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I received a gift card for the purpose of this review. This post was made possible by Mom Spark Media. Thoughts are my own.

I think I probably do the most baking during the month of November, but that means that I have less time and desire to do the regular meal planning and cooking.

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I received a gift card for the purpose of this review. This post was made possible by Mom Spark Media. Thoughts are my own.

Thanksgiving Prep!

This post contains affiliate links.  If you purchase something through one of my links, I will receive a small commission.  This is at no extra cost to you.  If you want $10 off your first Erin Condren purchase, sign up for an account through this link and they will e-mail you a code!  Thank you for supporting this blog!

Hello everyone!  The next several days it is going to be a bit quieter on the blog.  I, as I am sure many of you are, am spending a lot of time with family, and of course a ton of cooking is to be done!

I wanted to share a few photos of what we are doing right now!  I hope you all have a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday and start to the Christmas season!  For my friends that are visiting from outside the US, I will be back soon!

Bread baking began yesterday.  Two years ago I made stuffing from my homemade bread.  It was absolutely amazing.  Last year I was recovering from a c-section, so we went with the delicious Pepperidge Farm option. 

The kids are fully enjoying their long homeschooling break by playing board games every morning.  This is one of their favorites, Catan Junior.

My too long list for today - it goes on the back as well.  Ignore the horrible chicken scratch, I have re-written it in my Erin Condren Life Planner in nicer writing so that I have it as a nice little memory, but for the scrap paper, it is write as fast as I possibly can!

I realized after I made the decision to make cranberry bread and pumpkin muffins for breakfast tomorrow, that I wouldn't be able to make them know...since I have to cook a 21 pound turkey!  I'm glad I realized that before lunch time!  So muffins and bread are done.  

If you want to follow along with the rest of my Thanksgiving prep, you can find me over on Instagram where I will be posting more food pictures than I probably should!

Are you baking and cooking a lot today?  I would love to see what you are up to!  Leave a link to your pictures below.

My History with Black Friday and the Strategy for this Year

Is Black Friday a tradition in your home?  It is in mine.  Not one that we always keep to, but one that seems to always be on our minds around Thanksgiving – which is funny since Thanksgiving is all about being thankful for what we have, and Black Friday seems to be about acquiring more stuff.

I think over the past few years, Black Friday has gotten huge.  It now has a Cyber Monday, a Small Business Saturday, in fact, I have been getting e-mails and flyers in the mail about Black Friday deals that are running all of November.

When I was in college that was the first time Black Friday was big to me.  I heard that the Maine Mall was going to be opening at midnight.  It was completely unheard of at that time (I might be showing my age a bit here!).  Some of the stores would be open, and there would be amazing sales. 

We already had a tradition of going to LL Bean on Thanksgiving, to walk off most of the food we had eaten and make room for pie.  So going to the mall wasn’t that far off for us.

I convinced my brother and my mom to drive down to Portland at 11pm.  We got there, and there was a line already around the mall.  It was freezing.  We all had coffee (and at the time, only one of us actually drank coffee – my mom), and were ready to see what this Black Friday thing was all about.

Let me tell you, it was chaos!

We had no idea what we were getting ourselves into.  We walked around that morning, going to the stores that were open, making many trips to Starbucks, and just generally walking around.

It wasn’t about getting a good deal; it wasn’t about buying a bunch of stuff.  It actually was about my family spending time together, walking around in the craziness, laughing when we saw people running for displays.  Yes, we bought a few things, but it wasn’t the primary draw.  We wanted an adventure, and we got one!

As the years have gone on, we have seen our Black Friday change a bit.  The last time that we went out super early was when Emma was just six months old.  After that, there were more children added to the mix, and sleep became the priority, not getting out in the morning.

This year is the first year that I feel that pull to go back out in the craziness.  I’m not sure it will be at midnight, or even 8am, but I can definitely see myself getting out to people watch and see what kind of deals might be available.

One thing that hasn’t changed is my desire to get the paper on Thanksgiving morning.  I go to the little gas station near my house first thing in the morning to get the paper with all of those ads.  Often I don’t see anything of interest, but once in a while I will find something that I want to buy for someone.

What is my plan for this year?  Well, I will get the paper on Thanksgiving morning, I will sit down with my coffee after we get the turkey in the oven and look through the paper.  I will clip the coupons that are important to me – Michael’s, AC Moore, JoAnn Fabrics – and then I will enjoy my Thanksgiving meal!

I haven’t decided if I will go out, I haven’t decided if I want to drag my kids out for that.  More than likely, my husband will stay home with the kids, and I will make a few quick runs to the stores where I know I need to get some things, and then be home in time to start decorating our Christmas tree.

This obviously isn’t a real Black Friday strategy. 

My real Black Friday strategy is to soak up the extra time I have with my family all together.  To watch my niece and nephew play with my kids, to visit with my brother and sister-in-law, to play Christmas music and decorate our tree, and eat more Thanksgiving leftovers; that is my real strategy.  I’m not chasing a deal, or trying to find the hottest present this year.  I may find something I want to get, but I’m not going to be fighting anyone to get it.

What do you do on Black Friday?  Do you go out in the madness, or do you skip it?  

Top 4 Gifts for the Techie in your Life! #BetterMoments

I am a member of the U.S. Cellular #BetterMoments Blogger Brigade.  This is a sponsored post on behalf of U.S. Cellular.  As always, the opinions are all my own!

I think we can all agree that most people own some sort of wireless device these days!  I know that my iPhone is pretty much glued to me all the time.  And I think that most of us know someone who loves technology - or several someones.  I know that in my own family, my brother, mom, husband, and I all love technology.  With the holidays coming (already here?!), what better way to celebrate that giving the techie in your life some amazing tech gifts? 

I think that this Christmas will probably be the first year a lot of kids are getting their own wireless devices.  If that is the case in your family, don’t forget to grab the U.S. Cellular Parent-Child Agreement to talk to your kids about appropriate wireless usage, and setting up boundaries.

Now, here are my Top Four Wireless Accessories for the Holiday Season!

First up is the OtterBox Commuter Case.  Now, this is probably the most important one for me, as a mom.  My phone gets grabbed, dropped, and even thrown sometimes, but these cases are AMAZING!  Retail price $39.99.

With defense against drops, dust and scratches, along with two layers of protection, the OtterBox Commuter Case is sleek enough to fit in your pocket while also protecting against the elements.

Next, the Belkin WeMo Insight Switch.  This one looks awesome!  Connect all of your home electronics to your Wi-Fi network.  It then allows you to turn them off and on from anywhere on your phone or tablet.  It can put your electronics on a schedule, and even track energy usage and send that information back to your phone or tablet.  It is perfect for someone looking to simplify their lives when it comes to their home technology.  Retail Price $59.99

The Parrot Rolling Spider Drone – it seems like drones are all the rage right now.  For the fun-loving adult (or kid!) on your list, this is an ultra-compact drone that is controlled by your smartphone.  It flies indoors and outdoors with speed and stability.  You can use it to take pictures by just pushing the button on the accompanying app.  It also has detachable wheels that make it easy to go from floor to ceiling – this is very cool!  Retail Price $99.99

The last gadget is the Samsung Gear S2.  This little device really does it all.  It is perfect for the health conscious person on your list, tracking all of your daily activities, counts your steps, measure your pulse as well as your water vs. caffeine intake.  It can also take calls and texts, even buy a latte if you want!  The Gear S2 makes it easy to read an e-mail, check out your favorite apps, or listen to music, right from your wrist!  Retail Price $349.99.

I am incredibly excited about the holidays this year!  So much so that I have been talking about it all the time recently here at Townsend House!

I would love to hear what you are hoping to get for Christmas, as well as what you are planning on giving to the loved ones in your life?

knitting and reading

After I finished my runner from last week, I wasn't sure what to knit next.  I know that I need to make a run to the yarn store to stock up on some new yarn, and I didn't have time to get there this past weekend.  Instead, I decided to go back to my dish cloth knitting.

I really love this chevron pattern, I think it is going to make a really nice set of dish cloths.  I am planning on giving these as a Christmas present, but seeing as how I only have 2.5 done, I know that I need to get working on these to have a nice set.  I mean, how many dish cloths would you expect to get in a set?  Five?  Ten?  I don't know.  They do knit up pretty quickly, when I have time to sit and do them.  

Maybe I will have more time after we finish up school for the year this week - we start our very long holiday break next week, and I am incredibly excited about that!

As far as my reading goes, I am continuing on my magazine theme from last week.  In the past couple of days I have gotten all of my new December magazines.  I'm especially looking forward to the gift guide in Real Simple...I don't often buy things from these lists, but I sure do love to look at them!

What are you working on this week?  What is your favorite magazine to receive around the holidays?

Preparing for a Long Homeschool Break!

One of the best reasons to homeschool is the flexibility.  We love the option to take off days when we need to, and the ability to make up days on the weekends if need be.  This is how homeschooling seamlessly flows into living our lives.

Several years ago I read on a homeschool blog about how the family would be taking the entire month of December off from homeschooling.  I was immediately intrigued.  How exactly did they plan to take an entire month off right in the middle of the school year?!

Well, as we have been homeschooling now for a few years (even if we are still in the very beginning, baby stages) I realized how possible it actually is.

First, for us, we homeschool all year; which makes planning a long break quite a bit easier in my mind.  However, I have read about other families that pretty much follow the regular school calendar and still take off a large chunk of time between Thanksgiving and the New Year; so if you do not school all year, please don’t think you can’t also get a nice break during the holiday season.

We start our new curriculum typically in the summer, this allows us time to get back into the swing of things with homeschooling, and also gives us the opportunity to bank some days (we must keep track of how many days we do school in my state) before other kids go back to school.

When I heard about taking time off during the holiday season, I immediately knew it was something I wanted to plan for in my own homeschooling.  It makes so much sense to me, have a large chunk of time when we are typically busy with so many other obligations. 

We actually tried this for the first time several years ago when Emma was only 5.  Obviously not as much of a difficulty when your child is only in kindergarten.  However, now at 9 we are still working towards the goal of finishing the first half of our year by Thanksgiving.

It gave us time to do the messy crafts that the kids always want to do, without me being as concerned about getting things cleared so we can settle for some writing or formal math practice.  It gave us more time to do Christmas crafts, and to bake more. 

It didn’t mean that we completely stopped learning, we instead were learning different things. 

As I started planning this school year last spring, I realized that I would want to continue this wonderful time of taking between Thanksgiving and the New Year off.  But now that we are reporting to the state, making sure we have a plan in place is very important..

We start homeschooling the first week in August, just getting our feet wet, and for us to get back into the swing of things.

I have my entire school year mapped out in my Erin Condren Teacher Planner.  This helps me to figure out where I need to be, and what I hope to accomplish in the first trimester of our year.  Having that broad plan in front of me allows me to pick and choose what we are doing each day, and it also shows me if we are going to be finished in time for our break. 

It has worked out exceptionally well.  I guess all that time I spent methodically going through everything that I planned to teach really worked!  It is nice when things go the way that you plan them – and it is a rare occurrence for me!

One main factor that has helped me in getting ready for this long homeschooling break is actually my kids.

Each month we create a new monthly calendar.  Emma and Jack both make their own with the days of the week and number it.  Then they write their activities down in it.  Of course I have all of this information in my own calendar, but for them to see it on the fridge, and take the ownership in writing down when they have sports practices, classes and other activities, it helps. 

With Thanksgiving on the calendar, and Emma and Jack knowing that we have the opportunity to have a long homeschool break ahead of us (it isn’t guaranteed, we still need to finish the work before we can take the break), they are incredibly motivated to move through their school work.  

Math that was taking over an hour to do is now taking 20-30 minutes.  Writing that was bemoaned before is now done before I even start school.  And reading, well, she always does her reading, thankfully they have taken my love for reading and made it their own as well.

Everyday they have their list of school to do, and they know that in order to finish by Thanksgiving they need to complete one math lesson, one handwriting page, 2 chapters in their assigned reading books etc.  They are able to work ahead if they feel they are understanding the concepts. 

I am looking forward to having a season of rest, and the ability to get more in depth in planning for our winter term.  It will give us a much needed break from the everyday school, and will give us a little more free time for the activities that are only available to do during the holiday season.

Do you take a long winter break?  Why or why not?  Is it something you have considered, but have shied away from due to the length of time?

6 Ways to Reduce your Heating Costs this Winter

There are affiliate links in this blog post.  If you purchase something after clicking on one of these links, I will receive a small commission at no extra cost to you.  Thank you for supporting Townsend House!

Have you turned your heat on yet?  We live in Maine, and while in years past we would wait until November 1st to turn on the heat, this year the heat came on in early October.  We have had a wonderfully warm November, so you may not be thinking about heating your home yet, but it is something I am constantly thinking about – especially how to save money on heating my home.

Several years back, when oil was over $4/gallon, I knew that we needed to make some changes in order to reduce how much we were spending on oil.  Now that oil is less than half that, I am feeling a little more comfortable about relaxing on keeping the thermostat incredibly low, but I still want to be able to save as much money as I can during the *very* long heating season.

Here are my Top 6 Tips for Reducing your Heating Costs.

Keep your thermostat lower.

It seems like a no-brainer, if you turn your thermostat lower, you will pay less to heat your home.  However, I think that most people forget about this step. 

If you are out of the house all day, do you need to keep your heat on 70?  Absolutely not.  You can turn it down, and save some money.  One thing that has helped us is to get a programmable thermostat.  We have this one and it has served us really well.  Not having to remember to turn the thermostat down when we know we are going to be out of the house is so helpful. 

Turning the thermostat down isn’t just for when you are out of the house.  If you turn your thermostat down a couple of degrees, and put on a sweater, you are going to save money.

The next tip is to use good curtains.

You can buy thermal lined curtains like these ones that are inexpensive, but give you a good amount of cold blocking power.  I know that a lot of houses in New England are old, and that means that windows are sometimes old.  Even if the windows are not old, like in my old house, there still seems to be cold air coming in.  If you are able to shut the curtains, it will help keep some of the heat in your rooms better.  If you have sun streaming through your windows during the day, keep those shades open in the winter and closed in the summer.  Then close the shades when the sun passes over your house in the winter, or vice versa in the summer.

My next tip is to block off your rooms with doors or curtains.

This is something that we have been doing every year for a long time.  It may sound strange to hang blankets to close off rooms in the winter, and it does look a little funny, but it definitely helps us keep our heating costs lower, and the rooms that we are in stay much warmer.

We live in an old New Englander home, and that means there are lots of rooms, and lots of doorways.  By hanging some blankets or curtains up between some of the rooms, our downstairs stays warmer, and since that is where we are most of the time, that makes sense for us.  Of course, it won’t work in every home.  And obviously it changes the esthetic of the home to have blankets hanging in your doorways, but I’m not as concerned about that.

Use a space heater.

Space heaters have come a long way; they aren’t nearly as dangerous as they used to be.  We have one similar to this one which we purchased several years ago, and it works really well.  It isn’t like a typical space heater, but when the room itself is warm, it helps to keep the room warm.  It doesn’t work as well if you start it in a cold room, it still works, but it doesn’t circulate the warm air as well as if the room is warm to begin with.

We run the heater in our downstairs, and it helps our thermostat to not constantly kick on.  The combination of turning the thermostat down a couple degrees, hanging the curtains in the doorways and running the space heater keeps my family incredibly comfortable all day.  Yes, the space heater adds cost to our electric bill, but it is not nearly as much as how much we pay for oil.

My last two tips Drink Tea and Bake.

These two are definitely more fun.  I am a coffee drinker.  I love coffee, but there is no way that I can drink coffee all day long – even though I might want to.  It wouldn’t be healthy to drink that much caffeine, and decaf coffee just isn’t the same.  Herbal tea, however, is something you can drink all day just fine. 

Drinking hot tea warms me up.  It warms up my hands, it warms my body, it is good for you.  I think it is definitely a win-win.  Winter sees me drinking a lot of tea.  And it isn’t just me, my kids will drink it as well.  Not as often, but when they see me drinking tea, they want to as well.  It probably helps that I will put milk and honey in it for them.

Baking.  It is a wonderful way to warm up your house!  We do a lot of baking in the winter; bread, casseroles, cookies, anything that I can make in the oven, I try to during the winter.  While what I am making is baking, the house warms up.  And once the oven has been turned off, I leave the door of the oven open to let the residual heat come into the rest of the house.  It is surprising how warm the house stays when I am baking!  Plus, all those delicious treats, how can you go wrong?!

These are the main ways we keep our heating costs low in the winter.  There are other ways to stay warm in a cooler house as well, sweaters, fingerless mitts, cowls, warm slippers or slippersocks.  All of these are wonderful helps to stay warm in a cooler house.

What tips do you have to keep heating costs low?  Do you see yourself turning up the thermostat a little more with oil prices lower?

knitting and reading

I have done it!  I am officially done knitting my runner - my very short runner!  Actually, it is perfect.  The shelf that it will eventually be going on top of is only about two feet wide, so it will be just on the top of the shelf, which is what I wanted.

I thought that I would go on to the second ball of green yarn that I had, but then remembered that I have a baby who likes to grab at things, and if I make this runner to hang over the top of this very short bookshelf, she will most definitely pull it off, along with everything else that I plan to place on the top of the bookshelf.  

"What about the books?" you ask, well I have the bookshelf crammed incredibly full of books so that it takes a little bit of work to get the books out...I learned my lesson when my oldest was a baby.

As far as my reading goes, I have taken a break from book reading (didn't I just get back into book reading?!) to work on some of my fall magazines.

I love the holiday season, and all that it offers food wise.  Food, glorious food, I can't seem to get enough of all the fancy ways to prepare these delicious fall vegetables.  I am on the lookout for new dishes to prepare for Thanksgiving and Christmas.  I love to have something new each year, and drooling over the recipes in the magazines doesn't help me narrow it down at all.  Plus, all the beautiful tablescapes...I love it!

Also, can we all agree that Thanksgiving in two weeks is a little insane?  Thank you!

What's on your needles this week?  Are you reading anything fun?

Top 4 Items from my Winter Medicine Cabinet

I am not a doctor; I don’t pretend to be one.  This post is meant to get you to think about your own health.  Please consult your own doctor if you are sick!

This post contains affiliate links.  If you purchase something through one of my links I will receive a small commission.  Thank you for supporting Townsend House!

I am sick.  Not terribly sick, just a cough, thankfully, however, it is enough to make me start thinking about my winter medicine cabinet, and how I really should be utilizing these tips most of the year!

There are definitely several items that I like to keep on hand in the winter to help me to stay as healthy as possible throughout germ season.

I try to keep my medicine cabinet pretty medicine free, if I am being honest.  Of course we have all of the regular medicines if we really need them, but I try to keep things as natural as possible.

The first is raw apple cider vinegar – we use this brand.  It has to have the “mother” in it for it to be a benefit though, so make sure it is raw and unfiltered. 

Apple cider vinegar is antimicrobial and can kill some bacteria.  This makes it perfect to take in the winter months.  Two tablespoons mixed with some water morning and night is a great way to keep your body healthy!  Yes, vinegar is an acid, but raw apple cider vinegar has an alkalizing effect on your body (which is partly why it is so good for you!).  It also helps to break up mucous in the body, which is important when you have any type of cold.

The next item I love to have on hand is raw honey.  You can use a brand like this one, but I really think that local is the way to go on this one.  Honey is wonderful for sore throats.  My older two will often get a spoonful of honey when they have any sort of sore throat; it gives them a little relief.  Local raw honey is also perfect during allergy season, since you are essentially consuming the pollen you are allergic to, it helps you to build up immunity to it – not a guarantee, but definitely a help!

Raw garlic is next on my list.  Now, I know that a lot of people do not like garlic, I am not one of those people, and neither is my family.  If you do not like raw garlic, you can certainly buy garlic capsules, but raw is the way to go (you may be picking up on a theme here!).  Garlic has a whole host of health benefits, you can read more about them hereGarlic contains allicin which can help reduce the length of time you have cold symptoms.

Next on my list is tea.  This one is hands down my favorite.  But, there are so many other varieties, and for so many other different ailments, you really can’t go wrong with tea – in my opinion!

These are my top four health aids for winter – and actually for any time of year.  However, I have three more bonus tips for you!

The first is sleep – getting enough sleep will do wonders for your health.  If you are burning the candle at both ends, your body will not be equipped to fight off germs in the winter.  I know with the holidays coming up, everyone is so busy (me included!), but getting enough sleep will help you to stay healthy. 

Obviously there are going to be days you are not able to get enough sleep, this is OK!  Just try to make sure you turn in a bit earlier the next night. 

Next, cut out sugar.

Please don’t shoot the messenger!  I know how crazy it sounds decrease sugar at this time of year.  In fact, most people ramp up the amount of sugar they eat between Halloween and the New Year.  There are so many delicious treats available!

I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but germs feed on sugar.  If your body is trying to deal with an onslaught of sugar and fight germs, you are in an uphill battle.  I’m not saying “do not enjoy the treats of the season,” but I am saying “do so in moderation.”  Nothing is inherently bad for you, in my opinion, but if you have pie for breakfast, candy from the jar at work for lunch, and fudge for dinner, you may be in for an unhealthy season.

My final tip is incredibly important, and incredibly difficult to manage.

Try not to stress!

I know this is a hard one.  But, stress is a leading factor in so many different illnesses, not just getting a cold.  Stress weakens your immune system, making it difficult to fight off any type of virus. 

Obviously the holidays are a high stress time.  There are many different engagements that people have.  Travel, family visits, deadlines at work, and it is hard to know how to get it all done without a little bit of stress.

My (non-medical) advice would be to take some time to relax, and center you.  You can check out my series 31 Days of Self-Care to find some tips to de-stress and take some time for yourself. 

While the holidays are a busy time of year, that doesn’t mean that you should constantly be go go going until January when you crash and burn!  If we try to take some time for relaxation, to de-stress at the end of an exceptionally busy day, to know that this party is not going to make or break our relationships; it is meant to be a time of celebration.

What tips do you have to stay healthy during the holiday season?

knitting and reading

The beginning of November...what should I be knitting?  Christmas presents.  What am I knitting?  Something for myself!

I am still working on my runner.  I have another ball of yarn in this green color, and I don't know if I am going to continue or just leave it as a one ball of yarn runner.  I know that it will not hang over the sides of the bookcase I am making it for, but I think that is OK.  I think that I want it to be a little bit smaller, a decorative accent for the top of my bookshelf, and a place to set a candle and a basket.

My book is one that I received a couple weeks ago.  I haven't started it yet, but it is next on my list.  From the back cover:

When India Hartley is accused of murder, she must uncover the deceptions of others to save herself.

Sounds like a good, and quick read!  It is a historical romance with a touch of suspense.  I think that it will be something fun to read this week.

I am fighting off a cough right now, so I need to start hitting up my raw apple cider vinegar.  It is slightly annoying because the weather has been really nice lately - in fact last year at this time there was snow on the ground...and with the weather hitting 60 degrees all week long, well I want to be out enjoying it!  

What are you knitting and reading this week?  Any fun Christmas presents getting started?

Plimoth Plantation Resources for Homeschoolers

If you have been reading here at all the past several months, you know that we are studying US History this year in our homeschool.  We have been talking about Christopher Columbus and all that entails (in a much more kid appropriate way) as well as the Native Americans that were here before us, and of course the Vikings – that is always a fun subject.  We just finished up our study of Jamestown and also the Lost Colony (which, if you are into this, there was a great special on the history channel last week).

Now, it is November, and November is the perfect time to start talking about the Pilgrims, and Plimoth Plantation.

I remember going to Plimoth Plantation when I was in 5th grade.  It was the first big field trip I went on, it was a couple states away, and it cemented my love for early American history.  I love historical fiction, and seeing a place talked about in books that I read was the coolest thing ever to my 9 year old self.

When we started homeschooling, I knew that I would find my groove when we got to US History, and I was right!

Now, my kids are still too young to really appreciate Plimoth, so we are waiting for that field trip just a bit longer I believe.  However, Plimoth Plantation has an amazing array of resources available online to help with homeschooling (or for anyone that would like more information about Plimoth). 

My favorite part is the virtual field trip.  There are two videos, one done from the perspective of the Pilgrims, and one done from the perspective of the Wampanoag.  This is also perfect for kids that are at the appropriate age to visit, but live too far away.

There are also coloring pages, recipes, and other stories.

I love how technology has opened up educational materials to so many people; with the click of a button you are now able to experience a whole host of historical places.  As we move through the school career of the kids, I am excited to have so many resources available.

While we won’t be going to Plimoth Plantation this year, we will still be visiting through their virtual field trip, and I plan to have the kids make a couple of the recipes as well.  It will be the perfect unit study leading up to Thanksgiving this year, and our long homeschooling break.  

If your kids are a little bit older, you may also find that the Colonial House program done by PBS would be of interest.  It is a little bit strong on the "reality television" aspect of the program, but seeing the different struggles, the rules, and the dynamic of having to build something from scratch is really interesting.

Have you ever used the online resources available from Plimoth Plantation to work on US History unit studies?  What are you studying right now?

4 Tips to Prepare your Kitchen for Winter

I feel the most unprepared for winter than I have in a long while.  Since we have lived in this house I have always had a garden, and I have always preserved food.  This year I did neither.

I didn’t start my seeds last winter; I thought I would buy seedlings instead.  The time to buy seedlings came and went.  I said I would pick strawberries to freeze and turn into jam, we didn’t go strawberry picking.  I said that we would definitely get tomatoes (I love my home canned tomatoes), I didn’t buy tomatoes to can this year.  I finally thought that we would go apple picking and we would at least get that done, nope, we missed that as well. 

Obviously, I didn’t put as big a priority on it this year as I have in years past.  We have had a lot going on, and like I wrote about last month in my 31 Days of Self-Care series, sometimes we need to let things go, there are seasons.

Why do I like to stock up on food in the winter?  Because we heat with oil in our home and oil is expensive.  Unfortunately there are months where we have to cut back on the grocery budget in order to buy oil.  Thankfully, oil prices are down a lot this fall, although I don’t count on this, and still want to stock up a bit so I feel a little better.

When the pantry is full, I feel better!

Because I am starting from the bottom this year, I thought it would be fun to share my top four tips for preparing for winter.

Tip 1 – Make Your Own Stock

This is actually quite easy, and can even be done in a crock pot if you are out of the house most of the day (or even overnight as my friend Lisa mentioned to me). 

If you ever roast a whole chicken or buy a pre-cooked chicken at your grocery store, cover the carcass with water the next day and make chicken stock.  Now, we will often make soup the day after having a roasted chicken, but I always have extra chicken stock.  Put it in a Ziploc bag and freeze it. 

You can also make veggie stock, either with fresh vegetables that you can then blend into the stock, or with vegetable scraps that you keep in the freezer in a gallon Ziploc bag, that when full you put on the stove with water, some herbs and peppercorns and let it simmer away.

Tip 2 – Buy Rice in Bulk

I am not a huge rice person, I never really ate rice growing up, but rice has become a staple in our home.  Rice is also very inexpensive – especially when you buy it in bulk.  Currently it is around $9 for 25 pounds of white rice at SAMS Club.

Now, we all know that brown rice is healthier than white rice however I think that having white rice in the house is not a bad thing.  It is always good in my mind to have a shelf stable carbohydrate that is low in allergens available.  If you pair the rice with frozen veggies and scrambled eggs, it is a great meal that my kids love, and is quite filling.

Tip 3 – Buy frozen vegetables

I love fresh vegetables, I love salad, I love summer when I can go to the farmers’ market and get those fresh picked veggie, but winter is probably the worst time to buy fresh vegetables, unless you live in a climate that is currently growing them – and that is certainly not Maine.

Because of this, we turn to frozen vegetables in the winter.  Frozen vegetables are picked when they are ripe, and frozen immediately, so they are most likely the most nutrient dense vegetables in the grocery store.

I love to stock my freezer with broccoli florets, baby sweet peas, green beans, brussels sprouts, and corn.  I can make soups and stir fries easily with the frozen vegetables and also using the above mentioned stock and rice.

Tip 4 – Eat more storage vegetables

We have come a long way from when everyone had their own garden and had to preserve the food that they were going to eat throughout the winter and early spring, unfortunately and fortunately in my opinion.  People have forgotten which vegetables would typically be available to them, but there obviously is much more choice.  While I like to have frozen summer veggies on hand, I also love to have all the fall and winter storage crops.

Things like carrots, onions, potatoes, parsnips, winter squash and pumpkin are amazing vegetables to have on hand in the winter.  We love to roast these vegetables.  I will make soups.  They are inexpensive and they last a long time.

I love winter squash and pumpkin and you can get so much out of them!  Roast up a winter squash and use the flesh for a squash soup, roast the seeds and top the soup with the seeds or eat them for a snack.  Make a stuffing and put it in acorn squash and cook in the oven.  My pie pumpkins do double duty, I will typically roast it and make a bread or pie out of one half and the other half goes into soup.  Delicious vegetables that provide a lot of vitamins we need in the winter.

Do you stock up on food when it gets closer to the winter season?  How do you make your grocery budget stretch in lean times?