Friday, February 5, 2016

Things That Make Me Smile 1/29/16

Jake (10), Alyssa (7½), Zac (6), Tyler (3½), Nicholas (1)

Happy Friday! I hope you've looked for reasons to Smile this week.

1. Jake, chewing sour gum: "This is awesomely horrible! It burns and it's sour at once. It's the best thing ever."

2. Tyler: "Have you seen my LEGO guy?"
Me: "No, I haven't."
Tyler: "He has a shirt and pants and a face and hair."


4. Zac: "I'm playing spies . . . Hey, I have an idea! I'll be your kid playing spies! Can we pretend that, Mom?"

5. "Every year you need a bigger cake for your birthday, because you can eat more."

6. Zac was teaching his little brother to read. He would read a sentence and Tyler would repeat it. They went through the entire book like that. They were both so proud. 

7. Jake: "I love those laugh-so-hard-you-can't-breathe jokes."

8. Me: "I'm pretty sure she doesn't have a basement."
Zac: "Then where does she keep all her spider webs?"

What made you Smile this week?
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Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Bacon Cheeseburger Soup

I love cheeseburgers.

Seriously, I could eat cheeseburgers all the time. My mom and I were just talking about this recently. Some families eat spaghetti every Wednesday or pizza every Friday; I could eat a burger every Tuesday. Or Saturday. Or whatever.

Nine times out of ten I order a hamburger when we go out to eat. We rarely go to a restaurant, but that's beside the point. Too many times I've been disappointed in a pasta or let down by a piece of chicken, but a burger always makes me happy.

We don't grill a lot in the winter months though, so cheeseburgers are rarely on the menu. Instead, I make a lot of soups. So when I found a recipe years ago for cheeseburger soup, I was a happy girl.

This soup tastes eerily like a cheeseburger. I know, cheeseburger soup. But really, it's like someone tossed a burger in a blender, hit the pulse button a few times and poured it in a bowl. 

Speaking of bowls, I always serve this soup in homemade bread bowls to give it that hamburger bun feel. The French friend onions garnish is reminiscent of a side dish of onion rings. And bacon, well, everyone knows bacon makes everything better. 

I always have a difficult time posting soup recipes because I don't follow recipes for soup. I toss in some of this and some of that, taste, and sprinkle in some more. This recipe though I follow pretty closely. Sure, I could swap out the processed cheese soup for a roux with real cheddar cheese or chop up my own tomatoes, but really, this soup is perfect as it is. It's a family favorite and is even requested by the kids. Everyone loves a cheeseburger.   

Need more cheeseburger-flavored food in your life? Try our bacon cheeseburger pizza recipe, too.

Bacon Cheeseburger Soup
2 lbs ground beef
1 onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
4 cups chicken broth
1 (14.5 oz) can diced tomatoes, undrained
1 (10.75 oz) can cheddar cheese soup
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
1/4 cup chopped pickled
cheddar cheese, shredded
bacon, cooked and crumbled
French fried onions

1. In a large pot, cook ground beef, onion, and garlic until beef is no longer pink. Drain off grease.
2. Add chicken broth, tomatoes, cheddar cheese soup, and Worcestershire sauce to the meat mixture. Cook 10-15 minutes, or until heated through.
3. Mix in pickles. Serve immediately and garnish with cheese, bacon, and French fried onions.
Recipe adapted from Real Mom Kitchen
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Friday, January 29, 2016

Things That Make Me Smile 1/22/16

Jake (10), Alyssa (7½), Zac (6), Tyler (3½), Nicholas (1)

Happy Friday! We had major plumbing problems and spent this week with my parents. I'm writing a post about all the reasons to be thankful about the whole situation. Until then, we can Smile about some funny things that happened during this time.

1. Zac: "I want to tear a dollar in half to see if quarters fall out."

2. My Mom: "How come you're so cute?"
Tyler: "Because I'm smart."

3. Tyler, annoyed while driving: "Mama, come on, a car just passed us."

4. Nicholas eating chocolate chip muffins.

5. Alyssa: "Jake, you know that LEGO set you want? There's a 55% chance I'm going to get it and a 45% chance that I'm not."

6. Jake: "How many years are you in 7th grade?"

7. Jake: "Jokes don't make sense until you get them."

8. Tyler: "Mama, look! I made 27!"
Me: "Good job! You made nice 7s. Twenty-seven is actually 2 7 though."
Tyler: "That's what I did--two 7s!"

9. Tyler: "Mama, I know a good thing you do."
Me: "What's that?"
Tyler: "You're shorter and Daddy's bigger."

10. Tyler, while waiting in the van while Leighton went into a store: "Mommy, can you buckle out me so I can give you a kiss?"

11. Jake: "What do you call a pedestrian who went through a red light? . . . A Pe-dead-strian."

What made you Smile this week?

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Thursday, January 28, 2016

Maple Sugaring at Home

I have been wanting to experience maple sugaring for a while, but just haven't set up an appointment with a local park to take the kids. I was thrilled when Tap My Trees sent us a Starter Kit with Aluminum Buckets to review. Now we can do it ourselves! We are big do-it-yourself-ers and make the majority of our food from scratch, so making our own maple syrup is a perfect project for us. Plus, it's just plain fun!

The kit comes with all the following supplies:
  • 3 Alluminum Buckets: Each 2-gallon bucket is used to collect the sap as it drips. The sturdy aluminum and reinforced holes of the buckets give them stability as they hang from the trees.
  • 3 Metal Lids: The lids prevent rain, snow, and other material from entering the bucket. They attach with a metal rod that easily slides through a hole in the spile.
  • 3 Spiles: These stainless steel spiles (also called taps or spouts) are inserted into trees to transfer the sap into the buckets.
  • 3 Hooks: The hook is attached to a spile and used to hang the bucket.
  • Maple Sugaring at Home Book: This 44-page guide provides step-by-step instructions to tap trees. It includes information and pictures to identify maple trees, how to tap trees, the collection and storage of the sap, uses for maple sap, directions for making maple syrup, and frequently asked questions. There is even a spot in the back for taking notes.
  • 1 Drill Bit: A 7/16 drill bit with 3/8 shank is used to drill the tap hole that holds the spile in the tree.
  • Cheesecloth: This is used to filter any solids, tree bark, or any other unwanted materials when transferring the sap from the bucket into a storage container.     

Once you have all your equipment ready, it's time to find a tree to tap. Due to the sugar content, the best trees for tapping are in order as follows: sugar maple, black maple, red maple, silver maple. The booklet gives very detailed descriptions of each of the trees, including which region of the country they're located and how to identify them by the leaf, bark, twig/bud, and fruit. 

The best time to identify trees is in the summer or fall when the leaves are still on the trees. Since we didn't get our kit until wintertime, that makes it a bit more difficult to know. We do have a maple tree in our yard, and based on the information in the booklet and looking in various other places, I believe it may be a silver maple. The problem is that the tree is injured. It has become home to a family of squirrels for the past many years as the inside has hollowed, creating a safe home within. Even if we could tap some sap from it, I wouldn't feel comfortable with it. 

If you don't have access to any maple trees, you can also get sap from walnut and birch trees. Thankfully, my brother and his wife have 2 beautiful black walnut trees in their yard and have agreed to allow us to tap them. Yay! The diameter of the tree determines how many taps it can support. Based on the information in the book, we'll be able to use all 3 sets for tapping, since the trees are large and healthy. 

Maple sap generally begins to flow between February and March, when daytime temperatures rise above freezing and nighttime temps drop below (with low 40s and mid 20s being the ideal numbers). The rising temperature creates pressure in the tree and causes the sap to flow. We haven't hit that point yet here in Michigan, so no tapping has taken place, but we are very excited to try it soon.

I have never seen tapping done and have never participated myself, but I am confident that we'll have no issues with the process. Oh, no, I'm not saying that it's because we're just talented people. I can say that because Tap My Trees has given us everything we need to get it done. The materials are strong and well-made. The Maple Sugaring at Home book literally contains all the information for every step of each part of the process. I have learned so much from reading it. For example, I had no idea it takes about 10 gallons of sap to make 1 quart of maple syrup. Or that you need to boil the sap for a very long time, preferable outdoors because of the amount of steam it produces. I also learned that there are other uses for the sap like replacing water with it in cooking and drinking, using extra or spoiled sap in the garden to replenish nutrients, or freezing it to save for the birds in the spring.

I am thoroughly impressed with this starter tapping kit and would recommend it to anyone looking to try maple sugaring at home. I can't wait for the next part of the process in the coming weeks! 

You can connect with Tap My Trees on the following social media sites:

If you'd like to see how other homeschool families used this kit, please read the reviews on the Schoolhouse Review Crew blog.
Crew Disclaimer
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Friday, January 15, 2016

Things That Make Me Smile 1/15/16

Jake (10), Alyssa (7½), Zac (6), Tyler (3½), Nicholas (1)

Happy Friday! This week we went to a LEGO Master Builder competition, played in the snow, and started some new things for school.

1. Tyler, taking a bath: "I want more bubbles!"
Me: "Oh, I'm sorry, that was the last of it. We didn't have much in there."
Zac: "It looks like we're just going to have to do this the old-fashioned way. Ty, just swirl your hands in the water really fast and soon we'll have lots of bubbles!"

2. Tyler: "I saw that sound!"

3. Me, talking about strangers: "But that's probably not going to happen."
Alyssa: "Aw, I wanted to hit someone in the head with my purse."
Jake: That's what you have brothers for!"

4. Nicholas loves the vacuum. He chases it and tries kissing it the entire time it's running.

5. Jake: "What did the usher say to the guy who asked if he was the usher, 'Uh, sure.'"

6. Alyssa, eating cheese: "Colby jack is one of my personal favorites."

7. I was listening to Zac read his book, but looked away to answer a question for Tyler. I heard him read, "The cat crapped . . . " I thought, "What? We don't talk like that. Why is that in a children's book?" I looked over at the page. "Oh, that's an E, not an A. Crept. 'The cat crept.'" Gotta love early readers.

8. The kids wanted to take care of the snow before their daddy got home, so he wouldn't have to do it after working hard all day. They shoveled, cleared off the van, and put down salt.

9. Alyssa: "I like money, but it's not all I care about."

10. Tyler started this a couple weeks ago and does it multiple times every day over and over again.
Tyler: "I."
Me: "Love."
Tyler: "You."
Me: "I."
Tyler: "Love."
Me: "You."

11. Jake: "When you have tuberculosis, do you cough up blood?"
Me: "Yes, you can."
Jake: "That's what I thought. Ok, I made up a joke: A guy walks up to another guy and punches him and breaks his nose. His nose starts pouring blood. The other guy says, 'Hey, you have tu-broke-your-nosis.'"

What made you Smile this week?

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Thursday, January 14, 2016

Biscuits & Gravy

Biscuits & gravy is a family favorite. All 5 kids get excited as soon as they smell the sausage cooking. I'm reminded of a couple years ago when I said that I was making it for breakfast. Jake responded, "Oh, I love biscuits and gravy!!! Heaven just came down to earth.'" 

I always serve sausage gravy over my buttermilk biscuits. Thick, fluffy biscuits and rich, creamy gravy--it's a perfect union. Not only do they taste great together, they cook at the same rate too. I can have the meal on the table in about 20 minutes. I start by preparing my buttermilk (1 tablespoon white vinegar and enough milk to fill 1 cup) for the biscuits and then start browning the sausage for the gravy. Just as the biscuit edges' are turning brown, the gravy is nice and thick. It's like they were made for each other.

We love it for a big family breakfast on Saturday or for dinner on a weeknight. Even reheated leftovers are good! Biscuits & gravy is the perfect dish for any time.

Sausage Gravy
1 lb. sausage
1/4 cup flour
2 1/2 cups milk
salt & pepper to taste

Brown sausage over medium-high heat until cooked through. Mix in flour and cook for 1 minute. Slowly pour in milk, stirring to scrape bits of browned sausage off the bottom of the pan. Add salt and pepper to taste. Cook until mixtures comes to a full boil. Reduce heat to medium-low and cook until gravy thickens to desired consistency. Serve over biscuits

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Tuesday, January 12, 2016


It was not my proudest moment.

The kids were helping me decorate cupcakes for a party. I had planned ahead and baked the cakes early in the day so they had time to cool and get frosted in plenty of time so we weren't rushed when it was time to leave the house.

You know what they say about the best laid plans.

I was running late. Of course. I had started my buttercream frosting mixing for the required 15 minutes and pulled out my decorator. Ugh, I forgot the lever is broken. I grabbed a tip and began filling a disposable pastry bag with the creamy frosting. The flimsy plastic bags aren't nearly as easy to fill as the metal tube, especially in a rush. I scooped out a glob of frosting and plopped it in. The sides of the bag stuck together. I pulled them apart and the process repeated. Ok, new tactic. I folded the top of the bag down and used my hand to scrape off the frosting through the plastic. Scoop, scrape, scoop, scrape. The bag was eventually full enough to begin. I squeezed swirls around the cupcake until the top was covered in orange. Or until I thought the top was covered anyway. My rushed technique would have made any professional cringe. Chocolate brown peeked through gaps. Cupcake #2 looked no better. I didn't even like the design. I unscrewed the end, removed the tip, and replaced it with a star tip. Better.

At this point, I was cranky. I was quickly losing time, the cupcakes looked sloppy, I hadn't even started getting myself ready . . . and there was constant talking from my little ones. Which one are you going to use? Can I decorate one? I'll put on the sprinkles! But Mom said I could do the sprinkles! Can I eat one now? I want to try! Hey, you're standing in my way! Look at me! Can I try now? It's my turn for the sprinkles. Mom, do you think we can eat one before we go? Mom. Mom? Mom? 

My tension was rising. I was frustrated with my less-than-perfect cakes and, in turn, became bothered by the dialogue between my kids. I know they like to help. I know they're always with me. But I just need 2 minutes of quiet! Please?

All the while, I was swirling sweet buttercream on each cake, becoming crankier with every finished treat. And all the while, my kids kept up their upbeat chatter while complimenting everything I did.  These are perfect! and You should go on Cupcake Wars! and You make the best cupcakes! They didn't see my imperfections. They were looking at my work through eyes of love. Even more amazing was the fact that they didn't see my bad attitude either. I felt guilty at hearing their praise, but was too rushed and too upset with myself to change my mood.

And then it happened.

I had given them the container I was taking the cupcakes in. As they were placing them inside, one cupcake fell upside down and landed on another, smearing the frosting on both into a messy glob.

She pushed me! No, he bumped into me! It was her fault! It was his fault! 

I yelled.

I was already out of time. I was already upset with the decorating. I was already cranky. And now I had to redo cupcakes? I snapped at them and sent them away.

My little ones walked out of the kitchen dejected. 

Did I really just lose my temper over a cupcake?


I finished placing the trivial desserts in the box with tears in my eyes. Oh, Lord, forgive me. Here I was more concerned with insignificant things than I was the hearts of my children. I crushed their spirits with my harsh words. That's something no mother wants to do, let alone admit it.

I walked into my daughter's room. She looked up at me wounded, like she was afraid I was going to yell again. I could see the pain in her eyes. I apologized. I explained that she did nothing wrong. I asked for her forgiveness. I gave her a hug.

I walked into my son's room and the situation repeated itself.

Both children were quick to forgive and the relationships were restored. They immediately began talking to me like it never happened. Their positive attitudes returned; their excitement was seen on their faces.

I try daily to do the best for my kids, to be the mother they need, to be the example they deserve. But I fail. Here are 3 ways in which I could have been prepared to handle this day better:

Proper Planning
I should have planned my day differently and ensured that the cupcakes were completed long before it was time to leave. I wouldn't have felt the pressure of the time restraint. I would have been less stressed and wouldn't have gotten upset about silly things.

Proper Priorities
Raising the children God has given me is my top priority. Yes, I made a commitment to bring a dessert to their party, but it was not a priority that they visually meet my expectations, at least not at the expense of my kids. Besides, the kids always tell me, "It doesn't matter how it looks. It only matters what it tastes like." Wise little ones, they are. 

Proper Perspective
I am a big advocate for allowing children to help in the kitchen. I believe there are many benefits of teaching them culinary skills. I have my littles helping me from the beginning--starting with a baby in the bouncer watching and listening to my explanations, to a toddler sitting on the counter dumping ingredients, to an older child preparing meals on his own. And I know what it's like to have multiple children helping, too. The noise, the chaos, the lack of space. Accidents happen. I use those moments for teaching experiences, but I forgot that that day. Truthfully, had I not been stressed, I probably would have thanked them for giving me the chance to redo the frosting to make it prettier. Perspective is so important.

No one is perfect. And even the most-prepared person is going to make mistakes. That's where forgiveness comes in. I want my children to understand the importance of it--both the asking and showing of it. I want them to admit their mistakes, to accept that they made poor choices, and act accordingly. Pity the person who never believes he needs to ask forgiveness of others. On the flip side, I also want them to be willing to show forgiveness to those who have wronged them, hurt them, and mistreated them. Refusing to forgive breeds bitterness within. May they always be willing to forgive and move on. 

I'm not sure if they remember this incidence, but even though it happened months ago, I recall it with clarity. I can hear the conversations. I can see the pain in their eyes. I remember my frustrations. I cringe at my attitude. But I also learned from my mistakes. I try to keep my planning, priorities, and perspective in place. And when I fail, I want my little ones to know that their mother is willing to admit she was wrong. This lesson on asking and showing forgiveness is worth learning, for all of us.

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