Menu Plan Monday


Menu Plan Monday again! It has been a busy weekend here; senior band night for the oldest daughter, a dance performance for the middle daughter, and an out-of-town bonsai club trip for the youngest. Add in relatives visiting and it has been chaotic, but good. I hope your weekend was nice as well!

Senior at last!

Senior at last!

Scary Halloween dance performer ...

Scary Halloween dance performer …

Greenhouse visit ... in the rain.

Greenhouse visit … in the rain.



It’s a busy week ahead too, so I apologize if nothing here is too inspiring.

Monday: Easy Crockpot Chicken Fajitas – I was drawn to this recipe because 1) it uses peppers, and my mom just dropped off a large bucket of them for me, and 2) it’s quick and easy. None of my kids eat onions or peppers, but I’m guessing they can pick out the chicken???

Tuesday: Leftover buffet — I want to watch daughter #2’s dance classes over the dinner hour, so leftovers it shall be.

Wednesday: My birthday — hoping to eat out … cross your fingers for me :)

Thursday: Fish (as in boxed VanKamp’s) and mashed potatoes

Friday: Healthy Mexican Casserole With Roasted Corn and Peppers — again, uses peppers. Maybe I can make one side pepper-free?

What is going on in your kitchen this week? More ideas at OrgJunkie‘s.

Beauty and the Beet VeggieTales

I love the story of Beauty and the Beast. And, I’m a VeggieTales fan. So, what could be more fun than a combination of the two?

That’s what you’ll get in “Beauty and the Beet,” the latest VeggieTales DVD.

When I watched this DVD the other night, I enjoyed it a lot. The story: Sweet Potato Mirabelle and her family band (the Veggie Tones) are determined to reach their next gig, at Vegetable Square Garden. But on the journey, a fierce snowstorm hits, and the family gets stuck at a creepy run-down resort. Mr. Beet, the grumpy manager, makes them sing and clean in exchange for room and board. Why is Mr. Beet such a beast? Can Mirabelle’s kindness change him?

This show is just fun. It features singer Kellie Pickler as the voice of Mirabelle. She is a country singer, and although country is not my genre of choice, I enjoyed the songs. In typical VeggieTales form, they were each extremely catchy and the lyrics were really clever.

Mirabelle Mr. Beet VeggieTales
 There are frequent references to how God wants us to treat others — a good lesson for all of us. I won’t give away the ending, but it’s happy. There are extra features with a Christmas VeggieTales singalong of “Deck the Halls,” and the show also features a new “Silly Song with Larry.”
This DVD would make a great birthday or Christmas gift for any child (or, truthfully, for many kids-at-heart!). Learn more at the VeggieTales website (and in more VeggieTales news — the cute veggies will also star in a new Netflix series, “VeggieTales in the House,” which will premiere Thanksgiving weekend).

One of you can win a copy of this fun DVD! Enter using the rafflecopter form below by October 25, and I’ll choose a random winner October 26.

Disclosure (in accordance with the FTC’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising”): Many thanks to Propeller Consulting, LLC for providing this prize for the giveaway. Choice of winners and opinions are 100% my own and NOT influenced by monetary compensation. I received a sample of the product in exchange for this review and post.

 Only one entrant per mailing address, per giveaway. If you have won the same prize on another blog, you are not eligible to win it again. Winner is subject to eligibility verification.”

a Rafflecopter giveaway

What are your favorite aspects of Christmas? Celebrating the birth of Christ? Enjoying the lights? The beautiful music? Bright, new clothing? The fun and unexpected moments that occur? You’ll find all of these things at the Boar’s Head and Yule Log Festival at Plymouth Congregational Church in Fort Wayne, Indiana. Performed each year for several days following Christmas, the Festival will celebrate 40  years of performances this year.

Plymouth Church Boar's Head

The Festival is a true spectacle, involving over 250 church members, along with musicians from the local Philharmonic and choral groups that will give you goosebumps.

The Boar’s Head Festival did not begin with Plymouth Congregational Church. It’s actually the oldest continuing festival of the Christmas season, with roots in ancient times when the boar was feared as a forest menace. Roman feasts often featured boar as the first dish served, and this practice continued into medieval times.

With the rise of Christianity, the Christmas tradition of serving a boar came to symbolize the victory of the Christ Child over sin.

The Boar’s Head Festival itself began in 1340 in Queen’s College, Oxford, England. According to tradition, a scholar was walking through the forest on his way to Christmas Mass while studying a philosophy book. Suddenly accosted by a wild boar, the student rammed the book down the boar’s throat, choking him. The boar’s head was decorated and carried in procession that night to honor “the King of bliss.”

The ceremony has continued and grown in elaboration throughout the years.

At Plymouth’s version, you’ll find dozens of medieval characters, all dressed in brightly colored hand-made costumes. From the stately Beefeaters to the Yule Candle Sprite toddler, no detail is overlooked.

Keep your eyes open, because surprises await: you may be offered a cookie, asked to dance by a courtier, or be solicited for coins by a friendly beggar.

Plymouth Church Boar's Head

After the medieval participants re-enact a feast (including a telling of the story of Good King Wenceslas), the stage is cleared for the second part of the performance: the story of the Christ Child. We see Mary and Joseph arriving in Bethlehem and being turned away at the inn before finding shelter in the stable where Jesus is born.

The shepherds, angels and Magi all pay homage to the newborn King, concluding with a visit by the medieval characters as well. The feeling evoked as the entire cast bows to the baby in the manger is awesome, in the best and truest sense of the word.

Not to be overlooked is the music: a professional quality chorus and orchestra adds immensely to the feel of the pageant. From opening music by John Rutter and Gustav Holst to festival pieces such as “While All Things Were in Quiet Silence,” “Masters in This Hall” and “Shepherd’s Pipe Carol,” the music is first-rate and one of the best things about the Festival.

Tickets to the Boar’s Head Festival are free; the church considers the production its gift to the community. If you live within driving distance, I encourage you to attend this year!







Buying a piano is a big decision and a large investment. One of the first considerations is whether to buy an acoustic piano or its newer sibling, the digital piano.

What’s the Difference – Acoustic vs. Digital
An acoustic piano is the piano you knew growing up. It produces sound through a soundboard and strings which are hit by hammers when the keys are pressed. Acoustic pianos can be either the smaller upright type or larger grand pianos.

Digital pianos are electronic instruments. They have no soundboard, strings or hammers – they plug in and produce sounds electronically. Technicians choose samples of acoustic piano notes and store these digitally to sound when digital piano keys are pressed.

Digital Advantages
If your child wants to begin piano lessons, a digital piano can be a great choice. Digital pianos vary widely in price, but are generally quite a bit cheaper than acoustic pianos.

Digital pianos are also much lighter and easier to move than acoustic pianos. Have you ever tried moving an acoustic piano? I have many memories of my dad trying to round up 3 or 4 other men to help him move my acoustic piano into and out of various apartments I lived in. It weighed hundreds of pounds. If you plan to move frequently, this can be an important consideration.

Digital pianos, being digital, never go out of tune. I pay $100 or so annually to have my acoustic piano tuned, so over the years you can save quite a bit by avoiding this expense.

Digital pianos have many perks that you may enjoy. You can play with headphones, so that you won’t bother others with your music-making. You can also push buttons on your digital piano to make it sound like various other instruments. Many digital pianos have recording capability. They may have built-in metronomes as well to help you with rhythm.

boys playing piano

Acoustic Advantages
Having said all that, why would anyone buy an acoustic piano? Many reasons. Most seasoned musicians and purists would only consider acoustic pianos. Have you recently seen a philharmonic concert where the keyboard being used was digital? The interaction of the soundboard, strings and hammers in an acoustic piano is a complex process that produces a sound that most agree is much richer than that produced by digital models, although digital sound is improving. Additionally, acoustic pianos can blend many notes to create rich harmonies. Digital pianos suffer in comparison, with a limited number of sounds that can be heard simultaneously.

Acoustic pianos also have a different (most musicians would say a better) “feel” as well. The “touch” produced when one presses the keys on an acoustic piano differs from that used for a digital model. Digital pianos lack the ability to control volume by touch – they simply have a sliding volume control. This takes volume control – an important skill for pianists to learn – away from the pianist. Manufacturers are working on improving this aspect of digital pianos, but they still have a way to go.

Acoustic pianos hold their value much better than digital. While an acoustic piano can become a family heirloom, digital models tend to lose their value quickly once a newer model comes out.

Digital or Acoustic?
As you can see, there are advantages and disadvantages to both digital and acoustic pianos. Consider your situation and needs to make the best decision for you.


Frozen Chicago Disney Store

My daughter had a dance rehearsal about 30 minutes from home. It was a 2-hour practice, and I didn’t feel it would be a good use of my resources to drive home before picking her up again, so I needed something to do. She came up with an idea for me: she’d heard that “Frozen” director Chris Buck would be speaking nearby at that very time. I love it when plans line up like that!

So, I treated myself to 90 minutes listening to this interesting guy. I’ll fill you in on the good stuff. I hope this is all reasonably accurate, although I was taking notes (with a pen and notepad) in a dark auditorium.

  • Chris always loved to draw. As a child, he spend lots of time copying Peanuts cartoon figures before branching out to drawing and creating his own characters. During high school, a friend showed his portfolio to a Disney animator, who liked it.
  • After high school he went to CalArts, an arts school where he met many talented peers who he would later work with on various projects — Tim Burton, the head of Pixar, etc.  Be nice to people and make good friends, he emphasized. You never know who can help you later, or who you might offer an opportunity to.
  • At an end-of-year program at CalArts, Walt Disney’s widow Lillian told Chris that she really liked the movie he had produced for the program. Soon after, he landed a job working for Disney.
  • He left Disney after a while, wanting a less-structured schedule. He worked freelance for a time, mentioning that he worked on animation for the Keebler Elves and Sugar Smacks, to name a few. He later returned to Disney, helping design the Ursula, Flounder, and Sebastian characters for “Little Mermaid.” He worked on animation for “Pocahontas” too.
  • Chris was animation director for “Tarzan.” A few years later, he learned that three songs from the film were featured in his teenage sons’ high school choir concert. He was excited by this and mentioned to the boys how happy he was that their concert was using songs from “his” movie. The boys were unimpressed, saying, “But Dad, it’s not like you wrote the songs!”
  • He worked next as a director of the film, “Surf’s Up,” an animated film about penguins. However, he said the film didn’t do well. There was a bit of “penguin fatigue” as a result of “March of the Penguins” and Madagascar having both coming out shortly beforehand. The film did receive an Academy Award nomination, but lost to “Ratatouille.”
  • In 2008, Chris headed back to Disney again. He had to pitch three ideas to the higher-ups, and one of his was … The Snow Queen. They loved the idea, and it morphed eventually into “Frozen.”
  • Animated films take about 3-4 years to make. Originally, “Frozen” was slated to come out about now. But, another film fell out of the slot for last year, and when asked if “Frozen” could be ready then, Chris agreed. He was a little tired of working on it and ready for the finished product.
  • He said that snowman Olaf represented Anna and Elsa’s love for each other — beginning as kids and continuing throughout the film. Olaf is an animator’s dream — he’s a character who can come apart and reassemble himself!
  • Kristoff actor Jonathan Groff was the only actor to send a thank you note after auditioning. Buck stressed the importance of sending thank yous. It gets your name in front of the boss an extra time.
  • To grasp Anna’s personality, film workers were asked to read “Anne of Green Gables.” That does make sense to me — I can see similarities in outlook between Anne and Anna ;)

And there you have it! A very interesting talk by an interesting man.


Menu Plan Monday


Marching band flute breakfast 2014 is history, and I hope the girls enjoyed it as much as I did.

breakfast buffet foods

The spread was ready, and it was fun when guests began to pour in. We don’t have a lot of people over to our house, so maybe that’s part of what made this so much fun.

flute breakfast marching band

Soon the living room was full of hungry, happy, laughing girls. I was hearing, “Your house is so beautiful” — “You are an amazing cook!” — “Thank you SO much for inviting me over to eat at your house” — and, wow. I might like to have 25 girls over for breakfast every Saturday :)

flute breakfast marching band

If you’d like to see our menu, I posted recipes at the end of last week’s MPM (by the way — making bacon in the oven worked better this year. Not sure why).

So, on to this week:

Monday: Chicken Stir Fry – I just cook chicken, a bag of alfalfa sprouts, a chopped carrot or two and snap peas (now ready in the garden!) in soy sauce, and serve with rice

Tuesday: Chicken and Cheese Enchiladas — this is a recipe I tore out of a magazine and kept. It’s good.

Wednesday: Freschetta Pizzas (on sale at Meijer last week) — we pick up cake rolls as a band fund raiser tonight and I know it will be busy.

Thursday: Calico Beans

Friday: Chicken and Noodles — guests here for band senior night. Just chicken, noodles (busy week; probably not homemade), carrots, celery, broth — etc.

What is going on in your kitchen this week? More ideas at OrgJunkie‘s.

GoPro Cameras at Best Buy

There are so many moments I want to capture this fall: marching band competitions. Dance performances. Bonsai show meetings. Then, Christmas rolls around, and the photo opportunities only increase.

If you’re in the market for a new camera or camcorder, Best Buy is offering the truly amazing GoPro cameras. How good are these cameras? See for yourself the types of images they capture:

Best Buy GoPro cameras panoramic


Best Buy GoPro camera image

Best Buy GoPro camera image

Best Buy stocks the full line of these cameras, as well as an assortment of accessories. GoPro cameras make perfect Christmas gifts for everyone, from kids to gadget gurus. This new line of cameras allow you to beautifully capture and share memories.

GoPro Details:

·         GoPro HERO4 Black: the most advanced version ever, featuring improved image quality and a 2x more powerful processor with 2x faster video frame rates

Best Buy GoPro cameras

·         GoPro HERO4 Silver: the first version of the camera to feature a built-in touch display. Controlling the camera, playing back footage and adjusting settings is ultra-convenient—just view, tap and swipe the screen. HERO4 Silver offers powerful, pro-quality images.

Best Buy GoPro Silver camera

·         GoPro HERO: Featuring high‐quality 1080p30 and 720p60 video, and 5MP photos up to 5 fps, HERO captures the same immersive footage that’s made the brand one of the best-selling cameras in the world.

Best Buy GoPro camera

You can learn more at Best Buy’s website or visit your local Best Buy to check out the latest cameras in person.

I did just that, and talked to a salesman who owns a GoPro camera. I asked him what he liked about it, and he immediately said that the 4k resolution was great. I found the cameras on an endcap display in the store, and the video playing (shot with a GoPro camcorder) was truly life-like and stunning. It took home filming to a whole new level, that’s for sure.

Best Buy GoPro cameras


I was compensated in the form of a Best Buy Gift Card. All opinions my own.

Childhood Memories Friday
Close your eyes. Go back to fourth grade or so. You’ve finished the daily set of language worksheets that the teacher handed out for you to complete while she meets with reading groups in the back of the room. What do you do now?

SRA reading folder 1970s

Most likely, you headed back to the SRA box and pulled out a cardboard folder to read and answer questions on. Then, you went back to the box for the answer key and recorded your results. All your SRA papers were kept in your own personal folder, which you decorated (see mine above; it made a recent trip upstairs from the basement). I’m thinking RFU was a similar program.

A bit of research reveals that SRA stands for Science Research Associates. They were an educational publisher. I’ve always been pretty task-driven, and I usually finished my “seatwork” fairly quickly. So, SRA and I spent quite a bit of time together. Often, the stories I read on the card weren’t all that interesting. I became pretty good at first looking at the questions, and then skimming the text for the answers.

I began with the cards at the front of the box, and dutifully worked my way back. The teacher recorded my progress on a folder:

SRA reading folder

The first set of cards in the box were aqua — once those were all finished, one “graduated” to purple cards, and so forth. Here’s a picture of an SRA box, and sure enough, you can follow the colors listed here all the way back. I can’t remember what I did when I finished the box, but I’m sure it was a happy day. Maybe I was just allowed to read a book of my own choosing?

Do you remember working your way through an SRA box as a child? Did you enjoy it?

You may have never heard the name Gene Stratton Porter, but if you had lived 100 years ago, that would not be so. Born in 1863, Gene was one of America’s most popular novelists and is still considered by many to be Indiana’s most famous female author.

Her most famous books, Freckles and Girl of the Limberlost, both depict simpler times and feature characters who enjoy and learn from nature – much like Stratton Porter herself.

Happily, Gene’s two Indiana homes are still open to tourists. Our family has visited Limberlost State Historic Site, which is the house she and her husband built after their marriage.

The home is a large cabin-like structure built of massive logs. The interior is full of original furnishings, the significance of which is described in loving detail by tour guides. Items of note in the home are a large collection of moths which Gene had collected, and a conservatory with plenty of windows to observe birds and other creatures outside.

Gene Stratton Porter house Limberlost Geneva Indiana

This home was built near the Limberlost Swamp, so named because there was a legend of a man, “Ole Limber Jim”, who wandered into the 13,000 acre swamp and never returned. The cabin was named in tribute to this swamp, which Gene loved to explore.

Gene and her husband, Charles Porter, had a daughter, Jeanette. Jeanette’s small room can be viewed, complete with her dolls and a door leading to the large porch wrapping around the house. My girls were enchanted by it, and I feel sure it was a magical place for Jeanette.

Gene was distressed when she learned that the swamp was scheduled to be drained. She worried about what would happen to the birds and insects that depended on the swamp for their habitat. She needed a new place to live, and found it about 80 miles northwest in Rome City.

The family had a home built there in 1913, and called it Wildflower Woods. This home was also made of logs and is rustic, but it was quite a bit larger than the Limberlost House, probably because by this time Gene was becoming more famous and her books were doing well. The house is full of things special to Gene. As a child, she loved seeing Indians run through the yard of her family home, and inside the entrance to Wildflower Woods she placed an “Indian Torch” light at the base of the stair railing.

Gene Stratton Porter house Wildflower Woods Rome City Indiana

The house features built-in cabinets throughout which feature Charles Porter’s knick-knacks from his world travels.

A highlight of the house is the living room fireplace. It features stones from all the states, and the stones above the center are in the shape of Gene’s favorite creature, the moth. A revolutionary soldier can be seen formed from stones, and other pictures as well.

The home features its own dark room (Gene also loved to take photographs) and had 7 bedrooms (contrasted to Limberlost’s 2).

Gene Stratton Porter house Wildflower Woods Rome City Indiana

Spring at Wildflower Woods where Gene enjoyed relaxing

In 1920, the family moved to California, both because of the perceived health benefits and because several of Gene’s books were being made into films. There they had a spectacular, castle-like home built. Sadly, before they moved in, Gene was killed in a car accident in 1924.

In 1999, Gene and Jeanette’s bodies were returned from California back to Wildflower Woods, where they rest today, in a wooded setting reminiscent of the site of Gene’s novels.

Our family enjoyed visiting both sites. The homes’ websites can be viewed at the links listed, and from there you can find admission rates and hours. We were impressed with the enthusiasm of the guides at both sites.

recycling cereal liner bagsSave Money and Resources with This Free Alternative to Wax Paper and Plastic Bags
Our family used to throw away five or six empty cereal boxes each week, and with the boxes, the plastic liner bags inside. No more! I have found a way to reuse these, thereby “greening up” my kitchen, reusing resources, and saving money, too.

Why? Cereal liner bags have many uses. Here are my top five favorite uses for cereal liner bags:

  1. Rolling our pie crusts. No more wax paper to roll pie crusts on – I simply cut off the closed ends of a cereal liner bag, shake out the crumbs, open out the bag, and voila! A perfectly-sized, non-stick surface perfect for rolling out crusts or cookie dough. Use another bag on top of the crust or dough for less mess.
  2. Crushing crackers. If you need crushed crackers, candy canes, or other items for a recipe, don’t put them in a plastic bag – reuse a cereal liner bag. Use a rolling pin to crush the items inside. Your rolling pin won’t even get dirty.
  3. Lining food containers. At Christmas, we like to bake cookies and other goodies. I used to divide layers of these with wax paper, but now I’ve discovered that it’s cheaper to use cereal bag liners. They can be cut into any size needed, and they are great at dividing layers of cookies and candies.
  4. Sandwich containers. Okay, here I admit you may feel a bit embarrassed if you are seen taking your sandwich to work in a cereal bag liner. However, it does work well – just put the sandwich in, roll down the top and staple it. If you can handle the raised eyebrows, you’ll save the expense of ziplock bags, and the earth will thank you (and hey, maybe your coworkers will secretly admire you, too).
  5. Play mat for kids. When your kids want to play with playdough or other messy substances, put down an opened-out cereal liner bag first. This avoids the mess on the table. When your kids finish playing, you can gather up the mess in the liner bag and throw it all away.

As you can see, the possibilities are many for the lowly cereal liner bag. I’ve begun using them so often that now, every time we finish a bag of cereal, I take out the liner bag, dump out all the crumbs, and fold the bag to store it in a drawer. That way I always have one handy when I need it.

Reuse – it’s the ultimate recycling!

Linking to more great ideas at Works for Me Wednesday.