Get me outta here!

Living it up in Chicago

I love Chicago! I love how busy it is. I love riding public transportation and walking every where. I love the shopping and the museums. I love how close it is to home. And I really love the food!!

I had only been to Chicago for work so this was the first time I was able to take my family. To make it even better, we got to visit one of our favorite families – the Konc family. The Konc’s used to live a few doors up from us and since we have kids around the same ages we all became very good friends. Then they moved to Minneapolis. So we flew out to see them and explore Minneapolis. Then they moved to Atlanta so we drove to Atlanta to visit them and explore the city. And now they live in Chicago so we packed up the car and drove to Chicago.

konc fam

Holland, Elliot, Roman, Andi, Joey and Winston – Friends for Life

We spent the first night at hotel in Lincoln Park. We arrived in the mid-afternoon so we decided to check out the hotel and freshen up. My son Joey has trained and worked for a circus since he was about 10-years-old. We had heard quite a bit about CircEsteem in Chicago so we scheduled a visit for him. While he was there, we drove around and let Andi take pictures at places that are in the show Shameless. It rained a lot that night so we decided to grab dinner at a diner close to our hotel and call it a night.

The next day we hit the Museum of Science and Industry. We spent several hours at this amazing museum. There were a lot of hands-on exhibits that even entertained me, my husband and two teenagers. My favorite part though had to be the U-505 Submarine. It’s a real submarine. My husband was in the Navy so it was amazing to see something like this up close.

That night we headed to the Konc’s homestead where we spent the next three nights with Amanda, Deacon, their four children and two dogs. The live in the Wrigley Field neighborhood. This neighborhood is really cool! I noticed the amazing architecture as we walked around. The Cubs Stadium was obviously my favorite. The neighborhood is also filled with cute shops, restaurants and bars.

We visited the Willis Tower (Sears Tower) and walked out on the Skydeck ledge. The view from the ledge was beautiful. Heads up though: the wait to get to the Skydeck and the ledge can be extremely long. We waited about 90 minutes to get to the Skydeck level and then about another 30 to go out on the ledge. It was worth the wait though.

skydeck

Hitting Millennium Park is a must. Cloud Gate (the Bean) and the Crown Fountain are extremely unique and worth seeing. This is also a fun way to spend an afternoon without spending any money. The Shake Shack is a great spot to grab lunch and is right across the street from the Bean.

We also visited the Lincoln Park Zoo after having breakfast at Yolk. The zoo is small compared to Cincinnati but it’s free. We have also made it a tradition to visit the zoo every time we visit the Konc’s. BTW, Yolk was delicious too.

zoo

We rode the Ferris Wheel at Navy Pier. I was a little nervous about this but it was actually a lot of fun for all of us to be in the cage and look out over the water together.

The Art Institute of Chicago was inspiring. I will be honest though… the adults enjoyed this much more than the children. Andi, who is 18, and Holland, who is 15, pushed for this to be on our agenda but were done after the first hour. The boys were only into it for about 30 minutes. It is a very large museum and took quite some time to get through but I had hoped they would enjoy it as much as I did.

art museum kids asleep

We enjoyed a fabulous dinner at Portillo’s one of the nights. This was definitely our cheapest meal of the trip but one of the tastiest. I had a Chicago style hot dog and fries. I probably could have eaten two hot dogs but I didn’t want to wait in line again. This place gets really busy and is not a sit-down kind of restaurant. You wait in line, order and then wait for your number to be called. You want to send one member of your party to grab a table while the rest of you wait. It is absolutely worth the wait.

We also got Chicago style pizza one night and I honestly can’t remember where it was from. It was good but it was not Giordano’s. Giordano’s is definitely my favorite place to get pizza in Chicago. Note that there is usually a wait there as well but you can order while you wait.

All of the activities were a lot of fun and the food was great but the best part was being with our friends. Honestly, we can just sit around the house with them and have a great time. The next time we visit, I want to hit the River Walk and take a boat tour!

 

 

Learning to Say Yes

People talk about learning to say no all the time. You don’t have to volunteer for every school fundraiser, be on every work committee or give money to every walkathon. It can be really hard to say no, which is something I had to learn to do. But it’s even harder to say yes. I’m not talking about saying yes to running the school bake sale or hosting a benefit. I’m talking about saying yes to help.

yes

Most of us have had a crisis in our lives, whether it is a death in the family, a car accident or an illness, and have heard the question “what can I do?” from our friends and family. They might even be more direct by offering meals, to go to the store for you, be a taxi for your kids or even clean your house. And we often say “no, that’s okay” or “I’ll be alright.” But you know what, it’s not okay and it’s not alright. There are times we need to just say yes.

My son Joey was diagnosed with a rare cancer called Langerhans Histiocytosis when he was 10. He had to undergo major surgery, spend months in a wheelchair and receive steroid treatment. Dozens of people offered to help and I often found myself saying that we were okay. But the fact is, we weren’t. Luckily there were people who insisted on helping anyway. They brought food, games to keep Joey entertained, took my daughter places and helped however they could.

histio warriors

Histio Warriors Supporting Each Other

In September of 2015, my step-son was in a terrible car accident and spent three months in the hospital. He was in critical condition for the first three weeks, two hours from home. My husband and I stayed in the Ronald McDonald House while my two teenage children were two hours north trying to maintain some type of normal life.

helping hands

This is when I learned to say yes. I knew we needed help and luckily we have tons of friends and family who were willing. People took care of our kids, brought them meals, sent us meals, made sure my kids got to school and my daughter got to work, and did absolutely anything we asked of them. People who we didn’t even know very well helped our family. It was truly amazing.

It was hard to accept the help at first but we quickly realized that we had to. We also learned that people weren’t making empty offers. They truly wanted to help us and they didn’t expect anything in return.

Whether you have a child in the hospital, a parent who passed away, or surgery for yourself, say yes when friends and family offer to help. And when they ask “what can I do?” be honest. Tell them you need someone to go to the grocery, do your laundry or make a meal. Learn to say yes.

Slow Cooker Freezer Meals Making Life Easier

You may remember the post I wrote a few weeks ago – “My ‘First’ Meal Prep.” My son Joey and I prepped 10 crock pot meals in two hours using a meal prep plan from Stockpiling Moms. This was a great money and time saver! So we tackled another meal plan and prepped 20 slow cooker meals in 2.5 hours.

prep

The 20 meal plan stated it would take 4 hours but between Joey’s help and the things I learned with the first meal prep, we were able to save 90 minutes. We enjoyed all the meals from the first prep but found that some didn’t go as far as we had hoped or didn’t have enough meat. We wanted to be able to have dinner for four (two teenagers and two adults) and lunch for two the next day. So I do suggest increasing your ingredients if you’d like it to go a little further.

The Healthy Beef Stew was fantastic but had more veggies than meat so next time I will add more meat. Honestly, we found the Cheeseburger Soup a little bland at first but I just added a can of Campbells’ Cheddar Cheese Soup and it was perfect! The Sausage with Peppers and Onions was our favorite. I did add a jar of Classico Tomato and Basil.

Joey, my 15-year-old decided to tackle the 20 meals on. Unlike last time, I printed and looked over each recipe before we started. Since I am the only person in my house who will eat Mushroom Barley Stew or Stuffed Peppers, I decided not to make those. Instead I replaced those with a couple recipes of my own. The stew and peppers sound delicious though so I will make those for a few friends some time. Looking over the recipes first also allowed me to substitute a few ingredients to cater to my family.

This time I purchased all of my meat from Premium Elite Food (also known as Buck’s) in Latonia. Buck Buchanan, the owner, hand selects all of the meat he sells. I received excellent quality meats and it was actually cheaper than buying it at Kroger. I do suggest calling Buck’s at least three days in advance so he can prep your order. I placed a Clicklist order with Kroger for the rest of the items. I did increase, sometimes even doubled, the meat and ingredients for each meal. I spent about $120 on meat and $60 for the other ingredients (I did have most of the spices, which I get from Colonel De’s). Each meal will have six to eight servings. That’s about $9 per meal.

joey-prepping

I picked up my Kroger order on a Monday and my meat order on a Tuesday. Tuesday night I reviewed the recipes one more time and put them in categories according to the type of meat it called for. I then labeled all of my bags with the recipe name and cooking instructions. I placed the printed recipe on top of its corresponding bag, which also helped a lot during the prep. This was much easier than having to constantly look at the computer. We prepped the meals on Wednesday night.

We started by setting up all of our can goods, spices, vegetables and measuring tools. We started with the chicken meals, then the pork and then moved on the beef. This allowed us to keep the meat safe in the refrigerator until we were ready for it. Joey ran meals to the downstairs deep freezer as they were prepped. I also had Joey brown the ground beef while I prepped other meals. That was a huge time saver.

chicken

My family just finished the Maple Bacon Pork Loin. This is a pork loin wrapped in bacon and covered in a maple honey sauce. It was absolutely amazing!! It was seriously delicious and the house smells so good. Everyone gobbled it up along with peas and homemade mac-n-cheese.

bacon-wrapped

Preparing freezer meals saves my family time and money and cuts down drastically on eating out and picking up fast food. Stockpiling Moms offers several Meal Plans including vegetarian plans, crock pot meals, oven-ready dinners and even gluten-free plans.

Do you have any meal prep tips to share?

 

 

My High School Senior Looks Back on her Four Years

Four years ago, when Andi was an 8th grader scheduling for her senior year, I wrote a post called Transitioning to High School. This inspired Andi to write her own post called Andi’s Version of the High School Transition. I showed her that old post last night and she decided to write an update (I suggest reading the original first by clicking here):

Well my mom’s bloggies, I made it thru. I should have been scared when i wrote that the first time. High school was scary, I probably was scared and just lied. In general, I was afraid of the upperclassmen and what everyone would think of me. I wanted to be cool and popular, unlike myself in middle school. I tried too hard and was intimidated by other girls in my grade and the grades above me.

Beginning of junior year i realized that it didn’t matter what they thought of me and I stopped wearing makeup everyday and trying to look stylish all the time. I learned to love myself more. Now that i am the “headmaster” (as my past self called it) of the school i realize that when I was a freshman the seniors probably didn’t care about what i wore or how i looked bc I sure as heck don’t pay attention to the freshman. I also realized that nobody is going to remember that one day I went to school without makeup and greasy hair. I learned to embrace the way I look. I wish I could tell my freshman self all of these things because she’d probably poop her pants if she knew I don’t wear foundation every day to school, heck sometimes i don’t even wear makeup around the boy I like. When I think about my freshman and sophomore self I don’t hate it, I just wish she didn’t hate herself.

As far as classes go I’m still taking Spanish. I moved all the way to AP, and let me tell you, lamp is not el lampo. Spanish is definitely difficult. I stopped taking journalism after freshman year because I wanted to take other classes & it wasn’t really my forte. If you are sending your child into high school next year I definitely recommend taking regular classes & ignore the pressure for AP, ESPECIALLY regular social studies courses. AP world would be the death of your child. AP English is really no biggy as long as you already understand grammar because they don’t really teach that in AP.

Even though I was annoyed about how worried my ma was about me going to high school, I’m thankful for it because there were times I was happy I was her little princess. 

Yes, I was teary eyed when Andi sent this to me last night. It shows how much she has grown, not just physically but as a person in the last four years. She’s a young woman now. She plans to major in social work at Northern Kentucky University this fall. She might even minor in Spanish…

Spice 101 with Colonel De

I fell in love with Colonel De Herbs and Spices during a Tasting event at the Kenton County Public Library a few years ago. The Colonel and one of his chefs served barbecue made with their spices and sauce. It was so good that I convinced them to teach me how to make it and a few days later I visited the Findlay Market location to purchase the items needed. I made a huge pot of it for a party and it was a huge hit. I was sold.

So I was obviously very excited to find out Colonel De was opening a location, that would also offer classes, in my hometown of Fort Thomas, Kentucky. The newer store is considered head quarters for Colonel De’s, which offers thousands of spices, gift sets, teas, sauces, oils and more.

col-teaching

Colonel De teaching Spice 101

I loved going in the store to enjoy the smells and the food (he often has samples) but I was somewhat overwhelmed and never knew what spice would be best for what dish. The Colonel and his staff are always more than happy to help with those decisions but taking the Spice 101 class at the Fort Thomas store was the best thing I could do.

We discovered how to use spices, match flavors, what are the Top 10 spices or blends that every kitchen should have to prepare a meal for any occasion, how to properly store and care for spices, quality, freshness, where each spice is from and how to recognize each. Chef Matt allowed us to taste several spices in the appetizers he made for us to sample.

One of my favorites was bread dipped in the the French Fines mixed with Olive Oil. It was so yummy I had to buy some of the Colonel’s oil and French Fines. I really liked the Adobo spice mixed with anything but the Colonel suggests using it as a dry marinade with chicken, beans or pork. We also learned how long each type of meat should be marinaded for.

my-shopping-bag

My shopping bag

Colonel De Herbs and Spices mixes all of it’s own spices in store. There is something for everyone, including those with gluten, onion or nut allergies. Nothing is cross contaminated. Anything with a nut product is locked up separately from the other spices. One of the things I really like is that I don’t have to buy an entire jar of anything. I can buy by the ounce so I don’t have to worry about waste or freshness. It also seems to be cheaper per ounce than our local grocery stores.

De’s also offers classes on baking cookies, choosing the right salts, menu planning, easy appetizers and kitchen hacks. Check out the Facebook page for upcoming events. Most classes cost $20 per person. I am looking forward to attending future classes and improving my skills in the kitchen.

col-des

Disclosure: I attended the class at no charge in exchange for review purposes. All opinions are my own. 

My ‘First’ Meal Prep

I did my ‘first’ meal prep tonight. I’m using air quotes because I technically did a meal prep one time at one of those parties where you buy all of their products for a lot of money and then still have to buy all of your meat, produce and pantry items. I had fun with my friends while drinking margaritas and preparing meals, which obviously saved me time in the long run, but I definitely didn’t feel like I saved any money. So tonight, I did my ‘first’ meal prep at my home without having to buy special products.

I decided to use Stockpiling Moms 10 Crockpot Freezer Meals in 2 Hours. Stockpiling Moms offers a lot of freezer meal plans but I thought the 10 meals in 2 hours would be the most practical for my first attempt.

I started by pulling up the grocery list for the 10 crockpot freezer meals. I HATE going to the grocery store so I have become a huge fan of Kroger Clicklist. I’m able to order my items online, a Kroger associate pulls them, bags them up, brings them to my car at the assigned time and even loads them in the car. So on Tuesday I put each item on the grocery list in a Clicklist order and had my daughter pick the groceries up at our local Kroger this afternoon. I spent about $115, which averages out to be $11.50 per meal. Each meal serves 6 to 8. I did already have most of the spices and some of the canned goods though so your bill could be a little higher.

stuff

Some of the supplies

Once I got home from work I relaxed on the couch and marked each of my Ziploc gallon bags with the name of the meal, cook time and anything I would need to add at the time of cooking.  That only took a few minutes.

Next I enlisted my 15-year-old son Joey to help me prep the 10 meals. He browned the ground beef while I diced veggies and opened cans. Once the ground beef was browned, Joey helped with measuring a lot of the spices and other tasks. It was a great opportunity for us to spend time together while accomplishing a task. It took us just under two hours to prep the meals, clean up and load the freezer. I did save some time by buying diced frozen onions and green peppers instead of having to cut those myself.

ground-beef

The 15-year-old at work

We had very few dishes to do!

dishes

The dishes

We are going to try our first meal tomorrow – the Crockpot Honey Sesame Chicken. I just put it in the fridge since I’m going to throw it in the crockpot in the morning but it still means no cooking for me tomorrow.

finished

The final product

I made the decision to meal prep in an effort to save time and money. Having things ready to put in the crockpot will definitely save me time. It also prevents us from eating out so much and making multiple trips to the grocery. If the meals are as yummy as I suspect, I will tackle the 20 Slow Cooker Meals in Four Hours next time.

Do you have an meal prep tips to share?

 

How to Prep for Your Child’s Senior Year

Note: This post originally ran on Kenton County Public Library’s Blog, written by me.

Okay, I admit it… this title is misleading. My daughter Andi is a senior in high school and I’m not really sure what the best way to prep for senior year is but I can tell you some of the do’s and don’ts we have learned along the way. I will say you should start preparing before freshman year even starts.

pick-your-path

  1. Draft a plan for the next four years that includes what classes your student will take and when. Make sure you cover all of the requirements and then figure out what electives your child might want to take. Andi changed her mind throughout the years on the electives but at least we had a plan and knew exactly what had to be taken to meet her graduation requirements.
  2. Decide with your child if they will take advanced or college placement classes and do your research. Not all colleges accept AP credits and even some of the credits accepted do not actually give you the general study credit you need. Your teen must pass the AP test, a college exam, at the end of the year to even receive the credits. Although some colleges accept a weighted GPA (a B is an A if it’s an AP course), not all colleges do. Since high school students are taking college level courses in the 10th and 11th grades, they don’t always score as high as they would if it was a regular course. This will impact their GPA. Along with your student, decide if you want to focus on college credits, rigor or GPA.georgia-state
  3. Most colleges require students to have two consecutive years of a foreign language in high school. Think about this when scheduling freshman classes and drafting the four year plan. My daughter started taking Spanish as a freshman. She is now taking AP Spanish as a senior. Our hope is that she passes the final exam and that the college of her choice will take that credit since she plans to minor in Spanish.
  4. Unless you have a huge college fund sitting around, instill in your child that they are their ticket to college. There are a lot of opportunities for scholarships based on grades, ACT tests, community involvement, etc. Make sure they understand that 9th, 10th and 11th grades count. High school can be fun but don’t sacrifice grades for a good time.
  5. Unless you are looking at an elite school, most colleges require a decent GPA and ACT score. Many do not look at rigor, extracurricular activities or even require an essay. However, scholarships look at all of that. You do not have to be a 4.0 student with a 36 ACT to receive a scholarship. Scholarships are given to cancer survivors, students who volunteer their time to work with the elderly, those who take on a service project, children of alumni who have at least a 2.5 and worked a soup kitchen. Okay, it might not be as specific as that last example but it’s close. Andi has done a lot of volunteering over the years but it was here and there type stuff. Now that we are looking at scholarships, we wish she would have picked at least one agency to really focus on all four years. Take a look at scholarship opportunities when your child is a freshman so they can plan ahead and be sure to meet any requirements. Your school’s guidance counselor should be able to lead you in the right direction.
  6. Take the ACT more than once and take a prep course. Andi took the pre-ACT as a 10th grader and the real ACT in March of her junior year. This gave us a baseline for a very difficult test. We then enrolled her in Torch Prep (there are several courses out there to choose from), which taught her the strategy behind the ACT. She took the test again in July and received an increase of four points. The course was definitely worth the cost since she will now receive merit scholarships based on her ACT/GPA combined.
  7. Choosing a college is difficult for the child and the parents. Obviously cost plays a huge part but you still want to choose a place that your child will be comfortable and receive a good education. Go on several college tours, even to schools you didn’t think you would consider just to compare. Consider whether the child will live on campus, off-campus or at home. Make sure the school offers the program of study your student is interested in, even if they do change their mind 10 times. Once you have narrowed down the college choices, have your child shadow a student for the day at the schools they are interested in. Andi will be shadowing a social work student at Northern Kentucky University next month. She will have lunch with that student and professors. I believe this is the best way for her to decide if this is the program for her or not.andi-nku
  8. Dig out your and your child’s financial information at the start of their senior year to prepare for FAFSA. This is the financial aid application that everyone is encouraged to file, even if you don’t think you will receive money. This application even determines if they can work on campus. Visit the FAFSA website in advance to make sure you have everything you need. The application process starts Oct. 1 of your child’s senior year and the money is given to first come first served. This includes some student loans. Make sure you understand the rules and regulations so that your application is not delayed.
  9. Your child will start applying to colleges in the fall of their senior year. Take a look at the common college application and help them get a head start.
  10. There are a lot of fun things that happen senior year as well – senior photos, prom, senior pranks, college acceptance letters, graduation parties, senior trips and more. My daughter is so focused on grades, college aps and paying for college that I do have to remind her to have a little fun. It think helping our children balance, especially their senior year, is a big part of our job.

And remember, just because you and your child choose one path freshman year, doesn’t mean you have stick with it all four years. Your student will be figuring out what works best for them as they go. It’s not set in stone, just a draft to guide your student through the next four years.

 

Suggested Resources (click on the link to put on hold):

Book of Majors

The Other College Guide: a Roadmap to the Right School For You

Winning Scholarships for College

Paying for College without Going Broke

Up Your ACT

Online Resource:

Kenton County Public Library’s Learning Express – ACT and SAT Prep