Monday, August 1, 2016

Crockpot Soup Fall Freezer Meals

My favorite thing about fall is it is the season for soup!
  Below are three easy to assemble Crockpot Soup Freezer Meals.  

Crockpot Chicken Taco Soup

Makes one gallon bag, serves 4-5

O       Freezer Grade gallon sized Ziploc bag
O       sharpie

O       1 lb (about 2 cups ) chicken breasts, fat trimmed
O       1  tbsp dried minced onion
O       1 15 oz. can ((1 ¾ cup) pinto beans (drained and rinsed)
O       1 15 oz. (1 ¾ cup) can black beans (drained and rinsed)
O       1 15 oz (1 ¾ cup) bag of frozen corn
O       1 can undrained rotel   tomatoes  (optional for more spice)
O       1 can diced tomatoes, undrained
O       1 packet Taco seasoning (use only 1/2 packet for less spice)

Day of cooking
O       2 to 3 cups chicken broth

To freeze:
1. Label Bag with instructions.
2. Combine all ingredients into a Ziploc bag and freeze flat.

To Serve:
1. Thaw overnight in fridge.
2. In Crockpot, add chicken broth, and cook on low for 6-8 hours.
3. Shred chicken in crock pot once cooking is done.
4. Top with sour cream, shredded cheddar cheese, and/or tortilla chips.

Crockpot Lasagna Soup

Makes one gallon bag, serves 4-5
O        Freezer Grade gallon sized Ziploc and small Ziploc
O       sharpie

O 24oz jar of pasta sauce
O 1 lb (about 1 ½ to 2 cups) ground Italian sausage- cooked
O 1 tsp Italian seasonings
O Sea salt and pepper to taste
O 1 15oz can (about 1 ¾ cup) of cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
O 2.5oz of chopped fresh baby spinach (about 3 cups)
O 4 cups of chicken broth (add day of cooking if won’t fit in bag)

Day of cooking
O 5 uncooked lasagna noodles, broken into small pieces, OR 1 ½  cup pasta of your choice

To Freeze:
  1. Place all the ingredients except lasagna noodles in labeled freezer bag: 
  2. Put noodles in small Ziploc bag, store in dry pantry. 

To serve
  1. Thaw over night in fridge
  2. Cook for 6-8 hours on "low" setting in slow cooker.
  3. Add noodles and cook for an additional 30 minutes. OR cook pasta separately according to package and add to soup when ready to serve.
  4. Top with freshly grated mozzarella and/or Parmesan cheeses and serve with a side of garlic bread. 

Crockpot White Chicken Chili

Makes one gallon bag,  serves 4-5

O Freezer Grade Gallon sized Ziploc bag
O Sharpie

O       1 pound (about 2 cups) boneless, skinless chicken breasts 
O       2 cans-15.5oz ( about 3-3.5 cups) of Great Northern beans, rinsed and drained
O       1- 4oz can of chopped mild green chilies (half a can if want less spicy)
O       ½ bag of 1 lb bag of frozen corn
O       1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
O       1 tbsp dried minced onion
O       2 garlic cloves, minced
O       2 teaspoons ground cumin
O       1 tsp dried ground oregano
O       1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
O       1/4 teaspoon pepper
O       1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes

Day of cooking
O       2-3 cups chicken broth (more broth makes it less chili and more soup like)

To Prep
1. Label your freezer bag.
2. To your freezer bag, add all ingredients except broth.
3. Remove as much air from the freezer bag as possible, seal, and lay flat in your freezer.

To Serve
1. The night before cooking, move frozen bag to your refrigerator to thaw.
2. The morning of cooking, pour contents of freezer bag into your Crockpot and add 4 cups of chicken broth.
3. Cook on “low” setting for 6 hours or until chicken is cooked through.
4. Shred chicken and serve with sour cream, cheese.  Cornbread or tortilla chips are good side.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

First Day of School Scavenger Hunt

First Day of School Traditions can set the tone for the rest of the year.  We always take a picture the first day, each boy individually, and then together, in front the same tree.

Last year we added a First Day Scavenger Hunt. I hid clues around the house, with a prize at the end. It only took 5 to 10 minutes, but was a huge hit. We had to learn teamwork, making sure to take turns with who got to read the clue.  If you have older kids, you can make it challenging by hiding in harder spots in the room (like in the pillowcase of the bed instead of on top the pillow).

If you know your child's love language, the hunt is also a way to fill their love  tanks; one of my boys is gifts and loved receiving the prizes.  The other boy is quality time, so he enjoyed the hunt done as a family.  I also made a prize a game  we can play together this year, to extend on the quality time. If you child is words of affirmation, maybe add encouraging words to your clues (I like you because), or act of service for the prize (no chores for a week)

Prizes can be anything you want, ranging from small piece of candy to clothes or school supplies.  Last year's prize were Star Wars wrist watches I had bought at an after Christmas Clearance Sale, which had a double meaning of setting the tone of increasing responsibility for the year. This year's prize is going to be new chapter books and the spelling game Appletters.

As a homeschooler, we did only one or two subjects after the hunt, very gently introducing the curriculum & theme for the year.

First Day of School
Scavenger Hunt

  • CLUE #1 Give to the child
  • CLUE #2 Hide in a bathroom
  • CLUE #3 Hide on any bed in the house
  • CLUE #4 Hide with your broom
  • CLUE #5-Can be hidden in fridge, or in your garden
  • CLUE #6 Hide in game chest or shelf where you store board games
  • Prize- Hide by your family computer


The dentist says you’re good with a tooth brush,
now go to the room where you give the toilet a flush


Personal hygiene is good to keep, now go to a room where I can sleep


You like to play toys in your room, now go to the place we store the broom


Now you’re in a cleaning mood, go the place we get healthy food

CLUE #5-

Eating food is quite nice, now go to the place we store dice.


Games are really a lot of fun, but in the computer room the hunt is done.



Friday, July 1, 2016

I want to Homeschool in Indiana... Where do I start?

How To Start Homeschooling in Indiana.
Many are surprised by how much homeschooling law varies from state to state.  I live in Indiana, and we are blessed to have homeschool friendly laws, BUT that doesn't mean every district/principal/superintendent is homeschool friendly.  Indiana's Department of Education (DOE) Website is also quite misleading, so  I highly recommend seeking information from Homeschool Legal Defense Associatin (HSLDA)  and  Indiana Association of Home Educators (IAHE) 

Indiana Homeschool Laws

Basic Info: Indiana Homeschools are considered non-accredited, nonpublic schools. You must have 180 days in your homeschool year.  Indiana has no stipulations on what a "day" looks like in your house, or how many hours it is; which means Indiana can not mandate your curriculum choices, pace, or yearly schedule.  Your child does not need to participate in any testing. 

Are you transferring your child from public school to homeschool?

  • Written letter of intent to transfer- Sample transfer letters for principal
  • Indiana Homeschools are considered non-accredited, nonpublic schools, which is why (IAHE) recommends using the term "transfer" instead of "withdraw" when informing school.
  • You can take your child out of public school ANYTIME of the year, no need to wait for semester breaks, after testing, or end of school year
  • Become a member of HSLDA if your district gives you any problem. 
Are you homeschooling from the beginning? 
  • You DO NOT need to register with the state (even though the DOE's website strongly implies this).  Parents may choose to register, but this is your family's decision.  We personally have never registered our children with the DOE in 5 years of homeschooling.
  • If you do choose to register with the state, the Age of Compulsory attendance is not until 7 years old. 
Homeschooling Styles- What's the Flavor of your house?
Many moms make the mistake of looking for curriculum before first spending a little time researching homeschool styles. Not many curriculums are purely one style, but knowing your personal bent can take hours off your curriculum search. See this post for  5 Main Home-school Styles.
  1. Traditional
  2. Classical
  3. Unschooling
  4. Unit Studies
  5. Charlotte Mason 
  6. Eclectic- A mixture of a few or several of the above  

Homeschool Curriculum

We are in a golden age off curriculum choices, but that can also be extremely overwhelming. Seek help from friends and great reviews for Secular and Christian curriculum from Cathy Duffy Reviews. While there several options of styles (see above),most curriclum fits into a few different types  based on your family needs.

Boxed- Open and Go
Boxed curriculum come with a teacher's Manual, and all the books you need for teaching your child.  No hours of planning or seeking out books, just open the manual and teach each day from the books provided in your box. You can go at your own pace, but the template of the teacher's manual is extremely helpful. I am heading into my 5th year, and still love my "open and go" curriculum, My Father's World. Also See this post for my 4 "Open and Go" Home-school Curriculum.

Eclectic -Make your Own

Many moms piece together their curriculum from different publishers, and use a homeschool planner to plan their day. The increase in homeschooling families equals more resources available, meaning you can pick the curriclum that best meets the needs your family and child. 

K-12 Online Public School
K-12 is a free online schooling option. Please note this is not technically homeschool, it is public school at home, meaning you have no authority over your content , pace at which you cover the materials, or school schedule.   This is a good option for the mom who wants their child to stay lock-step with the public schools. This could be for someone who knows for sure homeschool is just a season, and their child will be going back into public school eventually.

Find Homeschool Friends (for you and your kids)

Find a Local Homeschool Group on Facebook 
This step will help you with all the rest.  I can point you in the first direction, but your local homeschooling can give you info on local field trips, play-dates, curriculum choices, dealing with unsupportive in-laws, and finding resources in your area.

Attend Home-school Classes and Activities 

Check your local YMCA, Library, and/or local Parks and Recreation for Homeschool-geared activities.  The homeschool community has grown in the past 20 years, which includes communities who have begun to offer resources and activities during the  school weekday.

Homeschool Cooperatives (Co-op)

A Co-Op is just short for Cooperative.  Not all home schools enjoy co-ops, they are just another resource if you choose to use them.  It is only a true cooperative if the parents all have a job, helping teach or assist in some way. Co-Op are all different, because they are what the Moms make of them.  Some meet weekly, some monthly, some just for field trips.  A Co-op can be big with dozens of families, or just you and one other family. See more on my post- What is a Homeschool Co-Op?

Four "Open and Go" Boxed Homeschool Curriculum

For the new homeschool mom, an "Open and Go" curriclum can be the best way to get your feet wet.  You don't do the planning, just open your teacher's manual and go!  That said, I am heading into my 5th year of homeschool, and I still use an "Open and Go" curriclum, and I love it. Small Warning  for any boxed curriclum, remember your teacher's Manual is not god.  Our current curriclum, My Father's World, has more than enough to fill our day, and we tend to leave out what we don't need, or is covered in another aspect of your day.  For example, my kids attend Awana, so we don't use MFW's Bible memorization.  We also don't do their art or music.

I asked around for recommendations and below are 4 of the the best "Open and go" Christian curriculum , in order of costs, including their homeschooling style, link to their site, and some short pros and cons based on mine.

Styles-Traditional for the most part,

  • No need to add any other subjects, like language arts or math.
  •   Very child directed, they log in and do their assignments for that day
  •  Very good if your child is going back to public school some day.

  •  Online, if you are doing more than one child, you need more than one screen. 
  • Lots of screen time for the day  (you can cut back on this by getting books from library instead of them reading them online)

SMALL COST- Heart of Dakota- About $100- $300 (depending on supplements)
Style-Charlotte Mason

  • SUPER easy to implement, teacher guide very easy layout to use and implement.
  • You can keep your kids in separate programs or combine them into one (combines up to 4 grade levels with supplements for adding older kids to each grade).
  • 4 day week, with 5th day for catch-up.

  •  If you combine more than 2-3 year gap in ages, you have to buy separate supplements packages for older kids.
  • For older grades (above 1st grade) You have to buy and teach Math and Language Arts separately, depending on ages (they have recommendations on their website for those subjects or you could do math & L.A on Easy Peasy free website).  
  •  You would also have to go to library once every few weeks to pick up books from book list. A lot of writing in a notebook (pro if your child likes to write)

MIDDLE COST- My Father’s World- $200- $400 
(I use this and we use the least expensive basic package and it is still plenty to do)
Styles-Traditional, Unit studies, Charlotte Mason 

  • Easy teacher guide with subjects for the each week. Easy to skip activities you don't need or don't fit your child. Example-We made homemade tortillas when learning about Mexico, but never made any of the global art projects suggested. We also skip all their Bible memorization because the boys go to Awana.
  • Best for a family teaching several ages together. A multi-age classroom, you teach only ONE geography, science, and history lesson to all your kids, no matter their ages.  
  •  4 day week, with 5th day for catch-up.
  • Majority of their profits go to Bible translation around the world.

  • For older grades (above 1st grade) You have to buy and teach Math and Language Arts separately, depending on ages (the have recommendations on their website for those subjects or you could do math & L.A on Easy Peasy free website).  
  • You would also have to go to library once every few weeks to pick up books from book list.
  • There are several hands-on activities with the units which can require more planning (we skipped a lot of these on busy days), less writing and copywork (could be a pro if your kids like hands on)

HIGHEST COST- Sonlight $900 for a full grade package
Styles- Charlotte Mason

  • Open and go, easy to implement. 
  • All books are included, so no need to ever run to library, or sub a book that isn’t at your library.

  •  Not a multi-age progam.
  • You have to buy and teach Math and Lanagues Arts separately, depending on ages.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Mom Tips for Tonsillectomy Recovery

I am not a doctor by any means, but here some tips from one mom to another! Both of my twins have had their tonsils and adenoids out, one at age 5 and one at 8 1/2 years old. Both boys have different recovery times, so I can't tell you exact time lines, but these tips gathered from several moms and our own experience made the process easier.

Every kid is different (even twins)! My two kids recovered in different time periods, but the tips below helped both. My first took longer to recover at age 5, but I used what we learned on the second to help speed the recovery process for when his brother got his out at age 8 1/2.  GOOD LUCK!

  • Make it fun by including your child in the prep! Let your kid help with shopping, it turns the fear into anticipation. I took my son to pick out all his favorite pudding & Gatorade flavors and we cleaned out a shelf just for him in the fridge before hand. He felt very special telling the nurse that he had a whole shelf just for him.
  • Buy some useful surprises for day of surgery. I bought a few dishwasher-safe character tumblers with a straw, helping prevent off dehydration. 
  • Make it fun by including friends. We took lots of pictures the morning of, and lots of friends sent encouraging texts that he read before the surgery.
  • Bring a stuffed animal to surgery if your child still sleeps with one.
  • Stay ahead of the pain!!! Do not wait until they say they have pain. Stay on schedule with your medicine, even waking up your child in the night to give them medicine for the first 3-5 days.  I promise you  waking up a child 1-3 times a night to give him medicine is much better & shorter process then your child waking up in pain as their meds wear off. 
  • Keep a log of what medicine you give when, it is VERY easy to loose track, especially when switching between Tylenol and Motrin.  This is especially important if your doctor gives your child a narcotic type pain med, like hydrocodone. 
  •  Ice Pack on throat for the first few days was helpful, along with Popsicle of course to sooth the swollen uvula. 
  • Drink, drink, drink!  Do not let those scabs dry out, or they will hurt more.  I explain more below in Sleep, but keep humidifier near them as much as possible. 
  • Expect possible Ear pain. Around Day 7-10, my sons complained more of ear pain than throat pain.  The doctor said it was deferred pain, but the ice packs still helped.
  •  Be OK with more TV than you would ever let your kids watch!
  • Gets lots Audio Books.  These were great to rest when he wasn't sleepy enough to nap, but needed to rest his eyes.
  • Take a Library trip beforehand, hide the books until they get home from surgery.  My kids are bookworms.  If your kid likes movies and video games, get new ones fromt he library.  New is good, it distracts from pain. 
  • Use humidifier to keep throat from drying out overnight!!!!  This was the game changer in our first son's surgery; even when we stayed on schedule for medicine, he was waking up in extreme pain every morning, until we added a humidifier next to head while he slept. We started off with a humidifier on our 2nd son's surgery it made all the difference! We used our essential oil diffuser with a few drops of lavender oil. 
  • Sleep with head elevated.  We used a husband pillow under his regular pillow to ensure our son slept upright and didn't roll off to his stomach.
  • As referred to in pain management, WAKE UP your child for pain medicine the first 5-6 nights. I promise it will be easier than calming down a child who is severe pain. 
  • Give them a Bell so your child doesn't have to cry out to you and hurt their throat.
  • Buy lots of disposable straws. Like I said before, we also bought cool tumblers, but the straws will come in handy too.
  • After the first day (no dairy the first day) we had  our son drink a chocolate ensure, calling it a milkshake to get him to excited.  Since he didn't eat much the first 3 days, I knew he was still getting some nutrition. 
  • The sooner the child can start chewing, the better for his healing process, but you really want to avoid bleeding. After the third day, we introduced soft food that could help in chewing, but not cause bleeding, like scrambled eggs, mashed potatoes, and spaghetti.   Your child may complain of ear pain as they chew.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Set a Fire- Power of Words

I do not consider myself an expert of words, I consider myself a student of words.  I love words, and I am always seeking the best way to use them, or not use them.

If you don't know me personally, know that  I am what they call "a talker".  I have had the "gift of gab" all my life, but not always considered it a gift.  God has used me words  teach others, but I have also tasted foot in my mouth more times than I'd like to count. Many times in my life I have been shamed by others, and shamed myself, for the amount of words I use. Being a better steward of my words is a life-long pursuit.  Even in this, I still love Words.  Words are my life.  They are beautiful and they are brutal.  They are my strength, and they are my weakness. 

“So too, though the tongue is a small part of the body, it boasts great things. Consider how large a forest a small fire ignites." James 3:5
On August 24, 2000 a  woman stopped by the road to light her cigarette,  she threw the match she used to light it down, and left.  Several day later,  the fire she caused came to be known as  "The Jasper Fire", and had destroyed 83,000 acres of the Black Hills of South Dakota.  Over $40 million of timber was destroyed.

I grieve the lost of this timber deeply and personally. I know first hand the time and work that goes into that much timber. My father in law plants Walnut  trees for future timber.  He planted them when my 8 year olds were just babies, knowing that when my children are adults, they could possibly harvest those same walnuts for $10,000 plus a tree.  That is a LONG term investment if I ever saw one, the opposite of a quick buck.  It requires years of patience, and care.  The trees are not left alone after planting, but checked  for to prevent scaring as the years go by. Yet all that time and investment can burn up with a careless action of a match being thrown.

Sometimes we walk away from a conversation, not realizing that our words were a match; not realizing we just burned a bridge, or set a fire of gossip and disunity. We could even be setting ablaze to years of healing, and helping confirm a lie that Satan wants the person to believe. This is a sobering thought, and it should be.  Words have power.  Many times, like the woman who drove away from the lit match, the destruction affect others much more than it affects you.

Yes , words have power, but it is not necessarily only the power to destroy. We can not let the fear control us, and keep us from speaking.

I think of the difference in what kind of power your words will have is like the difference between a wild bonfire that kills years of growth versus the light in a million lamps, or the fire that heats our houses and feed our families. 
 “So too, though the tongue is a small part of the body, it boasts great things.  James 3:3a
Fire can make great destruction, but can also make great growth. Fire feeds us, it cooks our food, it guides us the utter darkness, it is POWERFUL in a best sense of the word. 

"Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruits." Proverbs 18:2
One simple way God has been showing me that I can set some “good fires” is to just be a noticerGenuine kind words can start fires that spread farther into someone’s soul than we could even fathom. 
We have all heard the saying “If you have nothing nice to say, don’t say anything at all." I am flipping that into, “If you have something nice to say, say it.”Notice the good in others, then say it.  There are many times in life where the thought does not count,  you actually have to actually speak

I am not encouraging flattery.  Flattery is false and boosts yourself other then the recipient, but encouragement comes when we genuinely notice the good in others, without seeking benefit to ourselves. 

Mark Twain once said ‘I could live for two months on a good compliment.”   Noticing  the good in others doesn't have to be complicated , or even worthy of  a Hallmark-Card, just a simple notice of of another with your words. When you think how much you like your friend, text her that exact thing. A simple "I am glad you are my friend" is a great surprise in their day.  I am stressing seizing the opportunities, small or big, to speak kindness into someone’s life. 

 I once had an acquaintance once tell me in passing how stylish she thought I always looked. She had no idea the life-long struggle I have with insecurity and not seeing myself as beautiful, or worthy of affection. That complement warmed my soul. That warmth affected how I interacted with my husband; I was more affectionate and able to pour encouragement into him because I wasn’t seeking for him “to make me feel beautiful”. My ability to encourage him turn effected how he interacted with his co-workers, which then effected how they interact with foster parents, then effect those foster parents interactions with foster children.

See, I just traced  how someone telling me I looked cute helped foster kids! 

While that may seem a little far fetched, I want to echo my pastor's teaching on Jesus's miracle of feeding the five thousand, “Little is much in Jesus’ hands”.  Our little encouragements can be used for so much in God’s hands. You never know what lie Satan is wanting a friend to believe (they are too ugly for their husband, their friends are better off if they aren’t there, etc).  Pray God lets you be a noticer this week. Pray that your little words are much in Jesus' hands. 

 If you have something nice to say, say it.

Fire's power is all about who controls it. 

“The lips of the godly feed and guide many.” Proverbs 10:21a

I think as a mother, a sister, a friend, and teacher, my goal in life is to help feed and guide those in my life. As I read scripture about the power of words,  I was struck by the words that are NOT used in this verse. God also convicted me there are several words I  try to substitute this verse instead of the word Godly.  The substitutions try justify me working in my own power and strength :

“The lips of the ______ feed and guide many.”

Not mentioned in the verse:

I am not saying these words are bad, because many are all wonderful descriptors that are part of who God made us, but none of them will be a everlasting fuel to the Godly Fire we want to set. When you approach encouragement and friendships with SOLELY these fuels, you will burn out, or worse, unintentionally set a fire of destruction.  Trust me that I am speaking from experience on this one.  

What this verse tells me is not to focus on my words, but to focus on the source of my words. Godliness is in essence devotion.  I do not have to be perfect to have the perfect words.  I do need to be devoted to God, devoted to seeking HIS words first. 

This is a HUGE truth for me to try to grasp, what is my motivation in my words? Am I seeking Godliness before I seek "the perfect words"?  Or I seeking validation, value, praise, or my own glory? My prayer is that I focus my heart and thoughts on Godliness, He will bring forth words that feed and guide many.

So again, My challenge this week is seek to set a fire that feeds a friends heart. Pray, seek God.  Then if you have something nice to say, say it.