Menu Planning and Homeschool

Many who know me love hearing about my homeschool experiences and some have asked me to expound upon our newest adventure….menu planning!

One day Mark had a day off in the middle of the week so we decided to run errands. We got to the local grocery store and I said to my boys “OK, think of one days worth of food. You are going to buy that food and you have a $50 limit.” Now $50 for one day is a lot and not what we normally spend but this was a “fly by the seat of your pants” experiment and I wanted to see what the boys would do.

Mark and I opted for the good old fashion divide and conquer technique. He took a boy and girl and I took the other 3. C-Dog decided on two dinners; beef and broccoli and veggie stir-fry. He also got lots of fresh fruits and veggies for snack, quinoa, and organic brown rice. Bug decided on frozen pizza and pasta. He also picked up some fresh fruit and frozen veggies to go with each meal. Pizza and pasta are not easy in my house. Elf can’t have pizza so Bug had to buy kosher and nitrate-free hotdogs for her. He then bought a pepperoni pizza for dad and a thin crust cheese pizza for me and him. He then bought two Udi’s Gluten Free Three Cheese Pizzas for C-Dog and Princess. Between the 2 they eat one and a half Udi’s pizzas. Pasta involves 2 different kids. One kid is allergic to rice and the other to corn. The pasta has to be gluten free. If you know GF pasta you know the choices are rice or corn and neither are that cheap.

Both boys came under budget. Thank goodness! What was the lesson learned? Bug learned just how expensive his choices were. He thought he would have a lot more leftover than he did. He learned that whole foods are cheaper and feed more than pre-packaged foods. C-Dog learned it is always good to buy seasonal fruits and veggies as they will be cheapest and taste best (sour and expensive berries were bought).

Mark and I were thrilled with the outcome. Not the food but the lessons learned. They learned that budgeting is important, food is expensive, and planning is a must. We decided it would be great to make this part of our homeschool. The 3 biggest kids each plan a full week’s menu; breakfast, lunch, dinner, 2 snacks, and dessert. Princess gets to add input. At least 3 meals have to be meatless. We plan for everyone. If someone can’t have a planned meal we make sure we either change the meal or plan something for that person. Each child has to cook at least one, but preferably two, of the meals they planned. Mark and I will guide them and have the right to change their menus as needed.
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The kids use my recipe books and my Pintrest boards for inspiration. We have some tried and true favorites but they also like to get creative and try new things. We use Sweet Bella Roos menu planners. I like menu planners because she currently has 3 colors so each kid gets their own color. It also has a shopping list. The kids can take their menus and see what we already have in the house and then create their shopping lists on what is still needed. At the store seeing the menu and the shopping list  helps prevent impulse buying. I have tried several planners and these ones are my favorite and they work extremely well for us.

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On Friday we sit around the table with cookbooks and my laptop and we start planning. Some bickering ensues as they fight over meal ideas, but in the end it is actually quite fun. We are together, we are communicating, we are learning.

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C-Dog’s menu got used first. Bug was away on a ski trip so I randomly picked between the other two menus. How did shopping go? Well, it was an utter disaster! I very foolishly brought him shopping on a Saturday, one of the busiest days! Ugh! C-Dog has Sensory Processing Disorder. I know better! My husband knows better! In fact we saw the signs of overload before we even left the house! “I want to stay home!” is not a temper tantrum with C-Dog, it is a cry for help. I gave him some Rescue Remedy pastilles in Black Currant, his favorite, and told him he would be “just fine.” Sigh. I really do know better. This was not a stellar parenting moment. I put my own agenda in front of the needs of my child. 😦 I am just keeping it real, folks!

I ended up doing the shopping while Mark carried our very overstimulated 10 year old. Yes, he carried him. It was that bad. The girls took advantage of the chaos and were quite rowdy. It was far from an ideal trip. The trip was so insane that the next day C-Dog was still very much struggling and so we opted to not go to church. Has a shopping trip ever taken you 2 days to recover from? Sigh. This is our life and I will be thankful.

OK, back to those menus…

This week C-Dog has helped make homemade jello with organic juice, Mongolian Beef and Broccoli, Orange-Cranberry Chicken, pasta, lunch, and plans to help make homemade muffins. He has met the goal of cooking at least two meals and then some! We are still on his week, but I promise you the next shopping trip will not be on a weekend!

I want to hear from you! Do you menu plan with your kids? If so share how you do it! If not do you plan to start?

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Why I Don’t Teach Stranger Danger

This past week has been emotionally draining. The city I consider home suffered a tragic loss. A sweet little girl was abducted and murdered in Springfield, MO. It all happened in about a 4 hour period although the investigation is, obviously, still on going. It is scary how fast it all played out. The suspect is in custody, but that doesn’t mean mommies and daddies feel any safer. This evil man worked for the school district and coached sports. He was around children every day. There are so many questions. How did he manage to work for the school for so long? Are there other victims of his cruelty? What made him do this? Why? Why? Why? Why did this have to happen? Well, I am not even going to try to answer those questions but I am going to address Stranger Danger because that seems to be a running theme in my Facebook news feed.

Parents, understandably, want to protect their children. I have seen people write that they are scared to let their kids play outside now. I totally understand this. However, does this benefit our children? Does it teach them to be safe? Does it teach them to live in fear? Do we really want them living in fear?
I can’t not let my kids play outside. They would think I was punishing them. I also can’t be out there at all times. I have house work to do, dinner to cook, and a baby to care for. Kids need fresh air, they need to run, they need freedom. Yes, children need freedom. They will never learn if they are not allowed to try and figure it out on their own. They need to make mistakes. My job is to do that in a controlled environment without being controlling. AGH! How do I do this when I am scared to let them out of my sight? I equip them. I fill them with knowledge and pray they don’t forget what I teach them. I can’t live in fear because that fear will suffocate me and my children. There has to be a point I simply trust. It isn’t easy, but no one ever said being a parent was easy. It is most definitely not for the faint at heart.

So how did I deal with this tragedy? How do I equip my children? Will this tragedy change how I parent? Well, that last question is easy. Yes, it changed me. It made me realize I need to stop assuming my kids remember safety rules and I need to make sure I repeat them frequently. I need to make sure they really understand the rules we have established. I will not, however, stop my kids from being independent. They will still be allowed outside without me. I currently do not live in Springfield so maybe I still have a false sense of security. I don’t know about that though because seeing the pictures of familiar locations made me feel like I was being suffocated. I was scared. I was sick to my stomach. I felt like I was back home. We have every intention of moving back to Springfield as soon as possible. This tragedy has not changed our love for Springfield, our trust in the police department there, nor the fact we still believe Springfield really is a great place to raise our children.

I did not immediately tell my children a little girl had been kidnapped in our home city. Why worry them? They are children. They deserve to live without fear and worrying and right now my kids have enough on their plates (that is a different post for a different day though). That night I didn’t sleep well. I kept praying that things would work out well. Little did I know arrests were being made and a body had been found 😦 I woke up the next morning and the first thing I did was check my Facebook for updates. The first post told me the worst had happened. I have to tell my kids…Why? I have to tell them because they notice when I am worried, scared, and stressed and they deserve to know why. They deserve to know they did nothing wrong. They also deserve to know why Mommy has changed the lesson plan of the day to be all about safety and why I can’t stop hugging them and telling them I love them. They need to be equipped.

The conversation went something like this:
“A little girl was stranger abducted yesterday in Springfield and she was found dead.” I was a bit more sensitive than this and I gently answered all their questions without going into details they did not need to know. “Do you know what Stranger Danger is?” They gave me various answers.
“Is it OK to talk to strangers?” They all said no. “Well, I am telling you it is OK to talk to strangers.”

Let me stop here because I know many of you are probably picking your jaws up off the floor. That’s right. I despise the term Stranger Danger. I feel it teaches the kids to live in fear and seclusion. It teaches distrust. I even feel it can teach rudeness. I think it is perfectly OK to talk to strangers. It is all about the situation though. OK, back to the conversation and you will see where I am going with all of this.

“If you are at a store you can talk to people you don’t know. Say hi, ask which aisle something is in, ask a pregnant momma when she is due, ask someone in a wheel chair if they need help getting something off a shelf, tell someone you like their shirt, say excuse me, make eye contact. Be polite. Be friendly. It is OK to talk to strangers!
What is not OK is not using the buddy system and it is not OK to go with a stranger. Do not help a stranger find a pet or show you something in their car. Do not accept anything from them unless mom and dad say so. Is it OK to go into the car of someone you do know?” They all said yes.
“NO! Not unless you have our permission! Did you know that most abductions happen from someone you know? Friends and family are more likely to kidnap you than a stranger. What happened in Springfield is NOT common! I do not want you to be scared though. If you are smart you can take steps to significantly reduce the chance of something bad happening.”
Yes, this is exactly how I talk to my kids. I do not underestimate their understanding and if they have no clue what I am saying they tell me.

We then did scenarios. I was the abductor. They all did great except Princess. She really struggled because I was trying to get her to come close to me to see the little kitty in my hands. She knew my hands were empty but she was really struggling. She really wanted to see that kitty! It was actually kind of funny but I managed to stay serious and was thrilled when she finally shouted “No!” and ran away from me.
C-Dog was funny.
Me: “Hey! My son is in the back seat and he says he knows you. Maybe you played sports together? Come on over and say hi to him!”
C-Dog: “What’s his name?” Me: “Mike” C-dog: “Mike what?” Me: “Smith. Come on he really wants to say hi. He says he knows you.” C-Dog: “I know no Mike Smith. See ya!” and off he ran.

Bug is 12 so I thought I would test him on going with someone he knows since this is the more likely scenario. I kept trying to convince him it would be “alright” and that “your mom told me you could come with me” and “Come on! You know me!” etc. He kept saying “My parents didn’t give me permission.” He finally said “OK I need to walk away now so I don’t get in trouble with my parents. Thanks for offering a ride though.”

Elf did great also. She was very firm in her “no” when I offered candy and wouldn’t come closer to my “truck” when I said “I can’t hear you, can you come closer?” She instead yelled “Sorry! I will not do that!”

We also reviewed why Mark and I are always saying “Buddy system!” We talked about why the yard boundaries I have set are so important. I discussed with them about how to take visual information in. Notice how people look, car type, plate numbers. I am going to test them with this. I am going to make it a game. I am going to pick random cars in parking lots and get them to remember details about it and when we leave the store have them tell me as many details as possible. I am also going to do this with random people we see. This will be great in developing their memory and it will be a great skill if ever needed. We also discussed who do we go to if we need help. They know that they are to go to an adult (mom, dad, grandma,etc) who has children with them. They know a uniform doesn’t always mean safety, but that other children usually does.

Overall, I think my kids are ready to play outside without me hovering. Granted Princess still needs work, but she is only 4 so she has less freedom than the others anyway.  I also think they do not associate strangers with danger, but rather are equipped to be polite yet safe. I am still scared but sometimes we have to let go and trust.

Blue Hair

The other day I went to the local drug store to buy hair dye  to cover those pesky grey hairs change it up a bit. While I was looking for the best deal I noticed a product I had never seen before, Splat Color Gel. This product claims to have extreme hold, have great color, and washes out with shampoo. I got very excited since my kids love to color their hair different colors but I prefer it to be temporary since they are a bit young still. I had to find a color that would appeal to both the boys and the girls and would look good with each skin tone (yes, I think of stuff like that). I opted for Cold as Ice (blue).
The gel really does have extreme hold. My kids’ hair is a bit fine and tends to lose the style if the gel isn’t like glue. This wasn’t as sticky as hair glue, but held just as well. I liked that. Two of my kids have brown hair and 2 are blonds (the baby did not get hair gel) and I have black hair. The product does state darker hair may need several applications to achieve the desired color. They aren’t kidding. I will post pictures below so you can see.

C-Dog’s hair turned out the best. He has short, blonde hair so we gave him a spiky mohawk. It held all day and it wasn’t too stiff. The color looked great. Elf’s turned out pretty good but I had to apply the color gel 4X to get the color right; she has brown hair. I only colored 2 sections, one on each side of her head, and twisted them into a ponytail. Her hair never stays in a pony tail. I am always fixing it. I didn’t have to fix it even once! I really liked that!
Bug’s didn’t turn out great. It wasn’t terrible, but it wasn’t impressive either. He wanted streaks. I think it was user error though as I had no clue what I was doing and he was the first to get the color gel in his hair. I think I will have to try it on him again.
Princess is still little so I only did one section and twisted it into a hair barrette. She favors a side part so it looked cute and was thrilled I let her be like her older siblings.

I didn’t take a picture of mine, but I will tell you I was not impressed with how it looked in black hair. You need too much too get the color to be noticeable. I was disappointed, but I think I will try again with a different color.

I was a bit messy applying the color gel. It washed off foreheads easily. It also washed off my hands easily. The wash cloth I used to wipe foreheads did not stain and it is a cream color! Yay! I am all about products that don’t stain. Now, if you use this product and it stains, don’t blame me. I am merely sharing my experience. The color gel also washed out of the sink with just water.

We all slept with the gel in our hair. It didn’t get on our pillows! Yay! The next morning we all washed our hair. I had no problem getting it out of my hair or Princess’ hair. The older 3 washed their own hair and had no issues getting it out also. We looked all clean and spiffy for church.

Overall I am going to say I really like this product. As a gel it holds great but doesn’t have the very hard feeling hair glue has. As a color it is decent. It looks best in lighter hair, but it does work on dark hair. I would not recommend this for daily use. If you want color every day I would try a more permanent product. It didn’t stain for me and washed out easily. I think I will give this product a B.
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Bug’s blue streaks
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C-Dog’s mohawk

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One of Elf’s twists

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The opposite side of Elf’s “do”

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Princess

**The opinions of this reviews are 100% mine. I was not compensated in anyway. I bough the product on impulse and had never heard of it before hand. The above link is an affiliate link. The compensation is small, but I am being completely honest and thought you should know 🙂

Happy Valentine’s Day Mama!!

I woke up to the kids making Valentine breakfast. So sweet!

Now before you get jealous and filled with the urge to punch me because I live such a lovely life with amazingly considerate children get the pretty image out of your head and instead insert this:

C-Dog yelling at Elf “You can’t help! You are ALLERGIC!!!”
Elf crying hysterically “But I helped with Mother’s Day! I want to help! Let me help! (pause) Daaaaaaaadddddyyyyyy!”
The kitchen counter tops had mysteriously disappeared under everything imaginable. Bug was crying because no one gave him a Valentine (they made Valentine’s and put them under each other’s pillows). This wasn’t exactly true but we like to jump to assumptions in this house and over-react before realizing we are wrong. Sigh…

Best of all was the coffee grounds. They were EVERYWHERE! C-Dog forgot the filter and grounds for a 10-cup pot were everywhere; the side of the fridge, cabinets, counter, floor, the water well of the coffee maker…..  
It all ended with cayenne pepper in poor C-Dog’s eyes. Can you say ouch! I am still not sure how I managed to keep my cool.
I very calmly cleaned the coffee grounds and water and gently showed C-Dog the correct way to make coffee. I helped crack all the eggs for the omelets he wanted to make….I put in a lot of effort considering it was supposed to be a gift for me. Mark whispered into my ear “You are such a good Mama.” Melt my heart.
Mark helped get the burning pepper out of C-Dog’s eyes. In the end everyone was happy. Elf got to pour the OJ, which went all over the freshly wiped counters (sigh). Bug got his Valentine. We got our breakfast. 
It was so hectic I can’t even remember what Princess and Zen were doing! 

Of course it is also snowing…thanks for the slap in the face Mother Nature. I am thinking she needs some Rescue Remedy. Meh.

I hope your Valentine’s Day started smoother than mine. Enjoy your day. I leave you with this gentle reminder from my wise godmother whom I adore.
“I so miss my babies. Believe me- ENJOY every moment. I wish more people told me to stop and treasure it, I did and we have so many wonderful memories and traditions. When they are all waking up not under your roof for more than 1 night, you will look back and tear up as well!” ~RD

Her girls, my cousins, are in college. I babysat them! I can’t imagine the time when my kids will not be sleeping under my roof every night, but it is going to happen and it will be here before I realize it. I am going to take today and treasure it even if it wasn’t the picture perfect Valentine’s Day. Below are some pictures from today….this was AFTER I cleaned a bit! Image
Counter? What counter?

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Mmmmm! Burnt egg on the stove! 
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They left the table for me to clean. I love them, I really do! 

The story of US <3

Some of you know how Mark and I became “US” and some of you know only parts of the story. Others know nothing at all. I want to share with you the shortened version. Please indulge me. I love this man so much.
It all started when I was in college. We had mutual friends and I was one of his student workers. The company he was with at the time did contract work at the college I attended. I can honestly say it was NOT love at first sight. He thought I was too skinny! I just thought he was a nice guy and never thought much else about him. We were friends for about a year and a half before things changed.
Mark was fun to hang out with. He laughed easily and rolled his eyes in an amusingly indulgent way. I liked that I could be sarcastic with him. He was quiet. Unassuming. I also liked that whenever any of us college girls would walk into town to hang out with those who lived off campus Mark would always walk us home. 

On February 8, 1998 I went for a very early morning hike and then made my way into town to hang out with Mark. I don’t really remember everything we did that day. I do know it was a fairly warm and sunny day despite it being winter (We were in the north east so winter could be pretty brutal). I also remember stopping at a friend’s house where a bunch of other friends were hanging out and playing Clue. I remember Mark walked me back to campus. I got to my room and there was a message my beautiful niece was born! I was insanely thrilled and had to share the news with someone so I called Mark. At that moment he claims “I knew I had you.” I, on the other hand, was happily oblivious to the workings of cupid. 
A week later, on Valentine’s Day, we decided to hang out, watch movies, and eat Chinese and Ben & Jerry’s ice cream. This was NOT a date….or at least I didn’t think it was. I often went to Mark’s suffocatingly small apartment to just hang out. When I got to his place there was a huge box of chocolates and roses waiting for me. Oh dear, my brain and heart had a lot of communicating to do. 
I can’t tell you what we watched but I remember falling asleep on his couch. Now don’t get all “oooooo” on me. Nothing happened. We were friends and I wouldn’t say it if it weren’t true. He let me sleep and he went to bed in the other room. At this point in my life I was prone to nightmares so I woke up in the middle of the night. I woke him up and we spent the night chatting. February 15 rolled in and Mark and I decided to give dating a try. The rest, as they say, is history. We married in October. 
I credit my very beautiful niece with pushing me into the arms of a man who loves me, not for my looks, but for my heart. I also firmly support the idea of being friends first. It established a foundation that simply dating cannot do.

I am not asking for you to agree or disagree with me. I am merely sharing my story. Image

Are Y’all Excited??

Here is the sneak peek of the promised new blog! It is sad to see the other blog retire, but this one holds the promise of me actually writing weekly! The other failed because it was never easy to actually post. I am optimistic about WordPress. I am going to start with posts about my past so that everyone will know how I got here. I know several of my friends keep asking for the whole story about our Indiana move. I think it is fun to learn about people and I hope that you find enjoyment reading about my life journey from an east coast Yankee to a Midwest gal. I promise to include stories about our journey with special needs, food allergies, homeschooling, and so much more! I will also post personal reviews on items I totally love and even ones I really can’t stand because I don’t want y’all to make the same mistakes I made! I also would love to know what you want to see me write about! I may or may not listen *wink* The fun is in the suspense. Till next time!
Peace, joy, love
~Andrea