Triumphs this week

Gabe is no longer afraid of falling off his bike.  He still has training wheels, but has no problem getting started and “racing” with the other neighborhood kids.  I am so proud of him not giving up.  Trying to teach him how to ride a bike in Korea was definitely difficult with the lack of safe roads and cracked pavement, so he never really learned properly.  The kids in the neighborhood have helped him so much, been so patient with him and really have encouraged him to keep trying.  I’m glad that he’s confident now.

I made Zander a color game.  It was really easy to make, I actually did the whole thing while I was on the phone.  I took a 5×7 piece of paper and cut out the ten colors from scrapbook paper in 1 1/2 inch squares, glued them on in the rainbow order and contact papered the front to the back.  Then I cut strips and glued them to the top of the clothespin with a glue stick.  We take all the clothespins off and put them in a pile and Zander has to pick them out and match them to the color.  He isn’t really saying any of the names of the colors except “Blue” and can only match one or two before he hands them to me to do.  But it’s a work in progress, something he can learn.  The picture quality is horrible, I took it with my phone, but you get the idea.

Gabe is very jealous that Zander has a game and he doesn’t.  I am working on one for him with the same principle of taking a clothespin and attaching it to a paper.  My idea for him is to take the list of sight words for Kindergarten and 1st Graders and write them on a piece of three lined paper (you know the kind we all learn to write on with the dotted line in the middle).  Then I will glue that to a piece of plain white paper, so it has a plain white backing, and contact paper the front and back together.  On the lined side, he will practice writing the word with a dry erase marker, tracing the letters I have already written.  Then I want him to flip the card over and sound out the letters of the word and spell them with clothespins that have letters on them.  I know it sounds kind of weird.  I don’t really know how to describe it and I haven’t gotten any of the cards completed to take a picture of yet.  I promise to post them when I get a chance.

I did all the necessary running around this weekend and got supplies to start making our own baby wipes.  This is the website where I found the recipe.  I got a pack of 12 Bounty select-a-size paper towel for $18 and a 2.6 quart container from Target for $14 (I already had the baby wash and oil).  I really like them so far, I’m really surprised how well the paper towel hold up to the moisture from the combination of water, baby wash and oil.  I will say that next time I think I’ll add less than the 2 cups of water, maybe closer to 1 1/2 cups.  My paper towel wipes are pretty soaked and I have to squeeze out the excess moisture before I use them.  I also read somewhere else of someone that used Viva brand paper towel instead of Bounty, they are cheaper and feel more like cloth than paper.  The only problem I see with that is you can’t buy the Viva brand in big quantities (I don’t think, I could be wrong).

After committing to the idea of using homemade baby wipes, I began to think about other store bought products I could home make.  Clorox wipes are used often in this house, but are pretty expensive, so that was the next item on the list.  This blogger proposes using old t-shirts as reusable disinfectant wipes.  I love this idea, we have so many old t-shirts that I end up donating or trashing that could definitely be re-purposed. Instead of using castile soap, I used good ole Johnson and Johnson baby soap.  Then after you use one wipe, just put it in a basket in the laundry room to be washed.  I have gotten in the habit of saving plastic containers in a paper bag next to the trash.  I pick out whatever ones I think I can reuse, like here I could cut the top off a milk jug and use it as my “dirty cloth” container in the laundry room.

Side note-

Other containers I have found new uses for:

Spaghetti jars are now full of bubble mix
Yogurt containers are individual size bubble mix trays
Milk jugs and Juice containers are being saved for outside planters
Canister that had bulk almonds inside is my “Clorox” wipe container
Sour Cream container (16 oz) is our new “Job Jar” (more on that later)

To get back to reusing old t-shirts –

This idea of reusable wipes for cleaning sparked another couple ideas.  I usually use my Shark mop to steam clean my floors, but occasionally I’ll use a Swiffer wet pad.  What if I cut up a t-shirt in the same size as the Swiffer pads and used those instead?  Then I cut down on waste and cost!  I’ll save the plastic container the store bought ones came in and use homemade floor cleaner with t-shirts.  Of course this occurred to me after I bought a box of them from the store, but now I won’t be buying anymore.

Another luxury item I won’t be buying anymore are the make-up remover wipes.  How handy are those?  I love them, but it’s ridiculous to me to be buying face wash for the shower, eye make up remover AND make up remover wipes (for when I’m lazy).  What if I cut up some t-shirts and soaked them in a mixture of water, face wash and eye make up remover?  I know what you’re thinking, isn’t that what wash clothes are for?  And the answer is yes, of course they are.  But it’s the same concept.  Sometimes the make-up remover clothes are just easier.  So instead of making them for home, put them in a Ziploc bag and you have travel-ready make-up remover wipes.  Plus, I like the feel of a cotton t-shirt better on my face than a wash cloth.

Also, I’m just a box of washing soda away from making our own laundry detergent.  So far I’ve been unable to locate a place here that sells it, so I’ll probably be buying it online.  Everything else I have managed to find:  a 5 gallon bucket at Home Depot, a box of Borax and I chose to buy a bar of Zote laundry soap.  I haven’t made it yet because I have a big order I’m placing through Amazon and want to wait until we have our tax money back (hopefully this or next week).

From Amazon, I’m also ordering chalkboard contact paper (to cover the cardboard in a couple 11×14 frames we have that were damaged in transit), chalkboard spray paint (to spray paint the tops of my mason jars to label), vegetable glycerin (to turn Zander’s eczema bar soap into liquid body wash) and a Lego block candy mold for Gabe’s birthday party (to make Lego shaped chocolate, gummies and other edibles).

In the running around this weekend, I also hit up the Dollar Tree.  I can not believe the things you can get for $1!  We needed to get poster board for Gabe’s 100 day project for school (we got 2 for $1), but I also got a set of six bubble wands (for our newly made bubble mix), and 5 wood 4×6 picture frames (to spray paint).    Gabe decided he liked the idea of giving glow sticks instead of candy for his valentine’s party at school, they had 5 for $1.  All I need to do is print off valentine’s cards and tape them to the glow stick for his party next week.  I need to ask his teacher about parent’s visiting for the party and if I’ll be able to bring the two littles with me.

New food ideas from this past week include looking into the “clean eating” diet.  On this blog, “The Gracious Pantry”, she describes three different methods for eating clean.  Right now, we are working on method #1 – Scaling back on foods with preservatives, additives and chemicals.  For example, instead of eating white bread or using white flour, substitute it with whole wheat or whole wheat pastry flour.  Instead of using white or brown sugar in baking, trying honey or agave nectar.  While I’m not planning on implementing huge food changes or eliminating certain foods altogether, small changes like this are easy to make and are better for us.  So why not?  If it’s something I have on hand or easily attainable, why not make the healthier choice?  This week’s energy bar supply was made from this recipe:  Cinnamon Chocolate Chip Protein Bars.  I made a couple alterations to the recipe.  I don’t have any whey protein (and I’m not fond of including protein powder in food I feel the boys) so I used Carnation Instant Breakfast (chocolate) instead.  And instead of grain sweetened chocolate chips, I used dark chocolate chips.  Overall, they are delicious!  I really like using the applesauce as a natural sweetener.  Next time, I plan on putting them in my mini muffin tins instead of cutting them into bars, and baking them a little longer.  They turned out pretty soft.  I’m thinking I might chop up 1/2 cup of the oats before mixing them in too.  She has a lot of other recipes that I’ve been checking into too.  I’ll keep you updated on our trials.

Other recipes we’ve made this past week include a couple from Smitten Kitchen (I just love her):  the graham crackers and buttermilk roasted chicken.  Both are must-trys and to die for!

I’ve made the graham cracker recipe twice now and I will admit it’s a labor of love.  The dough itself is fairly easy to make, roll out and put in the fridge.  The harder and time consuming part is after you get it out of the fridge, roll it, cut it out and bake it.  You really have to let the dough rest in the fridge overnight before you roll it out.  Then once it’s rolled and cut (I did hearts this time), the baking tray needs to go in the freezer for about 10 minutes.  The problem is all the butter, because of all the butter in the dough it gets super soft once it’s manipulated and it will lose it’s shape if it’s not cold before putting it in the oven.  The first time around, I just put the trays in the fridge after I cut them out and the dough spread all over the trays.  It still tasted good, but it wasn’t the result I was looking for.  This time, I substituted 1/2 cup wheat flour and added 6 tablespoons cocoa powder.  Because I used wheat flour and 6 extra tablespoons of dry ingredient, I ended up adding two extra tablespoons of milk to get the dough to the sticky soft consistency.  They taste delicious though.  I’m glad I tried them with the cocoa powder, they have just enough chocolate flavor to not be overwhelming but still taste like a dessert.  She gives the perfect description of what they taste like, they’re not too sweet like a cookie or candy and they have the snap of a good cracker, not crumbly.  I love to eat my chocolate graham crackers with cream cheese.  If you’re looking for a cookie or something sweet, this is not your recipe.  But it’s a perfect substitution for Gabe to take to school and feel like he’s eating a cookie.  Next time, I’ll try adding more honey and less brown sugar with a little molasses.

The buttermilk chicken is just perfect.  At Thanksgiving, I brine my turkey before roasting it.  This is a great way to get similar flavors without brining and roasting a whole bird.  Instead of using real buttermilk, I looked up a substitution and found you can “make” buttermilk by adding one tablespoon of white vinegar to one cup of whole milk, let it set for 10-15 minutes, stir and use in place of the real thing.  I also added rosemary and a bay leaf to the brine (because that’s what’s in the brine I use for my turkey).  After marinading overnight, I popped it in the oven for 30 minutes and was amazed at the flavors!  The buttermilk brine really adds to the sweetness of the chicken and seals in the juice and flavor well.  I will be putting this on full rotating and plan on making it a freezer meal!

The last new recipe we tried this week was for salsa.  I’ve been trying to make easy go-to snacks and sides that I can throw together when the kids get hungry and this recipe is perfect.  It ended up making 1 1/2 18 oz canning jars, which is a good amount for us.  And as we don’t have to refrigerate the can we’re not eating from, it’ll last us a while.

Freezing pre-made meals is something new I’ve tried this past week.  I’ve noticed that since Matt isn’t here, cooking has lead to a lot of leftovers.  Sometimes the kids will eat the leftovers and sometimes not.  So I’ve started packaging them and freezing them for a future date.  Also this weekend, a local grocery store had a meat sale, so I bought four pounds of ground beef (95% lean) for pretty cheap.  We now have two pounds of uncooked ground beef (in separate bags) and two pounds cooked ground beef (in separate bags) frozen and waiting to be used.  I also got some chicken frozen, and leftovers of two pork tenderloins, waiting to be eaten.  By far the easiest (and tastiest) meals have been pork tenderloins in the crock pot.  Last week, I made a teriyaki marinade and cooked the pork in the crock pot.  When it was done, I scooped out the meat, thickened the sauce and put the meat back in to absorb the sauce.  We probably only ate 1/3 of the meat and now have a pork teriyaki meal ready to be thawed and eaten.  The same goes for the pulled pork sandwiches I made on Monday.  I put the pork with spices in the crock pot, cooked it on high for 4 hours, took out the meat and made a barbecue sauce including the juices and put the shredded meat back in the crock pot.  Another 2/3 of a pork tenderloin waiting for Matt to eat when he gets home.  I am all about easy and saving money and I think this kind of pre-cooking and freezing will save us time and cut down costs of groceries.

Last little bit before I sign off and do something constructive – We have been having HUGE behavioral issues this week with Zander and Gabe.  I haven’t identified the source yet, but I’m sure it has to do with Matt being gone for so long, hearing attitudes at school and just normal pushing buttons, testing limits.  However, there is no better way to get under my skin than to back talk, argue or just tell me “No”.  And the boys are quickly learning that is not what you want to do.  The Brong household now has “The Corner”.

That’s right, it’s “The Corner”.  This is where they go when I send them to “The Corner” for bad behavior.  Gabe has to stand on the spot for five minutes, starting when he stops complaining about being there, and Zander has to stay on there for two minutes, which usually means I’m holding him there for the full two minutes.  I took a piece of scrapbook paper, put stickers on it and contact papered it to the floor so that they could step on it, jump on it, kick it and it will still be there.  They are not big fans of “The Corner”.  I’m not sure if it’s helped with the behavior situation at all, but it has only been a week.

The other tool I’ve created in hopes of changing Gabe’s behavior issues is the “Job Jar”.  I don’t have a fancy picture for that because it’s a sour cream container full of pieces of paper.  I want to spray paint it and write “Job Jar” on it with a paint marker.  That’s my goal anyway.  In this “Job Jar” are 25 different little jobs written on pieces of paper that everyone hates doing around the house or are pretty menial.  Examples include – wash all the doorknobs, shake out the doormat and rearrange the bookcase.  Jobs that Gabe HATES to do are also included, like poop scoop the backyard, scrub the toilets and fold a basket of laundry.  Whenever it seems like “The Corner” hasn’t done anything to curb the behavior, I make him pick a job from the jar.  Mostly, his attitude comes from not wanting to do homework or having an attitude when I ask him to clean up his toys.  Whatever the case is, I have him stand on “The Corner” for five minutes first and then if he still is having issues, he has to pick a job.  He really hates having to pick a job.  He thought it was funny at first and then he picked “poop scoop the backyard”, and now he really dreads the “Job Jar”.

Consequences have always been really hard to come up with for Gabe.  He doesn’t mind if you take his toys away.  He doesn’t mind if you take away privileges like playing with friends or TV.  This is the first thing, the “Job Jar”, that I think might work at curbing behavior.  Let’s hope so anyway!

And with that last note, I’m done!  I’m sorry about the length of this entry.  I wasn’t intending it to stretch this far, honest!  I guess I’m just long-winded.  I am planning on posting another entry this week about our struggle with the decision to home school Gabe next year.  So look for it!  Any feedback about this topic is always welcome!

I haven’t gotten much of a chance to take pictures this week, but I got a couple good videos I’ve included below.  Enjoy, they are pretty funny!

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