Crockpot Pasta Sauce

Pasta is always a quick meal, and it’s easy to step-it-up a bit from jar pasta sauce.

Crock Pot Pasta Sauce

1 large onion
1/4 lb Italian Sausage (cases removed)
1 lb ground beef
1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
1 teaspoon garlic
1/2 teaspoon marjoram

Brown sausage, ground beef, and onion in a skillet.  Drain off fat and stir in seasonings.  (At this point, the meat and onion mixture can be frozen and saved for a later use.  I usually make a double or triple batch and freeze the extra in family-size meal portions)

In a crock pot – add:

1 batch of meat/onion mixture
29oz can tomato sauce
6 oz can tomato paste
14.5 oz can diced tomatoes
14.5oz can stewed tomatoes
1/4 teaspoon thyme
1/4 teaspoon basil
1/2 teaspoon oregano
2 teaspoons garlic

Stir together and cook on low for 8 hours. (I’ve put in on high for 4, and it’s turned out fine)

15 min before serving…add 1 Tablespoon of sugar.

Serve with your favorite pasta.

Taming the Girl’s Hair Ties

Over the years, my girls have accumulated a ton of hair accessories.  They’re all cute, and they wear them often, but keeping them organized, and quickly finding a certain item, can be a challenge.  Here’s a couple of ideas to keep them neat and organized.

Over-door Organizer

Sort everything by color, clip big flowers (etc) on the front of the pockets.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Yarn Braid

This braid is made of inexpensive yarn.  It keeps all the barrettes paired and off the floor.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Drawer Hair-care Station

Shallow bins and disposable containers help to keep all of the hair-care items together and accessible.  She can open the drawer when she’s fixing her hair, and close it all away when she’s done.

 

 

Easy Chicken Fajitas

Chicken Fajitas are easy to make…all you need is a big skillet!

My recipe has you make the Fajita Seasoning from scratch.  I keep it in a small, sealed container and know to just use about 2 Tablespoons each time I prepare this dish.

Fajita Seasoning Mix
6 Tablespoons cornstarch
4 Tablespoons chili powder
2 Tablespoons salt
2 Tablespoons paprika
2 Tablespoons sugar
5 teaspoons (or 5 cubes) chicken bouillon
1 Tablespoon onion powder
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon cumin

Combine all ingredients in a small bowl.  Pour into small glass or plastic container, seal tightly and store in a cool, dry place.  Makes the equivalent of six packets of commercial Fajita Seasoning Mix.

To make Fajitas

4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into strips (this is easier to do while the chicken is still slightly frozen)
1 bell pepper, sliced
1 med onion, sliced
2 Tablespoons oil
3 Tablespoons Fajita Seasoning Mix
1/3 cup water

Heat oil in large skillet and add chicken.  Cook and stir for about 5 minutes, or until chicken is cooked through.  Add Fajita Mix, water, pepper, and onion.  Reduce heat to medium and cover.  Cook and stir until vegetables are cooked to desired softness.

Serve with warm tortillas, salsa, sour cream, and grated cheese.

 

Painless Packing for Trips with Kids

Ahhh…vacation time.  The challenge is how to take the stress out of packing so that you don’t have a breakdown before it’s even time to leave!  Here are some tried and true ideas that take the Pain out of Packing.

FirstEach member of the family who can walk) needs their own bag/suitcase.  I like the rolling suitcases for air travel, and duffle bags for camping.  My favorite duffle bags have pockets on the ends (for shoes) and on the sides (for flashlights and small stuff).  Each person also needs their own backpack/bag for the car or plane.

Second – Use a list!!!  (or download my Personal Packing List)  Put a name at the top, cross off what you don’t need, fill in the blanks (for numbers of items:  socks, etc) and make a copy for each person. The kids can quickly learn to pack their own stuff….with supervision (if needed).  When they get older, they can pack independently.  Do not pack for kids…pack with kids.

Third- Let the kids help!  Older kids can

  • look online to check weather forecasts to see if warm clothes or raincoats are needed.
  • check the itinerary to see if swim gear is necessary.
  • count the number of needed items

Lastly – Let them make mistakes….they will remember their PJs or coat for the next trip, if they’ve been cold or embarrassed on this one.

Don’t stress too much….your mood affects everyone in the family.  We all know that vacations with kids aren’t really vacations for the parents….but you’re making memories with your kids.  Try to relax and enjoy the moment for them.

 

Rubber Band Outfits

In the past my kids have been easy to recognize….they were the girls wearing polka dot socks with a plaid skirt….or the one that likes to wear navy blue with black….kids LOVE to choose their own outfits.

Then, my dear friend showed me a fabulous trick.  You can start this when the kids are really young, and it even helps out dad (who usually doesn’t know which tops are supposed to go with which bottoms)

When the laundry is done….match up your child’s clothes (one top and one bottom…you can always add matching socks, hairpieces, etc) into a pre-approved outfit. 

 

 

 

 

Roll it up and secure the roll with a rubber band. 

 

 

 

 

Put the rolls into the child’s drawers. 

If a piece of the outfit needs to stay on a hanger, I just roll the rest of the stuff and he/she can add the hanging piece when they get dressed.  My older girls like to use a hanging sweater organizer the same way.  We work together to fill the shelves with “pre-approved” outfits and she selects one each day.

Now – the child can have the freedom to “choose” their own outfit each day, but you have already pre-approved the choices.   No fuss, no fits, and everyone is happy.  How easy is that!

Don’t just read – Study!

Today, I’m issuing a challenge to my fellow Christian women to “step it up a bit.” Don’t just read devotionals…..challenge yourself to a bible study.  If you think you don’t have time…think again, and then check out www.goodmorninggirls.com

Good Morning Girls is perfect for busy moms….just about 10 min a day, and only on weekdays!  Right now, they’re in a study of Colossians.  Here’s a bit of the study text from this week….this is Paul writing from prison to the Colossians….

Colossians 2
My goal is that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. I tell you this so that no one may deceive you by fine-sounding arguments.

The commentary in my study bible talks about Paul’s note to the Colossians about “not being deceived by fine-sounding arguments”  The commentary goes on to remind us that God has given us a mind for learning.

  • We should never stop learning
  • We should press toward wisdom
  • We should pray for understanding

When I look at these three points….I see all the things that come so naturally to me during a workday….or in my parenting….or in my relationships/marriage.  Those three things are a BIG priority for us in other aspects of our life.  We adjust our time and prioritize activities/work accordingly.

However….we are also called to do those things in our faith walk.  Somehow it’s always harder to make that one a priority.

Dear God
 In this crazy world where we are trying our best, and feel like we’re stretched in every direction….please help us to see the importance in pressing onward in our faith.  Please show us the grace, peace, and joy that come from a solid relationship in you.  Amen!

Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cookies

When the weather turns crisp, and the leaves start to show their colors, we always bake up a batch of these yummy treats.

Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cookies

2 cups flour
1 cup old-fashioned oats
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup butter, softened
1 cup packed brown sugar
1 cup white sugar
1 egg, slightly beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup solid pack Pumpkin (not pie filling)
1 cup choc chips

  1.  Preheat oven to 350 deg F.
  2. Combine flour, oats, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt.  Set aside.
  3. Cream butter, gradually adding sugars, until light and fluffy.  Add egg and vanilla.  Mix well.
  4. Alternate additions of dry ingredients and pumpkin, mixing well after each addition.  Stir in chocolate chips.
  5. For each cookie, drop about 2 tablespoons of dough onto lightly greased cookie sheets.
  6. Bake about 11-15 min, or until firm and lightly browned.
  7. Cool slightly on sheet and then remove to a wire rack until completely cooled.

Motivate those Kids with Marbles

Our Family Marble Jars

After many tries at motivating my kids….I happened upon an article in my Family Fun magazine that told about a family with marble jars.  The kids earned marbles for doing the things they were supposed to do, and for extra chores.  When the jar was full, it could be “cashed in” for sleepovers, outings, cash, or other fun options.

We tried this idea at home and it was a HUGE success.

First – come up with a list of “chores” or “must do’s” that will earn a marble (Marble Jars)

Second – Talk to the kids and brainstorm a list of things they want to earn with a full jar

Third – (adult job) Figure out how many marbles will be needed to earn the “full jar” items

Lastly – Find a jar that holds the right number of marbles….this was the hardest part of the whole thing.  We found that “necked” bottles (such as quarter-size wine bottles) work really well because there’s no disputing when you’re at the top.  However, we found that if the jars were too large, then it was hard for the kids to stay motivated until they were full.  So, we solved the problem by adding an epoxy from Home Depot to the bottom of the jars to partially fill them (along with fun stuff to personalize them).

Our jars hold about 30 marbles.

Marble Jar Closeup
Marble Jar Closeup

Our kids have even asked for a “group” jar.  When they all get together and want to earn something (like a snow cone machine) they all pool their marbles in this jar.  This was their idea!

 

Quick! – Organize Your Bathroom

Bathrooms need to be cleaned often.  However, it’s hard to clean when there’s too much stuff.  The biggest reasons why people don’t put things away are:

  • They don’t know where it goes, or
  • It’s too inconvenient (takes too much effort)

With this in mind – take a hard look at your bathrooms….and then do the following

  1. PURGE everything that doesn’t have to be in there (if you don’t love that perfume…then lose it!)
  2. Put like items together (toothbrushes with toothpaste, hair-care items together, etc)
  3. Put things in a convenient spot (most-used items in the top drawer)
  4. If you have multiple bathrooms….choose one to be the “storage” are for each bathroom bulk item (i.e. store all the spare TP in one of the bathrooms)
  5. Keep a few minimal cleaning items in each bathroom….that way when you notice some ickiness…you can quickly clean it before leaving.

To pretty things up….look for pretty containers in the visible areas.

Q-Tip Mug

 

 

 

 

 

For non-visible areas, choose practical containers to corral things and LABEL everything.  Wide masking tape is a favorite at my house.

Bins

Vegetarian Taco Dip (& Burrito Filling)

Vegetarian Taco Dip

Serves 6
2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
1 very large Onion – chopped
1 large bell pepper (any color) chopped
2-3 garlic cloves – minced/crushed
1 small can mild chopped green chilis
1 14.5 oz can petite chopped tomatoes
1 15 oz can vegetarian refried beans
1 15-16 oz can black beans – rinsed well and drained
1 15-16oz can red beans – rinsed well and drained
1 envelope (or 3 Tablespoons) Taco Seasoning
1 teaspoon cumin
2 cups shredded cheddar or Mexican blend cheese
Sliced black olives for garnish (optional)
Preheat oven to 350

1. In a large skillet – heat olive oil over med heat.  Add onion and pepper.  Cook until soft.
2. Add garlic and green chilis.  Cook for a few more minutes
3. Stir in all remaining ingredients and heat through.
4. If skillet is ovenproof – place in center of preheated oven.  (If skillet is not ovenproof, transfer to a baking dish.) Bake 20 min or until heated through.
5. Cover top with cheese and return to oven for a few minutes to melt cheese.  Garnish with black olives.

Serve this with warm tortillas, hard shells, or chips to eat as burrito filling, taco filling, or nachos.  Serve with salsa, sour cream, chopped tomatoes and shredded lettuce.