Money comes from work…

DSC_0037

One of the most important lessons that John and I want to teach the kids is that money comes from work. I want them to equal money with work so that when they are older, they do not have a welfare mentality. I don’t want them to feel as though they deserve anything without putting work into it. The only way to build a muscle is to exercise it. The only way to build the work=money muscle is to give them a job. They already have a list of chores that they must complete each week to get paid. No work = no pay. That is a real life lesson. But there are times when we need extra things done around the homestead and they need extra money so the two pair up nicely. That was the case this past weekend. Josh had $8 from this last paycheck but he wanted to go play air-soft with some friends. I called and was told that the cost was $15 to play. So, he had a shortfall.

Lucky for him, John pulled into the drive way with Big Willie (our Econoline van) full of wood that needed to be hauled to the back yard and stacked up. We negotiated a payment of $7 for Josh to help John haul it all back there. And it was  a lot of wood…

firewood

But the important thing is that he did it. And it wasn’t exactly with a great attitude especially since he got hurt twice (once he dropped wood on his foot and the other time he walked into my garden fence) but he pressed on and finished the job. And he got paid. The good news is that he got to play air-soft with his buddies and one of them even had a coupon making the cost only $11 – enough leftover to buy his own Mello Yellow, which of course, we made him pay for.

And Josh learned a valuable lesson that day. He learned that money comes from work and the best place for a broke person to go is to work. He also learned to take pride in what he does and that he has skills that are marketable. So, what will you teach your kids about money and work? Hopefully a lesson that will carry them through to adulthood. As a wise person once told me, we aren’t raising children, we are raising future adults.

Copycat PF Chang’s Mongolian Chicken…

chang chix

Most of my family loves Chinese food. If we go out to eat, the first votes are for Chinese. I say most because Josh is the lone dissenter. He does not like Chinese unless I am the one making it. So, since we like it and he will only eat it at home, I try to make it a part of the regular menu. When we go out to eat, we always order the Mongolian Chicken since that is something most of us will eat. We are not big beef eaters but even though the menu states “Mongolian Beef” we have found that if we ask, they will make it with chicken. I saw this recipe floating around on the internet and decided to give it a whirl. It called for beef too but I just switched up to chicken and it was a big hit.

P.F. Chang’s Copycat Mongolian Chicken

Ingredients

2 teaspoons vegetable oil
½ teaspoon ginger, minced
1 tablespoon garlic, chopped
½ cup soy sauce
½ cup water
¾ cup dark brown sugar

vegetable oil , for frying (about 1/2 cup)
3 chicken breasts
¼ cup cornstarch
2 large green onions, chopped

 

Directions

1. Heat 2 tsp. of vegetable oil in a medium saucepan over medium/low heat, without letting it get too hot.

2. Add ginger, garlic, soy sauce and water to the pan, being careful not to scorch the garlic.

3. Dissolve the brown sugar in the sauce, then increase the heat to medium and boil the sauce for 2-3 minutes or until the sauce thickens. Remove it from the heat and set aside.

4. Slice the chicken against the grain at a 45 degree angle into 1/4″ thick bite-size slices. (Note: I sliced them too thin the last time and they were more like chicken jerky, be sure to not do what I did.)

5. Dip each piece into cornstarch and then let sit for 10 minutes.

6. As the chicken sits, heat up one cup of oil in a wok over medium heat. You want it hot enough, but not smoking.

7. Add the chicken to the oil and sauté until brown, cooking evenly on all sides.

8. After a couple of minutes, remove the cooked meat and place on paper towels.

9. Dab excess oil off meat and add to medium saucepan with the sauce in it. Put the pan back over medium/low heat.

10. Add chopped green onions and let sauce simmer until warm. Serve over rice.

Blue & Gold…

josh b&g

Josh officially graduated from Bear to Webelo recently in our Cub Scout annual Blue and Gold ceremony. For those who are not familiar with Cub Scouts, Webelos is the top two levels of Cub Scouts before the boys go on to Boy Scouts. It is made up of 4th and 5th graders and it is an acronym for We Be Loyal Scouts (WE-BE-LO-S). Our Blue & Gold ceremony is what the boys work toward all year. They have to meet all the requirements for getting their patches including getting their whittling chip (learning how to safely use a pocket knife), riding their bikes for extended distances and learning how to maintain them and using tools to build a tool box. It takes lots of planning and time to ensure the boys get to this point in their journey before the ceremony in late February. It is also a lot of fun!

Included in the Blue & Gold ceremony is a cake contest among the boys. Some of the boys really go all out for their cake design. In the past, Josh’s cakes have been a campfire and a boat but this years is the best yet. It is a pocketknife and a bar of soap – the way they learn to whittle is using a bar of soap. It really “takes the cake”…

B&G cake

josh ribbon
Josh won “Judges Choice” for his cake! Yeah!

There is also a centerpiece competition that is as much about the leaders competing as it is the boys. Each den has to make centerpieces to decorate their tables with. We have made rockets before but this year went over the top. Our centerpieces were Blue and Gold (fish) centerpieces. Yes, that is a live goldfish in each centerpiece bowl. Luckily, we found families willing to adopt all the fish after the ceremony.

b&g centerpiece

b&g

 

On a funny side note, Josh won the raffle for a free haircut. As you can see from his picture, he is adverse to hair cuts so I don’t think he will want to be using that anytime soon.

We are so proud of Josh and the other boys in Den 7 for completing all their tasks this year and moving up to the next level. Cub Scouts has made some great memories for Josh and for us as a family. And Blue & Gold is a great way to celebrate!

Menu Plan Monday 2/25/2013…

menu

Today is my 37th birthday! Yeah to me! You know you are getting older when all you really want for your birthday is to be able to sleep past 6am on a weekday. Ha!

This year I did ask for a new pair of running shoes for my birthday. The ones that I have been running in are 14 months old, which means that I have logged approximately 560 miles on them. Boy, do they sure look like it. I recently went to a running store to try on shoes and when they saw what I had been running in, they almost had a fit. The tread is almost gone on the bottom and you can see where the color is wearing through. I don’t think I will be able to go as long next time of the shoes that I buy, especially since I am trying to up my distance on my runs. I spent the last day of my 36th year running my longest run ever – 8.8 miles. Hoorah!  I feel better and am in better shape at 37 than I was at 17 or 27. I am grateful to God for the strength and stamina to take care of the body that He has given and am excited to see what the next year of my life brings with it.

Here is what we are eating this week:

Sunday: Sloppy Joes, Tater Tots, Apple Slices
Josh and I have Mother/Son bowling in the afternoon so I needed something easy to throw together when we get home.

Monday: My Birthday Dinner
We normally only go out to eat on special occasions (like someone’s birthday) so we will be using a Groupon I picked up a few months ago for a local restaurants. Yum!

Tuesday: Chicken Chicken Quesadillas, Rice, Homemade Guacamole, Lettuce/Tomato Salad
I am making a Mexican meal for teachers appreciation today so I thought I would just make us Mexican too.

Wednesday: Baked Chicken and Rice, Broccoli

Thursday: Sesame Chicken, Rice, Roasted Asparagus
They were out of asparagus at the grocery store last week so we have been without it. The produce guy said there was a shortage so I hope that isn’t going to be ongoing, we don’t have that many green vegs that everyone will eat!

Friday: Frozen Pizza, Tossed Salad, Fruit
Today is Dr. Seuss’ birthday so I will probably make something to go with that. Green eggs and ham? 

Saturday: Mother/Daughter dinner ??
Not sure what we will eat since John and Josh are at a Cub Scout overnight event. The girls are staying home and having a Harry Potter-thon movie fest. Yes, 8 movies in a row. I hope I make it through all of them since Brittany has been so excited to watch them together.

I am linking up with OrgJunkie.com, so be sure to check out that site for more Menu Plans to help you with getting dinner on the table!

Maple Roasted Sweet Potatoes & Parsnips…

parsnips

When I was a kid I only got parsnips at my grandmother’s house. I always thought they were white carrots and I loved them. I am a big vegetable fan and I really don’t have many vegetables that I don’t like. Now, some of them don’t like me (onions are one) but that is a different story. My kids are 8 and 10 years old and as far as I know, they have never had parsnips. We are always looking for new vegetables around here that the kids will like. Currently, we have a rotation between broccoli, green beans (in a can, yuck!), asparagus and spinach. Normally there is a starch paired up with the vegs like white potatoes or rice. I also make sure that they have some fruit during the day and some carrots at lunch. I am sure we don’t hit the recommended daily allowance for fruits and vegs but anytime I can get them to eat something from the garden, it is a win. And like all good mothers know, you have to take your wins when you can get them. So I am going to give this recipe a try and see if I can get a win out of it!

 

Maple ­Roasted Sweet Potatoes and Parsnips

Author: Shaina Olmanson at Simple Bites
Prep time: 15 mins Cook time: 30 mins
Total time: 45 mins Yield: 6

Ingredients

3 medium sweet potatoes, peeled and thinly sliced into rounds
3­4 parsnips, peeled and thinly sliced
4 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1 leek, finely diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/3 cup maple syrup
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard (like Maille)
2 tablespoons fresh parsley

Instructions

1. Preheat oven to 400º F. Place sliced sweet potatoes and parsnips in a medium bowl. Add 2 tablespoons of olive oil, salt and pepper and toss to evenly coat. Arrange the slices alternating between sweet potatoes and parsnips in the bottom of a small baking dish.

2. In a medium skillet, heat remaining olive oil over medium heat. Saute leeks and garlic for 5 minutes. Pour in maple syrup and stir in the Dijon. Continue cooking for 2 additional minutes until syrup starts to simmer. Pour syrup and leeks over the sweet potatoes and parsnips evenly. Place in the oven for 30­-40 minutes until cooked through.

Remove from oven and allow to stand 5 minutes. Garnish with parsley and serve warm.

 

Family Pleasing Menu Planning…

menu plan

Looking to simply our lives, I took a look at my menu planning and decided to give it a re-work. I really like to try new recipes and kinda use my family like little taste testers – a new dish here and there. Most of the time, they are good sports about it and will eat whatever I fix. But in an effort to streamline the meal making process and save time and money, I decided to change up my menu planning.

First, I printed a list in excel of every dinner meal that I have made in the past two months. I then eliminated those that I knew the family didn’t like or was too expensive to make again. I also eliminated any duplicates, which weren’t that many. Normally, I try to not repeat the same meal twice in a month even though my family doesn’t mind repeating favorites. I used this fact to my advantage in the new menu plan.

Second, I gave each family member a list of the meals that I had made. I gave them specific instructions to cross through any or all of a meal that they did not enjoy. So, if the menu called for spaghetti, meatballs, salad and rosemary bread and they did not like the bread but liked everything else, they could just cross through the bread. John took it upon himself to also put big stars next to any item that he particularly liked, I think in hopes that I would put that on the menu more often. I was very surprised to find out that most of what I make, they like.

Next, I compiled the lists and marked on my master sheet who did not like a particular food. I simply put an “X” next to any meal that got cross through on the lists. Since there are 4 people in our house, we went my a majority ruling for most items. If it got 3 “X”s then the item was eliminated from the menu plan.

After I had a master list of the foods that my family likes to eat, I set up to create a re-occurring menu plan for each month. Most of our meals revolve around chicken as the main entree but I made sure to put either ground turkey, beef or fish in there once or twice a week. I also tried to keep the side dishes varied enough that we didn’t end up eating broccoli every night for a week. I ended up with 21 meals that we eat the first 3 weeks of the month and then I took the favorite items (as denoted by John’s star system) and repeated those meals the last week. I made sure that the meals that were repeated were in the menu as far from the last week as possible so that it didn’t feel monotonous.

In the end, I think I got a workable plan for each month. I am sure there will be some tweaking here and there as we learn to work through it. And it doesn’t mean that I won’t try new menu items, just with less frequency than normal. Everyone is happy about the new menu plan and I am glad to have things a little simpler around here.

Menu Plan Monday 2/18/2013…

menu

This is a quiet week around here which is much needed after our crazy busy week last week that culminated in a crazy busy weekend. Like my big word – culminated? I am trying to impress you. Ha. This weekend we went to the Big Apple Circus on Saturday with friends. On Sunday, John spent a few hours splitting and stacking firewood, I priced consignment sale items and then John took Josh to the air-soft field with friends. Fun but busy!

I spent some time lately revamping our menu and I will blog on that at some point. Needless to say, I am working on making it simpler and I think everyone around here is happier.

Here is what we are eating this week:

Sunday: (Crockpot) Salsa Chicken, Hard & Soft taco shells, Homemade Guacamole, Rice, Apple Slices
This is so easy that my 11 year old made dinner – put 2 chicken breasts in the crockpot along with some salsa and cook until done (about 4 hours for me). Shred and serve.

Monday: Mini Meatloaves, Homemade Mac & Cheese, Roasted Asparagus
Everyone gobbles these up in the mini size – just use muffin cups instead of a big meatloaf pan. Easy peasy.

Tuesday: Chicken Parmesan with Penne Pasta, Tossed Salad
Mine will be with the cheese – yum!

Wednesday: Ritz Cracker Baked Chicken Nuggets, Leftover Macaroni & Cheese, Green beans
I love that these are baked and not fried so I can eat them too. The kids don’t know the difference.

Thursday: Copycat PF Changs Mongolian Chicken, Steamed Broccoli, Rice
I also have some fortune cookies that I will serve afterward, the kids love reading their fortunes! I’ll post this recipe on the blog a little later.

Friday: Frozen Pizza, Tossed Salad, Fruit
We made homemade pizzas last week so we might do that instead of frozen pizzas. The kids loved making their own pizzas!

Saturday: Cordon Bleu Stuffed Chicken Breasts (Frozen), Mashed Potatoes, Broccoli
John and Josh are going to the Supercross this night so Brittany and I will be hitting the movies after dinner. A fun girls/guys night outing!

 

I am linking up with OrgJunkie.com, so be sure to check out that site for more Menu Plans to help you with getting dinner on the table!

Valentine’s Day…

britt cake

For us, Valentine’s Day has always seemed like a made up holiday that was invented to help retail with the lull between Christmas and Easter. Now, don’t get me wrong. I love love. I love celebrating those I love. I just don’t need Hallmark telling me when to do it and the pressure to get everything just perfect. So, we celebrate a little differently around here.

We do not go out to dinner. Dinner on Valentine’s Day is over priced and crazy busy. So I make a nice dinner at home that the entire family can enjoy. This year I made Sesame Chicken, rice, broccoli and fortune cookies. No, I didn’t make the fortune cookies. I found a box at the dollar store and they were tasty and fun. Brittany also made us a cake using a boxed cake mix and some icing I had in the pantry. I think she did a great job!

We give practical gifts. I asked John for birdseed for the birdfeeder in the backyard. He did a great job and got me a huge bag of songbird seed and some Ghirardelli chocolates. I gave him a variety of items each with a little saying on it. He got long fireplace matches with “We are a match made in heaven” on it. He also got some Krazy Glue that had “You and me, baby, we’re stuck like glue” on it. I got him several other practical gifts with corny sayings on them. I also stopped at the local gourmet donut shop and bought 2 high priced donuts for us to share – one was even wrapped in bacon.

For the kids, we got them gifts that I had found on clearance after Christmas. Josh got a Tech Deck ramp and Brittany got a Crayola fashion creator. I added in some candy I have picked up marked down after Christmas and everyone was satisfied.

The kids each made their own valentines for school along with Valentine boxes. Brittany made mustaches on popsicle sticks that said “I mustache you a question – will you be my Valentine?”. Her box was a man with a giant mustache. Josh’s Valentine box was a big toilet and he made valentines that were toilet lids that said “You are my number 2”.

VD boxes

For us, the largest part of Valentine’s Day is just being togehter. I helped to host the Valentine’s Day party in Brittany’s class complete with a chocolate fountain. And John and I had a wonderful breakfast together – just the two of us. We finished out the day with everyone cuddling on the couch and watching a free movie from Redbox.

Valentine’s Day doesn’t have to be elaborate or expensive to be fun. You just have to be creative and enjoy your loved ones!

 

Balsamic Vinaigrette…

strawberrysalad

Ok, so yesterday we spoke about croutons. Today, we are sticking with the salad but I want to share with you my go to salad dressing recipe. This stuff is so good, you won’t believe it. As you guys know, I am in LOVE with the hydrophonic lettuce from Circle A Farms, a local grower. I buy it every 2 weeks and I eat it almost every day. Until I found this lettuce, I have never been a big salad eater but this lettuce tastes so good, it is unbelievable. My favorite combination is spring mix lettuce, sliced strawberries, walnuts and grilled chicken (and goat cheese back when I ate dairy). The flavors are just yumtastic. I used to eat Ken’s Salad Dressing on my salad – either Light Raspberry Walnut or Asian but I decided to make my own salad dressing the other day and it is wonderful. The flavors are intense in a good way – the balsamic vinegar and the honey come together in a beautiful marriage. I swear I could take a bath in this stuff!

Honey Balsamic Vinaigrette

from: allrecipes.com

INGREDIENTS:

1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1/2 Tablespoon soy sauce
2 1/2 Tablespoons honey
1 clove garlic, minced
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil

DIRECTIONS:

Place everything into a sealable container and shake until mixed. Add more honey if needed. Store in the refrigerator and eat with EVERYTHING.

 

Croutons…

crouton

We eat a lot of salads in our house. Every two weeks I buy a box of organic hydroponic lettuce from a local grower and we eat on it until the next delivery date. Sometimes we don’t make it that long and I end up contacting them to see if I can pick up early. It is just that good. I like to mix fruit into our salads so sometimes we have strawberries in our salad or mandarin oranges or dried cranberries. But upon occasion, you feel like having a more savory salad with the sweet element. Those are the times that I will put tomato and kalamata olives into our salad. But I never – read: NEVER – put croutons in our salad. I am not sure why except that I just never think to buy croutons when I am at the store. I don’t have anything against croutons, I like when other people put them in salads but I just don’t ever put them in ours.

Well, today that all changed. You guys know how I hate to throw away any food. I am always looks for a way to use up whatever we have to eat in the house. I made a load of Rosemary Olive Oil bread earlier this week and somehow there was a small chunk of it left this morning. It had gone too stale for anyone to want to eat but that is what gave me the idea of making it into croutons. Since I had never made croutons, I had to google how to do it. And it is so simple, I can’t believe it. Here is what to do:

Croutons

from: ehow.com

Heat the oven to 275 degrees. Cube whatever leftover bread you will be using.

Put bread into a bowl and drizzle on olive oil. Just eyeball how much you need but make sure you don’t oversaturate the bread cubes.

Mince the garlic as finely as possible and toss with the bread cubes. If seasoning the croutons with herbs or other seasonings, add them now. Add a few generous pinches of salt and pepper.

Arrange the bread cubes on a baking sheet in a single layer and place in the oven.

Cook for about 10 minutes, then toss with a spatula and return to the oven. Repeat after another 10 minutes, tasting a cube this time. The croutons should be partly crispy and beginning to turn golden. Continue to cook and toss periodically until the croutons are golden and crispy throughout.