Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Breakfast On The Go!

Muffins! That's what works for me! When you need to leave early and there is no time to make a nice, hot breakfast, grab a muffin and go! We have had several mornings like this lately, going to pick blackberries and other things up in Yuma. We have to leave at least 2 hours before any event in order to arrive on time because of the delay in crossing the border (we live in Mexico). So, when we have something to do in Yuma, we don't have time for a nice breakfast at home.

Recently, I have made several batches of muffins that have come in quite handy for these early mornings. First, I made some Sausage, Egg and Cheese muffins that came out quite nicely. Then I made some Banana Oatmeal muffins (substituted bananas for apples in recipe). Both are great "grab-n-go" breakfasts and that is what Works for Me Wednesday! For more ideas, go to Rocks in My Dryer.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Mixing Fruit in Your Cobbler is Great!

This week, I had some peaches that were about to go bad, so I decided to make another cobbler. However, there weren't quite enough peaches, so I decided to add some blackberries. I didn't know exactly how that would work out, but it was REALLY scrumptious! The sweet peaches and the tangy blackberries made a great combination! I have been using a very basic cobbler recipe that I really like. And I use freshly ground whole grain flour and honey, which makes it even better!
1 cup flour
1 cup sugar (or 1/2 up honey)
1 stick melted butter
1 Tbsp. vanilla
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
Mix together and spread over berries. Bake at 350 degrees until crust turns golden brown. Serve with vanilla ice cream.

So don't be afraid to experiment by combining different fruit in your cobbler. You may come up with something great! For more great Kitchen Tip Tuesdays, visit Tammy's Recipes.

Don't Miss "Make It From Scratch" Carnival Hosted Here Next Week!

That's right! I will be hosting the next Make It From Scratch right here next Tuesday, June 3rd! Since June 3rd was both of my grandmothers' birthdays, I think an appropriate theme would be "Ode to Grandmothers" in honor of Muchen Grandma and Squirrel Grandma (yes, that is really what we called them - I will tell the story next week). Now I have to get busy and come up with some great stuff for that theme:-)!

So start sending in your entries to the Blog Carnival, and then come back next Tuesday for a great time at Make It From Scratch - Ode to Grandmothers.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

A Nostalgic Recipe for Me - Stuffed Grape Leaves

We were picking blackberries again yesterday and when I came around a corner I saw grape vines. I got very excited because there are very few places around here (in the desert) that have grape vines and I have not been able to make this family dish since we have lived here - over 5 years! I asked the owners if I could snip some of their leaves and they said sure. So I snipped about 65 or so leaves and last night made a very nostalgic recipe for me - stuffed grape leaves.
This recipe brings back so many memories - my grandmother was from Germany and we had a grape harbor. So every summer, we would make this recipe together, as long as there were young leaves on the grape vines. Most recipes for stuffed grape leaves are Greek in origin and do not include the tomatoes. I truly don't know the ethnic origins of this meal, but it is very different tasting from the Greek ones.

To begin with, I washed the leaves in a big bowl with some baking soda and patted them dry with a towel. Then I made a meat and rice mixture for the filling and rolled a portion of meat into each leaf. I found a step by step photo tutorial online for filling and rolling, so I didn't take pictures of those steps. However, I don't blanch the leaves first, but that would make it easier:-) Now, my grandmother cooked hers in a pressure cooker for about 20 minutes. I don't have a pressure cooker, so I decided to try my roasting pan in the oven and it worked great! Here is my recipe, slightly modified from my grandmothers:

2 lbs. ground turkey
1 cup white rice
2 Tbl. 21 Seasoning Salute (from Trader Joes) or any mixture of spices you would like
1/2 tsp. allspice

Mix this all together for the filling. Put about a Tablespoon of mixture in each leaf (depending on size of leaves) and roll up. Cover bottom of pan with flat grape leaves and then place the rolled ones on top of that, layering as you go. Then pour canned tomatoes over them (I used 4 cans - around 15 oz. each - of whole tomatoes and just broke them up with my fingers). Cover with another layer of flat grape leaves. Add a little water to ensure no burning and enough sauce. Cover pot and place in 350 degree oven for one hour. When they are ready, serve over mashed potatoes. Mmmm...delicious! You can also cook in a pot on the stove top (that is how I have done it in the past). Cook until rice is tender.

For more great recipes and ideas, visit Grandma Rosie's Texas Home for the 51st Homesteading Carnival and don't miss Make It From Scratch being hosted over at The Miller Way.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Kitchen Tip - Don't Throw Away the Paper Separaters

When you buy a package of foil baking cups (I mostly use mine when I make meatloaf cupcakes), don't throw out the paper cups that separate the foil ones. You can use those for regular paper baking cups, so you actually get twice the number of baking cups in one package.

I didn't hear this anywhere that I can remember. I just remember one time when I was using those foil cups (probably April Fool's Day:-) that I thought, why can't I just use these other paper ones for cupcakes? And I did and they worked just fine. So get double duty out of your foil baking cups by using the paper ones, too.

For more Kitchen Tips Tuesday, go on over to Tammy's Recipes, where you can find lots of great recipes, too!

Monday, May 19, 2008

I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE This Unit Study!!

Did I say I LOVE it? I have been so happy with this unit study that we are using next year that I decided I just wanted to share about it with you all. It is called A World of Adventures by Learning Adventures. It started with Ancient Egypt and continues through the Age of Exploration. It is so well laid out and so much research and information is included that you could just read what Dorian Holt wrote and get a great education. But when you add videos, DVDs, and books from the library, as well an online resources, you come away with an incredible amount of learning and adventures!! What an appropriate name!

You can go over to the Learning Adventures website and even view some Sample Lesson Plans just to give you a good idea of how much is included. She very adequately covers Bible, Literature (it is a literature-based unit study using some incredible classics), Language Arts (including Spelling, Grammar, Writing and more), Social Studies, Science and Fine Arts. The only thing that I supplement is Math and Typing!

This curriculum is geared to 4th-8th graders, but can be altered to accommodate youngers and even olders, too. I have used MANY unit studies over the years (because that is all that I use) and have never found such a complete package as this one is.

Each year costs about $90-$100 for the full curriculum! That is a great price, too! And for about $20-$26 you can also order the Student Pages which are a tremendous help with Spelling, Grammar, etc. This curriculum is worth every penny and we have had a tremendous year learning with Learning Adventures. We are going to continue with A New World of Adventure this coming year and we (my kids and I) are really looking forward to it.I also made up my own Lesson Plan pages to go along with this curriculum, and that has made it so much easier. I don't know why I didn't do this sooner (it didn't take much time at all). I have my notebook with the unit we are studying, plus my lesson plan pages, and each child has their notebook with their Student Pages, writing assignments, projects, maps, etc. It is so convenient and easy to begin our school day each day with this.If you decide to buy Learning Adventures, please let Dorian know that I sent you. I don't get anything from it, I just want her to know how much I appreciate the work she has put into this great curriculum. I am going to email her today and let her know how much we have enjoyed it, too!

Check out the Carnival of Homeschooling hosted by Po Moyemu this week.

Frugal and Natural Laundry Soap

Well, I had heard of them before, but never tried them until I won a sample bag of these SoapNuts on the Spring Bloggy Giveaway.

I decided to give them a try, even though I make my own laundry soap. So this past week, all of our laundry was washed with these little strange looking berries (they are not actually nuts even though they look like them) from Laundry Tree. Surprisingly, they worked quite well! And it is my understand that a large bag that costs about $30 will last for about 300 loads of laundry. That's more than a year for me (we average about 5 loads a week). BTW, my homemade laundry detergent costs about $12.00/year, but if you don't want to make your own and still would like something natural, this would be a great alternative.

Here is what the site says about the SoapNuts:

Soapnuts are an amazing, 100% natural cleaning product.
Soapnuts are the fruit of a tree (Sapindus Mukorossi), found primarily in India, Indonesia, and Nepal. The fruit is harvested and de-seeded, then dried in the sun — and then it’s ready for you to use!

How do soapnuts work?
The outer shell of the soapnut contains saponin, a natural substance known for its ability to cleanse and wash. (That’s what makes them so GREAT for cleaning your laundry!) In fact, soapnuts have been used to clean all kinds of fabric for centuries, but they are just recently gaining popularity in the Americas and Europe as a natural alternative to modern chemical detergents.

Soap nuts are organically grown and are chemical-free, so they are gentle on clothes AND skin. They are especially great for those with sensitive skin — including babies and those that suffer from allergies, eczema, and psoriasis! They’re totally biodegradeable, so they’re better for the environment than regular detergent, and they’re antimicrobial, so they’re even good for septic and greywater systems!

There ARE natural and healthy alternatives to harsh laundry detergents that can really save you money, too! For more frugal ideas, please check out the Festival of Frugality over at The Financial Blogger - it's the If I Had a Car Edition!
Also, check out more tips over at Works For Me Wednesday hosted by Rocks in My Dryer.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Changes You Can Make to Minimize Your Monthly Bills

With the rising costs of living (and driving) that we are experiencing in the U.S., I know many of you are desperately trying to find ways to cut costs without drastically reducing your quality of life. I just ran across a great article on a blog that I read almost everyday, and I thought it might be of help to some of you.

Over at The Simple Dollar, Trent wrote about some changes that can make a big difference in your monthly living costs. He said, "... I’ve compiled a list of sixteen great hardcore tactics for minimizing your monthly bills. Most of these won’t work well in your life - that’s fine. If you can choose just one of these, though, and run with it, you’ll find a lot more breathing room in your financial life."

Go on over to his site to read the rest of the article and find Sixteen Hardcore Tactics for Minimizing Your Monthly Bills.

I am going to be including more links to great articles about reducing your monthly costs as I run across them, to be a help to those of you out there who need more help living a frugal life and cutting your costs. Most of the time, I find that we already have implemented a great majority of these ideas into our life (mostly due to necessity as our income has been so limited for the last 3 years). I have found that God has led me into many of these things in a way that has seemed so natural to me, but since I have begun blogging this year, I have found so many sites on the Internet that address these frugal living ideas. What a resource of ideas can be found online!

If you have any questions about frugal living or ideas of things you would like to see information about, please leave me a comment or send me an email and let me know. I am more than happy to research things for you and post about them for all to share in the wealth of information available on the web. I am no expert, just learning along with you all as God leads and guides us in this life adventure.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Homeschool Field and Fun Day

Each year, our support group hosts a Field and Fun Day for the kids. This includes some events that require a little athletic ability and others that require none, so all have a great time and a chance to win a ribbon. The events are divided by age groups and a great time was had by all this year.I encourage every home school leader to consider having a day like this for the kids to have a blast and compete in some fun events. Over the years, our events have included things like 50 yard dash, obstacle course, softball throw, wheelchair race, long jump, limbo, basketball dribble and shoot, relay race and many more. We had about 60-75 kids participate this year and they all seemed to enjoy it.
For more great home schooling ideas, visit the Carnival of Homeschooling over at Mom It Teaching.

Friday, May 09, 2008

All Natural Shampoo Bars and Body Bars

Several months ago, I ordered some samples from the Chagrin Valley Soap Company because I wanted to try some shampoo bars to get away from commercial shampoo products (which contain ingredients I would rather not put on my hair). I ordered three shampoo bar samples and two body bar samples and still have not used them all. I have been VERY pleased with the products. The first shampoo bar that I used was Chamomile and Citrus. I liked this very much - it left my hair feeling soft and very clean. The next one I tried was Rosemary Lavender, and I think my hair was a little more dry and had more static than the other one. I still have Olive & Babassu to try and I will let you know how I like that one. The first body bar that I tried was Honey Butter and I LOVE it! It has rich nutritious unrefined shea butter, unrefined cocoa butter, mango butter, honey, and aloe vera. I am sad that it is almost gone because I could even use it on my face and it left it clean and soft, but not dry at all (and I have really dry skin and live in the desert, too!) I will definitely be ordering another full size of that body bar. Then I tried Herbal Mist which is loaded with shea butter and sunflower oil, and although I like it, I still prefer the Honey Butter. I just read that the owner of Chagrin Valley Soap Company, Ida, has been diagnosed with breast cancer and is having surgery on May 12th. So I encourage you to go to their website and order some of their products. She won't be able to make any new soap for awhile, but there is plenty that they already have in stock and I am sure they would appreciate the business. Their son is working with them so their business will not suffer greatly. Also, go on over to The Breast Cancer Site and click on the button for giving a free mammogram. It doesn't cost you anything but a second of your time, and it will help provide free mammograms for those women who cannot afford them.

For more Works For Me Wednesday ideas, check out Rocks in My Dryer.

Picking Blackberries and Reaping the Rewards

The day started bright and early (4:30am), but the sweet rewards are definitely worth it! We went blackberry picking today from 6am until 8am and picked over 50 lbs! That is a record for us - there are SO many huge blackberries on the vines this year!

There are only two things that I voluntarily get up before the sun to do: yard sales and picking blackberries! I guess that tells you something about my priorities:-)There is only one blackberry farm in this area, and since the daughter of the owner is part of our home school group, they let the home school families that want to come and pick the berries for them and then we get to keep 10% of whatever we pick. So today we went home with over 5 lbs of blackberries for two hours work! That would cost over $30 to purchase them, so I am very happy! And that is just the first time we are going to be picking. I am hoping to pick at least one more time (maybe two) before the short one month season is over.We will make blackberry cobbler, blackberry pie, and mostly just eat the berries with plain yogurt and honey (my favorite!). I will freeze some of them so they can last through the summer, too.

If we didn't have this opportunity, we surely couldn't afford to buy blackberries, so this is my Frugal Friday! If you have the opportunity to pick any kinds of fruits, I recommend you take advantage of this opportunity to make the most of your dollars and get some terrific and fresh fruit for your family. And go on over to Biblical Womanhood for more Frugal Friday ideas!

Also, visit the Festival of Frugality over at Quest for Four Pillars for more frugal ideas (especially if you are considering a major purchase in the near future.)

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Remembering a Friend...and a Legend

I am sure some of you have wondered what happened to me. I can't believe it has been a whole week since I last posted! I am sorry - I think I just had a little blog burnout and needed a break to get caught up on some things around here and get some new inspiration.

Last night, for some unknown reason, I began to think about a friend of mine who died back in 1990. I didn't know her for very long, but it was quite an interesting friendship. I looked her up on the internet last night and found a website in memory of her that is beautiful. I dreamed about her last night and woke up with her on my mind. So I thought I would share about my friend Emily.

Emily Remler is remembered as the greatest female jazz guitarist in the country (and some say in the world). I remember her as a struggling Christian who, because of being Jewish, was afraid to share about her faith. She was an incredible guitarist who would come and sit in my office to practice sometimes because she felt very peaceful there. What an honor it was to have my own private concerts from a very famous artist!

Emily met my mom before I ever met her and she found someone she trusted and could confide in. She shared with my mom that she had accepted Jesus as her Savior, but was afraid of being ostracized in her very strict Jewish community if she told anyone. She was from New York City, but had left there and moved to Pittsburgh to get away from the drug culture that had ensnared her in the entertainment industry there. She struggled daily to stay clean, even as she wowed the world with her talent and ability. We went to several of her concerts in the Pittsburgh area and just loved to listen to her jazz compositions. She played with some of the best jazz musicians in the country and opened our eyes to an incredible array of music.

It was a short friendship, as was her life. She died of a heart attack (most likely a result of her struggle with addiction) while on tour in Australia in May of 1990. I personally believe she really was a Christian and that God in His infinite mercy cut her struggle short in order to bring her home to be with Him. She was beautiful and incredibly talented, but her life was an ongoing struggle daily with her addictions, that stemmed from the passion she had for her music and the environment in which she found herself. I hope that for that short time while she was in Pittsburgh, that my mom and I were able to be a light and a refuge for her that strengthened her walk with God and secured her eternity with Him.

One day I will know, but in the meantime, the memory makes me more determined than ever to be a light to anyone God brings across my path and a friend and refuge to those in need of His peace.

There is an audio file of a radio broadcast in memory of Emily where you can hear many of her songs over at WFIU: Night Lights. If you are interested, take a listen and enjoy her incredible talent.