Why it is important to keep your house clean

Let me start by just saying, “Our home is lived in!”  No, really lived in.  I remember when we used to live in our house from 7pm-7am Monday thru Friday and on weekends.  Now, with homeschooling and in-home childcare, we really live in our home.  Our house looks lived in, some days I might even say it looks like a tornado hit it. I am okay with that some days or at least for part of the day.  I realize that my home is not going to look like it came off the pages of Better Homes and Gardens, at least in this season of my life.  But here’s the problem…..most of the time it drives me crazy! 

My husband is great! He rarely mentions if the house is a disaster.  As long as he has clean clothes, something to eat and everyone is happy….he’s happy.   I can’t operate that way.  It is as if when my house is cluttered, my brain is cluttered. This is one of the reasons why the mess is a problem…

Have you ever seen someone pull in your driveway and ran out to meet them, so they didn’t have to come inside? (And see the mess) I know I have.  Have you ever wanted to invite another family over to dinner after church on the spur of the moment, but hesitated? (Because of the mess)  Has a friend ever stopped over in need of your ear and you failed to really truly listen? (Because you’re fussing about what she might think about the mess) I’m sorry to admit, I have …just trying to be real here.

I’m not a perfect housekeeper, I don’t aspire to be one, but I know when my mess gets in the way of allowing me to serve others by offering hospitality, it’s a problem.  I want others to feel comfortable in my home, not because it is immaculate but because they know they will be welcomed anytime and that they can count on me to really listen to them.  I want my husband to know that if he feels like inviting a co-worker home for dinner he can, without worrying about me flipping out.  (Because of the mess)  I know this is one area I need to work on as I try to focus on showing hospitality to others. 

What hospitality challenges do you have?  What works for you?

An Award Winning Recipe – Cranberry Crumb Muffins

This week we went a little over the top baking for our county fair.  We baked 6 different muffin recipes and 10 different cookie recipes. We certainly spent some time in the kitchen but we ended up with quite a few ribbons and enough back in premiums to cover the cost of ingredients and our week-long fair passes, not to mention a freezer full of treats.  While the Best of Show Cookie Award remains elusive, I thought I’d share one of our muffin recipes that took 1st prize.

Cranberry Crumb Muffins

Crumb Topping:

1/2 c. chopped walnuts

1 c. flour

4 T. white sugar

4 T. brown sugar

1/2 t. baking powder

pinch of salt

5 T. butter, melted

Muffins:

2 c. flour

1/2 c. +2 T. white sugar

2 t. baking powder

1/2 t. baking soda

pinch of salt

1 c. plain low-fat yogurt

1 egg, lightly beaten

1/2 c. unsalted butter, melted and cooled

 1 1/2 c. fresh or frozen cranberries

Heat the oven to 425 degrees. (I like to use the extra-large papers in a standard size tin to keep all the steusel on top) . To make the crumb topping, spread the walnut in a pie plate and toast them in the oven until lightly browned. About 5 minutes. While they cool, mix the flour, both sugars, baking powder and salt in a large bowl. Stir in butter and walnuts, then pinch the mixture into clumps.

For the muffin batter whisk together the flour, 1/2 cup of sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a medium bowl.  In a large bowl, mix together yogurt, egg, and butter, then stir in flour mixture. Toss cranberries with the remaining 2 tablespoons of sugar. Fold the fruit into the batter.

Spoon the batter into the muffin papers. Sprinkle on the crumb topping and gently press into batter. Bake until golden or until a toothpick comes out clean, about 20 minutes. Let the muffins cool about  minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool a little longer. Serve warm or at room temperature. Makes 1 dozen.

Making the most of Back to school clearance..for Christmas??

Christmas is my favorite holiday!  Okay thats no surprise, what other day is more important to a Christian than the day we celebrate the birth of our Jesus?  But, I have to admit that I love that Christmas  puts my planning and organizing skills to the test.  As an event planning junkie, this is my superbowl!   As of today there are 101 Days until Christmas.  Let the fun begin!

Today I wanted to share with you how I am planning for Christmas by hitting some of the Back to school clearance bins.  For most the the large retailers the window for deep discounts after the start of school is fairly small.  That time is right now!  I went to one of our local discount stores this week and came home with 3 bags of “school supplies” for under $6.00.  While I am generally not a fan of bringing more “stuff”  into our home, for me keeping a gift closet has been helpful. 

So what did I get?  In addition to more plastic school boxes, I got novelty pens and pencils, sticky notes, a few magnets, bookmarks, keychains, coin purses, dry erase stickers and incentive charts.  So now what am I going to do with this stuff?  Most of these items were 10cents each. (Not bad, eh?) Ive been toying with the idea of a treasure chest in our school room, so some may go there.  But, here are a few ideas I have for Christmas.

If you are one of our neighbors….we may be bringing you Peppermint Sticks dipped in white chocolate, packaged in these red sliding pencil boxes.  I thought it would be cute to let the girls decorate the packages.

If you are my nephew, you may be getting lots of new “busy bag” activities packaged in these plastic pencil boxes.

If you are my daughter, you may find some of these fun pencils and sticky notes in your stocking.

Planning ahead not only helps keep the Christmas rush under control because I can get things purchased ahead of time, it also helps spread the expenses out, making it less painful on the budget.  Are you planning for Christmas yet? Are there things that you do to control gift giving costs?  Id love to hear from you!

Review of the Well Planned Day Planner

In my former life  I was a devoted Franklin Covey Planner gal.  I loved everything about my Franklin planner, even after 3 years at home, I was still using a Franklin Planner.  I was hesitant to try a new planner but it was becoming increasing obvious to me that as a new homeschool mom, my planning needs were beginning to change.  I ordered my Well Planned Day Planner in early July, but I didn’t really start using it until early August. 

Here is what  I love about this planner!

1) This planner is strong and sturdy!  My planner gets taken most everywhere I go and so far it is holding up beautifully.

2) I really like the extra 2 blank spaces at the bottom of the weekly planning pages.  These allow room to record other events and activities we are involved in. I love this flexibility.

3) The tear out shopping lists are very nice.  While I don’t use them for shopping lists, they are great for other lists I need to quickly make.  For instance, each month I use one to quickly jot down words that Sunshine is misspelling so I can add them to an upcoming spelling lesson.

4) I am in LOVE with the extra Holiday Organization pages.  I keep another binder just for Christmas planning, but I really appreciate these extra pages built right in, what a nice surprise!

5)  At $24.95, this planner isn’t cheap but it is 1/2 the price of a Franklin Planner of similar size.

Here are the top 3 things I would change about this planner.

1) Monthly Tabs!   This is the only planner I have ever purchased that didn’t have monthly tabs making it easy to flip to the current month.  I improvised and added Post-it tabs with the months on them, but they aren’t very sturdy.

2) Larger boxes for Saturday and Sunday.  Weekends are busy days for our family and there often isn’t enough room to record everyone’s commitments. Ideally I would remove the Dinner menu box to allow more room.  I keep a separate more complete menu for the family so I don’t use the box on the weekly pages.

3) The grade cards in the back of the planner are cute, but unnecessary.  We don’t keep formal grade cards so we wont use them.  The same goes for the weekly grade sheets in the back.

Overall, I’m very pleased with this  planner.    The graphics and colors are lovely and make it fun to use. It is flexible and meets the special planning needs of  this homeschool mom. I have found my new “go to” planner.

Thrive Foods Review

One of the challenges of living 20 minutes from the nearest grocery store is that you really dont want to run out of any one item you regularly use.  The items I most often run out of are of the dairy variety, milk, butter, yogurt and such.  When it costs you $5.00 in gas to get to the grocery, that $3.00 lb of butter just got a whole lot more expensive.  For this, and other reasons, I decided to explore other options for keeping us well stocked in dairy product.  One of the products I decided to try was Thrive foods, which I purchased from Shelf Reliance.  They offer an amazing variety of foods, but for this intial order I decided to restrict myself to the basics, instant milk, powdered eggs, sour cream powder, cheese blend and butter powder. I ordered the smallest packages since this was my first experience with the products.

The first thing I tried was the Whole egg powder.  I am not even quite sure why I ordered this, since we have more eggs than we know what to do with, but I none the less I did, and I was not disappointed.  I used the egg powder for a variety of recipes and it worked very well.  I wont lie, Id rather use fresh eggs, especially if I’m cooking just eggs.   At  approximately $0.22/ egg, its comparable to the cost of  eggs purchased in a grocery store.  I would definately keep this product on hand, especially if you dont have laying hens in your back yard.

The second product I tried was the Cheese Blend.  I actually meant to order the shredded cheese but ended up with a cheese powder.  The powder looks and smells alot like the powdered cheese you would find in a box of mac and cheese.  I had a difficult time getting the cheese smooth by just adding hot water.  I ended up putting it on the stove for a few minutes, and with some heavy duty whisking, it finally came together.  We tried it with noodles and several different vegetables.  It was not a family favorite.  Having said that, we are largely a “real” cheese family, so this was going to a be a hard sell from the start. At $1.00/ serving, this will not become a pantry staple for me.

Next up was the Butter powder.  I had some reservations when I opened the bag and found a white powder that didnt smell much like butter to me.  However this was one of my favorites.  The package says it is best used for baking but I found it to be much more versatile.  I did use it for making cookies and granola bars and had great results with both.  I also used it with rice, on some steamed vegetables and brushed on a loaf of french bread before it went in the oven.  I dont think I would want to try to eat this on my toast in the morning, as I was unable to get that wonderful smooth creamy consistancy we love so much in butter, but the flavor is great.  At a little over $9.00 a bag this product isnt cheap but it really does go a long way.  This is a keeper.

Sour cream powder was next on my list. I love sour cream, and for heavens sakes dont bother buying fat free, ugh!  At 14 grams of fat per serving, low fat it is not.  Having said that, a serving is  1/4 cup, which is quite a bit.   The sour cream powder mixed up best with Really cold water.  Like the butter, its not the normal consistancy you may expect.  It did have a little bit of a different flavor but it did work well mixed with other ingredients.  Overall, not the real thing, but it will work in a pinch.

By far, the real winnner was the Instant milk. This is not your mommas powdered milk!  This was the only product I bought a #10 can of, and I am glad I did.  This milk mixes up super easy and is really good.  The few times I tried to sneak powdered milk to my family (unsuccessfully) I mixed it up the night before and out it in the fridge so it was ice cold. I mixed this instant milk up with cold water, poured it into glasses and put it on the table, they didnt even notice. I was amazed!   I used it today when I was making corn chowder, 2 cups of hot water,  1/3 of milk powder, give it a stir and in the pot it goes.  I really love it!  If you buy the case of 6  # 10 cans you can get the price down to about $5.75/ gallon, if you buy the large bucket you can get the price down to about $4.00/ gallon.  As winter is approaching, I will be placing an order for a larger quantity of Instant milk very soon.   I am also looking forward to trying some of their other products including the yogurt bites.

Overall I was well pleased with my Shelf Relaince order. I was very satisfied with the quality of the products, the shipping costs as well as the shipping time. Are there other food storage companies or products that you use and would recommend? I’d love to hear about them!

Fruit and Nut Snack Mix

This is a favorite snack mix in our house.  I love the bite the cranberries give it, although any dried fruit will work.  This is a great recipe to let the little hands help with.  Luckily it goes together as quickly as it disappears.

Ingredients

1 (16.5 oz.) box bite size shredded wheat

4 cups nuts (peanuts are really good)

 4 cups Craisins or other dried berries

1 cup firmly packed brown sugar

1 cup butter

4 teaspoons ground ginger

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  In a saucepan, melt butter completely.  Add brown sugar stirring unti mixture coming just to a boil.  Remove from heat, add ginger and mix well. Add cereal and toss.  Pour onto a greased 15 X 10 X 1 baking sheet.  Bake for 15 mins. Remove pan from oven and add nuts. Stir and return to oven.  Continue baking for 10 minutes.  Cool completely.  Add fruit and toss.

Makes 18, 1/3 cup servings.

Prep time – 5 minutes,  Total Time – 30 minutes

This posted linked to Raising Homemakers

Let your imagination run wild at The Imagination Station!

Located in downtown Toledo the Imagination Station definately makes the list of must- visit attractions if you are visiting Northwest Ohio.  This weekend we had the opportunity to spend an afternoon at the Imagination Station and we all had a wonderful time. 

The Imagination Station (IS)  has something for everyone in the family.  The best part about the IS is there are so many hands on activities!  There were exhibits geared to the 5 and under crowd as well as to the older kids.  There were fewer exhibits than  I have seen at other science centers but the exhibits they have were very engaging and interactive.  We spend a great deal less time reading about science and much more time actively participating.

One of our favorite exhibits was the Grow U exhibit sponsored by The Andersons.  This exhibit included a full size tractor for the kids to climb on (Mowglis favorite) an interactive gameshow about agriculture and a live beehive. 

Sunshines favorite attractions were the highwire bicycle, the anti-gravity room and the boyo exhibit that uses a flywheel to  create a huge yo-yo.

The little kids really enjoyed the Kidspace designed for ages 5 and under.  The  spinning  sand wheel was also one of their favorites.

Everyone loved playing in the water tables and making clouds.  Sunshine and Rose enjoyed drying off on the 101 mph hurricane force winds.

The Imagination Station is a great place for an afternoon of family fun as a science center or even just as an indoor playground. We are looking forward to going back for another visit once the new Sesame Street Body exhibit opens later this month.

Whats in your wallet?

Today I wanted to share with you some of the most important tools in my home school wallet.

They are:  (in no particular order)

* Membership to Center of Science and Industry (COSI)

*Membership to the Ohio Historical Society

*Membership to The Toledo Zoo

* Membership to our local library

*Membership to our local Center for the Arts

For a family that follows a rather traditional text-book based home school model you might think it strange that I count  our family memberships as some of my most important and most effective teaching tools.  I wanted to share with you what I have learned about field trips. 

Hands on learning *sticks* better.    Hands on learning leads to more questions and more learning.  I continue to be amazed at how many places have programs in place just for homeschoolers!  Beyond that, if you look at the websites for many places you will find a link for educators.  There is some amazing material available to help you get the most out of field trips with projects and reading to do both before and after your visit. If you don’t see anything, call and ASK.  You may be surprised to learn that they have links available that are not visible on the main website or they may have packages you can pick up when you arrive.

Hands on learning is more fun. When we make a visit it often involves the whole family, sometimes aunts, cousins and grandparents too.  This is fun stuff!  For me one of the best parts of homeschooling is learning along with my children.  When we as parents show enthusiasm for learning it is contagious.  When other family members are willing to invest their time and share their experience and point of view..even better.  Learning together is more fun than reading from any textbook!

Hands on learning can be affordable.  Some may say it is a disadvantage to live over an hour away from any major city, and sometimes it is (especially when gas is nearly $4.00/gal), but we are lucky in that we can be in at least 3 major cities within 2 hours.  With our COSI membership in hand we can visit COSI or 6 other science centers in Ohio for free.  With our OHS membership we can visit any of 58 historic sites in Ohio for free.  ( For a 4th grader studying Ohio History… this is an amazing advantage) With our zoo membership in hand we can visit any of 8 Ohio zoos for free. (or  at a discounted price) Our family membership to our Local Art Center allows our family access to professional fine arts instruction, including music, dance, and visual arts.  This is a wonderful resource that we are so lucky to have in our community.  I am always surprised when I talk to people and they don’t even know it exists.  I would encourage you to look around your community and see where you can get connected.  You might try a local dance company or a community theatre.  There are many, many opportunities to visit local attractions that will reinforce learning. Many of these attractions are very reasonable or even free. Even living in a very rural area like we do, there are many choices available. Pick up the visitors information for your town, you might be surprised what you find.  And of course your local library is a great resource, a book  can take you around the globe, to the moon and back for free. 

I love the idea of spontaneous field trips!  Of course around here they don’t happen very often.  I just don’t happen to be much of a “fly by the seat of my pants” kind of gal. What I have found is that by planning ahead I am able to get the most out of the experience.  By reading a book or doing some other activity, I am providing  Sunshine with additional ideas to think about beforehand.   It also inspires and motivates us to get our other studies done so we can take off for a day of fun.  And lets face it, it takes some planning if you want to take a growing family out for the day and not end up short on diapers or out of snacks.

Heres the bottom line, I have found that getting out of the “class room”  to learn is so worth it, for everyone involved!

COSI membership $90.00, Ohio Historical Society membership $50.00, Toledo Zoo membership $79.00, Library membership $free,  Art Center membership $80.00 – Knowing that my children have access to Top Quality Hands on Learning Experiences .. Priceless!