Faith: Our Word For 2014

For our first crew round up of 2014 the topic is “Word for the Year”. This is something I have actually been thinking about for a while. As we were getting into November of last year, I started feeling like I had somehow lost the focus for our homeschool. Yes, we were falling into a routine for schoolwork, and we had a schedule that was working, but I had started to feel like we had lost our….spark. My boys are now in 7th and 10th grades, and I know our homeschool years are coming to a close, especially with my oldest. I have been contemplating exactly what it is I want my boys to leave home with, and I know that it is a firm faith in the Lord.

Now, don’t get me wrong, we have had a focus on God ever since we started homeschooling. We do Bible everyday, my kids know tons of Bible verses, and they have come to accept Jesus Christ as their Savior. But this year, I want to go deeper. Since my boys are older, I would like to go further in studying the Word. Not just reading and memorizing it, but thinking and talking about what it means and how to apply it to our lives. I know that, especially for my older son, a firm grounding in God is going to be necessary for adult life. As his time in high school draws to a close, I want to prepare him for life beyond. I have no idea what the Lord has planned for him, but I want him to be able to stand and face the world with a deep trust that God will lead him and guide him as he follows whatever path is set before him.

I am currently looking for additional resources I can use to further our study of the Lord and his Word. I would like to find some materials I could use for Bible study aimed at teen boys and young men. If you have any ideas or suggestions, let me know in the comments. I am hoping for 2014 to be a faith-filled year in our house! To see what other members of the crew had to say on this topic, click here:
Word for 2014

Chicken Soup

Homemade chicken soup

Ahh, the winter season, cold weather and, well, colds. Last year I got sick with the flu and my best friend made me a pot of this chicken soup and brought it over. It was so good I asked her for the recipe. Now I make this whenever somebody in our house gets the sniffles.

Ingredients:

1 whole chicken

2 cups cooked pasta

1 onion

4 celery stalks

4 carrots

4 cloves garlic

2 chicken bouillon cubes or packets

Directions:
1. Place the chicken in a large stock pot and cover with water.
2. Slice the carrots and celery in half and add to the pot.
3. Quarter the onion and chop the garlic and add them to the pot.

4. Cook over medium-high heat for 1-2 hours or until the chicken falls off the bones.
5. Remove the chicken to a baking sheet and pull the meat from the bones.
6. Use a hand-held strainer to remove the vegetables from the pot. Chop the celery, onion, and carrots into small pieces.

7. Stir the bouillon into the pot and add salt and pepper to taste.
8. Return the chicken and vegetables to the pot.
9. Stir in the cooked pasta and heat through.

There you go! This recipe makes enough soup to feed my family of four for a few days, and it tastes great as leftovers. Make it yourself as a comfort food when you or a family member are sick, or just make it on a cold night! Feel free to pin or share this recipe. If you have any great soup recipes of your own, let me know in the comments. See the rest of the recipe ideas from Try a New Recipe Tuesday here:

Top 10 Posts of 2013

To celebrate the end of another year, I’ve decided to link up with other bloggers to share my top ten posts of 2013. Looking at my stats, it seems the majority of my most-viewed posts are recipes! I love to cook, so it feels good to know that others may enjoy sharing my recipes. These are my top ten:

1. This recipe for Easy Chicken Quesadillas was my number-one post.

Buffalo Chicken Sandwiches

2. My recipe for Buffalo Chicken Sandwiches was the next most popular. We are actually having these for dinner next week.

Simple Calzone

3. This recipe for Simple Calzones is probably one of my all time favorites. We had this for Christmas Eve dinner!

Easy Pot Roast

4. I got my mom a crock pot for Christmas (can you believe she hasn’t really had one before??) and this recipe for the Easiest Pot Roast Ever was the first thing she cooked in it.

Peppermint Bark

5. Peppermint Bark is my boys all-time favorite holiday dessert.

Spanish Rice

6. So can you tell I really love my crock pot? This recipe for Spanish Rice is the third crock pot recipe on this list!

A day in our life

7. This post, Come Over to Our House, was one of my favorite blog cruises of the year. I love getting a peek into other homeschoolers days! (Of course, my teenage son was less than cooperative about taking pictures and I was only allowed to take them from behind! 🙂 )

Sharon Watson Writing

8. I am so blessed to be a member of the TOS Review Crew! We have gotten to try out so many great products and I have learned so much about blogging and homeschooling from the other crew members. This review for Writing With Sharon Watson was my seventh most viewed post.

Mediterranean Roasted Vegetables

9. I am always on the lookout for new ways to cook vegetables. This recipe for Mediterranean Roasted Vegetables made my top ten for this year!

Supercharged Science

10. Rounding out my top ten list is another review, this one for Supercharged Science, a really fun online learning program.

So there you have it! My top ten posts of 2013. I have loved sharing my thoughts with my readers here on my blog, and getting to read the thoughts and ideas of others. Each year I feel like I grow as a blogger, and I am excited for 2014! What was your top post of the year? Let me know in the comments. And make sure to visit the link-up here at Campfires and Cleats.

Menu Plan Monday 12/30/13

I can’t believe 2013 is almost over! After a wonderful holiday, I guess I’m back to regular cooking. This is our menu for this week:

Monday: Fish Tacos
Tuesday: Taco Style Stuffed Shells
Wednesday: Burritos
Thursday: Crispy Chicken and Potatoes
Friday: Sloppy Joes

Make sure to check out the rest of this week’s plans on Menu Plan Monday! See you guys next week.

Booklovers Anonymous: The Mysteries of Harris Burdick

In last week’s post I told you about the book Zathura, by Chris Van Allsburg. Today I am going to share another one of his books, however, this picture book is great for use with older students (I’m talking middle school and high school students) to inspire some creative writing. I stumbled upon The Mysteries of Harris Burdick in my first or second year of teaching and immediately recognized it’s potential!

The Mysteries of Harris Burdick

The book begins with an introduction from Mr. Van Allsburg explaining how he stumbled across Mr. Burdick’s pictures via a friend. Apparently, each picture was created for a story that Harris Burdick was writing. He brought them to an editor was supposed to return with the rest of the stories, but instead, he disappeared. The intro on its own is enough to whet any kids appetite! From there, each of the pictures is shared on it’s own page, with the title of the story and a one sentence caption on the other page.

Harris Burdick title and caption

The titles and captions are simple, but leave enough description to get a good sense of what a story could be about. This caption for the story “Another Place, Another Time” simply states : “If there was an answer, he would find it there.” That’s it…can you just close your eyes for a minute and imagine where you could go with that? Try it!! When I do it myself I come up with so many ideas!! And that is one of the things I love about this book. You could have three kids write about the same picture, and come up with three completely different stories!!

The pictures, as usual for Van Allsburg’s books, are exquisite and inspire creative writing on their own:

Skipping stones? Maybe, maybe not!

Sometimes they feature people (usually kids) in a situation that gives just enough information to get the creative juices flowing:

This could definitely be a fun story!

Other times, the pictures are of a place:

A hidden room? Treasure? Passage to another place? You decide! That’s what creative writing is all about!

However, all of the pictures are a great idea for creative writing story starters. When I used these in my classroom, I actually bought two copies of the book. I tore out and laminated the pages from one, and hung them around the room. I read the other copy out loud to my students then I asked the kids to walk around, find their favorite picture and study it. Even my most reluctant writers enjoyed this assignment, and many of them wanted to write more than one story! The only requirements I had for their writing was that the use the title of the picture as the title of the story, and they had to work the caption into the story somewhere. Other than that, they had the freedom to go in any direction they wanted.

Now that we are homeschooling, I do generally the same thing with my boys. When we are working on creative writing, I take this book off the shelf and we read it together. Then I let my boys thumb through it on their own and choose a picture to write about. The most difficult thing is narrowing their choice down to just one! I keep The Mysteries of Harris Burdick handy and use it a lot for times when we do “light” schooling as well. You know, those busy seasons (like the holidays). I like to work lots of different styles of writing into their schooling, so we may focus on persuasive writing for a while, go on to narratives, then go back to creative writing for a little break. Over the years, my oldest son (now in 10th grade) has written about many of the pictures from The Mysteries of Harris Burdick.

It’s funny how you can do so much from just a simple picture book isn’t it? So, if you have a student, younger or older, who needs some inspiration for their creative writing, I would suggest you add this book to your library. Believe me, you will use it for YEARS to come! Thanks for joining me for Booklovers Anonymous again, be sure to come back next week!

Crock Pot Corn Chowder

Corn Chowder

This is an easy and yummy recipe for a cold night!

Ingredients:
6 diced potatoes
1 can creamed corn
1 can whole kernel sweet corn
2 cups chicken broth
2 packages diced ham
1 small onion, diced
1/3 cup butter
2 cups heavy cream

Directions:
1. Put both cans of corn, the ham, potatoes, chicken broth, and onions into the crock pot.
2. Cook on low for 8 hours.
3. Add the butter and heavy cream.
4. Mash until the potatoes are broken up into bits.
5. Cook on high for another 30 minutes.

Serve with some warm rolls and you’re done! If you have your own twist on corn chowder, let me know in the comments! Check out the other recipes from this week’s Try and New Recipe Tuesday here:

Menu Plan Monday 12/23/13

 

I am so excited about Christmas this week! My hubby is actually going to be home for the holiday (for the first time in three years!). We are having dinner with friends, and I plan to eat leftovers for a couple of days, so this is an abbreviated menu.

Monday: Crispy Chicken and Potatoes

Tuesday: Calzones

Wednesday: Christmas Dinner

Thursday: Leftovers

Friday: Leftovers

I hope you all have a wonderful Christmas! Make sure you check out the other menus on Menu Plan Monday!

Booklovers Anonymous: Zathura

Chris Van Allsburg is probably one of my favorite children’s authors of all time. He weaves incredibly exciting stories (several of which have been turned into movies!) and sketches the most amazing illustrations. You will likely see me write about several of his books in this series! Today I want to focus on another book that is one of my boys favorites: Zathura.

This book was turned into a movie quite a few years ago. My cousin purchased this book for my sons when they were toddlers, and it was always one of their favorites. In the story, brothers Walter and Danny stumble upon the box for the game Jumanji while playing outside (yes, Van Allsburg wrote that book too, and the two tie in together). However, when they take it home, they discover ANOTHER game stuck in the box. Danny, the youngest brother, decides to play the game (Zathura) instead, and much like Jumanji, the events in the game start to happen in real life.

 

Inside Zathura

On this adventure, the boys venture into outer space and battle gravity, aliens, robots, and black holes. Through the story, the brothers learn how to work together in order to return home to Earth. Van Allsburg is able to perfectly capture the relationship between a boy and his little brother (at least, much like it is at my house 🙂 ) and the story is full of adventure and humor! I would really recommend any of Van Allsburgs books, and because of their depth, the work for little and big kids. In fact, next week I will be sharing one of my favorite Van Allsburg books that I used in my middle school classroom as a tool for creative writing! (and I still use it in our homeschool for the same purpose) Make sure to check back next week to read about that book. If you know anyone who might be interested in hearing more about books, feel free to share this post. And if you have a comment about this book or another of your favorites, I’d love to hear from you!

Our Favorite Christmas Books

I love Christmas! And I love books! So, being a part of a Christmas Books Round Up sounded like a great idea for me. Now, I must say I have enough Christmas books on the shelf to read a different one every night of December. However, for this post, I decided to write about two of my favorites.

The first is a little advent book we use as part of our Christmas devotional. The Angel and The Christmas Rabbit consists of 24 short stories. The premise is a little angel is sent down from heaven to find a gift for baby Jesus. He stumbles upon an old rabbit, and the two begin exchanging stories. Each story is both humorous and heartwarming. I check this book out from our library every year. We read one story each night, along with a Bible passage and then another Christmas book before we do our advent calendar. When my boys were younger, I would read the book to them, but now they like taking turns reading the stories out loud themselves!

The Polar Express

The Polar Express is a Christmas classic at this point. As you can see from the cover, I bought this book in 1998, the year my oldest son celebrated his first Christmas. I became a fan of Chris Van Allsburg when I was in college studying education. We have several of his books on our shelves, and they are all fantastic. By the time The Polar Express movie came out, my kids could recite this book from memory. We have a tradition that this is the very first Christmas book we read each year, and it is also the one we read on Christmas Eve. I have a feeling my boys will continue this tradition when they have their own children, because they just love it so much!

Now, I can think of several other Christmas favorites in my family, but I couldn’t write about them all in one post. Here are some of the others on our list:

1. Merry Christmas Big Hungry Bear

2. Santa’s Stuck

3. Snowmen at Christmas

4. Are You Grumpy Santa?

5. A New Improved Santa

And those are just some of them! Do you have a favorite Christmas book I should check out? Let me know in the comments. Check out more posts about great Christmas books here:

Christmas Books

Simple Black Bean and Corn Salsa

Last week I told you about my taco style stuffed shells, and this is a great little recipe to serve as a side dish with that dinner. It takes about 15 minutes to make and it is delicious!!

Ingredients:
1 can black beans (drained and rinsed)
1 can corn (drained and rinsed)
1 can Rotel tomatoes with lime and cilantro
3 tablespoons lime juice
Chopped cilantro (I used 1/2 of a bunch)
1 medium onion, chopped

Directions:
1. Drain and rinse the beans and corn and add them to a bowl.
2. Chop the onion and cilantro and add them to the bowl.
3. Add the Rotel tomatoes and lime juice.
4. Toss to mix

That’s it! Like I said, this makes a great side dish, or can be easily doubled for a party. It’s also healthy and low-calorie so how can you beat that? Feel free to share or pin as you wish, and if you have your own great salsa recipe let me know in the comments.

To see more recipes from this week, check out the Try a New Recipe Tuesday link-up here:

Menu Plan Monday 12/16/13

It’s Menu Plan Monday again! I am really liking this link up! It’s nice to know I’m not the only one who plans dinner in advance, and I am finding so many new recipes. This week, my in-laws are coming to stay for a couple of days so we can celebrate Christmas. With my husband’s job, it is easier to celebrate a little earlier so we can relax and hang out together rather than rush through things as people go to work and to visit other family members. This is what I have planned for this week (weekends are reserved for finishing leftovers)

Monday: Mexican Chicken Salad
Tuesday: Shepherd’s Pie
Wednesday: Pork and Black Bean Soup
Thursday: Dinner out with the family (the boys are so excited 🙂 )
Friday: Easy Chicken Quesadillas

What’s for dinner at your house this week? Let me know in the comments. And check back in for next week’s menu!

Booklovers Anonymous: Skippyjon Jones

I love books! Seriously, I have shelves and shelves of books in my house. As a young girl I must have checked out out every Nancy Drew book from the library at least three times. I started collecting books to read to my own children when I was in high school. When I was teaching, I was known as the “book lady” in the middle school wing. I read out loud to my students daily, and when I had a student that was searching for something to read, they often came to me for advice. In my dream home, I would have room to create my own library, but alas, my books are merely scattered on shelves throughout my house.

So, I decided that I am going to dedicate some time on my blog to share my favorite books with you. Every Thursday I will be writing about a new book as part of my Booklovers Anonymous series! (and, if I can ever figure out how to create a button and host a linky, I may even start a link-up so you can share your favorites too! Unfortunately, my tech skills lag far behind my writing skills, so I’m not there yet). The books will be a mix of picture books and chapter books representing just about every genre. I decided to start with one of my favorite picture books to read aloud to my kids, Skippyjon Jones by Judy Schachner.

I stumbled upon this book at a book fair long ago, and bought it to read to my kids. It quickly became one of their favorites. Today, they are 12 and 15 years old and there are days they will still grab this book off the shelf and ask me to read it to them! The story centers around Skippyjon, a Siamese cat with a wild imagination. The little kitty boy often gets in trouble and is sent to his room by his frustrated mama cat! While in his room, Skippyjon likes to jump on his bed and imagine he is a chihuahua. In this book, he goes on an adventure with Los Chimichangos (a small band of chihuahuas) to defeat Alfredo Buzzito, the bee that has been stealing all the beans in Mexico.

The infectious chorus must be read with an accent, and the hijinks of Skippyjon and his friends will have you and your kids laughing out loud. This is also one of my husband’s favorite books to read to our kids because he enjoyed it so much. In the last ten years, Skippyjon has gone on to have several adventures and has spawned a series of books, and we are still adding to our collection.

This is a great book to read just for fun, but if you visit the Skippyjon Jones website you will find printables and lesson ideas for use with younger children.

My boys loved this book so much that when we adopted our kitty from the animal shelter four years ago, they decided to name him Skippy in honor of their favorite character!

Our real-life Skippyjon!

So, if you haven’t heard of Skippyjon Jones yet, you should really check him out! Are you already a fan of the little mischievous kitty boy? Let me know in the comments! And if you have a favorite book of your own feel free to share! See you next week 🙂

Every bed of Roses

The Christmas Ornament

This ornament hangs on my tree. It is one of many given to me by my beloved Nana. It was given to her by her mother-in-law, my Great Grandma Hill. There is a story behind this ornament that dates back to my childhood.

The Grandma Hill that I remember was a cantankerous woman. My pop-pop was her third child, born in 1920, so her birth likely dates back to the late 1890’s. She lived near us and my Nana and pop-pop took care of her. She never had much use for girls, and always favored the boy grandchildren in the family. Visiting her house was like an episode of hoarders. Boxes everywhere, all filled with these little balls that she would painstakingly wrap in thread and cover with sequins and pins full of beads. Really, you had to wear shoes in her house and watch where you sat or you could end up with a pin in your foot or bottom!

Grandma Hill had a lot of stories. I listened to a lot of them, but I was really to young too appreciate them. She lived through World War I and World War II. Her house was full of knick-knacks and antiques that I was NOT allowed to touch. For a young girl of six, a visit to her house was torture.

My Grandma Hill passed when I was in my late teens. By then she had moved in. To be honest, as a kid, my goal was just to stay out of her way. After my pop-pop passed and Nana moved in with me, I got these ornaments as hand me downs. My Great-Aunt Lillian (Grandma Hills daughter) also sent some every year as gifts. The funny thing is, I never really appreciated their beauty. To me, they were tied to those days of childhood, when I couldn’t touch anything and didn’t understand how a woman could spend all day making these things.

And then, one year, a friend came over when we were decorating our tree for Christmas. She watched as I opened a box of the ornaments and said “Wow, those are beautiful!”. Her comment stopped me in my tracks! You know how you can look at something so much that it just becomes a part of your life and you don’t really LOOK at it? For the first time, I really studied these little decorated balls. I noticed their colors, and their intricate designs. I realized that these ornaments were a big part of my family history. When I talk to my cousins about growing up, EVERYONE remembers Grandma Hill’s ornaments.

I realized that I could share the story of these ornaments with my children, and show them how they are a link to our past. So I did. Now, these ornaments fill my tree in places of honor. I package them carefully so I can one day pass them on to my children. Unfortunately, the art of making them died out with my grandparents generation, so there won’t be anymore. These are now amongst my most treasured Christmas decorations. I am so thankful that I finally grew to understand their real value.

This experience also made me wonder how often I look at things every day but fail to really SEE them. Life settles into a routine, and so many little things just fade into the background. The thing is, there is so very much beauty in the everyday, you just have to make yourself stop and see it. I find this hard to do, because there are just so many distractions, and duties, and so much busyness during the day that I often move from one task to the next without focusing on the moment, but I am promising myself that this year, I am going to try and find the beauty in the everyday. I don’t want to realize how special something was years later, I want to appreciate it now. And I have these ornaments to thank for my new perspective.

Do you have a special ornament that represents your family? Let me know in the comments.

Taco Style Stuffed Shells

MMM…we love tacos and spicy foods in our house. So, when a neighbor had us over for dinner and served this dish, I had to ask her for the recipe. This was easy to make, and we had plenty of leftovers.

Ingredients:
2 lbs. ground beef
1 box of jumbo shells (24)
1 package cream cheese
2 cups of salsa
2 cups taco sauce
1 packet taco seasoning
1/3 cup water
4 cups shredded Mexican style cheese

Directions:
1. Brown and drain the meat.
2. Return the meat to the pan and stir in the taco sauce and water.
3. Add the cream cheese (cut into cubes so it melts easier).
4. Cover the pan and simmer on low for 5-10 minutes until the cheese melts.
5. Cook the pasta shells according to package directions.
6. Cover the bottom of two 13X9 inch pans with the salsa.
7. Place the shells in the pan and spoon the meat mixture into the shells.
8. Pour the taco sauce on top of the shells.
9. Cover with foil and bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes.
10. Remove foil and sprinkle shells with shredded cheese.
11. Bake for another 5 minutes or until cheese is melted.

I served this with a salad, and some chopped green onion, cilantro, olives, and sour cream as toppings. Everyone loved it! Give it a try and let me know what you think. And check out all the other Try a New Recipe Tuesday dishes here:

Menu Plan Monday

I really, really love cooking. Twice a month I sit down and plan our menus for the next two weeks and then go shopping. I plan my grocery list around our meals. Now, not many of my friends do this, they are more of the “shop and then plan” kind of people. For me, my brain just doesn’t work like that. If I don’t have a plan then I find myself standing in my kitchen at 5 PM trying to figure out what to cook. So, I was very very excited to stumble across the I’m an Organizing Junkie blog!

If you love to organize, you really need to check it out! Laura, the author, has tons of tips and ideas and even printables you can use. Every Monday she hosts the Menu Plan Monday link up where she and all of her bloggy friends share their menu plans for the week (and some even include links to recipes!). So of course, I wanted to jump in. Now, on the weekends I usually try to finish up leftovers, so I generally only plan for Monday to Friday. Here is my plan for this week:

Monday: Chicken Carnie Bowls

Tuesday: Mexican Stuffed Peppers

Wednesday: Cajun Pork Chops

Thursday: Spaghetti (Nothing beats a simple, 20-minute, easy meal every now and then 🙂 )

Friday: Tacos

Do you have anything special on your menu this week? Let me know in the comments. And if you would like to link up, check out the directions here: Menu Plan Monday Guidelines