menuplanmondayMonday: Grilled Chicken Tex Mex Packets — packet meals are popular here, since they’re so easy to personalize for each person’s tastes.

Tuesday: Sweet and Sour Chicken

Wednesday: make your own pizza — I make the crust, then each person puts their toppings of choice onto their own personal pizza

Thursday: Baked Potato Soup — I haven’t made this recipe yet.

Friday: Slow Cooker Cashew Chicken – looks good — update — good, but VERY salty.

You’ll notice all my recipes this week come from Pinterest. In case you’re not familiar with how Pinterest works — when you click on the recipe link, it takes you to a picture (“pin”) of the recipe. To see the recipe, just click on the photo and the recipe will open up.  I’m starting to use Pinterest as a type of online cookbook to keep track of recipes we like. Do you use Pinterest much for recipes?

Desserts this week (surprisingly, I’m in a fruity rather than chocolate-y mood …):

Easiest Pineapple Cake — I’ve made it and it’s delicious

Bolthouse Farms Smoothies

In other food-related news — this beverage is a frequent sight at our house lately (actually, a more common sight is the empty bottle). I discovered Bolthouse Farms Smoothies thanks to a coupon, and now the kids are hooked. Truth be told, I love them too — but in typical Mom fashion, I save them for the kids.

Our favorite is the Strawberry Banana Smoothie. It’s delicious: the 56-oz bottle contains 13 servings of fruit. It tastes so delicious — you really have to taste it to see. They make it so easy for teens to get the fruit they need each day: they feature 100% juice with no added sugar, and the strawberry banana variety contains 100% of the daily Vitamin C requirement, as well as 9% of daily potassium. The juices and smoothies are a bit pricey, but worth it as a healthy splurge. Discover where to buy them near you!

Thanks to Bolthouse Farms for coupons to try their products. With or without coupons, we truly love them!

What are you cooking this week?

Dolphin Tale 2

Congrats to winner, Lydia!

Many thanks to Propeller Consulting, LLC for providing this prize for the giveaway, and a sample of the product in exchange for this review and post. Choice of winners and opinions are 100% my own and I received no monetary compensation.

 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.”

Dolphin Tale 2

photo courtesy Propeller Consulting

I might as well come right out and admit it upfront: I’m a sucker for adorable animals. I’m also a sucker for adorable animal movies. So I’m anxiously awaiting Dolphin Tale 2 , about Winter, a bottlenose dolphin living with a prosthetic tail after being caught in a crab trap. She now lives in Clearwater Marine Aquarium in Florida.


Dolphin Tale 2 continues Winter’s story. She has another difficulty: she’s lonely and needs dolphin companionship. What will happen? I was even tearing up at the trailer:


For homeschoolers (or any parent really; as a parent and former teacher I believe all parents homeschool to some extent), here is a free curriculum based around Dophin Tale 2 activities.


Thanks to FlyBy, one of you can win a prize pack of Dolphin Tale 2 items — a T-shirt and sunglasses! Here they are:
Dolphin Tale 2 t-shirt
Dolphin Tale 2 sunglasses
Enter using the rafflecopter form below by September 19; I’ll choose a random winner September 20. Good luck — and enjoy the movie!

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#DolphinTale2 #HomeschoolDay2014 & #WinterHasHope

Official Movie Website: http://www.dolphintale2.com
Twitter: @dolphintale

Passenger Pigeon Martha

passenger pigeon Martha

This is Martha. Obviously, she’s a bird, and her pose indicates she’s no longer among the living, but residing in a museum (in this case, the Smithsonian).

What makes Martha special is that she’s the very last of her species ever to live (as a child, I used to have this recurring thought: what if I were the last person on earth? As an introvert, this would be okay for a while, and yet eventually I’d get to the point where I really needed someone to help me, and NO ONE WOULD BE THERE! It was truly terrifying!). Passenger Pigeon Martha experienced that very trauma — being the last of her kind. She died September 1, 1914 — 100 years ago this month.

No one would have predicted this situation in 1814. At that time, there were billions of passenger pigeons in the US. “The air was literally filled with pigeons,” wrote bird lover John James Audubon. “The light of noonday was obscured as by an eclipse, the dung fell in spots, not unlike melting flakes of snow; and the continued buzz of the wings had a tendency to lull my senses to repose.”

So what happened? Hunters discovered the birds and began slaughtering them left and right, for food sold in markets and restaurants. The invention of the telegraph allowed the word to be spread about where large flocks of the birds could be found (sounds like the the telegraph was the social media of the 1800s).

In 1900, Congress passed the Lacey Act to protect endangered species like passenger pigeons, but it was too late for this particular species. That was the final year a passenger pigeon was seen in the wild. For the next 14 years, a few were still living in zoos.

This was where Martha lived — in the Cincinnati Zoo, where she mostly clung quietly to her perch, ignoring zoo visitors who threw sand her way in an attempt to get her to move. A $1000 reward was offered for anyone who could locate a mate for Martha, but no candidates were found.


Fold the Flock Martha Passenger Pigeon origamiNow, in the 100th year since their extinction, efforts are being made to remember the passenger pigeons. Fold the Flock is a fun site for raising awareness of the plight of endangered species, in this case by creating passenger pigeons with origami. I learned about it through an article in the most recent issue of Smithsonian magazine, which included a pull-out version of Martha that I created (with a little help from my better-at-origami daughter). The site hopes to have a flock of a million origami passenger pigeons by the end of the year, and they’re nearly halfway to their goal. What a fun project for teachers, moms, homeschoolers — try it! There are a template and instructions on the site so you can create your own.



Thanks to SheSpeaks/Febreze for sponsoring this post; all opinions my own.

Febreze fall

Well, look at the cuteness that arrived at my doorstep — a Febreze Fall Scentspiration Collection, in an adorable barn box.

I love fall: football games (well, actually the marching band instead of the football …), the beautiful trees, cool evenings, and of course the sumptuous scents of the season.

If you’d like a little help recreating cozy fall scents in your home, Febreze is here to help. Let’s take a look at your options:

#FebrezeFallFebreze Home Harvest Collection

In the blue package is a Febreze Noticeables Warmer. Just plug it in to the wall, pop in a scent refill, and wait for soothing aroma to fill the air. Two scents you might enjoy for fall are Autumn Harvest and Vanilla Latte (seen in the center). The warmer has a unique features: it has chambers for two refills, and it emits the fragrances on an alternating basis for a delightfully complex smell. You can also turn a dial to create the intensity of aroma you’d like — more for a larger room, less for a small one.

To the right, a Febreze Vent Clip for the car in Toasted Almond, because wouldn’t you like your vehicle to smell autumn-fresh too? I love the fresh scent when I open the car door. Febreze eliminates odors so that I only notice fall freshness. Ahhhh …

Febreze Craft Acorn Centerpiece

Febreze also sent lots of fun fall home ideas inspired by their Harvest Collection scents. I’m no Martha Stewart, but this Acorn Centerpiece was easy to pull off. Just fill a glass container with acorns, and lightly mist them with your favorite fall Febreze scent. Top the acorns with a fall flower, or surround them with gourds or leaves.

Oven Baked S'moresNow — don’t worry. I’m not going to suggest that you make s’mores using Febreze ;) (yes, a family member actually wondered about this).

But, the cozy fall scents just might tempt you to make these delicious autumn treats. After I was done using the oven for dinner, I just put a cookie sheet into the still-warm oven, with graham crackers and marshmallows on them. After we were finished with dinner, the marshmallows were melty, and then I just added the chocolate. Yum!

So, now it’s your turn. What scents remind you of fall? Have you tried any of the Febreze Home Harvest Collection yet?


Febreze Website
Febreze on Facebook
Febreze on Twitter




Menu Plan Monday

menuplanmondayMenu Plan Monday has arrived again. Marching band competition season has started here (oldest daughter plays flute), and Saturday was our annual kick-off potluck. It features more delicious food than you can imagine (there are 311 in the band and guard, and all the families pitch in). I brought Homemade Hawaiian Rolls and they disappeared quickly. If you want a good bread recipe, I recommend trying them. Do you know what makes them “Hawaiian”? (I didn’t) — pineapple juice in the recipe!

Here is this week’s menu plan:

Monday: Baked Chicken Chimichangas — I have made these before and they’re good.

Tuesday: — Vegetarian Bean and Barley Vegetable Soup with the rest of the Hawaiian rolls I didn’t bring Saturday

Wednesday: Cheesy Tater Tot Casserole — a favorite around here, and I like it because it’s a crockpot recipe too so it’s great for busy days.

Cheesy Tater Tot casserole crockpotThursday: Crispy Black Bean Fritters with Creamy Cilantro Dipping Sauce — another new-to-me recipe that looks tasty. Added plus: I have cilantro in the garden. I wish I could keep it going inside during the winter. Has anyone tried that successfully?

Friday: Chicken Meatball Soup — new recipe; looks good. I like soups on the menu because it’s something I can usually put together early in the afternoon. Keeps the house smelling good as it cooks, too …

What are you cooking and eating this week?

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I had to interrupt my regular schedule to pop in with a rare Saturday post. Why? I have just learned that next week the Disney Channel will be featuring new episodes of Minnie’s Bow-Toons where Minnie is traveling the globe.

As an Anglophile, I particularly love the theme for Thursday, September 11: Royal Delivery.

Minnie Mouse royal queen

photo courtesy Disney Junior

Minnie and Daisy create a special birthday Bow Hat for the Queen and must find a way to get past the Royal Guards to give it to her.
Minnie Mouse bow toons England royal

photo courtesy Disney Junior

I just love the royal theme! Watch it with your kids and then read them a story about a real-life princess (well, Duchess at least …).


I love the show’s Monday adventure as well — Minnie and Daisy duck take a gondola cruise in Venice, which turns into a rip-roaring ocean adventure. Let’s sneak a peak …

The entire schedule for the week is below:

 Monday September 8 at 11:55 a.m. ET/PT – “Gondola with the Wind”

Tuesday September 9 at 11:55 a.m. ET/PT – “Uh, Oh, Pizza Dough”

Wednesday September 10 at 11:55 a.m. ET/PT – “Fiesta Follies”

Thursday September 11 at 11:55 a.m. ET/PT – “Royal Delivery”

Friday September 12 at 11:55 a.m. ET/PT – “Kabuki Chaos”

I love that Disney is incorporating a bit of geography into their programming. I’d be all over these if my kids were younger. Enjoy traveling with Minnie!

Childhood Memories Friday
The other day, I was noticing some of the unfortunate chips in some of my almost-two-decades-old china. I started thinking about wedding china memories from my childhood. Yes, I have a few …
chipped china plateWhen I was growing up, I remember that jewelry stores downtown sold china. When a young lady got engaged, she chose her china, and then the jewelry store put a place setting of her china in the front window, along with her name, wedding date, and photo (kind of like this). It was fun to look at the various choices, and think, “Wow, that one is really pretty,” or “Well, I wouldn’t want that one …” Another difference is that the engagement photo was almost always just the bride. No Pinterest-inspired couples photos in the 1970s!

Do stores do that anymore? Maybe in small towns. Maybe in the south. Overall, I doubt it.

I also remember working part-time in a Birmingham, Alabama department store during my 20s. I worked in the china department, and boy, was that an eye-opener. Brides usually registered for not one, not two, but three sets of china: everyday, formal, and Christmas. Then there was the everyday flatware, and the real silver as well. A single fork could cost $100, and this was 30 years ago. It amazed me. Then again — it was the south.

Any wedding china memories of yours? Do you still have yours? Does your town still put brides’ wedding china in the front window?

Magnificent Tales Treasury of Bible Stories post contains affiliate links. 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 the sample of the product received 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.

 Treasury of Bible Stories

One of my favorite things in the world is reading stories with and to kids. And Bible stories are some of the best! So I was happy when I had the opportunity to review the  Treasury of Bible Stories by Magnificent Tales.

This would be a wonderful Bible storybook to use with preschoolers. It features twenty Bible stories, from both the Old and New Testaments. Each is several pages long, told in rhyming verses, and illustrated with fun, lighthearted illustrations. There aren’t a lot of details in the stories, and some items are up to interpretation (for instance, the story of Jesus’ birth mentions the angels singing, and our pastor is adamant that since the fall of man, angels have not sung. In the Bible, in fact, it doesn’t say angels sang at Jesus’ birth, but rather spoke to the shepherds). Then again, toddlers usually aren’t digging into details like this. This book is a fun way to introduce them to God’s word.

Pick up a copy of Treasury of Bible Stories for the next baby shower you attend, or for a favorite toddler as a Christmas gift. Thanks to Flyby Promotions, one of you can win a copy!

Enter using the rafflecopter below by September 12, and I’ll choose a random winner September 13.
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piano teacher duetI have played piano for 40 years, taught piano lessons for 15 years, and taught elementary school for 8 years. Additionally, I have three daughters. So, I have had lots of experience both with music and with children. And one thing that I have often observed is a child beginning piano lessons full of enthusiasm, only to quit a year later, discouraged by a lack of progress.

This does not have to happen! Piano lessons are something I would recommend for many children, because of the benefits music lessons impart in the areas of math, logical thinking, reasoning, and just plain aesthetic beauty. But, I also think piano lessons are often entered into lightly and without a full understanding of the commitment involved.

My tips to parents of children beginning piano lessons would be:

  • Don’t expect great things overnight. Playing piano is a complex skill, and in just the first few weeks your child will need to learn about basic rhythm, note names on the piano, and how these notes correspond to written notation in a book. Add in learning finger numbers, and this is a lot for a child to put together. Consequently, for the first several months the songs will be simple. Children often begin lessons hoping that within a month they’ll be playing Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony or a favorite Disney theme, and this is just not going to happen in 99% of cases. Encourage your child on the basic songs he or she is learning, and try to keep expectations within reason.
  • Sit with your child daily while he practices. I know this is not usually done, because when I taught lessons I would encourage parents to do this and most admitted that they just did not have the time. Even if you do not know how to play piano yourself, your maturity and understanding will go a long way to helping your child “put it all together” in a piece of music and coordinate his rhythm, notes and fingerings. Often students say “I did practice”, but I see that they practiced a piece incorrectly and need to re-learn it, which can be very difficult. I have made the commitment to sit with my daughters each day they practice for the first several years they take piano lessons. After this point, they have progressed sufficiently to not need so much assistance. I know this is time-consuming, but I think this is the single most important thing parents can do to ensure musical success for your child. You might even learn something!
  • Make it a priority to practice daily. When my girls studied piano, they knew that they are expected to practice their lesson daily. We did not set a specific time amount, but they were to go through each song 2 times. This level of practice usually ensures that the child will know a piece within a week of practice. Early in the week, your child may want to practice a piece with hands separately, or perhaps just work on a line or two if the piece is difficult. Later in the week, the first playing of a piece could be considered “practice” and the second go-through could include dynamics and an emphasis on phrasing. Progress may be slow on some songs, but the daily practice will definitely add up.
  • Try make piano practice fun for your child. I often tell my piano students that learning to play piano is really pretty much drudgery for the first few years. Why, then, would anyone want to take lessons? Because when it all finally comes together and a student can open a piece of music and just play it, is magical! It is worth all the hours of practice that have gone before. One thing my students enjoy is when I offer to listen to them play a piece “in concert”. I will sit on the nearby steps and announce their song in a dramatic voice. It sounds silly, but this always seems to inspire them to play their best. Another thing they enjoy is playing “five buttons”. We keep five buttons on the top of the piano, and when the child plays a song they lose a button for each mistake, the goal being to have at least one button left at the end of the piece (only do this when the child has some degree of familiarity with the song). Other things you may try could be earning a sticker for a chart after a good lesson (or even after each day your child practices).

I hope these suggestions help you and your little musician! I tell my students that perseverance is important in learning to play any musical instrument. Many people say, “I took piano lessons years ago and quit, and I’ve always regretted it.” I’ve never heard, “I took piano lessons when I was a child, and I wish I hadn’t.”

  Dark Hope: Book One of the Archangel Prophecies   Thanks to my 15-year-old for reading and reviewing this book! Are angels actually out there? Do they live among us? How much is myth, and how much is truth? Does everything always have a reason? Monica McGurk explores the answers to these questions in her new book, Dark Hope.

Dark Hope is the first book in The Archangel Prophecies, a new, exciting, and dark series for young adults. Hope is anything but an average fifteen year old. Victim of an abduction when she was just three, sheltered from the real world under her obsessively overprotective father, and a strange mark residing on the back of her neck, Hope is finally liberated from her father’s watchful eye and brought to live with her mother. All seems to be normal until Hope meets a boy named Michael. He appears out of nowhere whenever she finds herself in peril and has a strange backstory as an emancipated youth. And who is that boy Luke who appears to have a fascination with Hope and a quarrel with Michael? As it turns out, Michael is actually Michael the Archangel, and Luke is one of the Fallen Angels. Hope is a part of a twisted prophecy and is exactly what the Fallen Angels need to achieve their mission of revenge and power. Michael and Hope must work quickly to stop the Fallen Angels from succeeding. Woven in with this story is the twisted tale of human trafficking and the past of a previous victim.

Dark Hope’s many twists and turns will keep readers interested and always guessing on what Michael and Hope’s next move will be. Dark Hope kept me hooked the entire way through, and I always wanted to read what would happen next. The book was well written and organized, but I think the story of human trafficking was a little out of place and didn’t really seem to tie in with the grand scheme of the story. I see that this is a special interest of the author, though, so that probably explains its inclusion.

Something else that bothered me was how reliant Hope seemed to be on Michael. She appeared to be a “damsel in distress” and was constantly having to be saved by Michael. Something minor that was uncomfortable was the romance between Hope, a fifteen year old, and Michael, who was somewhere around 10,000 years old. The book ventured through the various characteristics of the angels, such as shape shifting and immortality. The angels seemed to be a part of the supernatural world, which gave the story an interesting edge. I found the tie-ins with Hope’s past and her family’s involvement with the law after her disappearance quite clever and interesting. Overall, Dark Hope is a fascinating young adult novel with an intriguing premise that would interest any young adult with a curiosity for the supernatural.

You can find author Monica McGurk on social media:

Thanks to Clever Girls, one of you can win a copy of this book for the young adult in your life (or for youself — I won’t tell!). Enter below using the rafflecopter by Sept. 8, and I’ll choose a random winner Sept. 9

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I was selected for this opportunity as a member of Clever Girls Collective and the content and opinions expressed here are all my own.