Friday, August 31, 2012

The Great School Lunch Debate

Red, White & Blue Fruit
I honestly had not given a lot of thought to the changes being made to school lunches until the past week when I began hearing more about it as kids trickle back to school.  All summer as I heard reference to the new "healthier" meals being required of school cafeterias, I thought "well great - less processed foods is a good thing".  End of story, right?  When the paperwork came from my daughter's school last week to complete for those who qualify for free and reduced lunches, there was very little reference to the USDA requirements and no explanation about what that would actually mean in terms of changes to what my child has access to for meals.  Then the commentary started rolling in from bloggers, the news, my friends...about the details of the changes...and I started checking things out for myself.
Ziploc 1-cup containers or snack bags and condiment containers
make letting the kids help pack lunch so simple.
When my daughter was in kindergarten, we packed lunch every day.  But she was so busy that she didn't eat much of the lunch I sent and the days I did allow her to choose a hot lunch, she eat so much better.  So we decided the past couple of years to go ahead and do the hot lunches.  For the first two years, there were no issues.  There was always a good variety and plenty of access to fruit and vegetables and we packed a healthy snack for her.  She was allowed to get seconds of anything as long as everyone had been through the line if she was still hungry.  We never had complaints.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Planning a Party? Where to Start

A dollar store tablecloth, fresh flowers and vases
from around the house brighten this Spring Organization party
featuring the Ziploc storage totes.
Planning any party can be a daunting task and the list can seem never-ending without a system in place.  Here is my system for breaking it into achievable small chunks.  I like to plan big parties with a lot of fun details but I am NOT one of those who spends a fortune on hosting them (I haven't found that fortune to spend anyways!).  Many, many of these tips have been discovered through trial and I hope to help you consider the right questions to avoid the error side.  Hosting a great party can be stress-free with a little planning ahead and organization.

First things first - I always start with a Word document with the party name and track everything about the party on that document.  Then as I find ideas and decorations I like online, I can copy and paste the site address into that document and find it easily later.  I use this document at first to brainstorm answers to the questions below and later to edit and fine-tune my list and track everything along the way.  This way I can remember who offered to bring a specific dish or who has an item I might borrow, etc.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Homemade Salisbury Steak & Gravy

photo credit: spike55151 via photo pin cc

Do you secretly love those little gravy-smothered patties referred to as Salisbury Steak?  Yup, I'm talking TV dinners...  Its one of the Princess' favorite school lunches too and since she requested it for dinner one night I thought I'd try to make a homemade version (not sure I'd be safe to call it a healthier version but to me it tastes even better).

 Start with 2 pounds of ground meat - I used 80/20 ground round but you could do ground turkey or venison just as well.  Add a tablespoon Worcestershire sauce, 1/2 packet of onion soup mix, 1 egg, and 1/4 cup Italian bread crumbs and mix well.  Form into patties one handful at a time.  They should be about half the size of homemade burger patties.  In a large skillet, put all the patties in one layer and fry over high heat until both sides are browned but the patties are not cooked through.  
Add 1 package of sliced mushrooms and sprinkle the rest of the onion soup mix and one packet of brown gravy mix over the top of the burgers.  Reduce the heat to medium and cover.  Cook about 5 minutes or until mushrooms start to soften.  Add 2 cups of water, flip the patties and scrape the bottom of the pan to loosen all the fried tidbits into the gravy.  Cover and cook about 10 minutes (stir and scrape the bottom occasionally) or until  burgers are cooked through and gravy has thickened.  I just served them with a scoop of the gravy and mushrooms on top with salad and sweet corn but these would be great served over mashed potatoes as well.  Start to finish this takes about 30 minutes.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Thankful for the Small Things

My husband talked with a former co-worker today and learned that the co-worker's 3-year-old grandson is going through intensive chemo.  Having a 3-year-old son ourselves, it really struck home.  My mom also lost a young man in her life last weekend who had been star of his football team and had suffered a mysterious brain hemorrhage right after his high school graduation.  He had never recovered completely but had remained involved in the community and church and his loss was felt deeply. 

The Pinterest Project is Selecting a Winner!


Maybe you've seen The Pinterest Project Link Party.  If you haven't, be sure to go take a look - there are some awesomely talented folks who have picked a project off Pinterest and put their spin on it.  Lots of fun things happening there.  Well now they are taking votes to pick a winner and crown The Pinterest Project Queen of the month.  The winner gets a prize package any blogger would love to have.  Please take a minute to go look at the top 8 entries from this month's link parties and cast your vote for your favorite project.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Blueberry Crumble Pie

Remember those blueberries I was talking about picking up to freeze and back with while I was on vacation?  Here is one of the recipes I made right away but you could easily use frozen blueberries that have been defrosted at room temperature.  I used a single refrigerated pie crust baked at 375 degrees for 10 minutes but you could use a homemade crust if you have the time.  

Friday, August 24, 2012

Easy Floral Arrangement Trick

My great-grandparents grew roses and used to make tons and tons of arrangements to take to people in the hospital, hospice, shut-ins, etc.  (If you want to read more about them, go here and here for more neat tricks or here to read about how great-grandma taught us about sportsmanship.)  To stretch their flowers a little more and help keep flowers in position in the containers that might have wider mouths, they used this little trick.
Just take tape and make a grid across your container.  You can use floral tape but if you don't have any on hand or your flowers have thin stems where floral tape would be more visible, you can just use a good Scotch tape.  Masking tape also works just fine.  The tape will help flowers with wimpy stems stand up straighter and will allow you to use far less flowers and fillers to achieve a "full" look. 
The first photo is a close-up shot of the arrangement on my button photo and the only thing in the whole arrangement is Queen Anne's Lace.  Queen Anne's Lace has a very thin and bendy stem with not a lot of foliage so to fill a container this size and have the ones in the middle stand up, I would have had to cram a ton of them in here without the help of the tape.  You can use this trick on any size container and then remove the tape when you are done.  This eliminates the need for floral block, although you can use the two methods together.

At the Barn...and My Horse, Topper

My lovely little barn, which you have seen from afar.  She's pretty simple but sweet in her own way.  She desperately needs a coat of paint but she doesn't seem to mind being constantly shuffled to the bottom of the list.  
She has this center part which features a small loft and plenty of storage for the needs of my small menagerie.  Then she has two wings - to the south she houses the two stalls and to the north she has a lovely little hay storage area which opens to the west and also serves as part of the dog pen.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Make the Most of Your Fresh Herbs

I love the smell and taste of fresh herbs - the dried ones just don't have nearly the same flavor or aroma.  They can be pretty expensive in the stores.  The nice part is that fresh herbs are some of the easiest plants to grow.  They are low maintenance - they don't usually require great soil or a ton of watering.  The one thing they do require to reach their maximum potential production is frequent harvesting.  Great news right?

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

And Now I Shall Pull A Rabbit Out of My Hat...

photo credit: worldchaos81 via photo pin cc

I often feel like motherhood and marriage requires us to be magicians.  

Because don't you just love when your husband announces 
he's just invited 5 of his buddies to come hang out for the big game.
Requiring you, of course, to supply enough food for a small army, 
frantically clean the house and dust the entertainment center and 
anything else on the same side of the room as the TV, vacuum, 
wash mountains of dishes, relinquish half of your fridge to keep the beer cold, 
keep the children out of the living room and quiet 
so the men-folk can watch their sports, accept the fact that 
your husband will only utter 6 words to you all day 
"honey, can we get another round?", 
and forget any plans for crafting or relaxing you had for the day...

Or like last night, when at my 8:00 p.m. announcement that it was 
time for PJ's and toothbrushes 
elicited a pronouncement from my 8-year-old that she 
HAD to have a sheep costume for summer camp - in the morning.  

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Roast Chicken with Summer Veggies

This chicken and vegetables makes a light, healthy but satisfying summer or fall dinner.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Humbly Featured Today at...

I have been humbly featured today by Sarah at Fortune Favors the Brave!  I linked up at Sarah's Pinterest Project Greatest Hits last week and she picked my Pinterest Pallet Garden as her personal favorite - Sarah, thank you so much!

I'll be posting new pictures later in the week so you can see how much the garden has grown.

Vacation Photo Roundup

Thought I'd share a photo roundup of all the ground we covered during my vacation.  :)

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Summer's Bounty - Keep it Local

 My grandparents were farmers who eventually lost the farm to bankruptcy - thankfully after the last of the kids was about to leave home.  My step-dad also served as director for a local food bank for many years.  So I understand the importance the seasons and local buying can play on the ability to provide for a family.  My grandparents always planted a huge garden (still do!) and shared its bounty with the rest of the family and friends who could use it.  We also are fortunate to have a family-owned cider mill nearby.  When the weather was nice we often rode the horses to get some apples and have a donut and cider snack and sit by their pond.  Many friends and neighbors had extra produce they would put out by the road for free or a few quarters and we could provide them with a little extra spending cash while making good use of vegetables and fruit that would otherwise go to rot.
As these family farms were gobbled up by mega-farms and developers, it became more rare to find those who were growing their own food for local consumption.  Over the past 5 years or so, we have seen a resurgence of folks with backyard gardens and vegetable stands, folks who are canning and butchering for their own tables, farm markets popping up in each local community, and small businesses selling locally grown produce and meats.  I feel fortunate that my kids will get to learn these skills and how the food that goes into their bodies gets from the land to their mouths.  As well as how buying the products from our neighbors helps our community stay strong and grow.
When I was on vacation last week, our cider mill had finally opened for the season and I was able to go get my favorite guilty pleasure - their buttermilk cinnamon sugar cake donuts.  I also bought a bushel of sweet corn to freeze and 10 pounds of blueberries to bake with and freeze.  I know that the apples that would normally produce at least 75% of the business for this cider mill are virtually wiped out by the freeze and drought, so were the peaches and cherries.

My Well-Being - Inspiration and Motivation

This is a Sponsored post written by me on behalf of My Well-Being Powered by Humana for SocialSpark. All opinions are 100% mine.
MWB Logo (3)
I am always struggling with the motivation to get myself healthier - mentally and physically.  Juggling work, marriage, a preschooler, an elementary student, pets, property, finances, etc. it is so hard to find the motivation and willpower to take those positive steps to get out of that cycle of being overwhelmed and stressed and junk-eating.  When I heard about My Well-Being, I was curious about whether this was just another calorie-tracker, guilt-inducing health site.

I was pleasantly surprised to find right off the bat that a lot of the articles right from the main health and wellness page are on positive inspiration and motivation - like the poll asking what most inspires me.  The registration was fast and simple and led me right into a well-being assessment quiz.  The quiz is thought provoking about your positive or negative feelings in several areas of your life.  The bright, cheerful colors and photos on the site are very appealing.  Your well-being is broken into a couple of main areas - health, finances and relationships and under each category you can find articles and tools to help you work toward improving that area of your life.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Some New Things Around Here...

You might notice a few changes around here as I've been trying to clean things up.  I've been doing lots of link parties so I've moved all the link parties I join up with to a page all their own - notice the new tabs along the top of the page.

I've been accepted for ranking by Top Mommy Bloggers - so if you like what you see here please go vote for me.  I've added a button on the left for easy voting.  You can vote multiple times so please do!

Vote for me @ Top Mommy Blogs - Mom Blog Directory

I've started a new community over at BlogFrog to help facilitate discussion and sharing of ideas for projects and country favorites.  Its also a place I'd like my friends to share their wonderful Etsy shops and other businesses so please join me on BlogFrog!  I've posted the first question in the forum as I'm still looking for ideas on what to do with those blue glass beer bottles from a while back.

Connect With Advertisers - Sign up for SocialSpark! 
I posted my first Social Spark sponsored post for Famous Footwear - if you have back-to-school shopping or need a new pair of shoes for yourself (who doesn't!) be sure to see my original post for more about the 15% off + BOGO 1/2 off deal and print the special coupon.  It is not my intent to bother you with irrelevant offers and junk posts.  Rather I hope to be able to share with you offers that you can use in your daily life and businesses that I actually enjoy myself.  If you look back through previous posts and pages, you can see that I have shared with you businesses and products I love in return for nothing so why not earn a few bucks promoting the same products and companies.  All opinions and reviews will be my own and I promise you will not see a large number of these.  In fact, to keep the main page clean and make it easy for you to check out the deals, I have added a tab for the deals at the top of the page.  I hope you will take advantage of the great offers I share!

I hope you like the new changes and additions and find them useful.  I am open to all tips and suggestions on what would make your experience here better!  Thanks for

Peanut Butter Smores Cookies

I was recovering from my son's zoo field trip the other day and looking for a quick dessert I could take to my in-laws for dinner that night.  I happened to have the leftover makings for smores and practically nothing else in the house to readily eat since we had been gone to the cabin and I hadn't been able to make a grocery run yet.  So I dreamed up these little bite-sized treats.

Friday's Fences

Linking up at Friday's Fences with Life According to Jan and Jer!

Aloha Friday Blog Hop!

Aloha Friday Blog Hop
I haven't had much time to blog hop the past couple of weeks but I'm looking to get my party on today!  Come join me at Aloha Friday!

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Open-Faced Bacon Burgers

Mmmmmm - who can pass up on a tasty bacon burger?  Whip up these fast little guys with some leftover strips of crispy bacon and a little surprise - English muffin half-buns.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Another trip to the zoo...

I'm on my third field trip to the zoo this summer - this time Little Man's class headed to Binder Park Zoo in Battle Creek, Michigan. The biggest feature of this zoo is the Wild Africa part of the park with it's safari full of zebras, ostrich, and other various safari animals. The most popular attraction is the giant and friendly giraffas where you can get on a platform at their head level and feed them biscuits and lettuce. This zoo is really a full day trip as you can spend a half day easily in the Africa section, which is a ways away from the rest of the zoo. It can be a bit much for little kids so plan on a wagon or stroller but it offers a great experience for all ages.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Zippy 15-Bean & Ham Soup

As we start entering that time of fall and rainy, cool days here and there, I start to crave more soups and stews and warm, hearty comfort food.  This is a recipe that you don't have to feel guilty about going back for a second bowl either.  Its full of natural goodness that is well-seasoned and simmered to perfection.  And its a very inexpensive way to feed a hungry crowd.  Serve it with a crusty french loaf and you can serve about 12 hungry adults.  You do have to plan ahead because unless you have a ham bone (like a ham hock) in your freezer, you will want to make this a day or two after you use a bone-in half-ham like I did here.

Monday, August 13, 2012

The Cabin

Love this place. Michiganders call it "up north" - which means anything north of the center of the mitten. About 40 acres of heaven to an outdoorsman with state and federal land near. There is always a lot to do here if you feel like doing anything and a lot of great ways to do nothing at all. Our kids have the same love for this place that we do and always look forward to coming. I hope its a place that is giving them a lot of great memories to look back on. There are boxes of pictures here from over the years of my husband and his siblings as kids that we always end up dragging out and a notebook we've been signing in for about a dozen years.

This particular weekend my husband and his brothers and brother-in-laws had decided to sign up for a softball tournament. I hope its a new tradition. While they didn't win the tournament, we all had a lot of fun and his parents enjoyed seeing so much of the family together. We had a lot of fun with our matching hats and shirts and posing for silly pictures together. Yesterday we took the kids on a canoe trip with my brother-in-law and his son and ended up at my husband's uncle's cabin. This gave us the opportunity to check out some more family pictures and show the kids some cool pictures of their great-grandpa.

It is hard for me to slow down and enjoy these kinds of moments at home where the to-do list looms and grows bigger by the minute so its nice to end my week's vacation with a long weekend at the cabin sitting by the campfire and ponds gazing at the stars and listening to the birds and kids' laughter.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Check Out This Great Deal From Famous Footwear!

This is a Sponsored post written by me on behalf of Famous Footwear for SocialSpark. All opinions are 100% mine.
I'm the first to admit that back-to-school shopping is not my favorite thing to do.  My daughter, however, is another story.  The minute the first bin of pencils is out she is on it.  I'm actually getting excited that she is almost in the same size as I am so I can steal her clothes and shoes - she has way better fashion sense than I do!  Speaking of shoes, as a fourth-grader, her feet are growing almost daily so it seems like we are constantly on the hunt for quality shoes that will stand up to her vigorous day but not put a huge dent in my cash flow.  That's where Famous Footwear is coming to the rescue!
Right now, Famous Footwear is offering a great back-to-school deal with not only 15% off but also Buy One, Get One Half Off with this special coupon - wow!  BOGO + 15% off Famous Footwear Coupon  And if you are a Rewards Member or sign up to join their free rewards program, you can get 20% off.  The Rewards Program gives you 1 point for every $1 you spend with Famous Footwear.  You'll get special inside discounts and perks and you can acculumate points to earn certificates up to $100 a year.
One of my favorite parts as a non-shopper is that Famous Footwear always has a wide variety of shoes so my daughter is sure to find something we can both agree on and its get-in-get-out with minimal drama.   This deal is also good right now online at You can order online and get your shoes delivered to the store nearest you for free!  The 15% + BOGO deal is good only through August 18th so be sure to print your coupon and go now!

Visit Sponsor's Site

Pond at the Cabin

After two days of rain and mist we are presented with this site at the cabin. I am so thankful for both the rain and the sunshine. We are sitting here listening to the sounds of nature around us...and the 10 million questions from the children about those sounds.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Get the most out of your bone-in half-ham.

I always cringe when I look at meat prices these days.  So I try to buy big hunks of meat when I have the time to deal with them and get as many meals as possible out of them.  So I was looking at ham and the fully-cooked,bone-in, half-ham was only $1.98/pound - hard to get better than that anymore.  I took a 10-pounder home.  And you can see that I trimmed it a couple different ways. 

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Greek Maple Peach Crepes

This fresh and light dish can be served for breakfast or as a dessert - what a treat! Start by dicing 2 over-ripe peaches. Mix with 1 cup of plain Greek yogurt and 1 tablespoon of real maple syrup.  Set aside.

Humbly Featured!

Please join us at the blog hop at Frugal Living and More!  I'm being featured - thanks so much, Esther!

Monday, August 6, 2012


On my first day of vacation dragging things out of the barn to hose down and I disturbed a nest of yellow jackets... My husband would tell you that's just the kind of luck I have. :) Thank goodness for Grandma's best home remedy - baking soda and water paste. Just take a couple tablespoons of baking soda and add a little water just enough to moisten the baking soda. Place a good thick amount on the sting and let dry. If the stinger is still there, this poultice will help draw it to the surface. Its also nice and cool so it soothes the sting and reduces the swelling. Rinse with cold water. 15 minutes and two applications later, and all signs of the 3 stings I got are all gone. The same paste works great on kids who can't leave mosquito bites or poison ivy rashes alone and nettle stings too. Plus its not harmful if the kids mess with it.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Smoked Salmon Cracker Spread

A co-worker brought me a hunk of smoked salmon so I made this fabulous cracker spread. Shred your hunk of smoked salmon and set aside. In a medium mixing bowl beat 1 block of cream cheese, 1/2 cup sour cream and 1/4 cup mayo until well mixed. Add 1/4 tsp garlic salt, 1/4 tsp pepper, 1 tbsp Worchestershire sauce, 3 sprigs fresh lemon thyme, 1 sprig fresh parsley, 4 sprigs of chives (finely chop all the herbs) and beat well. Add your smoked salmon and mix well by hand. Delish with your favorite crackers and a glass of white wine on a hot afternoon!

31 Day Photo Challenge - Day 5 - Summer

Day 5 of the photo challenge hosted by Thrift Shop Commando.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Garden Fresh Salsa and Salsa Chicken Dinner

Good morning, lovely friends!  It is shaping up to be a beautiful (hot!) day here in Michigan and I am extra cheerful because I am looking forward to beginning my vacation!  Sorry for all the exclamations but this working momma has not had a real vacation since before my youngest was born.  The last time I had more than 2 days off was when my hubby got in a quad accident when Little Man was 8 months old and I was stuck at home for a week playing nurse and chief bandage changer to a badly injured man who is not an easy patient with a 7-month-old and almost 6-year-old to keep busy too!  Before that was maternity leave and I had 8 weeks off only because I was too anemic to return to work at 6 weeks and I had zero energy - not exactly a vacation.
I only had enough for one jar so this went
straight to the fridge for eating - otherwise
you would want your liquid to cover your
veggies and leave a bit more head space
in the top of the jar.
Don't get me wrong, this will not be your sit-on-the-beach-with-a-margarita-and-do-nothing vacation.  This will be a get-all-the-stuff-done-I-don't-have-time-for-when-I'm-working-and-commuting-10+hours-a-day vacation.  But I will feel SO much better getting things off the checklist and I do have some fun things planned like field trips with the kids and a camping/softball weekend at the cabin.  Part of what I want to do while I am off is take advantage of the fresh local produce and get some canning and freezing done.  I will be getting discounted sweet corn from our local orchard and Little Man and I hope to pick blueberries - I'll be canning and freezing both.

Once of my favorite things to do with all the "extra" produce I can find backroading and in my own garden is make fresh salsa.  You can make a salsa out of virtually anything and with the right spices it is tasty.  This salsa was made with 2 large fresh tomatoes, 2 big carrots, 1 large onion, 1 large green pepper, 2 pressed garlic cloves, a few random spicy peppers from my garden, fresh chives, cilantro, parsley, and thyme from my garden, garlic salt, pepper, cumin, and a splash of vinegar.  Add your spices to your own taste - I made this about a mild-toward-medium heat so it wasn't too spicy for the kids to enjoy.