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Monday, November 24, 2014

Crock pot lasagna

I love cooking in my crock-pot.  I love finding new things too make it useful everyday.  (If you haven't tried the crock pot liners - try them!  They are fantastic!  The only reason I am not using one here is because I run out so fast!)  

So, I had seen a bunch of recipes for 'crock pot lasagna.'  I could not fathom how in the world you would make a casserole in a crock pot and it still come out 'right.'  Then I thought, how can you mess up lasagna?  It's a fancy, expensive spaghetti.  I don't worry about the look because as soon as you start to cut into it, it is no longer pretty (the only time I looks pretty is if you let it cool to almost room temp before cutting any how.)

To start - I do NOT boil my noodles.  No need to.  I do NOT buy the no boil either.  Just trust me.  Not all of the ingredients are shown here - I took the photo before taking some out (oops!)

You need noodles (broken is fine!), tomato sauce (I use cheap spaghetti sauce), mozzarella cheese, ricotta cheese (you can sub cottage cheese!  It's cheaper!) and Parmesan (use the stuff in the bag in the dairy section - not the canned stuff, it's more expensive, but tastes better.  I used an Italian blend), and meat.  I use half sausage (jimmy dean type breakfast sausage) and half hamburger/ground turkey.  Depending on the price determines what meat is used.  If turkey is cheaper, I use it instead of hamburger. Since the breakfast sausage has a better flavor than plan hamburger (or even turkey) due to the spice blend, I use some of that.  Due to the price of the sausage, I am financially required to sub some other meat too.






Cover the bottom of your crock pot with tomato sauce - more than this, you are not boiling the noodles, so the raw noodles will need the sauce to soak up moisture and cook.






Add a layer of noodles.  No one will ever know if this layer is broken or all in one piece.






Add cheese - this is cooking, not rocket science.  Just slap it on top of the noodle.  Start with your ricotta, then add the shredded stuff.  Not too much, though. You will need some for the other layers.


 



At this point, I got the idea to add some fresh basil from the garden.  Might as well use it.  Plus, don't fresh herbs have vitamins or something?






Add a layer of meat





Add another layer of noodles







Add more sauce - again, more than you see here.








Cheese me, please!






Add more meat





Noodles




Sauce - are you starting to see a pattern?




More meat - this is the last of the meat







At the bottom of the package  - all the broken noodles.  It's ok, You will never notice when cutting into them anyhow.






Last of the cheese




Cover and cook on medium for 3-4 hours.  I bet you could put it on low for about 6 hours.  We were hungry and the entire house smelled good.   I wasn't waiting long!






Oh yummy!  Broken noodles?  Where are they?






Guarantee no one cares about the original size of their noodles or even the order of the ingredients at this point.





Ingredients:

1 pkg lasagna noodles 
1 can spaghetti sauce
1 bag mozzarella cheese
1 small container ricotta cheese 
1 bag Parmesan
roughly 1/2 lb sausage and 1/2 lb hamburger meat.

Directions:

Layer ingredients in crock pot. Order does not matter as long as the sauce is on the noodles. Let cook 3-4 hours on medium heat.  Enjoy!

Friday, November 21, 2014

Built in loft bed

Finally!  My Baby Girl's room is "finished," painted, and moved in to.  I say "finished" because we had a lousy contractor and hubby will need to do the detail work that was poorly done, or not done at all.

The finishing touch on this room - a built in loft bed.  Nikki is an outdoor girl.  She would sleep outside every night if I would allow it.  Since I won't, we are bringing the outdoors into her room.  Starting with a bed built into a 'tree.'

Step one - build the bed.  Here daddy has finished the staining and is putting up the Nikki catcher.




Step 2 - add the ladder.  This is a hanging rope ladder.








Step 3 - Try it out!  She loves the challenge of the swinging ladder!  Daddy will bolt it into place when she is done playing
















Step 4 - add the tent and decorate around the bed to look like a tree.

Well, step 4a is done.  I just need to get my artistic painter friend over to help with the painting now :)

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Italian Bread in a Jar

Another jar recipe.

I love having most of the ingredients already set aside for a quick fix.  For this, all I need to have is yeast, water and butter.  Those are 3 things I typically have in the fridge, which makes this a super quick and easy throw together bread.



As you can see, I use an old pickle jar.  It has been thoroughly washed and de-pickled :)  If your jar has a smell (after being closed in the cupboard for a few days), put some baking soda in it for a while.  Then wash with vinegar and leave open a few days.



In the jar, mix together:

3 cups bread flour
3 Tablespoons Grated parmesan cheese (sometimes I use an italian mix)
1 Tablespoon dry milk
1 Tablespoon sugar
2 teaspoons italian seasoning
1 1/2 teaspoons salt

When ready to bake, simply add in:

 9 ounces (1 cup+ 2 Tablespoons) room temperature water
2 Tablespoons room temperature butter or margarine
2 teaspoons active dry yeast (or 1 1/2 tsp bread machine/fast rise yeast)

Mix all ingredients in the breadmaker and set on dough.  When the dough is finished, transfer to a bread pan or cookie sheet.  Bake at 200 degrees F for 20 minutes, then turn the heat up to 350 for the last 10-15 minutes.  Your bread is finished when the crust is crispy and just browning.


*Note:  I do not add the yeast into the jar mix to make sure it stays active and rises properly.

**  With the grated cheese in this recipe I keep the jar in the fridge (I know you buy the cheese in the non-refrigerated section, but once opened the directions say to keep refrigerated)





Monday, November 3, 2014

5 month update

Today is the five month birthday of our sweet little man. I cannot believe we've had him for almost 3 months! I also cannot believe how much things have changed in the last 10 years. 

I have babies I've had three babies.  I even used diapers with all 3 of my children. However, I ventured recently back into the cloth diaper world. These things are fancy! When my son was little, 16 years ago, we simply had tri fold cloth diapers.  You fold the diaper, pin it (and try not to poke yourself or the baby) and cover the cloth with a thin, un-decorative vinyl cover. This could get messy, smelly, was usually bulky, but it was definitely less expensive than the standard disposable diaper. 
Things have not changed that much today. However now these diapers are all in one. And I don't have to worry about diaper pins! I love that! I don't personally care about what is covering my sons rear end, however, I do enjoy the cammo dinosaurs over the plain white plastic. It is much cuter. However I do have to look at the cost. Reusable cloth, even at today's fancy price, is still cheaper than the traditional disposable.  It is still significantly higher than it was 16 years ago.  I know the cost of living has gone up - along with everything else, but when I used to pay about $10 for a pack of 6 and now I am happy paying $10 for A hand-me-down cloth diaper.  That is a significant change.

Then there's baby food. With all 3 of my bio-kids I made their baby food. I did this partially because I was broke and could not afford to buy store bought baby food. I also knew that homemade baby food was significantly healthier. While I'm not a total health nut, (just don't ask my children), I want to make sure I start my children out on the right foot. That means lean meat and lots of green vegetables. I think that we are programmed to enjoy sweet things, so fruit is easy, butternut squash, not so much. 

You can still buy the standard Gerber 2 ounce jars of baby food at any grocery store. But now there are so many options for making homemade baby food!  When my big kids were little you simply made it in a blender and you were done.  Now there are multiple options to make this a much easier task for working parents, "lazy cooks," like me, or even newbies freshly venturing into this wonderful world.  Personally, I will be sticking to the basics.  I have my ninja and kitchen aid (I LOVE the juicer/sauce maker!) and figure that will do the trick for as long as I will need it to.


Another thing I have noticed that has changed a lot is the toys.
Have you noticed that nearly every children's toy these day take batteries?  There are so many electronics! I realize that the toys makers are trying to make 'educational toys,' but they no longer require an imagination, just batteries.  These are a royal pain to clean during flu season!  I don't mind the noise. I do mind the noise of a sick kid, though. I prefer the toys that I can throw in the dishwasher, or washer machine, quickly sanitize, and hand back with for them to play.  I don't like spraying Lysol on something that my baby is going to put in his mouth. 

My sons favorite toys when he was two was a pan, and wooden spoons from the dollar store. He has his own cabinet in the kitchen. Not only would he open the cabinet and pull out his "toys," he would get inside the cabinet and drum on his toy! I can recall a time about 13 years ago when we bought a new refrigerator.  That new refrigerator came with a really big, brand new playhouse. Also known as a refrigerator box. My oldest daughter and my son played in the box for over a month. I finally took that box and put it outside. They played in it for another 2 weeks. I thought we were done with that box.  It sat out in the rain and dew for weeks. That box would not die! Finally it magically disappeared one day when the trash man came :(  

Just recently we had to buy a new washer and dryer. We also got the pedestals.  Of course they came in a beautiful, brown, cardboard box. Both of my girls, 10 and 12 at the time, still thoroughly enjoyed playing in the boxes.  I noticed that their friends did as well...  I had to throw them away after they would not stand up on their own. These are classic toys! Any child would love these. Not everything has to be electronic, light up, or take batteries. 

Where do you find the simple classic toys? Without paying a fortune (or buying new appliances). I love my leapfrog magnets on the fridge. However, they are quite pricey.  This is part of the reason my fridge is a giant chalk board.  It's great if a child can recognize the letters, but they really need to also learn to write the letters as well.  Penmanship is not taught in school - we have to teach it at home.








It's more than just toys and diapers that have changed.  Have you looked at baby gear lately?  My sweet little man does not like taking a bath.  It's too bad.  As much as he spits up, we take a daily bath.  Sometimes three or four baths a day. He will fight and will not sit still.  He is too small to sit in a bath seat of any kind, and his little baby bath is apparently uncomfortable.  I decided to look online for alternatives. I was shocked to find a baby bath that acts as a mini Jacuzzi! Not only does it vibrate and help the child to sit up, it cost over $50. Are you kidding me? What child needs a vibrating bath tub? What is the point of this? Why do we, as parents, spend so much on unnecessary items? After already having three children I have learned what is and what is not necessary. When we first got our little man and had to make an emergency trip to the store, I remembered many of these things. I have not gone back to get many. Bottle drying racks what's the point? I have a counter and don't need one more thing to clutter it up. I can see the purpose of it, but do not see the necessity. (I was given one - I use it, but would not buy one.)  

Bottles, are necessities when formula feeding. $30 bottles are available, but not a necessity. I honestly do not see how the $30 dollar bottle can reduce colic better than a two dollar bottle. I know that every parent has their own opinions and desires for their child, however. in the end we all have the same goal in mind, only the best for a sweet baby. We always want them to have better than we had, to do better than us, and to experience only the best in life. However at what cost do we stop? Do we give them anything and everything no matter what the cost? Are we willing to file for bankruptcy just to make sure our children have the best? I think that it is wonderful that so many parents are able to provide the best of the best for their children. I don't see the need for $300 baby swing (yeah I found one!). The $10 used one I bought is more than sufficient for what I need. I could not see the difference in the three hundred dollar ones and the $50 one brand new. 


Along with all of this I have also remembered God's great sense of humor. I love my son.  When I had him I was a new mom and learned a lot with him. When I had my second child, I knew there would be many things that were very different. God made us all special and he loves each one of us. He made us all unique, although in His image. When I had my 3rd I was shocked. There are three sides to the spectrum? I knew there would be opposites somewhere, but I did not know there was a third side to this opposite! 

Now that I have a fourth I am remembering Gods great sense of humor also includes many, many sides. This little man is so completely different from any other baby that I've had. Talking about just his medical needs, those are minor. He's a very healthy baby boy. I'm talking about his personality. The things he does, his reactions, giggles, his gassy-ness, all very different from the other three children that I gave birth to. It can't be a cultural thing, he came to us straight out the hospital. He had no time to learn any culture. This is a human thing. This is God showing me that although each and every one of us is so totally and completely different, we are all covered with the fingerprints of God. 

I can only imagine how it will be one day when we're in heaven. Here on earth I can see my husband in my son. I can see my mother in my oldest daughter. I can see much of myself and my youngest daughter. I can also see a lot of my father in my son. Even my stepfather has had enough influence on my oldest daughter that I can see some of him in her.  There is no blood relations, but she has picked up a lot from him.  I have also noticed the big kids pointing out how the baby is like grandma, momma, brother or sister.  So how much more are we going to be like our Heavenly Father? He created us. All of us. He created us in His image. That's in Genesis. Knowing that because I came from my mother, I am a lot like her, how much more am I like my Heavenly Father?  

The last 3 months have been a wonderful adventure. I am very thankful that I've had this time with my sweet boy. Although we still have not heard about parental rights, anything about court, or gotten much information from CPS or the caseworkers, I stick with the verse that God will never leave me nor forsake me, and also to be content with the things that I have. God reminds me daily that I need to be content that I have him. Be content that I am able to give him a good foundation.  Even if he were to leave us tomorrow, heaven forbid! I can have peace knowing that I love him, hopefully made him feel secure, read to him from the Bible, sang him gospel songs, and at least planted a seed of hope in him for when he's older. It's all any of us can do for any of our children. 
Although I did not give birth to him, and he can leave at any time., isn't that the truth with all of our children? We don't know what hope what tomorrow holds. I could lose any of my children at any time for any reason. My job while here on earth is simply too teach them what God wants me to teach them, and do the best that I can. With God's help I know that I will, and that I can.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Color Wonder

A few months ago we had two precious children come into our lives. I had a few days notice before they were coming to prepare. Knowing how busy your schedule is, I decided I needed a busy bag for long periods of time where we are just sitting and waiting. This would include such activities this track meet, banjo practice, meetings, and pretty much any other time when a five year old can easily get bored. 
Time for a shopping trip. 
I have children. I remember how to make a busy bag, however, things have changed a lot in the last 10 years. There are all kinds of new toys, games, and activities to keep children entertained and busy. It's no wonder our children all have ADD.  I do not believe that a child needs to be entertained 100% of the time, all day long. Although, I do understand that two hours is a long time for a 5 year old to sit and entertain himself.  
I'm not a big fan of electronic toys either.  They are difficult to clean peanut butter out of, batteries die, and there is never enough volume control.  They do have their time and place. Too many are noisy, or access the Internet. I refuse to allow a five year old unlimited access to the Internet or to access the Internet at all without my direct supervision.  I don't allow my 16 year old to have unlimited access to the Internet. Too many things pop up, and it's too easy to miss type a web address and go to an inappropriate site. But enough about that, back to our shopping trip. 


During a trip to Walmart, we headed down the craft aisle. I was specifically looking for coloring books, map pencils, stencils, things of that nature.  Then I found it. 


Color Wonder markers. 


I remember having these for my 10 year old, many years ago. These are not new to me. I used to love this product.  I have used it, trusted it, and know it well.  I knew it was safe to use in the car, at church, or anywhere else that we might go. Well, looking at all the accessories I found a bag that included markers, paint and paper.  But it came neatly wrapped up in a bag that folded flat. 

Color Wonder paint, paper, & a bag two folds flat! How much better does it get? You know the mess will be contained, and the children will be enthralled, and no mess will be made. So I bought this, some more markers and some additional coloring books. I got coloring books for boys, for girls, and blank paper so that they could use their imagination.  I am so glad I purchased this!

 I kept it aside, with a few additional toys included, and brought it out only when I could see that the ants were crawling up our pants. Not only were my children kept busy, but it attracted several others as well. It was such a hit that I will definitely be getting more refills. 

I'm not too sure about the paint, it attracted too much attention and took a while to dry.  The pages ended up sticking together because everyone who helped with the clean up process just stacked the wet pages.  However, when its just my  couple of children and I can keep the papers more contained, and allow the paint to dry; it will be thoroughly enjoyed.  I believe that the children really enjoyed themselves. 
This is a product that I highly recommend for children of any age. I have gifted it to others for children as young as three.  The markers are non-toxic. My husband enjoys it, my 16-year-old enjoys it my 13 and 11 year olds enjoys it, along with any other child that comes in contact with it.  Crayola is a company that has been around for a long time. Their name is trusted. This is a product I will continue to purchase, continue to endorse, and continue to purchase.  No, I was not compensated for this review.