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Friday, December 31, 2010

Food Storage Friday: Broccoli Wheat Salad

This recipe is a combination of one from I Dare You to Eat It and a salad that is often served in the cafeteria at the hospital where I work, with a few of my own touches. (Before you turn up your nose at the thought of hospital food, I have to say they make some really yummy things at my hospital. Not all hospital food is created equal.) I love this salad, my husband loves this salad, I have many extended family members who love this salad. My children however will not try this. However, that doesn't mean much because they are ridiculously picky.

And here is my food storage tip for the week: How to determine how much food to store: 7 cases (6 #10 cans each) of basic dried food per person will give you enough food  to last a year, plus a little extra. There are 6 basic food storage items that everyone should store: wheat, oats, rice, beans, pasta and potatoes. So pick which one of those that you eat more than the others (I recommend wheat.) and double up on that one. If you have one case of each kind, plus your extra, you will have a year supply for one person.

Broccoli Wheat Salad
Food Storage Ingredients:
2 cups cooked wheat berries
1 cup + 1 Tablespoon light Miracle Whip
1 & 1/4 cup dried cranberries
3 Tablespoons sunflower seeds
1 Tablespoon sugar

Fresh Ingredients:
8-9 cups fresh broccoli florets, chopped
1 cup mozzarella cheese, grated
1/2 cup red onion, diced

1. Mix Miracle Whip and sugar. 2. Combine remaining ingredients and stir Miracle Whip dressing to coat. 3. Refrigerate overnight before serving.

I have tried this one without letting it sit overnight. I warn you that this is not a good idea. The wheat, red onion and broccoli all taste too strong. I like to make this salad as a side to barbeques, sandwiches and relish trays.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

6 Healthy Junk Food Alternatives for Kids

Joy Paley is a guest blogger for An Apple a Day and a writer on earning your nursing degree  for the Guide to Health Education.

Sure, we all want our kids to eat healthier. But where do you even start, when their main dietary staples are hot dogs and chips? It’s hard enough to get adventurous eaters to try anything labeled “healthy,” much less a kid who lives off two main food groups that weren’t even invented a hundred years ago. The key to keeping your kid feeling well, however, is to make sure they get a variety of foods. Try out this list of sneakily healthy alternatives on your kid---you may just end up with a few more foods that they’ll actually ask to eat.

Junk food kids love: Chips
A healthy alternative: Bagel Chips
  • Why kids will love them: While pita chips might be a good “adult” alternative to potato chips, the taste is a little bland in comparison. Bagel chips have the same satisfying crunch and crispiness of potato chips, to pass a kid’s taste test. Stacy’s brand comes in yummy varieties like garlic and everything bagel. They’re not fried, and they have less fat and sodium than regular chips.
Junk food kids love: Hot Dogs
A healthy alternative: Turkey Dogs
  • Why kids will love them: While it’s probably impossible to sneak a tofu dog passed your kid’s taste buds, turkey dogs mimic the flavor and texture of traditional dogs quite well. The upside? They have a lot less fat than regular hot dogs, and you can easily find brands that promise organic meat and no nitrates or fillers. 
Junk food kids love: Oreos
A healthy alternative: Bananas and Raw Chocolate Spread
  • Why kids will love it: You’re not skimping on taste, when you choose a chocolate spread made with real cacao and sweetened with a low glycemic index sweetener like agave nectar. Instead of eating Oreos that are full of fat, processed sugar, and an array of artificial flavors, you’ll be feeding them something that’s actually real food. Love street is one brand to check out.
Junk food kids love: French Fries
A healthy alternative: Cheese Straws
  • Why kids will love them: Kids can’t get enough French fries, not only because they quell a hunger for something salty, fatty, and fried, but also because they’re fun and easy to eat. Baked cheddar cheese straws are a kid friendly shape, and they’re great for on the go. Pack some in a Ziploc instead of stopping at a fast food joint. While they’re not exactly as healthy as carrot sticks, they’ll keep you out of that drive through window.
Junk food kids love: Sugar Cereal
A healthy alternative: Organic Cereal
  • Why kids will love it: While you can’t really find the day-glo colors of Lucky Charms anywhere else, you can find cereals that have real wholesome ingredients, less sugar, and even better taste. Most kids cereals are fortified with vitamins, but that’s no good reason to get your kid hooked on a bowl of sugar for breakfast. Nature’s Path Envirokidz line includes some great kid friendly cereals, like the peanut butter Panda Puffs, which are high on taste but low on sugar and other processed ingredients.
Junk food kids love: Ketchup and Ranch Dip
A healthy alternative: Hummus
  • Why kids will love it: You may have trouble getting your kids to try hummus for the first time, but after they have taken the initial plunge, I bet they’ll love this snack. It’s delicious, and the protein will have them hooked—the hummus will satisfy in a way that those other low-nutrient spreads won’t. It’s fun to eat, and if you pair it with bagel chips, you’ve replaced a former high-calorie junk food pair with a delicious alternative. It’s great for kids’ lunches or on-the-go after sports practice, and it comes in tasty flavors like garlic and red pepper.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Keeping Your Baby Safe

I think most of have heard of or know of a parent that has experienced the horrors of SIDS. For those of you who haven't, SIDS stands for Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, and it's just that, the sudden unexplained death of an infant under a year old. While the causes are characteristically unknown, there are several things you can do as a mother to lower your baby's risk.
  • Always put your baby to sleep on its back.
  • Eliminate excess bedding, clothing, soft sleep surfaces and stuffed animals. One sleeper, one onesie and one blanket should be enough.
  • Breast feed. This one factor reduces the risk of SIDS by 50%.
  • Keep room temperature in infants sleeping area cool.
  • Eliminate exposure to tobacco smoke
  • Use a fan to circulate air in the infant's room.
  • Eliminate mold.
  • Do not put an infant to sleep in your bed or in a bed with other siblings.
Other than the reverse of the above factors there are many things that increase the risk for SIDS. These include: prematurity, maternal drug, tobacco or alcohol use in pregnancy, inadequate prenatal care and nutrition, and the infant or mother being overweight.

Recently the FDA has warned consumers not to use infant sleep positioners. Many of these sleep positioners claim that they reduce the risk of SIDS, but this claim is unfounded and these positioners have in fact resulted in the suffocation of several infants. There are two basic positioner types: mat with side bolsters or wedge with side bolsters as shown below. If you have been using these I strongly recommend that you stop now.
Mat with side bolsters

Wedge with side bolsters

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Another Awesome Deal from Amazon: Subscribe and Save

So I had planned on taking the week off from blogging, and I generally prefer that my content is information that is continuously useful, not just quick hot deals. However, this deal is just too awesome not to tell you guys about.

Charmin Ultra Strong 4 Big Rolls 176 2-Ply Sheets per Roll, (Pack of 10)I am kind of picky about my toilet paper. Even when it is not on sale and I don't have any coupons, I buy Charmin. I just does a better job. Enough said. That's why I was excited when I saw this deal on Amazon. I just bought 40 rolls of Charmin Ultra Strong Big Rolls (176 sheets per roll) for $22.14. And it will be delivered to my house in 2 days. And it will be continuously  and automatically delivered to my house, at that price until I cancel it. I will never run out of, or have to shop for toilet paper again. Wahoo!

Here's how it works. Go to Amazon and find your Charmin. The variety I bought is listed as $26.34. If you sign up for Subscribe and Save and you will get an additional 15% off, bringing the total down to $22.39. You can have it delivered every 1, 2, 3 or 6 months, depending on your needs, and you can cancel at anytime. If you click on the coupon under the listing before you click the subscribe button, it will take off and extra 25 cents. If you prefer the Charmin Ultra Soft variety, you can get 45 Large rolls for $20.14 with Subscribe and Save.

I've also found that Amazon is the best place to get Huggies diapers. If you use Subscribe and Save, you can get size 4 for 16 cents per diaper. You can also get deals on many other health and personal care products such diabetic supplies, energy bars, batteries, cleaners and baby wipes. And if you use any of these on a regular basis, it can save you a lot time and money.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Ornament Winner #3

The winner of the Nativity Story Ornaments is Jocelyn of We Talk of Christ, We Rejoice in Christ. Congratulations! Thanks to Ceder View Christian Gifts for donating these ornaments, and thanks again to riricreations and Mike's Wood Craft for donating the ornaments for the other giveaways this month.

Food Storage Friday: Healthy substitutions from your pantry.

Using your food storage can improve your diet and make your life easier. Here is a list of ways you use ordinary food storage items in place of other ingredients and make your meals healthier at the same time. Now these substitutions don't work every time, but often enough to improve your diet. (This is similar to a post that I put up awhile ago, but I'm putting it up because it was requested.)

1. Wheatberries for ground beef- Less saturated fat, more folic acid and fiber. This works well in Tacos and Enchiladas. I generally use a portion of half ground beef to half wheatberries
2. Wheatberries for lettuce- Why do we eat lettuce anyway? For folic acid and fiber. Wheat has both of those and a much longer shelf life. Not that I am opposed to lettuce by anymeans, but I do really enjoy a couple of salads that use wheatberries instead.
3. Beans for butter- No, you can't fry anything in mashed beans, but it works well in cakes and cookies.
4. Beans for shortening- Same idea. I make cookies with beans, and I promise you can't taste them. My friend calls them my "crazy good cookies", because they taste really good, but have a few surprising ingredients.
5. Beans for sour cream- I tried this for half the sour cream in my chicken enchilada recipe and my family liked it just as much. The texture is a little different, but they were ok with it. I also found another recipe this week that it worked pretty well in, but I want to experiment with it one more time before I put it up here on the blog.
6. Evaporated milk for cream or half and half- Still gives you a thick creaminess in soups and sauces, with much less saturated fat and calories.
7. Chicken broth for white wine- I have yet to find a recipe that this doesn't work in (cocktails excluded.)
8. Oat flour for white flour- To make oat flour, just toss some oats in the blender and press puree. Oats have a lower glycemic index than white flour, plus the soluable fiber can lower your cholesterol and your blood sugar. I don't use it for everything, but when baking I usually use half oat flour every time that it calls for white flour.
9. Applesauce for oil- I find that when I use this in cakes and muffins they come out more moist.
10. Nonfat powdered milk for regular milk- I use this whenever I have a soup recipe that calls for more than 2 cups of milk. When you cook it with other things you can't taste the difference.
11. Wheatberries for wild rice- No, it doesn't taste exactly the same, but the texture is similar enough that you can get away with substituting it, if you are looking for different ways to use your wheat. There are a few good examples in I Dare You To Eat It.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The Doing and Not Doing Lists of Christmas

I have recently decided that December is not long enough. I believe that it should be at least 6 weeks long. Would anyone really miss it if January and March were a little shorter? I know that I wouldn't. But as it stands I am not capable of doing all of the Christmasy things that I would like to do. As much as I would love it, the "perfect Christmas" is not going to happen. I concede, I can't get it all done and I don't want to drive myself crazy trying. So I made a list of things that I am doing and things that I have decided not to worry about.  I just have to remember that it's OK if I don't get these things done. If I magically have more time, maybe I may do a few from the "not do list".

The December Do List
  1. Read Christmas stories to my kids every night
  2. Put up the tree
  3. Make cookies for my brother-in-law serving in the Phillipines.
  4. Take the kids to see Christmas lights in ours and surrounding neighborhoods
  5. Take the kids to see Christmas lights at the temple.
  6. Team up with some friends to take dinner and gifts to a friend in need
  7. Visiting teaching. I think this is the first time ever that I am done before the 15th of the month.
  8. Maintain a semi-state of order in my home. Much easier said than done.
  9. Healthy meals between the sweets.
  10. Birthday stuff for Thing 2
  11. Read the Christmas story from the Bible
  12. Spend time playing with my kids
  13. Shoe gifts for the 12 days of Christmas
  14. Online Christmas shopping including gifts for siblings and in-laws, stocking stuffers and probably more toys than my kids actually need (but it's just so much fun to snag a deal on something fun for them).
  15. Visit friends and family that live several counties away.
  16. Movie/Game night with extended family.
  17. Teach my children to serve someone in need. Still trying to think of the perfect idea.
  18. Pressing Home and Car Repairs
  19. At least one date with the love of my life.
  20. Oh yeah, and did I mention I'm working Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, along with many other 12 hour shifts throughout the month?
The Not Do List
  1. Christmas cards- not that we didn't have pictures taken, just the actual designing, stamping and mailing of Christmas cards is not going to happen. Sorry friends if you had your hopes up. If I am really on top of thing you may get an email. Save a tree.
  2. Making cookies for my neighbors. My neighbors are awesome. I am really lucky, and I feel kind of bad that we aren't doing things for them at the moment, but we're probably going make cookies in January. Maybe I'm really doing them a favor. Sweets in Moderation.
  3. Have perfectly wrapped gifts under the tree. Do you know what is under my Christmas tree? 3 nativity playsets (not set up mind you, but jumbled into several piles) and a few dozen Christmas books. No actual presents yet. We go for function here.
  4. Gifts for my coworkers. Again I love each of them and think they are awesome, but I can only do so much.
  5. Paper chains and other various crafts with the kids. Just not happening.
  6. Put up the outdoor Christmas lights.
  7. Put up the greater part of my Christmas decorations.
  8. Make my own Christmas ornaments. When there are too many other things to get done, say no to craft!
  9. Attend more than half of the parties we've been invited to.
  10. Host our own Christmas party. I guess we're just party poopers.
  11. Attend local festivals, concerts and programs.
  12. Decorate my blog for Christmas 
  13. Christmas caroling.
  14. Ice-skating
  15. Vast quantities of baking.
  16. Build a snowman, unless there is some very drastic change in the St. George weather.
  17. Gingerbread houses
  18. Put money into savings this month. Oops.
  19. Make gifts for my own kids. Thought about it, but no.
  20. Have an elaborate Christmas dinner (see #20 above) Today I am going to make enchiladas and freeze them. So on Christmas Eve we'll have those with Cafe Rio Style Rice which is also in the freezer. Not fancy, but it will work. And it's not like my kids ever eat elaborate meals when I fix them anyway.
  21. All of those other things that I wanted to do this season that I can't even think of right now.
  22. Save the world.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Christmas Ornament Giveaway #3- Nativity Story Set

All right, it's time for our last nativity ornament giveaway. This week's giveaway is provided by Cedar View Christian Gifts.
This four piece ornament set features Mary and Joseph's trip to Judea, the three wise men traveling to see the new born King, Shepherds in the field enveloped by the glory of the Lord, and the Holy family upon the birth of Jesus and the corresponding scriptures. Cedar View Gifts was so gracious as to send me a set for myself and I have to say that they look even better in real life than they do in the photograph. I really, really love that each ornament has the corresponding scripture on it and that the set illustrates more of the story than the average nativity ornament. Plus check out the detail. It totally made my day to get these in the mail and hang them on my tree. I hope you guys are as excited at the chance to have this beautiful ornament set in your home as I was. Here's how to win it: 1. Tell me about your favorite Christmas story. 2. Check out Cedar View Gifts and tell me about your favorite item from their shop. 3. Become a follower of Secrets of Mom through GFC and leave a comment. (Or if you are already a follower, just leave a comment.) 4. Share this giveaway on Facebook. The giveaway runs through December 17, 2010 at 7 pm, and the winner will be selected from the comments using a random number generator.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Ornament Winner #2

The winner of my second ornament giveaway is Debbie. Congratulations! Debbie, shoot me an email with your contact info so we can get it sent off to you. And thank you again to Mike's Wood Crafts and riricreations for donating their ornaments. Come back Monday for one more nativity ornament giveaway.

Food Storage Friday: Chicken Enchiladas

Growing up whenever I requested a meal, it was chicken enchiladas. Since we've been married they have also become a favorite of my husband's. In addition to being delicious, they are super easy to make. (I have a distinct memory of explaining how to make them to my bus driver when I was six.) However, the recipe that I grew up on does not incorporate much in the way of food storage. So I experimented several times. They were ok, but not fantastic. Then I finally arrived at this one that really works for me and my family. Enjoy.

Chicken Enchiladas
Food Storage Ingredients:
1 10.75 oz can of cream of mushroom soup, undiluted
1 4 oz can of diced green chiles
1/2 cup white beans, cooked and pureed

Fresh Ingredients:
6 burrito sized tortillas
2 cups cooked, diced chicken breasts
1/2 cup sour cream
shredded cheese (about 2 cups)
peppers and onions as desired (see note)

1. Mix sour cream, mushroom soup, green chiles and beans. 2. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. 3. Take a large spoonful of mix and spread on a tortilla. Sprinkle with chicken, cheese, and diced peppers/onions. Repeat with remaining tortillas. 4. Spread remaining sauce over enchiladas and sprinkle with cheese. 5. Bake for twenty minutes.

Notes: The original recipe is just mushroom soup, 1 cup sour cream, green chiles, chicken cheese and tortillas. I found that if you half pureed white beans for half the sour cream, you can barely taste a difference, plus its healthier and more filling. I've done it with all beans instead of sour cream. My family could eat it in a bind, but it lost some of its "comfort food taste". After reading Twilight, I tried adding sauteed peppers and onions. It's good, but I'm usually not that ambitious. Adding fresh onions and peppers is much easier and almost as good. This time I used one green onion and one red pepper in the enchiladas and one green onion on top. I basically use whatever combination is convenient. I've also made these with turkey (a popular use for Thanksgiving leftovers) and canned chicken. I'll be honest, canned chicken just isn't as good as fresh, but it's more palatable when you use half canned to half fresh cooked. (I do this sometimes when I am making a double batch.) This makes great leftovers and freezes well.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Check out this Bounce House Giveaway!

Um, so yeah this is pretty darn awesome. Crazy Coupon Mommy is having a bounce house giveaway on her site. You should definitely check it out. I really think this is the best blog giveaway that I have encountered as of yet. I could totally use one of those.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Book Review: Slow Fat Triathlete

Slow Fat Triathlete: Live Your Athletic Dreams in the Body You Have NowSlow Fat Triathlete is more than about being slow, fat and running triathlons (although it does talk about that a great deal), it's about starting with what you are right now and improving yourself. "If you want to do something about where you're at, the key is to take a stab at it, start slow, go easy on yourself and keep plodding along.", because when it comes down to it for everyone at some point in their life there is something to which we are "slow, fat triathletes" and we will never change that until we start working on it. The author, Jayne Williams was approaching 300 lbs when she decided that she was going to get into shape. She started walking long distances and improving her diet, after awhile she started running and eventually decided to enter the world of triathlon. She's funny, informative and inspiring and if you ever considered running a tri or just getting into better shape I recommend reading this book.
Quotes from this book that relate to life beyond tri:
  • Life is way too short and precious to worry about what other people think when you're out doing something.
  • You don't even have to believe positive affirmations for them to work.
  • You are what you are right now. When the rosebud is still forming a little green ball, do you berate it for not being in full bloom? Hell no!
  • Stress and fatigue can also contribute to losing your sense of humor, or misplacing it temporarily.
  • Your setbacks are temporary. Your obstacles are just there to make it all a better story. Your physical and mental limitations are just part of the package. Go out and sweat, but don't sweat it.
  • One of the biggest challenges in triathlon is the discipline of patience. You can't get there in a day of a week, maybe not even in a year, depending on where your starting point is and what your goals are.
  • Have a plan.
Useful tips that relate more to triathlons and exercise:
  • It doesn't matter what you do. Just do something. Human bodies are built to move, and when you move you experience and stregthen parts of yourself that are deep and elemental....When you get your body to the place where you can feel that joy, you've done yourself and everyone around you a huge favor.
  • Don't go to hard in the beginning
  • Stretch!
  • You shouldn't increase your workout load by more than ten percent each week and you should back down on a the milage a few weeks before the big event.
  • Believe that your body, like any body was made to be moved and that any body in motion is a glorious thing.
  • The mental part of training/racing is at least as important as the physical, if not more.
  • Practice your transitions.
  • Never exercise in cotton.
  • Triathlons come in all sorts of different lengths. Here are the most common ones: beginner (200 yard swim, 5 mile bike, 2.5k run), sprint (820 yard swim, 12 mile bike, 5k run), olympic distance (1.5 km swim, 40 km ride, 10 km run), long course (1.9 km swim, 90 km ride, 21.1 km run) and ultra distance (3.8 km swim, 180 km ride, and a marathon: 42.2 km run).
Things that I learned from my first triathlon experience:
  • Fitting in exercise is hard. I work full-time, my husband is trying to cram a second degree in two semesters, I have small children, it's cold/hot/rainy, I'm tired, blah, blah,blah. I can always find reasons not to exercise. However, none of those excuses change the fact that my physical condition is not going to change unless I get moving. Having an immenent goal/deadline/sentance makes me exercise even when it's not convienent.
  • There are many types of triathlon apparel. Your apparel is very important and not just for asthetic reasons. There are wetsuits if you are swimming outdoors. There are onepiece trisuits. There are trishorts and tritops. Trishorts have enough padding between the legs to reduce soreness from the bike seat, but not so much that it is cumbersome to swim in them. Trishorts come in various lengths; "knickers" (like capris) 8", 7", 6", 5", 3" and "bikini" (not really what you normally think of as a bikini bottom, but more of a hotpant). Tritops are tanks with built-in sports bras, although some tri-tanks don't have sports bras, which seems pretty darn pointless to me, and some people do the whole race in a Lycra sports bra. I opted for 8" shorts and a tritop. I paid for 2 day shipping. The day before the race my stuff still had not shown up. (The week after the race they sent me an email saying that the shorts were unavailable. That's nice.) There was not a store locally that carried any trigear in my size. Fantastic. So I wore my Speedo, pulled my yoga pants and a top on at T1 and finished the race in that. Wardrobe changes dramatically slow down your transitions. Not to mention that the wrong clothing can become cumbersome in the race. Now before the race I would never had considered wear bikini trishorts and a sportsbra in public. But halfway through the run leg on an afternoon in St George, if I could have waved a magic wand to change my outfit to that I would have, and I didn't even care who would see me. Running a triathlon is not about being sexy or glamorous, it's about pushing yourself to accomplish something.
  • Doing a triathlon can be a lot of fun, especially if you are doing it with someone else.

Note: if you are looking for a motivating book about exercising, but don't think that triathlon is your thing, check out Shape Up with the Slow Fat Triathlete: 50 Ways to Kick Butt on the Field, in the Field or at the Gym--No Matter What Your Size or Shape. I haven't read it yet, but it's by the same author, and if it's it's anything like her first, it will be helpful. And it has a 4 star rating on Amazon.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Apparently I only look like an adult...

So this morning I woke up at five-thirty, because that's what I always do. After trying for more than an hour to go back to sleep, I thought I would gather my coupons and head back to Smith's. I forgot to get eggs and perhaps there were still some great  mega coupon deals left.
 When I was stopped at the intersection near Smith's I noticed a motorcycle pass me. 'Was that a cop? I don't think so. Regardless, I'm ok. I'm definitely not speeding.' Except when I pulled into the parking lot, he came back and his lights started flashing. 'Whah, I should have stayed in bed!'
"Yes officer, I realise that my stickers are expired. I paid for my inspection at the one local inspection place that doesn't just give you the stickers there and when I paid for my vehicle registration online my printer wasn't working." Because this is the way that the universe works, I'm willing to bet that the stickers will come in the mail today, and I did get my printer working later, but totally forgot to print my temporary "sticker" '. :s
"Do you realize that your front headlight is out?"
"Ah! No, I didn't realize that. I just had it inspected last week and it was fine."
"Let me see you license, insurance and registration."
"Why does your license have holes punched in it?"
"Because my birth certificate is invalid."
He looked at me like I had lost my mind. 'What kind of a bogus excuse is that? Whose birth certificate is invalid anyway? Just mine, that's who.' "Here's my temporary license."
"Oh, good. This is what I need. I've never seen them punch holes through someone's middle name before." 'I'm just special that way.'
While he was looking for that I searched through my wallet for my car insurance card, which was MIA. See Thing 2 has an obsession with dumping things out of my wallet any chance he can, and apparently the last time my car insurance card didn't make it back in. More excuses.
While he called dispatch to verify my vehicle, I searched through the glove compartment and every other part of my car for my registration. Nothing. Nor can I think of remotely relevant excuse. 'Hi, my name is Heather, and apparently I only look like a competent adult, because I can't manage to do simple things like carry  proof of valid license, insurance and registration.' And as I write this I am eating cookies and milk for breakfast. Yup, I am an a-dult. I feel like this comic is becoming a reoccurring theme in my life. At least he was able to look up and see that I was in fact insured and registered.
He was very nice. I am just a spaz and being pulled over gives me anxiety. He wrote me a to-do list instead of a ticket. 'Thank you, sir. I actually can't function without those.'

Monday, December 6, 2010

Christmas Ornament Giveaway #2-Cherrywood Nativity Set

Are you ready for a chance to win more beautiful nativity ornaments from another talented artist? This week's ornaments come from Mike's Wood Crafts.
This set of three ornaments is handmade from cherry wood and features the Holy Family, the wisemen and the shepherds. I love the way the figures tell the story, although they are made of wood, they aren't "stiff". I like how the camels and shepherd seem to be caught in motion.
To enter (1) tell me about your favorite Christmas memory. For additional entries (2) you can check out Mike's Etsy shop and leave a comment mentioning something of interest there. (3) Become a follower of Secrets of Mom through GFC (or if already follow, just leave a comment). (4) Share this giveaway on Facebook. This giveaway runs through Friday December 10, 2010 at 12:00 pm MST. A winner will be chosen Friday afternoon using a random number generator. Good Luck.

Bountiful Baskets

Not my pic, but gives you an idea of what to expect.
Now I know that I have mentioned these several times, but I keep coming across people (who live here in Utah) who haven't heard of it or haven't tried it. This is for you.
  Bountiful Baskets is a food co-op (and it's so awesome I feel like I must sing its praises from the rooftops.) How it works is you pay you $15 (plus $1.50 handling fee and $3 basket fee if it is your first time) on Monday evening/Tuesday morning online and then pick up your produce Saturday morning at the specified time. (What time you pick it up depends on your location.) For your $16.50 you get one small laundry basket of fruits and one small laundry basket of veggies. What you get is a surprise, but we love the surprise and the variety. It gets us to try new things and really makes it easier for us to get more fresh produce into our diet, not to mention it saves a lot of money. And if you are more than 20 minutes late, your produce is donated to a shelter.
  Here's what we got last Saturday: 1 pineapple, 1 small container of blackberries, several apples, several asian pears, 2 bunches of bananas, one cantaloupe, 2 heads of romaine lettuce, 1 bunch of celery, 1 spaghetti squash, 3 yellow squash and 4 tomatoes. I dare you to find that much produce for that price. (I would have taken a picture, but by the time I got home from work, several items had already been eaten. :D)The only item I wouldn't have readily bought was the spaghetti squash. I've never tried it or been interested in trying it. But we baked it, pulled out the insides, mixed in garlic, olive oil, sun-dried tomatoes and Parmesan and it was delicious! It was like pasta, but tastier.
 In addition to the "canasta de frutas", there are other things that you can purchase with your basket, but you have to buy a basket in order to buy them. On Saturday we got a citrus pack, which is 24 lbs of random citrus fruit for $18.50. Wow, we lucked out again. It included mandarin oranges, pomelos, grapefruit, lemons, limes and navel oranges for about 77 cents per pound. We also got 5 loaves of 9 grain bread for $10. Yes, I know that if I do some deal hunting I can get bread cheaper than that, however, this bread is delicious, and when I'm getting a basket anyway, more convenient. All total it was $45 for enough bread and produce to last us for at least 2 weeks.
 Other bonus things that I have gotten from Bountiful Baskets: the Mexican pack- fresh cilantro, mexican squash, avocados, green onions, various chiles, garlic, tomatillos, limes and yellow onions,  ($7.50, we love this at our house), the Italian pack- fresh rosemary, basil, thyme, Italian parsley and other herbs, eggplant, garlic, zucchini, mushrooms and tomatoes (also $7.50 another winner, except for the eggplant), Ciabatta bread- five loaves for $10, (I was amazed, but we went through all of these in a week) and Tortilla pack- a whole lot of tortillas for $10 and they were better quality than the ones I generally get. Other bonus items that I've seen and not tried, Honey Crisp apple case (still kicking myself for not getting them), Peaches by the case, gingerbread house kit, large bag of Green Chiles, pumpkins, chili bread, pumpkin bread, cookies, cookie decorating kits, granola bars, granola, pickling cucumbers, tomatoes and corn. And every other week you can get your basket in the organic variety for $10 extra.
 Bountiful Baskets are available in Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Texas, Utah, Washington and Wyoming. If you live in any of these states, I highly recommend that you check and see if there is a location near you.
 I was hesitant about trying this at first because I didn't think my family would eat most of it and I thought too much would go to waste. I will say that there have been items that we got that I just tossed because life was busy and I couldn't get to doing something with it before it went bad, however overall it has been a fantastic experience and very cost effective. And if you feel like it is too much for your family size, try splitting it with a friend or neighbor. Oh, and make sure you bring your own basket/box/bag to carry your produce home in.

(Note, I am in no way being compensated for writing this, I just think that it is something that makes my life better and is worth sharing.)

Friday, December 3, 2010

Ornament Winner

And the winner of this week's ornament is Mindy. Congratulations! Check back next Monday for a chance to win another great nativity ornament.

Food Storage Friday: Split Pea Soup

I know it doesn't look like much, but this is the recipe that really got me started. A little over a year ago I read I Dare You to Eat It by Liesa Card. I was in the middle of my third move in 8 months (long story), my husband is allergic to many fruits and vegetables (unless they're processed in some way) and he is aversive to most produce that he's not allergic to. Not to mention that my children are the pickiest eaters I have ever encountered. Despite these obstacles, Liesa had me convinced that I could use my food storage and it would bless my life. Now I was very comfortable with rice, pasta and oatmeal cookies, but  I decided that I would really test my boundaries- Split Pea Soup. So I bought a pound of dried split peas and made it. When my husband came home from work he asked what was in the crock pot. I told him and he responded “I’m excited. I love split pea soup!” “Really?” “Yes, it’s my favorite.” I was shocked. At the time I had known him for 14 years and I never would have guessed that. (His family still occasionally teases him about not anything that was the color green when he was small, not even mint ice cream.) I suppose it had never come up because I never made it, thinking he would never eat it.  I ladled it into bowls and asked my four-year-old what kind of sandwich she wanted for dinner. (At the time I had given up trying to get her to eat the things I normally make for dinner.) She said “I want what you guys are having.” AND SHE ACTUALLY ATE IT. I was so excited I emailed Liesa and we have been swapping food storage stories and ideas ever since. If my family can eat food storage, anyone's can. 
 Here's my version of the recipe. Last week I threw the ham bone from Thanksgiving in the freezer and used it for the soup, or you can use the ham flavor packet that comes with most one pound bags of split green peas. Not all bags come with it, look closely at the packaging.

Split Pea Soup
Food Storage Ingredients:
1 lb (2 cups) dried split green peas
2/3 cup dried carrots
1/2 cup dried onions
1 12oz can evaporated milk
1 15oz can potato chunks, drained and diced
1/2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
salt and pepper to taste

Fresh ingredients:
1 cup diced celery
1 cup smoke spiral-cut ham, chopped
1 ham bone
8 cups water

1. Put water, split peas and ham bone in crock pot. Cook on high for 5 hours. 2. Add vegetables and cook on low for 2 more hours. 3. Saute ham chunks in a pan until edges are crisp. 4. Stir Worcestershire sauce, canned milk and ham into soup and serve.

I've made this with fresh carrots, onion and potatoes and they work just as well, but frankly my food storage is more convenient because there is less chopping involved. If you use fresh potatoes it's 2 medium, chopped, carrots- 2 cups, chopped, and onions- 1 small, chopped. I've also done it without canned milk because I spaced it one evening. It was still good, but better with the milk.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Zucchini Souffle

I have lots of grated zucchini in my freezer. I don't even have a garden. I just live in Utah where lots of people grow zucchini and it doesn't take a green thumb to get more zucchini than you can eat. I have been blessed with neighbors who share their surplus, and have been trying numerous ways to use this green vegetable. I found this recipe on The Mom Blog awhile ago; I made a few changes, but it turned out well. I like this because it's easy, inexpensive and is another way to sneak in the veggies.

Zucchini Souffle
1/3 cup canola oil
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp grated Parmesan
1/2 tsp Italian seasoning 
1 cup grated cheddar cheese
3 cups grated zucchini
3/4 cup Bisquick
4 eggs
1/2 cup chopped green onion 

1. Preheat oven to 350. 2. Mix oil, salt, Parmesan, Italian seasoning, onion, and eggs. Mix in Bisquick.  3. Fold in zucchini and cheddar. 4. Bake for 50 minutes.

The picky eaters in our family wouldn't eat this because it had "too much green stuff" to be worth trying. We liked it though. We served it with watermelon and corn on the cob which satisfied the munchkins. 

For more ideas for your zucchini surplus go here. 

Edit 12/11/10: Tonight I made this again, but I used yellow squash instead of zucchini (it was in my Bountiful Basket) and added half diced sweet bell pepper. It was amazing.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Easy Lemon Cake Truffles

I'm not going to pretend that these are healthy, but they are really fun, easy and tasty. It's the kind of project that is great to do with your kids. Just have them pull a stool up to the counter and dig in. My neighbor Charlie taught me how to make these a couple weeks ago. She makes them with neighbors, grandkids and kids in the daycare she works at. She used chocolate cake and frosting, but I have a general aversion to chocolate frosting and a serious weakness for lemon desserts. And as it is my blog we are doing it my way. (You're welcome to make yours however you please. :D Most flavors should work.)

Easy Lemon Cake Truffles
1 box of lemon cake, prepared per directions

1 container of lemon frosting
sprinkles, coconut flakes, dried fruit, colored sugar and small candies

1. Take baked cake and crumble in a bowl.

2. Dump in entire container of frosting. Mix thoroughly.

3. Using an ice cream scoop form balls from cake mixture. Roll into a more even shape.

4. Roll into toppings.

5. Refrigerate before eating.

When I made them with Charlie they looked AMAZING. This time I believe there were two
problems with mine. a) I think I should have let my cake cool off a little more, so the "dough" was less sticky, b) My two year old and five year old were involved. Things are not going to be picture perfect. I'm ok with that. We had fun. :)

Shared  on Themed Baker's Sunday link up party @ Cupcake Apothecary

Monday, November 29, 2010

Christmas Ornament Giveaway #1-Believe in Miracles

Hooray it's Christmas time! That means it's time to decorate. Long ago I made the decision to try to keep my Christmas decorations focused on the Savior and His birth, to help remind me it's not about the stress or the glitter, it's about a miracle. This also means that I am always on the lookout for great Christmas ornaments with a Nativity theme, especially ones that are just a little different. Although this year I have a plastic tote and a half of my collection that are staying packed because I can't replace them, they're fragile, and my darling son has the obedience of a goldfish.  Recently I found some beautiful nativity ornaments through Etsy and a few very talented and generous artists who were willing to share with my readers.
Our first week's ornament comes from riricreations (who is btw offering free shipping for Cyber Monday and some deals for her shop anniversary this week). To win it: 1. Tell me about you help your family to focus on the real meaning of Christmas. For additional entries 2. Check out riricreations and comment below on one item you like from her shop. 3. Become a follower of Secrets of Mom through GFC and leave a comment (or just leave a comment if you already are). 4. Share this giveaway on Facebook and leave a comment. The giveaway will run until Friday December 3, 2010 at 12:00 MST. The winner will be selected using a random number generator and announced Friday afternoon. Then Rita will send off the winner's ornament off in time to be enjoyed for the holidays. Good Luck!

Most Successful Toys at Our House

Last week a friend asked about a toy that my son was playing with. It got me thinking about the toys that have been most successful at our house. To me successful toys are the ones that we have gotten our money's worth from, that our kids don't seem to tire of, don't have any tiny pieces that get lost or broken like Littlest Pet Shops, were reasonably priced (I have never spent more than $50 on any single toy) and don't make my life more difficult in some way or another like Playdough.  It seemed like the perfect post for Cyber Monday.

LeapFrog TAG Reading System - Green1. Leapfrog Tag Reader Pen When I first heard of this I was skeptical. My kids don't need a pen to read them stories, I read to them all the time. Plus the books are kind of expensive. However, this toy has saved my sanity on many a car ride. (Thank you, Grandma) The original pen only has 16 MB of memory, which is about 5 books. Now there is a pen out with 32 MB. Both of my kids love this. The pen is essentially a camera that works with the specialized paper to play words and music when it recognizes images. There are also learning activities and games that go along with each book. When these first came out they were $50 each, but last week I bought a 32 MB pen for $27. The books are generally retail priced at $14 each, but I have gotten several for $5-6 with sales and coupons. If you are buying this one for the first time and not finding a smashing deal somewhere else I recommend going to the Leapfrog website. A starter bundle is cheaper there and you can find numerous coupons on the internet, plus you can get an Ebates bonus. The only drawback is that they take AAA batteries and the pen will warn you that the batteries are low for a few hours before they actually need to be changed. :S
2. Leapfrog Tag Maps I love these maps! They have interactive games that work with the Tag reader pen and teach about geography and culture. And they have been another hit with the kids. (Or the one they have at the moment, the other one is for Christmas.) Amazon has the USA map for $20 and the world map for $50, but I found both of them for less than $28 shipped from with a sale and coupon. If you're feeling brave this holiday season, I've heard that Toys R Us has them for $20 each, but that place is just crazy this time of year. They are much bigger than I expected and are not a toy that can easily be used in the car.
Melissa & Doug Deluxe Band Set3. Melissa and Doug Deluxe Band in a Box We have had this one for years and my kids still love to play with it. There are enough instruments that I can sit down with both of them and we can have a "jam session" trading instruments as we please. My son likes to slobber all over the recorder and then try share with others. It has pretty much become his exclusive recorder. (Amazon lists this one for $43. I swear I got mine for $22. Shop around.)
4. LEGO Duplos Yes, Legos are more expensive than many other building blocks out there, but they are good quality products that encourage imaginative play. My kids love to build things with them, and even though my kids can be kind of rough on toys we have yet to have any of these break. For my son's birthday last year I managed to score 3 sets in the Dino Valley series for $35 together shipped (retail at the time about $170) from (Part of the reason I got such a good deal was that the packaging had been smashed, but the toys themselves were still good.) I think it would have been worth it if I had paid full price for them, he plays with them that much. Here's a post I found awhile back on how to get good deals on Legos.
5. Melissa and Doug Puzzles We have about a dozen of these. (My kids are only grandchildren.) My kids love to put them together over and over again. I like them because they are sturdy. We may have lost a few pieces, put we have yet to break any. Another good quality toy. I have found that I can usually find these at reduced prices at Ross and TJ Max.
Pound and Roll Tower by Melissa & Doug6. Melissa and Doug Pound and Roll Tower Whoever came up with this one either has spent a lot of time with small boys or is a genius. It involves balls, a hammer and a ramp. What more does a little boy need? (And at the moment it is only $13 on Amazon.)
7. Melissa and Doug Pound-A-Peg Funny story about this one: One evening my daughter was playing with this toy (she was two at the time) and my husband said to her "It's time to get ready for bed." She replied "No, it's Hammer Time!"
8. Bouncy Balls- The kind that are slightly smaller than a playground ball and you can get for about a dollar. My kids have just as much fun with those as their more expensive toys.
9. Fisher Price Little People A to Z Learning Zoo Ok, my kids haven't actually tested this one yet, but I have read several reviews before deciding that this one will be my son's "big toy" this year.  I'm excited about it, it plays music, it has little animals and it will help him learn his alphabet. They have a few other Little People toys that we have been happy with. (Another toy that was bigger than I expected.) I found this one for $48 shipped at, plus they gave me a code for $10 off $50 "10thanku4" and another small free bonus toy that will make a good stocking stuffer.
10. Pop-Up Pirate We kind of have a thing for pirates at our house. (See right.) This is a good game that all family members can play and enjoy together. Y'aargh! A pirate's life for me.
11. Playskool Ball Popper I can't believe I almost forgot this one. My son loves this and has spent countless hours playing with it. It's basically a fan with a tube slide and 5 plastic balls. Of course he figured out how to use it like a blow gun, but it doesn't pop the balls out hard enough to hurt anything.

Check out my post about tips for online shopping.

What have been the most successful toys in your family?