Thursday, March 31, 2011

Clever April Fool's Trick

My sons have a big red circle on the calendar this week.  Next to Christmas and Halloween, it's one of their favorite days.  They are among the tricksters and jokers who are anticipating April 1st.  All good pranksters have a master list of prime joke material; and a mother should be primed and ready to get in on the action.

Every year I try to prank the children on April Fool's Day.  I have attached a long string onto a dollar bill and pulled it across the floor.  I have made faux mashed potatoes out of ice cream and caramel toppings.  Pound cake slices, slathered with orange frosting in the middle, masqueraded as grilled cheese sandwiches.  I have made fake spills with dried glue and paint.  Rolled green fruit roll-ups graced our plates as green beans one dinner a few Fool's Days ago.

I think the boys look forward to a new joke every year.  I give as good as I get.  Proactive thinking ensures that I am not always the victim on April 1st.

Last year I had the best practical joke.  It is still laughed and talked about around the dinner table or a game on family night.  It was the easiest and cheapest idea.  I am not sure where I stumbled upon the idea or if I was told about it.  Whoever came up with this joke was a genius in the kid department.

Here's The Trick...

On the eve of April 1st, I filled styrofoam cups 1/2 way full with juice and froze them.  I used styrofoam so the children could peel the cup away if they needed a little help getting their juice.  I let the cups sit in the freezer and chill until a few minutes before snack time.

I "topped" off the frozen bottoms in the glasses with a little more juice.  I put enough juice to cover the frozen part.  The glasses now looked full of liquid juice.  The kids sat down and began to enjoy their snack.  One by one, they each tapped their glasses and thumped them.  A few turned them upside down and one boy even whimpered when he realized his juice wasn't pouring out.  The older boys caught on first, but soon we were all in stitches.  They enjoyed their frozen treat and I pulled a friendly trick that impressed all the kids. 

I haven't decided on how I am going to get the boys and children this year.  I am toying with setting the clocks ahead and see how my boys react when they believe the school bus missed us.  I can't wait to yell, "APRIL FOOL'S!"

What is the best practical joke you have pulled?  Are you planning anything for April Fool's?

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Blessing? A Challenge...

I have been taking a new class that's required to keep up my daycare license-  yes, a "babysitter" does need continuing education hours!  At the beginning of January, our instructor posed a question which I have been thinking about again.  Three months into the new year, I wanted to revisit her "dare".  She challenged us to think of one word that we wanted to incorporate in our daily lives all year.  A few of the words chosen were prepared, loving, respectful, forgiving, learning, and saving.  The word I decided on was BLESSING.

I have been attempting to be a blessing to those around me.  It's not always easy and there are days I completely forget my goal.  I may open a door for someone or give them some homemade doughnuts.  I might smile and ask how their day is going or I might sign up to direct vacation bible school at our church.  Small and big.  Blessings are my goal.

AND THEN, there are those kind of days... 

The days when nothing seems to go right.  You almost miss the bus, forget about treats needed at the band contest, whiny children who shoved something in the toilet and now it's clogged, you wake up with a headache, you don't know how you are going to pay the electric bill AND register the kids for summer camp, and the list goes on and on.  We all have "them days".  It's a challenge for me to think blessings.  On these days I struggle to count my blessings, but it helps me step out of the funk. 

With blessings on my mind, I am finding blessings surround us.  A simple act of kindness I witness every week springs to mind.  The "coupon fairy", as I like to call her, attaches coupons to numerous products up and down the aisles of the local grocery and pharmacy aisles.  This person remains cloaked in mystery and always keeps the coupons stocked.  What a simple way to be a blessing?

I couldn't add up all the blessings in my life or even attempt to write them all down.

At the beginning of the year, I proposed my Sunday school class take the challenge.  At New Year's everyone is focused on changing their habits, but I didn't want my class to forget that God made each and everyone of us with a purpose.  It's simple and manageable.  I don't believe that January 1st is the only time we can work on bettering ourselves.  We are made different for a reason. I wanted them to focus on small ways they could enhance what God has given them, not feel bad for all their faults.  They are taking this challenge.

If a class of 3rd and 4th graders can rise to this and I am still prodding along after three months, I wager you can. What simple word are you going to choose?

Check Out My Guest Post on Family Friendly Frugality

Is Pop Guzzling Your Budget?  Here is our families solution...

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Bubble Painting

We have been blessed with a blast of winter and the children are cooped up and ornery.  I was hoping spring was officially here, but these 4 inches of snow prove me wrong.  After playing Ring-Around-The-Rosey and London Bridge until my throat and bumper hurt, I decided to unleash the paint.

Painting is one of our favorite past times in this little part of Nebraska.  It will keep the children contained and creating for hours.  They love to mix the colors, try different techniques, and fill page after page with images from their imagination. VERY fun.

We have used water colors a lot this winter and I didn't want the mess of acrylic paints.  I decided to "bubble" paint.  You mix a bit of liquid watercolor paint, a teaspoon of liquid dish detergent or hand soap, and water in a large shallow bowl or pan.  Be creative and swirl different colors together and name the "new" colors. Tap into your inner Jackson Pollock and unleash the passion.  Mix and give each kid their own straw.

Give each child their own bowl and a piece of paper, instruct them to blow bubbles in their bowl.  They will love this part!  Remind them to blow and not drink. 

Bubbles should fill their bowl in no time.  Take a piece of paper and gently blot the top of the bubbles.  This will leave a circular pattern on the paper.  Keep blowing and blotting until the paper is full.

Change colors if you wish. This will make it more colorful and the colors might mix.  This is an excellent time to discuss primary colors and the color wheel if you feel inclined.

Soon you will have original pieces of artwork!  Enjoy.

I have included a link and image so you can see what liquid watercolor looks like.  You could use food coloring, but that will stain! 

Monday, March 28, 2011

Ready Made? Fleas to Chic

I recently stumbled upon the magazine READY MADE  when a frugal blogger was telling about cheap subscriptions.  If you are the type of person whose hips have never been caressed by a pair of jeans under $180 or only shop at upscale boutiques, then this might not be the magazine for you.  You need to embrace handmade objects and a certain tendency to collect secondhand items.  I received my first issue several weeks ago and I am in love! 

This magazine was right up my alley. It's filled with projects that primarily focus on re purposing or creative ways to use the materials you have readily available.  I am not saying that everyone will have old boat parts laying around, but most of the projects I have seen involve reusing items to create something new.  A hands-on-lovers guide to tinkering...

I am especially fond of one simple trick to get rid of fleas.  Our whole neighborhood has been fighting a flea invasion this past fall.  AND I don't mean the guitarist from the Red Hot Chili Peppers.  I have treated and treated our dog with Frontline, but nothing would kill these pesky critters.  Frontline is usually wonderful, but the fleas kept coming back.  I abhor pesticides, but I was about to spray the whole house down in a final attempt to destroy the fleas.

I had already purchased an industrial size can of flea spray when I received my first issue in the mail.  Praise the Lord it came when it did.  Nestled inside the pages was a tip about treating fleas with table salt!  Salt!  I can buy 3 containers of table salt for $1 and it's not toxic.  I was ecstatic.

Apparently, fleas don't like salt and it dries up their eggs.  I didn't have much to lose.  At most, I had to vacuum the floors and I was out about 50 cents for the salt.  I grabbed the salt and began shaking around all the carpets and rugs.  We have wood floors throughout the house, but I sprinkled salt along the floorboards and under the furniture.  I was a woman on a mission.

My kids laughed and thought I had finally lost my marbles, but that didn't deter me.  I evenly covered almost every square inch of my house with salt.  I wasn't afraid of the children inhaling fumes or introducing harmful chemicals into our environment.  The worst that could happen was higher blood pressure, but that was only if we licked the floor.  The baby sat in his exersaucer while I delved into my termination plan.

I let the salt sit overnight and then I swept and vacuumed the crystals up.  I immediately threw out the vacuum bag and replaced it with a new one.  I rubbed down Teddy Kent, our Jack Russell Terrier, with a grainy sodium treatment and gave him a bath immediately afterwards.  He even thought I was nuts, but he didn't object to being loved and petted.  It was a "spa" treatment for him.

So far, so good.  I haven't seen a little critter in over a month!  I have went outside and sprinkled salt around the house and in the yard.  I bet people driving by thought I was out trying to ward off evil spirits with my salt, but I didn't care.  I told my neighbors and they are going to try it.  I don't want to have to go on a flea rampage ever again.

I still treat Teddy Kent with Frontline, but I think the salt was the determining factor in ousting them from our home.  Warmer weather is hopefully in our future and that means another flea season.  I am praying that it skips our neighborhood, but I am armed with my trusted iodized salt.  Now my house can be flea free and I can focus on trying some of those chic projects in my magazine.

Do you have any secret remedies?

I have included a link to READY MADE magazine for $6.99 a year if you are interested.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Homemade Sport Drinks

Sick kids?  Gearing up for soccer?  Cleaning the baseball cleats?  It's that time of year for us to spend money on sport drinks. 

This month we have been hit hard by a bug.  My middle son has missed over a week of school and we have visited the pharmacy regularly.  I know a lot of other people are getting slammed with sickness and sometimes parents have a hard time getting away to stock up on Pedialyte and other "treats" to help your child.  I have a few fail safe plans that I fall back on if I can't get to town. 

One method I use is jell-o water.  If I don't have Pedialyte in the pantry and I want to entice my children to take fluids.  I make them a fruity drink with jell-o packets.  I follow the package directions, but I don't let it set.  I may put aside some in the fridge for later, but I just let the boys drink the sweetness as it is.  It doesn't need to jiggle for them to enjoy it. 

I do have a  recipe for "sports drinks" if you prefer those.  I rarely make this, but I received the recipe from my neighbor who used to teach gymnastics.  She served this to her students all the time.

Deb's Lemon Sport Drink
1     6 oz. can frozen lemonade
1/2  tsp. salt
1/2   tsp. baking soda
1   qt. water

Mix all ingredients and refrigerate. 

Deb's Orange Sport Drink
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. baking soda
4 tsp. white Karo syrup
1   6 oz. can frozen orange juice
add water to make 1 qt.

Mix all ingredients and refrigerate.

I allow the boys indulgences like popsicles and Sprite when they are sick.  I am pretty lenient if it gets liquid in their bellies.  I want to keep them hydrated. 

Best of Luck!  I hope everyone stays well your way.  Do you have any tricks up your sleeve for sick children?

Friday, March 25, 2011

Easy As Pie...

Easy as pie.  Right?  I have heard that saying from the time I was knee high until now.  I find it a little ironic that making pie isn't really that easy.  It has taken me a lot of practice and patience over the years to finally get the skills necessary to produce edible pies.  I used to just buy them from the Schwan's man or Mrs. Smith.  That all changed when we had a bumper harvest of apples and I was engulfed by the multitude of apple baskets brimming with fruit.  Last night we found a 99 cent bag filled with apples begging to be used at the grocery store.  I knew what to do with those babies!

My Grandmother is an expert pie maker and I have watched her roll the dough and fill the pans for years.  I have watched her, but I still couldn't make a flaky crust or meringue.  When I decided there was no time like the present to learn, she was the first person I called.  My Grandma can do almost anything and I hoped she would be able to teach me pie.

I have used recipes that promise no fail crusts.  They call for eggs, vinegar, and more odd ingredients for a crust.  I still had a hard time rolling a crust so I could still finagle it into the pan.  Grandma pulled through with her basic pastry crust that probably has been the same for hundreds of years.  It's extremely simple-  maybe that's where the term easy as pie comes from. 

The trick Grandma filled me in on was to make sure you had enough water.  You may need to add more cold water than the recipe says.  It all depends on the weather and you can't roll a crust if it won't stay together.

Rolling out the dough is fairly simple.  You will want enough flour to coat the dough and prevent it from sticking to the table.  You will need to flip the dough over when it's small to keep it floured and pliable.  A trick I learned from Grandma is to roll in one direction.  This will keep the dough in a more circular shape.  As you can see from the photo above, I haven't mastered this yet. 

Now, you come to the tricky problem of getting your lovely thin crust into a pie pan.  I have ruined many a pie with cracks and breaks.  If the pie is just for family, I just press it into the pan and forget about it.  I know, Martha Stewart would be appalled by this blog.  Have no fear, Grandma has a trick for this!  You fold the circle in half, then quarters, and gently position into the pan.  Unfold the layers and Voila!  Grandma wouldn't say voila-  maybe "good job" fits her personality better.

The worst is now behind you.  Press the bottom crust against the plate to make sure there are no pockets of air or cracks in the dough.  If you want single crusts, put pie beads in the crust for baking.  Trim the excess off the edge and crimp your dough.  You would probably bake it in a hot oven at 400 degrees or higher for about 20 minutes.  Check your recipe.

I was planning on a double layer apple pie.  I use a pie bird to vent the steam from the inside of the pie.  You don't need a pie bird, it was just a gift from my mother and the kids get a kick out of having a blackbird in a pie.  It might come and get our noses-  you never know?  I put the pie bird in and fill my pie with the apples.  I gently press the sugary apples around to prevent gaps and then I add butter slices.  Remember the butter.  I tend to forget the butter and it makes a huge difference in the taste.

Finally, you roll out the top crust in the same manner as the bottom.  Fold it up, but before you transfer; take a knife and cut a few slits on the folds.  This will let the pie filling vent and my Grandma calls the marks "little birds".  Center the top crust over the filling and unfold.  Gently press the edges together and take a knife to trim the excess off.  I leave about a 1/2 inch around the diameter.  I fold it under and crimp the edges to seal in all the juices.

I have used several different washes for the top crust.  I have used beaten egg whites, milk, and even water.  The main thing is to get the crust moist enough to adhere sprinkled sugar and cinnamon on top.  Make sure you sprinkle a little extra into the crevices of the edges to make it as tasty as the whole pie.  I never promised that this was a low calorie endeavor.

Put your pie on a cookie sheet to catch any drips in case the pie does boil over.  You probably don't want to set off the fire alarms and have a mess to clean up.  Bake at 425 degrees for about 20 minutes and then turn down the heat to 350 degrees for another hour or so.  If the edges brown too fast, you can make a tinfoil cover to shield the edges from the heat.  Happy Eating!

Pie Crust Recipe:
2 cups of flour
3/4 cup butter/shortening (I prefer a combination of the two, but it doesn't matter as long as it's 3/4 c.)
4 Tablespoons cold water

Cut in the butter and shortening with the flour.  You can use a pastry cutter, but I prefer my hands.  When it's pea sized you add the water and mix until its a dough ball.  Happy rolling!

Apple Pie Filling

6 to 8 cups peeled and sliced apples
1 cup sugar
2 Tablespoons cinnamon
2 Tablespoons flour
4 teaspoons butter
*  I add a teaspoon of almond or vanilla to add a little something extra.  This is optional and not in my Grandma's recipe!

Pie might not be easy to make, but after a few practice rounds you will be able to roll good old fashioned pies even my Grandma would be proud of.  Pie making is a little difficult, but eating them isn't.  What's your favorite type of pie or shortcut?

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Free the Peanuts! Protests

Hold on to your hats, what you read next is shocking.  I turned on the news this morning.  I know it's hard to believe that I was able to watch something without talking animals or animation.   Grown-up television is unheard of in this house before 9 pm.  I turned to Today on NBC and what do I find?  A clip about a 6 year old's peanut allergies causing an uproar in a Florida school.

After my stress over almond extract yesterday, I can understand the little girl's parents nightmare of sending their daughter into a potentially life threatening situation.  I relate to how the classmates might feel when they have to bend their lives and routines around one child.  I even feel for the superintendent who has to deal with the media circus this issue is causing.  I will not argue pros and cons of adapting a classroom to meet a student's needs.  What a mess?

I will say that the girl has every right to be in that classroom and the extra hand washing required is a blessing, not a burden.  Yeah, the kids have to watch what snacks they bring into the classroom, but they are learning about ingredients and what really is in their foods.  I might be siding with the school, because I used to teach and believe that we learn more from everyday lessons than what a text book might have to say.  The food allergy is really not what people are upset about. 

I find it disturbing that so many parents getting mad over their children being made to accommodate one child.  Granted, it does take a little more time out of their day to wash their hands and make sure no stray peanut bits get brought in.  I don't know if it is appropriate to picket the school and make a public scene over trying to keep a classroom safe.  This is life and death. 

Where has our compassion gone?  Our children see these parents protesting and saying we deserve to be able to bring in any snack we desire and it shouldn't be mandatory to wash our hands.  They are proclaiming that we deserve to have things our way.  It's a message of entitlement that I am taking from this story.  It's really not about peanuts. 

I am not a parent at this school and I don't have to deal with a severe allergy in a classroom setting.  I see both sides of this issue.  As a parent, I know it's hard to give a little for the good of the group.  Our school is consolidated with two other towns.  My oldest son is bussed over an hour each day, having to switch school buses to catch one that is going to the middle school in a town 10 more miles north.  I am not ecstatic about this at all.  I despise it, but you won't see me picketing and calling in the media.

I see children who feel entitled daily.  I see it with my sons' friends.  I see it in the daycare children.  I see it in my own boys.  I hope that this school can use this as a teaching moment and move forward.  There are a lot of little eyes watching their parents and teachers handle this obstacle. 

On a lighter note... When did allergies become a disability?

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Peanut Allergy Fiasco

This was the week my son got to bring treats to church.  He was so excited and requested chocolate chip cookies with m&m's.  It's not too much to ask, is it?

Well, this momma didn't read the fine print on the treat bucket.  In plain black letters it says to avoid peanut butter because one child has an allergy.  I didn't use peanut butter, but I did use artificial almond extract instead of vanilla.  I always use almond extract.  I put it in everything.  Frosting, cakes, cookies, coffee cake, etc.-  if you put vanilla in it, I put almond extract in it.  It never crossed my mind that someone may be allergic to it.

It didn't dawn on me until this afternoon that I possibly could have harmed this innocent child.  I researched online and found that most artificial extracts do not contain real nuts.  I dug up that most nut allergies are different than peanut allergies.  Even after learning these facts, I didn't feel safe bringing those "tainted" cookies to church.

I scrambled up a quick batch of "cake mix" chocolate chip cookies and labeled them, sealed them separately, and called the leader to let him know I dropped the ball.  I sent both types of cookies with my son.  We only had a few come back, so they must have been good.

I know that these events probably put fear into every parent who has a child with a food allergy.  After giving it some thought, I take for granted how my family eats.  I don't worry about what snacks or treats my children feast on.  I let them order off the menu at restraunts and I don't second guess how the foods are prepared or if nuts were in the same kitchen. 

Today was a real eye opener.  I give a round of applause to parents of children with allergies.  It can't be easy preparing meals, eating out, or attending a simple birthday party when you constantly wonder about the ingredients or how something was prepared.  I am including my favorite chocolate chip cookie recipe and my son's requested treat.

So tonight, make a peanut free treat and if you want, skip the almond flavoring and pecans:

Chocolate Chip Cookies
1 1/4 cups butter
1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
1 1/4 cups brown sugar
1 Tablespoon vanilla-  I prefer almond extract, as stated above
2 eggs
4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoons salt
1 bag (12 oz.) chocolate chips-  I prefer milk chocolate and semi sweet mixed
Optional:  m&m's

Heat oven to 350 degrees.  In a large bowl cream the butter, sugars, eggs, and add vanilla.  Mix the flour, soda, and salt together.  Stir into the butter mixture and combine.  It is a tough dough and may require using your hands to knead the dough.  Add the chips and optional goodies.

Drop teaspoonfuls of dough onto a cookie sheet and bake for 11 to 13 minutes, the centers will be a little soft.  Let cool a minute before removing from the cookie sheet.  This makes 6 to 8 dozen cookies.

Have you ever made a similar mistake?  Do you have any tips for families with food allergies?

Magic Microwave Cleaning

This morning I thought I would be a good little girl and have oatmeal for breakfast.  Usually, I start the day off with a Diet Coke, vitamin, and a dose of allergy  medicine.  I had high hopes of improvement today.  I had the big boys out the door and on the bus, the little guys were watching PBS, and the toddler and I decided to microwave oatmeal.  Who needs to read directions?

I have made "real" oatmeal in the microwave plenty of times, but today I decided it needed to cook for 30 more seconds.  That's all it took for my microwave to get redecorated with sticky oatmeal.  I now had a breakfast a minimalist would be proud of and an oozing appliance.  I rolled up my sleeves and put the oatmeal out to pasture on the counter.  What was I thinking, trying to change my routine?  Sigh.

Cleaning the microwave is one of my least favorite chores.  It ranks right up there with cleaning the stove after my husband cooks.  With three boys and my husband in the house, I have had my share of microwave fiascoes.  Over the years as a "Martha" wannabe, I have developed some shortcuts and techniques to help take the pain out of cleaning the microwave.

We have all seen microwaves caked in spaghettios and mystery brown chunks.  For a horror scene like that, all you need is some water, a microwave safe container, and a lemon.  I use my glass measuring cup that holds 2 cups of water.  I add 1 1/2 cups of water and lemon rinds if I have them.  If I don't have any lemons, I add a tablespoon or more of lemon/lime juice to the water.  That's it.  You are set to clean your microwave. 

Place the container in the nightmare and microwave it for 5 or more minutes.  Keep an eye on the water level, but basically you can let it boil and bubble all it wants.  The steam will loosen the tidbits and sauces that have attached themselves to the interior.  All you need to do is wipe down the ceiling, walls, and bottom with a rag once the insides have cooled a bit.  I remove the glass tray and wash it by hand. 

Voila!  You are now the owner of a tamed microwave that even has a clean hint of lemon scent.  It's not so frightening anymore. 

So far this is the best option for me.  I have bought cleaners which I sprayed, and scrubbed.  Nothing seemed to work or else it took a lot of time and elbow grease.  My method doesn't cost a lot and there are no chemicals. 

Now, I must turn my attention over to my oatmeal that sits in a sorry state on my counter.  It's not too hot or cold, it's just right.  Diet Coke would have been an easier and cleaner start, but hopefully this will give me the jumpstart I need.  I want to stay awake past 10 p.m. tonight.

Do you have any easy microwave cleaning ideas?

Monday, March 21, 2011

$20 Amazon Gift Card Giveaway!

Plain Graces will be sponsoring their first giveaway! I will be giving away one $20 Amazon Gift Card to one lucky winner! All you need to enter is to leave a comment on one of my blog posts and like me on Facebook to keep updated on the giveaway and blog. On April 15th, to celebrate tax day, I will assign each comment/name a number and pull one from a hat...

Old school, I know.

Let's recap:

1. April 15th will be the day I give away a $20 Amazon Gift Card

2. Leave a comment on my blog and LIKE us on Facebook to be entered!

3. Invite friends to join in the fun and feel free to subscribe to my blog- the more the merrier.

If this goes well, I plan on having plenty more giveaways in the future! Best of Luck.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Nebraska's Forgotten Children

Wednesday nights at our house include church activities so my DVR is busy on these nights.  I was thinking about the new episodes of Ghost Hunters I have been collecting, but haven't had the time to watch.  I love a good ghost story, and it isn't because of the ghosts.  I love the history and people they involve.  You can learn a lot about a time period, place, or behaviors by hearing people retell events or legends. 

History is pretty boring for most people, but if you throw in a good ghost story you will have a very receptive audience.  I tapped into the theory this past summer.  David and I loaded up our sons and packed a lunch.  We were going to drive around the Missouri river and explore the area.  We have lived in Northeast Nebraska for over 13 years now and haven't ventured past Ponca.

I managed to talk my husband into locating a place in Cedar County where a family of 5 children were massacred by Native Americans on July 24, 1863.  There is a monument erected to the memory of the Wiseman children and a small log cabin replica for people to visit.  It was a grisly event and my husband didn't think we should stop and show the boys where 5 people were murdered.  I thought it was educational and important for the boys to see that history is in our own backyard, not just in a text book.  I won the argument, only because we were lost and just happened upon the spot.

I am a born and raised Nebraskan, but it would surprise people to know that Nebraska is not really flat.  At least, not all of Nebraska.  Near the river you are driving narrow dirt roads that twist and turn up and down steep hills.  You are surrounded by trees and vegetation which are a far cry from miles of fields or the stubbly Sandhills were I grew up.  It's a beautiful area.  We were lost and just taking in the beauty when we stumbled upon the marker.  It was providence.

In 1863 our nation had a lot on its plate.  The Civil War was raging in the East and "Indian" wars were heating up in the West.  A small family settling close to the Missouri river got caught in the middle with devastating consequences.  Henson and Phoebe Wiseman would lose their 5 children.  Arthur (16), Hannah (14), Andrew (9), William "Henry" (8), and Loren (4) had been left alone that fateful day.  Their father had been called to Fort Berthold to assist General Sully with the "Indian Wars" and their mother went to Yankton, South Dakota to gather provisions.  The mother discovered the children when she returned home.  I won't go into the details, because they are very graphic and disturbing. 

Here is where people turned this event into a "ghost story".  Apparently, the people who tracked the Indians had come to the conclusion that there were 4 of them and they hailed from the Yankton and Santee Sioux tribes.  Henson, the father, who probably already had some ill feelings toward the Native Americans vowed to kill every "Indian" he saw when he received word about his family.

With a little imagination a story could be spun.  Childish orbs of light gliding among the trees playing hide and seek while their father's ghost hunts among the trees for their assailants.  It's a very rich playground for a legend or ghost story to spring from.  While we were there, we didn't see any shadows or anything of that ilk.  No icy fingers of little children reached out to embrace our warm flesh.  Moans and groans were not heard.  Not even a lone echoing foot step.

We did see a very delightful scene.  The green grass was shielded by tall trees which allowed filtered sunlight through their canopy.  Birds chirped and butterflies flitted around.  It wasn't scary or sad, it was the exact opposite.  It was hard to imagine something so horrendous transpired in this tranquil spot.  My family didn't feel fear or dread.

It wasn't scary or didn't feel like the area was inhabited by the supernatural.  I have come to the conclusion that there are real hauntings, but they are usually within people.  Fears, hates, wants, and regrets are the real ghosts that lurk around people.  My DVR won't capture these ghosts and I would love to see TAPS attempt to debunk this theory. 

I refer to the Wiseman children as Nebraska's forgotten children. Growing up, we were schooled in Nebraska history and I don't recall ever hearing about this story. We studied the "School Children's Blizzard" of 1888 and the Homestead Act, but never the Wiseman's. Maybe it's too gruesome, but we did delve into the Donner party on occasion.  I have also learned a few lessons from these grisly tales, but that is another blog entry.

What other stories are out there that we have forgotten? 

I have included a "Chilling" recipe to put that shiver up your back...

Easy Peach Smoothies
1 large can peaches
1 Tbsp. of sugar
other fruit optional-  get creative!

In a blender, freeze your peaches (juice and all) until they are firm, but not solid.  Add sugar and additional fruit.  Blend.  You may need to a little water as you blend., but it depends on your tastes.  Enjoy!

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Hope In Rare Places

My family has been watching the peril in Japan unfold and a lot of unnerving images have blinked before our eyes.  It's hard for me-  even harder for the boys to understand the magnitude of destruction.  We can't fathom so much water sweeping in and washing away homes, lives, and futures. 

Out here in Nebraska, there aren't many puddles similar to an ocean.  We do have a few large lakes or reservoirs, but a cattle pond is sometimes the largest body of water in a 50 mile radius.  I have seen the ocean, but my children haven't.  Like so many people, I am shocked and awed by Mother Nature's rampage in Japan. 


My Facebook page is loaded with different reactions from people all across the United States.  There are the religious ones are proclaiming the end of times, there are people calling for help and aid, and we have an occasional post asking people to help at home before Japan.  It's amazing the different ways people interpret these events.

Solemn and depressing news constantly escapes from Japan onto our media.  It's similar to Hurricane Katrina, September 11th, and other disasters in recent history.  However, tonight I stumbled upon a glimmer of hope.  A story about the recoveries of a 4 month old baby, a 70 year old woman, and a man clinging to his roof 10 miles out from sea.

I am so thankful for some good news and I've attached a link to the story.  I could add a lot of comments or opinions, but I won't.  I'll let it be what it is and pray.  Hopefully, we will find more hope in the next few days for the people of Japan.

Miracles In Japan

Monday, March 14, 2011

Are You Suffering From March Madness?

March came in like a lamb this year, but I am not too worried about the weather.  March madness is setting in and I am seeing it everywhere I look.  I am not talking about the basketball brackets and snack advertising at the store, although those do make my list.  I am gazing around my own house and backyard.  Evidence of this condition is everywhere.  "March Madness" has taken on a whole new meaning.  Here are a few signs that you are suffering from this mania:

1.  Your calendar is almost black with scribbles and appointments.  Spring means school activities and end of the year programs are underway.  Hopefully, (we all know Nebraska weather) the winter is behind us and now we are all breaking free from our houses and celebrating.  I am slammed with a crazy schedule.  Soccer practices, track practices, track meets, parent teacher conferences, an Extension meeting, two birthdays, classes at the ESU, a family wedding, Boy Scout lock-ins, Sunday school activities, Lent services, and too many events are now penciled in on my calendar.  Am I mad?  I think I might be crazy. 

2.  March is now roaring like a lion, but not in the weather arena.  The sun is shining and taunting me to come out and play and I think my neighbor is also suffering from a form of March madness.  We still have snow drifts up to my knees in places, but it didn't stop him from mowing his yard yesterday.  He was out there,swerving around the remaining snow, puttering around his manicured yard on his John Deere mower.  Like many of us, he's tired of being holed up.  We are all more than eager to grab a rake and get a head start on our outdoor chores.  Seeds are ordered and plans made for the garden.  I think it may be Spring fever, but the great folly might be a better description.

3.  You are seeing green and an occasional leprechaun.  People are parading around decked out in beads, hats, and "Kiss Me I'm Irish" buttons.  No you are not hallucinating.  One of the craziest holidays lands on the 17th-  you know it as St. Patrick's Day.  Towns throw celebrations, paint the town square green, and book the Irish dancers.  A good time is had by all, but the 21 and over crowd enjoy this delirium.

4.  You are reading rhyming nonsense words and making green eggs and ham.  You will eat them, you will see.  March 2nd finds people celebrating Dr. Seuss and his contribution to children's literacy.  Green eggs and crazy hats accentuate this day in our nation's schools, libraries, and daycares as they pay homage to Theodor Giesel.  It's not an epidemic, people just embrace their inner artist and imagine the places they will go.

5.  Finally, you are obsessed with basketball.  I personally don't follow the games or teams, but I know people who do.  Basketball dominates the news, programming, and references on late night shows.  Friends have their teams chosen and wage office competitions.  Sleep is lost.  It's a slam dunk for craziness.

Madness is also defined as nontechnical word for rabies.  I know plenty of people who are foaming at the mouth over green beers and exertion in the Spring air.  Their eyes are blood shot from hours of staring at stats to predict the winning NCAA bracket.  These people are only suffering from March madness.

To help stave off the debilitating effects of Spring, I suggest indulging in a delicious blueberry strudel cake.  We made this recipe a few days ago and the children devoured it.  It is light and full of summer promises.

Blueberry Strudel Cake:
1/2 cup butter softened
1 3/4 cup of sugar
2 eggs
2 teaspoons of almond flavoring
3 1/2 cups all purpose flour
2 Tablespoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cup milk
3 cups fresh blueberries (you can also use frozen)
Strudel Topping:
1/3 cup cold butter
2 Tablespoons flour
3/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon almond flavoring

Cream butter, sugar, eggs, and almond flavoring.  Sift the flour, baking powder, and salt into the creamed mixture and blend.  Add the milk and when combined, add the blueberries.  Pour into a greased 9X13 pan.

To make the strudel, just knead the butter into the sugar and spices.  When it is the consistency of small peas, sprinkle evenly onto the cake.

Bake at 375 for 35-40 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean.

Happy Eating!

Do you have any techniques for warding off March madness?

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Team CoCo and Sunday School Lent Mash-Up

Saturday night I was laying on the couch taste testing the Easter candy I had stashed away and watching some DVR'd episodes of Conan.  I naturally had to watch the Pee Wee Herman episode.  Many of my Saturday mornings as a kid were spent learning about tinfoil balls and talking chairs.  Who didn't want a playhouse like that?

I know you are wondering how a grown woman could endure Pee Wee.  His chortle and iconic outfit are too much to bear most days and his television show is the last thing that comes to my mind when his name is mentioned.  A scandal back in the day is what I associate with Pee Wee, just like his red tie.  It was only out of nostalgia that I tuned in, but I had an awesome "aha" moment. 

During the jokes and "ahhh huh huh", I came up with an idea for my Sunday School class.  It's almost heresy to say you came up with a church lesson from a skit on Conan O'Brien.  Pee Wee and Conan were practically genius in the way they acted out the temptation of Jesus in the wilderness, which just happened to be the next lesson for my Sunday school class.  I was entertained, and I know this story fairly well.

Morning rolled around, even with Daylight Savings time, we made it to church on time and I challenged my class to put on a skit for the story depicting the temptation of Jesus.  I didn't make too many demands.  They had just a few requirements:  everyone had to be involved and they need to include verses like "man cannot live on bread alone".  I didn't expect too much.  After all, they are only 3rd and 4th graders with about 45 minutes to prepare.

We have went over this story before and I know the children know the basics.  I didn't want to have to drag out the Bibles and make them look up the verses and write them out.  Lent can be a pretty solemn affair and I wanted them to explore this story and the importance of it.  Without it, there might not have been an Easter story.  The children created and developed their own script. I am hopeful that they embedded it deep into their memory.

The children surpassed my expectations.  They used paper, crayons, scissors, and a stapler to create props and scenery.   They had stones that turned over to show loaves of bread.  Jesus sported a beard and Satan had a nice pair of red horns.  The children decided who would play Jesus and Satan, but they also incorporated narrators and a lone posed cactus in the background.

They told the story better than I could have if I made them look up verses. 

My only regret was that I hadn't thought about finding an audience to witness their performance.  We didn't have cue cards or audience prompts, but they did a great impromptu delivery. 

Pee Wee Herman and Team CoCo turned an average Sunday school class into an engaging and memorable morning.  I know the children were excited and actively discussed the story and the three temptations.  There were no chuckles or silly jokes, but my class easily could have given Pee Wee a run for his money. 

Thanks late night television. 

Have you been inspired in an unlikely place?  What was it?
Pee Wee Herman on Conan and performs Ash Wed. Skit

Friday, March 11, 2011

The Hamburger Helper Dilemma

Last night I was unprepared and dropped the ball- I didn't have anything prepared or easy to fix. We had a crazy afternoon and I had to run carpool to pick up the "big" boys from track practice. I already had the kids loaded in the van, so we grabbed Dairy Queen drive-thru. I feel a bit guilty about the whole issue.

We have really been trying to cut back our expenses and eating out is probably one of the areas to cut the most. I have been limiting take out and restaurants to once a week, but sometimes it's so nice to be able to grab a sandwich with an ice cold Diet Coke and go. The boys were indulged and I got my caffeine fix for the day.

Menu planning would have really benefited me last night. I am not a hardcore planner, but I do try to figure out what we will eat during the week. There is nothing worse than making a casserole and realizing you don't have the cream of mushroom soup needed to finish it. I don't want to drive 12 miles (one way) to the store for one measly can of soup. If only I had followed all the "crazy coupon ladies" advice blogs; I would still have that $28 in my bank account.

I realized that it might be a good idea for me to have quick backups in our pantry, but I am not one for Hamburger Helper. My children even had to ask me what it was when they saw a commercial on the television. I don't like to buy prepared mixes, but it might be a money saver for those nights I have to FORCE myself into the kitchen.

I do make dishes similar to the Helper, but I know what spices and seasoning are going into them. I make a delicious cheeseburger macaroni meal that is equivalent to Hamburger Helper in cost. I can't fathom paying the same price, when I can make double the amount of food for about the same cost.

Here is my Cheeseburger Macaroni Dish;

1 to 2 lbs. browned hamburger or ground turkey

1/2 chopped onion

1 cup diced celery

3 to 4 cups cooked macaroni

1/4 cup butter

1 to 2 cups cut up American or Velveeta cheese (depends on how cheesy you like it)

1 cup milk

salt and pepper

diced tomatoes, mushrooms, etc. for optional toppings

I boil the macaroni in a large pot and in a separate skillet I brown the meat with the onions and celery. After about 10 minutes and when the macaroni is tender, I drain the noodles and grease from the meat. I combine the noodles, meat, cheese, butter, and milk and stir over low heat until the cheese is melted. I like to let this dish sit for about 10 minutes before serving.

Monkees In My Head: Writing Topics

Lately, I have been thinking a lot about the Monkees. It's probably because of my last blog post on Davy Jones. I had forgotten about that part of my life and now little tidbits are surfacing. I have been watching a class led by master story teller Donald Davis from What's Your Story? He's been focusing on story telling and part of the process is looking at your past and the people or things that surrounded you.

In the third grade, I was engulfed by the sparse Monkee memorabilia I was lucky enough to find. This was before EBAY and the Antique Roadshow on PBS. People tossed a lot of their records, posters, and other knickknacks in the trash or sold them on rummage sales. I would scour the Thrift Store and my Grandmother's basement for souvenirs to add to my collection. I did get several records to pay for my hard work.

The memories that really stand out, aren't about the stuff I hoarded. They are about the people around me and their reaction to a little Monkee fan who was born a couple of decades too late. Better late than never springs to mind.

I got razzed by my classmates and cousins, but the funniest recollection I recall, which I think is full of irony, is that my third grade teacher had to limit my topics in writing assignments. I remember Miss Burns and my parents told me I couldn't write about Davy or the Monkees more than once a week!

Look at me now, I have regressed to my old ways.

I don't remember writing a lot of stories about the Monkees. I know they consumed almost every aspect of my life, so it only made sense that I would write about them too. I had Monkee shirts, albums, pins, books, and a special cassette tape my Aunt found. I would tape the television show, which was in reruns, with my tape player and listen to them afterwards. I knew all the songs and incorporated them into my baton routines and rollerskating soirees. I boycotted whiteout in protest against Mike Nesmith and took up the French horn because of Peter Tork. I learned some funny faces courtesy of Micky Dolenz. It was a very creative period in my past.

I eventually grew out of my obsession with the Monkees, but I probably only made the leap because of a small band known as New Kids On the Block. Davy was sadly replaced by Jonathan Knight. I belonged with a group now. I had a gaggle of girls swooning over the same crew I was. They had a passion that mirrored or surpassed my own.

I wrote stories with my friends about NKOTB and filled notebooks up with our silly notions and dreams. I probably struggled through 7th grade math, because my head was in the clouds hanging tough and my afternoons were spent studying dance moves or what they guys liked to eat while on tour.

I enjoy digging into my past and looking at the crazy things I did or wrote about. My teachers all deserve a big round of applause for putting up with my topics of choice. Choosing a writing topic is a little difficult, but I have plenty of practice with certain themes. Davy Jones and Jonathan Knight are very different, but I can link them together with my past. Hopefully, I will be able to find some more interesting blog topics.

What were some of your first writings about?

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Star Light, Star Bright...Wish for Mr. Right

I was cuddling with my four year old last night and we were admiring the stars shining on his ceiling. My parents had given him a twilight turtle for his birthday and it projects stars onto the walls and ceilings. I recited the poem, "Star light, star bright, first star I see tonight". He was giggling and telling me about all his wishes. He had a very extensive list from toys to dinner menus. I suddenly remembered the allure wishing on stars held for me when I was younger.

Growing up in rural Nebraska, you have access to the sky's bounty. The brilliant stars against a dark sky is something everyone should witness. I remember throwing out a blanket in the yard on a warm evening and laying on my back to watch the stars as they popped into view. The best sight was around midnight when the Milky Way appeared. The white stars against the black blanket of sky suddenly glowed with wisps of cream. Lulling locusts and croaking frogs down at the creek often sang me to sleep, and I was only awakened by the dawn's dew.

Around the third grade, I was obsessed with astronomy and the unknowns of space. Balls of burning gas miles away from the Earth fascinated me. For some reason, tracing orbits and learning how to calculate the speed of light sounded like a good time. I lugged library books home on constellations and would comb through them until I had them memorized. After a good amount of begging, my parents would wait for dusk and let me find a perfect spot between the lilac bushes and cedar trees in our yard so I could watch starry sky unfold.

Third grade must have been a year of passion for me. I was also pining over Davy Jones from the Monkees similar to a young girl suffering from "Bieber fever" and could easily have duked it out with Marsha Brady for Davy's number one fan title. And no, I am not nearing retirement. It was around 1987 and one of the 12 television channels we received had begun airing reruns of the Monkees television series. Our neighbor, Crystal, had introduced me to the Monkees one morning before school started.

I know what you are probably thinking. Considering it was 1987, Davy Jones was a little old for an 8 year old girl. For some reason I didn't grasp that concept. In my mind- he was 19 and still wearing bell bottoms while sporting a nice set of love beads. It never occurred to me that he had aged or that he was older than my father. He was my white knight on his stead and I was a daydreaming fool.

To my delight, the Monkees had decided to form a reunion tour. My parents had managed to get tickets for a tour date in Omaha. This just kicked my puppy love into overdrive. I would sit and nightly wish on stars to marry Davy. I don't know how many hours I wasted out there, wishing and wishing.

We loaded up the old red Buick and drove 5 hours across the state. A trip to Omaha was a thrill in itself and my baby brother was even excited. We hadn't been to very many cities before and it was a treat to see a mall or a McDonald's. We rode our first escalator, and tripped, on our way to see Davy at a book signing in the mall.

I don't remember how many hours we waited to get a chance for Davy to sign a few of my prized books and photos. It was a LONG time. Hours of waiting in line didn't dampen my excitement and finally we got to the front of the line, but Davy wasn't there. There was a man with grey hair. How frightening? I almost fell of the stage in shock. I barely talked to him and my parents were the ones who made sure I got my autograph.

I didn't wish on stars after that. The old adage about "being careful for what you wish for" finally made sense to me. I still observed the Nebraska sky, but I don't recall wishing again for Davy to be Mr. Right. I thought this little bit of my past could be put behind me.

What I didn't count on, was the fact that serious wish enthusiasts will tell you it takes at least 7 years for a wish to get to a star, maybe more. This is where my wish gets granted.

I did get my wish.

I got a Davy for Mr. Right, but he doesn't have a British accent or play a mean tamborine in the Monkees. David, who was known as Davy in 1987, found me in college and the rest is history. It's funny how a silly wish on a star could come back and bless me more than I could even fathom.

Tonight, what will you wish for?

Monday, March 7, 2011

My Frenemy: Wolverine

I am a wife to a Wolverine comic book addict. I knew about his affair with ink and claws before going into our marriage, but I didn't fully comprehend the impact it would have on me and our future children. I thought it was cute and fun for my husband to collect action figures and plaster his walls with graphic art displaying adamantium claws and sideburns.

I first knew we had a problem when I was expecting our oldest son. Naturally, baby names popped up around the sixth month of the pregnancy. I was scouring baby name books and lists. I pondered Benjamin, Ethan, Parker, etc. I looked to my family tree and the Bible for ideas. My husband turned to his stacks of comics.

We had to carefully remove these gems from their acid free plastic covers and hold them just right- he didn't want to get oils from our hands on the pages or creases in the spines. He proceeded to explain why we should name our child Logan. Logan is Wolverine's "real" name for those of you who haven't had the fortunate experience of living and breathing all things X-men.

I had to draw the line fast. I was not about to name my beautiful baby boy after a man who smokes cigars, has claws poking from his fists, wears yellow tights, and has a sworn enemy named Sabretooth. Really? After some coaxing I managed to rule out Logan, Charles, Scott, and Hank. I didn't want to have to tell my grandchildren that their father was named after an amnesiac mutant with super strength and healing abilities.

I won the name battle, but it wasn't the last time I had to wage war on Wolverine. I put my foot down on hanging framed X-men posters in the living room. I had to concede storage space and all rights to decorating the basement, but at least not very many people brave his lair. We've had to negotiate costs of "proper" storage and the purchase of a special Wolverine issue. I can't even remember the number, but I think it had something to do with the Incredible Hulk. I didn't think a flimsy little comic book was worth that much money. I could buy a lot of milk with the money they were asking for it. He didn't agree and said he needed to buy, because he would never get a chance to see one again. I caved and let him enjoy his nerdom for a bit, but at least I don't have a son named Logan.

We have also fought over action figures and E-bay. This argument has now become a source of jokes and laughs, but now he's mastered controlling his urge to bid. I cursed E-bay a long time after my husband had discovered it. Needless to say, we have a stash of painted pieces of plastic taking up space in our basement. Where was Professor X's mind control when I needed it?

I could go on and on about my life with a comic book addict. I don't know how many hours I have sat outside a comic shop while he talked books with the clerks or the number of X-men cartoons, movies, and posters I have viewed. I know way too much information about Jean Gray and Cyclops' family tree. I know Gambit, Rogue, Nightcrawler, and so many more characters, because my loving husband has named all our computers and servers after them.

I don't like to admit it, but after writing all these little details I can say his passion is endearing and a little on the cute side. I may not share his passion for Stan Lee and onomatopoeia in speech balloons, but he has sat through a lot of BBC miniseries and Jane Austen remakes. Our children have learned a lot about collecting, the value of saving and working for something you really want, right versus wrong, and that Mom doesn't appreciate sideburns and cigars. Wolverine might not be the namesake I wanted, but he does have a lot to offer my husband and sons. I guess he's not my nemesis, more like a frenemy.

Who knows? I might let my husband name a dog someday. . .

Is Spring Here Yet?

On Friday I ordered my seeds and replacement pear trees. My fingers are itching to dig in the dirt and feel the cool grainy texture. I want to smell the damp earth and feel the warm sun beating on my freckled skin. I can imagine I the birds singing and wind whistling- I am in heaven. However, I look outside and see snow- a lot of snow.

To make up for the winter storm watch we are in, I decided to start a few pepper seeds this morning. I haven't received my heirloom tomatoes or sweet peppers, but I did splurge at the grocery store and picked up a mixed pack of hot pepper seeds. I just wanted plain chili peppers, but this way we will get a surprise. Who doesn't like surprises?

I figured that we could try them and see what we get. Supposedly, there are an even number of seeds from 5 different kinds of peppers. My husband will be thrilled; he loves salsa and the hotter the better. After my habanero fiasco two years ago, I am a little leery to try a lot of fiery hot peppers. My hands are burning just thinking about the heat, but this time around I WILL definitely wear gloves when dicing. As my friend said, "if you can't stand the heat, don't go in the kitchen."

I have tried all kinds of different ways to start seeds. I have used egg shells, yogurt cups, peat pots, recycled butter dishes, milk cartons, and bottoms of pop bottles. If you can put dirt in it, I have tried it. A few years ago I stumbled upon peat pellets at the local Bomgaars. I adore these humble little "cookies" of peat.

I have been able to start seeds the last two years and actually get produce from them. That is almost a miracle. I don't have a very green thumb. These peat pellets are wonderful for me.

They come in multi-packs and look pretty boring. Just add some warm water and voila! You have perfect little peat pots without getting your hands dirty. I add my softened seeds (I soak them a few hours in warm water before planting) in the holes already provided. I squeeze the sides of the peat pellet just to cover the seeds, put them in a "greenhouse" container, and I am done. You really can't get any easier than that.

About 5 years ago, I did spring for a mini green house for seed starting, but I didn't get the results I wanted. I am convinced it let out too much moisture and the heat didn't stay inside. So, being the cheapest person in this part of Nebraska, I like to reuse clear produce containers that strawberries and blueberries come in. I prefer the ice cream cake containers from Dairy Queen or the containers that glazed donuts come in at our store. They are larger and I can fill them full with about 20 starters. I put the peat pellets inside and add a little water. Then I seal them in an old bread bag or previously used ziploc bag. As long as it's clear and keeps in the moisture it will work.

I set them on the kitchen counter and forget about them for a few days. I do check to make sure they are staying moist and occasionally let a little air into the bags. When I get sprouts, I let them go for a week or so, before I remove the bag.

This is where I struggle with starting seeds. Sometimes, I just can't keep them alive. Every day I monitor the moisture and make sure they have enough water. Last year, I didn't have too much of a problem. Maybe, my thumb is getting a little greener.

I hated spending all the time and money on seeds and soil mix when I would wind up going to the nursery and buying plants that would grow. I really have been working on starting seeds in my house, because I can buy a lot of seeds for the equivalent price of several plants from a green house. I struggle with my inadequacies, but I am improving with a few tips from my neighbors and friends.

One friend puts her seedlings in front of an oscillating fan set on low. She tries to strengthen their stems and make transplanting outside less of a shock. She just rotates the plants daily so they get the wind from all sides. I don't have fans where little fingers can reach them, but I do turn on the ceiling fans and I hope it works the same way.

About two weeks before I want to set out my plants in the garden, I move the tender shoots onto my enclosed porch and let them get accustomed to fluctuating temperatures. I usually lose a few plants during hardening, but if I don't do this step I will lose them all to shock after I plant them.

If I am lucky, I will have about half of the seedlings still growing. I have found that if I tear the bottom casing a little before planting, the seedlings grow faster. I am not sure if it helps the roots set or if it is all in my head, but I thought I would share this tidbit.

I plan on starting more seeds when they come, but today I was able to get a taste of Spring even though it is snowing. The smell of wet peat and the hope that soon I can be out in the dirt keep me going. I will be in my weed patch soon- I know it.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Coupons and More Coupons: Do They Pay Off?

Today was a red letter day for me. It wasn't spectacular or amazing. The kids were their usual selves and we managed to get through the day with just a few bumps on the head. My husband was wonderful and brought home dinner from town- pizza! So far it was an ordinary Friday, until I went to the grocery store.

I read about these "crazy" coupon ladies who spend $456.00 on groceries, but with coupons it ends up only costing them $23.00. I am sure you have all heard about them or at least seen them on Extreme Couponing. I didn't earn an extreme title, but tonight I saved $67.01 at the grocery store! This is a major accomplishment for me. I think the most I have ever saved is around $40.00.

I gave myself a pat on the back for this one. It's not everyday I can rack up that much in savings. The couponing angels must have looked down on me while I scouted the aisles. Our store doesn't accept printed Internet coupons so I have always relied solely on clipped and manufacturer coupons. Tonight, I didn't have any money makers- a term for products you earn money on and the store basically pays you to take it home. I did have a coupon for free Cottonelle wipes. I had a few items I paid less than a dollar for. And several big items I got for under $2- thank you Purex!

I didn't think it was possible for a small town grocery store to offer up savings similar to Wal-mart or any other super center. It took two carts to haul my bounty away. I guess it was worth braving the bitter cold and blowing snow. Little efforts do pay off.

Sorry for bragging, but I didn't think I would ever bring in a score like that. I finally feel like I might be learning a bit about this couponing thing. Maybe, just maybe, I will actually be able to save my family a bit of cash. I know sales fluctuate and I may never have another lucky night again, but I put that in the Lord's hands. This evening, I am sipping my Diet Coke and snacking on some Pringles I snagged for 29 cents. Between bites I am praising God for blessing us.

Success can taste good. Mmmmmmmm

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Smokin' Hot Pizza and Pies

I am laughing after reading a friend's facebook post. Her 7th grade daughter was instructed to prepare potpies for dinner. These are the frozen variety that come in small tinfoil pans and they bake for an hour. Her mother told her to poke holes in the tops and put them on a cookie sheet. Well, she did what her mom literally said.

She poked holes in the tops of all the cardboard boxes and put them on the cookie sheets.

I can picture this scenario in my head, but I can also relate. When I was in the 7th grade I had a very similar moment, but I didn't have it pasted on facebook for everyone to read.

I was babysitting for a family while the parents worked on Saturday. I babysat for this family every weekend and it was an ordinary day. The mother had instructed me to warm up leftover pizza for lunch. All I had to do was throw it in the oven at 350 degrees for about 15 minutes. She did leave one tiny detail out. It would have been beneficial to know you needed to remove the pizza from the takeout box.

Being a naive 12 year old, I literally did what I was told. I put the pizza box in the preheated oven and set the timer. We sat down to watch some Saturday morning cartoons. As you probably guessed, we didn't really need the timer.

Smoke filled the house.

Fire alarms screamed.

Children cried.

I panicked.

I managed enough courage to shut off the stove and remove the billowing box into the backyard. We had to open all the windows and air out the house. We spent the rest of the day playing in the grass looking for clovers and watching the clouds flit by.

Everyone named this episode of my life "the great pizza event". No one forgot it and somebody always specifically told me to remove the packaging before baking. After the smoke cleared, people were able to joke about it. You would never guess that in my adult life I would be able to roll out some pretty tasty homemade pizzas that don't require a box.

The sad thing, however, was I didn't think twice about what I did. I did what I was told. I should have reasoned that cardboard doesn't belong in an oven, but I didn't. My 12 year old brain malfunctioned. I blindly and stupidly caused an event that could of had tragic consequences.

I wonder how many ridiculous and stupid actions people have done, because they just did exactly what they were told and didn't fully comprehend the command. Imagine all the confusion and mistakes we could avoid if we only asked questions or explained ourselves better. How many problems at work are caused by broken lines of communication? How many marriages suffer arguments because of unclear messages? I could make a lengthy list of examples, but I won't bore you. Communication has always worked two ways.

I tell my children that there are no dumb questions. I guess the events of two 7th graders illustrate the adage perfectly. People assume all the time. We are too embarrassed to clarify instructions or ask questions. Sometimes, we are put in a situation beyond our education and don't know any better. We secretly hope that the leader will direct us in the right direction.

There are all kinds of leaders. Parents to children, teachers to students, bosses to employees, senators to citizens, and the list goes on and on. I googled the definition of leader. The meaning can range from a new plant shoot to a commander. Guiding, leading, and conducting were all adjectives used in the description. Are you a leader? Who is your leader?

Ponder what you really know. I learn something new everyday and that is important to remember. At times, I don't understand people's actions and I am sure I puzzle others at times with my own actions. I know my parents will second that. It's easy to judge. I can look back on my mistakes and rationalize that I didn't know any better. I need to remember we all grow and learn from our past.

A certain 7th grade girl learned a lesson tonight and a family has gained a new inside joke about potpies. This experience will help her in life and I know from experience that she probably won't make the same mistake again. She will definitely think out of the box from now on.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Recycling with the Force

Saying my boys are obsessed with Star Wars is an understatement. They love all things related to the saga. We have all the movies and have watched them more times than General Grevious has arms. They have Lego Star Wars for their Game Boys, Gamecube, and Wii. They have collector cards, books, shirts, and light sabers shoved under their beds. We have light saber games and Legos to pass the time with. Needless to say, we are immersed in Star Wars culture. My husband can even imitate a Wookie with very little effort. It's a bit scary around here sometimes.

I know the allure of Star Wars. I remember it myself, although I was more interested in the love triangle between Luke, Leia, and Han Solo. The cute little Ewoks were the bomb and Darth Vader scared the pants off me. The neighbor kids and I would spend hours roleplaying in our yards. I get it. I do. However, there are days I can't fathom the fact that I know how many moons the fictional planet of Naboo has.

I have been trying to get my boys on board about caring for our planet in THIS galaxy. I have been pushing recycling, reducing, and reusing. It's hard to get them involved, but hopefully they will be able to turn their passion into something a little more fruitful than debating Death Star destruction theories. So I did what Glee does best and made a mash up. Star Wars meets recycling- Mom style.

I had a bunch of oatmeal containers destined for the recycle bins, but I saw an awesome opportunity. We decided to make R2-D2 holders. We've used them for Valentine's Day boxes and Halloween trick-or-treat containers. They are perfect for stashing Pokemon' cards or arrowheads.

We cut two large legs from strong cardboard and found a small box to put under the front of the robot. The boys painted the legs and oatmeal containers white. We found a plastic salsa container (butter would work too!) and glued it to the oatmeal lid for easy acess to the insides of his belly. They painted the head blue and detailed control boxes on his body and legs. We scrounged around for different lids and caps to make the small cameras that R2 is famous for. They painted them and I hot glued them. Hot glue was essential in the construction and allowed a quick set.

The end result was pretty amazing. Especially, when you consider all these items came from the recycle bin. Force working with me on this one, I had...yes...hmmmmmm.