Monday, June 27, 2016

Menu Monday: Week of June 27th


I felt like this past week was our first 'real' week of summer vacation.  Graduation prep and June visitors made our summer vacation feel a bit delayed in routine... a good delayed though!

Tuesday we started our new scheduled Bible Study.  Ashley is leading a couple middle school girls in a study on James (Brooke is one of the girls!)  I am co-pilot, along to help maintain but otherwise a quiet observer and moral supporter since this is Ashley's first experience with leading study... she is a natural (and I am secretly proud of her!)

My housework list went back into action and as we kicked dusts' butt and hit back into yard maintenance I finally felt like life in this little house of ours had finally arrived. (For any new readers here, we just bought our house in September)

The yard is A LOT of work and energy to get in the shape that makes it ours.  I do have garden plans, even if we are working into late June for such things, my seedlings are strong and ready to hit their homes until harvest (note to self: start earlier next year).  As a result, my squash was screaming to be transplanted and their new home was in shambles... well, not complete shambles, I had cleared out the debris a couple months ago... then we had one giant pile of dirt ready to distribute for the squash mounds and waited on chicken wire to complete our rabbit-proof "fence".  (We have many of the cute little furry friends around.)


Like I said, the squash were screaming, so ingenuity took over.  On Wednesday I felt I could wait no longer.  I grabbed a shovel, the dirt was spread, fences were situated and old lacy curtains took the place of un-purchased chicken wire.  An old crate style 'table' was pulled out of a corner from the previous owners left-behinds and transformed into my gardening table. I have my tomato seedlings still resting on top, their garden space was only just cleared on Saturday.




It is marvelous that all but one of my children have jobs outside the home now... but it wasn't marvelous that I took it upon myself to nail the final details on our make-shift fence and spread the dirt... because the very next day my upper back went out.

Ugh

You'll see dinner repeats on this week's menu as a result.  My hubby can cook, but when he is worried about me and immobility, he will go simple and I just save the planned meals for when I am better.

I'm on the mend now.  Still some funky headaches and numbness but my mobility is almost back to normal. 

Food to share from this past week:
 First day of summer, chili dogs (I promise, there is a hot dog under there!) and home-made mini-fries.  It was d.e.l.i.c.i.o.u.s.!!  I cheated and used canned beanless chili though!

 First day of summer dessert and beverage.  I know, not as fancy as I usually like to make my pictures.  This is a lemon brownie dessert that just melts in your mouth.  I found it on Pinterest.  The slushy is an old modified recipe from Family Fun Magazine back when my kiddos were little.  We use to make construction paper suns and put them on the straw with a scoop of ice-cream on top of the slush.  My revised and modified recipe is sort of off-the-hip:

I make a concentrate or syrup with 2 packages blue cool-aid, 2 cups of sugar and 2-4 cups water. 

In blender, mix about 1/2 cup syrup mixture, a squirt of lemon juice and then crushed ice all the way to the blender's fill line and process.  I adjust my syrup and ice ratio based on how thick/thin I want the slushy and as to taste.  I have yet to perfect a good deep blue in my slushy!  I pour it into clear cups and drop in Swedish Fish (if you couldn't tell, we are mimicking water) and my kids like it when I get the gummy sharks as well!!  It is a fun fresh beverage all summer long!

One of hubby's co-workers blessed us with a washer and dryer.  We said thank you by baking him his favorite cookie: peanut butter.  I did a double batch so we could snack too!

To get my back moving again, I made blueberry streusel muffins for Saturday breakfast while my 'men-folk' were out tearing into more yard work and prepping the rest of my garden space for me!  Ashley had bought blueberries for parfaits she was making herself.  She wasn't using her last pint so I cautioned her to freeze them before they went bad.  After a month of un-use I got her approval to throw them into muffins.  I did need to rest after my baking adventure though, I am looking forward to being mended again.

Recipe Requests
This is a new section because I had a request for some recipes last week which I promised to provide today!  So here goes:

White Chili
I use raw beans, soaked to package instructions but you could use canned beans if you prefer.  Measurements are approximations since I tend to just throw stuff in!!

1lb White beans pre-soaked according to package or 3-4 cans white beans
2 chicken breast halves diced (can use raw or cooked... can use left over chicken of any kind as well)
1 can diced or stewed tomatoes
1-2 cups salsa (or another can of diced or stewed tomatoes)
1-2 cups water
1 Tbsp chicken bullion
1+ tsp each of garlic powder, onion powder, cumin
A few dashes of Parsley, salt and pepper.
When I have cilantro I will add a tsp

Throw all ingredients into crock pot, liquid should cover the chicken and beans.  If it doesn't, add a bit more water.
Cook on high 6 hours or on low 8-10.

Serve with cornbread or tortilla chips or cheese quesadillas (Cheddar cheese warmed in flour tortillas)  We also garnish with shredded cheddar cheese and sour cream.

Fried Tacos
These are actually quite simple although a bit messy to make!  I don't have any pictures of the process, only the final results (below). I use this tortilla recipe I found on Pinterest, it has been quite trusty.  Any recipe you prefer works fine.  You do, however, need fresh dough, NOT pre-packaged tortillas.  Growing up, my family would use a Pillsbury roll mix (in box) from the baking isle section of the grocery store in the same way that I use the tortilla dough.

  • Fry your taco meat and warm your beans then set aside.  (tip: I make my dough while my meat is frying)
  • Make and roll your dough out as you would for making tortillas: aprox 8-10 inch rounds 1/8 to 1/4 inch thick.
  • Spread one half of the round with meat and beans (if you use them)... I will also add shredded cheese but growing up, my family just did the meat. Be sure to leave about 1/2 inch space from edge.
  • Fold other side over top, fold edges over and pinch to seal shut.

Pour aprox. 1/2 inch of frying grease into frying pan or skillet.  Use any grease you prefer for frying.  Turn heat onto medium to medium high. (tip: I will start my grease heating up before I start assembling my tacos because I can only fry 2-3 at a time.  As they fry I will keep assembling tacos until I am done)  You will want paper towels and or a cooling rack to remove fried tacos to when they are done so the excess grease can drain off.  Cook on each side just a few minutes, or until lightly browned.  You can keep them warm in a low-set oven while you cook the remaining tacos.

When done you can serve with a side-salad or you can set up a salad bar and pry the top of the taco open and stuff it as you move through the topping ingredients.


These are positively delicious and addictive, be sure to make plenty!!

This week
Tuesdays and Fridays are going to be our errand and adventure days during the summer.  Tuesdays, because we plan to meet the other Bible Study girl out at the DQ or coffee shop.  Might as well take care of other business while I have the car!  This Friday is payday so I will take care of bills and then do the grocery shopping and get the dirt and remaining supplies needed to finish off this year's garden.  Since we are running so much on Tuesdays this summer, and I typically have an adult study I lead in the evenings that day, the slow cooker will be employed.

Along with other side projects, the other thing on my agenda this week will be to fully mend from the back outage.  I had to skip out on hosting one of the summer missionaries this week as the result of my bull-headed tendencies to get things done.  I don't want to have to turn down anymore.

Oh, and I nearly forgot to mention, our biggest event this week:  ASHLEY TURNS 18!!!!!!  Another ice-cream cake to work on and celebration day to plan.  If energy allows, I have a special project I am working on for her big day.

Menu for this week...

BREAKFAST....
- cereal/oatmeal
- eggs
- donuts (for the birthday girl)


LUNCH....
hubby: leftover Pork Fried Rice, fried summer sausage and rice
me and kids: leftovers, grilled sandwiches, tuna


DINNER....

Monday

Tuesday

BBQ Chicken Sandwiches and Side Salad
I will use my slow-cooker for this one and probably the bone-in chicken thighs and legs I have.  I will pull off the skin then throw the rest in with some BBQ Sauce.  When we are ready to eat, the chicken will be so tender it slides right off the bone!

Wednesday
Pork Steak, Steamed Cauliflower, Cheese and Noddles, Side Salad

Thursday
 BIRTHDAY DINNER!!  My little girl turns 18!!
Taco Salad


Friday
Pizza
I will be grocery shopping this day and since it is payday we will probably get take-and-bakes or some other pre-order variety.

Saturday
Burger and JoJo night!

  
What are you doing and cooking this week?


Blessings,












Thursday, June 23, 2016

Graduation, Homeschool Style

Last month I popped up a post, rambled on about picture hunting for Ashley's graduation and then shared some random snap-shots over the years!  Then, I left everyone hanging for a month!  After this past Friday's post, I am sure you can see: I am back in the saddle and ready for regular posts again.

The dust of graduation is settling and, as I looked through the pictures to piece together Friday's post, I realized it might benefit other homeschool parents, and curious onlookers, if I shared some about our graduation experience.  So here goes:


The Pre-requisits
Each state has it's own rules for graduation.  Typically it requires simply meeting the same requirements in class variations a public schooler would be required to take.  More specifically, if a youngster plans to attend college, parents should find out what the perspective college requires as well.  Most are more than satisfied with parent produced transcripts and an SAT or ACT score... but check to be certain.

Montana, where  we live, has reasonably laxed laws in this matter.  I checked the school board's requirements for public school high school graduates and tailored our curriculum to follow suit (i.e., the district requires a minimum of 2 years math, one of which must be Algebra, so we made sure to provide this).  She had all of the district's minimums met plus many extras.

The Diploma
Have you looked at your high school diploma since you graduated?  Does anyone ask to see your diploma in college or job applications?  No.  Actually, colleges want to see your transcripts and jobs, well, they really can't know for sure that you graduated!!  Though they could call your school to find out.  All this to say, I was going to spend the money to send out for an "official" looking (through websites) diploma... then I was going to just spend money on snazzy printing... but at the end of the day, I realized it is just a piece of card stock with embossed print that will quickly find it's way into a box of keepsakes to be moved from house to house throughout her life!  Yes, the embossing would have been nice, but I used card stock and designed Ashley's diploma on my computer using similar wording to that which appears on mine (which I dug out of the bottom of a drawer!!!).  Ashley requested a frame so I found a nice one at Michael's which reflected her personality (western).  I also found some gold foil "achievement" stickers at the office supply store which I then affixed bottom center to give it a more 'official' look.  You wouldn't know her diploma was home-made, just like her education!


Viola!

The Ceremony
We sent out invitations a month ahead of time and arranged a rough schedule.  Ashley writes and plays worship music so her graduation centered around this and the fact that we traveled for half of her high school career serving in missions.  The event was casual because Ashley is rather casual.  She wanted to wear her worship t-shirt and jeans and flip-flops so the rest of us followed suit.


I actually printed the above "program" out and handed to guests so they would know what to expect of the afternoon. We opened with a welcome and my husband prayed over the event.  Hubby and myself sat down while Ashley gave a speech, played 3 of her songs, and then she sat down.  I got up and gave a short speech (hubby isn't much of a speech giver!!) then called Ashley and my husband to the "stage" for the diploma presentation and congratulations.  Though I offered the traditional, Ashley opted NOT to wear cap and/or gown but I found a neat beaded necklace with tassel at Michael's and adorned her neck with it in conjunction with the diploma presentation.


I gave the closing prayer then hubby and myself sat back down while Ashley played a closing song written by Jamie Grace, which I requested because it made me think of her (I know this song isn't a graduation song... it is much sadder than that... but it is fitting for this occasion as well):




Believe it or not, I held it together, only getting choked up twice during the ceremony.  It was after that I broke down crying though my mother-in-law helped me pull it back together quickly so I could be a good hostess to other guests!

The Decorations


Since Ashley was going to share music as part of the graduation ceremony, we converted our garage into a stage using screws and some cheap tarps.  Most of the decorations came from the dollar store and I was really pleased with them.  I even found some graduation bubbles there!  The kids in attendance loved this!  We invested in some neat outdoor lights at the beginning of the spring, which we hung between the tracks of the garage door to give ambiance to our 'stage'.

On each side of the stage I arranged tables which shared goodies, invited interaction and told some of Ashley's story.  One table showed pictures of her journeys around the country in the first half of high school as we served through missions.  We had bubbles and some of Ashley's favorite ministry materials on that table as well.  The other table held a brag-board with pictures of Ashley in homeschool through the years.  I also included a photo album of field trips and one with her serving excursions.  We found Mad Libs for Graduation and tore out the pages, rolling them up and tieing them like diplomas, we encouraged guests to take one and enjoy!  We also had a bowl of "Smarties" candy on this table (haha, get it?) and a journal with pens and a Bible where we asked guests to leave a note of encouragement. I bought  2 dozen white roses for Ashley and used them in the decor on these tables as well.

A side note on the pictures... we have a magnetic dry-erase board in our dining room (typical homeschool family, right?!).  I attached one picture  of Ashley for each year so while people were getting food at the dining room table turned buffet they could see Ashley through the years.  


The kids also turned our large Elm into the "Party Tree" from the Hobbit via streamers hanging everywhere!!! The Party Tree was not only festive but it was good for shade and we set up borrowed chairs from the church so guests could be facing our 'stage' with streamers flying overhead from our tree... it was definitely fun!

Celebrating

We had snack food... which actually probably took longer and cost more than just doing a basic BBQ.  However, with Zach's (my oldest) girlfriend along and my mother-in-law, all us girls made quick work of decor and food prep (while the guys took care of stage building and heavy item set-up).  We had fruit, chips, dips, crackers, cheese and veggies... and of course the graduation cake!  I bought an inflatable baby pool for $2 and filled it with a bunch of ice, placed in the shade, for soda and water bottles.  Fresh lemonade was inside on the 'buffet'.



Broken teeth = Zach's long-time girlfriend... pink lips = close family friend (more like brother/son)
We set up a funny picture station as well which multiple guests had fun with.  Some of the props even made into the post-graduation family pictures!  I bought them back in January for Brooke's 13th birthday.  For graduation I took the birthday signs out and left all the other fun ones in.



We gave Ashley a gift bag with various trinkets I collected the last few months: a book mark, note pad, "Grad" glasses from the dollar store, a book, and flip-flops I got on clearance at Michael's.  She put the flip-flops directly on and it was fun seeing her enjoying her regalia!


We also set out Twister, which the teenagers enjoyed.  One friend brought a volleyball and, at one point, almost all the kids (and kids-at-heart) were playing a game with that.  Our yard isn't very big, we don't have a fence, and we do have a lot of windows and trees around so games were tricky but everyone seemed to have plenty of fun in spite of the restrictions.

Ashley set up a playlist on YouTube with Christian music she loves.  We piped it through the sound system on our "stage" so everyone could jam while we visited post-graduation.

What I should have done better or differently....
I've never planned a graduation before... only the after parties!  I took for granted how many details need detailed attention...

Planned out picture taking.  I didn't plan ANY of the picture taking... only that we would and, as an after thought, that we would all one a snap-shot with the graduate and her diploma as we had done with my oldest 4 years ago. During the ceremony, at the last minute, I was shoving my phone at Brooke before I headed up to speak and present... leaving her to take pictures from behind someone sitting in front and not knowing what to expect when she took them.  After I didn't think about who I would ask to snap shots of us and ended up giving my phone to someone who wasn't familiar with it.  He managed fine, but many pictures are blurry because I didn't take the time to explain how it worked.

Articulated Seating.  I should have talked seating with my family before guests arrived and then politely directed guests to the second row and beyond.  Instead, we ended up with some guests in the front row and hubby and Brooke stuck in awkward places with second-hand views.  Next time, I would actually "reserve" the front row seating, perhaps making some fun signs so the family can feel special too.

Rehearsed. I should have gone over the details of the ceremony with those directly involved before guests arrive.  Big-staged ceremonies do this and even a small-staged one needs it too.  It may be intimate but no one wants to sit through a half-planned or fumbled event.  Ours moved along fine, but it could have been moved along better and with less frustration on some participants parts if they had known what was coming!

Get the cake from a reliable source.  Our cake looks nice in the pictures because I did my best to fix it.  We ordered it through the local grocery store and when I picked it up, it sounded like the woman ahead of me had issues as well.  It didnt' look quite like the picture I ordered it off of. The writing wasn't centered, the toppers were in odd locations and not all of what I had ordered and there was a HUGE empty spot where decorations should have been.  I dont' usually order cakes but it was a special occasion and I figured it would be one less thing to stress about the day before graduation... and it wasn't cheap.  If I have to, though, I can make it myself for less next time.  Perhaps even do a cupcake-cake!

START THE PICTURE BOARDS EARLY.  I didn't order the pictures early enough and so I was scrambling during the last week to have this portion of the graduation ready on time.  Next time, I want to start right after Christmas!!  My boards looked OK and made their point... but they could have been much better with more time.

Start all of the event planning sooner.  While we talked and thought about graduation a great deal this year, the details of Ashley's commencement event came together over a 2-3 week period.  We could have made some cool yard games if we had more time to plan and prepare.  Speeches could have been edited and rehearsed better as well instead of nervously written and read at the last minute.  Planning, like the pictures, needs to start right after Christmas.  I may design a planner after this experience!  After all, only 2 more years until our next one!





I think that sums up our graduation experience.  It was a great day.  We were blessed with perfect weather, super friends and family and a good time for all.  If you have any questions for me, please let me know via the comments section below.  If you have any additional advice to share, I welcome that as well (and so might others who stop by!!)


Blessings,









Monday, June 20, 2016

Menu Monday: Week of June 20th

Wow, the last Menu Monday post was in May and it was the Menu-Making Edition!  This past month has been crazy busy... good crazy busy!  I have a post ready to go up later this week about graduation.  We also ended up with some last-minute company the week before grad which was fun.  A lot of cleaning, a lot of school year wrapping up, a lot of prepping and squeezing in ministry time as well... after all, if we aren't taking time to share God's Word then what are we really using our time for? 

Now that I am on the other side of graduation, life can begin getting back in order.  I'm excited to start fielding the next school year and getting back to my regular routine of household and ministry management, including the blog.  For other news from the last month you can check out Friday's post on Life Lately and check back on Thursday for Graduation: Homeschool Style!

One final note:  Today is the first day of summer!!!  We love celebrating the changing seasons.  I was going to skip our annual traditions this year, figuring the kids were 'too old' but then they invited a friend for First Day of Summer Slushies and I knew: you never outgrow celebrating the changing season!  I will share pictures and my recipe next week... because summer fun is good all summer, not just on the first day!

Food to share from this past month:

My lovely kitchen assistant!  She makes dinner prep sooooo much easier on this mama!  Here is what she was helping to plate:


Remember those HUGE chicken breasts I shared pictures of in my Menu-Making Edition article?  Well this is them all roasted up.  Three large breasts roasted in butter with sliced fresh garlic and onion over the top and a sprinkling of Greek seasoning on top.  You can see how we sliced them for serving.  We fed 6 people that night and still had leftovers!  I am planning a bread machine post soon to share a special clover roll recipe Brooke and I came up with.

 White Chili in the slow-cooker.  I have a walk-through recipe I will be sharing soon.

 An old family recipe for fried tacos.  My hubby's favorite... not so great for the cholesterol though!

Someone left BBQ rub in the break room and my husband's work, with a note that it was free for the taking.  I rubbed it on some skin-on-bone-in-chicken and roasted it in the oven.  Served with a salad, cubed potatoes and fresh bread... yumbo!  A total re-run dinner.

SIXTEEN, say what?  We got him a pick-up truck to commemorate his milestone birthday, what do you think?  Perhaps he can drive it with his pinky finger!  This is my ice-cream cake, I made homemade brownies in a jelly-roll pan and sliced for the edge: delicious.  Here is a YouTube video I made a few years ago to show how it's done.  Please don't mind my lack of time-lapse or my dry sense-of humor!  I had never made a how-to vid before!



 Here's a cake I did NOT make.  I thought it would be prudent to get a "professional" cake for Ashley's big day.  Never from that bakery again.  The cake I ordered had more flowers and a cute diploma roll.  This one lacked those perks AND the baker didn't even center "congratulations".  Ashley didn't like all the sayings on the stars since she is much more humble then some of their "Top 10 Reasons" to love graduation (like money, gifts, etc).  So I surgically removed their diploma and substituted my own using a plain piece of card-stock and a 3-D GRAD sticker I had. 


The rest of our graduation spread.  We found the drink jar at Ross on sale... steal of a deal!  It holds 2 gallons.  Ashley thought of the lemon/lime slices.  I have an awesome easy dip recipe for ALL occasions.  It works for veggies, potato chips and whatever else you like French Onion dip on:

1 pkg cream cheese softened
1 16oz container sour cream
1 pkg onion soup mix or equivalent of home-made
1 green onion chopped (optional)
Process all ingredients in food processor or with hand mixer and chill.  If you like your dip thicker, use less sour cream... if you like it thinner, use a little more.

Menu for this week...

BREAKFAST....
- cereal/oatmeal
- eggs
- blueberry muffins



LUNCH....
hubby: leftover Pork Fried Rice, fried summer sausage and rice
me and kids: leftovers, grilled sandwiches, tuna

DINNER....

Monday
FIRST DAY OF SUMMER!
Chili Dogs and mini home-fries with blue slushies

Tuesday

Mexi-Chicken Salad
I will use my slow-cooker for this one and pre-chop the chicken into small bite-size pieces.  Tuesdays are now Bible Study days at a local establishment.  Ashley is leading middle school girls and I am along for moral support.  THEN, I come home to lead my own adult Bible study.... a ready-to-eat meal will be nice.

Wednesday
Pork Fried Rice

Thursday
Double-Stuffed Baked Potato, Salad and Fresh Bread
I will bake potatoes, half-cool, scoop out inside and mix in a splash of milk and butter then add brocoli bits and ham.  I will re-stuff the potatoes and top with some shredded cheese and bake at about 375 for 20+/- minutes.  These are so hearty they are like a mini casserole!  Sides help complete the 'meal'.

Friday
Beef, Bean and Cheese Casserole with Side-Salad
I will home-make my tortilla and spread it into a baking dish, fill with my mexi-fried beef and some black beans (you can use taco seasoning, I fry mine with garlic, cumin, onion, chili and a splash of salsa).  Top with some cheese and toe top side to my tortilla and bake at about 375 for 30 +/- minutes. 

Saturday
Burger and JoJo night!

  
What are you doing and cooking this week?


Blessings,