole 26 days to think about it!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

About the Music

I know what you're thinking..."It's not even Thanksgiving and she's got Christmas music playing!" I looovvve Christmas music. Sometimes I think I could listen to it year round. I've been known to sneak a Christmas CD or two into my car in June for a little mid-year dose of the most wonderful time for the year. I had an epiphany about Christmas music a few years ago though. It can do a lot to set the tone for your holidays. If you want to reduce some of the stress that rears it's ugly head this time of year, take a look (or a listen?) to the music you've got playing.

One of the Atlanta radio stations starts playing Christmas music a few days before Thanksgiving. I've always been thrilled by this, although I try to hold off until after Thanksgiving. A couple of years ago while sitting in traffic (and believe me, Atlanta has a lot of it) I realized if I had to listen to Mariah Carey screeching out "All I want for Christmas is you ooh ooh baaaby.." one more time I was going to flip my lid! And as much as I like Paul McCartney, I can only listen to "Simply Having A Wonderful Christmas Time" so many times a day. I flipped through my radio stations and was pleased to discover The Fish also plays Christmas music 24/7. The only difference is their selection is much more relaxing and therefore less stress inducing. Being a religious station, they also play songs that actually acknowledge the true reason for the season. I had begun to notice that the other station rarely, if ever, played any remotely religious Christmas songs and this bothered me. The Fish plays mostly religious tunes like Silent Night and The Little Drummer Boy (the Jars of Clay version is one of my favorites) but they also throw a few traditional songs, like Here Comes Santa Claus and the kids' favorite I Want A Hippopotamus For Christmas, into the mix from time to time.

I enjoy having Christmas music playing in the background while I work on projects, decorate the house, or cook dinner. The Charlie Brown Christmas music you've been listening to is among my favorite. This year, I'm also lovin' Pandora Radio, an online radio station that creates personalized stations. You put in titles of songs you like or an artist's name and Pandora goes to work. Pandora also has preset stations you can listen by choosing a genre, like hip hop, alternative, oldies, or Latin. I have been enjoying the Peaceful Holidays selections for the past few weeks.
If you're feeling the stress already, put on some peaceful holiday music to calm your nerves and remind you of the true meaning of Christmas. I promise it will make all the difference!

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Acorn Cookies

Here's a super easy and tasty way to keep the kiddies busy on Thanksgiving Day while the rest of the feast is still cooking.

Mini Nilla Wafers
Hershey's Kisses unwrapped
peanut butter

Put a dab of peanut butter on the flat side of the Nilla Wafer and stick to the flat side of the Hershey's Kiss. Your done!

If allergies are a concern, chocolate frosting can be used in place of the peanut butter. Fill a dish with these little cuties for a festive look on your Thanksgiving table. We plan to use some of the fall-themed Hershey's Kiss flavors for a little variety this year.

Outdoor Lights Redo

Here's a look at a quick weekend project I did last week. I've been itching to take this on since I first saw the idea at Balancing Beauty and Bedlam, but it turned cooler than expected here sooner than expected so I thought I'd missed out on the opportunity until spring. Last weekend was gorgeous though so I too the opportunity to give our outdoor lights a much needed redo.

Here's the before picture:

I used Rustoleum's Hammered Black paint for a quick coverup. I love Rustoleum's hammered finish paints. I used the Hammered Aluminum to revamp the vanity lights in both of the bathrooms in our old house (think 1970's fake brass finish with huge globe light covers). It made for an amazing transformation once I put new globes on. Everyone thought I had actually replaced the light fixtures. Anyhoo, here's an in progress picture. Stacking the Roman Gladiator helmets, I mean uh...light fixture tops on cans from the garage made them much easier to paint.

I'm not as brave as Jen from Balancing Beauty and Bedlam. She free-handed her fixtures. I taped mine all up and used a cheap foam brush.

Here's the finished product. Looks a hundred times better in my opinion and the transformation was under $10 for three lights!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Deals and Steals

Over the past week I got to take part in two of my favorite events. Another swap meet organized by my homeschool group and the semi-annual Boy Scout yard sale. This was the second swap our group has held. Our first was just a few months ago and all who participated were itching to do it again. Hubby was out of town so I had to bring Sport and Spice with me. It turned out to be a good thing. Sport honed in on a Lego Technic set before it even made it out the box and Spice fed her shoe fetish trying on every.single.pair. of shoes up for grabs before finally settling on a pair of cowgirl boots. I was very happy with the box of items I came home with and even happier that I got rid of a large Christmas tree and two other boxes of goodies. It seems most of us always have the same go home with less than we came with. I don't think anyone left disappointed, there's already whisperings of making this a quarterly event, and there was plenty of merchandise left to be handed over to charity at the end of the night.

Still flying high from my swap finds, I woke up early Saturday to be among the first on the scene for the scout's sale. It really doesn't matter when you arrive though. They haul out new merchandise all day long. I am convinced by the time they finally get all of the donations unloaded and out for display it's time to start packing up and calling it a day. It is a shining example of American consumerism and while on one hand it makes me sick to think of all the waste, the bargain hunter in me is thrilled! I spent almost two hours at the sale and made three different trips to the checkout table (don't tell Hubby) and still did not see it all. I try not to spend too much time thinking about what I might have missed. Instead, let's focus on the good stuff - the loot I brought home! I spent about 20 bucks and came home with all kinds of goodies. Here's a sampling of the merchandise:

This sale has become one of my favorite spots for picking up cheap homeschool supplies. Every time I go I walk away with a ton of goodies - books, games, fraction tiles, wrap-ups, name it, I've found it. This time around I hit the jackpot when I came across a couple boxes of books that obviously came from a teacher. I found just about every book in Scholastic's If You Lived...series. We have been using these daily in our history studies this year. My kids love them. A few weeks ago I forked over $15 for a set of 5 from e-bay and was pleased at the deal. At the sale I paid 50 cents each. There were some duplicates and I plan on putting them on e-bay to recoup some of my "high dollar" investment.

I also scored several titles from the Childhood of Famous Americans series. We were introduced to these this year by a friend and Sport just devours them. I have to hide them to keep him from reading them all in one day.

I picked up 5 brand new red mini bread pans that still had the tags on them. I will use them for handing out baked goods at Christmas. I spied a green set just like it, but it just didn't have the same pizazz.

I love the detailing on this bill organizer. It looks like a nice wood in the picture, but it's actually plastic. I will probably paint it once I figure out where and how to use it.

I couldn't pass up this bucket of 27 ceramic eggs in muted shades of green, blue, beige, and cream. I'll use them in my new apothecary jars come spring.

I spotted this little cabinet right off the bat and couldn't make up my mind about it. When it was still there two hours later, I figured it was waiting for me to take it home. I hope to update it somehow and use it on one of our mantles. Not exactly sure what to do with it yet, but my mantle will be in holiday mode for awhile so I've got some time to figure it out.

Aren't these the cutest flannel sheets? I picked up 2 brand new matching sets for the kids and a red flannel set (also brand new) for Hubby and I. The red doesn't match anything, but I thought it would be a nice cozy touch for Christmas.

And finally...this funky mirror was a mere $3! I am going to paint it and hang it in Spice's room as soon as I figure out a color. I would love to do it in a vintage pink, but her room is already pink so I'll have to come up with something else. It's a dingy rosy pink shade right now so it needs a little updating.

Thanks for hanging in there with me. I know this post is kind of long, but nothing fires me up like a good bargain, except maybe an LSU game!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

A Green Christmas

Bing Crosby dreams of a white Christmas, retailers hope for a black Friday before Christmas, but I'm working toward a green Christmas.

For the past few years I've been trying to come up with ways to make our holiday celebrations a little more Earth friendly. Last year I ditched most of the traditional wrapping paper in lieu of plain white paper (like the rolls you buy in the kid's art section). I decorated some of the paper with a Christmas stamp and red paint, but most of the gifts were decked out in plain white with a big red ribbon tied around them. It made for a nice and simple display under the tree. Wrapping tons of gifts in any kind of paper may not be the most Earth friendly way to go, but at least the white paper could be tossed in the recycle bin at the end of the day. Many recycling facilities will not accept regular wrapping paper or tissue paper. Speaking of tissue paper, I've been cutting back on it too. Is it really necessary?

I also like to give themed gift baskets. I used to fill the bottoms of the baskets with the pretty shredded paper that comes in all sorts of colors. A couple of years ago I came up with what I thought was a brilliant idea...using real peanuts or wrapped peppermints in place of the usual filler. It makes for a fun and unique presentation. These ideas also work great for mailing gifts. Do away with the annoying foam peanuts that everyone loathes and replace them with the real deal. Which would you rather find in your packages?

If I'm giving a food related gift, like homemade bread, I like to wrap it up in a Christmasy kitchen towel that can be used over and over again. And forget about buying more gift tags. Cut up the Christmas cards you received last year and use them to label your presents. I like to use a Christmas themed cookie cutter to make tags in festive shapes.

This year, I plan to do away with the traditional gift bags and replace them with reusable shopping bags. Publix for one has a wide selection of holiday themed shopping bags and I've always loved the red and white reusable bag Target sells year round. I think it's perfect for under the tree. I also plan to reduce the amount of gift wrapping I do. Each year I fill ginormous stockings for my nieces. They hold a lot of loot and every year I wrap each gift, no matter how tiny. This year I think I will leave most of them unwrapped. They're already hidden in the stocking right?

Here's one more tip. You know those boxes you go out and buy every year with pictures of snowmen, Santa, or Christmas ornaments all over them? Well here's a novel idea...don't wrap them! I mean what's the point of picking out the cutest boxes you can find only to hide them under wrapping paper? Tape up the sides, tie some pretty ribbon around them, and stick those babies under the tree. At least for the first use there is absolutely no reason to wrap them. Now, if you choose to recycle them next year - and I hope you do - go ahead and wrap them up.

Did you know Americans generate an extra 5 million tons of trash each year between Thanksgiving and New Year's? I hope you put at least one of these ideas into practice this year, and if you have any other suggestions for making the holidays a little greener, I'd love to hear them!

This post is linked to We Are That Family's Works For Me Wednesday.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Cranberries and Crust

My mom made this for us last Christmas and I've been thinking about making it since then. Well there's no time like the present. This is the perfect dish to add to your Thanksgiving feast.

1 bag of fresh cranberries (or 2 cups)
1/2 cup sugar + 2/3 cup sugar
1/2 cup chopped pecans
2 eggs
1 cup flour
1 stick of butter, melted
3 Tbsp. milk

Preheat oven to 325. Grease a 10-inch pie plate and spread cranberries over the bottom. Sprinkle with 1/2 cup of sugar and the pecans. In a separate bowl, beat the eggs and add 2/3 cup sugar. Beat until mixed well. Add flour, butter, and milk. Beat well then pour over cranberries. Bake 45-55 minutes.

Makes a good dessert or breakfast!

Simple Woman's Daybook

FOR TODAY... Moday, November 16, 2009

Outside my window... a beautiful fall day.

I am thinking... of all the things I should be doing.

I am thankful for... friends who fill our days.

I am wearing... jeans, pink Coca-Cola long-sleeved tee, blue fleece jacket, blue socks.

I am going... to relax tonight since the kids have their homeschool enrichment classes tomorrow. I don't have to get any lessons ready!

I am reading...e-mail and the stack of Scholastic book order forms out for this month.

I am hoping... to finish at least one of the projects I started working on this past week.

On my mind...dinner plans for the rest of the week. Hubby was out of town all of last week and working late the week before so I haven't cooked a real meal in weeks. Time to get back in the groove.

From the learning rooms... trying to take it a little easy this week while at the same time finish up our Native American and Thanksgiving studies before taking next week off.

Noticing that...I am probably less prepared for Christmas than I think I am.

I am hearing...a faucet dripping in the kitchen and nice, peaceful Christmas music from Pandora Radio.

From the kitchen... still have to figure that out...

I am creating...a new family rules canvas, Christmas lists, grocery list...

Around the house...books and other treasures from our latest homeschool group swap and the Boy Scout garage sale waiting to find a new home.

One of my favorite things...silence after a hectic day.

A few plans for the rest of the week...classes and Lego Club tomorrow, book club Wednesday, Little Flowers Thursday, and Grammy and PaPa's arrival on Saturday!

Visit Peggy's blog to read more Simple Woman's Daybook entries.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

From the Mouth of Spice...

"Is it almost lunchtime? I'm almost eating my hair."

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Stop Night Time Coughing

If you're like me you've probably received an e-mail with this info on more than one occasion and, if you're like me, you probably wrote it off as the typical junk that makes its way around the web. I never paid attention to this until several of my friends started prefacing the e-mail with, "I tried this and it really works!" So, I thought this would be a good tip to share this time of year when everyone seems to have a nagging cough. If you already know this, forgive me.

I absolutely loathe cough medicine! I will do almost anything to avoid it since just the thought of it makes me gag. (Honestly, I'm gagging right now as I type this...) Anyway, my cough medicine woes are now over. When I have a cough that just won't quit, I rub my feet down with a good coating of Vick's Vapor Rub, slip on a pair of socks, and sleep like a baby until morning. I know what you're thinking..."Yeah right. Like that's gonna work." Well, trust me, in most cases it does.
Sport, Spice, and I have all used this treatment many times over the past year or two and I can't say it's ever failed us. I did have a friend who tried it say it didn't work for her family so maybe it only works on certain types of coughs...I don't know. All I do know is it's always worked for us. I've been using this treatment with Spice for the past few nights and it has once again worked like a charm. I like the fact that I don't have to pump everyone up with that disgusting cough medicine and as an added bonus it works all. night. long. I put Vick's on the cougher's feet at bedtime and don't have to worry about getting up again in the middle of the night for another dose like I used to have to do with cough medicine.
I hope this tip works for you as well as it works for me. Check out We Are That Family's Works For Me Wednesday for more great ideas.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Cajun Oven-Fried Chicken

Chicken parts and pieces are on sale super cheap this week at Kroger ($.99/lb for Tyson or $1.99/lb for store brand organic chicken) so I thought I'd share this recipe. Sport loves this like there's no tomorrow. Makes him wish chickens had 8 legs. I picked up an extra pack of drumsticks just for him today with this recipe in mind.

3/4 cup buttermilk (I use regular milk and stir in a tablespoon of vinegar.)
1 cup breadcrumbs (Original recipe calls for plain. I usually use seasoned.)
1 Tbsp. Tony Chachere's Creole Seasoning (No kitchen should be without this. If I ever go on Survivor, Tony's will be my luxury item. It makes anything edible.)
2 tsp. minced dried onion
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. pepper
3 lbs chicken pieces with skin removed

Preheat oven to 400. Line a pan with foil and coat with cooking spray. Pour milk into a bowl. Combine all seasonings in a large zip-loc bag. Dip chicken in milk then place in bag. Shake to coat. Place on pan and coat chicken with cooking spray. Bake for 30-35 minutes. Enjoy!

This recipe is linked to Balancing Beauty and Bedlam's Tasty Tuesday. Check it out for more great recipes.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Favorite Cleaning Products

The holidays are quickly approaching and We Are That Family is hosting a special holiday themed Works For Me Wednesday. The first thing I think of when company is coming is getting the house in order and face it, we all have plenty of things we would rather be doing or even need to be doing this time of year. I decided several years ago if I found a cleaning product that really worked or made my life easier, I would buy it. Even if it meant forking over a few extra dollars. So without further adieu, here are a few of my favorite (cleaning) things...

I have tried every bathtub cleaning product out there, including homemade and green cleaners, and nobody gets the job done like these little guys. I remember being so disappointed as a kid when my mom burst my bubble by telling me the little hard working bubbles with brushes for feet in the commercials were not real. Real bubbles or not, this stuff gets the job done!

Glass wipes make cleaning mirrors and shining faucets a cinch. Stick with the name brands though. I've found the cheaper ones don't work as well.

I love my Mr. Clean Magic Erasers. They're great for cleaning counter tops and scuff marks off the walls. Also works great on all those huge plastic kiddie toys.

Krud Kutter is a miracle cleaner! I used it to wipe down the laminate bathroom floor in our previous home and was shocked to find it was a light shade of tan, not the lovely brown and gold we'd been staring at for years. Krud Kutter cleans anything including laundry stains.

I have Clorox/Lysol cleaning wipes stashed in every bathroom in the house and the kitchen. It doesn't take long to wipe down the counters, cabinets, toilets...with these babies on hand.

The newest member of my cleaning arsenal is a mini microfiber dusting wand similar to these that I picked up at Dollar Tree recently. It actual makes dusting pretty fun...just ask Sport and Spice! Best of all, it's machine washable so I'm not constantly having to buy refills.

Check out this week's WFMW for more tips for a sress-free holiday.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Easy Green Beans

This is the only way I cook green beans. Very tasty!

1 pound fresh green beans
2 Tbsp butter
1/2 pack Italian dressing mix

Melt butter in a pan. Add beans and seasoning mix and saute until tender, about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. For best taste, allow dressing mix to caramelize on beans.

I've also used Ranch dressing mix and the results are just as yummy.

This post is linked to Tasty Tuesday. Visit Balancing Beauty and Bedlam for more recipes.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Simple Woman's Daybook

FOR TODAY November 3, 2009...
Outside my window...a nice crisp fall day. Can't wait to get the kids outside.
I am thinking...about what to do for dinner. Hubby may or may not be home and Lord knows I don't want to strain myself if he's not going to be here.
I am thankful for...a great weekend full of trick-or-treating fun and an All Saints Day party yesterday. The kids had a blast!
From the learning rooms... Practicing cursive handwriting at the moment. We will be studying Native Americans for the next few weeks and continue our space unit in science. We also started reading Three Cups of Tea - the junior edition -- today for book club. I loved the adult version and am looking forward to looking more in-depth at Pakistan and Afghanistan.
I am find some good ideas for homemade Christmas gifts soon.
I am hearing...Spice practicing counting by twos.
I am wearing...jeans, a brown cable sweater I snagged at our recent swap and love, and comfy brown shoes.
I am reading...19 Minutes by Jodi Picoult. Not my usual fare so while it's a good read, I'm moving along very slowly.
Around the house...Ghosts, goblins, and Jack-O-Lanterns wait to be put back into hiding til next year.
From the kitchen... no real plans this week since Hubby is iffy for most of the week. We'll just wing it.
One of my favorite things...a relaxed day where we don't have to go anywhere.
A few plans for the rest of the week: Co-op classes tomorrow, a field trip to a western museum Wednesday, tennis for Sport tomorrow and Spice Friday, and a haircut for me Saturday. Yay!

To read more daybook thoughts head over to Peggy's blog.

Muffin Tin Monday

We dine from muffin tins just about every Monday, but I don't usually participate in the themes posted by Her Cup Overfloweth. That would require planning ahead, so we just eat whatever's on hand. I knew we would have to participate this week though when I saw that the theme was Outer Space. We are studying the solar system at the moment and, besides that, it's one of Sport's favorite topics. Here's what I came up with at the last minute this morning.

Mini bagel for the rings of Saturn (Sport preferred to think of it as a black hole though.)
Cheese stars
Planetary pepperoni
Yogurt squeezer for astronaut food
Milky Way candy bar from the Halloween bucket for the galaxy
Crescent moon apple slices

Head over to Her Cup Overfloweth to see what other mom's did.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Homeschool Bling!

OK, maybe bling is too strong of a word, but here's a short list of places that offer discounts or other rewards to homeschoolers. Most require proof of homeschooling. This will vary by state, but in Georgia most places simply ask to see a copy of your declaration of intent to homeschool that must be submitted to the state board of education each year. If you're wondering if a retailer near you offers such a discount, I find the best way to find out is simply ask if there is an "educator's discount" rather than a discount for homeschoolers. They tend to take you more seriously that way. : )

JoAnn Fabrics & Crafts - Sign up for the educator's discount and receive 15% off all purchases. Upon registering, you also receive a 20% off coupon for one time use. The best part about the JoAnn's discount is it can be combined with their 40% off coupon that comes in the Sunday paper and it can be used on every purchase. I've used the discount for everything from art supplies and home decor items to fabric and patterns to make Spice clothes. Hobby Lobby may have a similar program, but I have not been in there recently to find out. I've also heard Michael's offers a discount, but the last time I was there and asked the cashier looked at me like I had turnips growing out of my head so who knows. I'll have to try again next time.

Borders/Waldenbooks/Barnes & Noble/Books-A-Million
- Each of these stores offers a 20% discount to educators. The discount is supposed to apply to "classroom materials" only, but I find that is left up to the discretion of the cashier. I hand over my card with every purchase and see what happens.

Hancock Fabrics - The Red Apple Card gives you 15% off.

Staples - Sign up for the Teacher Rewards card and earn points for each purchase you make. I don't spend enough there to get much out of this, but I do love their ink recycling program. If you have the Teacher Rewards card you earn $3 for every ink cartridge returned to the store - regardless of the brand or type of printer. You earn credit for up to 10 cartridges per month. I had fun spending my $30 recycling rewards check last month on magazine holders and dry erase markers. Office Depot has a similar program.

Scholastic - When I was a kid I loved bringing home the little flier each month full of books. Once my mom narrowed my original 20 or so selections down to a more reasonable number, it was so exciting to bring home a new stack of books to delve into each month. When I started homeschooling Sport I knew one of the things I would miss was those darn catalogs. Now we get it all shipped straight to our house and while we do not get a discount, we do get to earn free books and bonus points to be redeemed for other cool items just like a classroom teacher does. To sign up as a homeschooler, you have to send in your first order pre-paid. Go to their website, check out the fliers, then call 1-800-scholastic to place your order and mail the check. Once your first order arrives, you will have a customer # that can be used to access the book clubs online. While you're at the site, check out the book fair section and see if there are customer appreciation warehouse sales in your area. If so, get on the mailing list! We love the warehouse sales and have found huge deals there.

I've also heard Blockbuster offers free rentals on educational materials, but I haven't tried it yet. Let me know if you've tried this one or know of a place offering a discount that's not on this list.

This post is part of We Are That Family's WFMW carnival. Check it out for lots of great tips and ideas!

Workbox Wednesday

We've been studying space in science, focusing on the moon lately. Here's a sampling of our workboxes last week:

We started out with this book. It is the spine for Sport's current Noeo science unit. We read about the moon in here...

then read this book I picked up at the library to explain things a bit more on Spice's level.

The highlight of our day was recreating the phases of the moon using Oreo cookies. I based the project off of the info found here. We only focused on the 4 main moon phases though to keep things simple and lessen the sugar intake. The kids had a blast, especially after the sugar started to take effect.

Sport's complete project.

Spice works on her phases.

God created the moon and it was good!

Looks like Sport had a good time.

We wrapped things up with an activity from Pop Bottle Science.

My sister-in-law gave this to Sport for his birthday a few years ago. Bet she didn't think we still had it! This activity focused on the craters on the moon. For some reason Spice has been fascinated by the idea of craters on the moon. We filled the bottom part of the bottle (it comes apart) with flour then dropped small objects (raisin, chocolate chip, marble, candy corn...) into the flour to show how craters were formed. Some objects were dropped gently just an inch or so away and others were dropped from way up high (do this outside if you don't want flour everywhere) to show how different sizes of craters were made. We all agreed these activities made for a fun day of workboxes.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Chocolate Chip Pumpkin Bread

This time of year, my thoughts turn to one of my favorite things to bake...chocolate chip pumpkin bread. This is based off of a recipe I found in Quick Cooking magazine several years ago.

3 cups all purpose flour
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
4 eggs
2 cups sugar
1 can pumpkin
1-1/4 cup unsweetened applesauce
1 cup mini semi-sweet chocolate chips*

Combine flour, cinnamon, salt, and baking soda in a large bowl. In another bowl, beat eggs, sugar, pumpkin, and applesauce. Add pumpkin mix to dry ingredients and stir just until moistened. Fold in chocolate chips.
Pour into 2 greased loaf pans and bake at 350 for 60-70 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool for 10 minutes in pan then remove and place on wire rack. Slice one loaf and serve immediately. Wrap the other loaf up and stuff it in the freezer real quick so you won't eat it too. It's that good!

*The original recipe calls for 1-1/2 cups of chocolate chips, but I actually thought that was a bit too much and if I'm telling you there's too much chocolate you'd better believe it!

This recipe is being linked to Balancing Beauty and Bedlam's Tasty Tuesday. Head over their for more recipes.

Monday, October 26, 2009

What's In the Bag?

Several of the moms in my homeschool group got together a few weeks ago to exchange preschool activity bags. These are Zip-Loc bags that contain all the pieces a preschooler would need to entertain herself independently for a while. We had 12 moms participating. Two of us decided to make two activity bags so in all, each participant went home with 14 kits to keep their little ones occupied while Mom works with older siblings.
Here's what's in our bags:

ABC Caterpillar - This is one of the bags I made. I saw this on someone's blog not long ago, but could not for the life of me find it again. I wanted to go back and look at the caterpillar face she had drawn because it was much cuter than mine, but never could find it. If this was your blog, please let me know. There were a lot of cute ideas on the blog and I like to give credit where credit is due. Anyway, the main purpose of this activity is to help with letter recognition. Spice's job here was to lay out the plates in ABC order. It takes up a lot of space. Once she has them laid out, I call out letters for her to hop to or simple three letter CVC words for her to spell.

Sort and Pour - Obviously the point here is to sort the beads into cups by color. Spice spent a lot of time on this one the other day. Picking up all those little tiny beads is hard work! She also practiced pouring beads from cup to cup.

The rest of the bags were...
Push Pin Punch Art Activity - A washcloth to use as a mat, a push pin, construction paper, templates of simple shapes (heart, star, leaf...), and a clothespin to clip it all together. The purpose is to punch holes around the chosen shape with the push pin.
I Spy Bottle - This one is of course a big hit. My kids love the I Spy books. I have been planning to make one of these for ohhh about 8 months now so I was thrilled to get it and clean out the cabinet full of bottles I had saved. It came with a laminated print-out with pictures of all the objects in the bottle and a dry-erase marker so the child can mark off each item as it is found.
Writing - A mini chalkboard, sponge eraser, chalk, and a sheet of pre-writing songs.
Fishing Game - Much like the one I described here but with numbers instead of words.
Color Matching - This bag has strips with various shades of the same color along with matching clothespins. The object is to clip the clothespin to the correct color card.
Pizza Math - Three pizza puzzles divided into different fraction amounts. The child has to match the correct pieces together to make a whole pizza.
Fine Motor Skills Bag - This bag has several activities: Attaching clothespins to a cup, carrying pompoms on a spoon and dropping into the cup, lacing noodles on a string, and arranging wiki sticks on drawings.
ABC Sound Cards - One set of letter cards and three picture cards per letter to be matched up.
Number Matching - One set of index cards numbered 1-10 to be paired with a second set of cards with 1-10 stickers. (Not pictured.)
File Folder Game - This kit contains a folder with multiple pockets on it and blank laminated strips of paper. The strips and pockets can be programmed for a variety of activities like matching upper/lowercase letters, placing the appropriate number of strips in a pocket pre-programmed with a number... I wrote simple addition problems on each pocket for Spice the other day and included the necessary number of craft sticks. She had to solve each problem and place the correct # of sticks in the pocket. If she ended up with too many or not enough craft sticks, she knew one of her answers was incorrect.
What Comes Next? - Cards and counters for practicing patterns and sequencing. (Not pictured.)
Beads and Pipe Cleaners - Six colored pipe cleaners with matching beads that are to be placed on the correct pipe cleaner. There are also four pre-patterned pipe cleaners for practicing sequencing or color mixing.

I have been doling the activities out one or two at a time for Spice. I don't want her to use them all up in a day or two and have the novelty wear off. I keep them all together in a bin. Eventually I will let her pick and choose which bags to work with when she needs something to do. She has been having a great time with them and of course Sport always has to get in on the action even though he's waaaayyy past the preschool years.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Up To Her Old Antics Again

Spice is an accident waiting to happen. It sounds terrible for a mother to say that, but sadly, it's true. For those two or three readers of this blog who are not relatives and don't know her history, let's just say there was a point in time where she had more broken bones than years in her life...and yes, each broken bone was from a separate incident.
She's been riding her bike without training wheels for about a month now and has done a great job of staying up. This afternoon while showing Sport how fast she could ride, she crashed into the basketball goal and took quite a tumble. Fortunately, she escaped with no broken bones and mostly just cuts and scratches. Unfortunately, one of those cuts was to her frenulum, you know that piece of skin that connects your top lip to your gum line? She tore that baby clean off the gum line. After a couple of conversations with the on-call nurse at Children's Healthcare of Atlanta, I was relieved to learn a torn frenulum isn't as serious as it sounds and should heal on its own. For the next few days though, Spice will have to be on a soft foods diet and parade around with a swollen upper lip any Hollywood starlet would pay an arm and a leg for. She's definitely got the Angelina Jolie look going on. In a show of solidarity, Sport and I have committed to live off of milkshakes and smoothies for the next few days as well.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Treat Me Right

In a little over a week ghosts, goblins, princesses, and clone troopers will take to the streets with their little sacks ready to be filled. Are you ready for them to coming knocking on your door?
I admit, before I became a mom, and even in the early days, the thought of handing out gobs of sugar so kids could rot their teeth out appalled me. We were one of those houses that gave out "healthy" treats (relatively speaking) like pretzels and Play-Doh. One night several years ago after the kids were in bed and I went to raid their candy buckets...ahhh, I mean check through all of their loot to make sure it was safe, I was highly disappointed by the selection of treats. How many boxes of Dots does one family need and really, does anyone actually eat those black and orange wrapped Mary Janes? Where was the CHOCOLATE? And I don't mean the cheap little chocolate crispy things wrapped in Halloween themed foil. I'm talking about the Snickers, the Butterfingers, and especially the Reese's!
So what does this have to do with Works For Me Wednesday? Well, it was at that point I realized something. If I wanted to change the loot given out in our neighborhood, it would have to start with me. Out went the pretzels, Play-Doh, and Halloween pencils and in came the Butterfingers, KitKat, and Twix. (I still don't buy the Reese's. I know my limits.) Buying the GOOD stuff works for me because I know who the real recipients will be.

To find more tips to help you get through the day, head over to We Are That Family for WFMW .