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?

 

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.

data_overload

 

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.

goofballs

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.”