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Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Getting Back on the Bandwagon

Menu Planning. It's something I had been resisting for a long time, thinking it was too rigid. I preferred to "fly by the seat of my pants", and although that proved stressful most of the time, I was almost proud of the fact that I did things that way.

Life, it was a-changin', though. In May I got a new chest freezer. Then baby girl #4 arrived. Later on in the summer I started couponing and stockpiling, and I needed to make sure that I was using the food we had. Fall brought homeschooling as well as other commitments, and life was BUSY! And I thought it was hard to get dinner on the table before!!

So in the middle of September, I decided to jump on the menu planning bandwagon. After the first month, Ted declared, "I'm liking this menu planning thing!" I continued "the menu planning thing" (loosely--I was making changes all over the place, but I figure that's alright!) until we left on our vacation. Before we left, I even planned a few meals from the freezer and pantry that we could eat right when we got back. It was really nice to be able to just COME HOME and not run right out to the store for food. And it was even nicer to have home-cooked food waiting for us after so much eating out! Maybe this menu planning stuff wasn't so bad after all...

However, the rest of December has been a free-for-all. I never got around to making a menu plan because of all the Christmas craziness, and most days found Ted asking what was for dinner (politely, mind you!). I think it stressed him out a little bit that I didn't have a plan. So yesterday he asked H and G what their top 10 favorite meals were and made a list for each of them. This was also prompted by the fact that they were, ahem, less than thankful for what we had for dinner that night and we had to explain that Mommy and Daddy like this dinner and we have to take turns having what we like. I'm not a short order cook, and I don't make more than one dinner a night. They eat the parts they like, try a bite of the things they don't, drink their milk, and won't starve. If they're hungry enough, they'll eat, and they do.

I appreciated Ted's help and took the hint to make out a new dinner plan. I also asked for his top 10 meals list. I made a simple monthly spreadsheet on the computer with day boxes, but no dates and filled in meals from their lists, which had some overlap. I also allowed a few days for leftovers and one day for our monthly pizza night. I printed it off and then I can make changes as the month goes on if I need to. Hopefully this way I can just make a few easy changes each month and print off a new meal plan.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Paci Baby

F is now 7 months, and yes, she now takes a pacifier! She started taking it RIGHT before our long road trip (around 6 months, like many of you said!), which was such a blessing. She did such a great job on the trip, both in the car and also during those long days at Disney World. She was strapped on in the Ergo (usually to Ted) and was so flexible and good-natured. By the end of the week, though, she was wanting to face out (one limitation of the Ergo is that they can only face in), so we tried to spend as much time as possible holding her facing out so she could see more of what was going on!

She's kind of petite, though she eats like a horse! I honestly don't know where she is putting it all. Yes, some of it still comes up, but I think her spitting up has decreased a little. No teeth have surfaced yet, but her sisters all cut their first tooth between 7 and 8 months, so I'm sure it'll be soon! She can sit up on her own for short periods of time, though she still seems to prefer to be on her tummy. She can really get around by rolling and scooting, but no crawling just yet, which is fine with me!

And my favorite Christmas gift is that she has FINALLY started sleeping through the night! Hallelujah and Praise the Lord! :-)

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Toothpaste Project - Join Me!

I really like getting things for free, or even getting paid to buy them! Toothpaste is one of those items that I can frequently get for free or better than free by pairing a coupon with a sale. That's why I was so excited when I heard that Joan from the SOUL Light Link Ministry was collecting toothpaste and toothbrushes to send to Peru! I immediately wanted to help! Here's the information about the project:

"We are trying to get 1500 toothbrushes and around a 3 oz size of toothpaste to give one to every woman in the prison in Lima, Peru. There are 243 foreigners, 140 English speakers, and 80 women attending Bible Study in English every week there. We are doing the toothbrush project for Public Relations with the authorities and so every woman will know we care. We will put a tract and a pamphlet about Bible Studies available to them. It is an outreach as these women are in crisis and need to see the love of Jesus demonstrated."

What an easy way for us to use our couponing to bless others! Will you help me collect toothpaste for these women? You can get started this week by going to CVS and getting two tubes of Colgate Total toothpaste for BETTER THAN FREE after coupons and ECB's. Go here and print off 2 copies of page 4, which has a $1.50 off Colgate Total coupon. Here's how it shakes out:

But 2 Colgate Total, $2.99 each
Use 2 $1.50 coupons
Pay $2.98 OOP (plus tax)
Get $4 ECB's back!

As I collect the toothpaste, I'll be using my overage to save for shipping and probably to buy some toothbrushes as well. I also thought about contacting some local dentist offices to see if they'd be willing to donate some toothbrushes.

How about you? Do you already have a stash of toothpaste you'd be willing to share with these women in Peru? Would you be willing to go out and buy some (for free!) to donate to the project?

If you live near me, I'd be willing to ship yours along with mine if you can get the toothpaste or toothbrushes to me. If you'd rather ship it yourself, let me know and I will give you the shipping address (it is in the U.S.). Two tubes of toothpaste may not sound like much, but if we all pitch in and keep watching the sales over the next month or two, we'll be able to make a huge contribution to this ministry project!

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Christmas Blooms and Grammie

I do not have a green thumb. My mom loves to garden, spending hours in the summer months outside digging and planting. We joke that she has to move every 10 years or so in order to get a new garden to start on. I, however, did not inherit ANY of that desire.

I do have a few houseplants, however, that I have managed to keep alive by some miracle. My favorite one is this Christmas Cactus, which I inherited from Grammie. She and I were exactly 62 years apart, sharing a birthday.

When I was in high school, Grammie gave me some shoots off her Christmas Cactus that I grew in my bedroom. I managed to keep it alive for a few years, and it even bloomed a couple times, but it was small and eventually died. I remember feeling terrible. This plant was from my Grammie, and despite it being a cactus that should be easy to grow, I had managed to kill it!

When Grammie died 5 years ago, I got the large Christmas Cactus from her living room. I love the Christmas Cactus because it usually blooms around Christmas and Easter, which to me makes it symbolic of the new life Christ gives us. Not unlike what Christ has done for me, I was given a second chance with Grammie's Christmas Cactus, and I am determined NOT to kill it this time! Last year, however, it wasn't looking too good. My mother-in-law, who also has a green thumb, visited and gave me tips to nurse it back to health. It worked, and it even had a couple of buds last Christmas! I was thrilled!

The plant has been looking good this year, so I've been hopeful it would bud again. So I was delighted when we returned from our vacation to find about 8 buds on my Christmas Cactus! The fact that we turned the heat down to 50 in the house while we were on vacation helped give it the cold snap it needed to bud. It's in the bathroom on the main level, so every time one of the girls goes to the bathroom, they shout at me to come and look at the blooms! :-) It's thrilling for them, too, and I hope to pass on healthy shoots from their Great-Grammie's Christmas Cactus to them someday.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Keeping Christ in Christmas

We try to keep the focus on Jesus during Christmas. We read the story from Luke 2 and also many Christmas books so that they are familiar with the story. One of the easiest ways we've found to do this is by having nativity sets that the kids can play with. We have two sets, one made of wood, and one set of finger puppets my mom crocheted for me years ago. The girls love playing with these to act out the Christmas story. Their favorite pretend play during the months of November through January is to act out the Nativity. Here is a picture of the girls: H is Joseph, G is Mary, M is the angel and is arranging the animals, and of course this year, F is Jesus. They quickly found that baby "Jesus" kept wanting to roll away, however, and switched to using a baby doll. :-)

They also like to build nativities out of whatever they find. This happens throughout the year, and I love taking pictures of their imaginative play. Here are a couple nativity scenes that H built earlier this year.
Did you know there were tigers and My Little Pony's in the Christmas story? And I love that one of the wise men brought a lollipop. :-) It's so fun being a mom and seeing what they come up with on their own! What a simple joy!

Another tradition we have is to make a birthday cake for Baby Jesus. We sing "Happy Birthday" and then talk about it being Jesus' birthday, but we get to eat the cake and open the presents, and that He is the best gift of all. Here is a picture of the girls making this year's cake. This year we did a white cake with white funfetti frosting and they chose to decorate it with starburst and smarties candies.

We've chosen not to play up Santa in our family. Of course the girls know who Santa is, but we don't do the whole "Santa brings you presents" thing because we feel it detracts from the real meaning of Christmas. We've gotta work on their responses to others, though, because at the Christmas Eve service a man asked them if Santa was going to visit their house tonight, and H responded simply, "No." The man was pretty taken aback!

What are some other ways your family keeps Christ in Christmas? I would LOVE your ideas to squirrel away for next year!

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas from our family to yours!
Luke 2:10-11
"I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.
Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you;
he is Christ the Lord.

Matthew 1:21-23
"You are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.
All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet:
"The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel--which means, "God with us."

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Disney Tips

We had a blast at Disney World! I know some of you are planning a trip to Disney World soon, and others may go sometime in the future. I did a GREAT deal of research before our trip in order to save our family money (does that surprise you?!).

Yes, Disney World can be expensive, but there are many ways to dramatically cut your spending and do Disney on a budget. I'll share some of my favorite tips, and please, if you have more specific questions, leave them in the comments or email me and I will try my best to help. I'm all about helping people save money! :-)

  • Tickets--I bought our tickets through through a special that was run by and got them at a great discount. I got 6 days at the parks for less than Disney's price of 4 days. Skip the ParkHopper option--there's plenty to do at each park to keep you busy for the whole day.
  • Be "in the know"-- Several months before your trip, sign up for the newsletters at and These often give insider ticket deals, people write in all sorts of tips that are helpful, and they have updated lists of scheduled ride closures.
  • Food--Bring PLENTY of snacks into the parks. The kids were hungry about every 5 minutes! We realized it was because they were doing SO much more walking than normal and expending a lot of energy. (FYI-You ARE allowed to bring food and drinks into the parks--they do search bags, but it's not to avoid you bringing food in, it's for safety.) We ate breakfast at our hotel and also packed lunches for every day, which saved us A LOT of money.
  • Leashes--I brought "leashes" or child harnesses because I was paranoid about the crowds and losing a kid (we had 7 kids age 5 and under). I used them most of the first day (which was the Saturday after Thanksgiving and it was pretty busy), but after that, we only used one on M (the 2 year old who likes to wander), and only occasionally.
  • Colored shirts--I thought these were EXTREMELY helpful in finding each other quickly. You don't have to go with tye-dye (my siblings weren't big on the tye-dye, but they humored me for a couple of the days), but this was a cheap way to make a large amount of coordinating shirts. They were $2 each for the t-shirts and $20 for the tye-dye kit which dyed more than 30 shirts.
  • Pre-buy souvenirs--This is one of my favorite tips! You can find Disney merchandise just about anywhere for A LOT cheaper than in the parks. I found several of our sovenirs (including our autograph books) in the dollar spot at Target. My brother bought everyone Christmas ornaments (a family tradition) at Walmart before our trip. Contrary to popular belief, it IS possible to avoid the gift shops! Just be busy going on rides and having fun! If they ask for something, tell them you have a surprise waiting back at the hotel.
  • Have a plan.....--You likely won't see half as much if you don't have a plan of the top attractions you want to visit. My favorite guide book was Walt Disney World with Kids by Kim Wright Wiley, which gives information about every ride in the parks. She also gives suggestions on which ones to ride first thing and which ones to get fastpasses to ride later.
  • ...but be flexible--One thing we learned was that everything at Disney World takes a lot longer than you might think, even in the off-season. Even traveling to and from the hotel (we stayed off-site, though close) took a lot of time because the Disney property is HUGE. We found we had to allow at least 45 minutes to get from our hotel to the ticket gates each day (though MapQuest said it'd be a 20 minute trip). One day in the Magic Kingdom, I realized we forgot our camera in the car. Though we were in the front of the park on Main Street, it took me 40 minutes to get to the car and back because I had to walk out of the park, ride the monorail, ride the tram, get the camera, back on the tram, back on the monorail, and walk back into the park!
I have pages and pages of tips that I compiled before our trip. What to pack, resources, cheap things to do, attractions not to miss, and more. I'm happy to share these things with you, so just let me know if you want more information! I also have one unused adult ticket to sell--email me for information.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Ringing Bells

On Monday morning, all 4 girls and I braved the VERY cold weather to ring bells for the Salvation Army. A friend of mine turned me on to this idea last year, and I thought it was a great way for the girls and I to serve together. I want to teach them the importance of serving and helping those who are less fortunate than us. H and G both understand that we are raising money to help the poor, and they collect food for the Salvation Army in the summer, so they are somewhat familiar with the organization.

I had signed us up for a 2 hour shift in between the doors at a local grocery store, thinking it would be warm. Unfortunately, this particular grocery store didn't have the heat on between the doors that morning. Further, the outside temperature was 2 degrees (not exaggerating!) and the windchill was below zero. We were bundled up and started off alright, ringing bells and singing Christmas carols. We went into the store a couple of times for a break to warm up during the first 1 1/2 hours, and after that I let the girls go into the play area inside the store while F and I finished off our shift (she was in the Ergo in my jacket, so she was nice and warm!).

It was worth it, though! The workers in the grocery store all came to "ooh and aah" at the cute girls ringing bells and one man even took a picture (I wish I'd remembered my camera!). Several shoppers commented on their way out that they couldn't possibly pass up those faces without giving a donation, so I think we did our part to help out! We'll definitely do it again next year, but I'll be more selective about which store I choose next time. I really like the idea of this becoming a Christmas tradition for us to serve together.

Pep Boys and Gift Cards

I was contacted by Pep Boys regarding my post about gift cards. They say they have no plans to close any stores, so don't fear buying any gift cards from them. If you are interested in reading their comment, click over to that post.

Just to be clear, I didn't mean to malign any stores by my post or endanger anyone's job, I just wanted to warn people to be wary of where you buy gift cards to this year. The information I received came from my local Better Business Bureau.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Meeting the Disney Characters

A lot of our time at Disney World was spent meeting characters and getting autographs for the girls in their little princess notebooks, since this would be a fun souvenir for them. We met 25 characters (if I counted right!), so I won't include all the pictures here, but here are a few.

Goofy and Rafiki (from the Lion King)

Belle and The Fairy Godmother
(don't worry, we got Cinderella, too!)

Pooh and Tigger and June and Quincy
(from the Little Einsteins)

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Global Warming?!?

Global Warming?!? Not where I live!

I took this picture of the girls in front of the mailbox near the end of last February after we had been pummeled with snowstorm after snowstorm. We were running out of room to put the snow!

I took this next picture yesterday after digging ourselves out of the latest snowstorm. The snowbanks from shoveling the driveway are already piled as high as the mailbox, and allow me to point out that it isn't even officially winter yet!! We're supposed to get more snow today (they're saying 4-8 inches) and again on Sunday (2 more inches). Monday night and Tuesday night have the possibility of snow as well. Where are we supposed to put all this stuff? It's not easy to lob a shovel full of snow up so high!

I must say we REALLY appreciate our friends and neighbors who plowed us out while we were gone. We had said casually, "please shovel if it needs it", thinking it shouldn't be too bad. After all, we'd be back before the middle of December, and some years we hadn't gotten any snow until just before Christmas, or even later! We felt very bad when we heard how much it had snowed while we were gone.

Now you understand why we didn't want to come home from our vacation...!

Friday, December 19, 2008

Gift Card Warning

I love giving and receiving gift cards at Christmas. That way the person can buy something they need rather than receive something they don't really want. However, this year more than others, we need to be careful about some gift cards because of the economy. I received an email from my friend Lisa warning about stores selling gift cards and then possibly going under or closing after the holidays. One of my local news stations posted a story with the following list of stores that may be in danger in January, given to them by the local Better Business Bureau. If you receive a gift card from one of the following stores, try to use it right away, preferably before January 1st.

Circuit City (filed Chapter 11) - closing 155 stores
Home Depot closing 15 stores 1 in NJ ( New Brunswick )
Lowe's to close down some stores
Linens and Things closing all stores
Sharper Image closing down all stores
GAP closing 85 stores
JC Penney closing a number of stores after January
Ann Taylor 117 stores nationwide closing by 2010
Lane Bryant, Fashion Bug , Catherine's to close 150 stores nationwide
Eddie Bauer to close stores 27 stores and more after January
Cache will close all Luxe stores - closing 21 stores
Talbots closing down specialty stores
J. Jill closing all stores (owned by Talbots)
Pacific Sunwear (also owned by Talbots)
Footlocker closing 140 stores
Wickes Furniture closing 38 stores
Levitz closing down remaining stores
Bombay closing remaining stores
Zales closing down 105 stores
Whitehall closing all stores
Piercing Pagoda closing all stores
Disney closing 98 stores and will close more after January
Macys to close 9 stores after January
Movie Galley and Hollywood Video - Closing 400 stores
Pep Boys Closing 33 stores
Sprint/Nextel closing 133 stores
Ethan Allen closing down 12 stores.
Wilson Leather closing down 160 stores
K B Toys closing 356 stores
Dillard's to close some stores
Pier 1 Imports - closing 25 stores
Dell - closing 140 mall kiosks
Sprint - closing 125 stores

According to the article, internet lists that are circulating are rumors because troubled businesses haven't confirmed their plans for after January. However, since the Better Business Bureau put out this list of stores to be watching, I thought I would share it with you just in case.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Potty Training While Traveling

Is it worth it to potty train either right before a big trip or even during a vacation? I think it is. Though M seemed ready to start the process of potty training, I seriously considered putting it off until after our 3 week vacation because I thought there would be more setbacks than victories. We decided to start potty training her a few weeks before we left. As with all potty training, there were a few setbacks, but overall she was doing great. We even took a short road trip as a "practice run" a week and a half before "the big trip" and she did really well, not having any accidents in the car.

We brought a potty seat with us, just in case, and we did use it on the short trip. On the long trip we didn't end up using it in the car, but we did use it in our hotel room so she could go by herself. We decided to use Pull-Ups for when we would be in the car for long periods, as well as at night and during our Disney days. Sometimes you are waiting in line for a long time with no bathroom nearby and we didn't want her to be on a ride and have an accident. We did have wet Pull-Ups during the trip, but overall she did great and it still saved us money on diapers. (Not to mention it saved us having to pack as many diapers!)

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Don't pay for toothpaste for the next 2 years!

Go to this link and print off page 4 for a $1.50 off 1 Colgate Total toothpaste coupon. The best part? This coupon doesn't expire until 12/31/10, and since it is a pdf, you can print it off as many times as you want to! By matching this coupon with a sale, we'll all be able to score free or better than free toothpaste for the next 2 years with this coupon! And we'll be able to stock our local shelters with toothpaste for free, too!

This week you can use it at CVS for 2 tubes of better than free toothpaste after ECBs!

Thanks to Deal Seeking Mom for sharing the coupon link!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Snow Fort!

There was a lot of snow waiting for us when we got home from our vacation. The girls couldn't wait to dive in! While the baby was napping, the rest of us went out and built a snow fort. A good time was had by all and, as usual, the kids stayed out longer than the adults. :-)

Monday, December 15, 2008

More FREE Johnson's Buddies Soaps

Print this $3 off 3 Johnson's products coupon twice and take it to Walmart or Target for 6 FREE Buddies Soaps! I really like this product because the soap is enclosed in a kind of mesh bag that makes it easy for the kids to grab and suds up with. Plus when the bar of soap inside gets smaller or breaks in half, instead of having to throw it away, you can still use it because it is still enclosed. And of course I like it even more because it is FREE!

Sunday, December 14, 2008

We're Home!

We just returned from a 3+ week vacation, and it was GREAT! The girls were troopers, as we did A LOT of driving. It helped a lot that we had some time to rest between the long days of driving. Here's a quick review of our trip:

Day 1: About 12 travel hours in 4 states
Day 2-3: Visit with Ted's family
Day 4: About 18 travel hours in 4 states
Day 5-7: Visit with my family
Day 8: About 13 travel hours in 4 states
Day 9-15: Disney World with my side of the family
Day 16: About 13 travel hours in 4 states without Ted (we left him in FL for business)
Day 17-21: Visit with my family, Ted rejoined us in the evening of Day 20
Day 22: About 10 travel hours in 4 states
Day 23: About 10 travel hours in 4 states and ARRIVE HOME!
(I found it interesting that we drove in 4 states on each travel day!)

After over 60 hours of traveling in our minivan, we logged 4,325 miles! WHEW! We praise God for safety in our travels, for great times with family, and that we all still love each other after so much togetherness! :-) Seriously, though, I thought we would be SO DONE with traveling and all be more than ready to get home, but when it came time to leave, none of us wanted to! It was wonderful to have a true vacation, leaving schooling (and blogging and couponing!) at home for a nice long break. I'll try to post some more about our trip in the next few days as we get unpacked and organized and get pictures downloaded!

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Homeschooling "12 Days of Christmas"

I found this on my friend Shari's homeschooling blog last year, and she found it on someone else's blog, so I don't know where it is initially from, but I hope you enjoy it! It gave me a chuckle!
Sung to the tune of "The Twelve Days of Christmas"

On the first day of homeschool my neighbor said to me, “Can you homeschool legally?”

On the second day of homeschool my neighbor said to me, “Are they socialized, can you homeschool legally?”

On the third day of homeschool my neighbor said to me, “Do you give them tests, are they socialized, can you homeschool legally?”

On the fourth day of homeschool my neighbor said to me, “What about P.E., do you give them tests, are they socialized, can you homeschool legally?”

On the fifth day of homeschool my neighbor said to me, “YOU ARE SO STRANGE! What about P.E., do you give them tests, are they socialized, can you homeschool legally?”

On the sixth day of homeschool my neighbor said to me, “How long will you homeschool, YOU ARE S0 STRANGE, what about P.E. , do you give them tests, are they socialized, can you homeschool legally?”

On the seventh day of homeschool my neighbor said to me, “Look at what they’re missing, how long will you homeschool, YOU ARE SO STRANGE!, what about P.E., do you give them tests, are they socialized, can you homeschool legally?”

On the eighth day of homeschool my neighbor said to me, “Why do you do this, look at what they’re missing, how long will you homeschool, YOU ARE SO STRANGE, what about P.E. do you give them tests, are they socialized, can you homeschool legally?”

On the ninth day of homeschool my neighbor said to me, “They’ll miss the prom, why do you do this, look at what they’re missing, how long will you homeschool, YOU ARE SO STRANGE!, what about P.E. do you give them tests, are they socialized, can you homeschool legally?”

On the tenth day of homeschool my neighbor said to me, “What about graduation, they’ll miss the prom, why do you do this, look at what they’re missing, how long will you homeschool, YOU ARE SO STRANGE!, what about P.E., do you give them tests, are they socialized, can you homeschool legally?”

On the eleventh day of homeschool my neighbor said to me, “I could never do that, what about graduation, they’ll miss the prom, why do you do this, look at what they’re missing, how long will you homeschool, YOU ARE SO STRANGE, what about P.E., do you give them tests, are they socialized, can you homeschool legally?”

On the twelfth day of homeschool my neighbor said to me, “Can they go to college, I could never do that, what about graduation, they’ll miss the prom, why do you do this, look at what they’re missing, how long will you homeschool, YOU ARE SO STRANGE, What about P.E., do you give them tests, are they socialized, can you homeschool legally?”

On the thirteenth day of homeschool I thoughtfully replied: “They Can go to college, yes you can do this, they can have graduation, we don’t like the prom, we do it cuz we like it, they are missing nothing, we’ll homeschool forever, WE ARE NOT STRANGE!, We give them P.E., and we give them tests, they are socialized, AND WE HOMESCHOOL LEGALLY!

On the fourteenth day of homeschool my neighbor said to me, “How can I get started, why didn’t you tell me, where do I buy curriculum, when is the next conference, WILL PEOPLE THINK WE’RE STRANGE? I think we can do this, if you will help us, can we join P.E. and we’ll homeschool legally.”

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Tamale Pie

I discovered this dish when a friend made it for us after F was born and I had to get the recipe. Now I make it on a pretty regular basis for my family and I've made it for other new moms and they've asked for the recipe as well. What I love about it is that you make one batch, but you bake one for dinner and freeze one for later (or to give away). You can even throw it frozen into the oven! It always makes me feel good when I can get more than one dinner out of one session of cooking! The recipe is long, but it really isn't complicated.

Tamale Pie

16-18 servings
1 TB oil
1-1/2 Cups chopped onion
3 lbs. lean ground beef
4 Cups (32 oz) medium salsa
4 Cups (32 oz) frozen corn
1/4 Cup chili powder (cut the chili powder in half if you prefer milder food)
2 tsp. salt
2 tsp minced garlic
1/2 - 1 tsp. ground cumin
3 Cups milk or water
1/4 Cup butter
2 Cups yellow cornmeal
1 pound cheddar cheese, shredded
1 can (16) oz large pitted black olives, drained, and sliced (opt.--we leave these out)

1. Lightly grease two 9 X 13 inch baking dishes.
2. In a 6 qt. pot, heat oil over medium high heat. Add onions and cook about
5 minutes, stirring occasionally, until translucent.
3. Raise heat to high. Crumble beef into pot and cook until the meat is no longer pink, stirring to break up clumps. Drain any liquid and fat from the meat.
4. Add salsa, corn, chili powder, salt, garlic, and cumin. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to low and simmer mixture for about 15 minutes.
5. In a 3 qt. saucepan, slowly bring milk or water and butter to a boil. When butter has melted, whisk constantly as you slowly pour in the cornmeal in a steady stream to prevent lumping. Cover and simmer 2-3 minutes longer, until cornmeal absorbs most of the liquid and the mixture is very thick. Remove from heat.
6. Evenly divide the cornmeal mixture between the two baking dishes. Pour meat mixture over the top of cornmeal mixture in each baking dish and top with cheese, and olives.
7. To serve immediately, place casserole dish in 400 degree preheated oven and heat until bubbly about 20-30 minutes.
8. Otherwise, cover the baking dishes tightly with foil, label, and date. Store up to 4 months.
9. To reheat: Heat oven to 400 degrees. Place covered casserole (still frozen) in oven and bake 45 minutes. remove foil and bake 15 minutes longer, or until cheese is bubbly and casserole is hot in the center.

Friday, December 5, 2008


Send a photo postcard to anyone for free! It's easy, just login to Hippopost, upload one of your pictures (or choose one of theirs), type a message and address, choose an advertisement and send! It only takes a couple of minutes, and it's free! You can send 2 postcards per day. This service is free because the printing and postage is paid for by advertisers.

I sent a couple to try it out, and the quality of the pictures is really good with a glossy finish. They say they will take 5-7 days to arrive, but my experience was more like 2 1/2 weeks, or 13 business days. But it was free! A great idea to send pictures and messages to relatives or friends!

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Mom Tip--Limiting Screens

Media calls out to us constantly, it seems. How can we prevent our kids from becoming zombies in front of the TV or computer screen?

We don't turn on the computer or TV until schoolwork is done, because it is too much of a distraction (the younger ones can't even do computer until the oldest is done with school). I have preset icons on the desktop that they can click on to go straight to their websites, and have re-named them simply (Dora, Elmo, Starfall, Boz, etc.) so they can navigate it themselves. I set a timer so they can each take a turn. They don't even ask for the computer every day, actually. To be honest, I need to be better about limiting myself, especially on the computer!!

Instead of TV, they get to watch 1 DVD a day (they DO ask for this!), and they have to agree on which one. I've found this also helps with the "gimmies", because they aren't seeing commercials. They very rarely watch cartoons on TV (maybe 1-2 Saturdays a month). This makes it easier to patrol what they are watching.

I know other families use a ticket system, where kids can earn and buy screen time (either computer or TV), and can lose their tickets as well (as a consequence for misbehavior). So far we haven't needed to use tickets, but it seems like it could be a good system. For older kids, it could teach them self-control, that if they use all their tickets for the week by Wednesday, that's it. One suggestion I read was earning extra tickets by being active or exercising. I thought that was a good idea, even if your child just runs around the house 15 times!

What system does your family use to limit screen time? Any ideas to share? Please leave a comment!

Monday, December 1, 2008

Homemade Baby Food

I like to make most of my own baby food (the fruit and vegetables--I don't do meat or cereal). It's very easy and very cheap, plus you know exactly what is in your baby's food. Just steam some fresh or frozen veggies (or prepare the fruit), add water and puree in a blender or food processor.

This bag of frozen green beans (12 oz) made about 20 oz. of baby food, or 20 ice cubes (easily portioned at 1 oz. each). Once they are frozen, I'll pop them into a freezer bag.

I had to buy some baby food to take along for convenience while traveling (ice cubes don't travel very well!), so I did a price comparison. Praise the Lord for good timing, the Gerber 1st Foods were on sale for .99 each (2 pack) and I used a doubled coupon (.75 off 3, doubled to $1.50 off 3), which made them only .49 for each 2 pack! This came to .10 per oz, after sale and doubled coupon. Not a bad price, but still more than double when making it at home.

The bag of veggies pictured above was BETTER THAN FREE after sale and doubled coupon. Hard to beat! But even if I just bought a bag of veggies without a coupon for .79 (a frequent sale price), the price per ounce would be under .04! Plus, look at the color difference between the packaged puree and the puree I made. Theoretically they both have only green beans and water, but if I had to eat one, I'd pick mine!

Friday, November 28, 2008

Crescent Ham Bundles

A friend made these for us after F was born and they were so yummy the kids ask for them on a regular basis! The same friend had made us a variation with chicken after G was born. I've also made them with a turkey and gravy mixture inside, so this would be a great way to use some Thanksgiving leftovers! Basically, mix something up and wrap it in a crescent roll and it will almost always be yummy! You can also freeze these for later, so often if crescent rolls are on sale I'll buy a bunch and make up a few batches of bundles (or packets, as my kids call them) and freeze some.

-- makes 12
2 -- 8 oz. packages diced ham (or 3 cups cooked chicken or turkey)
1 -- 8 oz. tub chive and onion cream cheese (or cheddar cheese, or both mixed)
5-6 T. melted butter
3 T. milk
1/2-3/4 t. salt
1/4-1/2 t. pepper
3 tubes (8 oz. each) crescent rolls
1 c. crushed croutons OR seasoned bread crumbs (I used the latter)

In a mixing bowl, beat cream cheese, half the butter, milk, salt and pepper until smooth. Stir in the ham. On a greased work surface, unroll crescent roll dough into 12 rectangles (4 per tube; each rectangle contains two crescent triangles). Press dough perforations together. Spoon a little less than 1/2 c. ham mixture into center of each rectangle. Bring short ends together and pinch to seal. Take each remaining end and fold upwards towards other seam; press to seal. Pull the dough slightly along both ends to really seal the bundles as well as you can.

Brush each bundle with butter, then sprinkle crumbs on top, pressing crumbs down slightly so they stick. Bake on ungreased cookie sheet for 20-25 minutes at 350, OR freeze bundles on a cookie sheet first, then wrap individually in foil for later use. Thaw before baking.

**I've found you can skip the butter to cut down on some fat because the crumbs will often stick to the bundles pretty well without it. You can even go without the crumbs altogether and just bake them as is.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving!

Things I'm thankful for:

My wonderful husband
Our 4 beautiful girls
Ted's job that allows me to stay home with said girls
Our extended family and friends
The home God has provided for us
The freedom we have to worship God freely and proclaim His name
That gas prices have gone down! :-)

Obviously this isn't an exhaustive list, but it's a great start! It's great to count our blessings, not just at Thanksgiving, but all throughout the year. What are you thankful for?

Monday, November 24, 2008

Sock Rings

Do you hate sorting and pairing up socks? It's not so much that I hate it, but it just takes time, which is a precious commodity for me. While growing up, it was a precious commodity for my mother as well. She had 4 kids, too, and didn't have time to sit around finding matches for hundreds of socks. So as long as I can remember, I've used sock rings.After you wear your socks, you put both socks together and push them through a sock ring. Throw them into the washer and dryer (sock rings are safe to launder) and then back into the drawer, still paired up! They are sold in many colors, so each person in your family can have a different color, making sorting laundry that much easier! Some worry that they would leave a dirty ring, but I've used them for almost 30 years and have never had a problem!

Sockpro sock rings are made of rubber and come in 5 colors. They offer free shipping if you order 3 or more packs, their best value. This is the type I use now, and they seem to hold up well so far.

Sock Locks are made of plastic. They have 7 colors and are cheaper, but you also have to pay shipping. This is the type I used growing up. The plastic teeth eventually break off, leaving just the ring, but they still work for a LONG time.

As far as I know, sock rings can only be bought online. Christmas gift idea, maybe? I'm telling you, I love these things!

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Mapping McDonald's

When we do road trips, we like to stop at McDonald's along the way because they have playlands so the kids can burn off some energy from all that sitting in the car (what we affectionately call "car butt")!

I discovered a nice resource a few years ago for mapping out which McDonald's have playlands along our route. Go here and click on McDonald's Trip Planner. Type in your addresses and hit submit. They will give you directions that you can print out (like MapQuest), but look between the map and the directions. There's a box that says "Show me the McDonald's along the way" and then I change the drop down box to within 0.25 miles because I want easy-on/easy-off locations. It comes up with a list of McDonald's locations along your route and you can see on the menu which ones have playlands. I mark them on our map so that I always know how much further to the next playland.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Doing Him Good

Awhile back, Shari pointed me towards the blog Girl Talk where women were sharing ideas of how to do your husband good:
"She does him good, and not harm, all the days of her life." Proverbs 31:12

Because of the busy-ness of life with young children, this is an area that us moms can sometimes forget about, being intentional to bless our husbands. This is something I've been thinking more about lately, especially after seeing the moving Fireproof. As much as our homes and our children are screaming for our attention, our marriages need it, too.

A couple weeks ago we were talking in our Bible study about showing love in our speech and in our actions. We may love our husbands, and even feel loving feelings about them all day long, but if we aren't taking the time to tell them and to show it, will our husbands see that love?

One of the things I try to do to show love to my husband is to make our home a sanctuary for him. I want him to enjoy coming home, so from when my first was a baby, I started I try to make his arrival a fanfare. I yell, "Yeah! Daddy's home!" and we all go running to the door to hug and welcome him home. This always brings a smile to his face, especially after a long day at work. It shows that we love and value his presence.

I also asked him awhile back, "what are 2 things I can do to make you feel more relaxed when you come home?" It can feel overwhelming when you have a to-do list a mile long, but narrowing it down to 2 specific things that your husband would appreciate makes things more manageable. With 4 kids ages 5 and under, housework isn't my top priority. Thankfully, my husband is full of grace in this area! However, there are a couple things that make him feel better, like an empty sink. Personally, I hate doing dishes, so I let them pile in the sink throughout the day. But when I know he is on his way home, I try to take a few minutes to load the dishwasher. (Often it needs to be unloaded first, so the loading doesn't always quite get done, but I do try!)

And most importantly, make sure you are praying for your husband. Every so often, ask him what you can be praying for specifically.

Now I'm the first to admit that I don't do these things every day, but I try to, and when I do, I know it makes a difference to him. I love my husband, and I want to do him good, and not harm, all the days of his life.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Better than Free Toothpaste!

This week CVS has Colgate Total toothpaste Buy One, Get One Free. They are $2.79. Print off two coupons for $1.50 off, and get two tubes of toothpaste for better than free!

*In my experience, CVS didn't give overage, so buy a little something extra to absorb the extra .21.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Too Many Blogs?

It's true that blogging begets blogging. Once you start reading blogs, you find more blogs and subscribe or bookmark them to read later. Some bloggers post once a year, once a month, once a week, once a day, or even more often! I am subscribed to 35 blogs, and they all post at a different frequency. Once you are following several blogs, things can get out of hand quickly!

At first, I tried bookmarking all the blogs I was following and tried to check them every so often, but sometimes there would be nothing new and sometimes there was a lot to catch up on! This was very time consuming because I had to physically click on each blog to see if something new had been posted.

Then, some of my blogging friends offered subscription via email (with FeedBurner or FeedBlitz). This worked pretty well for the ones who offered it, because I would get an email each time they updated their blog, so I was able to take those off my bookmark list. It helped, but not everyone offered this option. Plus, sometimes my email would play tricks and people's blog posts would get buried in my inbox, or I'd get the update much later than they had posted it.

Now I keep tabs on my blogs with Google Reader. It's like a separate email box for your blogs, and it makes it easier to organize them. It has REALLY simplified things for me. (Again, thanks to Ted for helping me set it up!)

Once you have set up your iGoogle page, add a gadget for a reader. When you click on this gadget, it will open up a new window with your Google Reader. On the left side, you'll see a green bar that says "Add Subscription" and "Discover". If you know the exact web address of the blog you want to subscribe to (like, just enter it into the box and you're done! If you don't know the exact address, you can click "Discover" then on the "Browse" tab. Scroll down to where you can search and browse based on keywords. You can subscribe to any blog that is public. (You'll still have to manually check the ones that are private.) This is called an RSS feed, and is what the little orange box is for on my right sidebar. After you have set things up, if you see a blog you want to subscribe to, you can click on the orange button and it will add it to your Reader.

Now when you open up your Google Reader, the blogs with updated posts will be in bold. As you scroll through them, they will be marked as read and won't be bold anymore. However, if there's a post you want to read, but don't have time for, or one that you want to save for later, you can mark it as unread on the bottom of the post and that will leave it in bold. Another option is to star the item and then it will be kept in a special box. Ted uses this option a lot, but I'm not particularly fond of it, because "out of sight, out of mind" means I'll forget about it if it's not in bold!

Another benefit is that the Google Reader is updated throughout the day, so you rarely miss anything, whereas an email subscription usually only goes out once a day. I hope this helps you with your blog management! It sure has helped me!

Monday, November 17, 2008


Google has a fairly new option for making your own homepage, called iGoogle. I was skeptical at first, but now I am totally hooked (thanks to Ted for helping me set it up)! Let me tell you the reasons I think it's so cool:

  • You choose gadgets to customize your homepage, even a header you like
  • You can centralize all your bookmarks with a bookmark gadget, so that you can log onto a computer anywhere and have all your bookmarks on your homepage (this alone is awesome!)
  • You can easily set up a Google Reader to manage your blog subscriptions (I'll explain this later)
  • You can have separate tabs for home, work, games, etc.
To get started, go to Google and in the upper right hand corner, click on iGoogle, select your theme, and then customize your page by adding "stuff" (on the right side). When you search for gadgets, I recommend adding one for bookmarks. You can also have one for your yahoo, gmail, or other mail account so that you can click straight to it from your iGoogle homepage. You can also add a Google Reader now (I'll help you set it up later). You can click and drag your gadgets around until you like where they are on your homepage. If you think of something you want, just do a search for it. Have fun and let me know if you have any questions!

Friday, November 14, 2008

Packing List

Before we left on our last trip over Labor Day, I was talking to my friend Sara about all the things moms need to remember when packing for a trip. The list goes ON and ON, doesn't it? I start pulling things together like a week in advance (or more!) to make sure I don't forget anything, and through the week I write a list of last minute items I don't want to forget. And even so, as together and organized as I try to be, in the past I've forgotten things many times.

Sara said she has typed up a list of things to pack on her computer, and every time she is getting ready for a trip, she prints out the list and then crosses things off once they're packed. Put everything on there. You can always cross it off if it doesn't apply this time.

WOW! This might not be a new idea to you, but I thought it was sheer genius--don't rewrite your packing list each time, just print it off! Thanks so much Sara!

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Mmmm, Hot Chocolate!

I make up a batch of this hot chocolate recipe every few months throughout the year. Ted puts a scoop in his coffee every morning, which has helped us to dramatically cut the Starbucks bill!

4 1/2 cups instant dry milk
1 1/4 cups powdered sugar
15 oz. powdered chocolate mix (like Nesquik)
1 tsp salt
1/2 cup coffee creamer (opt.)

Mix ingredients well and store in a tight container. For a cup of hot chocolate, add 1/4 cup mix per 1 cup hot water, or to taste. Enjoy!

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Shoeboxes for OCC

Every year our family loves putting together shoeboxes to send to other countries through Operation Christmas Child. It's a great way for our kids to learn about reaching out to other countries and sharing with others who have less than they do.

One item we put in our boxes were some free Buddies soaps! They are normally priced at about .97 at Walmart. Print this $1/1 Johnson’s buddies printable coupon twice to get 2 free Buddies soaps! Even if you printed this coupon before, it has been reset and I was able to print off 2 more that don't expire until Christmas. (I had to print it in Explorer, Firefox didn't work.)

It's fun filling the boxes with other things, too, like a toothbrush and toothpaste, socks, a necklace, little stuffed animals, stickers, markers, crayons, paper, and other things. As we pack the boxes, our girls ask who will get it? What's her name? Where does she live? While we don't know the answers to these questions, we can pray for the little girls who will be blessed by these gifts and hope that they will come to know Jesus as their Savior as a result of them.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Not for the faint of heart. . .

Do you have a plastic ice-cream bucket laying around? Do you have one in your freezer waiting to be emptied? If not, go buy yourself a bucket of ice cream. Why, you ask? Well, you asked. . .

I keep an ice-cream bucket in our minivan at all times. 99.9% of the time it is filled with miscellaneous things like sunglasses, sunscreen, a bottle of water, etc. It's very useful for keeping things from rolling around on the floor. However, it has another very useful quality, for travel emergencies.

We took an impromptu road trip last week, and we were very thankful for the bucket on our way home. We were driving in the dark, in the country, in the middle of nowhere, when H started complaining of an upset stomach. I asked her if she thought she was going to throw up and she said, I think so! I quickly dumped the bucket of its contents and passed it to her, and she promptly threw up in it. All I can say is I'm so thankful we had the bucket. We've used the ice cream bucket several times for this purpose, because we know from personal experience that cleaning up throw up in a car is NOT pleasant. Need we say more?

The bucket can also be used for an emergency potty seat if needed. Thankfully, due to M's recent potty training, we had brought along our potty seat, so we didn't need to use the bucket for that this time.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Another Kellogg's Opportunity

Did you miss last week's Kellogg's deal at Target? Never fear! CVS and Walgreens have another deal this week where you could get cereal for $1 a box, as long as you have some coupons (there were some in Sunday's paper). CVS is easier, since you won't have to mess with the RR's at Walgreens, but if you normally go to Walgreens, that'll be fine, too.

At CVS, Kellogg's cereal is on sale 2/$4
Use $1 coupons
$1 per box after coupons!

At Walgreens,
Buy 4 boxes of cereal for $10
Use 4 $1 coupons (either printables or from the paper)
Get $2 RR
Like paying $4 for 4 boxes!

As for the printable coupons on, it's possible they're gone, but according to Deal Seeking Mom there is a daily print limit, so if you haven't printed any and check early, you may luck out.

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