Top 10 Posts of 2015

It’s somehow 2016, and I know I say this every January, but how on earth is last year already over?

Our family had a pretty good year altogether–if you don’t count a rocky December, but I’ll talk about that in another post. Our year consisted of several road trips, lots of school, and some pretty exciting milestones from Junior.

Here are my Top 10 Posts of 2015…which post was your favorite?

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Niagara Falls and Upstate NY with Kids

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

3,

30 Minute Chicken Tortilla Soup

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2.
10 Reasons Having a Child with Cochlear Implants is Awesome

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
1. Sharing Secrets…A Look Back at Diagnosis Day

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DIY Christmas Cinnamon Orange Room Freshener

roomfreshener

One of the things I love most about Christmas is the wonderful smells…

Fresh Cut Christmas Trees, Fresh Baked Gingerbread, Cinnamon Wreaths, Cozy Wood Stove Fires…oh how I love the smells of December.

I was looking for a way to get those smells into my house without ahem actually having to do anything, and after some tweaking, I have finally found the perfect recipe for Christmas potpourri. Since we spend most of our time in the kitchen, this is the perfect thing to put on in the morning so your house will smell like Christmas all day!

Christmas Cinnamon Orange Room Freshener

  • 1 orange or tangerine peel
  • 3┬ácinnamon sticks
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 TBS dried cloves

Place orange peel, cinnamon sticks, cinnamon and cloves into a small pot or saucepan and cover with water. Turn to a boil, then let simmer for as long as you want. Make sure to keep an eye on the pot. Add more water to cover the ingredients as needed, otherwise you will have a real burned mess! Keep simmering as long as you want that glorious Christmas smell (about 3-4 hours max).

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10 Ideas for Best Ever Homemade Cheese Sauce

Have you tried my Best Ever Nacho Cheese Sauce recipe yet? If not, you’re truly missing out on goodness. Pure, cheesy goodness. My original recipe calls for using pepper jack and jalapenos to give it a nacho-y flair, but this update omits the jalapeno to make the cheese sauce more versatile.

Best Ever Cheese Sauce
Adapted from The America’s Test Kitchen Family Cookbook 3rd Edition: Cookware Rating Edition

-1 3/4 C whole milk (I have used 2% with success, but use a little less than the 1 3/4 C milk stated in the recipe)
-2 TBS cornstarch
-8 oz shredded cheese (I like a combination of cheddar and pepper jack, but you can use any good melting cheese)

1. Bring 1 1/2 C of milk to a high simmer in a large saucepan. Mix the cornstarch and remaining cold milk (1/4 C) together, then stir into the simmering milk on the stove. Continue to cook, whisking often, until thickened, about 2 minutes. (If milk is not warm enough, it will not thicken. But if it’s too hot it will scald. Keep an eye on the temp of the milk. Start at medium-high heat and adjust as necessary.)

2. Once thickened, turn off the heat, and stir in the cheese until melted and smooth. Taste and season with salt if desired.

I have been using this recipe for several years, and make if for many, many more things than just nachos. Here are 10 ideas for using this cheese sauce recipe:

  • Baked Potato Bar

Did you know you can make baked potatoes in the crock pot? You can see my recipe here. Cook up some bacon, steam a little broccoli, and top everything with the the Best Ever Cheese Sauce. Doesn’t that look incredible? 

  • Macaroni and Cheese
    For a quick and easy comfort food dish, toss Best Ever Cheese Sauce with 8 oz cooked pasta. Serve hot.
  • Cheesesteak Topping
    I love a good cheesesteak sandwich. Fill a sandwich roll with thinly sliced cooked steak, sauteed bell peppers, and top with Best Ever Cheese Sauce instead of melted provolone.
  • Dipping Sauce for Southwestern Egg Rolls
    I love this Southwestern Egg Roll recipe. It’s a great use for leftover chicken. Dip them in the cheese sauce for a decadent finish.
  • Hamburger Topping
    Instead of melted cheese on your next burger, top with lettuce, onion, and cheese sauce for a dose of gooey excellence.
  • Potluck Chili Dip
    Mix with 1.5 C leftover chili (or one can of your choice), and heat until warm. Use as a dip for tortilla chips.
  • Tostada Drizzle
    Tostadas are one of my favorite ways to use leftover meat. (Try with my simple Slow Cooker Carnitas or Slow Cooker Chicken Tacos). Top a tostada shell with Refried Beans (see my slow cooker version here), meat, salsa, and any veggies such as avocado, lettuce, or olives. Drizzle with warm cheese sauce.
  • Soft Pretzel Dip
    Who doesn’t love cheese sauce with a soft pretzel. This is my favorite recipe for homemade pretzels.
  • Sauce for VeggiesGive your dinner a little boost by drizzling your vegetables with Best Ever Cheese Sauce. Broccoli, asparagus, cauliflower, and green beans all love a good drench in cheese!
  • Sausage and Pepper SandwichGrill up some Italian sausage, and put into a French roll with some sauteed bell peppers and onions. Pour cheese sauce over the sausage and pepper mixture. 
  • Scalloped Potatoes
    Thinly slice russet potatoes and place them in one layer in an 8×8 baking dish. Pour half the cheese sauce over potatoes. Place a second layer of sliced potatoes on top of the first, and pour the other half of the cheese sauce over the top. Bake at 350 for about an hour, until cheese is bubbling and potatoes are soft.

Share this post on Pinterest, then come over to Facebook and tell me your favorite way to use cheese sauce! I’d also love to connect with you on Twitter!


Beating Homeschool Burnout Before It Begins

It’s the beginning of the school year for many (unless you’ve been working year-round), and the excitement of new pencils, markers, notebooks gives most of us a ready-to-go attitude.

But whether you’re a new homeschooling family or a longtime veteran, after a few weeks or months, you’ll notice the excitement will fade and school will be just another thing to cross off your daily list of chores. This is burnout, and it’s common, but is there anything you can do to avoid it?

1. Start Slow
You may super excited to crack open that new book and pack as many lessons into as short a time as possible, but for the first few weeks of classes give plenty of recess and play time and keep lessons short. Slowly ease back into the routine.  

2. Take Breaks When You Need Them
Some parents beat the burnout by scheduling one week off for every 4 to 6 weeks of school, while other parents just opt to take a day off once in a while when they sense their family needs it. Don’t stress about taking a break here and there. Your kids will get a lot more out of their lessons if they have a good attitude than if you’re forcing them to sit just so you can put a pretty “completion” sticker in your subject planner.

3.Do More Hands-On Activities
When you start to feel burnout coming on, bench the busywork and add some fun hands-on activities to your schedule instead.

Are you studying Ancient Rome? Explore what it was like to live as a Roman. Dress in costume, make authentic recipes, or build a model of a Roman home.

Need to tackle that spelling list? Hide plastic letters in the backyard and have the kids run around searching for the letters they need to spell their words.

Make up songs to memorize grammar rules, do a science experiment, (Educents has great deals on hands-on activities for kids of all ages, affiliate link), or try to paint your own Picasso or Monet while studying their art styles. School won’t always be “fun”, but homeschooling gives you the flexibility and freedom you need to present the information in new and engaging ways.

4. Vary Where You Do School
When Stinker won’t sit still and complains about doing any work, I know it’s time to change our surroundings. Sometimes that’s as easy as taking our reading outside to the backyard or to the couch. Sometimes it means a field trip to the aquarium or Zoo where we have passes. Your child is not confined to his or her desk, and they will be more open to absorbing new information if you change up the scenery at times.

By taking advantage of homeschooling’s flexible schedule, you can avoid burnout and keep your family learning happily all year long!

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Book Review: Get to Know Jesus

As a homeschooling mom, I’m always on the lookout for good books I can use in my curriculum. Zonderkidz Publishers has just come out with a set of historical biographies of Biblical figures that go perfectly with our Bible curriculum. There are biographies about Jesus, Mary, Paul, and King David. I decided to review Jesus.

This book is geared towards children aged 6-10. It’s a smaller book (normal kid sized paperback) full color, and includes maps, photos of artifacts, and artists renditions of Jesus’ life and ministry. It is 122 pages, and includes a Bibliography and a list of additional reading for kids to learn more about the times of Jesus.

I love how the biography of Jesus starts before he was born…with original sin, the ups and downs of the Jewish people, and our need for a Savior. Then, it goes into the birth of Jesus, followed by His childhood, ministry on earth, His death and resurrection, and finally His role in the Book of Revelation. Each chapter includes Biblical accounts of Jesus’ life, as well as historical accounts (ie. Josephus), and scholarly interpretations. There is also a glossary of words that kids might not understand, and other really useful and interesting information about the times of Jesus.

I loved all the color photos and maps. Stinker stayed engaged, and I think as she gets older, these books will help her as she learns more about the context of History, and how Scripture ties into world history. My only complaint is that many of the photos came from Wikimedia, which is part of the Wikipedia chain of websites. Knowing how unreliable Wikipedia can be, I am hesitant about the photos from Wikimedia. However,  I will probably purchase the other books in this series, since I really enjoyed it, and it will be useful for our homeschool journey.

Bottom Line 8.5*/10*

Thank you to ZonderKidz Publishers and BookLook Bloggers for a complimentary copy of this book for review. I was not required to post a favorable review, and all opinions are my own.