Today my homeschool co-op cooking class made a classic comfort-food dish of chickenetti! This a very versatile recipe in that you can season it to your taste, add veggies if you like AND it freezes great so this is the perfect dish to make a double batch of and freeze some for an easy future meal. This is also a great meal to make using leftover turkey from Thanksgiving or from a cooked chicken. I actually brought in a bunch of seasonings from my cabinet and told my class to add what they want to their dishes (just a heads up moms in case you questioned what your meals tasted like! I offered, thyme, seasoned salt, onion & garlic powder, and salt & pepper).

For a 9x13 pan (my class made 8x8 dishes so just half this if you want):

8 oz of cooked spaghetti (or whatever pasta you prefer)
1 can crm mushroom soup
1 can crm chicken soup
1 cup chicken/turkey broth (or bouillon equivalent)
3 cup diced cooked chicken/turkey
1/4 tsp pepper
1 small onion diced
8oz shredded cheese

Combine all ingredients except cheese. Put into a  9x13 pan. Sprinkle cheese over top. Cover with foil and bake for 20-30 min at 350 until bubbly.

American Dream Builders and Lowes $50 Gift Card Giveaway!!

The kids and I enjoy watching any type of home remodel shows. We love seeing the ideas that get created and wonder why we didn't think of that! So we were excited when we saw the new show American Dream Builders on NBC airing on Sunday evenings! It's hosted by Nate Berkus which you probably have seen on tv before. This show is a mix of remodeling meets competition where they take the nations top 12 home designers to compete to become the nation's ultimate dream builder!

During the show, which is on Sundays at 8/7c on NBC, you can live tweet with the shows judges and contestants . Use #DreamBuilders to connect with them.

How would YOU like to win a $50 gift card to Lowes to start your own home remodel???

On behalf of NBCUniversal, I am giving away a $50 gift card to Lowes to one of YOU! I want to hear what you would remodel if you win the gift card! Follow the Rafflecoptor to answer as well as earn additional entries. Contest ends at 11:59pm April 1st. I can't wait to read your ideas!!

Please note: Each household is only eligible to win One (1) $50 Lowe's Gift Card via blog reviews and giveaways. Only one entrant per mailing address per giveaway. If you have won the same prize on another blog, you will not be eligible to win it again. Winner is subject to eligibility verification

You can also connect with the show via Facebook & Twitter to have the chance to win other prizes!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

I was provided this gift card at no cost to me in exchange for a blog post promoting American Dream Builders on behalf of NBCUniversal Studios. No other exchange was given. All opinions are my own. I am providing this to comply with the FTC.

Taco Salad

Today my homeschool cooking class made one of our favorite, easy recipes! It's honestly one we love during the summer as this is eaten "cold" and can use fresh lettuce & tomatoes from my garden. It stretches far since it's served with tortilla chips and is a very versatile recipe in that you can add whatever toppings you would like to it.

What is this recipe you ask???

Taco Salad!!!!

Taco Salad, Gluten Free Recipe

As with a lot of my meals, I had to try and attempt to come up with a recipe as I typically just toss things together. I am SO not one to follow recipes as I like cooking on the fly! lol So with that in mind, I came up with a more precise recipe but please know you can adjust this to taste and add what you like! Because my class makes 8x8 dishes, that is what this recipe is for though when I make it, I make a 9x13 pan so just double the following ingredients if you want a 9x13 dish.

1lb ground meat
1 onion diced
about 8oz cream cheese, softened
about 8oz sour cream (or you could sub some of this for plain greek yogurt)
taco seasoning (homemade recipe listed below)
chopped lettuce
diced tomato
shredded cheese

Brown the ground meat with the onion. When cooked through, remove from heat and add 1 1/2-2 Tbsp homemade taco seasoning (to taste). Set aside. In a bowl, blend softened cream cheese, sour cream & 3 Tbsp homemade taco seasoning. In an 8x8 dish, spread cream cheese mix evenly on the bottom. On top of that, evenly spread the cooked ground, seasoned meat. Next spread chopped lettuce. After lettuce, add diced tomato then finish on top with shredded cheese. Feel free to add banana peppers, jalapenos, peppers, black olives, etc. Chill until ready to eat. Serve with tortilla chips and use these to scoop up the taco salad!
Taco Salad, Recipe, Gluten Free

Homemade taco seasoning:

  • 1/4 tsp garlic powder
  • 1/4 tsp onion powder
  • 1/2 tsp paprika
  • 1 1/2 tsp cumin
  • 1/4 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1/4 tsp oregano
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp pepper

Mix all together in a bowl. I typically triple this recipe to make sure I have plenty on hand as it stores well!

Minion Pinewood Derby Car

My son participates every year in our churches boy's club Pinewood Derby Race. This year was no different. He decided ahead of time that he wanted to make a minion for his car. My brother has always helped him shape his car then I usually help him with design in painting and putting his wheels on. He was pretty tickled how his car came out this year and enjoyed having one of his co-op friends come along to watch the race!

He got to pick his number. Notice what he chose?? #13 in honor of his precious brother Noah's birthday as he was born on the 13th!!! His special way of including Noah!!

Erik's car just ready to cross the finish line!

Mango Languages

I have been on the look out for a foreign language curriculum since next year I will need to start counting credits for my high schoolers and I want them to get their 2 years of language started. We were excited to recently have a chance to review Mango Homeschool Edition from Mango Languages

Mango Languages offers online language learning for many foreign languages. They recently came up with a homeschool edition that offers over 60 foreign languages with more being added. Some of you may have even heard of Mango Languages before as many public libraries offer it in a limited edition. 

How it works:
When you log in to your dashboard, you will see you have many things you can do from customizing your account settings (such as picking your time zone), adding things to your profile, etc. There are also tutorial videos on how to setup your account & profile as well as videos for selecting and exploring a language. They take the guess work out of this program & make it easy to figure out and use.

Then the next step is what the kids and I were all anxious for, clicking on "Find a Mango Course Now!" We were taken to a page with over 60 languages to choose from such as Mandarin, Hebrew, Icelandic, Thai, even Pirate, just to name a few!

The next step was trying to figure out what language to explore for each of us. I had had several years of Spanish in high school then lived in Peru for half a year, so I wanted to try a new language. I decided to choose Canadian French. 3 of my children chose Spanish as they had started learning it before, they also dabbled in Canadian French and Pirate.

Once you click on a language, the info on that page tells you what types of conversational language is covered in that course. The way they teach the languages is to teach you conversational phrases you might use if you visited that country which is a far different albeit better way than when I learned in high school. You have the option to try a demo of that language without fully jumping into the course. If you decide to take that language course, you click on "join this space".

Once you choose a language to join, you'll see you have special features to access in that language such as discussions/forums, a member list of who is taking that course, chat, etc. From this page is where you click on a button to start your lessons. You have the ability to see the course menu and start wherever you wanted (say if you had taken this language before & wanted to brush up on specific things) or just start at the beginning.

At the beginning of each lesson you are given an overview of what the goals you would accomplish during that lesson. See the green arrows on the side? You control how fast you go through each lesson and have the chance to replay each "flashcard" as needed.

Each lesson shares a bit of a conversation in that language you might possibly have while in that country then it proceeds to break down the conversation into small bites to learn.

We appreciated how the words were colored coded so you could figure out which foreign word went with the english word! If you look close, there is a little symbol next to the french phrase above. You could click that to have the phrase said over again. They broke this phrase down in even smaller pieces to learn and you repeated it many times during the lesson.

Another feature of this program is the ability to say the word or phrase into a microphone when indicated and you could match it up to the teachers voice to see if your enunciation & inflection matched! This was a great teaching tool!

Throughout the flashcards in a lesson, cultural notes also popped up sharing information in how you would use a certain phrase such as the formality or the gender of the phrase/words. Another nice feature of this program is if you have to end in the middle of a lesson or your toddler presses the power button on your computer (ahem), Mango Homeschool Edition is always automatically saving your spot in your lesson so you can easily resume where you left off instead of paging through a lesson to find your spot.

How we used it:
We each did lessons 4-5 times a week. Each lesson varies in length but I'd say we got through them in 20 minutes give or take. Some of my children wrote down the foreign phrases or words in a notebook so they could practice them when away from the computer. After a lesson, we all saw how much we were picking up due to how we frequently repeated the phrases which got ingrained in our heads. We also tried out some demos of some other languages just to check them out as you have the ability to learn more than one language at a time (no limit to how many you can use!). 

This online curriculum offers so much more than just your regular foreign languages lessons. It's honestly hard to touch on just every detail! Currently available on their website is:

-Progress Assessments

-Built-in journals, discussions and wikis
-Collaborative learning spaces
-eNote messaging
/chat rooms

-Access to embedded/downloadable content

-Support from other community members

-Calendars to schedule meetings or study groups

They also have planned in the future to add:
-Enhanced Tracking and Progress Monitoring - including seat time (for students and parents)
-Goals and Personal Lesson Plans (both stand-alone and tied into Mango courses)

-Resume and Portfolio Builder

Are you looking for a great foreign language program for your family? You can try out Mango Languages for free! The recommended ages for this is 6 to adult. My 2 year old did pick up a few phrases that we said just from us being vocal about it.

Their introductory pricing is as follows:

1 subscription is $18/month or $125/year total  
2 subscriptions is $28/month or $175 /year total                      
3 subscriptions is $38/month or $225/year total                     
4 subscriptions is $48/month or $275/year total                 
5 subscriptions is $58/month or $325/year total

Anything over 6 subscriptions is a special group rate that will depend on the number in the group. 

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Trisomy 13 Awareness Day

While the entire month of March is Trisomy Awareness month (as there are 3 kinds, 13, 18 & 21), today is Trisomy 13 Awareness day. 3/13 reminds us how our T13 babies have 3 of the 13th chromosome. My post last year about this special day!

click on photo to enlarge

While I think of my dear Noah every day, I especially remember him and many other precious babies like him today! I will continue to share his story, our journey and all he has taught me. I strive to educate others & break the silence surrounding infant death. Noah's life has a purpose and while he may not be here physically, his legacy continues on with every breath I breathe and will do so until the day I join him!

Don't forget to check out the stories of 13 sweet T13 babies, including my Noah, at Still Playing School. Thank you to those who continue to speak our babies name & remember them!!!

Egglo Entertainment

It's hard to believe Easter is around the corner! We are always looking for new ways to remember & celebrate Easter so we were excited to receive Glow in the Dark Egglo Eggs and Egg-cellent Easter Adventure Book from Egglo Entertainment to review with our children.

If you can't tell by just the description, one of the products we received were glow in the dark Easter eggs!! What a unique idea! My kids absolutely LOVE egg hunts! The older ones get just as much fun out of hiding them for the younger ones and the little ones love finding them. We also use eggs year round for different learning projects, especially for the younger kids practicing fine motor skills, learning letters, etc.

Products we used:
The full list of products we received were:

The message behind the Egglo program is to remind children that Jesus is the light of the world and that He shines through the darkness & the darkness has not overcome Him. They are reminded of this as they hunt for the eggs in the dark and how we are to be the light the world also.

The Light shines in the dark and the darkness has not overcome it. -John 1:5

This curriculum is geared towards Sunday School programs though it can be adaptable to classrooms, large groups and families with different activities. The target age is 4-13 though we felt 13 is a bit on the higher end. My older children had more fun reading the book to their younger siblings & hiding the eggs rather than actively participating in the hunt or other activities.

How we used this:
Of course when we first got it, my kids just wanted to play with the eggs! They are put together differently than traditional plastic eggs. Rather than a top & bottom, you have 2 sides to put together.  We received a dozen colored eggs, half of them that had a cross on them. Half of them were left plain so you could decorate with stickers. They are study eggs and held up to a lot of play! They are about the size of regular Easter eggs and can be filled with all sorts of things, including the little Bible scrolls that we received that have Bible verses on them.

They need to be "charged up" by light. While you can use sunlight or just letting them sit out for a few hours, we found the best way to make them brighter is to stick them directly under a reading lamp where they were close to the light. Even still, the charge doesn't last terribly long so we would do a hunt immediately after hiding them so they were still visible (though check out the end of my review for another way we used these!) Because it was still super cold with 2 feet of snow on the ground during the review, we held our egg hunts inside although we look forward to warmer weather & doing this activity outside!

Once I got my kiddos to chill with the eggs, we looked over the program/curriculum guide for activity ideas. This is a 60 page downloadable guide that gives many ideas to make this program a huge event from invitations, to recipe/snack ideas, printable coloring pages, decorations, etc. Based on all that was included, this would be an amazing resource for a church or for a local outreach wanting to hold a unique Easter program. Many churches in my area do a special Easter hunt or carnival but how neat it would be to hold a special night time hunt that would depict how Jesus is the light of the world!!!

My children love to read so we sat down together to read the "Egg-cellent Easter Adventure". Two siblings and their cousin were excited for a night time glow-in-the-dark egg hunt. To kill time until the hunt, they went to the attic to look for a game but came across a glowing Easter egg. Before they knew it, they were transported back in time on a special adventure. I don't want to spoil what all transpired, but needless to say they came across many unique adventures that taught biblical lessons. They were given scrolls like the ones we received to put in the eggs. At the end, they "discovered" the treasure and the gospel was presented. The book is 39 pages and was beautifully illustrated with detailed pictures.

After reading the book once through with my kids, we listened to the audio version. It is about 30 minutes long and for non-readers, it includes a chime that tells them when to turn the page. While this is a nice addition or great for a child to follow along with when mom or dad isn't available to read to them, my children preferred to either read it themselves or have me read it. 

Not only can you use the glowing eggs for learning about Easter, you can use the glow-in-the-dark eggs year round! Play egg toss in the dark or let your child go to bed with the egg so they can be reminded of Jesus' light as they fall asleep. Maybe have a scavenger hunt for a birthday party with special prizes hidden inside! Egglo Entertainment gives many suggestions of ways to use your eggs year round.

We actually had a major winter storm go through while reviewing this product and we lost power right about when evening hit and light was fading. My children have these small finger lights and they got the idea to put the lights inside the eggs which gave them a bright "flashlight effect", allowing them to read books for the evening and to be able to see their way around the house!! They also hid them around the house since it was totally dark!

Taken without a filter or flash, that is literally how bright they were with a finger light inside the egg!

Overall, we thought this was a well thought out program with so many options & ideas to personalize it for whatever venue you want to use it in. I like how the glowing eggs are a reminder of Jesus' light in the darkness & every time we use these eggs that's the first thing we think of! I do think to fully utilized all the wonderful ideas & resources with this program, it would be perfect for use in a Sunday School , co-op or ministry outreach program though you can definitely use this for your family as well! We plan to pull this out again in the coming weeks to prepare for Easter.

They are currently having a sale right now so check out their prices (the ones I quoted are their regular prices).

You can also connect with Egglo Entertainment to get even more resource ideas at:

Full glow in the dark Easter egg hunt kit is $54.99 right now!

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Saving Money in the Kitchen

I am often asked how we save money with a large family, especially when it comes to food so I thought I'd share just a few ideas.

I have shared in the past, about how I grow a garden to provide a lot of produce not only to eat fresh all summer long but I also can & freeze the bounty to tide us through over winter time (I have even sold some of my produce in the past to local stores when I have an abundant crop!) Obviously I still need to supplement our supply over winter time. Several of our local grocery stores sell marked down produce for a very cheap price though this can be hit or miss. Just this past week, I got this flat of strawberries for $3.49!

Marked down produce isn't always made noticeable to the general public so next time you are at the store ask someone in produce if they have an area where they have an area where they sell marked down produce. You can really score some great deals this way! Don't forget to read about how I make produce last longer which also helps save me money!

While at the grocery store, check your meat department for marked down meats. Often times meat that needs to sell will get marked down significantly, even Wal-Mart does this! (again, don't be afraid to ask your meat clerks if they do this as sometimes the marked down meat is put in a certain area). The meat is still good but it either needs cooked within a day of purchase or froze right away. I've scored some great deals due to buying meat that is marked down!

I know this next suggestion can be regional but I also shop at stores that offer "bent & dent" type of things such as Amelia's, Sharp Shopper, etc You have to know your prices as not all things will be cheaper at these places but many times you can score some great deals and some of these places will even take coupons!

Freeze, freeze, freeze!!! Yes you can freeze almost any kind of food from cheese, lunch meat, produce, bread, milk, leftovers (even mashed potatoes!), etc. I have 2 extra freezers besides the one in my kitchen that I take full advantage of. When I get deals I stock up and freeze everything! Often times due to my stash I can skip grocery shopping a week or 2 at a time which helps save money.

Have you ever had just small amounts of leftovers that aren't enough to feed your whole family for another meal? Make your own "tv tray dinner" by freezing the leftovers in a microwavable dish. Use these for a quick lunch or to send with your hubby to work for his lunch. Or accumulate several of these dinners and pull them all out one night for your family to give yourself a break from cooking.

Take advantage of making double the meals when you have a chance & freeze one to later pull out when you need an easy meal after a busy day. I know how things come up unexpectedly then before you know it it's dinner time and you have no clue what to make so you are tempted to eat out. Having meals ready to go in the freezer can keep you from spending extra money on eating out or buying convenience food items. Need some meal ideas, check out my recipe page!

Make your own stock for soup, otherwise called bone broth. Did you just make a whole chicken or turkey? Take those bones, skin & fat and put them in the crockpot along with some onions, carrots, celery, garlic and a little apple cider vinegar. Fill with water and let it simmer at least 12 or more hours on low (I usually let it go about 24 hours). Strain and freeze for when you need broth for soups or anything else that requires stock. Not only does this taste amazing & is better for you than store bought stock but it saves money using things you were going to throw away! You can also save veggie "scraps" in the freezer for a future batch of broth if you don't have bones to use right away.

Along the idea of soup, we regularly incorporate a soup night for supper as it helps stretch meat and is super filling! To go along with it, I often toss ingredients in my bread maker for homemade bread along side of the soup. I actually make a huge pot which is enough for supper plus giving me some to freeze (easy future supper or lunch!) as well as put in the fridge for lunch the next day.

A few other generic things I do are:
-buy in bulk (I figure out the price per ounce, pound, etc to make sure I am getting the best deal)
-cook from scratch (not only does this save me money but is also healthier, we rarely eat processed food)
-make "breakfast" for supper
-have a meatless meal for supper

Don't forget to stop by and checkout some of my other money saving ideas!

What are some ways YOU save money in the kitchen???

Motivated Moms iOS App Review

Let's face it, there are a million and one things a busy mom needs to accomplish every day. One of those things is housework. If you are like me, I feel like I already make enough lists for homeschooling and many other life tasks, the last thing I want to do is come up with a house cleaning schedule. Enter Motivated Moms, a chore schedule that already has the work planned out for you! I recently had the chance to review Motivated Moms iOS app on my iphone (though it does come in a printed version as well).

house cleaning schedule, chore chart, planner

What is Motivated Moms?
Simply put, this is an organized list of chores and tasks to complete. There are some tasks that are listed daily (such as change hand towels, make beds, etc) then there are specific tasks that are only completed on the day they are shown (wipe down lights, clean microwave, etc). The idea behind this system is to gradually clean areas of your home, rather than a huge cleaning spree or focusing on only one room at a time. The lists include chores that are both common as well as those tasks that are often overlooked in daily house cleaning. The best part is, these tasks are already thought out & planned for you, eliminating the need for you to come up with your own list!

How does this App work?
This app can be downloaded & the account can be logged in and shared across multiple devices. It's very simple to start using right after downloading as it can be used as is or you can fully customize the tasks. Are you one who likes to check things off as you get chores accomplished? Yup, you can still do that using the app! As you check mark off a task that is completed, it drops down to the bottom of the list.

Each task can be assigned to a person and each person can be assigned a color which makes glancing at the schedule very easy if you know what your color is. If your family doesn't all have their own apple devices, you can also email the schedule to your family members so they can easily see their assigned tasks. They could even print out their page if they wanted to!

If some of the pre-programmed tasks don't fit your family (say feeding the pets when you don't have any animals), you can easily go into the edit menu and choose to "hide" those tasks which aren't applicable. This is also where you can assign tasks or choose a certain room to assign the task under. 

How we used it!
I went in and added my childrens names and assigned them each a color. From there, I would assign different chores as they popped up. After a while, they each got into a groove as to what their daily tasks were. Really, we found this an easy-to-use app! I just had to share my iphone with my kids so they could see what their daily chores were and check them off as they completed them as they all don't have an email account or apple device. Even though this is called "Motivated Moms", it really is for the whole family!

I have appreciated how slowly but surely the last 6 weeks we are starting to get different areas of the house deep cleaned without feeling like we are deep cleaning because we are tidying small areas one surface at a time! For example, every so often we are assigned a shelf of the fridge to clean rather than made to clean the entire fridge at once! Motivated Moms has helped me do those cleaning tasks I often overlook as well as kept me accountable with general cleaning of the house without feeling like I am doing a ton of work!

I admit to often looking ahead on the app to see what chores and tasks were up coming. It made it easier to assign to my children or adapt & customize to our schedule (sometimes we'd do 2 days worth of work so we could skip a day due to our schedules). As you can see from my print screens above, the assigned chores for each day really don't take much time at all to accomplish which makes it easy to fit into an already busy schedule. Also, if you prefer to glance at the chores organized by room, you have the option of setting it up like that as well.

Another benefit to this app is if you are wanting to read through the Bible in a year, it tells you what verses to read each day to accomplish this goal! This feature can be hidden though if you choose.

If you don't have a tablet or smartphone, no worries as you can print out Motivated Moms schedule to place in your own binder! There are many different size & layout options to printing that you can choose. While I didn't review the printed version, others on the Schoolhouse Review Crew did and you can check out their reviews in the link below.

Bottom line, if you are looking for an easy house cleaning schedule that is actually doable and won't overwhelm you, you would enjoy using Motivated Moms!

The iOS app planner is $7.99 a year or $.99 a month, available for all apple devices as well as android devices.

You can also try out a free lite version of this app on your apple device or android device.

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