Saturday, December 31, 2011

Tomato Soup with Grilled Cheese "Croutons"

These grilled cheese "croutons" floating in the soup force kids to scoop up some soup to get to them. Little by little, bite by bite, kids eat their soup this way. If I just served grilled cheese next to a bowl of soup, I don't know about your kids, but my kids would eat the grilled cheese and might not eat as much of their soup.

All the ingredients are pretty obvious. And two cans of soup (mixed with one can full of milk) is the right amount to feed my family of four and allows one or two of us to get a second helping of soup.

When the soup and sandwiches are done, (I decided I am not going to insult you by telling how to make canned soup and grilled cheese), use a cutting board and pizza cutter to slice the grilled cheese sandwiches into little squares like you see below.

Note: You may want to make them even smaller than this for babies and toddlers. These were actually a little big for our two year old. I found myself having to half them with the edge of her spoon after they were floating in her soup.

And don't forget to sprinkle a little garlic salt into your soup, but just a little, before you eat it. This is essential. It takes canned tomato soup from drab to fab.

Goals for 2012-2013

As I make goals for 2012, I don't want to drop all the good habits I started building in 2011. So I am adding them to this list in order to keep them in front of me so I don't forget. I also want to add a footnote for my own sake that I will try and do all this, but with a new baby, a third child, I need to be gracious, realistic and flexible with my own expectations of myself. Okay. Here it goes:


Career- Master Sue Patrick's Workbox System, adapt it and implement it in Norah's homeschooling. Finish ten sewing projects by the year's end. Follow Fly Lady's daily routine.

Financial- Get the weekly circular and plan meals around the deals. Get into the habit of checking the cabinets and fridge weekly to ensure that I know what I already have and use it. Save receipts and track spending.

Spiritual- Keep reading the Bible in the morning. Listen to worship music while cleaning. Spend an hour in God's presence every evening after the kids go to bed.

Physical- Cut out all artificial sweetener. Recover from this baby well enough to run/walk a 5K by the end of the year. Serve fruit and/or vegetables for a snack and at at least two meals a day. No eating after dinner.

Intellectual- Read The Well Educated Mind. When Norah reads silently for school, sit and read silently, too, or use the time to read out loud to the younger kids.


For the extended family: Start sending cards to family members for all birthdays, anniversaries, etc.

For the kids: Read out loud as a family after dinner. Finish all the Little House books by the year's end, at least. Or, if we don't read, play a board game.

For Dwayne: Go to bed by 10pm. This will help Dwayne go to bed sooner, too.

Social- Go to at least one home school event or host/co-host an event every month. With a new baby, realistically speaking, I think I will be using The Jump Zone or the park at the end of our street for most of these "events."

Friday, December 30, 2011

My Resolutions for 2011.

I made these resolutions at the beginning of 2011. Let's see how well I did.

Let Norah play outside.
They still aren't playing outside, but Norah and Avril are getting more exercise this year, especially since we are visiting The Jump Zone at least once a week.

Read through the entire Bible.
Anytime I got behind, I caught up. I did it!

Hold Dwayne's hand
I took this one off the list a while ago.

I'm keeping this on the list for 2012. But I will probably focus more on being in God's presence, worshiping and then praying from that place. I find that my prayers are less selfish, more effective and more aligned with God's heart that way.

My goal was to read a book a month or twelve in one year. I started out strong, reading five books by March:
To Kill a Mockingbird
The Adventures and Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes
Needless Casualties of War
Dumbing Us Down
Oliver Twist
But then I started (and still haven't finished) King's Cross. I'm sure it's a good book, but this just goes to show me that if a book doesn't really hold my attention after a few chapters, I need to just put it aside and go on to the another book without feeling guilty about it.

Eat fruit and vegetables
I eat more fruits and vegetables and serve more to my family now than I did a year ago, but I could do much better. Next year, I think I will focus on serving a fruit or vegetable for a snack and with at least two meals every single day. That's a more specific goal and with this goal, I think I need to be more specific.

No late night eating.
I've stopped doing this altogether. The trick will be to keep it up after I have this baby and I really could eat late again without getting sick or feeling bad like I do now that I am pregnant.

Be consistent in the garden.
I did well for a while, but pregnancy kept me inside for the last part of the year and the weeds took over at that point. The baby will be born in April and I don't foresee being able to nurse the baby and rest and care for the other kids and do everything else that's required of me and garden. Gardening will still be on the to-do list, but it will be at the bottom. I think that maybe Norah will be better at pulling weeds by then. Maybe I could pay her to do it. She's always asking for extra chores that will earn her money.

Stop talking in bed.
I do this so infrequently now, I can hardly believe I ever had to resolve to "change" in this way. I vaguely remember Dwayne asking me to stop talking in bed because I was keeping him up so late. I think it's cool that it seems like that was so long ago, but really, it has only been one year since Dwayne asked me.

Go to be early.
I am doing better with this, but I think I will try to be in bed by a certain time this coming year. This will really help Dwayne. He has a hard time going to sleep if I am not in bed, but he never stays up past me. So, if I go to sleep, he will and after ten years of marriage, I can tell that he really benefits from sleep. This will be something I do this coming year to help him like I stopped talking in bed last year to help him. "Early" needs to be defined, more specifically, as 10pm. I will try to be in bed by then, so Dwayne won't be far behind. If I was the one going to work in the morning, I know I'd appreciate the support.

Consider preparing "party foods" in place of a regular meal, especially on Friday nights or weekends. You can make pizza pockets, pigs in a blanket, a hearty dip and chips, french fries, egg rolls. The possibilities are endless. Eat something, anything, that you really like that you wouldn't normally make at home. You can even try to find a copy-cat recipe for something that you usually only get at your favorite restaurant. This will add excitement to your menu and keep your family at home. And home is where you can manage to save serious money on food bills, where everyone still has energy to help with the clean up, where you can have good conversation, play a quick game of Yahtzee and watch a movie before it's time for bed. I can't tell you how often we've gone out to eat at a restaurant only to spend too much money, taking serious effort to keep the kids in line in public, getting stressed, not really talking about anything meaningful only to come home too late to do any housework and so tired that we don't end up spending any quality time together before we head to bed. I've found that it's better to just think outside the box, outside the regular "chicken and rice" kind of meals that I usually cook at home and make something novel that will help us want to eat at home. One of my goals this coming year will be to make something "fun" like this once a week, clean up real quick and then play a board game with the kids that same evening.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

By and far, the best part about Christmas vacation is the time we take to play with the kids. It's something we ought to take more time to do throughout the year.
The girls played with the kitchen first thing. While Dwayne made real food for breakfast, the girls made pizza, fried chicken, omelets and doughnuts...

Norah was the unofficial "opener" of the gifts that Avril couldn't manage. Norah didn't mind the job and Avril didn't mind the help.

"Parents not included." What they don't tell you on the package is that will have to participate when the girls make food because they need someone to taste it all.

After breakfast, we read the Christmas story from the book of Luke in the Bible.

The girls pose with all the gifts their "grand neighbors" (the couple across the street) gave them. Yes. Our neighbors are amazing.

Aunt Michelle and other family members sent money (Thank you!) and crowns.

Mommy and Daddy added a playground to our dollhouse collection. Avril was excited that this package has even more "ruffs" because you can never have enough "ruffs" in the dollhouse.

Avril hugs a snowman sippy-cup she got in her stocking. She has a thing for cute sippy-cups.

She also got a pair of winter house shoes that she insisted her dad put on her right away.

More stocking joy.

Uncle Donnie sent Legos sets galore. This post would be three times longer if I had taken pictures of them all. No kidding. But, we saved the big pirate ship for last. Norah was blown away! I told her we had to wait and clear an ample amount of space to work on it.

My family also sent Avril this big set of Graco baby accessories. This gift could not have been more perfectly timed for her age and interests.

Two thumbs up!

Norah ran and got Avril's baby for her and Avril went right to work.

The little mother is taking her baby for a walk.

Norah played with her new Nintendo DS game Princess Peach first. (Let's be honest. I bought this game for myself, too, so I plan to play it some later, too.) Avril played with her babies and went back to the kitchen, then back to her babies... Now both girls are downstairs under their fleece snuggies the neighbor's bought watching a Frosty DVD.

The plan is to do Yahtzee and start building the Lego ship after we have a late lunch. Thanks again, family. In the way of gifts, this was the best Christmas we've ever had thanks to your generosity.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

So that our family can picture what's going on a thousand miles away, I'm posting photos of everything.

After church, we came home, ate dinner and did our Advent traditions.

Then the girls opened their pajamas. Avril had just gotten corrected by her dad for ignoring me and not standing still for the photo when I asked her, so in this photo, she is being very still and she's looking straight at her dad. Can't you see the fear of God in her eyes? :)

Once the kids were in bed, we brought out the gifts. We don't do Santa, but we don't keep the gifts out in the open for the kids to see all month, either. Keeping the gifts tucked away helps them focus less on the "getting" of Christmas and more on the unseen, more important reasons for Christmas, in my experience.

The girls are sharing this over-sized stocking this year because I still haven't gotten around to sewing Avril's stocking. I was going to hang this from the mantel, but the fabric is thin and it is ripping under the weight of the gifts inside. Dwayne propped it up like this. I don't think the girls will mind. They will laugh at how big it is and will enjoy reaching way in there to get out all the stuff that's inside.

As you can see, we left Avril's play kitchen and all the accessories (that Uncle Donnie sent) totally unwrapped. The girls will love running in here, seeing it right away and playing with that before they have breakfast.

The rest of the gifts are wrapped and we will open those and unpack the stocking after we eat breakfast and after we do our final day of Advent.

We are humbled and thankful for such a "big" Christmas because of our family's generosity. We've been receiving packages in the mail since before Thanksgiving! More than half of what you see above is a gift provided by family. So I will take pictures for family, hopefully capturing the girls' joy and post them as soon as I can. Stay tuned!
Merry Christmas!

Good morning! Avril likes to sit right up next to me in the chilly, early mornings while I take my meds and read my Bible, etc. She's very snugly. I'm sure she sits by me because I help keep her warm, but she also does the same for me. I took this photo this morning. She's holding her "ruff."

Friday, December 23, 2011

I made this nightgown for Avril today. As you can see, she loves it! As simple as the ruffled sleeves look, it took a surprising amount of concentration and effort for me to learn how to do them. I had to use bias tape to make a casing for the elastic inside the sleeve and then once I put the elastic through the casing, I had to learn how to hand sew a slip-stitch (hidden seam) in the bias tape to close it up and then learn how to do a finishing stitch to end the slip-stitching. These little stitches in the bias tape (or casing) were on such a small scale that they just couldn't be done with a sewing machine... they needed to be done by hand. I had no idea how much hand-sewing a very simple dress like this requires, but it's a lot! Some of the more complicated patterns require even more hand-sewing, so I am glad to be getting a feel for it.

Avril was playing with her ABC toy this morning while I was checking emails. She is starting to learn her letters and repeat their names, etc. I asked her to look up at me and snapped a photo so I could post a fresh picture of her. I know I need to take more regular pictures of the girls so my family can see them as they grow. Note: Avril likes to get under the couch like this all the time. Within a minute, she was totally under the couch and even though I couldn't see her, I could hear her chattering to herself and playing with her toy from under there.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

I have observed an interesting phenomenon. When I am sitting, listening to music, quietly worshiping, it is never long before I hear the patter of little feet. The girls always time it perfectly, too. They start making their way into the room just after I have entered into the Lord's presence and they don't stop moving toward me until they are as close to me as they can get. Then, they will sit with me for a while, still as mice, listening, letting me love on them and loving on me. I'm not certain why this happens, but I have some idea.

"In your presence, there is fullness of joy." Psalm 16:11

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

We added three years of Christmas pictures to our Christmas scrapbook this morning. Norah drew or cut out all the labels for the years and the little decorations for the pages. She also helped me arrange the pictures. As you can see, we keep this scrapbook really simple and low-budget. If I had to make it beautiful and spend a lot of money on decorative papers and stickers, I might not even get around to doing a scrapbook. While the Christmas decorations are up, the scrapbook stays under the tree with other Christmas books so the kids can grab it and look through it whenever they want. Then we tuck it away in storage with our Christmas decorations so that it's nice to see it afresh every December.

Monday, December 19, 2011

I let Norah put our extra tree in the corner of her room this year.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

I made Norah a flannel nightgown this evening. It's getting easier and easier to sew. (I am sure that is mainly due to the fact that I am using the same pattern over and over again.)

Norah really likes her nightgown, but she did end up complaining after a while that the armpits were "tight." I think that means that this pattern size might not fit her and that I should use a larger pattern size on her next time.

I suspected that the size I chose might end up being too small when I started, but pattern sizes tend to turn out much larger than their numbers suggest they will. For example, Avril wears 3T in store bought clothes, but she wears (and has plenty of room left over in) a size 2 pattern... but it might not be the same for Norah. I am still learning how to measure my kids and then pick the best size that works for them. You know, "trial and error" and "experience is the best teacher" and "practice makes perfect" and all that.

I took the lids off our crab habitats or "crabitats" so I could take a few pictures and post some updates about our new pets. Norah has been reading all about hermit crabs and so she and I have thrown ourselves into making the nicest homes we can for them, according to all we are reading in the books.

We are using many of the shells Norah already had in her shell "collection." The big clam shell Norah found while we were on vacation last summer had separated and the two sides of that shell make perfect water dishes, actually. You can see one of the sides of the clam shell in the photo above with sponges in it. (The sponges absorb lots of extra water and help keep the humidity in the tank up.) Other, smaller shells in Norah's collection have also been perfect for salt water dishes, food dishes and just for general decoration.

We also got a larger tank and a tank heater for free off Craiglist. We purchased (really overpriced) sand, extra hermit shells and a tank lid at the pet store. But we also found several extra hermit shells and baskets at the thrift store. The baskets allow the crabs places to hide and offer them things to climb. (We boiled everything we could to kill any bacteria and let it air dry and cool off before we added to the tank with the crabs.)

You can see one of our crabs in the photo below. This crab was actually in a painted yellow shell when we first brought our crabs home. His (or her) name is "Molly." (We don't know the sex of the crabs yet.) As you can see in the top picture, we laid a bunch of extra hermit shells similar to the one he was already in all around the big tank. He didn't show any signs of molting, but overnight, he decided to move to a bigger, more natural looking shell. Norah read that crabs prefer natural shells to painted shells when given a choice. Since then, we've see him sticking his head into other shells and feeling around with his claws. He is seeming to consider those shells as well, so it's possible that he may move shells again.

We also collected some maple branches from under our tree in the yard. It happens to be the perfect time of year to find dead tree branches just lying around. I baked them in the oven at 300 degrees for 45 minutes. According to one of Norah's books, maple is a wood that is supposed to be safe for crabs as long as you bake it to kill any parasites before putting it in your crabitat. I also purchased a plastic vine from the dollar store that we knotted and wrapped around the maple branches once they cooled. Norah says that these crabs are also called "tree crabs" since they are so often found in trees in the wild so we will see if our crabs like to climb, too.

One of our two crabs, "Shiny," started showing signs that he was definitely thinking about molting last week, so we separated him from the other crab just as Norah's books say to do. He quickly disappeared under the sand for at least four days... Norah and I lost count. He is still in that separate, smaller tank (pictured below.) As you can see, we are offering him several extra shells to choose from, too. He may want something bigger now that he has grown a little more. If you look closely, you can see part of the crab's silvery shell under the sand. He's buried himself between the other half of the large clam shell that we are using as a water dish on the left and the empty, green shell on the right. He comes up to drink and eat, so we think he might actually be done molting at this point. He also looks a lot smaller now and Norah says that she's read that crabs appear smaller after a molt. But, they are also more vulnerable after a molt until their new shell hardens, so we think that's why this crab may still be hiding under the sand for now.

We're so glad that our friends gave us their hermit crabs. Norah and I are really learning alot and enjoying every bit of it, too.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

I managed to make another dress for Avril this afternoon / evening. As you can see, I purchased tights to go with the dresses.

I got the tights first, actually, and then took the tights with me to the fabric store to find material that matched them. I've learned not to pick fabric first because I can never count on finding tights that match the fabric I choose. Stores just don't offer that large of a selection of tights and even if they have pink, it might not be anywhere near the right shade of pink. So, I've found that it's best to go at it the other way around. There are hundreds and hundreds of fabrics and I know I am bound to find something that I like that also matches any color tights I bring with me, so I get the tights first.
Dwayne got me a serger for Christmas. But he didn't wait until Christmas to give it to me because I have several projects I plan to make before then and this way, I can use my serger on them.

I took me several hours to learn how to thread the serger. I had to watch the how-to videos ten times or more! But, once it was threaded correctly, using it was pretty simple. It's similar to using a sewing machine.

I spent the afternoon making another dress for Avril using a pattern I was really familiar with so I could concentrate on learning to use the serger. I was amazed at how quickly the side seams came together and how neat they turned out.

I told Dwayne that sewing with a serger is like chopping vegetables with really nice kitchen knives. (Dwayne bought me a set of knives a few Christmases ago and after I used them, I was not sure how I ever did without them... ) Well, that's how I feel about my serger. It makes sewing at least ten times more enjoyable than it was before. Dwayne always gives the best gifts.

The girls from across the room, building their Lego Advent figure for today

She sits on my lap (or what's left of it) while I rest from chores. She "helped" me make this little ornament last night. I talked to her about what I was doing, let her hold threads, etc. It was a simple moment that turned into on of the sweetest I can remember having with her in some time.

Monday, December 12, 2011

I purchased different colored library labels and I've started putting them on my books. Red for history, green for science, blue for early readers, chapter books and novels, etc.

This will allow the girls to help me put the books back on the shelves according to their group. And some of the (lower) shelves need this organization more than the others since the girls are always pulling books off them, but I am hoping that having all the books grouped will make it easier for us to put them back where they go/ find a particular book when we need it.

As I put on the labels, I am also taking a minute to make sure the title of every book is entered into my Goodreads account. Goodreads allows me to keep a free, online database of all the books in my home school library. I can also label these books online according to their type (history, science, etc.) and see all the books with a certain label at the click of a button.

When I am shopping for books at the thrift store, I will often log in to my Goodreads account using my smart phone to check to see whether or not I already have a book. With nearly 1,ooo titles in my home school library now, it's easy to get confused about which books we own verses which ones we've only checked out from the library, etc.

As the years go by, I may have to better organize my collection, but I believe this system, however simple it is, will be a helpful start. Sometimes it takes us as much as five minutes and a lot of stress to find a certain title and that is if we even find it at all! I am hoping to notice a significant decease in the time it takes and in the amount of stress we feel when it's time to go find a certain title.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

I took Norah to see a crazy dream house on Saturday, one more thing on her list of 101 things.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Earlier tonight, Norah saw backstage at a theater, one more thing on her list.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

You really can substitute sour milk for buttermilk. I had always heard this was true, but I was never brave enough to try it for myself. But, when we had a whole gallon of whole milk go bad after Thanksgiving, I couldn't bring myself to pour it all down the sink. (Dwayne bought it to make rice pudding, but never got around to it.) So, I made myself brave enough to try using the sour milk in place of buttermilk and to my surprise, I made the most dee-lish pancakes and scones that way. I plan to whip up another few batches of pancakes tonight while I am in the kitchen making dinner anyway and freeze 'em for the girls' breakfasts. I'm pretty thrilled at the fact that I'll never have to pour outdated milk down the sink again. Instead of wasting it, I'll just whip up some more pancakes or something like that.

I've purchased a membership to The Jump Zone. It was a good thing to do since there was no sign up fee and the price per month is about the same as the price to get both girls in for one regular visit. We're going once a week now, at least. I pack some drinks and/or snacks and we usually try to meet up with other homeschooling friends. A few other families in our home school group have memberships, too, so we hardly ever go alone. It's been so nice to have a regular place to go to get out of the house where the girls can get some serious exercise in a warm, dry, indoor environment. I am also enjoying spending more time with my mom-friends. I think this little luxury will make this winter much more tolerable for both the kids and myself.

The girls were thrilled to find Chewbacca in their Star Wars Lego Advent Calendar this morning.

I went over to a friend's house after dinner and she showed me how to make the border, the knots and the loop at the top of these felt ornaments. She and I made the four Christmas trees above while we visited.

I got up early this morning, eager to try and do this by myself before I forgot everything my friend showed me. I made two mittens like the one above before the girls got up.

I am pretty thrilled. I've never learned to sew anything by hand so this is very exciting to me. And I am looking forward to sharing my new skills with Norah. I think she will really enjoying making these ornaments.