Foil Dinners

foil dinner

Foil dinners are normally just a meal for when you’re camping. But, thanks to the easy clean up, all the veggies you can pack into this meal, and how inexpensive they are to make, they’ve become a regular at our house!

Foil Dinners

Ingredients:

4-6 potatoes (1 for each person), peeled and chopped

2 cups carrots, chopped

1 zucchini, sliced

¼ cup butter

2 cans (15 oz each) chili

Salt and pepper, to taste

Shredded cheddar

 

Directions:

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Spray about a 12” piece of foil with non-stick spray. Place potatoes, ½ cup of carrots, and about ¼ of the zucchini in center of foil. Season with salt and pepper, and any other seasonings you’d like (I use garlic powder and onion powder). Drop about 1/2 Tbsp of butter on top of vegetables. Top with ½ cup of chili, and sprinkle with cheese. Bring edges of foil together and fold them down a few times to seal, leaving enough room for steam to circulate. Bring in sides of foil to make a packet, being careful to seal completely. Repeat steps to make 4-6 packets. Place packets onto cookie sheet and bake 1 hour.

This meal is very versatile: use any vegetables you like, switch the chili for baked beans, add ground beef…customize it and enjoy!

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Traditions: Halloween!

I don’t think we can place too much importance on family traditions. They give the family roots, stability, and a reason to come together. Each season has its own traditions, and at our house, Fall and Halloween are brimming with them. The following list includes my own family traditions and things I’ve gathered from good ol’ Pinterest. So get some inspiration, pick and choose, or cram them all into your October! (Check out this countdown chain idea here to organize all these fun traditions!)

Witchy Apple Carving

Carve a witch’s face into an apple, add rice for teeth and raisin or chocolate chips for eyes. Let it sit on your counter. The longer it sits, the uglier and witchier it gets! This activity is for adults to do and kids to watch. It doesn’t take a lot of time and barely any money, and it’s something the kids will be excited about for as long as you can handle watching an apple get disgusting on your kitchen counter. You’re welcome.

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Dollar Store Decorations/Make Your Own

We spend a few days/weeks earning this one. If the kids have done a good job keeping their rooms clean, or getting along well, or whatever it is you want them to do, they get to pick out a few decorations from the dollar store for their rooms! Everybody wins! My kids also love to draw, color and make decorations. We display them around the house and the kids love to see their work!

Jack-O-Lanterns

This one doesn’t need an explanation. Carve or paint, light them up, and display!

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Visit a Pumpkin Patch

Let the kids get dirty trying to find their perfect pumpkin. Buying pumpkins this way is so much more fun than picking them out at the grocery store (and can be a lot cheaper, too!).

Get Lost in a Corn Maze

You might get lucky and be able to combine this one and the pumpkin patch! There are different kinds of corn mazes nowadays: easy ones, ridiculously difficult ones, ones shaped like famous people, haunted ones…. pick the one that best suits your family and get lost!

Read Scary (or not) Books

My kids love this one, so we’ve built up quite a collection of Halloween/Fall books (you could always go to the library for this activity). We read one book as a family each night before bed. With my older kids, we choose a spooky chapter book and I read it aloud to them throughout the month. What better way to end your day than snuggling and blankets and books?

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Fall Food

The food this time of year seriously rocks: soups in bread bowls, caramel apples, mummy dogs, hot chocolate, pumpkin everything, chili, apple cider, caramel popcorn, spiderweb soup….this list could get really long. Run to Pinterest, people!

Rake Leaves as Service

I think traditions built around service are the most meaningful and memorable ones. Growing up, the people across the street had huge trees. Their lawn would get absolutely covered in all the leaves. My mom would send us out after it got dark to rake and bag them up. We loved being sneaky and trying to not get caught.

“Boo!” Your Neighbors

Who doesn’t love finding a plate of goodies on their porch? This tradition involves printing out a few of  these fun little things, whipping up something yummy, and leaving it all on a few of your neighbors’ porches. Then watch as everyone shares the love! But keep it a secret!!

Movie Night!!!

Pick a flick and hit the lights! We have so many favorite shows that this one happens frequently at our house. Here are some ideas: Hocus Pocus, Nightmare Before Christmas, Ghost Busters, Addams Family, Casper, Haunted Mansion, Paranorman, Frankenweenie, Harry Potter, Corpse Bride, Young Frankenstein, It’s the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown. OR if you have very young kids, you can always depend on The Disney Channel, Nick Jr, and PBS to supply you with at least one Halloween special from all of your favorite shows.

Halloween Cookies

This one came from my husband’s family. They love their sugar cookies so they make them in all kinds of Halloween shapes and decorate them! This would be perfect to use if you “Boo!” your neighbors (see above). I also pinned these cute monster cookies. So fun!

Mad Scientist/Witch’s Potions

I just found this one this year and I can’t wait to try it! Let the littles “experiment” with water and food dye in this totally kid-friendly version, or have them watch as you make a few potions and experiments that require a little more work. Your kids won’t even realize they’re learning with this kind of fun!

Haunted Gingerbread Houses

Lots of grocery stores (Wal-mart and Target to name a few) carry kits (about $10) to make gingerbread houses, Halloween style! The parents assemble them, and the kids decorate! Once you’re finished, display it for the rest of the season!

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Local Halloween Festivals

If you live around here (Wasatch Front, Utah) I’m sure you’ve heard about Gardner Village. They have so much fun going on over there. WitchFest is a must. They have scavenger hunts, darling witch displays, a petting zoo/pony rides, all kinds of fun with witches. And this year they’ve added Wee Witch’s Playground, and Wee Witch’s Weekend just for the kids! But if you don’t live around here, find something near you and get out of the house for some Fall fun!

Halloween Night Dinner

Of course, all this fun is building up to the big night! Both my mom and my husband’s mom did a good job of making traditions for the 31st. We combine their traditions and have homemade chili and breadsticks (my mother-in-law’s tradition) before going trick-or-treating. And when the kids come home, we warm up with hot apple cider and donuts (my mom’s tradition). Yum!!

Help us add to the list! What are you favorite traditions for this time of year??

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Witch Countdown Chain

We have so many traditions and activities that we love to do in October so our “Halloween To-Do List” can get pretty long. Rather than just checking all of them off our list as we do them, why not make it cute and fun?

I found this idea for a countdown chain, but I’m adding to it. I made a simple witch face and hat out of construction paper. I wrote an activity on each link of the chain in order to stay organized and on top of things. If you’re not as crazy …ambitious as I am, just pick a few activities/traditions and spread them out throughout the month by writing them more sporadically on the chain. Each day when you pull off the link, you do the activity written there! Pretty easy, I think! Happy October everyone!

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How My Family of 6 Lives on $100 of Groceries Per Week

Boys and girls, I’m a tightwad. I have 4 growing kids and not enough energy to clip coupons, so my money-saving tips are basic and simple, and kind of the laziest way to save money on groceries (not just food, household items and diapers included). Here’s what I do:

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Price Match and Shop Where/When it’s Cheap

Some grocery stores are just plain cheaper than others. And then there’s Wal-mart. I know how most people feel about Wal-mart, but if you can get over it for an hour each week I promise you’ll save money. At least that is my experience. If you want to support local grocery stores, that’s great, too, there are sales and coupons no matter where you choose to shop. Just find the one with the consistently best prices and go there! I stock up on stuff when they go on sale. And I don’t go crazy and buy cases of sliced pears in light syrup, I just grab what I know I’ll use and what I have room for in my pantry. A well-stocked pantry (beans, rice, pasta) will save you money, too.

If you do shop at Wal-mart, ad matching (or price matching) is your best friend. Every week when the ads come in the mail (the free mailers from local grocers, I don’t get the newspaper or anything special), I go through them and make a list of any good deals on the things I actually use. I make sure to write down the brand, how many oz/lbs (if this applies), the sale price (of course), and the store it’s from so that I’m price matching honestly. I end up saving dimes and quarters on most products this way, but dimes and quarters add up folks.

Don’t Buy Name Brands

There’s no need to, so just don’t. Generic brands rock…except for the stuff that you’re snobby about. For me, it’s peanut butter and laundry/dish detergent. The generic just isn’t the same. For the most part though, generic brands are just as good as their name brand counterparts. And waaaaaay cheaper. I bet you can’t even tell the difference. So if it’s all the same to you, buy the one in the less pretty box…this is where the most savings are.

Plan a Menu for a Week

I plan a week’s worth of dinners and shop once a week. I think this is the biggest, very best tip. If you’re at the store less often, you’re going to spend less money on impulse buys (when you make your list, stick to it!). This is the step that takes the most brainpower. I look at my list of price-matched items/items that are on sale, and build my menu based on those ingredients. If there’s a sale on ground beef, tortillas, and marinara sauce, it’s tacos and spaghetti for us that week! I also try to plan meals that use the same ingredients. For example, if sour cream is cheap, I plan two meals that will both need sour cream. I stretch that sale as far as it’ll go and get the biggest bang for my buck. Also, use your pantry! That can of black beans in there isn’t going to do you any good if it expires, so peruse your shelves and build meals out what you have already stocked up on. Planning for the whole week is nice because you never have to wonder what’s for dinner! You’ve already decided and purchased everything you need for it.

Limit How Much Meat You Buy

Meat is probably the most expensive thing on your list, so try limiting how much you buy. We only have meaty meals three times a week. When I shared this little fun fact with my husband he was surprised! See? He doesn’t even miss it. On nights that we go meatless, I try to make something with lots of other hearty foods like potatoes and other veggies, beans, or canned chili with meat.

In buying beef and chicken, you’ll get the best value out of the large package. Each week I buy either the 3 lb package of ground beef, or the 3-½ lb package of chicken breasts, and split those into three meals.

**Disclaimer: Every family has different eating habits so results may vary. These tips are what work for my family and me. My family of 6 consists of me, my husband (who is not a small person), and my 4 young kids (my 6-yr-old son already eats like a man, and I have a toddler in diapers, so if you add those together it’s almost like feeding another adult and a half).

I hope these help you save some money! If you have some tricks of your own, please share with the class! Leave a comment!

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Praise vs Pressure: The Way You Praise Your Kids Might Actually be Hurting Them

I don’t think it would come as a surprise to any parent that calling your child “stupid”, or some other negative label, is going to have negative effects on their behavior, self-esteem, and even personality development. But it might surprise you that some seemingly positive labels can, too!

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Growing up, I was a pretty good kid: I’ve always been a rule-follower (to a fault); I was very quiet and easy to please. It just wasn’t in my nature to talk back or get into trouble (this is less true for a few of my teenage years, sorry mom). I have four siblings with four personalities very different from my own, who tended to make more waves than I did. Not that they weren’t good kids, just more like the typical kid than I was. Because I got into less trouble than my sisters and brother, they started calling me “the good one”, “perfect”, or “the smart one”. This kind of labeling doesn’t seem so bad, and honestly, I would take that kind of “name calling” over most anything else. However, labeling, even with positive labels, can have negative effects.

Lets start with the POSITIVE

Being called “perfect” for all those growing up years caused me to set a standard for myself. I felt that because they thought I was a certain way, that’s exactly what I needed to be. It caused me to push myself to be perfect, especially in school. I was a model student. I studied hard, I learned a lot, and I never got less than an A-. I just didn’t accept anything less than that of myself. All my hard work toward “perfection” academically got me a full-ride scholarship in college. In this instance, the label really paid off.

But here is the NEGATIVE

It wasn’t until a few years ago that I even realized the negative effects of my label as “perfect”. I am afraid of failure. In fact, my fear of failing has kept me from doing so many things. If I was presented with an opportunity to take on something new, I tended to pass if I thought there was even a slight chance that I would fall short or “look stupid”. I felt like any kind of mistake would mean I was imperfect, and therefore, not good.

If I made a mistake in any way, I hid it from whomever I could. I never allowed myself to openly mess up. I didn’t feel like I could share my failures with anyone so I just bottled them all up. Talk about unhealthy. Now I feel like I’m so full of walls covering up my mistakes that a lot of me is closed off. Even now, as a 30-year-old mother of 4, it’s hard for me to admit my mistakes or when I’m wrong, or when I’ve failed. I’m working hard on it, and my kids help out a lot (they’re brutally honest, as little kids are, and love me even when I screw up). I don’t blame my siblings in any way. They were doing what siblings do. I don’t blame anyone. But I know I want to somehow do things differently with myself from here on out.

What we tend to do

My oldest child learns easily. She’s like a sponge for knowledge. She excels in school with very little effort. She’s heard me call her “smart” like 6 bazillion times. Last week, she came home from school completely devastated about her score on her math test. She got 88% and concluded that she wasn’t good at math and felt like a failure. 88%!! My heart dropped into my stomach and I realized that I’m repeating this cycle with my own child. All her life, when I would I give her praise it sounded a lot like this, “You are so smart!” “You are such an artist!” “You’re such a natural!” While these statements are all positive and any parent would feel good about saying these things to their child, it can actually be counterproductive. Telling a child they’re smart, talented, a natural, or even like in my case “perfect”, can add a lot of pressure to keep that label. Any kind of failure will just knock them over because suddenly they don’t fit under that label anymore.

What to do instead

After I got to this point in my thinking, I was like, “Okay so I’m messing my kid up. But what am I supposed to be saying to her instead??” So I Googled it, and what I found caused me to jump up and run into the other room where my hubster was, and wave my phone in his face saying “Look! My weirdness is an actual thing!” There’s a wise woman named Carol Dweck who has done much research on this very topic. After I read over her study, I felt vindicated! She described me in almost the same words I used to describe myself. So let me paraphrase what she said we should do instead…

Praise your child for trying and for their efforts: When your baby brings home an impressive report card, focus on their hard work instead of the fact that things come easily to them. Saying “I’m so proud of the hard work you put into school!” is better than “All A’s? Look how smart you are!”

When your child scores a goal in his soccer game, say, “Look at how all your hard practice has paid off!” instead of, “You are a natural at soccer!”

Praise them for the work they’ve done or for their behavior: Pointing out the specific work they’ve done well would sound like, “You did a great job with those spelling words!” or, “I can tell you did your best work on that art project!”

This whole thing is pretty new to me. It’s going to take some serious effort on my part to turn this whole “labeling” bus around. But I think it’s important to do if I want to help build-up my children in the right way. I also wanted to share my story to bring this issue to people’s attention. In some of my articles I give advice, and in some I ask for it. This article is both. I would really love to hear your thoughts on this. What are your experiences with this (positive or negative)? What is working for you? Help! (Please and thank you)

**The thoughts and opinions I have expressed are totally mine. Carol Dweck did not ask me to say any of this, nor does she endorse this blog in any way (but that would be awesome if she did).

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Never Forget: 9.11.2001

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On the morning of September 11, 2001 I was a 17-year-old girl, a high school senior already so uncertain and stressed about my future. Watching the tragedies of the morning unfold filled my heart with fear and sadness and anger until it broke. I dealt with those emotions in the only way I knew how: I wrote…this…

I Would Give You…9/11

I would give you my tears if I had any left to cry.

I would show you my hate, the rage you bottled up inside me

When you took my brothers and my sisters,

The ones I had never met.

I would let you taste the sting and the burn

Of my fear, my pain.

Even though I was shielded with the miles

I felt the rumble. I heard a nation cry.

I would break your heart, like you broke ours,

But yours is frozen.

 

I want you to hear our strength, our prayers, our songs.

I want to hold your remorse, and I want your guilt to be

Screamed into your ears, poured into your heart

To stay and sit like sand.

So heavy.

I would like to forgive your mistake, to look past your stony eyes

And say it’s all okay.

But it isn’t.

I want things to heal to how they were before you stirred us.

But we’re better now, because you showed us

We could rise above you

And keep soaring.

 

And in my reflecting on all of that I also wrote this morning, 13 years later…

My slow tears over the ham sandwiches I was making to pack in my children’s lunches caught their attention.

“Mom? Are you sad?” my daughter asked.

“Hmm? Oh, I was just remembering. Yes, I’m a little sad today.” I answered back, wiping my face.

Well, now I had their attention. I spent the few rushed minutes we had before school explaining the heart-wrenching attacks of 9/11 in the most kid-friendly-but-still-honest way possible. I wanted to use this precious opportunity to teach my children.

I focused first on those who lost their lives that day, and the importance of the memory. I talked about how each one of their families and friends had to keep pushing along everyday without their loved one, and how we need to be kind to everyone because we don’t know how hard each day might be for them.

I emphasized the heroes, the brave and unselfish men and women who chose to put the lives of strangers before their own because that is what is right. I taught them that everyday there are those same kinds of good men and women sacrificing to give us the freedoms we love, even some of our own family and friends are among those heroes. I told them that I look up to those people and want to be like them and that I hope my children will be heroes in their own ways, everyday.

As we drove to school I left my sweet, innocent kids with this: There is good in the world, in each of you. In your teachers and friends, in our neighbors and at church. Them men and women who lead our state and country have good in them, too. We need to spread the good to chase away the bad and the scary. That is our responsibility: to love everyone as much as our hearts possibly can, and do our best to be heroes in our own ways, every single day.

I will never forget.

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Easy Chili

chili

This is my go-to chili recipe. We have it every Halloween before the kids go out to Trick-or-Treat. But because it’s so good and so easy, my family is never surprised if we have it even on a hot summer day! It’s just too good to be seasonal!

Easy Chili

Ingredients:

2 cans (15 oz each) chili beans

1 can (15 oz) kidney beans, drained and rinsed

1 lb gound beef

1 cup onion, chopped

1 cup green pepper, chopped

1 can (15 oz) diced tomatoes

1 can (6 oz) tomato paste

½ cup water

½ tsp black pepper

1 tsp salt

1 Tbsp chili powder

2 tsp oregano

1 tsp sugar

cheddar and sour cream to garnish (optional)

Directions:

In a large pot, brown beef with onion and green pepper. Drain. Stir in remaining ingredients, except cheese and sour cream. Bring to a boil. Cover and reduce heat to medium-low. Simmer 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Top with cheddar and sour cream.

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