Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Recipe of the Week ~ Cowboy Casserole

I moved to a state over 12 years ago that is known for it's hot dish.  I grew up calling them casseroles, but when in Minnesota, hot dish it is.

Tater Tot Hot Dish is very common and easy to make hot dish.  I have made it a few different ways, in the crockpot even too.  But I will have to admit, this Cowboy Casserole is by far my most favorite version of it.  Added bonus, it is so easy to put together too!  Even better, there are leftovers (currently: as a family of 4, my kiddos don't always have giant appetites) that we can have them for another dinner during the week and my hubby can take it at least once for lunch (sometimes twice).

I have made a few changes to the original recipe:
  • For the beef, I season with sea salt, black pepper, granulated onion, paprika, and a little cumin.  
  • How much cheese I add.  In my opinion, most recipes rarely include enough cheese.  As for the cheese, well I tend to put half the bag of cheese in to the mixture and the other half of the bag on top.  So, anywhere from a 2-4 cups of cheese are used depending on the size bag I buy.  This time around I used a 3 cup bag.  
  • You can also use frozen corn instead of canned, or even fresh sliced off the ear if in season.
A few tips and tricks to go along with the recipe:
  • I have made up the ground beef up ahead of time and frozen
  • I do usually make up the mixture the day before and put it into the casserole dish so it is ready to go.  Just remember to leave off the tater tots and other half of the cheese if you go this route.  Then pull it out and while the oven preheats, put the tater tot layer on and then the cheese.
  • I highly recommend greasing the pan for easier clean up before pouring the mixture in.
The original recipe comes from Six Sisters Stuff.  Click here to see the post and recipe or below I have copied the recipe.

  • 1 lb lean ground beef
  • 1/2 cup onion, diced
  • 1 (15 oz) can corn, drained
  • 1 (10.75 oz) can cream of mushroom soup
  • 1 cup cheddar cheese, shredded
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1/4 cup sour cream
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon onion powder
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 (16-20 oz) bag frozen tater tots
  1. Preheat oven to 375°.
  2. In a large skillet, cook beef and onion over medium heat until beef is no longer pink. Drain grease, then stir in the corn, soup, 1/2 cup cheese, milk, sour cream, and seasonings.
  3. Pour beef mixture into a 9x13" baking pan. Top with frozen tater tots (try to keep them in a single layer) and then sprinkle remaining cheese on top.
  4. Bake uncovered for 25-30 minutes or until cheese is bubbly and tater tots are thoroughly cooked.
Recipe Type: Main Dish

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Letter of the Week ~ N

Recognize upper and lower case letter
  • Color sheet with the lower case letter on it (my oldest knows all the letters in their Capital form)
  • Letter Hunt: Throughout the week search for the letter of the week
  • Word Hunt: How many words can you come up with that start with the letter of the week? What around you starts with the letter of the week?
  • Where can you go that starts with the letter of the week?
    • Nature Center
  • Night Sky
    • The kids either colored or painted wood star cutouts (already had them), but you could cut them out of paper or just draw them.
    • They each added a moon shape
    • My oldest opted to put all his onto white paper and color the background black
    • My youngest glued all the pieces onto blue paper
You can see more curriculum ideas on my post about our 2017/2018 curriculum by Clicking Here.

Making Dinner, Made Easier

 For us, we grocery shop every other week.  So when I meal I plan, I put it together two weeks at a time just before we have to go shop.  For us, this works right now. 

We have a running list of easy meals and a list surefire of meals that everyone likes.  This makes filling out the menu a little easier.  It also helps for days we have things schedule, like during softball season.  On those nights I am either flying solo or it is better to have a lighter meal, so easy meals are the go to. 

I like to try out new stuff sometimes, so I look to friends and families for their great recipe ideas, check out Pinterest, or pull out a cookbook.  The things we like go on to our surefire list.

Now, just because I have the week meal plan written out, it doesn't mean that it has to stay on those days.  Things can, and do get switched around depending on the day, the mood, or whatever life factors show up. 

The time it doesn't change is when we have fresh meat that we are planning on using or fresh produce.  Also, epically during the warmer months, we grill out more on the weekend we grocery shop.  So I tend to try to maximize those cooking days and double up on the meat and use the extra in a different way later in the week. 

I also leave room for leftovers.  Not just for dinner another time during the week, but also for at least one lunch time for my hubby.

I have also started doing whatever prep I can for those two weeks ahead of time.  That may mean the day before or it mean cooking part of it up ahead of time and freezing it.  I have also, when there is too much of a meal leftover, frozen part of it for another time in the month.

We plan out for cooked meals at home, but then if we decide to go out for dinner, than the planned meal idea gets moved to another day or a different week.

I also have extra eggs, hot dogs, tortilla shells, cheese, noodles, ingredients to make pancakes or waffles, and other similar ideas on hand always.  Because sometimes the best intentions, just need a little wiggle room or grace if the recipe is a total flop.  Then there are those days when a bowl of cereal or oatmeal seem like a much better idea than what may have been planned.

My best advice would be:
  • To plan out ahead of time.  Whether for the week, two weeks, or the whole month.  Plan out for what works best with your family and schedule.  Planning it out also helps a lot with grocery shopping and making budgeting easier.
  • Do any prep you can ahead of time.  Especially with kiddos, come dinner time things seem to go into overdrive very quickly.  So, by putting part of it together when there is down time can make that dinner hour go more smoothly.
  • Get the whole family involved.  Not just in picking out meal ideas, but cooking too.  It may take longer, but it will create memories, the kiddos will learn to cook, and also (hopefully) take pride in creating it and more likely eat it.
  • Don't be afraid to try new stuff out, step outside the box, or keep it simple.
  • Have fun with it!
Share below what your family favorite meal ideas are.  Or how you make meal planning easier.

You can get a copy of the blank menu plan that I use by clicking here.


Monday, November 13, 2017

Recipes of the Week

I am going to start posting the recipes and go to meals we use.  I will admit, some recipes go over better with the kiddos than others, but overall most are well received.  And chances are, they may love it this time, but next time might be different (or the other way around).

As most parents know, meal time can go over smoothly or filled with complaints.  We make the same thing for everyone who is sitting down at the table with us on any given night.  Young or old, or in between, we all get the same thing.

Sometimes that could mean hot dogs or mac & cheese.  Other times it could be attempts at new recipes.  Either way, what goes on my plate goes on my kiddos plate.  Granted, no on in my family has allergies or intolerance to food...unless you count the fact that my oldest can spot a tomato in the dish from a mile away.  I don't know what he has against the tomato, especially when he will eat ketchup and spaghetti sauce.

My family does give input into meal ideas before I put together our two week meal plan.  But whatever gets made for dinner, is what goes on the plate...for everyone.

Yes, I know there will be times when my kid only eats the fruit off his plate.  I am okay with that.  Breakfast will come soon enough and he usually eats a large breakfast anyways.  As long as I can get him to try the other parts of the meal, works for me.  I figure if he is hungry enough, he will eat it.

So, while all the recipes I post will have been tested out by my family, they may not always be kid approved (at least not right away or if repeated).  That is why we have some go to meals, like hot dogs, noodle dishes, and pizza.

I encourage you to keep trying new things out in the kitchen, even have you kiddos help make parts of the meal.  But don't give up, one day they will be asking for your recipes.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Letter of the Week ~ P


Recognize upper and lower case letter
  • Color sheet with the lower case letter on it (my oldest knows all the letters in their Capital form)
  • Letter Hunt: Throughout the week search for the letter of the week
  • Word Hunt: How many words can you come up with that start with the letter of the week? What around you starts with the letter of the week?
  • Where can you go that starts with the letter of the week?
    • Pumpkin Patch, Pool
  • Penguin
    • Cut out a capital P from black paper
    • Cut out a wing shape from black paper
    • Cut out a half circle from white paper
    • Cut out feet shapes and a triangle beak from orang paper
    • Glue half circile onto background paper, then the P, then the wing/feet/beak, add an eye
    • Add snow details if you want

You can see more curriculum ideas on my post about our 2017/2018 curriculum by Clicking Here.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Homeschool ~ 2017/2018 Curricumlum

Even though we are not doing a formal curriculum for our schooling this year, we are still working through the basics.  With a focus in play, adventures, and things my kiddos enjoy, we are incorporating school into our everyday. Questions, creativity, and play are encouraged.  We are learning by doing.

The idea of incorporating school in to our every day, is something I have done from early on with my kids.  Teaching opportunities are all around us, so are learning opportunities.  Though I will admit, sometimes I am the teacher and sometimes I am the learner, just as are my kids are both.  Their questions, their curiosity, their personalities is what drives our learning and where it leads.

The one curriculum idea I am building off of is letter of the week.  My oldest already knows his letters (uppercase and some lower case) and most of the sounds that go with them.  There is still room to grow and learn when it comes to letters, sounds, and writing the letter though.  So each week we focus on one letter and one number.  The same goes for numbers.  While he knows how to count, we still need to work on recognizing the written number and word version of the number (i.e. 2, two).

Here is how we work through each letter:
  • Lower Case and Upper Case Recognition
  • Letter Sound
  • Activity, Adventure, and Art with each letter
    • The activity is usually an I Spy version of the letter.  Like finding all of the letter we are focusing on wherever we go or finding words that start with the letter.
    • The adventure is trying to find a place to go that starts with the letter or creating an at home adventure using the letter.
    • The art project involves creating a picture using the letter in it.
  • The order we are working through letters looks like this (Click on the letter to see what we've done. Only letters in blue have a curriculum page):
    • S, A, T, I, P
    • N, C, K, E
    • H, R, M, D, G
    • O, L, F, B
    • Q, U, J, Z
    • W, V, Y, X
  • If we do one letter a week we will be done with letters by the end of March.  However, we plan to continue on with numbers until Summer by doing one or two, maybe three numbers daily.
Here is how we work through each number:
  • Finding different items to count and group 
  • Searching for the number while out on adventures
  • Recognizing the number, both written and the word
  • Practice writing the number
  • I am hoping to make it to 50 by Summer
 After having been a PreK teacher for years and working with kids since high school, not to mention working in various kid settings from day care to schools, I have learned that there are items missing from the every day.

While a place may tell you that the day is made up of child initiated activities and teacher directed activities.  I worked in a setting for years that made this claim.  However, every aspect was scheduled and laid out for the kids.  For example, even though we said the kids could pick out blocks to play with,  we were still supposed to tell them what to build with it.  There was no true child initiated activities.

I wanted to truly let my kids play.  By that I mean, just let them go with the toys that are available to them.  If they invite me to play with them, I play along with whatever they are playing.  If they run into road blocks while trying to do something while playing, I will help out by giving ideas, but I try to let them work it out before coming to me.

Kids learn the most through play.  Well, play and having books read to them.  My plan is to incorporate these two things into our every day, along with adding in art and other learning opportunities.  With this our path is set in a good direction and we can build on the foundation we have created as our school years progress.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Sometimes You Just Need a Tune Up

The kids and I got to talking today about how sometimes we need a tune up, kind of like a car does.  We got on the topic because I was talking about maybe going to the chiropractor.

I have been working hard on getting myself into better health.  My posture has been a long process in the direction of not good, so I have been extra focused on trying to have better posture and retraining my muscles.  But now I am to the point where I could really use an alignment.  Not just for my posture, but for all of me.  After three pregnancies, lifting and carrying two kiddos at various stages for the past 4 1/2, gaining way to much weight, and various other life changes, my body head to toe could use a tune up.

Our kiddos go to wellness visits, a lot it seems for the first two years of life.  Everything is checked from head to toe.  As we get older, we go less frequently.  Sometimes many years in between visits or not until something shows up do we go.  But really, shouldn't we be going more often just keep up the maintenance of ourselves?

There are many aspects to a tune up.  The yearly doctor visit, eye doctor, dentist, and so on.  What you do, who you see, where you go is all apart of your tune up process.  We may have similar tune up styles, but we also may add or take pieces of it out.  We tailor our process to what fits ourselves.

It could be as simple as taking time away, a relaxing vacation, a retreat.  It could be going to the usual doctors to make sure things are running the way they should.  It could be working out, going for a walk, yoga and stretching, getting out and moving around.  It could be reading, devotionals, listening to podcasts.  What does it take for your tune up?

Where do you need a tune up? Physically? Mentally? Spiritually? Emotionally? Sometimes it is daily.  Sometimes weekly, monthly, or yearly depending on what the circumstances are.  As in the life, our bodies ebb and flow.  There are times we focus on one or two areas heavily or rely on them more strongly than others.  Then, something causes a change or a stress in our lives, and then other areas come to the forefront.

If we stay focused on area too long, we become uneven or unbalanced.  That is when we need a tune up, an alignment to recenter things.  When we are at our best, inside and out, we can be our best in the other areas and roles in our lives.

So what areas in your life need a tune up right now?  How do you tune yourself up?  What do you do for maintenance in between to keep things running a smoothly as possible?

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Letter of the Week ~ I

Recognize upper and lower case letter
  • Color sheet with the lower case letter on it (my oldest knows all the letters in their Capital form)
  • Letter Hunt: Throughout the week search for the letter of the week
  • Word Hunt: How many words can you come up with that start with the letter of the week? What around you starts with the letter of the week?
  • Where can you go that starts with the letter of the week?
    • Island (we live near a river and there is an island, or well more a peninsula now, that has a playground to play at and trails to walk and explore)
  • Ice Cream Cones
    • Cut out or trace and have kids cut out ice cream scoop shapes
    • Cut out the letter I from brown paper (this becomes the cone)
    • Glue on scoops 
  • Bonus art: Igloo
    • Cut out igloo shape from blue paper, glue onto white paper
    • Glue cotton balls onto it

You can see more curriculum ideas on my post about our 2017/2018 curriculum by Clicking Here.

Friday, October 20, 2017

Fall Fun ~ Corn Pit

As the seasons switch from Summer to Fall, the air gets a little cooler, the leaves begin to change colors we get the chance to do some of our favorite Fall activities.

A couple of years ago I learned about a corn pit.  If you are unfamiliar (like I was...we never went to one growing up, so it was a new idea to me), a corn pit is an area with boards around it and filled with dried corn.

The one we go to is a smaller one compared to others in the area.  They use part of the green house, make a board frame, and fill it up with corn.  Then they add in a climber and slides, as well as toys to scoop the corn and play in it.

We have been going to Country Sun Farms.  Some of our friends invited us along, for our first time, just before A was born.  T had so much fun, not just in corn pit, but with the other things they have to do.  So, we have been going back each year, almost weekly once it is open.  Last year A enjoyed it, but not nearly as much as this year now that he can move around and use the slides too.

We have only gone during the week, so we haven't explored all the areas yet.  Here is what they have to offer:
  • A petting farm, which is free unless you decide to feed the animals.
  • Tractors to climb on and pretend ride.  One is pulling a trailer of pumpkins, which is fun to sit on, climb on, and a great photo opp too.
  • Outside mining area. You can buy a bag of dirt and sift through it to see what kind of cool rocks and gems you can find.  
  • Corn maze, silly string area, hay rides
  • Inside the green house: pumpkins, gourds, decor, rides, food, inside mining area
When we get there we explore say "hi" and "good morning" to the animals and explore the tractors.  Then we head inside, pick out a few gourds and spend the rest of the time in the corn pit until we leave for nap time.

We may be finding corn around the house for the months to come, but the kiddos have a blast.  And you know what, so do I.  This year, finally after two years of going, we got to take Daddy with.  I think he enjoyed it too!  It doesn't matter the age of the kiddos, they will still have fun exploring.


Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Why We Love Swim Lessons & Goldfish Swim School Too


 My kiddos love the water!

My youngest is more fearless when it comes to it.  He will splash water in his face, fill stuff and dump it out, and go for hours.  If you try to get him to be done because you can tell he is cold he gets mad.  He keeps asking for more of the water fun.  In fact, we spent some time recently at a water park.  There is a climber with easy to navigate slides and it didn't take him long to start doing one of them on his own.  He even wanted to ride the tube down the big water slide with Mama.  Just as we got to the end he started asking for more.  He would have gone all day if we let him.

My oldest is more cautious.  When the water is deeper he clings onto you with a grip so strong. In water he can stand in, he would splash and play.  But getting his face wet wasn't going to easily happen.  It took a long time for him to just put his belly in the water.  And the idea of floating freaked him out even more.  He liked to play, but just didn't have the confidence.

This Summer we decided it was time to invest and enroll in swim lessons.  My oldest needed someone else to get him to put his face in the water and to get him to put a little effort in trying to swim, as well as learn safety basics.  He needed help growing his confidence in the water.  My youngest needed to learn basic swimming moves, how to be safe, and be okay with going under water all the way.

I made a lot of phone calls and asked friends their thoughts on where they took lessons.  But I kept coming up with the same feeling..."this is not right for my kiddos".  Until I found Goldfish Swim School.

Here is what I was looking for:
  • A swim lesson time when both my kiddos could be at the same time.  I knew I would have to be in the pool with A.  I didn't want to have one kiddo wait while the other had their turn and I also was uncomfortable with my oldest sitting on the pool deck while I did swim lessons.
  • I was hoping to find something budget friendly.  I knew going in swim lessons could be expensive.  But I didn't want to pay extra for stuff we wouldn't use.  Like having to have a membership to a place and then paying extra for swim lessons.  We weren't looking for a place with extra amenities and other classes.  We just wanted swim lessons.
  • We wanted to do weekly lessons, but didn't want to be locked into long sessions.  We were hoping to do a couple of months during the end of the Summer and some of Fall.  Take a break and then pick up a few come Spring as a refresher before Summer.
  • We wanted somewhere that made swim lessons fun and the kids would look forward to going.
  • We wanted a location an easy, short drive from the house.
  • Had morning swim times available any time of the year.
As I started calling around, I added a few more things to the list:
  • Have open swim times and other fun family nights.  Though most right now fall during nap times or too close to bed time.  The option to go is a benefit.
  • If you miss a class, be able to make it up.  Most places you were out of luck or received a voucher to use on their family swim times or something similar.  I figured if we were paying for the lesson, it would be nice to make up an actual swim lesson.
I know what you are thinking, what place has all of that?  Goldfish Swim School!  They are new to Minnesota and opened their first location this Summer.  After talking to them, they had all I was looking for.  We enrolled and here is why:
  • They are willing to work with your schedule and could get both kids classes at the same time, in the morning even.
  • We pay roughly $160 per month we are enrolled for both kiddos.  We get a discount having a sibling signed up.  There is also a $45 per year membership fee.  
  •  Because you pay by the month, with a simple 30 day notice of stopping lessons, you can easily take a break if you want to.  Then when ready to start back up, call and set up lessons.
  • Swim lessons are about learning the skills, but having fun while doing them.  
  •  They have family swim nights, open swim times, and many other fun activities outside of swim lessons.  A small fee, $5 per kiddo, no more than $15 for family for most.
  • It is a quick and easy drive.  Even if it were a little longer, we still would have gone with Goldfish because of what they offer.
  • Added bonus, if you miss a class, you can find another time to make it up.
After two months here is what we have found beyond what we knew about after signing up:
  • From the time you walk in the place it is engaging and fun.
  • They give just enough push of encouragement to give them the confidence to do the skills and help them overcome their fears.
  • The staff is always excited to see you and will take time to chat.  Their staff is an amazing group of people who make the kid's swimming experience better than I could have imagined.
  • You get to watch your kiddo show off a skill at the end of each class. Being in the pool at the other end with my youngest, the staff helps him to finish his lesson so I can go watch.
  • They have great advice and tips to make things go more smoothly.  My youngest, like a lot of kiddos, didn't like the feeling of water in his ear, so he wouldn't relax during back floats and was reluctant at first to go all the way under.  They suggested an ear band.  Wearing it lets him enjoy getting wet from head to toe.
My kiddos love going!

By the second week my oldest was going underwater, yes underwater completely.  He learned how to walk a long the pool edge using his hands and climb out easily on his own, which is one of his favorite things to do.  He loves to float on his back.  His biggest struggle has been using his muscles to keep strong kicks and strong pulls.  He has gotten there and once he lets himself put his face in the water while he swims, he will be able to go faster and farther.  He loves to get his whole self wet now.  His confidence even led him to go down a water slide head first, all smiles, on his own just on a whim. At the end of every class he gives his teacher a hug.

My youngest still loves the water.  The consistency of the routine has him now where he knows what to do, what is coming next, and still has lots of fun.  I wasn't real excited about being in the pool at first, but I will admit I love taking classes with him.  He has learned basic skills and is getting stronger at doing them.  He knows that when he needs a rest to flip over to his back and float.  He can crawl along the edge using just his hands on his own now after two months.  He has learned that he can still have fun in the water and still be able to move around, as well as how to be safe.

Here's what my kiddos think:

Because there is a fish tank and fun to watch (*The waiting area has a small play area, a fish tank filled with fish, chairs and tables to watch lessons from, and cubbies for your gear*)
Love my teacher!
Cool painted wall (*The wall in the pool area is one giant underwater mural. They have also decorated the rest of the space in a cabana type theme.  With lots of changing rooms, a blow drying bar, several family style bathrooms with a shower in them.  So many bright colors and engaging when you walk in*)
Like to show off new skills (*He waits for me to come down and watch.  He would do all the skills to show off if he could*)
Loves to crab walk the edge of the pool

Bubbles the fish! (*OMG, my kiddo loves Bubbles! Every fish he sees now is bubbles.  Bubbles is their mascot.  They utilize big floating Bubbles to get the kids to move around the pool or play games like peak.  He is also on the items they give out to the kids each week at the end of their lessons.  From a bath toy Bubbles, to posters, to tattoos, and more.  We won a stuffed Bubbles and A has had it in his bed since.*)
Scooping water onto his head (*One of the things we work on is getting used to having water run down the kiddos face.  The teacher doesn't even give me a scoop any more, it just goes right to A.  He dumps a scoopful on himself, and then on me.  The technique is meant for gradual, you scoop and dump on the arm, then the shoulder, then the head. From the second week on A just takes the scoop himself and dumps it on his head*)
Big kicks (*We practice lots of kicking.  For awhile he would do more of a frog kick...until he saw his brother doing big kicks at the other end of the pool (another added bonus to being at the same time), so he is loves doing big kicks!*)
Catching balls while kicking and paddling around the pool (*They use puppets, balls, Bubbles, mirrors, and more to help get the kiddos comfortable, excited, and have fun*)
Boat rides and train rides (*At the end of class they get to do a special activity. They made boats using pool noodles and a block. The kiddos get to go in the middle with their arms out and motor around the pool. The trains are giant train shaped foam the kiddos sit on and ride around the pool.*)

All this is why we love Goldfish Swim School and swim lessons too!

Some fun photos and videos.  Sorry some are blurry, but they are the best photos that I've gotten so far of the kiddos swimming.

The ones in the pool are from shortly after we started.  Hopefully I will get some new and updated ones now that we are over two months in.  I know so much has changed in what they can do.  They both have grown in the skills they can do, gained more confidence in their ability, and still have lots of fun.


A received a Happy Birthday postcard with bubbles on it.  
He went around carrying it and doing his happy dance.

A practicing his wet dips and going all the way under. 
T practicing his crab walk along the edge and then getting out of the pool. 

Using their new confidence in the water at the water park.