Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Our Real Food Journey

For the past year and a half our family has been on a real food journey. What is real food? It may mean different things to different people but to me it means no processed, boxed food. It means fresh (or frozen) fruits and vegetables, homemade baked goods (including our sandwich bread) and cooking from scratch with whole wheat flours, unbleached all-purpose flour and little to no white sugar (instead we use local, raw honey and real maple syrup). Y'all it's challenging to cook everything from scratch! So, I don't. I'm learning to live without Ritz crackers and Goldfish crackers, two foods I really relied on 2 years ago for lunches and snacks for the girls.

Homemade sandwich bread. After at least a dozen different recipes I think this is my bread. And the pans are important, too. This isn't the standard 9 x 5 inch bread pan. It's roughly a 12 x 3 inch pan, creating more of the store bought sandwich bread I'm used to seeing and eating.

Homemade oatmeal and chocolate chip cookies. This is a fairly new recipe and a keeper!

I think what's one of the hardest issues with a real food diet is finding the time to get it done. I have 3 little girls and they are busy and need my attention and the baby is still nursing every 2 hours. Where do I even find the time? I decided that what we put into our mouths is very important to me, so I make the time. We aren't a TV watching family, instead we cook. Now, Daniel not so much, but the girls do love to get into the kitchen with me and I welcome it, even if it slows me down a little. It is worth it and I know it'll be worth it in the long run. 

I also try and do a little something each morning. Whether it's getting bread going or some sort of snack or prepping something for dinner, I try and get a jump on things. This absolutely doesn't happen everyday. Some days the laundry is 2 feet high and that needs my attention. And it is what it is. But, that's where my freezer cooking pays off for me. When I make something first thing in the morning I don't make 1 batch of something, I make 4 or more. For instance, we all like muffins for breakfast. My go-to recipe only makes only 12 muffins. I don't know how much y'all eat but we could eat 12 in one sitting. Instead of just making 1 dozen muffins I make 8 dozen. I'm dirtying up my bowls, spatulas and muffin pans with 1 dozen muffins, why not keep going and make 8 dozen muffins? This is one of my keys to continuing to eat well, especially on our busy mornings. 

One of our favorite snacks... stovetop popcorn with butter and salt.

A lunch I made a couple weeks ago. Homemade chicken nuggets with panko bread crumbs, mashed potatoes and carrots. And high fructose corn syrup free ketchup. We love our ketchup around here. :)

Now, I find I'm in a good routine with our real food journey but I still get derailed from it. Hey, life happens and I'm okay with convenience foods from time to time. That's why I try and feed our family real foods at home and eat real food 80% of the time and give ourselves grace 20% of the time. We like to eat out, we like Cokes from time to time and chips. It's known as "junk food" in our home but we still enjoy it occasionally. :)

Homemade banana bread... from the freezer! 

If you looked in my pantry right now you would find a few processed foods. I'm still weaning out the boxed stuff from when I bought when I was expecting Natalie. Hey, I'm not throwing it away, it did cost us money. That hasn't always been my mindset though.

About two years ago when I started researching what we ate and how to change things I got rid of everything that was processed. This was a mistake. Don't do this. You'll overwhelm yourself even more. You'll look in your pantry and it'll look like you have nothing in there except lasagna noodles and flour. And that really may be all you have. Again, don't do this! Slowly wean it out. Eat it and don't buy it again. Learn how to make your own. I have a running list of foods I want to make and master. I mark things off as I find my recipe and I feel like I don't need to work on it anymore. And if I can't make it I'm trying to live without it. Yes, that's hard but it probably doesn't belong in my pantry anyways. 

My mother-in-law got us a waffle iron for Christmas, the one I've been starting at for the past 2 years. I love it! I can cook 16 waffles in no time. It takes maybe 2 minutes per waffle to bake up. That's great news to this busy momma!!!

Dark chocolate peanut butter cups

Where do I shop? Aldi, of course. And Kroger. And Whole Foods. And Azure Standard. And Costco. I don't shop at every one of these places each time I shop, just when I need something particular and I feel like that particular place has the best price (yes, I do have prices of foods floating around in my head). Every shopping trip I go to Aldi. I do most of my shopping there. I'm not overwhelmed there, it's a small place and I like what's there. You can still shop at Aldi and eat well. It is possible. 

Aldi is also getting a lot of organic items, which is fantastic. And they really are cheaper than other store brands. A quick word (and opinion) about organic foods. Yes, it's great to be able to buy them but it can still be highly processed. It's probably still loaded with sugar. Read ingredient labels. If I can't pronounce the ingredients I tend not to buy that food. I look for an easy recipe and learn to make it on my own. Daniel likes pop tarts. I don't like the ingredients list. I have a recipe to make my own but they are a little involved so I don't make them often. And yes, occasionally I will splurge for him and buy a box of pop tarts. :) See, it's all about compromise. 

And that's our real food journey. It's a process, a continual process. We still hit speed bumps, we still eat "junk" food on occasion. We aren't perfect. Our real food journey isn't perfect. It's messy but it's delicious. I'm still learning how to utilize all that's available. I'm still learning how to be a better cook. 

What are you learning about food? Anything you'd change in how you cook and bake?

My favorite resources for continuing my real food journey:

Heavenly Homemakers (She has two fabulous books (she has way more than this but these two are my favorites) I'd recommend to help you get started... Oh, For Real (it's a hard copy that she sends to you) and her newest ebook 227 Healthy Snack Ideas and Recipes (I struggle with healthy snacks!)

Nourishing Traditions (Daniel calls me "crunchy" and this book is super crunchy)

100 Days of Real Food (this is another great cookbook to help you get started)

Trina Holden (she also has a couple cookbooks; I recently added them to my cookbook collection)

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

My First Carcassonne [Board Game Review]

Hi, hello, and welcome again, my friends, to another board game. This one is going to be a special one, because it is the first game we have played that was specifically designed for kids and one that the girls got for Christmas this year - My First Carcassonne.

My First Carcassonne is a game for 2-4 players age 4+ and should take no more than 20 minutes. This is game that the junior version of Carassonne, which I previously reviewed here. My First Carcassonne is very similar to its parent, in that on your turn you draw a tile and place it on the table/floor/playing surface. Unlike its parent, every tile has the exact same edges - all roads. Once a road is completed, and by that I mean it starts and ends at a building or makes a complete loop back to the same tile, you place one of your 8 meeples on the road if your color person is on that road. (See the below picture.) The game ends either when one person places all 8 meeples on the board, or play all the tiles, in which case the winner(s) is (are) whoever placed the most meeples on the board.
As you can see in the picture above, the tiles all have roads at each side, but each tile has different things on it. We've found that the 20-minute playing time is the perfect length of a game for the girls. Any longer, and I think they would lose interest in it. Naomi, 3 years and 2 months old, does not understand the goal of the game. She likes drawing a tile, putting it on the board next to her, and placing a meeple. When we play, I try to explain that this road is not finished or that this one is because it starts here and ends there. She's still too young to grasp the gameplay right now, but I know that she will get it as we play more. Nyla, now 4 and a half, does somewhat understand how the game works. We try to coach her some on where to put her tiles, and why she should put it where we tell her. I try not to coach her too much, because I want her to explore and discover the game for herself. I think that as we play more, I will tell her why I am putting tiles where I am, and hopefully she will begin to understand more. So while the game box does say for ages 4+, you do have to take care to explain things clearly. 

In short, we really like this game and look forward to playing it more with the girls. I asked Nyla if she liked this game. "Yeah, because I do. It's fun."

Have a great day!


Sunday, January 4, 2015

The Last Great Game [Book Review]

Hello again, readers of the blog. As part of my "year of FOCUS" in 2015, I am wanting to read at least one book every month. I started off early this year by knocking out a book the week after Christmas. With that, I'd thought I would share my thoughts on the book and why you should read it. As always, no one paid me to write this review, and if they had, I would be writing more than 1 review every 6 months.

As you can guess, I am a big sports fan, especially when it comes to college basketball, and even more especially when it comes to the University of Kentucky. Living in Memphis, this is not a popular school, though in my defense I have been a fan for over 20 years now...

Which brings me to this book - The Last Great Game, the story of the 1992 NCAA tournament regional final between Duke and Kentucky, called by many the greatest college game ever. It was the first game I really remember watching from start to finish, and, sadly, the first (and only) game I ever cried over when it ended.

Gene Wojciechowski clearly did a lot of research for this book, interviewing the coaches, players, and even athletic directors involved in the game. The back story is what honestly makes the game that much better: Duke, a perennial Final Four team from the last 80's an early 90's that never could win the title; and Kentucky, a once-proud program stripped of its dignity by, well, not following NCAA law and getting caught. With a rag-tag group of Kentuckians and a star recruit Jamal Mashburn, Rick Pitino led his team from NCAA purgatory (and postseason bans) to one of the best teams in the country with a pressing defense and run-and-gun offense. Duke, meanwhile, was led its iconic Coach K and its star big man Voldemort Christian Laettner. It had been to 4 straight Final Fours, only to have their hopes dashed without a title. This book dives into the seasons of both teams leading up to this instant classic. Once you see the behind-the-scenes look, you'll have deeper appreciation for just how great the game really was. Even if you don't know the game, you've seen "the shot," which is only replayed every March, much to my chagrin. When reading the book, I found myself having a greater appreciation for the coaches, because both Duke and UK faced adversity during the year that could have easily derailed the teams. What you find is a great look at what goes on behind the curtain as 18- to 21-year olds get thrust into the spotlight of the national stage. What you see are two coaches who know what buttons to press and how to get maximum effort out of every player. Gene does a great job at diving into the players' backgrounds, personalities, and motivations to succeed.

This was a great, fun, easy read, even if the ending is terrible... ok, ok, I'll try to let it go. In all seriousness, this really was a great book to read. I enjoyed every chapter and every story. If you have a sports fan in your life, chances are they know this game, so buy them the book to see the story behind the game.

Thanks for stopping by!


Wednesday, December 31, 2014

2015: The Year of _______

Hi, hello, and welcome again, dear readers, to another fantastic edition of Daniel's writing. I know you have been waiting patiently for a new blog from yours truly. And, really, who could blame you?


Annnnnyway, after a busy but fulfilling Christmas week, we turn our attention to the new year. With that, people will surely be posting resolutions for the new year. Lose a few pounds. Lose a few inches. Save a few dollars. Visit relatives. You know, stuff that people abandon on January 4... ok, January 2 The stuff that people think they accomplish... until they give up. Maybe I'm being too hard on people, but we all know or have been that person.

Instead of resolutions, what I did last year was pick a word to be a "theme" word for the year. That word was "Enjoy," and I think I did a pretty good job of enjoying the year.

My word for 2015 sort of came about by accident. I wasn't even necessarily thinking of a word for 2014. But I happened to be reading through Psalm 119 this fall, and one thing stuck to me about the author of this longest psalm. The author kept writing about being devoted to God's Word. About hiding God's Word in his heart. About it being a light to his path. And as I thought about that, my word for 2015 came to light....


Focus in 2015. When I thought about focus, I broke that out into different areas: Physical, mental, spiritual, marital, parental, financial, and professional. What do I need to focus on in those areas? What does it look like for me to be focused in 2015? I won't bore you with all of the bullet points for each one, but I will share a few things.

Physical - Exercise at least 3 times a week for >20 minutes.
Mental - Read at least 1 book a month; work a jigsaw puzzle once a quarter (I'm a sucker for puzzles)
Marital - Date night at least once every 2 months with Ginny
Parental - Date night with each girl once every 2 months

Rather than setting some resolutions, I challenge you to think of your theme for 2015. What's your word? What will you 2015 the "year of?"

Happy New Year!


Tuesday, November 18, 2014

The List of Our Games

A friend of Ginny's on Facebook made the comment that we play a lot of "unique games," and wanted to see a list of all of them. With that said, here is the list of games we have with some quick comments about each of them. I am also working on a post detailing how we can use many of these games in teaching. Without any further delay, here is our list in no particular order.
  1. The Settlers of Catan - The game that brought the strategy games into the mainstream of America. A classic and one that everyone should play at some point. Player interaction through trading and an easily -described victory condition make this a great game to introduce to people.
  2. The Seafarers of Catan - Technically an expansion of Settlers. I really enjoy it as well, as it adds some new dimensions and scenarios to play.
  3. Ticket to Ride - One of the best "gateway games," or a game to introduce to new gamers. It takes the rummy element of set collecting and incorporates it into a cross-country game of building railroad routes between cities. Simply put: This one is fun.
  4. Carcassonne - Another game that we've enjoyed for a while. A tile-laying game all about building up the French landscape. The game board changes with every play as you place different tiles together. Definitely one to play with newbie gamers.
  5. Zooloretto - I would definitely consider this a gateway game, too. It will be on the first ones that I will teach the girls to play the correct way. A game all about putting animals in your zoo. Another set collecting game that is easy to grasp.
  6. Airlines Europe - A step above Ticket to Ride (the same designer for both games) in terms of depth and complexity, but another game that will be accessible to many. A game that each time I play I enjoy more and more. It involves the route building of Ticket to Ride with the stock element of Acquire (see below).
  7. Agricola - This one is probably my favorite game, and one that I have not reviewed yet. It's a game about farming. Yes, farming. Don't let the theme fool you though. This game has a lot of depth and complexity, so it is not one you would want to start out playing with new players. There are a lot different paths to explore and ways to win - which adds to the depth of it. Ginny and I really enjoy our 2-player battles.
  8. Puerto Rico - Another game that is a few notches above Ticket to Ride on the challenge scale, but another fun that I enjoy. Definitely not a game for everyone, though. Some may find it dry and boring. There is some player interaction as you select different roles on your turn and build up your island of Puerto Rico.
  9. Acquire - One of my favorite games, as it was one of the first "real" board games my dad and uncles taught me. Simple, elegant design with excellent gameplay. One that currently is readily available for purchase. You lay tiles to create hotel chains, invest in those hotels, and try to accumulate the most wealth through stock mergers and stock appreciation.
  10. Stocks and Bonds - An easy-to-explain game about the stock market. Invest in stocks, buy low, sell high, and hope to strike it richer than your opponents. Like I said in my review, it's not a great game, but it is good to play every once in a while.
  11. Power Grid - Of all the games I have and play regularly, this one might be the most complex, but it is right there at the top of the list as one of my favorites. Auctions, resource management, and network building all come together in this game of being the best power supply company. Again, do not start out with this right away, and when you do play it, take your time reading the rules. This game also has many expansions, of which sadly I own most.
  12. Railways of the World - Network building and pick-up-and-deliver mechanisms meet in this game all about earning the most money and victory points through building your railroad network and deliver different colored cubes to cities of the respective cube color. I like this one a lot, too. The only downside (and what I didn't necessarily know at the time I requested it as a gift) is that it really is a better game with 4-6 players. Also, the board is ginormous.
  13. Castles of Burgundy - A game that does play well with 2 players is Castles of Burgundy. A game about developing the countryside in medieval France, this game is about rolling dice and using those dice to collect tiles and add tiles to your board. It sounds like a lot of luck involved given dice rolls, but there are special tiles and tokens to manipulate the dice rolls. Again, a solid game that plays well with 2 players. And one you can play for free online at Boite a Jeux.
  14. Macao - Another game that plays well with 2, Macao is another game with interesting mechanisms around dice rolling and resource collecting, with the goal of earning the most victory points as you deliver goods, build city spaces, and activate cards through cubes you earn through the dice rolls. Not a game everyone will enjoy, and not a game to start newbies on, but a good game Ginny and I enjoy. Her ability to plan better than me makes her the winner most games.
  15. Alhambra - I realize I keep repeating myself, but this is another good 2-player game. In Alhambra, you are looking to build up your Alhambra in the Spanish Middle Ages. You buy buildings from the board and add them to your Alhambra with the goal of having the most buildings of each type when the scoring cards come. The money comes in 4 different colors (currencies), giving you choices to make when buying buildings and taking money from the bank. An award-winning game, and rightly so.
  16. Pandemic - A cooperative game where you try to save the world and cure 4 diseases before they outbreak and doom the world. A topical game, too, given the events of the world right now. Ginny and I like this one a lot, even if we have a losing record at it.
  17. Formula D - This was one of those games I bought somewhat on a whim, mostly because we have not actually played this one yet. Technically, I guess the girls and I have gotten out the cars and rolled the dice, but we haven't played according to the rules. As they get older, I can see this one being played often. 
  18. History of the World - A 3+ hour game about world civilizations rising to power and being taken over by others. This is a popular game with my mom's family, and it has elicited many laughs and good times over the years. This game is NOT for everyone though, because, well, it's at least a 3-hour affair.
  19. 1856/18TN - At minimum, another 3-hour-long game about investing in railway companies, growing their reach across the map, and trying to manipulate your way to the highest net worth. It's sort of like History of the World, but with trains and not civilizations.
  20. Scotland Yard - You are either a detective hot on the trail of Mr. X, or you are Mr. X, seeking to elude the world's best detectives. This is a 1 vs. all game as Mr. X tries to move about London with being captured by the detectives. The big thing? Mr. X is hidden on the board and writes his moves down in secret; you only know what mode of transportation he took. I can't wait to try this one with the girls.
  21. 7 Wonders - A card-drafting, set collecting game in which you take the role of the leader of a certain civilization and try to earn the most points and complete your wonder of the world. I've only played this twice - once as a play through by myself and once with 2 other players. It looks like a fun game that the girls can play fairly quickly.
  22. Dixit - This one falls into the party game genre, but it's really quite clever. You have a hand of 6 cards with a picture on each one. Your job as the storyteller is to pick a card and describe it in one sentence. The other players then select one card from their hand that they think matches your story. Then everyone but the storyteller votes on which card they think you the storyteller played, and points are awarded based on the selections. 
  23. Reef Encounter - Reef Encounter is the deep-sea adventure of combating corals. Yes, you read that right. The game is about growing your coral reef and having your fish eat the reef when it is dominant to score the most points. It's fairly abstract but a lot of fun. It's not a beginners' game, however. The rule book is not well written, and the game is fairly complex. It's still a good game once you graduate up to it.
  24. Memoir '44 - There are a lot of war games out there that I find interesting but would have absolutely no time or reason to buy. For one, they take a long time to play. Second, I don't think Ginny would be interested. Memoir '44 is known here as Daddy's army men game, because the game comes with plastic army men. M44 recreates World War II battles but in a much simpler fashion. To date, I've only played solo games, but it is light and fun and a game I hope the girls will be interested in when we study WW2 in our homeschool life.
  25. Qwirkle - A review will be coming soon on this one. This one is Scrabble with shapes and colors. It's easy to teach and easy to play. In fact, Nyla has actually been playing it with us with only some help from us. She understands what she is supposed to do. You play either a row of different shapes of the same color or different colors of the same shape. A fun game that the whole family will enjoy.
  26. Small World - My latest game purchase. 
  27. Party Games - I'm going to lump all of these together, because they fill that party game genre. We have Apples to Apples, Taboo, Scattergories, and Balderdash. I will point out that Say Anything is an excellent party game from the same people who designed Wits & Wagers. All of these fill that niche of just wanting to be silly and have a good time.
  28. "Traditional Games" - Monopoly, Scrabble, Yachtzee, and Rummy Cube all fall in here. We rarely play Monopoly these days, although I'm sure we will once the girls get older. Same for the others as well. 
And with that, I believe that covers our entire list of games... at least until I get some birthday/Christmas money to spend. ;-)