Sunday, November 29, 2015

When It Comes to Travel Deals. . .

I am your person to contact!

I have enjoyed traveling for many years as well as helping my friends find deals and plan their vacations. I figured I might as well turn my hobby into something more so I recently became an Independent Travel Consultant!! (<--- that's my bio that you can read more about).

I know often times people wonder how we travel like we do as a family but it's something that we make a priority. If you asked my children if they would prefer gifts for their birthdays or Christmas, they would tell you that they would rather us save up and take a family trip somewhere instead of receiving gifts. Making memories is important to our family as they are what we treasure and remember forever!

It's my hope to share with you my love of traveling by helping other families book memorable vacations as well! So please don't hesitate to contact me if you have any questions or are looking for help in booking your next vacation!

Pre-Cruise Report

So before I start sharing our daily cruise journal from our past trip, I thought I'd sort of give a background as to how this trip came about.

We certainly weren’t planning to go on a cruise this year. But I always keep my eyes out for deals, I can’t help it. Back in August, I happen to see a great price for another repositioning cruise like we were on last year. While I sat on the fence about it, Kevin booked flights home forcing me to book the cruise! LOL (but seriously, repo cruises are SUCH a bargain and often cheaper than regular cruises so we would’ve been crazy to have given this up).

 Once I had booked it, I jumped online to the roll call for our cruise and discovered quite a few people that we have sailed with before were going to be on this cruise. In fact, 2 girls that my kids befriended on last years cruise, and whom they kept in touch with since, also said they would be on this cruise. My kids were really excited about that!

Local friends of ours had always said whenever we decide to cruise again, to let them know. Long story short, they also booked this cruise with us! It is SO much fun to sail with friends!

 Fast forward to a week and a half before we were due to sail, I went online to take care of checking in and printing the needed documents. After I was about done, I happen to notice our cabin numbers were different. We always book interior connecting rooms because they are the most inexpensive which allows us to do this more often. Yes, the rooms are the size of walk in closets, but we make it work no problem.

I went to the ships deck plan to see where these new cabin numbers were at and was surprised to see we had gotten moved. I never researched other cabins since we always went with an interior cabin so I wasn’t sure what this meant. After looking it up online and finding pictures of this specific cabin, I was SHOCKED to discover that we were upgraded (free) to connecting BALCONY rooms!!! And larger than usual balcony rooms as they were the first 2 rooms on that level which meant we also had a side view allowing us to see the front of the ship!

I was ready to shout at the top of my lungs about this amazing blessing but decided I should keep it quiet from Kevin & the kids and wait till we went to our rooms for them to discover the secret. It was SO hard to keep this quiet for the next week and a half as I wanted so bad to share it with them. But I knew by waiting, it would just make the surprise all the more special!

This trip was 13 days long, leaving from our usual port we sail from in NJ and ending in Galveston, TX. The itinerary included 5 ports:

-San Juan, Puerto Rico
-St, Thomas
-St. Maarten
-Grand Cayman (this one was new for us)

Plus we had a lot of sea days mixed in. This was our first time on this ship, Liberty of the Seas. Stay tuned for Day 1!

Monday, November 23, 2015

Kohl's Black Friday Sales-FREE appliances!

Kohl's Black Friday sales are already live. One of my favorite sales they offer is on some inexpensive appliances. We have a camper so these deals made it handy to stock it with a griddle & crockpot last year. I also bought a second griddle for everyday use as we need 2 for our large family when making pancakes.

Kohl's Black Friday deals

First off, go  make an account at Ebates  if you don't have one. When you go to do online shopping, first go to this website as it allows you to earn cash back on your purchases. It's legit and they mail you a check! What an easy way to save a little bit of money.

Secondly, go to this page on Kohl's website that shows the 5 appliances on sale. Choose 3 to purchase.

Your total will be $59.97.

Use the code TURKEYTIME to drop the price to $50.97 which is what you will pay at checkout.

You will then go to this rebate page, print it out and wait until your appliances arrive so you can get the bar code. Mail it in and they will send you a $36 rebate, bringing your total down to $14.97 total for all 3.

Right now, Kohl's offers $15 in Kohl's case for every $50 that you spend so you will also receive that to spend on something else at Kohl's.

Do the math and you'll see you get all 3 appliances FREE after the rebates and Kohl's cash! Not a bad way to get some free appliances either to have as a spare at home, your camper, to give as a gift, etc! And don't forget the cash back you'll earn from Ebates!!

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Cauliflower Pizza Crust

Say WHAT?!?! Oh yes I just went there, a totally gluten free pizza that rocks!! Since cauliflower is in season right now and super cheap at the local farm stands, I've been finding myself experimenting with it lately. Cauliflower is becoming more versatile like zucchini.

Cauliflower Pizza Crust

Remember the Buffalo "Wings" I shared here before? Yup, we've made them many times since then. Mmmm sooo good!

In fact, I have a few more cauliflower recipes I want to experiment with before it's done for the season. But for now, here is my latest creation. I actually froze a piece of the "crust" before topping it with the pizza toppings to pull out for another time. Granted, it takes a little bit of time to make this but if you are looking to eat healthy or have to be gluten free, it's worth the effort.

Think outside the box for toppings, how about a ranch sauce with some chicken & bacon? Or a bbq chicken pizza? What about tossing on some taco meat & toppings (pepper jack cheese & jalapenos anyone?!) Oh the possibilities!!

gluten free, cauliflower, recipe

Let me just  say, my kids scarfed this down the second it was out of the oven. I had to work quickly to snap photos before they scarfed it all up!

1 16oz bag of frozen cauliflower (or the equivalent of fresh, I just eyeballed the fresh, using a good portion of a whole head)
3/4 cup of egg whites (I used an off brand of carton egg whites found in the dairy aisle) OR 1/4 c egg white and 1 whole egg.
1 cup grated mozzarella (could also toss in some grated parm) Again, all this is just estimates. You can't mess this up.
1 tsp sea salt
oregano or other Italian seasonings to flavor

You could do this part several ways. Either cook in the microwave your frozen cauliflower or if using fresh, chunk it up and pulse it in a food processor until it's "riced or snow cone looking". Microwave it about 4 minutes. Then put it into a clean tea towel and squeeze the excess moisture out. You'll be surprised how much you get out.

This is what the cauliflower looks like after getting out the moisture.

Add the egg whites, grated cheese, salt & any other seasonings you want and mix together.

Place a sheet of parchment paper on a cookie sheet. Using the paper is important so it doesn't stick. Spray the sheet to make sure it won't stick. Using a spatula (or your fingers), spread crust super thin. It should almost reach the sides of a 9x15 pan. Try to make sure it's even so one area doesn't brown faster.

Bake at 450 for 15-20 or until the top is browning. Remove from oven & lifting the parchment paper, flip the crust to allow browning on the other side (remove paper before putting back into oven). When it reaches your desired browned color, remove from oven, let it cool a little then add your topping on top. Place back into oven to let the cheese melt. Cut into smaller squares which make it easier to handle.

Now wow your family when they take a bit thinking they are eating a thin crust pizza and tell them it's cauliflower!!!! This recipe is perfect for those who are gluten free, eat low carb or follow a THM lifestyle!

Thursday, November 19, 2015

They Keep on Growing Up!

Recently I shared how my firstborn just turned 16 yrs old! Since we left shortly after their birthdays for vacation, we weren't able to get their permits.

Well today, we took the plunge!

After spending over an hour simply waiting, they were each called back to take their test. I would've taken photos but I knew they'd have a cow! Ha!

But they both emerged with flying colors and passed the test on their first try.

It's official, we have 2 new drivers!!!

I am a mix of emotions. First off, I can't even believe I have children old enough to drive! It seems like yesterday I was in their shoes. Secondly, I am both excited and scared to death of this newest adventure! I can't wait for them to fully be driving on their own as I know it will open up a world of opportunity and help. BUT at the same time I am nervous. We've had them driving in parking lots for awhile now so I trust their ability. It's all the other crazy drivers out there that make me leary. I know I will be storming the gates of Heaven with prayers of safety for them as they drive! But I know this is the next step in life for them as they seek independence and the path in life God has for them.

Love you girls!!!

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Fall 2015

Ok, I KNOW I am behind in sharing this upcoming photo. BUT ya'll gotta cut me some slack. We just returned from a 2 week vacation that had us unplugged and out of the country (more on that in up-coming posts, woohoo!) So this left the end of October very busy for us. Between celebrating our twins 16th birthday and getting ready for a major vacation, life has been a bit crazy.

All that to say, while we don't celebrate Halloween, we DO enjoy carving pumpkins for fun and roasting the seeds.

Here is a photo of the pumpkin I personally carved this year. Let me preface this by saying YES I carved it myself and YES I did it free-handed with out any template or stencil. I really do have a love and talent for art but rarely have time to put it to use. Here is a brief glimpse of my talent and *ahem*, upcoming future. . . ;)

Obviously this is the photo of the pumpkin while lit up. Just so you can see what it looks like under normal light when I carved it, here's that photo:

Every life is a miracle!

Soooo, whatcha think?!?!  :)

Monday, November 9, 2015

Fun-Time Phonics!

Back when I started homeschooling, I didn't have as many choices for curriculum in aiding me to teach my children to read as I do today. Not knowing where to start left me floundering for a bit. My favorite types of curriculum to use in the younger years are those where the directions are simply laid out for me to instruct my children and all the prep work is done. So I was excited to recently review Fun-Time Phonics! from The Critical Thinking Co.

The Critical Thinking Company produces award winning curriculum for preschoolers all the way to 12th grade in a variety of subjects. Their goal is not to teach just repetition or memorization but rather teach the student to analyze what they are learning and to help hone their critical thinking skills, making children better problem-solvers.

Fun-Time Phonics! is a systematic phonics program geared towards preschoolers through 2nd grade. Using listening, speaking, reading and thinking activities, students are introduced to the concept that spoken words are made up of individual sounds. The idea behind this program is not to teach reading "rules" but to help the child understand how individual letter sounds form words so they can then learn how to see that reading is a pattern based activity.

This book is a 314 page paperback book that contains 100 colorful activities designed to teach phonetic and alphabetic skills that lay a strong foundation to reading. They use a "spiraled" approach to teaching meaning that each lesson builds off the previous one so it's important that the child understands and masters the lesson they are on before moving on to the next activity.

Not only does the student learn to start decoding sounds and words but because pictures of the words are also included in the activities, they start to build up their vocabulary. So they learn to hear, see and say the word which helps solidify the lesson.

The curriculum is self paced and each activity has directions for the parent on how to guide the lesson. The beginning of the book goes over learning beginning and ending sounds by having the parent show the child words and asking them to point to the photos that start with that letter sound. They emphasize that whenever you see a letter between 2 slashes like this /t/, you are to say the sound and not the letter.

The activities then move on to having the child listen to words and pick out those that rhyme with other words. This is to help them learn and recognize that vowel sounds are separate from beginning and ending sounds. Sometimes in doing these lessons, you have to over-emphasize the sounds for the child to hear them better. After the rhyming activities, they move on to echoing vowel sounds activities.

Once these foundation building activities are completed, the lessons move on into working with the individual vowel sounds with many different activities. From there, the activities then move on to having the child actually point to and pick out the letter (from a choice of 3) as you say the word. Finally, the activities move on to combining a consonant sound with a vowel sound, taking each consonant in alphabetical order and pairing it up with all the vowel sounds before moving onto the next consonant.

By the end of the book, the activities have the student filling in a missing letter to the word. By this point, the student should then be able to read the list of almost 200 3-letter words that are in the back of, simply because they learned how to decode sounds and letters.

I used this curriculum with my 4yr old daughter who has been writing her name since age 3 and has been working on her letters and some sounds already. Depending on the length of the activity, we usually just did 1 a day, sometimes a second one if it was short. But we then went over it a few times as she enjoyed picking out the pictures and saying the sounds with me. The book suggested to use paper to block out all the other words on the page except the one you wanted them to focus on which was a big help to keep her from getting distracted. Sometimes she chose to read the letters of the words after we practiced the sound. Once I felt that she had that lesson down, we would then move on.

Once we get further on in the book, I'm sure she will practice writing the words out as well. As of now, she writes about half her alphabet.

I can see how this skills building curriculum can really help break down learning to read into easy steps. I appreciated that this program was simple but yet colorful and still kept my daughters attention. It is one we plan to continue with and I look forward to seeing her reading all those words at the end of the book!

Connect with The Critical Thinking Co:

The Critical Thinking Company Review
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Saturday, November 7, 2015

Pumpkin Pancakes

Ahhh yes that time of year.....apples, pumpkin in many forms (coffee & cappuccino anyone?) as well cool, fall nights. We've been itching to make some goodies using pumpkin and one of our latest creations was pumpkin spice pancakes. These were a hit with everyone. The pumpkin isn't strong tasting for those who don't like an overwhelming taste of it. The hint of spices rounded out this yummy breakfast and it couldn't be complete without the dollop of whipped cream on top!

pumpkin spice pancakes

Pumpkin Spice Pancakes

1¼ cups all-purpose flour (or gluten-free flour blend)
2 tbsp. brown sugar
2 tsp. baking powder
¼ tsp. salt
¾ tsp. ground cinnamon
¼ tsp. ground nutmeg
Dash of ground ginger
Dash of ground cloves
1 cup milk
½ cup pumpkin puree
1 large egg
2 tbsp. vegetable oil or melted butter

In a medium mixing bowl, combine the flour, brown sugar, baking powder, salt and spices and stir with a fork to combine.  Mix together the milk, pumpkin puree, egg and oil or butter in a liquid measuring cup.  Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and whisk together just until combine.  (The batter may still have a few lumps – that is okay.)

 Heat a greased skillet or griddle over medium heat.  Once the skillet is hot, add a 1/3 cup scoop of batter to the pan.  Let cool until bubbles begin to form on the top surface.  Carefully flip with a spatula and cook the second side until golden brown, a couple minutes more.   Repeat with the rest of the batter until it has all been cooked, regreasing the pan as needed.  Serve with cinnamon sugar, maple syrup, and/or whipped cream.

*note, I doubled this recipe with my family which gave me a few left overs. These also freeze well.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Phonetic Zoo Level B

Spelling is one of those subjects that can often get overlooked in homeschooling. Sure, our children pick up and learn words through writing projects but there are times they need to learn certain "rules" to spelling. One program that not only teaches spelling by phonetics and sequential repetition but also teaches spelling rules is Phonetic Zoo, by Institute for Excellence in Writing (IEW). The specific level we reviewed was Phonetic Zoo Spelling Level B (Starter Set).

Phonetic Zoo uses a multi-sensory approach to teaching spelling. The student listens to words being read while writing the words down at the same time and also has lesson cards that list the words they can study.

This spelling course comes with several different products:
  • Phonetic Zoo Lesson Cards- These cards have pictures of animals on the front whose name corresponds to the sound that that lesson is teaching as well as 3 words from each level for that lesson. On the back, the card has the jingle or rule that pertains to that lesson as well as the full spelling list of 15 words for each lesson. The cards are printed on heavy stock card and has a hole punch in the corner if you want to keep them connected together.

  • Spelling Zoo Cards- These cards are a small set of cards (think playing card size) that have the same animals on the front as the Lesson Cards with the "sound" that that lesson is teaching listed at the top. The back of the card lists the jingle or rule that helps teach the sound & spelling for the words being taught in that lesson.

  • 5 audio CD's- These CD's contain the spelling list that are read by the instructor. The teacher also spells out the words for the student to correct their words. You also have the ability to download the MP3 of the lessons if you didn't want to use the CD's (such as putting it on an iPod).

  • Downloaded teacher's note- This comes in a PDF file and explains just how to use the program as well as lesson plans for each lesson.
  • "Spelling and the Brain" video seminar- This seminar explains the how & why their program works as well as the importance to using headphones when listening to the spelling words.

This program contains 47 lessons as well as a final test. The way the teachers manual has this laid out is that the student and teacher sit down before each lesson to go over that lessons rules or jingle and to look at the words for the lesson. Using a sheet of notebook paper, your child writes the numbers 1-15 on every other line. Then they put on headphones (highly recommend by IEW to use) and listens to the spelling words that are read by itself as well as in a sentence. Once all the words are read, the instructor on the CD goes back and spells out each word for the student to see if they got the words correct and to rewrite the words that were misspelled. Another key point that is stated in the teachers manual, the student is to use pen to write their words. Any corrections done are to be done next to the misspelled word.

All in all, this doesn't take long at all for a student to complete. The next day, they repeat the same lesson. Once the student scores 100% twice in a row, they can then move on to the next lesson. This program is self paced so there is no rush to push through each lesson.

There is also a personal spelling list for every 5th lesson. This is where the student can write down words they misspelled in the previous 5 lessons to practice.

Because my 10th grader wanted to use this program to brush up on her spelling, she used this completely independent of me. She uses a spiral bound notebook to write her lessons in. Usually the first time she did a lesson, she listened to the CD. When she repeated the lessons, she had me read the words out loud to her then she looked at the spelling list to correct it herself. It really only took her less than 10 minutes a day to complete. We both liked that this was self-paced and that she could make slight changes to it (such as having me read the words) to suit her style.

There are 3 levels to Phonetic Zoo and they offer a Placement Test online to know which level your child would need. Another note about this program is that you can use it with multiple children!

Connect with Excellence in Writing on:

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Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Chili Soup

It's that time of year when the weather starts getting cold and a warm, comforting soup just hits the spot! The other week, my kids asked if I could make some chili soup. I've made chili before which they love, but never in soup form. So I was tickled to have a reason to try out a new recipe! And let me tell ya, it was a hit! This was also a simple recipe to throw together and even better, it freezes well. You can make adjustments to suit your taste. I made ours with a little bit of spice to it as the kids like spicy food. I also topped my bowl with mozzarella cheese, diced red onion and cilantro (I ♥ that stuff!)

Chili Soup

1 pound ground beef
2 onions, cut in chunks
1 green pepper, cut into bite-size squares
1 red pepper, cut into bite-size squares (or it can all be whatever color peppers you want)
hot chili peppers, chopped, to taste
4 garlic cloves, chopped
1 large 29-ounce can tomatoes, cut up (reserving juice)
2 Tablespoons red wine vinegar
6 cups beef stock
4 Tablespoons tomato paste (if you don't have this on hand, it'll still be fine)
2 15½-ounce cans black beans, drained and rinsed (thus reducing the explosive side effects, also kidney beans work well too)
2 Tablespoons chili powder
1 teaspoon cumin
Salt and pepper
Garnishes of your choosing (cheese, cilantro, etc)

Brown the beef in a large saucepan until oil forms in the pan. Toss in the onions, garlic, and all the peppers and sauté until soft. (if you have a lot of grease, feel free to drain it now). Stir in the chopped tomatoes (reserving juice) and let them cook down over medium heat for about 10 minutes. Stir in the vinegar, and let it cook down. Pour in the reserved tomato juice, the beef stock, and the tomato paste. Bring to a boil. Add the beans and let boil for several minutes. Reduce the heat, stir in the chili powder and cumin, partially cover, and let simmer for 30 minutes.

When ready to serve, ladle into bowls and garnish with grated cheese and chopped cilantro. Pass a bowl of tortilla chips while you're at it. =)

"It's the ones who listen that understand the most,
even if they know the least."

Friday, October 23, 2015

Koru Naturals

Earlier this year, I shared with you all about some products I tried out from Koru Naturals that I absolutely loved. Recently, I was given a chance to try out and review some more of their naturals products. I received Skin Clear CreamManuka Honey Propolis Soap, and Argan Oil and Sandalwood Hair Tonic.

Koru Naturals is a New Zealand based company that provides a variety of hair care, skin care and general health items that are all derived from naturals products. Manuka honey for example were in 2 of the products I tried out.

The Skin Clear Creme is geared towards those who are acne prone though it works as a great moisturizer even if you aren't. Some of the natural products in this creme are manuka honey, burdock root, thyme, kawakawa and harakeke (traditional Maori remedies for skin conditions). It is recommended that this product be used by kids 12 and older and that pregnant women abstain from using it due to one of the essential oils it contains.

The creme comes in a small container and when you open it, you'll find a lid on it with a small paddle which is used to scoop the creme out so you aren't having to put your fingers directly into the creme (and not introducing bacteria into it). It's suggested use is twice a day and a little of this creme goes a long way. My teen daughters were the ones who begged to use this creme for the review. They said they liked the feel of the creme and that it was fast absorbing and not greasy. Overall, they think it helped clear up some of the acne they were dealing with and plan to continue using it.

The Honey & Propolis soap has been one of my favorite products to try out. Even while still in the package, you can smell the sweet honey smell from the soap. Both honey & propolis are known to be skin moisturizers. Honey also has anti-bacterial affects and what better way to protect your skin than using a natural soap!

When taking the soap out of the package, you can see the 2 toned colors and that it is a large bar. 

Not only do I enjoy the pleasant honey smell of this soap but I loved how it made my skin feel. My skin felt soft and silky after using it. I also used it as a face soap. It lathers up quite easily and this bar hasn't even looked like it has been used much even though I've used it almost everyday for the length of this review. So I have no doubt this bar will last a long time!

The Argan Oil and Sandalwood Hair Tonic is made up of a blend of essential oils to moisturizer and tame frizzy hair. It comes in a pump bottle making it easy to apply. The recommended amount to use is 2-3 drops for your hair (which means this bottle will last for a long time). I really enjoy the scent of the tonic as I love the smell of sandalwood essential oil. 

My daughters and I all used this during the review and found it really works well to get rid of the frizzy hair. We used it on both wet & dry hair with the same results. Typically if we let our hair air dry, it would end up frizzy but if we applied a little bit of this tonic to damp hair, it dried without the frizz. Or if our hair was already dry, a few drops of this hair tonic made the frizzy's disappear! We simply put a few drops of the tonic into our palm, rubbed our hands together then ran our hands through our hair.

If you like using natural products for your skin & hair, check out all the different things Koru Naturals has to offer!

Connect with them on:

Koru Naturals Review

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