Monday, July 26, 2010

Crystallized Ginger Recipes

Last week I gave you a recipe for making your own crystallized ginger. Today I'm giving you some recipes that call for crystallized ginger.

Gingerbread Scones
(I don't remember where this one came from)
2 cups flour
1/3 cup brown sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/8 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup butter
1 egg
3 tablespoons molasses
3 tablespoons milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 - 1 cup finely chopped crystallized ginger
1/2 cup golden raisins (optional)

Combine dry ingredients in large bowl. Cut in butter. Add egg, molasses, milk, vanilla, ginger, and raisins; stir just until combined. Pat into 8" circle on ungreased cookie sheet. Using a floured knife, cut into 8 wedges. Bake at 375 degrees for 20-25 minutes. Note: The original recipe didn't call for crystallized ginger, but I think it makes a great addition.

Soft Ginger Cookies
(from King Arthur Flour)
1 stick butter, softened
1/3 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom (optional)
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 large egg
1/2 cup soft diced ginger (crystallized ginger may be substituted, finely chopped)
2 1/2 cups flour
1/2 cup light molasses

Cream the butter, sugar, spices, salt, and baking soda until well blended. Beat in the egg and ginger, then the flour, alternately with the molasses. Refrigerate the dough for several hours or overnight; it needs to be stiff enough to handle easily.

Roll half the dough about 1/4" thick on a floured surface. Cut into whatever shapes you like. Transfer cookies to an ungreased or parchment-lined baking sheet. Repeat with the remaining dough. Bake the cookies at 350 degrees for 10-12 minutes, until they're puffy and the edges are firm. Remove them from the oven and cool on the pan for 10 minutes before transferring to a rack to cool completely.

Run to the kitchen and get started! Don't forget a glass of cold milk. You're gonna need it.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Homemade Crystallized Ginger

I love adding little pieces of cyrstallized ginger to my gingerbread man cookies and gingerbread scones, but it's so expensive! At least it is in my town. I can't remember how much it is at Whole Foods, but it really doesn't matter since the nearest one is about 3 hours away. On the rare occasion I'm there, I buy a big bag. I searched the internet and found a recipe that sounded good. It was! I tweaked it just a tad and here it is.

10 oz fresh ginger, peeled and thinly sliced
2 1/4 cups sugar, divided
1/4 cup water

Combine ginger, 2 cups sugar, and water in a large, heavy pan. Bring to a very slow simmer and cook, stirring occasionally, for 1 1/2 hours. The ginger will become translucent and the sugar will crystallize on the edge of the pan. Sprinkle 1/4 cup sugar on baking sheet. Lay drained ginger on sugar. Toss the ginger in the sugar when the ginger has cooled enough to handle, about 10 minutes. Store in airtight container. The syrup that's left in the pan can be used on pancakes.

A word of caution: if you're used to the store-bought kind, try a SMALL piece of this. It'll light you up. I don't think I'll dump a cup of this in my gingerbread man cookies. Maybe half a cup. Or maybe a fourth.

And now for some pictures. Because I like pictures :)

Scrape the skin off the ginger with a spoon.

Unpeeled ginger and peeled ginger.

I sliced it as thin as I could.


Just out of the pan and HOT.

All done!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

I Accidentally Stole a Watermelon

I know what you're thinking. "How can you accidentally steal a watermelon?!" Well, I'll tell you in a minute. My husband asked the same question when I sent him a message last week asking him to go by the grocery store and pay for it. He e-mailed our family the conversation he thought he would have with the manager. Our family thought this was hilarious so, against my better judgement, I've reproduced this hypothetical conversation below. I hope it brings you a chuckle.

Hubby: My wife accidentally stole a watermelon from your store this morning.
Manager: Oh yeah? How did that happen?
Hubby: I have no idea. My wife told me to go pay for it.
Manager: So she can get out of jail?
Hubby: I don't think so.
Manager: We don't have a way to ring that up.
Hubby: Silence.
Manager: How much was it?
Hubby: I have no idea.
Manager: What was the bar code?
Hubby: You've got to be kidding!
Manager: What kind of melon was it?
Hubby: I have no idea.
Manager: Are you sure she "accidentally" stole just one?
Hubby: She only mentioned one.
Manager: I guess she got it from the box outside?
Hubby: I don't think that would be an accident.
Manager: I don’t think so either.
Hubby: So how do you want to do this?
Manager: I have no idea!

So this is what happened...
After an hour at the library and an hour at WalMart (where I had to park half a mile from the store in 98-degree weather) with two kids, I stopped at Krogers. I was pushing one of those buggies with the car on the front. The kids were "driving" and honking at the other customers. I put the watermelon under the buggy to leave room in the buggy for shopping bags (save the planet!), strawberries, cherries, lettuce, bananas, onions, tofu, brisket, chicken, cheese, 3 gallons of milk, and eggs. After unloading (what I thought was all) my groceries onto the conveyor belt, making sure there were still two kids in the "car," and handing over my loyalty card so as not to be overcharged $30, I began sacking my groceries. (I was excited to do this because it meant there was no way the brisket was gonna end up on top of the bananas.) I ran my credit card through the machine, signed the electronic dotted line, and went outside to load stuff in the car. I got half the groceries unpacked when I saw that @%#*$% watermelon. No way was I gonna leave the groceries (including the butter and chocolate I had gotten at WalMart) and take two kids BACK into Krogers to pay for a $7 watermelon.

My sweet hubby did swing by Krogers and pay for the watermelon :)

Monday, July 5, 2010

Where to Begin

Homeschooling can be expensive, but it doesn't have to be. My daughter will be starting first grade this fall. Instead of spending hundreds of dollars on a boxed curriculum, I decided to create my own. There are several places to find a curriculum or scope and sequence for various grade levels. You might be able to get one from your local public or private school. Here are some websites I consulted:

A Beka scope and sequence nursery through grade 12
Time 4 Learning scope and sequence preschool through grade 8
BJU Press scope and sequence preschool through grade 12

I found a couple of textbooks at Goodwill and the Women's Shelter Resale Shop. A friend of mine who is no longer homeschooling gave me some books. Most of our "textbooks" will come from our public library and university library. I picked up a math workbook at the Women's Shelter for $0.59! And it just happens to be the level we need! If I hadn't found that, I was planning to buy the workbooks from Horizons. My cousin uses their math curriculum so I got to look over hers and I really liked it. I may use it next year.

The following sites have a variety of worksheets, activities, and crafts. Some of the activities would be fun for kids to do on the weekends or during summer, not just for homeschooling. Some of the sites are geared toward younger kids.

A to Z Teacher Stuff
Easy Fun School
Family Education
TLS Books
The Home School Mom
Super Teacher Worksheets
DLTK's Sites

If you've been homeschooling for a while, you probably have a list of favorite sites. If you're just getting started, I hope these will help you. I think I've got a science activity/experiment for every week! I'll probably be posting some sites by topic later. Having them categorized is helping me find what I want more easily.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Homeschool Mom

I've been scouring the internet for free materials to use with Olivia, so I've got homeschooling on the brain. I stumbled across a site the other day with the following ad for a homeschool mom. Some of the responsibilities and characteristics apply to all mothers but other parts are more specific to homeschool moms. I had to share it!

Now accepting applications:
Family seeking fun-loving, godly homeschool teacher. Applicant will be responsible for providing total educational development and daily personal care for children of multiple ages. Applicant will assume the following roles: cook, housemaid, nurse, taxi driver, administrative assistant, accountant, athletic coach, social director, computer technician, household and automotive repairman, gardener, course instructor in multiple subject areas and grade levels, and various other responsibilities. This is a full-time position — approximately 120 hours or more per week. Qualified candidates must be able to work well under pressure, multi-task, and prioritize work loads while maintaining a friendly, enthusiastic attitude. Quick thinking, good memory, and a varied background in extensive subject matter are a must. Promising candidates will be resourceful, adjust easily to distractions, and display creative, hard-working leadership abilities. Organizational and problem solving skills are a plus. Previous teaching experience and/or college preferred, but is not required. If you're interested in working in a fast-paced, ever-changing environment, this is the position for you! For more information on this exciting opportunity to earn fulfilling, one-of-a-kind rewards, please apply in person today.

I also found some great homeschooling advocacy products at CafePress. Here are a few of them that I may just have to order.

You might be homeschooled if... t-shirt
You know you are a homeschool mom when... t-shirt
My mom is the principal... t-shirt

There are also bumper stickers and t-shirts that say "I have seen "the village" and I don't want it raising my child."

In the next few weeks I'll share some websites that have free materials and activities. These are not just for homeschooling. They have worksheets that could be used if your child needs extra practice. Some of the activities and experiments would be fun to do with your kids during summer or spring break.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Music for Children

We love music - listening to it and playing it. I started playing the clarinet in the 6th grade and played it through high school. I also picked up the alto sax in high school. I can play tunes on the guitar and mandolin but never learned the chords. (That's one of the many things I'd like to do.) Hubby plays guitar (chords and melodies) and took some piano lessons. We used to play guitar and mandolin together quite frequently...before kids. Kids seem to take up a lot of time! And it's hard to play when a 2-year-old is plunking on the strings. Hopefully we'll be able to play more as the kids get older.

Olivia and Jesse like listening to music and playing around on the keyboard. Lately Olivia has shown an interest in reading music and picking out tunes. I've been helping her with the notes - we've been talking about their names, where they are on the keyboard, and how many counts they get. I plan to include music in our homeschooling. I want to study music not only for its own sake, but it will help her with math. Whole notes, half notes, quarter notes, eighth notes = fractions! Music and math are closely related. Scales follow a pattern of whole steps and half steps. Chords are also mathematical. It's not uncommon for people who do well in math to do well in music and vice versa.

I've been trying to expose Olivia (and Jesse, too, when appropriate) to a variety of music. Olivia has been to Phantom of the Opera (Dallas), Riverdance (Orange), Lord of the Dance (Tyler), Oliver (community theater), The Little Mermaid (university theater), and others. Both kids have been to programs the library sponsored that featured bluegrass, harp, and opera. We have plans to take them to Beauty and the Beast (university theater).

You might check with your local university or college and see what they have to offer. They probably have child-friendly performances. They may also offer Kindermusik or music lessons. If you're not in the Nacogdoches area, these sites will give you an idea of what you may find in your area.

Below are a few websites I found this week that I plan to use when working with Olivia. Although my husband and I have lots of sheet music, not all of it is suitable for beginners. These sites offer a variety of music - from quarter and half notes in the key of C to more complicated pieces.

Blank Sheet Music Print blank sheet music. You can add treble clef, bass clef, time signature, and key signature.

Music Tech Teacher Lots of things to print, including treble and bass notes and ledger lines on the staff, sharps, flats, major scales, rhythms and rests.

8Notes Free sheet music of varying degrees of difficulty and for a variety of instruments.

Take a Piano Sheet Music Break Free piano music of varying degrees of difficulty, as well as lessons.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Homemade Yogurt

I'm making my first batch of yogurt tonight! I've been wanting to try this for a while, but I thought you had to have a yogurt maker. I looked at several yogurt makers online and was unsure about which one to get. Luckily, before I ordered one, I found the directions for making yogurt in a crock pot. Since I already have a crock pot, it makes sense to try this method first.

Here's what you do (this and more info can be found here)...

Plug in your crock pot and turn it on low. Add 8 cups (1/2 gallon) of whole milk. Cover and cook on low for 2 1/2 hours.

Unplug your crock pot. Leave the cover on and let it sit for 3 hours.

After 3 hours, scoop out 2 cups of the milk and put it in a bowl. Whisk in 1/2 cup store-bought yogurt with live cultures. (After you've made a batch, you can keep some of your homemade yogurt to start a new batch.) Dump the contents back into the crock pot; stir to combine and replace the lid. Keep it unplugged and wrap a heavy bath towel around the crock pot for insulation. Go to bed or let it sit for 8 hours.

In the morning, the yogurt will have thickened, but it's not as thick as store-bought yogurt. If you want, blend in fruit. Chill in plastic containers in the fridge. It will last 7 to 10 days. Save 1/2 cup as a starter for your next batch.

My yogurt is currently at the "let it sit for 3 hours" stage. At 11:30 I'll add the 1/2 cup of store-bought yogurt. In the morning I'll have homemade yogurt! I don't know about you, but I get tired of buying all those plastic yogurt containers that don't recycle (at least they don't around here). I've been using some to store things like beads, crayons, and marbles for the kids, but I've still got a huge pile in my laundry room. (I wonder if a local daycare might be able to use them for crafts?) I also like to save money when I can. Today I bought a quart of yogurt for $2.28 and a gallon of milk for $2.68. After some calculating...If I end up with 2 quarts of yogurt, I will have paid $0.67 per quart (plus $0.29 for the yogurt I used as a starter). Not bad!

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Potty Training in 3 Days

Do you believe it? I'm thinking about trying it. A couple of weeks ago I wrote about elimination communication. I was going to begin a modified version the next day. However, one (or more) of us has been sick for two and a half weeks, so I didn't think I could focus on it. (Some of us are still ailing.) Since then, I've read about some other potty training methods. I didn't know there were so many!

Here's the 3-day training method in a nutshell. (Actually, it's 3 days of intensive training, but there are 3 months of follow-up.)

The month or so before you start, make sure your child is exhibiting signs of readiness, clear your schedule for 3 days, make up a "potty dance" for successes, start educating your child about using the potty, and buy/borrow several potty chairs (one for every main room and bathroom).

The week before you start, show your child a stack of diapers and explain that starting Saturday (or whatever day you're starting) he won't need them anymore and he can be naked and diaper-free. (Oh, yeah. Did I mention this is a bare-bottom approach?)

On Day 1 of potty training, your child goes naked below the waist. Eat pee-promoting foods and drink lots of liquids so your child gets lots of practice. Watch your child - when he starts to pee or poop, whisk him to the potty. Perform your "potty dance" for any amount of success. If your child has an accident, remind him that pee/poop goes in the potty and have him help you clean it up. Tell your child it's time to use the potty before nap and bedtime. A diaper is ok for sleeping.

On Day 2, follow the same guidelines as for Day 1, except that everyone gets to leave the house for 1 hour in the afternoon immediately after a success. Your child wears loose pants with nothing underneath. Bring a travel potty and a change of clothes just in case.

On Day 3, follow the same guidelines as for Day 1, except that everyone gets to leave the house for 1 hour in the morning and 1 hour in the afternoon immediately after a success. Again, your child wears loose pants with nothing underneath. Bring a travel potty and a change of clothes just in case.

Thereafter, your child will probably take himself to the potty. For the next 3 months, your child goes naked below the waist at home and wears loose pants with nothing underneath when he goes anywhere else. Diapers or training pants are ok for sleeping.

For further details, click here. There are also some books about this method. Here's one. Here's another.

One of my reservations about this approach is the naked factor. I might be able to handle 3 days of nudity, but 3 months?! (If Jesse were a girl, I'd just put him in a dress.) Another reservation stems from the fact that I have carpet in most of my house. Maybe my sister-in-law will let me move in for 3 months. She has tile everywhere...

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Down Under

Under the weather, that is. A couple of weeks ago we went to my parents' house for a few days. You may remember my sisters were visiting and our zoo trip was cancelled because several people were sick. Well, we brought their "crud" back with us. Olivia got sick the following Saturday. She had fever for a few days. She's still coughing but seems to be mostly over it (so she's wrapping up her second week of the crud). Jesse got sick at the beginning of this week. He started off with a terribly snotty nose and now he's got a little fever and is coughing. Probably due to the drainage and his inability to blow his nose. Anybody know how to get a 2-year-old to blow his nose?? Hubby's been straddling the fence between "well" and "sick" for a couple of weeks. I woke up with a sore and swollen throat Tuesday. It's still pretty sore, but not too sore to enjoy my ribeye for supper.

In the past two weeks we've bought 48 lbs of oranges, 12 lbs of apples, blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, mangoes, pineapples, and watermelon. We've been eating some and juicing some. We've had chicken noodle soup. Actually it had rice instead of noodles, so I guess we had chicken rice soup. We've also been drinking lots of water and tea. You'd think we'd be done with the crud by now. Alas, that is not the case. It looks like this would be a good time to buy stock in "Throat Coat" tea.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Happy Birthday, Kathy!

Today is your day!

Happy birthday, Kathy! I hope you're having a wonderful day and a wonderful week.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Elimination Communication

Elimination communication (EC) is something I first heard about not too long ago. Monday I checked a book out from our library because I wanted to know more. It's "The Diaper Free Baby" by Christine Gross-Loh. The general idea is that babies are born with the instinct not to soil themselves and we can learn to communicate with them about their toileting needs, like reading their hunger cues.

EC involves observing your baby's body language and patterns, cueing your baby (holding your baby in a certain position and making a certain sound that she associates with peeing or pooping), and changing her as soon as possible after a miss so she doesn't get used to sitting in a wet or dirty diaper. Some people start EC at birth, while many start at around three to eight months.

If EC sounds interesting to you, I encourage you to read this book and read it now. I enjoyed it and it made a lot of sense. I only wish I'd heard about this when Jesse was younger. He just turned 2, so it's a little late to start EC (at least as described in the book). I'm planning to try a modified version tomorrow. I was telling hubby about EC the other night when he interrupted me and said "Before you go any further, we're not having another baby just so you can try this." I laughed and told him that's not why I want another one!

Saturday, May 22, 2010

What a Week!

I'm sooo tired. I've been really busy this week. Monday I took the kids to my parents' house. My sister and brother-in-law were visiting from California so we spent a couple of nights with them. My other sister and her daughter spent Monday night there, too. We were planning to go to the zoo Tuesday, but 4 out of 9 of us were sick so we just hung around the house. We got home late Wednesday night.

Thursday was full of the usual post-trip chores like unpacking and washing clothes, as well as menu planning and grocery shopping for Jesse's birthday party. I bought groceries to feed close to 20 people. My refrigerator was so full I wondered whether I'd be able to close the door. I also did some cleaning.

Friday I cooked. I made 2 batches of bread, fruit dip, veggie/cracker dip, strawberry salad, 2 cakes, and icing. I put together a fruit platter and a veggie platter. I cut and stacked the cakes to make a dump truck. Yes, a dump truck. My little birthday boy loves cars and trucks and his dump truck is his favorite. I also embroidered a dump truck on a t-shirt for him.

This morning I made another batch of bread, deviled eggs, cheesy bean dip, and ice cream. (Ok, hubby kept the ice cream maker iced and salted.) We then had a great party with wonderful family and friends. It was a nice way to end this crazy week.

I had to include a picture of the dump truck cake. I worked hard on this! I needed a little more time to make it nicer, but it's not too bad. Jesse liked it! I can't believe my baby is 2.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Green Period, Revisited

Ladies, this is mostly a reminder prompted by the fact that it's about time to hit the pool, lake, or beach. If you didn't read my earlier post about reusable menstrual products, you can read it here. It's an overview of what's out there. I mentioned some of the advantages of reusable products (less waste in landfills, no risk of TSS, money savings), but I thought of another last week. I somehow neglected to mention "wicking" in my other post. When you wear a tampon, any moisture present outside your body wicks up the removal string. Chlorine-laden pool water, for example. A menstrual cup doesn't absorb, so there's no wicking. Just another thing to recommend the Diva Cup (or other brand of your choice).

Please see my other post for links to more information, or just search the internet.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Am I a Sacking Snob?

This evening I ran into town for groceries at two different stores. I'm a little particular, some might say neurotic, about the way my stuff is sacked. I've had sackers put large cans of pineapple juice on top of my bananas. If I'd wanted bruised bananas, I'd have gotten the black ones to begin with. I also like to keep refrigerated items together, especially when it's 80 or 90 degrees outside. I figure the cold stuff will stay cold longer if it's all huddled together. Also, when I get home I let the toilet paper and soap loiter in the trunk until I get the milk and butter safely stowed in the fridge. It's easier to do this if it's not mingled with non-refrigerated items. I rarely have too few shopping bags (I always take reusable ones), but just in case I were to have a shortage, I place those items on the belt last that are easiest to carry without a bag, like milk or bags of potatoes.

Because of my idiosyncrasy and my skepticism of the intelligence of some cashiers, I have a habit of placing my purchases on the conveyor belt in the order in which I want them bagged. I always leave eggs and produce for the end so they aren't crushed by heavier items, unless I anticipate a bag shortage (as mentioned previously), in which case the milk and potatoes are banished to the end of the line. I put all the refrigerated/frozen stuff together. I group things like soap, toilet paper, and tooth paste. This usually works well. The typical cashier scans the item closest to hand, bags it, then repeats. However, tonight I did not have the typical cashier. In fact, I had two atypical cashiers.

I spent some time in the parking lot of the first store rearranging my purchases because the cashier had desegregated my cold items and bath products. One bag held butter, tooth paste, and soap. Another held butter, cream, and apples. While I loaded my groceries from the second store I noticed the sacker had bagged my 3 gallons of milk (which were at the end of the line!) and put all my produce in one bag - lettuce, tomatoes, two avocadoes, bananas, two containers of strawberries, and two containers of raspberries.

Maybe next time I'll separate my purchases with bags so the cashier can fill up the first bag until she gets to the second one. Then she can fill up the second until she gets to the third, and so on. To be fair, I should mention that some sackers are excellent. If only I could tell by looking at them...

Monday, April 26, 2010

Tofu, Anyone?

Last week I was perusing the grocery store when I came across some organic tofu that was 50% off. I had never tried tofu. I didn't even know where to look for tofu until that day. Since I love a bargain and I've heard it's good for you, I decided to get some. I got home and thought "What do I do with it?"

I poked around the internet and found a few recipes that looked good. The lasagne sounded really good, but I'll have to pick up a few ingredients before I try it. I decided to try a grilled tofu sandwich and a tofu stir-fry.

For the tofu sandwich (this was NOT gluten-free), I placed two slices of bread on a cookie sheet. I spread a little mayo on each piece. I then put tomato slices on one piece and tofu slices on the other. I sprinkled a little sea salt on the tomatoes and a little garlic powder on the tofu. Under the broiler it went. It was pretty good, although I couldn't taste the tofu. Is that good or bad? The garlic and tomatoes made a nice combination. It might be good with a little Parmesan cheese.

For the stir-fry (gluten-free), I kinda cheated and used a bag of Asian-style frozen vegetables from the grocery store. I sliced the tofu into cubes. Then I heated some olive oil, sauteed the veggies, again with sea salt and garlic powder, then sauteed the tofu. It was ok, but nothing outstanding. I could taste the tofu a little more, but it's pretty bland.

Do you have some good tofu recipes you're willing to share?

Monday, April 19, 2010

Junk Food in Disguise

I like to feed my family home-cooked meals and give my kids healthy snacks. Yes, we like to have our cake (or brownies, cookies, ice cream, pie, etc.) and eat it, too, but we don't make a daily ritual of it. Since I'm home with the kids all day it's easier for me to dish up from-scratch meals than if I had a paying job, but sometimes we find ourselves having oatmeal or scrambled eggs and toast for supper.

There are times when the kids have eaten all the grapes and cottage cheese and we've had apples for 4 days straight and I'm looking around for something for them to snack on. I can always find raisins in the pantry, but most people like a little variety - my kids are no different - so I keep an eye out for non perishable snacks.

I don't think all parents buy junk food on purpose. Sure, there are parents who don't care. But some people just don't think about checking the label. I wasn't raised to read the ingredients. It's a habit I've gotten into over the years. There are times you have to give a product more than a cursory glance to know exactly what you're getting. I happen to have 2 packages of "fruit snacks" marketed for preschoolers. They were given to us and have been sitting in the pantry for a while.

A glance at the first shows "Fruit Snacks. Made with REAL FRUIT." Looks good, right? Here are the ingredients: juice from concentrates, corn syrup, sugar, modified corn starch, fruit puree, gelatin, citric acid, lactic acid, natural and artificial flavor, ascorbic acid, coconut oil, sodium citrate, carnauba wax, tocopherol acetate, red 40, yellow 5, blue 1, vitamin A. There are 15 g of sugar in one serving. The second says "Juice treats. Naturally flavored." The first two ingredients are corn syrup and sugar and there are 17 g of sugar in one serving. Why would I give these to my children?

So in addition to raisins, I've been trying to keep other dried fruits on hand: things like dates, papayas, apricots, and pineapple. I've also found fruit leathers. I like these kinds of snacks because you can store them for an extended amount of time in the pantry (stock up when they're on sale) and they're easy to throw in a bag before you head out the door.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Pop, Pop, Fizz, Fizz

I don't drink many soft drinks. Once in a while I'll have a ginger ale or root beer and, on those rare occasions, I look for the drinks with all natural ingredients. My brother-in-law came across some fizzy drinks I have to tell you about (if you haven't already discovered them). I think he found them at Big Lots. My father-in-law then went searching for them and found some other flavors.

Some are made by Santa Cruz; these are all organic. They found Ginger Ale, Lemon Lime, Raspberry Lemonade, and Root Beer. So far I've tried Ginger Ale, Raspberry Lemonade, and Root Beer.

The others are made by R. W. Knudsen. These aren't organic, but they have natural ingredients and no added sugar. They found Lemon Lime (80% fruit juice), Orange Passionfruit (85% fruit juice), Jamaican Lemonade (90% fruit juice), Ginger Ale (80% fruit juice), Boysenberry (100% fruit juice), Cranberry (100% fruit juice), and Raspberry (100% fruit juice). When the can says "100% fruit juice" they've added enough sparkling filtered water to reconstitute the juices. Of these I've tried Orange Passionfruit and Raspberry.

I particularly enjoyed the drinks with fruit flavors. The ginger ale and root beer were good, but if you prefer a bite to your ginger ale or a LOT of fizz to your root beer, you might be disappointed.

All the drinks I've tasted were mildly fizzy with a light flavor. They also didn't feel heavy in my stomach, if that makes sense. Another bonus: each 6-pack was $2.00. That's only $0.33 per can!

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Happy Birthday Rachel

Today's the day to wish our very own Rachel a most wondrous and bliss filled birthday!

Happy Birthday Rachel! We are all so grateful for you =D

Monday, April 5, 2010

Appliance Rebates

Just in case you haven't heard, you may be able to get a rebate for replacing an old, functional appliance with a new energy-efficient one. Rebates (ranging from $45 to $1600, depending on the appliance) are available for refrigerators, freezers, room air conditioners, washing machines, dishwashers, central air conditioners, air-source heat pumps, and hot water heaters.

You need to reserve your rebate beginning April 7 at 7:00 am. You can apply for up to 2 per address, but they have to be in different appliance categories. You must purchase your appliance from April 16 through April 25 (April 16 through 60 days from reservation or waitlist request for central AC, heat pumps, and hot water heaters). You can get a $75 bonus rebate for properly recycling your old appliance.

Texas Rebate Guide LOTS of info here.
Eligible Appliances Here you'll find links to qualified models for each appliance category.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Once a Month Cooking

(aka Freezer Cooking)

I just read about this and I love the idea. Basically you cook a bunch of food in one day, freeze it, then eat it throughout the month. This should save you time and money.

Save time: Instead of spending an hour or two every evening preparing supper, you set aside a day (or two) to do LOTS of cooking, assembling, and freezing. (It's just as easy to cook two chickens as it is to cook one. The same principle applies to hamburger meat, pork chops, and many other things.) Then you can just grab a meal from your freezer, thaw it, and pop it in the oven. This should free up some time each evening for you to play with your kids, talk with your husband, or read a book.

Save money: Almost always the unit price is cheaper when you buy in bulk. But if you throw half of the food out because it went bad before you could eat it all, you haven't saved any money by buying the economy-size package. With OAMC (once a month cooking), you can buy that 10-lb package of hamburger meat, knowing it'll be used to make meatballs, meatloaf, and spaghetti. You also won't have to order pizza or swing by the drive-thru for supper when you know you've got supper thawing in the fridge.

Even if I never get to the point where I have 30 meals in my freezer, I can use these ideas on a small scale to make my life a little easier. I can make a double batch of lasagne (or soup or chicken casserole, etc.) and freeze half of it. I think I'll try cooking and freezing a week's worth of meals and work my way up to a month. I'll have to see how many freezer-friendly recipes I have. I'm sure I'll have to add some new ones to my collection. I'll share them with you if I find some good ones.

In the meantime, here are a few websites to help you get started.
Once a Month Cooking World
Freezer Cooking

Monday, March 22, 2010

Reusing and Recycling in the Garden

Spring is here! (Although you couldn't tell it yesterday when it was snowing.) It's time to be gardening. I've been doing a little, but I hope to do more. I did get my tomato and pepper plants put in last week. I had to cover them up before the snow came, but they all survived. I use plastic milk jugs that have had their bottoms cut off to protect them. The plants are small enough that these work perfectly. I had these left from last year and will store them in case I need them next year. If they get crushed or ruined I can recycle them. I read about cutting them into strips to use as plant labels, but I haven't actually done it. I usually just plant my seeds, try to remember what I put where, and get a surprise when they sprout.

I use livestock panels to support my tomato plants. I've been using them for years and will be able to use them for years to come. I also use them for cucumbers, beans, and peas. I've also used cane poles that I cut beside the road to our property. I've used pantyhose with runs in them to tie the tomato plants to the panels, but I don't wear pantyhose much anymore so I usually use plain ol' twine.

I read about using egg shells to start seeds that dislike transplanting. I haven't tried this - I toss all my egg shells into my "compost bucket" - but I love the idea. I've used the peat pellets, but they didn't decompose as quickly as I expected. When you get ready to transplant your seedlings, you crush the egg shell a little (so the roots can grow), then plant the whole thing. What I don't know is how you water the seeds and seedlings while they're in the shells without drowning the little fellas.

Of course composting is a great way to recycle kitchen scraps. I keep a "compost bucket" on the counter by the sink. It's just a plastic bowl with a lid. I throw apple cores, egg shells, orange peels, etc. into the bowl, then dump the contents on my compost pile when it starts to get full.

How do you reuse and recycle in your garden?

Monday, March 15, 2010

I Love Homeschool

Some people weigh the advantages and disadvantages of homeschooling before making their decision. In a previous post, I mentioned that my husband and I had always planned to homeschool our children. We didn't even discuss it. We simply both agreed that it would be best for us and our kids. That being the case, we didn't make a list of all the pros and cons. This is only our first year to homeschool, but I'm already noticing advantages I hadn't thought of before.

My cousin homeschools her two children. Her husband is currently traveling a lot for his job. They don't have to enroll their kids in school, pull them out a few weeks later, then repeat the process elsewhere. They just take their school supplies when they move. As soon as they unpack, they're ready to pick up where they left off.

Last week I took the kids to my parents' house for a couple of days. Mama, Olivia, and I went to "The Phantom of the Opera" in Dallas. We saw it on Thursday at 2:00 pm. It's about a 3.5-hour drive from our house. If Olivia were in public school, I'm sure she would have gotten an unexcused absence that day.

I'm enjoying the flexibility homeschooling allows. I'll probably discover other perks as we continue this journey.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Rip Van Winkle

There's a homeschooling group in my area that gets together for various activities. I found out that they were meeting at the park last Friday, so I made a point to be there. I wanted to meet some of the mothers and let Olivia meet some of the kids. The catch: they were meeting from 1:00 to 3:00 and Jesse usually has a nap around 2:00.

We left the house right after lunch and got to the park at 1:00. A few of the homeschoolers were there. Some others trickled in later. Olivia had a great time swinging, sliding, climbing, and running. Jesse also had a great time swinging, sliding, climbing, and running. I talked to one mother. She wasn't even with the homeschooling group! She does homeschool, after all, but just happened to pick that day to go to the park. Jesse, at 21 months, wants to play with the big kids, but doesn't understand gravity. So I spent the hour we were there chasing him around, making sure he didn't kill himself. He almost fell down the steps to the slide. If he had, he would've hit his head on 4 or 5 steps. (Sometimes I wonder whether he'll make it to his 2nd birthday!)

We left the park at 2:00, ran a couple of errands, and got home around 3:30. Of course, Jesse fell asleep in the car. When we got home, I woke him up getting him out of his car seat. I hoped he'd finish his nap because he'd been up since about 7:30. That little rascal didn't go to sleep until 4:30 or 4:45. I wondered whether I should just let him stay up until bedtime, but we were planning to go back to town that evening and he really needed a nap. As it turned out, we didn't go back to town. Suppertime came and Jesse was still sawing logs. Olivia's bedtime came and Jesse was still out. (He was breathing - I checked.) I began to worry he'd get up around midnight and want to play. Finally, hubby and I went to bed. I didn't hear a peep from my little boy until 7:30 in the morning. I couldn't believe he'd slept for over 14 hours!

Monday, March 1, 2010

Gearing Up for Gardening

This weekend I spent some time preparing my raised beds. I had mulched them with leaves after last year's garden withered, but I still had some weeds get through. So I worked on eradicating the weeds and loosening up the soil. My next task will be mixing in some composted chicken litter and/or composted kitchen scraps.

I also need to make some notes on my calendar as to when to plant my seeds and transplants. I have a hard time remembering what gets planted when, so I did a little internet research. Below are a couple of websites you might find useful. You can also check with your county extension office. They probably have a planting guide for your area.

Another thing I need to do is make a shopping list. I've got some seeds left over from last year, so I need to go through them and see what I've got. Then I'll know what I need. I didn't start any tomato or pepper seeds, so I'll have to buy transplants in a few weeks. I know I need some new gloves because mine have holes in them. I don't mind getting my hands dirty, but some of my weeds are blackberry vines and stinging nettle. I hate stinging nettle. If I can't fix my rake I need to get one of those, too. Otherwise, I think I'm in good shape.

I'm considering trying square foot gardening. One of my friends mentioned this and I had never heard of it. I already use raised beds, so SFG would be an easy adaptation. I've included a couple of links in case you've never heard of it, either.

Spring Planting Guide for Vegeteble Crops (Texas)

When to Plant What (This site contains a link to help you find the average last spring frost date for your area. This will help you determine when to start your seeds.)

Square Foot Gardening

The Square Foot Gardening Foundation

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Motherhood is an interesting journey, to say the least. I don't think anything prepares you for it. There are moments you hope you'll never forget and some you wish you could. Here are a few of mine.
(I've been saving this idea, so these stories happened a while ago but they're still

The good...
There are so many things I could write here. That soft, downy head. Little fingers wrapped around one of yours. A toothless grin. A little head on your shoulder. Hearing a sweet voice call you "Mama."

The bad...
One night Jesse woke up crying. I snuck into the bedroom, groped around in the dark, and plucked him from his bed. I hugged him up to me and slipped my left arm under his bottom to support him. To my surprise I felt warm, soft flesh. I cried "Jesse! Where's your diaper?!" His diaper was in his bed, nice and dry, so I put it back on him. Then I put some shorts on him (I'm a fast learner) and ran back to the living room to fetch hubby. I nursed Jesse while hubby stripped the bed. After Jesse went back to sleep, I pulled the rug out of the bedroom so I could work on the puddle.

The ugly...
I heard Jesse wake up from his nap one day and went to get him. I walked into the bedroom and discovered Jesse had been face painting. We don't have any face paints. I'll leave it at that.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Motherhood Olympics

With the Winter Olympics in progress, I've been thinking about some new events for 2014. Here are my thoughts so far...

Diaper Derby
In the qualifying round, each mother must change a dirty diaper. Points will be awarded for cleanliness, form, and speed (timing will begin when the mother picks up the child and will end when the child is fully dressed). Points will be deducted if the diaper is put on backwards and/or not securely fastened. The top 10 mothers will advance to the final round.

In the final round, mothers will change diapers in the back seat of a car. Points will be awarded as described in the qualifying round.

Each mother will attempt to settle a fight between siblings over a toy. Points will be awarded for speed and originality.

Tandem Feeding
Each mother will feed a baby while eating her own lunch. Points will be awarded for speed and accuracy. Points will be deducted for putting utensils in the wrong mouth.

Grocery Shopping
Each mother will be given a grocery list and two children. One child will be between the ages of 18 and 24 months, the other between the ages of 4 and 7 years. Points will be awarded for speed and accuracy. Points will be deducted for purchasing items not on the list. Mothers can earn bonus points by returning plastic bags to be recycled or by bringing reusable bags.

Do you think the International Olympic Committee would be interested?

Monday, February 8, 2010

Topsy-Turvy Tomatoes

Have you ever tried growing tomatoes upside-down? I haven't. I saw pictures years ago of hanging tomato plants, but it wasn't until last week that I gave them another thought. My husband's uncle said he was thinking about growing his tomatoes upside-down this year but didn't know how to keep them in their pots. He doesn't have internet access so I did a little research for him.

People seem to like growing them in 5-gallon paint buckets with handles. Drill a hole about 2 1/2 inches in diameter in the bottom of the bucket. Set the bucket, right side up, on something so as not to cover the hole. Gently insert your seedling into the hole so that about 2 inches of stem is protruding from the bottom. While holding the plant in one hand, pack material around the plant to keep it from falling out - something like newspapers, coffee filters, or sphagnum moss. Continue to hold the plant while you add soil to the bucket. Add enough soil to cover the roots by about 2 inches, then add about 2 cups of compost, then fill the bucket with soil to within an inch of the top. Hang your bucket on something STURDY and water thoroughly. If the soil settles to more than a couple inches from the top, add a little more soil.

Water and add fertilizer to the top of the bucket. Keeping a lid (sitting loosely) on the top will help prevent moisture loss, but must be removed every time you water your plants. Some people grow herbs in the tops of their buckets. Check the soil level every few weeks and add more if the level has dropped much.

I don't think I'll try growing my tomatoes this way this year, but I may try it sometime. If you've tried it, I'd love to hear from you. How well did it work for you? Did it work better than growing your plants in the ground?

Monday, February 1, 2010

WalMart Woes

This evening I was at WalMart. As always, I had my reusable shopping bags with me. I've never had anyone give me trouble about them...until today. Naturally my bags were buried underneath my purchases, so I unloaded a few things onto the conveyor belt to get to them, telling the cashier that I had brought my own bags. Meanwhile, she's swiping stuff and putting it in plastic bags. Grrr!

I bought several bath towels and she said "I can't bag these. It'll take too long." Huh?! Fold them in half and stick them in the bag! So I did it myself. She likes the plastic bags because they're already hanging on the little racks for her. She was also counting the minutes (13, to be exact) until she got off work and lamenting the fact she was called in from the garden section to check out customers.

WalMart has huge boxes as you walk in the store for recycling plastic bags. They sell reusable bags. They were also (and may still be) giving you a free reusable bag with goodies if they failed to ask you whether you wanted to apply for a WalMart credit card. So why the attitude?

Sorry...I just had to vent :)

Monday, January 25, 2010

Is It Spring Yet?

The other day I got a couple of seed catalogs in the mail. Nice, big, THICK catalogs filled with flowers, herbs, fruits, and veggies. When I sit down with a seed catalog I find tons of plants I just HAVE to grow. 10 varieties of tomatoes, 5 kinds of carrots (Don't YOU want to grow some purple carrots?), 3 colors of basil, etc. I have to force myself to face reality: I only have so much time to tend to plants. I've also got laundry, cooking, grocery shopping, kids, and a husband.

One of the catalogs was from my favorite seed company, Peaceful Valley Farm & Garden Supply. If you're looking for organic seeds, check them out. They have a huge selection and wonderful prices. They have more than seeds, though. Peaceful Valley also carries bare-root plants, gardening tools, greenhouse supplies, natural insecticides, beneficial insects, bees, fertilizer, seed starting supplies, and books.

I plan to have a modest garden this year. My rosemary is thriving. My oregano, peppermint, and sage are still alive. I would like to add tomatoes, lettuce, spinach, cucumbers, zucchini, yellow squash, basil, parsley, green onions, marigolds, and zinnias. Maybe some sugar snap peas? I may also include an "experiment." Something I haven't grown before, just for fun.

Note to self: Just because there are 2 dozen zucchini seeds in a package doesn't mean I have to plant 2 dozen zucchini seeds. Ditto for yellow squash.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Dr. Mom

As a mother, I'm on call 24 hours a day. Olivia, 5, usually doesn't need me during the night. Jesse, 20 months, is not quite weaned. Occasionally he'll sleep through the night, but more often than not he'll get up once for a snack.

It looks like I'll really be on duty tonight. Olivia is sick. She was fine this morning. It was nice outside, so the kids went out and played. They had a great time running around and playing in the sand pile. They came in and had baths. Jesse had lunch but Olivia wasn't too interested. At the time I thought she just wasn't interested in what we were having. This afternoon we ALL took naps. That RARELY happens. Then Olivia vomited. My poor baby! I hate when my chidren are sick.

We visited my parents this weekend and my sister and niece came over. My niece had a cold so I was prepared for the possibility that my kids would catch it. I started listening for sniffles right away. I was not expecting puke. I got Olivia cleaned up, changed the bed clothes, put her back to bed, and washed all the dirty stuff. That's where she's been ever since. I've checked on her several times and she's had some water. I don't think she feels like trying anything else just yet.

Hubby's going by the grocery store and he'll be picking up some fruit and other things for her. I'll be giving her lots of fluids, Vitamin C, echinacea, and TLC. Hopefully she'll get over this quickly. And hopefully Jesse won't catch it.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Hot Potato!

I read some interesting things about potatoes the other day. They taste good and they're fun to grow, but I had no idea they were therapeutic. Apparently, potatoes have many uses. Have you ever heard of these?

For heartburn: Juice 1-2 large potatoes (with skins). Take 3-4 tablespoons half an hour before meals. To improve the taste, mix with another vegetable juice (such as carrot or beet) or add it to soup. The alkaline juice neutralizes stomach acid and relieves upset stomach, heartburn, and peptic ulcers.

For healthy intestines: Wash and dice a large potato. Steep it overnight in 1 cup of water and a pinch of sea salt. Strain and drink every morning on an empty stomach. Repeat for several weeks. This helps cleanse your intestines and reduces the amount of acid in your gastrointestinal system.

To eliminate toxins from the body: Eat one large, plain baked potato with the skin five times a day for 2 days. Drink plenty of water. (I would be sick of potatoes after this!)

To improve liver function: Peel a large potato and boil the skin in 1 cup of water for 5 minutes. Strain and drink the tea. This can relieve gall bladder problems, thereby enhancing the liver’s ability to clear waste products and toxins from the body.

For pain relief: Boil 1 lb of potatoes in their skins until tender. Place in a linen sack and mash. Apply the sack to the affected area, placing a towel underneath the sack if it’s too hot. Attach tightly to the body with a woolen blanket. Remove only after it has cooled down completely. Potatoes retain heat for long periods of time, allowing the warmth to penetrate deep into the tissues.

For inflammation: Raw potato slices bring fast relief from swelling (and itching) caused by contact dermatitis and insect bites. They are also effective for bruises as well as sties on the eyelids. Peel and slice a potato and apply a slice to the affected area until the potato warms up. Repeat as necessary.

For slow-healing inflammations and wounds: Grate 2-3 raw potatoes and moisten with milk. Wrap in a linen cloth and apply to affected areas.