Sunday, September 30, 2012

Freezer Cooking

Before my sister abandoned me moved to Kansas City she and I would get together and do freezer cooking. It was fun to do it together. Now I am all on my own. But, me and two other girls do meet up once a month to do a freezer meal exchange. 

How it works is each of us pick 2 recipes and we make 3 meals from each recipe. So, we all walk away with 6 freezer meals. It is a big time and money saver. 

Last month one of my freezer meals was a complete disaster. So, in order to avoid getting kicked out of the group I decided to stick with some tried and true recipes this month. I went with Baked Ziti and Tater Tot Casserole. Crowd pleasers for sure.

I thought I would share the recipes for your own freezer cooking pleasure.

First up. Baked Ziti. Here is what your counter will look like if you are making 3 batches! But, I will give the recipe to just make one and then you can double or triple it! Also, this makes a good sized pan. So, if you have a smaller family you could easily make one recipe and divide it into two smaller pans and have two zitis!
1 pound ground beef, browned and drained (preferably done the night before by your wonderful hubby... at least that is the route I chose to go this time around, thanks Babe!)
1 pound ziti, cooked to al dente
2 cans spaghetti sauce (24 oz)
8 slices provolone cheese
1 1/2 C. mozzarella cheese
1 1/2 C. sour cream
some Italian seasoning (optional)

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees (skip if you are going to be freezing)
2. Combine spaghetti sauce, ground beef, and Italian Seasoning in a large mixing bowl
3. In a 9x13 pan layer 1/2 of your cooked ziti noodles, next layer provolone cheese, next layer put your sour cream, then add a layer of 1/2 of your sauce, followed by the rest of your ziti noodles, then layer your mozarella cheese, followed by topping with remaining sauce.
4. If cooking immediately bake for 30 minutes until cheese is melted.
5. If freezing, cover with foil and freeze for up to 3 months. When ready to make thaw overnight in the refrigerator. Bake as directed above.

Next up is Tater Tot Casserole. Super easy and freezes well too. Here was what I started with:
 Ingredients (for one pan)
1 1/2 lb. tater tots
1 lb. ground beef, browned and drained,
1 can cream of mushroom soup
1/4 C. milk
cheddar cheese to top

1. Combine ground beef, soup, and milk
2. Spread ground beef mixture on the bottom of a 9x13 pan
3. Layer the tater tots... at this point it is good to have a handy little helper :)

4. At this point you can begin baking at 350 degrees, covered with foil for 30 minutes, then uncover, top with cheese and bake for an additional 10 minutes.
5. If freezing cover with foil and freeze cheese separately.Then when ready to cook thaw completely and then follow instructions above.
Happy Freezer Cooking!

Friday, September 28, 2012

Happy Friday!

I just have to say "thank you" for all of the sweet encouragement I have received lately! I am blessed!

We have had a very busy week around here and are "celebrating" by having a lazy Friday morning. I have let the kiddos watch a little more TV than usual and they are lounging around in their p.j.s... lovely. However, the fun ends soon because all three kiddos are getting haircuts today so we will need to get ready pretty soon. I am still undecided on Jack's haircut so I will let you know if we end up going short or just a trim! This is his hair almost 2 months ago on his birthday-

So, it has gotten quite a bit longer since then!

We have a fairly busy, but fun-filled weekend up ahead. Tomorrow the Green Monster's play soccer in the morning (Max's team) and then Saturday night we are having some good friends from church over for dinner. Sunday we have church and then Sunday night we are going to go have dinner at my Grandma's house and spend some time with her.

And then Monday our vacation begins!! 3 days in Branson for the R's! We are super excited for some rest, relaxation, and family time! We didn't get to take our planned vacation this summer because of the hub's silly job so we are going to try to make up for it this week. And of course one of the blessings of homeschooling... vacations whenever you want!

I hope everyone has a blessed Friday!

(If we go short I will be back later to post pictures of Jack!)

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Sally Clarkson made me quit Facebook

Okay that isn't the whole story there...

Did any of you read this post by Sally Clarkson? Like my unashamed love for Michelle Duggar, I also openly gush over Sally Clarkson on a regular basis. If you haven't read any of her books I highly recommend The Mission of Motherhood and if you homeschool or are considering doing so, I highly recommend Educating the Wholehearted Child. It has been by far the most influential book for me when it came to deciding to educate our children at home.

Anyway, Sally's recent post "My Primary Responsibility and My Joy" had a huge impact on me from the moment I read it. I have been struggling... well... since becoming a mom, with how to best spend my time. In the article Sally says,

"One thing I think many moms find difficult is the fact that every yes is by definition also a no. A “yes” to time watching somersaults in the backyard is a “no” to a phone call, a glance through a magazine, or a bit of alone time. A “yes” to asking friends over for a time of encouragement is a “no” to the free time you might have spent on yourself, rather than cleaning the bathroom, organizing your notes for the evening, or baking cookies to share. “Yes” to the carpool means “no” to sleeping in; “yes” to playing during bath time means “no” to your favorite television show … and on and on it goes."

This hit me hard. And immediately the first area that came to my mind was Facebook. You see, I am a SOCIAL BUTTERFLY (in a bad way! I need to chill!). I love to be with people, have friends, and constantly be doing things. That isn't the bad part... but I often feel like I am going to be left out of something fun going on. I like to constantly be chatting with people and have a hard time with quiet and solitude. But, when you have little kids you need to be home a lot. So, when Facebook came into my life is seemed like the perfect fit. I could be at home with my kiddos (which is what they needed) and still keep an active "social life" online.

It has become a problem for me to want to be online when there are other things I should be doing. Facebook has become a huge distraction for me and this article was the confirmation that I needed that I need to be making a different choice.

I immediately started trying to think of reasons I needed to stay on Facebook (keeping in touch with friends, connecting with old friends, sharing pictures, etc.) And those really are the great things! And for those who can check Facebook every once in awhile that is the reality. But, I felt a pull to constantly be checking Facebook so that I wasn't "missing anything". It was becoming almost like an addiction that was really getting out of hand.

The Bible verse that came to mind was Matthew 5:29, "If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell." At first I thought I was being overly dramatic... I have a tendency to be that way... ask the hubs. But, then the more I thought about it I began to think maybe the verse did apply. Why am I sitting around constantly tempting myself?

And if I wasn't fully convinced at that point the next part of Sally's article confirmed it for me:

"Think about a drop of food coloring splashed into a cup of water. The more water, the more diluted the color. And so it is with each one of us. When we spread ourselves thin, leaving no time for snuggles and backrubs, Bible study and reading deeply, family vacations and Saturday afternoons at the park, our influence becomes diluted."

Although Facebook can be a great thing, for me, it was spreading me too thin. My influence was being diluted. I love pouring into the lives of others but I know that that isn't really what I was doing on Facebook. And I certainly wasn't blessing my kids by being on either.

I am hoping eventually when I have developed more self-control in this area I can be a Facebooker again, as there really are so many good things about it. But, I also know that I won't look back on my life and wish that I had spent more time on Facebook when my kids were little. I know that this is what God wants for me and I am confident that this is not a decision I will regret.

What about you, Moms? What were some things that were hard for you to say "no" to in order to say "yes" to your family?

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

The one on Kids and Simplicity

Yesterday I read this very thought provoking article. It is titled, Why I Took all of my Kids Toys Away {And Why they won't be getting them back} by Ruth at Living Well Spending Less. It had me thinking all day!

It had me thinking about how much most kids in America have and yet how unhappy they are. It seems the more "stuff" kids have to entertain them the more often you hear "I am bored". I know from our own cycle of having lots of toys and having a lot less and then letting them build up again that my kids are definitely happier when they have less. Put them in a messy playroom totally surrounded by toys and you will be guaranteed one melt down after another. Put on the TV all morning and just wait for the sibling bickering and fighting to start... because it will! It makes me think that more than almost anything else kids need simplicity. Simple toys (and very few), simple routines, simple days...

But, have you tried that lately? Our culture is so the opposite! I feel like I would have to move out into the middle of nowhere with basically no electricity and no friends to pull that off! But then, maybe that is just an excuse. Because, in reality the culture itself isn't the problem. My participation in the culture is. My unwillingness to "Mom-Up" and decide what is best for my kids instead of letting everyone else decide what is best.

I think we all do it... we know fast food is bad for our kids and we drive-thru the McWendyKing's for the second time this week. We know the negative effects of TV but we are the ones that suggest an afternoon Arthur marathon so we can sit in peace and quiet for awhile. And we are the ones that wrap the mounds of birthday and Christmas presents and then wonder where they all came from (okay, relatives are to blame for this one too! But, at the end of the day the parents are responsible for the toys that stay).

So, I guess I am in a place of asking myself the tough questions. How am I contributing to the problem of greed, boredom, and materialism in my own children? And, most importantly, what do I need to do to change?

Honestly, I could make a lot of excuses for myself here. I have seen kids that are a lot worse than mine. I could brush it all off and believe that my kids are the exception to the rule. But, I don't want to do that.

Because, I want what is BEST for my kids. I am not willing to settle for mediocre when it comes to the most important task on the planet. I want them to grow up with the right priorities and a vision of loving God and loving others for their life. And I don't think that can happen very easily when we are buried underneath all of the stuff.

So, hopefully, I will be sharing some of my journey along the way. Yesterday I shared how we simplified lunch in our house. Next on the agenda is toys and books... this could take a little bit but I will keep you all updated! Have any of you recently taking any steps to simplify in the lives of your children?

Monday, September 17, 2012

Lunch made easy {for kids}

When my oldest was little we went out to eat for lunch... a lot. It wasn't exactly nutrition friendly... but days with just one kiddo at home can be long and getting out with friends is a good way to fill up the day. Well, now that I am more budget and nutrition conscious (enter my husband singing the Hallelujah chorus as I say this) we eat out a lot less. But, I have been struggling on what to feed my kiddos for lunch everyday.

Well, it turns out I was pushing my own need for variety in the lunch menu on to my kiddos. Turns out they would be just as happy with p.b.and j's every single day! So, I have come up with a plan that lands us all somewhere in the middle. I made a list of their 5 favorite lunches and we basically rotate through those during the week.

1. Chicken nuggets or fish sticks
2. Ham or Turkey sammies
3. P.B. and J's
4. Mac and Cheese
5. Cheese Quesadillas or Grilled Cheese

Side dishes? Yeah, this mom isn't cooking up an additional dish at lunch time. And to balance out their less than healthy favorite main dishes, side dishes around here consist of fresh fruit and veggies only. Usually one of each.

I feel liberated! I found an easy system that makes us all happy!

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Christian Heroes Then and Now

CHRISTIAN HEROES: THEN & NOW<br>Brother Andrew: God's Secret AgentCHRISTIAN HEROES: THEN & NOW<BR>2-for-1 Special
I saw this series of books recently and Pinned them on Pinterest. The series is called Christian Heroes Then and Now and they are short biographies of different heroes of the Christian faith such as C.S. Lewis, Corrie Ten Boom, Elisabeth Elliot, Brother Andrew, etc. I thought they would be neat read-alouds for homeschooling in a few years. And, I still think they will! But, a friend at church mentioned she had been getting them from the library and reading them herself. I hadn't even considered it since they are written for an older children/young adult audience. But, if I can read Twilight and The Hunger Games surely I could read this series!

And oh my goodness I am enjoying them so much! They are easy to read but very informative and encouraging. I love the idea of reading biographies of Christians who did amazing things and finished the race well. So inspiring. I just recently finished Brother Andrew and C.S. Lewis and they were both great.

If you are looking for something easy to read yet encouraging and faith building I highly recommend this series!

Tuesday, September 11, 2012


Lately we have had a lot of sickness in our house. And it came exactly at the time I got over the constant morning sickness (who named it that anyway? I find 24 hour a day sickness much more accurate). Life has been busy as always with church, friends, family, and various other obligations. And I am not going to lie... I have had an "in tears melt-down" pretty much every single day... two yesterday, which were both directed at my dear husband. Thankfully, he gets me and came home in the evening with a big Diet Coke...

But, it is funny, because in the midst of the crazy... In the midst of feeling completely overwhelmed most days... I have never loved motherhood more. Every single day I find myself driving in my car and looking back at my kiddos, or reading a book about firetrucks for the 20th time, or making peanut butter sandwiches for lunch and this huge smile comes across my face and I think to myself, "oh my goodness, being a mom is the best thing in the whole world." Because my daily circumstances don't change the truth.

And it reminded me of our relationship with God. Our daily circumstances don't change the truth of who He is. And it reminded me of the attitude we should have every day. In the middle of empty bank accounts, illness, and messed up marriages we can still smile and say, "God, YOU are the best thing in the whole world." We should still be praising Him.

And, I am not saying all of this because it is something I do. In fact, when things go wrong, I have to admit God is usually the last thing on my mind and I quickly try to figure out what I can do in the situation. But, God has used this truth in my life (the fact that motherhood is an amazing blessing no matter what) and reminded me of an even bigger truth... that He REALLY is THE blessing.

Our circumstances change constantly. A good day can quickly turn bad. And the other way around. But, if we can stay focused on the One who is always good. Who is always right, and true, and noble... We will know that we are always okay.

My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.- Psalm 73:26

Growing Home

Monday, September 10, 2012

Let the madness begin...

I am one of those people that is very easily burnt out and overwhelmed when I have too much going on... I am also one of those people that feels the need to be involved in things, has a hard time saying "no", and feels like every opportunity will be forever lost if I don't do it now! So, you can imagine the constant pull and tug-o-war that goes on in my little brain.

Usually, business wins. So, this week begins the craziness/business that will be our fall semester. I didn't intend for it to be this way! But, a lot of neat opportunities came up and it seemed like a great time to give some things a try before the baby comes in February and life comes to a halt.

So, from now until December (except for soccer which ends in late October I think) this is what our weeks will look like...

Monday- Max's piano lesson
Tuesday- Sophie has ballet followed by Max having karate (which I wouldn't have signed him up for but he has been begging forever to take it and it is at the same place as Sophie's ballet class and is right afterwards so we will already be there and I get a discount since they are both in a class there)
Wednesday- Friend2Friend in the morning and our church small group in the evening
Thursday- KinderChoir for Max (homeschool choir for kids K-2nd grade) in the afternoon and soccer practice in the evening
Friday- NOTHING... :)
Saturday- soccer game

Thankfully, if it all gets too overwhelming things can easily be dropped. The downside of homeschooling is that every opportunity you want your children to have you have to provide for them. So, since music is important to us we have to make it happen! But, hopefully, this will be a fun semester full of great experiences for our whole family. And maybe I will learn some time management skills in the process? Maybe!