Menu Plan Monday 1/28/13

Week 2 of being back to menu planning. I have to say I loved having a plan last week and we ate some really yummy stuff! And cleaned a little out of the freezer, which is always good too! This week we are once again back to cleaning out the freezer, and hopefully keeping the week’s grocery shopping to a minimum. But first, a recap of last week. 
Monday’s vegetable beef soup was yum-o like always! And the leftovers were even better!
Tuesday’s Italian Sausage spaghetti was fantastic. A little secret: I had never made spaghetti sauce from scratch before! I always bought a jarred spaghetti sauce. Well, no more! It was so good and the taste was far superior! This Italian Sausage sauce was from All Recipes and it will go in my recipe box of keepers (can’t find the recipe link right now but when I do I will add it!). I will also be trying a recipe that my mom always used that is a ground beef version with peppers, onions, etc.
Wednesday I ended up doing the beef and broccoli stir fry instead of the Tangy Apple Chicken Loaf.  I wasn’t too impressed and neither was anyone else. I just kind of dumped things in as I went, no recipe. Think I need to do some more investigating on this one!
Thursday I ended up taking the kids to Chick-Fil-A before dance. They are always so hungry after school and expecting them to make it til after 7 to eat is just mean! So I think Thursday is going to end up being an eat out day. It’s just going to make my life a whole lot easier! And makes for happier kids!
Friday we got a happy surprise when Steven got off 4 hours early. So that meant he was home for dinner and the Tangy Apple Chicken Loaf. Let me just say, if you have ground chicken in your freezer click on this link, go to All Recipes and grab this recipe! You will not be sorry! It was sooo good. Almost everyone went back for seconds. The only thing I wish is that I had made a little more of the glaze to eat with the finished product like I do with ketchup when I make a regular meatloaf. This one is definitely a keeper!
Saturday we went to the Homecoming basketball game for our Alma Mater and ended up going out for hoggies after.
Sunday we went over to Steven’s dad’s house after church and stayed for dinner. So the turkey and all the fixings will be moved to this week. 
OK…recap over…on to this weeks menu plan!
Monday: Chili (made with ground chicken instead of ground beef) and cornbread
Tuesday: Kielbasa and Potato Bake, Green Salad
Wednesday: Paprika Chicken over egg noodles (from one of my new favorite food blogs Global Table Adventure), Green Salad, Egg Bread
Thursday: Drive thru before Dance
Friday: Pot Roast, Roasted Veggies (maybe sweet potatoes, carrots, and parsnips-which we’ve never tried but I want to!)
Saturday: Sausage Gravy and Biscuits, Fried Potatoes, Apple Turnovers
Sunday: Turkey, Stuffing, Sweet Potato Casserole, Green Beans, Yeast Rolls
Shopping List:
cream of mushroom soup
shredded cheddar cheese
sweet potatoes x2
baby carrots
apples x3
dried cherries
frozen puff pastry (2 sheets, 17.3 oz each)
Lemishine or Citric Acid (for my homemade dishwasher detergent experiment)
Shampoo and Conditioner
That’s it for me for this week! Don’t forget to check out Org Junkie for more menu plans and recipes. Happy Eating!

Vegetable Beef Soup

I love soup! I love stew! I love chowder! I am a cold weather, comfort food junkie! As far as I am concerned soups, stews, chowders and other heavy foods are the only good thing about winter! 😉 I also like my soups and stews to be easy to put together and take very little of my time. We have been making this vegetable beef soup for years. It is one of our favorites and I especially love that I can brown the ground beef, put it in the slow cooker and let the flavors meld together for hours. By dinner time all I have to do is put some rolls or biscuits in the oven and we’re ready! Gotta love that!
Here’s what you need:
1 lb ground beef (or chuck, sirloin, etc. Your preference) 
1 can beans (again your preference here. I usually use black but didn’t have any. So I chose pinto this time.), 1 can each peas, green beans, corn, carrots, potatoes and tomatoes (I usually use diced potatoes but all I had were whole, so I just took a few minutes to dice them. And again I only had crushed tomatoes but usually I use diced.)
Bay leaves
Minced garlic (don’t you just love jarred minced garlic!? It’s one of my favorite kitchen helps!)
Beef bouillon (I use a Beef Base from GFS. More about that later.)
1 bottle V8 Vegetable juice
Dried Parsley flakes (not pictured)
Dried Minced Onions (also not pictured!)
As you can see this is really a throw-in-whatever-you-like-because-you-are-the-one-who-has-to-eat-it kind of recipe! What can be easier than that?!?!
1. In a skillet add the ground beef. Sprinkle in some parsley and dried onion. I find it just gives the beef a little more flavor before you put it into the slow cooker. Cook until thoroughly browned. Drain but do not rinse.
2. While beef is browning drain and rinse beans. Add to slow cooker (or pot if you are cooking this quickly on the stove top.)

3. Add the tomatoes with the juice.
4. Add in the cans of veggies. I drain a little juice off the top but keep most of it to add in the slow cooker (or pot). It gives the soup a little more flavor. 
5. After the beef is browned and drained add it to the slow cooker (or pot).
6. Fill up the slow cooker (or pot) with V8 Vegetable juice. Add a few teaspoons (or tablespoons) of minced garlic. I personally don’t think there is such a thing as too much garlic, but others don’t agree with me there! Also add in a few bay leaves.
7. Finally, I add in a few teaspoons of Beef Bouillon. I use a great Beef Base from GFS. If you have a GFS near you you must check this stuff out!
It comes in a rich paste so a little goes a long way!
8. Stir it all up, put on the lid and turn it on. I start it out on high to get it going and then turn it down to low to simmer away til dinner time. If you’re cooking it on the stovetop bring it to a boil, then turn it down. Simmer for about 30 minutes to incorporate all the flavors. Serve with biscuits or rolls.
(As a side note, I choose not to put any salt in my soup. I don’t buy low sodium vegetables or vegetable juice and the bouillon has quite a bit of salt in it. I figure if anyone finds it too bland they can add their own salt and pepper to taste.)
That’s it! So easy but so satisfying on a day like today when the temp is barely reaching above freezing! Oh, and if you have any leftovers it is even better on the next day. Let me know if you try it and what you think. Like I said, it’s one of our favorite winter dinners (or even lunches!)

Menu Plan Monday

I’m sitting here this morning watching the 2nd Inauguration of President Barack Obama. I am feeling very grateful today that we live in a country where we have such a peaceful exchange of power every 4 years. True this time the presidency isn’t changing hands, but there was a lot of change in Congress. And again, everything moved peacefully. I think it’s amazing and I feel blessed. Today it doesn’t matter if you voted for the President or not. It doesn’t matter if you like him or his policies. Today we are witnesses to history! And today we see a black man inaugurated as President of the United States of America, on Martin Luther King Jrs. birthday celebration. That my friends, is history! And I’ll admit it gives me goosebumps and a little thrill! OK, moving on!
In order to save money this year and help us eat healthier I have to get back to menu planning. I used to do this all the time and I loved it! I loved knowing what was going to be for dinner every night. I knew if I needed to take meat out the night before to defrost. I knew if I needed to run out and get carrots if I forgot them so I could make the roast. It saved us a buttload every month and I got very good at it! And then, I stopped! lol- but it’s coming back this year! Oh it’s coming back! I will be rejoining Menu Plan Monday over at I’m An Organizing Junkie. Laura has such a great, inspiring blog. She hosts this wonderful Link-Up every week. So far this week there are almost 100 menu plans linked up! And it’s only 11:36 on Monday morning. Need some inspiration for this week? Go check it out! But warning, do not browse on an empty stomach! You’ve been warned!! lol
I went looking in the freezer in the garage to see what we had in there. Let’s just say I don’t need to buy meat for a while! We have 2 large turkeys, 5 pounds of ground chicken, 2 pounds of sausage (1 Italian and 1 regular), 2 packages of polish kielbasa, several chuck roasts, 1 rump roast, some chicken breast, 4 pounds of beef stew meat! And that’s not even all of it I don’t think! All I really need to do this week is buy milk, fresh veggies and fruits and juice. So, here’s my plan for this week. As I make things I will try to remember to take pictures and then come back and write up recipes and link them back to this post. So if you see something that looks good check back. Oh and I’ll also be making bread again in a day or so and I’ll link up my bread recipe then. 
Monday: Vegetable Beef Soup, Honey Biscuits
Tuesday: Italian Sausage Spaghetti, Garlic Bread Sticks,Green Salad
Wednesday: Tangy Apple Chicken Loaf (a new to us recipe from All Recipes, I’ll let you know what we think!), Mashed potatoes, Glazed carrots, Dinner Rolls
Thursday: Leftovers (it’s dance night-things are crazy! We won’t eat til after 7! Keep it simple, clean out the fridge, win win!)
Friday: Beef and Broccoli Teriyaki Stirfry, Steamed Rice
Saturday: Date night for Mom and Dad, whatever the sitter decides to feed the kids!
Sunday: Roast Turkey, Sweet Potato Casserole, Green Beans, Stuffing, Dinner Rolls
So that’s what’s on the plan this week. Don’t have to get much from the store. Some applesauce and Dijon mustard for the chicken loaf, carrots, salad, sweet potatoes, a couple of onions (one to stuff up a turkey butt (lol), one for the chicken loaf). Other than that I have everything else on hand. Love weeks like this!! I’ll be putting the veggie soup in the slow cooker soon. I’ll take pictures and post the recipe. So easy but sooo yummy!!

Conquering the Clutter

Organization is not my strong point! And it’s funny because anyone who’s ever worked with me, or gone to school with me would think the exact opposite. When I was in college I had a binder for every class, and the binders were color coded to the most prominent color of the textbook. When I work outside the home I am one of the most organized employees you can get. So why I can’t get that to translate to my own home I’ll never know. When Steven and I first got married we had a two bedroom, two bathroom condo. It was 5 rooms total and I could clean it top to bottom in 2 hours. We lived there for the first 5 years we were married, even brought Brianna and Jonah home there. When we built this house I went from 5 rooms to care for to 12 rooms. I was in my last semester of college, which meant student teaching and in the middle of it, we found out we were pregnant with Micah! To say I was overwhelmed is an understatement! Not too long after Micah was born I started my first really bad battle with depression. And by the time he was a year old I could barely function. My housekeeping skills absolutely fell apart! And it’s taken me forever it feels like to get it back! A few months after Eli was born my mom looked at me and said “It feels like you’ve found your stride!” and I feel like she’s right! Baby #3 knocked me flat, but it feels like baby #4 has brought me back. I feel like I’m in control again. Now it’s time to get my home back under control.
Our house is a two story (actually a three story if you count the basement). We share the main floor with my mom and then all of our bedrooms and bathrooms are upstairs. As is the laundry room. One of the places that gets the most cluttered is the stairs. Growing up I always remember having stair baskets. And we had one too, but it seemed like with 5+ people with stuff that ends up all over the place all day long the basket quickly overflowed. And the kids never thought it was their job to do anything about it. My mom and I must have been on the same brainwave because we ended up pinning the same pin on Pinterest for crap baskets! (I just love the name! And we end up with so much crap around the house!)

 Well, one day she showed up with 5 baskets. One for each of the kids and one for Steven and I. This is what our stairs look like now.

Our crap baskets, labeled for each of us.

The contents of Brianna’s basket: 1 pair of tennis shoes, 1 pair of boots, 1 library book
The second set of steps leading to the upstairs hallway, and our vintage stairs basket.
I kept this one to put things in that make their way upstairs that belong
The view looking down the stairs.

The other place in the house that tends to get uncontrolable very quickly is the hallway and linen closet. We have one solitary linen closet. That’s it! And oh how I hate our linen closet! It’s totally builders’ grade, nothing special, not functional.

One of my goals is to make this closet work for us. Of course Pinterest holds lots of inspiration like this:

Source: via Kari on Pinterest

And like this:

Source: via Kari on Pinterest

And one of my goals is definitely to keep the hallway free and clear like this:

For some reason the hallway always tends to get cluttered. And then toes get broken and curse words get thrown around. And heaven forbid we ever had a fire! A cluttered hallway could be deadly! Definitely an area to focus on this year. Plus, walking out of our room and seeing this in the morning, it kind of starts the day off peacefully!

Conquering the clutter…it takes awhile but I finally feel like we’re on the path to getting there. One room/area at a time!

Saving Green, Going Green, How Green is too Green??

I have been doing a lot of reading lately. That’s not new for me, I tend to read a lot. When I was pregnant with Eli I really started getting interested in what we were eating, what we were cleaning with. One of my main motivations was Jonah. We strongly believe that he is severely ADHD. And the more I read about ADHD the more I became interested in the effects of diet on behavior. And the more I read about the way our foods in the country are made the more concerned I became. High fructose corn syrup is in everything! Even things that it really doesn’t need to be in. And if it’s not HFCS it’s MSG, or trans fats (which can hide under so many different names!! Oh, and did you know that they can still put 0 trans fats on the label even when it still has some!! What?!) When you stop to read a label in the grocery store there are dozens of ingredients, even on the foods that should be the simplest. For example, bread. Why does bread need to have 20+ ingredients, including HFCS?!? And most of the things on those lists we can’t pronounce. Why do I want to put something in my body that I can’t pronounce? Or into my kids? Especially my kids! 

So through wonderful sites like 100 Days of Real Food, Kitchen Stewardship and Deliciously Organic I have learned so much about food and how to change our habits. Now, some of the things on these sites are way out there for me! I don’t see us becoming an all whole wheat pasta, brown rice, all whole wheat flour all the time kind of family. I figure if 90% of the worlds population can eat white rice with every meal and still be thin then we can eat it a few times a week and be healthy also. And can you imagine how hard Italians laugh when they hear that Americans eat whole wheat pasta! Ha! (And have you tried it!??! It tastes like crap!!!) And I’m sorry, but I will not be making my Christmas sugar cookies with whole wheat flour! But they have taught me how important it is to really pay attention to what we are putting into our bodies. And how to change our habits. If our grandparents didn’t eat it, we shouldn’t be eating it either! Our food system is all about convenience now and not about health. And it so much about making money and it is really sad!

Some of the things we are going to do this year to help change our habits are
1) Make our own breads, biscuits, muffins, etc.
2) Cut out HFCS, MSG and other ingredients that we can’t pronounce out of our diet. 
3) Because of #2 that means cooking more from scratch.
4) To help save time in the kitchen I’ll be trying to do more big batch cooking to have items in the freezer for days when things are crazy and we would resort to fast food.
5) Try to buy organic, grass fed, free range, no antibiotics, no growth hormones whenever we can fit it into our budget.
6) Make our own laundry detergents and other cleaning products. I figure if vinegar, baking soda and water were good enough for our grandmothers they should be good enough for us too!
7) Try not to eat out more than once a week
and in honor of one of my new favorite sites Global Table Adventure 
8) Try to make different recipes from countries around the world. I’d love to expose my kids to foods they wouldn’t normally eat. Plus, eating globally is so healthy. You see how off base our food system is when you see how other countries cook and eat. 
Oh, and #9 is just for me but it’s to get back to doing yoga. I used to do it regularly and I got out of the habit. I felt so good while I was doing it, and I think it’ll help with my joint pain from my arthritis as well. 

So those are some of our healthier living goals for 2013. What are yours?

Happy New Year!

I love a new year, don’t you!?! The slate is wiped clean and it feels like you get to start all over again. It’s a wonderful feeling! And a new year also means a new start for my poor, poor neglected blog! I had to take a step back and figure out why I was blogging. When I started this blog in 2007 I started it to keep a record of what we were doing, especially as I got farther and farther behind in my scrapbooking. I knew the blog would be a great way to go back and have the stories to go with the pictures when I finally got around to srapping them. Then, I got all caught up in getting followers and blah, blah. Now don’t get me wrong, I do love those of you who follow our little blog! But recognizing that I started this blog as a sort of record keeping and a way for long distance family and friends to keep up with what we were doing, and watch the kids grow, the sudden “need” to have lots of followers started to get overwhelming. I looked at other blogs and what they were doing, and how many followers they had and I felt like a failure in comparison. But I didn’t start this blog to get thousands of followers, and it’s time to get back to the bones. So in 2013 I’ll be getting back to regular posts about what is going on in our lives. I’m embarking on a serious fight to get organized and find a routine (daily, as well as cleaning) that works for me. I’m going to be menu planning again (with the costs of everything looking to go up in 2013 a menu plan is going to become essential to keeping costs down). You’ll hear about my obsession with Pinterest (the heavens part….AHHHHH!!!) and Instagram (how awesome is Instagram!!) And of course, my kids will continue to be the stars of the show around here. After all, they are our abundant blessings and we are so blessed to have them! 
Speaking of Pinterest (are you on there yet?!? If not, why not!?!? It’s amazing!!!), I found so many great ideas that we used for our New Years’ Eve celebration this year. Our circle of friends actually ended up with no plans this year for New Years’ Eve, so for the first time in probably 5 years we were at home with the kids. I knew it was going to take some planning to keep them engaged and playing nicely as we counted down to the New Year. So, off to Pinterest I went! 
First, I found this idea from The Real Thing with the Coake Family.

Source: via Kari on Pinterest

She made these bags for her daughters, one bag for each hour of their family’s New Years’ Eve party. Inside each bag was an activity for the family to do together. I loved this idea and decided to make up some bags myself. Using plan brown lunch bags, white cardstock, my Cricut machine and some markers I created 12 bags.

Not nearly as cute..but they got the job done 🙂

Inside each bag I placed an activity. The first one was a little bit of trickery on my part, but it needed to be done! lol

It’s time to start the night off right, we don’t want you to scream or fight. Just run around and pick up those toys, so we can have fun and make lots of noise!
That was our activity for the 1 o’clock hour: cleaning up the playroom and the living room so that we would have the space to have fun. Nothing kills the fun buzz worse than stepping on a car or a Lego!
For the 2 o’clock hour we spent some time looking back at 2012. We used 2 different printables, one for the adults and one for the kids. The printable for the kids came from Amy’s Finer Things. 
Source: via Kari on Pinterest
I liked that this printable had a space to write the kids heights and weights. We broke out a measuring tape and the Wii Fit scale. Each child had an adult to help them fill out their sheets. They turned out so cute! And they’ll be great to go back and look at as I’m trying to scrapbook pictures from this year 🙂
The reflection for the adults came from one of my favorite blogs, The Dating Divas. 

Source: via Kari on Pinterest

It defnitely took some self inspection to fill them out. Some of the questions were just downright hard! But it was a fun way to look back and think about the highs and lows of 2012.

Our girl didn’t need any help-it’s kind of sad when they can start filling out things without your help! Except for the occasional “How do you spell ________?”

And so the day/night continued on, opening a new bag every hour (or 2, in the case of the 4-5 o’clock hour when everyone laid down for naps and no one woke up til 5:30. Luckily the 5 o’clock hour was eating and the 6 o’clock hour was playing board games so we could do that and eat at the same time!)

We played some Wii games (bowling and Just Dance 3-what a workout!!!)

This little guy is good! His first time ever playing Wii bowling and he bowled a 72!

The pile on the desk…the reason I am on an organization mission in 2013! lol Oh, and yes, that is a broken arm! I’ll have to share that story soon!

And that little thing…he’ll be 5 months old this week! Can you believe it!?!? I sure can’t!!!

This game totally wore me out! You don’t need an expensive gym membership! Just buy any of the Just Dance games!!

We ate our favorite New Years’ Eve dinner…munchie foods! I made potato skins from scratch, something I am ashamed to admit I’ve never done before! They were so easy and sooo good! So much better than those frozen things from the store that are probably full of additives and preservatives and other yucky stuff that we are trying to cut out of our diet this year. We also had BBQ chicken wings, sausages, cheese, crackers, celery, carrots, cucumbers, dip, chips, and salsa. I contemplated making quesadillas, but thought we had enough. Don’t you think so?!?!

Yummy, yummy homemade potato skins. I’ll never buy potato skins again! Too easy and too delicious to make on your own!
All the yummies!

 While we were eating, and after, we played a few games that the kids chose. The first was Headbandz. If you’ve never played this game I highly recommend it! It is a great family game and one that is very portable. We will be taking this camping this summer for sure!

I think Jonah was trying to use his powers of ESP to figure out what was on his card! lol

 Our sweet baby boy! The time is going by way too quickly with him! It seems the more kids you have to faster the time goes! I’d love to slow it down just a little. He is just way to sweet and I’m sad to think that we are almost half way through his first year. Knowing he’s the last baby has made every smile, every cuddle, every everything that much more special, but it’s also made it a little bittersweet. Lasts are hard! Now I need some neices and nephews to spoil!(Yes, Samantha and Eric I am looking at you!) For those of you wondering if he really is our last the answer is a big, resounding yes! 5 pregnancies in 8 years have been very hard on my body and my emotional state. For the sake of our family we’ve made the decision that it’s best not to push our luck. I’m doing good right now but it’s been a battle at times and I’d rather not push it anymore. So for the sake of our family Eli is our final baby. It’s a little sad, but at the same time he has made everything feel so complete. We know it’s the best decision!

Another of our activities for the night included calling grandparents to wish them a happy New Year!

Finally, it was time to countdown! With the exception of Jonah’s little cat nap the kids made it all the way to midnight! I didn’t know if they would (let’s be honest, I didn’t know if I would at times!! lol) but they did. And it was so much fun to ring in the new year with all of us together as a family!

10, 9, 8….
Happy New Year! Welcome 2013 (2013-how crazy is that!?!? And where is my flying car?!?! Just sayin’!)
After midnight snuggles! Yup, even the baby was up!
And just a few days after New Years baby came down with RSV and an ear infection. The tears you see here we thought were from teething. Turns out not!
But after a little Tylenol the smiles were back!

We had a wonderful New Years’ Eve together! The bags definitely helped pass the time quickly. We commented often how it seemed like hours were going so fast. It was time for a new activity before we knew it. If we end up doing a family New Years again this year we will definitely be doing this again! It was a huge hit! But we were all ready for a good nights’ sleep not long after 2013 showed up. There may or many not have been a little snoring!

 Happy 2013 my friends! 2012 was a great year for us, but here’s hoping 2013 will be even better!