Sunday, June 29, 2008

Utah First to Embrace Four-day Workweek

Read all about it here.

Menu Plan Monday &

Although two of my four children ate it, I am sad to say that the Broccoli and Three Cheese Soup did not turn out as I had hoped. I made some substitutions (such as reconstituted powdered milk instead of 2%, fresh broccoli instead of frozen, and different cheeses), so I am not calling it a failure--just an experiment. As for the salmon patties, we had a change of plans Friday night, so I'll cycle them back through at some point. On to this week!

Meatless Monday: Dinner out to celebrate our Anniversary! The kids will eat noodles with marinara and Parmesan, garlic bread, salad

Tried and True Tuesday: Pan-grilled pork chops, stuffing, cinnamon raisin apples

Work less on Wednesday: Fish and grits

Thanksgiving Thursday (named after traditional post-Thanksgiving menu planning): Leftovers (or the Salmon Patties we missed last week)

July 4th First Time Friday: BBQ Riblets, corn, slaw, and our "first time" dish, "Healthified" Hot German Potato Salad (see below for an explanation of what makes this recipe "healthified")

Simple Saturday: Breakfast for dinner

Slow Cooker Sunday: Crockpot chicken and rice, salad, breadsticks


If you are still looking for some ideas, especially if you are trying to eat more healthy, you might check out A friend of mine really enjoyed the Bulgur and Orange Salad. It'll probably find it's way onto my menu plan soon! The site also has some "healthified" recipes that make traditional favorites more healthy without sacrificing flavor, such as the "Healthified" Spinach Dip with Artichokes or the "Healthified" Fettuccine Alfredo. You can even submit your favorites and they will attempt to healthify them!

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Freebie Friday (on Saturday) - Free Faxing!

Recently, we switched phone companies and somehow lost the ability to make long distance calls. Of course, this oddity wasn't discovered until I needed to send a fax. Right then. Around midnight. So, I immediately turned to the Internet to look for an alternative as well as an inexpensive way to send my fax. That's when I stumbled onto At this site, you can send up to two free faxes per day (max of 3 pages each) without having to use your telephone line. This is especially handy for those among us who strictly use a cell phone and have opted out of a landline. After you complete the easy, online form and upload any attachments, press send and you receive an email from Faxzero asking that you click on the link inside the email to confirm your fax transmission. The service will attempt to fax your document(s) up to five times. You receive another email indicating whether or not your fax request was completed.

While the fax is free, an ad is displayed on the fax cover page (in my case, it was an add for, or an ad-free version is available for a fee of $1.99. So far I have had great success with this service. If that changes, however, I'll be sure to post a follow-up.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Pert Plus Shampoo Deal

I noticed when I was in Winn Dixie earlier this week that the full size Pert Plus shampoo had a rebate sticker on it to try it for free. Combine that with the $1 coupon here or the $1 coupon from the 5/11 SS and make a little extra change after the postage you spend on the mail-in rebate!

Thrifty Thursday - Hot Dog Booklet

Finally! Another use for all of the unnecessary paper that comes into the house. I love this hot dog book because you can use a piece of paper with writing on one side already. My kids shudder when I make them use both sides of a piece of paper before getting a new one, but I think they will love this project! Thanks to The Crafty Crow whose blog took me to the World Preschool Mom whose blog took me to the hot dog book at Making Books With Children. Whew. Lucky find!

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Easy Homemade Frozen Pops

It's summer and it's not getting any cheaper to buy frozen pops! So, when I open a can of fruit, I drain the liquid into a mold (or even an ice cube tray or a cup with a wooden stick) to make homemade Popsicles. Sometimes I'll add a bit of the fruit, too. Even if the liquid isn't 100% juice, I suspect it's a healthier alternative to the artificially colored and flavored ones you find in the frozen treat section. This works great with yogurt and pudding, too!

For more ideas to make life easier, visit Works for Me Wednesday hosted at Rocks In My Dryer.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Thanks, Meatless Monday!

Just a shout out to Meatless Monday, a non-profit national health campaign aimed "to help Americans prevent heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and cancer - four of the leading causes of death in America," who mentioned this blog on their site. Now that I know they exist, I'm certain my meatless menus will improve dramatically! Their site offers meatless recipes for breakfast, lunch, and dinner as well as a meal planning library. They also link to other interesting sites such as the PB&J Campaign (another one I'd never heard of!). Check it out!

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Menu Plan Monday & Bachelor's Roast

We really enjoyed the First time Friday menu last week of Yummy Honey Chicken Kabobs with one major change--I used my crock pot instead of the grill. (I forgot to thaw out the chicken!) I just placed my frozen boneless chicken pieces in the crock, mixed up the marinade and poured it over the top, and cooked it on high for four hours. Like the title suggests, it was....yummy! It probably would have been even better if I hadn't forgotten to add the bell peppers. Here's our basic plan for this week:

Meatless Monday: Mac and cheese, fruit and veggie sticks

Tried and True
Tuesday: Spaghetti, salad, garlic bread

Work less on Wednesday: The Crockpot Lady's Broccoli and Three Cheese Soup, crusty bread

Thursday (named after traditional post-Thanksgiving menu planning): Leftovers

First time Friday: Quick and Easy Salmon Patties, potato wedges, salad (16 years of marriage and I just found out that hubby likes salmon patties!)

Simple Saturday: BLTs, fruit salad, chips

Slow Cooker
Sunday: Bachelor's Roast (recipe below), potatoes, carrots, rolls


It doesn't get much easier than this:

Bachelor's Roast

3-4 lb roast (cheaper cuts are okay)
1 can of Coke (we use caffeine-free Coke Classic)
1 c ketchup

Place all of the ingredients in the crock and cook on low or medium all day (depending on how long you have before dinner). We usually add potatoes and carrots during the last couple of hours of cooking.

For more menus, see!

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Saving Money with CVS

In the last two months or so, I have been learning how to stretch my grocery dollars with CVS Extra Bucks and Walgreens rebates. On the surface, these programs (especially the CVS program) can seem overwhelming. However, there are several blogs that give tutorials about getting started and maximizing your savings with these programs. So far this month, I estimate I have saved $75-100 compared to what I spent on groceries last month at this same time (this also includes being more vigilant in combining coupons with sales). If you aren't already participating in these programs, you can read over tutorials here and here. And, these are just the tip of the iceberg. Google 'how to shop CVS' or something similar, and you will have many, many hits.

So, if you are ready to save some significant money on your groceries and personal care items, jump right in, read up on one of the above tutorials (or any other you may find), then check out blogs like Money Saving Mom, iheartcvs, and others who list the weekly deals--most of the homework from week-to-week has been done for you. Here are examples of the deals you can get this week (June 22-28) at CVS:

Money Saving Mom

Home Schooling and Frugal

The "Cent"sible Sawyer


One thing to the last few days two of the major money-saving/couponing blogs I have been following have decided to call it quits. Reading their final posts was like deja vu, as I was just telling a friend the other day how time consuming it has been for me to keep up with my blog in addition to my personal blog and family obligations (and my posts here aren't even that involved!). So, just a heads up that I am not following any strict schedule for posting and may or may not post as frequently in the future.

Finally, I would like to give a shout out to Be Thrifty Like Us and The New Frugal Mom for opening my eyes to the money I can save through couponing and being an overall better steward in the grocery budget department. Thanks for all the great tips and best of luck!

Friday, June 20, 2008

Freebie Friday -

Today I bring you yet another freebie site, Head on over to see what's free this week!

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Thrifty Thursday -

Consuming organic food seems to be all the rage these days, so I thought I'd pass along a link to on this Thrifty Thursday, which I learned about from an amazing shopper who is feeding her family of four on an annual food budget of $800. Yes, you read right...that is an ANNUAL budget.


Seems like most of my stories about the kids lately have centered around our three soon-to-be-four yr old, known on this blog as "Delta." I'm a little ashamed of the bias that seems to be developing, but she says the funniest things...I think it's the age. Anyway, she climbed up next to me on the couch while I was working on the computer a couple of evenings back; I told her I loved her and gave her a little kiss. That's when she started talking about marriage. It went something like this:

Me: "I love you!" [kiss]

Delta: "Is that how you get married? You lean this way and the other person leans that way. And you kiss. Is that gross? Yuck! We are NOT doing that."

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

The Ultimate Orange Julius!

I have fond memories of visiting the mall as a kid and picking up an Orange Julius. A few years ago, I decided to stop at The Orange Tree and give the Orange Frost a try, as it's the next closest thing since Orange Julius left town. It was a palatable substitution. Unfortunately, they must have changed the formula because the Orange Frost I tasted the last time I visited was a huge disappointment. I predict it will go the way of the New Coke. *sigh* Thank goodness I bookmarked this treasure the last time I had an Orange Julius fix. Try it (if you like orange juice). I think you'll like it!

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

The Wheels on the Bus

Although I did ride a school bus in my middle school years, I don't recall ever riding a city bus. A dear friend of mine, however, does not own a car (by choice!), so she takes the bus everywhere she goes that she doesn't ride her bike. She's lived from Florida to California, so she has experience with many public transportation systems. Though ours isn't the most impressive, she said she's seen an increase in the number of people using the bus of late. When she suggested the kids and I take a ride downtown with her to our public library, I said, "Sure!" In our town, children 18 and under ride the bus to the library for free, so this was a great, low-cost summer activity that took up most of the day. The kids thought it was deliciously fun, and I saved a few bucks in gas and parking fees--a win-win in my book!

Monday, June 16, 2008

Free Bowling All Summer

Looking to get out of the heat this summer? You might check out, a partnership between bowling centers, schools, and community organizations to provide two free games of bowling each day for the kids and a discounted Family Pass for up to four other family members or caregivers for only $19.95 that also includes the two games per day deal! Sounds like a great summer activity (especially if you have your own bowling shoes)!

Menu Plan Monday & Golden Potato Soup

It was another busy week and I missed my pizza pockets...AGAIN. HOWEVER, I did try something new (Easy From-Scratch Chicken Pot Pie) which I am making for a friend tonight, because it was so yummy. In fact, I used the crust from this pie to make a double-crust cherry pie yesterday for hubby (his absolute favorite!). I just dumped a can of cherry pie filling into the crust and that was that! I'll try it again with frozen or fresh cherries, but this worked in a pinch and we all enjoyed it. Here goes this week's menu (for more menus see

Meatless Monday: Cheese quesadillas, pinto beans, and Mexican rice

Tried and True
Tuesday: Hamburgers, mashed potatoes (save one cup for tomorrow's soup!), carrot sticks

Work less on Wednesday: Golden Potato Soup (recipe below), salad, bread sticks

Thursday (named after traditional post-Thanksgiving menu planning): Leftovers

First time Friday: Yummy Honey Chicken Kabobs, brown rice

Simple Saturday: Chicken and Rice, broccoli

Slow Cooker Sunday: TGIFriday's Black Bean Soup


Golden Potato Soup

2 T oil
1/3 c chopped onion
1 T flour
1 t. salt
dash pepper
1 c water
1 c mashed potatoes (great use of leftovers; add as much as you like)
2 1/2 c milk
1/2 c grated cheese (or more, if you really like cheese)

Saute onion in oil until the onions begin to turn translucent then stir in the flour, salt, and pepper. Add the water and bring to a boil. Boil for two minutes, stirring all the while, and add the mashed potatoes, milk, and cheese. Turn the heat down (no more boiling necessary) and simmer until the cheese melts. Garnish with additional cheese.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Tackling the Email Inbox & the Secret to Happiness

Organizing is not my thing, though I do love to try. Funny how others have commented to me about how organized I appear. I guess in certain ways I am, but in ways that matter most to me, I could use some work! Anyway, one thing I've noticed lately is that my email inbox has become very, very cluttered. For years, I have subscribed to a number of e-newsletters that I now find myself deleting without ever opening them. Do you find yourself in this same situation? If so, take some time over the next week to scrutinize your inbox. If you are deleting emails before you even read them, considering opening the email and clicking on the "unsubscribe" link.


And, finally, something cute my 3 yr old ("Delta") said to me today:

Delta: Pulling up her sleeve and grinning gloriously she exclaims proudly, "Look!" (Although I have hair eyes, I turn around to see what she is eager to show me.)

Me: With playful astonishment, "Oh, my! What is that...butterflies?" (She had stamped her arm from shoulder to wrist with a little butterfly stamp.) "Why did you do that?"

Delta: With all sincerity, "Because I want to be happy!"

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Preventing a Flogging from your Blogging

Elora sent me this article about training for bloggers. It's a quick read and one you might want to check out, especially if you have any concerns about what you should/shouldn't write on your blog (i.e., such as with product reviews and rants).

Friday, June 13, 2008

Freebie Friday - Free After Rebate

Click here to visit Free After Rebate, a site claiming that "the best things in life are free - after 6 to 8 weeks." You will find deals for free (or nearly free) computer software, hardware, and some miscellaneous items like resume templates and batteries. I knew once I purchased some CD-Rs I'd find a great deal AFTER-the-fact!

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Easy From-Scratch Chicken Pot Pie

I'm all about easy recipes, but I also love to prepare from-scratch meals and desserts. There's just something about being able to say you made it "from scratch." I guess it's a vanity thing, though I don't think that song is about me...

Yesterday my sister stopped by with a pot pie from KFC. Wow, it was good. I haven't eaten a pot pie since I was a kid. Remember the 3/$1 Banquet pot pies? Do they still make them? Anyway, I've never made one from scratch. So today, that's just what I decided to do. This is REALLY easy, so don't let the length of the post fool you.

To begin, I made an Oil Pastry (sounds gross, I know) instead of a Plain Pastry. I really don't like the partially hydrogenated oils in shortening, so I wanted avoid them and this did the trick. (Note: the recipes are based on those found in the Better Homes and Gardens Cook Book, 1968):

Oil Pastry

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp salt
1/2 c salad oil
5 TB cold water

Stir the flour and salt together. Combine the oil and water and pour into the flour/salt. Give it a stir (no mixer needed--it comes together nicely) and form it into two balls. Place one of the balls between two pieces of waxed paper and roll it out to the size of your pie dish. Place it in the dish and add the Chicken Pie filling (see below for recipe). Roll out the second ball of pastry dough, cut a slit in the middle in the form of an X (using a pizza cutter makes a nice, clean cut) and place it on top of the filling. Tuck under any edges or just cut them off. Bake this in the oven at 450 degrees until the top starts to brown. I cooked mine for about 20-30 minutes.

Chicken Pie Filling

1/2 c chopped onion (I used 1-2 TB of dehydrated onion)
6 TB butter
1/2 c all purpose-flour
1 tsp salt
3 c chicken broth
3 c cubed cooked chicken ( I used one leftover chicken breast)
1 10 oz pkg of frozen peas and carrots (I used a handful of frozen peas and two carrots, diced; use whatever veggies you have on hand)

Cook onion in butter for a minute or so then add the flour and salt. Add the broth and cook until it becomes thick and bubbly. Keep stirring during this time so that it doesn't stick to the bottom of the pan. Add the chicken and veggies and let it return to a boil. Don't forget to stir!

All I can say is...WOW! This Easy Chicken Pot Pie tasted just as good as the KFC I sampled last night. I can see myself sneaking some grated zucchini or yellow squash into this one next time, and possibly some diced potatoes.

Thrifty Thursday - Spend $20, Receive $25!

To find out how to receive $25 back (in a Home Depot gift card) after spending $20 on groceries at Publix, see this post at Fiddledeedee. (You can also spend $10 and receive a $10 gift card).

Also, tomorrow only (6/13), spend $20 at Walgreens and receive $5 off with this coupon. If you haven't bought your free-after-rebate items yet, now would be a good time! (Though I don't see many on the list that we can really use.)

There's also this deal at Sears. Spend $100 on men's Dockers apparel and receive a $75 Shell gift card! If you're still hunting for a last-minute Father's Day gift, this might be a good route to take.

Inexpensive HP Printer Paper

I noticed some good deals being tracked at Wal Mart by Money Saving Mom. One in particular that caught my eye was a $3 off coupon on HP Printer paper which, according to MSM, is currently priced at $3.97. With the help of Elora at Steel Trap for Crap, I isolated the $3 off coupon from the less impressive $2 off and $1 off to make a 3, $3 off coupons per page. Just right-click the image to the left and open in a new browser or window to get your $3 off coupons three to a sheet for your printing and money saving pleasure. Gotta have some paper on hand for all these printable coupons, right?!

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Free Shipping Deals

Thanks to Kyle over at Rather-Be-Shopping.Com, for this link to, a site dedicated to helping consumers find free shipping deals at their favorite online stores. $ave your ga$ and shop from home!

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

The Stages of (Bad Behavior) Grief

With more than 15 years of parenting under my belt, you'd think I would have caught on to the secret to 99% of my kids' "bad behavior." I guess I've known all along, but I'm just winding down the five stages of grief: Denial ("Not MY children!"), Anger ("I can't believe you just did that!"), Bargaining ("I know they wouldn't have done that if..."), Depression ("I'm so embarrassed s/he did that!"), Acceptance (My name is Wild Squirrel and my children").

My journey to acceptance began this school year when I had to start waking up at the crack of dawn to take the oldest to a class that begins at 6 am. I noticed that as the year dragged by, I did too! At first I was getting up along with her, ready to tackle the day. I even took the opportunity to run a couple of miles before waking the other three younger children, two of whom were in school. Then, I started to sleep in an extra five or so minutes. Five became ten, ten became twenty....on more than a few occasions SHE was waking ME up! That's when I started to feel guilty...very guilty. Since I was running out of time to get myself ready for the day (i.e., showered, presentably dressed) before the little ones awoke, I was doing so while they were getting ready. Not good. I reasoned that an hour should be plenty of time for a 7, 5, and 3 yr old to get dressed, eat breakfast, and get in the car for the short eight minute drive to school. While I was simultaneously showering. And making lunches. And preparing breakfast. And applying make-up. Um....Nope. It wasn't happening. We started feeling more and more rushed and arriving later and later to school. Not horribly late, mind you, but slipping in the classroom door just as the bell rings is not my idea of being on time. And, we did, horror of horrors, get a couple of tardy slips! It seemed a strong correlation existed between ME getting ready on time, and THEM being ready on time. Imagine that!

Of course, being on time is just one example. So, as much as I dislike the sound of it, I can accept that I perpetuate a few some many of their less-than-desirable behaviors. And I'm okay with that. IF I seize the opportunity to reverse the trend, and I can take credit for a few of their good ones! :)

Monday, June 9, 2008

Menu Plan Monday

Last week, I wanted to try some new pizza pockets. Unfortunately, due to old habits, I had the traditional pan pizza going in the oven before I remembered that I had planned to try something new. You'll see them again in this week's rotation so I can report back on my findings.

This week's menu is below. Check out every Monday for more meal planning ideas:

Meatless Monday: Baked potato bar

Tried and True Tuesday: Sausage and Rice Casserole (recipe at the end of this post), broccoli

Work less on Wednesday: Cold pasta salad, garlic bread sticks

Thursday (so named after my family's traditional post-Thanksgiving menu planning): Leftovers

First Time Friday: Pizza Pockets, cinnamon apples

Simple Saturday: Bratwursts with peppers and onions, oven fries, Easy Carrot Salad

Slow Cooker Sunday: Melt in Your Mouth Beef Brisket, rice, green salad [Note: The directions indicate that the beef is prepared on the stove top, but it's just as good in the slow cooker...dump everything in (saving the potatoes and carrots for the last couple of hours), set it to cook all day on med-high, and it will be perfect-o!]

Edited on 6/10/08: OOPS! I forgot to post my Sausage and Rice Casserole recipe for Tuesday. Here it goes:

Easy Sausage and Rice Casserole

1 lb sausage
1 c rice
1 can each of Cream of Mushroom and Cream of Chicken soup (undiluted)
2 cans water

Brown the sausage, drain, and add it to a 9X13 casserole dish/pan. Add the rice, condensed soup, and two cans of water. Give everything a little stir, cover with tinfoil, and pop into a preheated 350 degree oven for about 40 minutes or so. Yummy and easy!

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Tax Free Holidays By State

Are you anticipating a sales tax holiday of some sort? For a few years Floridians enjoyed several days of a tax break on the purchase of hurricane-related supplies. It didn't come this year. Check here to see what tax holidays, if any, your state is offering.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Easy Carrot Salad

Easy Carrot Salad

8 large, peeled, carrots shredded
1 apple, diced
1/2 cup raisins
6 oz. of orange juice concentrate, undiluted

Place all of the ingredients in a large bowl and mix. The orange juice concentrate will dissolve/melt as you stir. Refrigerate leftovers, if you have any. :)

Friday, June 6, 2008

Reliving the Best Vacations - Part II

It will be forever difficult to top our vacation to St. Joseph Peninsula. However, we've taken a few others worth mentioning. Given our larger-than-average family, it is increasingly difficult to find a place to stay that can accommodate six people in one room. When Delta was an infant, we could usually get away with it. Now that she's older, we have found that we must either rent a house, stay in a condo, or request two adjoining rooms. This has severely limited our vacationing since we I am so frugally minded. This next vacation destination comes in second not only because of the outstanding time we had visiting Wakulla Springs last year, but because the staff happily allowed us to reserve a room that was really probably too small for our family but fit nicely into our budget. Since we basically only slept there, it wasn't a problem.

The Wakulla Springs Lodge was once a home to Edward Ball, a wealthy businessman and brother-in-law to Alfred I. duPont of the famed duPont family. The lodge, which maintains much of its period character, includes marble floors, antique furniture, and a rare vintage elevator still in excellent operating condition. As with our last getaway, you won't find a television in your room, though there is a telephone with a data port and a large screen television can be found in the lobby. The staff are happy to loan you a documentary or movie from their collection of those filmed on location in the area, such as Creature from the Black Lagoon, a few Tarzan flicks, and Airport 77. (Bring your own if you want to watch anything else!) Also in the lobby area are several marble checker boards with over-sized ceramic checkers where you will find guests at all times of the day and night playing and socializing. The old fashioned soda fountain and ice cream parlor/gift shop are also a fun stop, especially for the kids. Though the food seemed a bit pricey in the Ball Room Restaurant, you may wish to sample the "world famous" navy bean soup or fried chicken for breakfast. We just HAD to try the chicken for breakfast. Our 14 year old was forced to kind enough to watch her three younger siblings so we could slip out one morning.

Any time we go on vacation, the kids aren't complete without a dip in the water. Thank goodness Wakulla Springs, one of the largest and deepest fresh water springs in the world, provided plenty of opportunity for swimming, though it was dang cold. Floating docks are placed several yards out and there is a diving platform for the especially adventurous guests. At only several dollars each, the boat rides, including glass bottom boats, are also a must. (If you must choose between the two, I'd go for the boats over the fried chicken.)

Not too far from Wakulla and an extension of the park is Cherokee Sink. It's been referred to as a popular picnic area and swimming hole, but we stumbled upon it ourselves and wish we'd known about it sooner. The water was not as cold and it wasn't nearly as crowded. I will say though, that I got the creeps swimming there. It's so deep and you can't see through the murky water. When we got back home, I Googled the sinkhole to learn more about its depth and history and found that a woman had drowned there only a week before our visit. It was suggested that she may have gotten disoriented after diving into the water and went down instead of up.

On a lighter note, another interesting place within a short drive is St. Mark's National Wildlife Refuge. For only $5 a car, you can see some pretty interesting wildlife. During our visit we saw countless alligators, one of which decided to cross the road right in front of our vehicle, an otter, and several wild hogs. There is also a lighthouse on the property (though it is closed to the public) and many species of birds and plant life.

So, again, add this one to your short list of places to visit on a budget. The rooms are between $85 and $105 per night and the recreational activities, which also include things like walking/bike trails, are reasonably priced, even for a larger family.

Price Drop Alerts via Email!

How many times have you purchased something only to find it went on sale a few days or weeks later for a much better price? Now you can get price drop alerts from Price!pinx and snap up some great bargains. I've just discovered this gem, so I do not have any experiential feedback; but, what's not to love?

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Reliving the Best Vacations - Part I

Today was our last day of school; within three hours, Beta was moaning, "I'm so BORED..." Ugh. So, I escaped mentally to some of our favorite vacations past. I guess you could call this a series, because I have a few favorites, and this is the first one that came to mind.

No phones. No television. The nearest store is 25 miles away. If you've never been to St. Joseph Peninsula State Park in Florida, you must go. Now. Today. (It's a good thing hubby doesn't read this blog, 'cause I'd be getting a talking to for letting this little secret out of the bag!) We went to St. Joseph two years ago and left wanting to do a big 'ol U-turn, right then and there. The park offers tent sites for camping as well as some rustic cabins. We went for the cabins and somehow lucked out. Usually, you need to reserve these 10-11 months in advance. We must have been living right, because we picked up a three night stay that year within a few months of our hoped for dates.

As I mentioned, the eight cabins available are rustic. So, why was I happy to live without all of the amenities of a 5-star resort? The bay side of the park where the cabins are located seems so Old Florida. There are no towering condos or peanut peddlers, and the beach is basically all yours. About 100 yards off-shore there was a sandbar where we discovered all sorts of ocean life (some of which we'd never seen up close) including live sand dollars and starfish, a baby blow fish, blue crab, and countless fish. It was like being in one of those Jamaican resort commercials without all the froufrou--no guided tour or drinks with umbrellas; just honest-to-goodness exploring and enjoying nature up close and personal. Oh, and we also saw several deer.

The other side of the peninsula offered the more typical beach experience...sandy, white beaches (rated among the top in the United States, see 2002), again without all of the crowds and commercialism. It is a state park, after all. It was a short walk over the dunes...the DUNES...they are very get to the other side. As long as you aren't playing the part of pack mule to four children, it shouldn't be a strenuous experience. If you are...I'm sorry. I feel your pain. Literally. I felt it. :/

Ah, but the beach is not all. Bring your bikes and binoculars, kayaks or more about it here because I could go on and on. We are anxious to return since the youngest was still a baby when we last visited, which limited our recreational activities. Still completely worthwhile. Add it to your short list!

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Sticks Are Precious

Delta loves to collect most anything she sees on the ground. It was no surprise when she adopted a spindly, ho-hum stick at the park the other day. Once she latched on, she gingerly carried it with her all around the park and lovingly placed it alongside her car seat for the ride home. Like many of the items she collects, however, she quickly forgot about it as the excitement of arriving home consumed her. I had forgotten, too.

Fast forward one day...Beta stumbled upon the stick in the car seat as we were leaving for school. "Hey, Mom? Can I throw this stick out?" I didn't bother to turn around and was a stick. "Sure," I replied, not thinking about the previous day's adventure. "NOOOOOOO!" screamed Delta. Oops! I instantly remembered her connection with the little lifeless length of wood. "Oh, I'm sorry, Delta! Beta, can you grab it?" Without a moment's hesitation, Charlie blurted out, "Sticks are NOT precious!"

Knowing that Delta's feelings would likely be hurt by Charlie's indifference to what WAS a precious stick, I tried to explain that we each place a different value on the things around us. Obviously, this stick meant more to Delta than to Charlie, but Charlie wasn't buying it. Then Beta, being the more mature bigger sister, tried to break it down. "Charlie, do you like hearts?" "Yes," replied Charlie. "Well, some people don't like hearts." Again, Charlie wasn't buying it. No connection with the "unprecious" stick, and especially no buying that some people don't like hearts. (Oh, to be five again and believe you are the Sun and everyone else a planet, rotating around you.)

Like Charlie, I sometimes find myself being annoyed by what appear to be trivial issues or things, at least to me. But then I remind myself that these circumstances or objects just might be the sticks of those around me, and sticks ARE precious!

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Easy Brownies

You know a recipe is well-loved when the recipe card (yes, I still use these!) is translucent with grease stains and sprinkled with splatters of unidentifiable stuff. This is one of those recipes. I'm not going to claim that it is the most wonderful brownie in the world, but it's the easiest made-from-scratch, tasty, easy-to-turn-out-in-mass-quantity brownie I know of. And, I have a thing about baking from scratch...most of the time. So, here is my recipe for easy, from-scratch, delicious brownies to feed a crowd (or at least a family of six):

Easy From-Scratch Brownies

2 c. sugar
1 3/4 c. flour
5 eggs
1 tsp. salt
1 c. vegetable oil
1 tsp. vanilla
1/2 c. cocoa
1 cup chocolate chips
1 cup chopped walnuts

Mix the first seven ingredients in a bowl, by hand or with a mixer. Pour into a greased and floured 9X13 pan. Sprinkle with chocolate chips and walnuts. Bake at 350 degrees for 30-35 minutes. Cool, cut, and consume!

Monday, June 2, 2008

Hair Eyes

You may be wondering...what are hair eyes? Allow me to explain. As I am driving my 3 yr old to the park this morning, the following conversation ensues:

Delta: "Do you have hair eyes?"

Me: "Hair eyes?"

Delta: "Yeah." (At this point I would normally correct her by asking her to say, "Yes, Ma'am"--it's a Southern thing--but I am curious about whether or not I have "hair eyes.")

Me: A pause....then an epiphany. "Do you mean eyes in the back of my head?"

Delta: "Yes."

Me: "Do you think I have hair eyes?"

Delta: A pause....then, "Yes."

So I guess I do. And if I ever write a book, it will be called Hair Eyes.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Menu Plan Monday

I noticed a reduction in my grocery stops this past week, which I attribute to getting back on track with menu planning. Let's see if it will hold another week:

Meatless Monday: Whole wheat pancakes with blueberry syrup, sliced oranges

Tried and True Tuesday: Hamburgers with the works, baked (pinto) beans, cinnamon apples

Work less on Wednesday: Easy Chicken Enchiladas, Mexican rice

Thanksgiving Thursday (so named after my family's traditional post-Thanksgiving menu planning): Leftovers

First Time Friday: I want to try making these Pizza Pockets for the first time. I tried a different pocket recipe a few months back and it was AWFUL. Hopefully these will turn out better!

Simple Saturday: Fish, grits, applesauce

Slow Cooker Sunday: Slow Cooker Pork Chops, roasted carrots and potatoes, salad, rolls

For more menu plans, see the OrgJunkie!

Internet Discoveries - Google Sites & PurposeGames

Sometimes as I'm surfing the 'Net, I'll come across a web site whose concept I really like or I believe others might find useful. I heard about such a site yesterday; it's one of Google's newest releases, Google Sites. It makes it easy for "anyone to set up a website and share all types of information — team projects, company intranets, community groups, classrooms, clubs, family updates, you name it — in one place, for a few people, a group or the world. You can securely host your own website and add as many pages as you like — all for free." I've just begun to play around with the features, but it looks like an easy site to use. You can limit access to as few or as many people as you would like, including making it completely public or private. I can see this being useful for families trying to stay in touch across the miles, non-profit organizations that want an easy interface and have little money for web hosting, playgroups...the list goes on and on. It's even suggested for use as a company's intranet!

Another site I came across while helping my daughter study for a test this weekend is PurposeGames. It allows you to create games (and search for games created by others) to test your knowledge of various subjects...whatever you can think of, you can create (or it might already be out there). Too bad I didn't come across this site earlier in the school year! We haven't used it to create any games yet, but she did find some games published by others to help her with her studying. Being the competitor that she is, she liked the top ten rankings that showed up after she finished the game--it gave her an incentive to play again and try to improve her score.

What web sites do you find particularly helpful or useful?