Monday, July 30, 2012

Play Rice and Beans

For those who missed my post over at The Cheap and Choosy last week, here it is.


While most of the country has been extremely hot and dry, we have been blessed with a couple of much needed rainy days. Whether it's rain or some other weather that keeps you from getting outside, you are left with the what to do with the kids dilemma.

I don't spend all day outside with the kids on a normal basis, but we do get outside most every day. And if your kids are anything like mine, that time to run and play unobstructed in the back yard, to be loud outside, is absolutely neccessary. Days we don't get out for at least a little bit show in the form of a destroyed house, bad attitudes, not just theirs, and short tempers all around. And often in lots of TV time. It's terrible.

So, when I woke up to a rainy day a few weeks ago, I spent some time trying to figure out what to do that day. I didn't really have any errands to run, so it would be just a regular day at the house. I could take them to a bounce house or something. But the closest one is 35 minutes away and I really didn't want to spend the money.

So, online I went. I found this idea here. It's called Play Rice. I knew it would be great for Caitlin because on a trip we took to Durham's Life and Science Museum, they had an area where kids could fill and dump containers to see how much volume they could hold. Caitlin played at it for the longest time. Plus she loves the sandbox, so this wouldn't be all that different.

I emptied and dragged her water table inside. Cleaned it up and poured in some rice and beans. It took two 10lb bags of rice and two 4lb bags of beans. I probably could have put less in, but I know my Caitlin and there would be lots on the floor later. But hey, that's nothing a quick swipe of the broom can't remedy.

She spent a solid hour playing in it; pouring, dumping, shoveling, raking, hiding some plastic play animals, and baking the oddest birthday cakes for me! And the only reason she stopped was because she was getting hungry and thirsty. It was GREAT! What a fantastic imaginary play tool!

Not only was she entertained, but the money I spent goes so much further than going to a bounce house which is over when it's over. The play rice and beans is there in the kitchen waiting for her after her snack is over and for the next day when it's either a little rainy or a little too hot for outside.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Foodie Friday: Pesto Pasta with Seasoned Chicken


Another summer favorite around our house is pesto. Our basil plants seem to flourish every year and provide the source for an abundance of it. And on those hot summer evenings it makes for a simple yet tasty meal that won't heat up your kitchen too much.

Once you have your pesto (Foster's pesto recipe) the rest is pretty simple. I don't give any exact measurements here because there aren't any. It's all seasoned to taste.

Cook tricolor rotini according to package directions
After you have cooked and drained the rotini, add pesto and mix so the pesto covers all of the pasta.

Seasoned Chicken:
Salt
Pepper
GarlicPowder
Onion Powder
Italian Seasoning

Sprinkle the seasoning above on your chicken breast. Pour a couple of tablespoons of olive oil in a skillet. Heat on stove and add your chicken.

Cook chicken long enough to get a nice sear. Remove from heat and slice on cutting board. Add chicken back to skillet until finished cooking.

Top your pasta and pesto sauce with a few slices of seasoned chicken.

Enjoy!

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Playroom Classroom

Hubs and I have been having conversations off and on about homeschooling and whether or not we should. Honestly, I have been really scared about it. I just haven't had confidence in myself as a teacher. But I have come to a place as a stay-at-home mom where our routine just wasn't working for me. At all!

I clean all day, but the house never looks picked up. The toilets are scrubbed, but there are toys all over the floor and junk piled up on the counters. It's really been getting to me. I mean REALLY. There has been very little structure to our days. I just haven't been myself. I've been frustrated and unmotivated. And that is not the type of mom, wife, person I want to be. I needed something drastically different. I deserve more from my day to day life and so do my kids.

Caitlin is 3, and although that's too young to start formal schooling, she loves to learn. We read to her a lot. We have to explain everything she sees. She asks tons of questions.

Practicing her writing and number skills.
After seeing a friend of ours mention on Facebook the company she bought her home school material from, I checked it out. And what do you know, they have a preschool program too! Sonlight's P3/P4 program is really light in that it's not super structured. It's primarily reading based; focusing on parent-toddler story-time. I love that! It gives you time with your kiddos and they are learning through the stories.

Some of you may say, well if you are already reading to your kids, then why go through all that. Because first I loved that it was based on classic children's stories and not just the random stuff I pick up here and there. They also provide activity suggestions for each story. So, if you read "If You Give A Mouse A Cookie," you go make cookies together. You can also have your child try to guess what happens next as you read. Their premise is that they are teaching the parent how to home school by starting slowly. So when you get ready for structured schooling, you already have an idea of how it will work and if it will work for you.

So we got it. We also got a few preschool workbooks from Kumon. They have a fantastic approach to learning! The books we got for her are just simple tracing, mazes, cutting, and numbers books. Very age appropriate. And she is constantly asking to do her tracing now.

The plan was to turn our junk room office into a playroom/classroom. We can have "school" time in there. It brings all the toys into one room instead of being scattered all over the house. And I have a desk with the computer in there as well. This allows me to spend most of our indoor time in one room. We have more together time and when they are playing independently, I'm right there in the same room. Then I can still get some blogging done.

So far, I'm loving it! It's working. The girls are happier and so am I!

I wish I had taken a picture of the junk room office before we cleaned it up and turned it into something functional. Ok, so maybe I don't. That would just be embarrassing. But here is our set up now. Nothing pretty, but oh so perfect for our needs right now. I'll think about beautifying later. Maybe.

Not the most beautiful room, but it's my favorite in the house right now. I can spend special time with my girls while they are young. Whether or not they remember it, I will always remember this special time with them.




Bookshelves full of books, toys, and 'school time' things. Plus a sweet little baby hunting me down so she can be picked up and held.


Monday, July 23, 2012

Friday, July 20, 2012

Foodie Friday: Homemade Salsa


Hubs and I love good salsa. Chips and salsa are a frequent night time snack around our place.And nothing is better than salsa we made from our veggies straight from our garden.

Not every ingredient came from our garden this time around, but it easily could. I looked at several salsa recipes before coming up with this one and none of them sounded just right to me. So, I took a little from this one and a little from that one, tasted here and there as I mixed until I got just the right flavor.

This recipe makes 2.5 quarts of salsa; perfect for canning.

Ingredients:
14 Tomatoes
2 Onion
3 Jalepenos
1 bunch Cilantro
1 Green Pepper
1/4 cup Lemon Juice
1 tbsp Salt
1 tbsp Sugar
6 Garlic Cloves
1/2 cup Cidar Vinegar

You want to get the skin off your tomatoes first. This is easiest if you blanch them for just a minute and then dunk them into ice water. Those skins will just slide right off.

You don't NEED a food processor for this recipe, it'll just be a chunkier salsa without it. But I chopped up all the ingredients in my food processor and them dumped them into a stock pot. My food processor couldn't hold all of it at once, so I'd just do a little at a time, dump it into the pot and then chop some more until it was all done. (Tip: If you are using a food processor to chop, chop the tomatoes by themselves. They have enough water in them with out adding anything. When you chop the rest of the ingredients, use the lemon juice or vinegar to add the needed moisture to pull your ingredients down into the blades. Otherwise you'll be stopping and starting a lot to push the dry ingredients down.)

If you want fresh salsa, you're really done at this point. Stir to mix it all up and put in the fridge for a while to let the flavors marinate together.

If you want to can your salsa, cook on the stove for about 10 - 15 minutes.

Pour into your jars and process them for 15 minutes in a water bath canner.

Enjoy!

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Squash Bugs

Last year I wrote about a problem we had with our squash plants called squash wilt. It's a disease that effectively kills your plants and prevents any harvest. We've had a little of it this year, but not as badly as last.

I've been kind of surprised at the number of hits I've gotten in regards to that post. So, I want to also add some info about another squash and zucchini plant problem. Squash bugs.

Hubs and I have a personal vendetta with these annoying little buggers. They lay their eggs on the plant leaves. Typically underneath, but sometimes on top too. They eat holes in the leaves preventing the plant from gathering energy from the sun and putting that energy into growing squash.


It's best to cut out the eggs. Yes, it will make a hole in your leaf too, but it's best have a few little holes than to have tons of giant holes feeding the bugs. Plus if those don't hatch, they can't lay more eggs and you help get rid of the bug infestation.

You can also start looking for these ugly things. They are related to the stink bug, so don't squish them with your hands. Use the flat of your knife (The one you used to cut the eggs off the leaf.) and squish them with that.


You can also use a pesticide which will help get rid both squash bugs and the cucumber beetles that carry the squash wilt bacteria. I don't like using pesticides though. So we try to plant herbs that repel certain bugs and also use nicotine on our garden. We didn't spray the Nico-Tea (nicotine tea) this year and our oregano didn't do very well either. I think think that's why we've been having a little trouble this year. We'll have to be more diligent next.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Foodie Friday: Blackberry Jam


Our blackberry bushes produced a ton of berries this year. It was great! We snacked on some. Froze some. But mostly, made jam. Yummy delicious blackberry jam. Mmm.

We started by heating the berries a little on the stove. Then put them through a food mill to separate the juice from the seeds. That's the only thing about the thornless berries we have, they have larger seeds. So it was important to get the seeds out.

After the THIRD attempt to make jam, it finally set. When the recipe says that you don't need to add pectin, don't believe them! Add pectin!

Doesn't this toast look delicious? It's still a bit thinner than I like my jam to be, but still downright tasty. Oh, and it makes really good peanut butter & jelly sandwiches. Mmm.


Tuesday, July 10, 2012

DIY Root Barrel Cellar


This year we grew potatoes in our garden for the first time. We were really surprised at how big the potato plants grew. What we didn't realize until too late, was that we were supposed to pile more soil on top of the young plants. You get more potatoes that way.

Despite our not adding extra soil, we still got a pretty good harvest. About 38 pounds.

We don't eat potatoes every day, although we will be eating more now. So the question now is how to preserve those potatoes to make them last as long as possible.

Eric found (sorry I'm not sure where) someone who made a root barrel (instead of a root cellar). What a cool idea! So, we are going to try it out too. The theory is simple, the labor is hard work.

First you buy a barrel. We bought a metal barrel, but plastic would work well too.

Dig a hole big enough for the barrel to fit into. This is the hard part. I'm so glad I didn't have to do it. This project would have never gotten done if it was up to me. We have rock and clay and Eric dug through it in 100 degree heat. Love you honey!!

Drop your potatoes in; dirt and all. Washing your potatoes before storing them will make them go bad faster. Wait to wash them until you want to cook them. Oh, and do you see the condensation in the barrel on that top photo? That's actually a good thing. While you don't want it wet, higher humidity keeps veggies in a root cellar from drying and shriveling.

Put lid back on the barrel. Cover the lid with wheat straw and a tarp to help keep it cool.

Now, you can store all those delicious root veggies you grew in your garden.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Drink Tray to Vintage Sign



Can you read what the sign on the left says? My dad couldn't. It's adventure awaits. See it now? My favorite though is the bubble bath sign.

When our coffee table finally broke for good, we hauled it off to the dump. All except for the two drink trays that used to sit below the table. I just knew there was something we could use them for.

Maybe a breakfast-in-bed tray? Nah, we have kiddos that don't understand staying in bed beyond sunrise.

I even thought about cutting them in half and making floating shelves. Hubs didn't think that would work too well. Something about stability and all that mumbo jumbo.

Finally I got the idea to create some wall art signs for the bedroom remodel that I want to do after the bathroom is done. And those trays would be perfect! And since I'm STILL WAITING on the hardware for my bathroom mirrors and that room is at a standstill right now, It was time to jump on this project.

I didn't take any in process pictures because, well I just forgot. Besides, I don't think photos of faint pencil marks would really be all that interesting.

First I painted the trays white with some leftover paint from the previous homeowners. Score! I didn't sand the trays down because I didn't want the paint to stick too perfectly. I even let Caitlin help me paint to make sure it was streaked. Of course I had to help her paint in only one direction. And then she kept touching it before it was dry, so it ended up with a heavier coat of paint than I intended. But that's alright. I just distressed it later.

I used a pencil and hand sketched the letters. Sure I could have used my Cricut, but I only have a few fonts and I kind of get bored with them after awhile. Plus I needed a really bubbly font for the Bubble Bath sign. Then I took some sample gray paint (I want to paint our bedroom gray.), traced and filled in my hand drawing.

Let it dry. Erase any left over pencil lines. Rub down with some sandpaper.

I LOVE how they turned out.

I don't have them hung up yet because I want to paint the bedroom walls first. But the Adventure Awaits sign will go above the door that leads into the rest of our house. And the Bath Time sign will go above our bathroom door.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Foodie Friday: Coconut Crusted Tilapia


One of my favorite meals at home is Coconut Crusted Tilapia on a bed of salad. It's simple, fresh, yummy, and a break from chicken or beef. I try to have at least one fish dish a week and this is usually it. I just don't get tired of it.

Coconut Crusted Tilapia:
Tilapia
Coconut
Salt
Pepper
Pecans

Salad:
(Base)
Lettuce
Cucumber
Tomato
Green Pepper
(Extra Salad Yummies)
Carrots
Apples

Preheat your oven to 350.

Line a baking pan with foil.

Place tilapia filets in pan.

Salt and pepper to taste.

Cover with coconut and sprinkle top with pecans. The coconut covers the fish and actually keeps it from drying out.

Bake for 20 minutes or until tilapia is fully cooked. You'll know it's fully cooked when the tilapia flakes a bit when you scrape it with the tines of your fork. But 20 minutes usually does it for 3-4 fillets.

Place fillets on your salad. The tilapia tastes especially yummy with apples in the salad. I don't eat salad dressing, so that's it for me. But if you eat salad dressing, ranch and balsamic vinaigrette go well according to my husband.

Enjoy!

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Oliver's Labels Review

I've been meaning to post this for a couple of days now. I blame it on the heat we've been having. Record temps here. But despite the heat, I know I'm a very distracted person right now with a  3-year old and an 8 month old. Plus my daughter, Caitlin, is always setting something of hers down and then forgetting where she left it. She's 3. What else would you expect?

Most of the time, I'm on top of it. I know what she had and where she's been, so I can find her things. But sometimes distraction prevails and I loose track of her stuff too. And it's gets left or forgotten and I have to buy new things.

Oliver's Labels are awesome for loose-able things! They graciously allowed me to try out a few of their labels and I have no complaints. Really, none.

They are water-proof and dishwasher safe. They sent regular labels and some specifically designed to cling to fabrics.

I put labels with just Caitlin's name on her sippy cups because, if we did lose those, it wouldn't be too big of a deal. But some of her more expensive things, like her bike and scooter got a special label. Oliver's Label puts a Found-It code on your label. If someone finds your lost whatever, they can go to Oliver's special web page, enter the number and then, it will alert you that someone found your item. I love this!! Instead of putting your phone number or address out there where anyone can get it, they have to go through this site. Sure, it a little more convoluted than putting a phone number on there, but it's safer for you and your family.

I put labels on her sippy cups, bike, scooter, and wagon. Because the wagon is made from canvas, it needed the labels made just for fabrics. The fabric labels are a little small, but they are meant for clothing and are the perfect size so they don't irritate. Once school starts back, these will be going on her lunch box and winter coat too.




I received one or more of the products mentioned above for free using Tomoson.com. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will be good for my readers.
 
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