Get me outta here!

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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The 15-year-old at work

We had very few dishes to do!

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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.

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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.

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  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

Disney on Ice Presents Dare to Dream

My granddaughter and nieces are so excited! Disney on Ice’s Dare to Dream is coming to the U.S. Bank Arena in Cincinnati! And Raising2Tweens is about to make another family’s dreams come true with four free tickets to the show! Giveaway details below.

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Disney On Ice presents Dare to Dream is bringing Disney’s princess stories and most beloved fairy tales to the ice in a sensational live production coming to your hometown!  The show, featuring scenes from Tangled, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Cinderella, and The Princess and the Frog, visits Cincinnati from October 27-30 for seven performances at U.S. Bank Arena.  Tickets are on sale now.

Mickey and Minnie will share the heroic stories of four of your favorite Disney Princesses. Families will laugh along as the heroic princesses tell their stories on ice. Nothing can stop a princess from a courageous adventure when Disney On Ice presents Dare to Dream skates into to your hometown.

Tickets for Disney On Ice presents Dare to Dream start at $17.00 and are available at the U.S. Bank Arena Box Office, online at Ticketmaster.com or by phone at (800) 745-3000.

Giveaway: Four tickets to the 7 pm show on Thursday, October 27. 

Enter to win by 10 pm on October 15:

  1. Visit Raising2tweens on Facebook
  2. Comment here saying who you would take to the show

The winner will be contacted on October 16.

Update: The winner was chosen by Random.org and the contest has come to an end.

Experience Nashville with Airbnb

My husband Nick and I were pretty bummed when we found out our favorite music artist was going on tour but wasn’t coming near our hometown. But then we noticed he was coming to one of our favorite towns and it was only four hours away! We immediately decided to buy tickets to Butch Walker in Nashville, Tennessee. Next we invited our friends Aimee and Jeff to join us and we’re excited they accepted.

Then it hit me… hotels in Nashville are not cheap. Neither are restaurants. I had to find a way for us to make the trip more affordable. I had seen a lot of commercials for Airbnb recently. I had never used it or known anyone who had but thought having a full kitchen and the amenities of a house would be helpful so I started searching. I came across Cozy Home Near Airport/Downton and immediately fell in love with the quaint house set in a quiet neighborhood. At $120 per night on the weekends ($90 on weeknights), it was much cheaper than a hotel. I contacted the owner Karen, booked the house and we were all set.

Cozy Home Nashville Cozy Home Near Airport/Downton

We headed to the Cozy Home on a Friday afternoon in August. Karen text me on the way to let me know everything was ready for us and we could check in early. I’ll admit it was a little strange when we first pulled in the neighbor to think we would be staying in a stranger’s home but once inside, it truly felt like our home. Karen went out of her way to leave us little treats and a note for us. We felt very welcomed and the house was adorable. The decor definitely set the tone for Nashville.


Welcome to Nashville Cozy Home Decor Music picture

We took an Uber from the house to the concert downtown that night. The Uber cost about $15 each way. Parking can cost any where from $10 to $30 in downtown Nashville and it can be confusing to drive in an unfamiliar city so we were happy with our choice. We had dinner at Burger Republic, a burger joint that was listed as one of the best in Nashville. It was incredible!!!

Burger Republic

It was raining on and off so we decided to take advantage of something we had never seen in a downtown before – a golf cart ride as public transportation. Our waiter told us all we had to do was call Joyride and they would send a covered golf cart for us.. It picked us up in front of the restaurant and dropped us off at the concert for about $6. This is a tip only service. Joyride also offers tours of the city.

Joyride

The Butch Walker concert at the Cannery Ballroom was amazing. The venue was really cool and Butch always puts on a great show.

Butch Walker Concert Butch Walker at Cannery Ballroom

Once back at the two-bedroom house, we were able to enjoy snacks, watch TV and enjoy each other’s company in the living room. The beds were extremely comfortable and everyone was able to get a good night’s sleep at the Cozy Home. We made lunch, barbecue and baked beans, at the house before heading out for the day on Saturday. The kitchen was fully loaded with everything we could possibly need. Karen also stocked the house with board games, movies, magazines and plenty of towels.

Cozy Home Living Room Dining Room Bedroom


Another bed Settled in Cozy Home Bathroom

After lunch we headed downtown and grabbed ice cream at Mike’s before hitting the strip. The strip is filled with bars featuring live music and lots of shops. There are no cover charges so we were able to pop in and out of many venues and watch several live acts. We grabbed a fantastic dinner at The Stillery in between stops. After several hours of enjoying downtown Nashville, we headed back to the house for snacks and another good night’s sleep.

Mike's Ice Cream

Whiskey Bent Bar

Us at Whiskey Bent Saloon

Amy and Jeff at Whiskey Bent Saloon

The Stillery Restaurant
stillery-pizza stillery-mac-n-cheese-and-hot-chicken stillery-dip stillery-chicken

I will definitely stay at Karen’s Cozy Home the next time I visit Nashville since Karen was so easy to work with and the house was fantastic. I will also look into Airbnb for all of our future trips.

Have you used Airbnb? What did you think? What’s your favorite thing to do in Nashville?

 

Disclosure: I was given one night’s stay in return for my review of the Cozy Home. All opinions are my own.

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Should Your Child Take AP Courses in High School?

I should have probably written this last spring before all of Joey’s friends started signing up for their freshman classes but hey, better late than never. I’m not an expert in scheduling or a guidance counselor but I do have two step-sons in college (Josh and Joel), a high school senior (Andi) and a high school freshman. I have been through the college application and financial aid process with Joel, high school scheduling/AP classes/GPA process with Andi and now it’s Joey’s turn.

With school starting tomorrow, many kids are posting their schedules and asking who has classes with them. Joey is still in Germany ( a post to come soon) but I am discovering that very few kids are in the same classes as Joey. Why might that be?  It is because Joey is not taking early bird or AP classes.

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Our high school pushes taking both of those things. AP classes are college level courses that students can take in high school. They do cost extra, but less than what it costs in college. However, you have to get a certain score on the final exam to get the college credit and not all colleges accept those credits. Early bird students take an additional course at 7 a.m., instead of starting their day at 8. That means we have 14-year-old kids taking seven classes and college courses. Neither of my children are morning people so early bird wasn’t even an option in my house. However, taking AP courses was.

Andi had always been a strong student with a good GPA. She was placed in higher level courses and chose to take the AP level classes that were offered. It didn’t go quite as planned her sophomore year. She suddenly found herself struggling in English and history (both AP courses), which had never been an issue before. She wasn’t the only one. Several of her classmates received much lower grades than they were used to and didn’t receive college credit. We were convinced that this was because 10th grade is a difficult year, they hadn’t taken so many AP courses before, etc. So we decided to continue with the AP track her junior year. And found ourselves, like many others, in the same situation. Halfway through her junior year I had wished that we had done things differently.

Some will tell you that colleges want to see that you took AP classes before considering scholarships or admission. This is true to an extent. Competitive colleges (Yale, Harvard, Stanford, etc) want to see that you took these courses and did well. But I will tell you that Joel was accepted to every college he applied for – University of Kentucky, Eastern Kentucky University, Morehead and the University of Louisville – and none of them cared that he didn’t take AP classes or early bird. They wanted to know his GPA and ACT score. That is all that really mattered.

Andi’s high school years would have been a lot less stressful if she would have skipped some of the AP courses. Her GPA would be much higher (it’s not bad) if she would have taken more regular-level high school classes. A higher GPA would mean more opportunities for scholarships. And believe me, you want more opportunities for scholarships.

Andi is going to take AP Spanish her senior year because she plans to minor in Spanish and having the basic level course out of the way will be helpful. But other than that, she is taking regular classes. She will take regular English, math, science, art and computer tech. She will enjoy her senior year and hopefully boost her GPA a little. But I’ll tell you a secret… Colleges are really looking at your GPA as of your junior year because you will apply in the fall of your senior year.

So we decided to take a different approach with Joey. He can take AP classes if he wants but we won’t push it. I would much rather him take classes that challenge him and allow him to focus on a higher GPA than take classes that are going to cause extra stress and might not even transfer to the college he chooses. Since Andi and Joey attend the best school district in the state of Kentucky, even the regular courses are challenging. He is taking PE/Health, Principles of Engineering, Spanish 2, English 1, Alegebra 1 and Intro to Physics. There are no AP classes or early bird on that list but I don’t expect him to be bored.

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Joel, Andi & Joey – They are all goofballs but unique in their own way

We all want our kids to succeed but we have to remember that they are 14 to 18 years old. They will be stressed in college as many of them figure out how to pay for undergrad, work at least a part-time job and go to school full-time. Expecting every student to suceed in college courses at the age of 14 is unrealistic. Pushing seven classes on them in addition to school plays, sports teams, homework, circus (my son works with Circus Mojo), part-time jobs and a well-rounded social life is also unrealistic for many.

I know it’s hard to say no to AP and extra courses when the school administrators are pushing so hard to do it all but I suggest that you and your child make the best decision for your student. What’s best for one of your children, might not be best for your other children. I do send big kudos to all the kids who succeed in early bird and AP courses, just remember, it’s not for everyone.

 

 

Letting Our Babies Grow Up

I started this blog years ago as a single mother of two tweens, hence the name raising2tweens. My daughter Andi turned 17 last month and will enter her senior year this fall. My son Joey is 14, going to Germany without his parents for three weeks this summer and will start his freshman year in August. Totally cliche but wow, where did the time go?!?!

These two photos represent how I still see my little girl.

But this is what everyone else sees.

 

Andi is in ACT boot camp this week and will take the test on Saturday. We are doing a college visit Friday. Actually, a lot of this summer will be spent visiting colleges, thinking and talking about her future and applying for scholarships and college.

We will also spend a lot of time trying to let her be more independent. She’s 17. Although she will probably go to a local college, we have to teach her to be responsible for herself, how to pay bills, to do homework without being told, to go to class when it’s technically an option and just take care of herself. This is hard as a parent. It’s hard to let her drive or go out with her friends and not worry. My husband Nick and I want to implement so many restrictions and rules but we have to remember that we really only have one year left to teach her to be a responsible adult. This is the year we need to let her try and fail and try and succeed. It’s this year because we will be there to catch her when she falls and help her get on the right track again. We can’t be helicopter parents this year and then just expect her to do it all on her own next year. So here we go…

Teaching her to be responsible for herself doesn’t mean there are no rules. Let’s face it, there are rules and expectations in life whether you are 5, 12, 17, 35 or 90. It’s going to be all about balance.

Andi already has a job and a car she paid for but I’ve always managed her finances. This year we will change that. She will have to learn to budget her money, save and pay her share of the car insurance. I will also have her do her own taxes for 2016 with little guidance from me.

She will still have a curfew but I have to trust her enough to make it a little later and allow her to be responsible for her actions. She still has to tell us where she is going, for safety purposes, but again trust is key. Andi has always had migraine issues that are triggered by exhaustion and bad food choices. We have limited activity in the past due to this. It’s time to let her manage this on her which might mean a few extra trips to the migraine clinic but hopefully she will quickly figure out how to care for herself.

This year is the year to teach her basic car and house maintenance. It’s time to make sure she knows how to cut the grass and use a weed eater. It’s even time to teach her how to get a spider, stink bug or centipede out of her room all on our her own room without screaming like a nut.

Letting go is really difficult but like I said, now is the time to let our almost adult fall so we are there to pick her back up. If we wait until she is on her own, there is no one to dust her off. Now hopefully we’ll have the strength to actually do these things and start to see her the way everyone else does.

andi drives

I’d love to hear how the experienced parents “let go.”