Monthly Archives: February 2014

Life of Fred – Homeschool Happens Everywhere

This is what homeschool looks like.

I’m grateful for all the wonderful ideas my friend Julie @ Creekside Learning has given me to homeschool B.  When she told me about the Life of Fred Math curriculum, it sounded like something that was right up B’s alley and we gave it a try in the Fall of 2012.  B really loves his Fred!  He does not have to be told twice to work on Math and he does it independently.  :o)  A year and a half later and we’re still happy with Fred.

B likes to settle into a niche, under a blanket or find a friend when he does Life of Fred and I posted several pictures of him on Instagram last year.  Julie suggested that I do a blog post, compiling all of these Life of Fred pictures and I knew she’d come up with another good idea.  Of course, then my muddled brain completely forgot about it.  Well, it’s almost a year later and I just remembered, so I’m sitting down to post some of these pix before I forget again!

Life of Fred Collage

Reviews-day Tuesday: Cozi Online Family Organizer

I don’t think there are enough products in my life to do a review every Tuesday.  However it’s Tuesday, I’ve decided to share something with you that has helped our family and the blog title sounded appropriate and cute.  The next time I decide to share an item I’ve tried, I’ll try to remember to do so on a Tuesday.

I’ve talked to y’all in the past about my favorite family planner/calendar,  the More Times Mom Family Organizer. I’ve even given one of these away because I wanted to share it with others.  However, due to recent health issues and stress, my memory has gone kaput! Most days over the last year and a half, I didn’t remember to look at my calendar. My aunt had invited 2 of my cousins and me to a wonderful event last year and I forgot all about it because I didn’t even remember I had a calendar to look at. Everytime I think of that, I am still embarrassed!  It’s been really rough living inside this body and the stress I piled on myself when things like this happened just made the memory issues worse.  Even when I looked at my calendar and repeated an appointment on there over and over in my head, as soon as I turned away from the calendar, it was forgotten.

Since last Fall, I’ve been going to doctors appointments a lot.  At the end of each one I would be asked when I could come back for this or that test and then when can I come back to discuss the test results.  I had no idea when I was or was not free!  I would have to call them back when I got home after checking my calendar, but that also posed problems.  1) I could have obligations that I just forgot to write on my calendar, and 2) I have a terrible fear of phones.  I would put off calling a doctor for weeks because I simply could not make myself pick up the phone and call.  I needed something else to keep track of my life because my way of life no longer worked with my beloved MTM Family Organizer (oh, how I truly grieved over that loss!).

Then one day at the beginning of the year I was on The Fly Lady’s website looking for a Contol Journal for B. I had decided that he needed something to keep him on top of his household obligations and school lessons.  He was old enough and I was tired of having to remind him all the time.  (Well, it’s kind of hard for a child to be organized and remember everything when he has such a poor example in his Mom!)

While The Student Control Journal  was printing, I looked around Fly Lady.  I hadn’t been there in a while, but she has helped me organize parts of my life before – for example, Cruising through Christmas & doing Christmas cards – so I wanted to see what’s new. I was clicking on all the headings at the top and bottom of her homepage and one was “Cozi”. I had no idea what that meant so I went to the page to find out.  According to The Fly Lady’s website: and Cozi have teamed up to bring to you the FlyLady Online Organizer. This is a web-based calendar and organizer program that will allow you to schedule, plan, have time-zone-specific reminders, shopping lists, to-do lists, a family journal section that you can even opt in to post to  Facebook, and more! Oh yes, and we did mention it’s free?

I was curious, so I went to Cozi’s website and read more about it.  It sounded good and, since it was free, I decided to sign up. I really liked what was included!  I was quite overwhelmed in the calendar, however, because it was full of Fly Lady reminders on each day. I am not currently “flying” with her system and would not need those, but soon figured out how to hide them all.  I immediately added a couple of items to the calendar, looked at the list options and perused the recipe bank.  It was quite
easy to maneuver through.

We’ve now been using The Fly Lady Online Organizer from Cozi for almost 2 months and are loving it! Did you notice I said “we”?  Yup, the hubs is all in.  He was constantly feeling out of the loop with what B and I were doing, either because I didn’t remember myself or he never looked at the wall calendar. But now I keep Cozi up on the family computer all day long. He checks it in the morning before leaving for work and knows exactly what we’ll be up to that day.  And if he forgets, he just
pulls up the Cozi app on his phone.  That’s right, is has a matching, free app.

Each one of us has our own color assigned in the calendar so we can tell which appointments are for which family member or if they are for all of us.  We can set recurring appointments and receive reminders on our phone.  On the day I signed up, I entered all the important birthdays into the Calendar and set reminders. This has already paid off – the hubs called his parents on their anniversary and he
wished his SIL a happy birthday.

I don’t have to suffer the dreaded “Whats for dinner?” question all the time because the hubs checks the Meals page before he asks.  I’m trying really hard to update that with dinner plans as soon as I have one.

I really like the Shopping section. It already came with separate lists for the grocery store and wholesale club and I can create other lists, as well. The hubs and I have been really good about entering into the organizer any items we need from the store.  Then, we just pull up the app in the store!  No more forgetting something because I forgot to write it down or left the list at home (I did that frequently). When I put an item in my grocery cart, I check it off in the app. I can either remove the checked items from the list or leave them in the list, but checked off.  I leave regularly purchased items in the list and the next time I need them, I merely tap them, which unchecks them in the list. Now I know I need to buy it and I didn’t have to retype it.

There are other features we have not used yet – To Do Lists, Family Journal and a Messages page where you can write notes to each other.  Although I use the free app with ads at the bottom, you can purchase the Gold version for $29.99/year. In the Gold version, you not only are ad free but you get added features – Contacts (Cozi says that feature is great for doing Holiday cards), and a Birthday Tracker.  The ads don’t bother me or impede what I need to get done in the app and I’ve already added birthdays into the Calendar.

This online family organizer has made a great difference in our life. I’ve drastically cut down on the number of trips I’m making to the grocery store for forgotten items. If the hubs decides to stop at the store on his way home from work, he’s got what I need in his phone. When I’m at a doctor’s office or meeting up with friends and I get asked when I’ll be able to see them again, I can look at the calendar in my phone and make plans with confidence. It’s amazing that when I remove a stressor from my
life, I don’t just lose the stress caused by that one problem. Relieving this big stress has allowed me to relax more about other problems and take them in stride. Another added benefit of less stress on me is a happier hubs and a happier B. 😊

Giving Freezer Cooking a Try

Here are the four “baby steps” I took to make my 1st attempt at freezer cooking enjoyable.

First of all, I want to apologize that the picture is not of all the freezer food I made over the past 4 days. Both my food photography skills and the lighting in my kitchen are atrocious.  So, although I took pictures of everything I made, the pictures did not all turn out well.  The wonderful colors of the foods  have disappeared in most of my pictures and very few are even in focus.  So, I’m showing you the big salad I made, the hot dogs and chicken I grilled, the bread I baked and a spoonful of soup I pulled out of the pot to taste.   Onto freezer cooking…

I’ve wanted to do if for some time but was afraid – of the amount of time needed, the cost of buying all that food at once, the kitchen being such a disaster that I would run from the house, screaming.  See, I had this idea in my head that Freezer cooking meant cooking all the meals your family would eat for an entire month, all in one setting.  That was the wrong impression I got from all the articles and books out there from people who spend time, one day a month, freezer cooking.  I equated “freezer cooking once a month” to “cooking everything my family will eat for the next 30 days”.  It’s not so.  Phew!

I decided to start small on Thursday but it wasn’t small enough for this scatterbrain, because I didn’t cook everything I thought I would.  I didn’t get upset, though, and did a little more on Friday.  I did well, so I did some more Saturday and today, too.  Although I don’t have every meal, not even every dinner, my family will eat this week, I have some meals and a some meal elements in my freezer that I can go to on those days when life gets away from me.  Those days when I didn’t plan ahead or I just don’t feel like cooking.  I enjoyed it because I took baby steps and I’d like to do this regularly to keep my head above water in the kitchen.

BABY STEP #1: Doubling Up.  I made Salisbury Steak, mashed potatoes and roasted green beans for dinner on Thursday.  While I had the ingredients out and my hands were in raw meat, I decided to make enough steak for two dinners.  Just the Salisbury Steak, mind you, I didn’t make extra potatoes nor green beans.  But the protein is always the hardest part of meal planning, for me; throwing sides together are easy.  So the extra portion of Salisbury Steak is in the freezer.

On Friday, I decided to make a fake-lasagna bake for lunch, so I doubled the recipe.  I dislike making lasagna.  The noodles are a pain to cook, they peel apart while I’m trying to put the lasagna together and all the layering is messy.  So now I just heat all the lasagna ingredients in a skillet, along with whatever shaped pasta I have on hand (B’s fav is Rotini), pour into a baking dish, top with some more cheese and bake until the top gets some color on it.  The extra one went into a baking dish and received cheese on top, but went to the freezer before baking.

BABY STEP #2: Cook My Protein.  I had 6 frozen chicken breasts left in the 10 lb bag I buy from Costco.  I thawed them all, tossed them with some Italian dressing and grilled them yesterday.  It was a beautiful day to be grilling!  I usually grill all year long, but I have not done it much over the past year.  That is going to change.  I sliced up all cooked chicken, used two of them on a big salad for dinner last night and divided the rest into two freezer bags.  That way, if I’ve completely forgotten about dinner one day until B says at 5pm, “I’m hungry. What’s for Dinner?” he won’t have to wait for me to thaw something nor will I throw up my hands and grab fast food.

BABY STEP #3: Make Soup.  Soup is so easy to make and a great way to use up leftovers in your fridge!  I had lots of veggies in the house, including kale (not the most popular vegetable on the planet), and it all got thrown in the pot with some chicken stock I’d made earlier in the week from the remnants of a Costco rotisserie chicken.  Put it all together and it all tastes wonderful, even the kale.  ;o)  Although I made a vegetable soup, you can use up leftover proteins in soup, too.  Here are my recipes for Chicken Noodle Soup and Steak Soup.

I had three loaves worth of bread dough in the fridge that needed to be baked, so I did that today and froze them.  Each loaf was sliced and double bagged before going into the freezer.  By slicing the loaves first, I can just take out a a few slices as needed, instead of thawing a whole loaf.

With the rest of the homemade chicken stock and remaining meat that came off that Costco chicken, I made a chicken pot pie to freeze, as well.  Pot pies are another great way to use up leftovers!

BABY STEP #4: Use the slow cooker.  I am not a big fan of the slow cooker.  Lots of people I read about online as well as those I know have scads of slow cooker recipes they love.  I’ve probably found less than five.  It’s a waste of food and money if a slow cooker recipes does not turn out to our liking.  I’ve learned to never cook on low anymore; it takes so long to cook the meat it dries out, IMO.  I only cook on high.  I took a chance on this Slow Cooker Pork Ragu from Moneywise Moms today and was pleasantly surprised.  Even the hubs liked it!  I doubled the recipe, made some ingredient adjustments based on what I had on hand and had to add some garlic salt to the finished product.  Now I have enough for dinner tomorrow night and I’m freezing the rest in multiple portions for other dinners.

I’m very happy with what I’ve accomplished and I look forward to discovering more great freezer recipes!

My Health Update

Last November, I blogged about a mass that was found in my middle ear and ear canal, found by my ENT.  He referred me to a neurosurgeon who would take it out.  I visited two neurosurgeons, both of whom confirmed the ENT’s diagnosis – a cholesteatoma (grainy mass most likely made up of keratin cells) that has completely filled my middle ear, has torn away part of my ear drum, spilled into my ear canal, eroded away most of the hearing bones in my middle ear and has started to erode the bone separating it from my brain.  That bone around my brain keeps out infection.  If it were to wear away, any infection I get in my ears or sinuses could potential get into the brain and cause meningitis.  Both neurosurgeons agreed that surgery was needed to remove the cholesteatoma, but they each had different approaches.

I wrongly assumed that the surgery would involve going through my ear canal to get at the cholesteatoma.  In fact, it involves drilling a hole in my skull behind my ear to gain access.  The hole will be drilled near an important artery, so the surgeons have sensors that will go off if they get too close to that artery.  My skull may or may not grow back over the hole, but the surgeons informed me that no damage could be done if I get bopped there.

I have a blood disorder that causes me to form clots; I take a daily blood thinner for it.  This disorder can make surgeries a higher risk for me.  Usually, patients receive 2 surgeries – one to remove the cholesteatoma and a second one, after irritation and swelling have gone down, to insert the prosthetic bone.

Surgeon #1’s plan: First of all, he sent me to a hematologist to get a full work up on my blood disorder.  He wants the hematologist involved with my surgical plan and recovery to keep me safe.  He wants to reduce the number of surgeries I have to go through not only because of my blood disorder but also to reduce the number of times my skull is accessed.  Due to my blood disorder, he feels that performing the surgery in a hospital will be the safest place for me.  He plans to perform 2 surgeries at most and it depends on how bad the cholesteatoma is when he gets in there.  If it takes a long time to remove it and/or if the surrounding tissue is quite irritated and inflamed, he will go back for the 2nd surgery to add the prosthesis.  He will remove cartilage from the external section of my ear and use that to reattach my ear drum to my ear canal; he will also reshape my ear canal.  Instead of it being a cylinder that stops at the ear drum, he’s going to make the end of my ear canal a bowl that dips down below my ear drum.  This bowl will give him access to my middle ear so he can regularly clean out future cholesteatomas that grow.  Because it will come back.  It is impossible to get every single skin cell of it out and just one left will start to multiple again.  Every six months I will have to go back to the doctor so he can inspect my ear and clean it out as needed, fully awake, right in his office.

Surgeon #2’s plan: When I mentioned a hematologist, he said one was not needed.  Although he has not operated on someone with my particular blood disorder, he has operated on patients with more common blood disorders and he is confident that he and his staff can handle any issue that may arise during my surgery.  He will do it in two surgeries – one to remove the cholesteatoma and one to implant the prosthesis and sew my ear drum back to my ear canal.  I would have to follow up regularly with scans and each time the cholesteatoma returns, he would perform the same surgery to remove it.  He does not like to perform surgeries in hospitals; he feels there are too many germs in hospitals providing a high risk of infections.  Therefore, he has built his own surgical, outpatient center and would perform all of my surgeries there.

I have decided to go with surgeon #1.

The hematologist asked me more questions and checked for more symptoms than probably all the doctors I’ve ever been to, combined.  I really appreciated how thorough he was.  I have been experiencing dementia-like symptoms for 5 years and, with Alzheimer’s in my family, I was concerned I was experiencing early onset.  The hematologist sent me to a neurologist (different type of doctor than the neurosurgeons I had already seen) to get these symptoms checked out right away and I did.  Before being operated on, I wanted my neurosurgeon to have my whole health picture, especially if I was experiencing a brain issue.

The neurologist was wonderful; reminded me of McDreamy from Greys Anatomy.  ;o)  He was good looking and kind but efficient.  He didn’t have a physician’s assistant or nurse; he came out to the waiting room to get me and checked my blood pressure himself.  We talked for a long time about what I had been experiencing and for how long.  He also gave me a verbal test for dementia in his office.  I passed with 100%.  He said if it really was Alzheimer’s, not only wold I have not been able to pass the test, but I wouldn’t be able to care for myself right now because the progression of Alzheimer’s from the first sign of symptoms was 3-5 years.  Since I had been experiencing symptoms for 5 years, it was something else.

He ordered an EEG and an MRI (that would not be done until after the 1st of the year) and told me to relax and enjoy my Christmas and New Years.  I did not have Alzheimer’s and he would find the cause.  Because of him, I did enjoy my holidays.  After the tests, he said I have a normal brain with no signs of problems.  He said my symptoms were commonly stress related.  He could send me to a psychiatrist who would perform more tests to further prove that there was nothing wrong with me if that would make me feel better, but I declined.  There have been a number of big stressors in the last 5 years and I believe him.  Especially since my symptoms reduced tremendously after he told me to enjoy my holidays.  He said to do what I needed to do to reduce stress – prayer, meditation, medication – whatever I was comfortable with and whatever worked.

So, the hematologist, the neurologist and my general practitioner all cleared me for surgery and I now have a surgical date – March 31st.  I was disappointed it was not sooner.  However, if any of his other surgeries get cancelled between now and then, I will get moved up.  Please pray that my surgery gets moved up because more erosion has occurred while I’ve been visiting other specialists.

Thank you to all of you for your support, for checking in with me and for your prayers.  It has meant and continues to mean so much to me.

Why I Loved The LEGO Movie and Think Your Family Should See It, Too

B doesn’t have any of The LEGO Movie building sets, but he made Lord Business
(in the middle) and Emmet (on the right) from LEGOs he already owned.  He also
made a mini-figure of himself (on the left) and brought it to the movie with us.

B has loooooong anticipated The LEGO Movie being released in theaters.  Creating with LEGOs is one of his favorite things to do and his builds amaze the hubs and me.  More than not, we rent children’s movies but we knew that this movie had to be seen in a theater.

I have to be honest, I’ve not been thrilled with at least half of the movies geared towards children in the last 5 years or so.  They’re quite entertaining for the kids but I’ve been unhappy with plots that don’t capture my interest, character behaviors or inappropriate “bad”characters for G and PG ratings (I will never get over the fact that Charles Muntz in Up tried to kill Carl and Russell, a child!).  So, although I agreed to take B to see The LEGO Movie this morning, I didn’t have high expectations.  Man, was I pleasantly surprised!

Don’t worry; the movie was just released yesterday and I don’t want to spoil the plot for anyone.  However, this movie was much more than just entertainment for my family and I want to share that and encourage y’all to see this movie, too.

During the opening credits, I was impressed that everything was built with LEGOs, including the Warner Bros. logo.  However, once the actual movie started, I viewed it as any other CGI’d movie of late.  Then a scene took place out on the open sea and while the waves were rolling, it hit me that this movie was not CGI’d; it was stop motion.  The time, patience and meticulousness in that scene alone just blew me away!  I can’t imagine how long this movie took to create but I know it had to have been made with love by people who feel the same about LEGOs as my B does.

There were a couple of characters and celebrity voices who made cameo appearances in the movie that caught us completely off guard.  I’d not seen them in any trailer nor heard anything about them in reviews and I loved it!

Like all children’s movies, there is a lesson to be learned, a moral.  And although I was aware of the lesson the movie was trying to teach, I felt the characters, the action and the humor were overshadowing the lesson and kids would leave just feeling happy and entertained, not focussed on the lesson.  And then the movie did something completely unexpected that brought its important lesson not only to the forefront, but also into a perspective that every child and adult in that theater could relate to. I have to say, Warner Bros., you impressed the socks off me with that one!

What was happening on that screen is something that happens in my own house.  I never would have gotten the symbolism and made the connection to my home if the writers and producers hadn’t “focused the lens so sharply” for the audience and I’m so glad they did.  If it happens in my home, it happens in other homes, too.  The creators of this movie so eloquently opened the eyes of us parents to see things, see our children and ourselves, through our children’s eyes.

And if this issue exists in your home, seeing this movie together will start a dialogue about it.  We saw the movie at 11am and B and I are still talking to each other about this movie at 7pm.  We’re not only laughing at funny lines or marveling at the movie sets, but we’re also analyzing characters, discussing the personality traits exhibited and listening to each others perspective on the symbolism we now realize was throughout the entire movie.  It reminds me of high school English class, dissecting a Shakespeare play, only I’m doing it with my son and we are both loving the conversations!

I hope y’all go see this movie and are as impressed as I was.  Once you’ve seen it, I’d love to hear what you thought of it, what you and your family got out of it and if this was an issue in your home or not.  You can tell me in the comments, below, or on my Facebook page.

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