There's nothing like waiting until the last minute, but for some of us, that's when inspiration hits and our best ideas come alive.
If you are one of those last minute creatives, here are a few ideas I hope will inspire you.
For more delicious recipe ideas, go to the recipes heading at the top of the page and use the drop down menu.
I don't know what it is about instagram, but I love it. I have only been (really) using it for a few months and know lots of people are not on instagram so I thought I would share some of my favorite pics. I post lots of pictures of the kids and our lives outside of Home Ec @ Home, so Mom you should love this!
Pretty excited about this, I just figured out how to add a caption that shows up when you hover the mouse over each picture. So hover to see what I have to say:) If you want to follow me on instagram, you can here.
Let me know if you are on instagram. I would love to see your posts!
This shop has been compensated by Collective Bias, Inc. and its advertiser. All opinions are mine alone. #WonderfulYourWay #CollectiveBias #ad The following content is intended for readers who are 21 or older.
Ever have a simple recipe that was so good you could serve it for special occasions? This is one of those recipes. I love the flavor of this traditional penne casserole with the added twist of fresh spinach baked right in. The spinach adds a dimension and freshness that compliments the pasta, cheese and sauce and is truly delicious.
To make my favorite Spinach and Cheese Penne Casserole I headed to Kroger to get the ingredients. I selected Barilla® Classic Blue Box Penne because it is an authentic Italian brand that I trust as a quality ingredient to make our special "Wonderful Your Way" "date night in" meal spectacular.
This may make me sound like some kind of crazy grocery store groupee, but I really, really love my local Kroger store. Even though it is a chain, it feels like a small town store. Everyone (and I mean this literally) is so friendly. We have lived in our small town for about a year and I feel like I know most of the employees at Kroger. My favorite cashier is the sweetest lady, Barbara, who dotes on my children every time we see her. The other day my five year old told me he wants to work at Kroger when he is older so he can see me all the time. Guess that means I spend a little too much time at the store. (LOL)
Making time for date nights is important in a relationship, but let's face it, sometimes it is easier said than done. With so much going on in our busy lives (like caring for four children including a newborn), making plans and hiring a sitter can sometimes seem a bit overwhelming.
With a few simple tips, you can still have a date night "in", saving yourself a lot of stress and money in the process.
A simple, romantic date night table setting using things I already had. I coordinated some red patterned paper place mats with a black tablecloth for a festive Valentine's Day look. I served Spinach and Cheese Penne Casserole with a basic lettuce, tomato, and basil salad. You can pair with a favorite wine or sparkling juice (pictured: sparkling cherry juice) and an easy homemade or store bought dessert.
For dessert, I made this easy slow cooker chocolate cake a few days before and froze a few slices to keep them fresh. I then cubed the cake and layered it with homemade whipped cream and fresh berries in some fancy dessert glasses. So simple and yet sophisticated.
6 Easy Tips for a Fabulous Date Night In:
As you can see this recipe makes a lot of food. Awesome if you have a big family like we do. If you don't you can halve it. (Instructions at the bottom of the recipe.) Leftovers are great too! One of my favorite things about this recipe is that you can make it earlier in the day or even the day before and refrigerate to bake later. If you want to get a little fancy, garnish with some fresh basil leaves after baking.
Spinach and Cheese Penne Casserole
16 oz. Barilla Classic Blue Box Penne
2 (15 oz.) containers ricotta cheese
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese, divided
2 (24 oz) jars Barilla pasta sauce
5 oz. package fresh Spinach
4 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
1. Cook pasta according to package directions. Drain pasta and set aside.
2. Combine the egg, ricotta cheese, and 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese.
3. Spread about 1 1/2 cups pasta sauce in a greased 9 X 13 X 3 pan or a really big casserole dish. (A 9 X 13 X 2 will work, but it will be up to the top of the pan.)
4. Top with a third of the cooked pasta, half of the ricotta mixture, half of the spinach, 1 1/3 cup mozzarella cheese, 1 T. Parmesan cheese, and 1 1/2 cups pasta sauce.
5. Repeat layers of pasta, ricotta mixture, spinach and mozzarella cheese.
6. Sprinkle with 2 T. Parmesan cheese.
7. Then top with remaining pasta, sauce, mozzarella cheese and Parmesan cheese.
8. Cover with foil and bake at 375 degrees F. for 45-50 minutes or until heated through. (Serves 12)
You can easily halve this recipe and bake it in a 9 X 9 baking pan. If you cut the recipe in half, still use one egg as a binding agent in the ricotta mixture, but halve all other ingredients.
Need some more recipe inspiration? Head to Barilla for more "Wonderful Your Way" recipe ideas. .
Disclosure: This is a sponsored post and I also received products for review. All opinions are honest and are my own.
We are so blessed to have a beautiful, healthy six week old son. In fact, he is our fourth son. We have a lot to be thankful for.
Being that this is our fourth time around, some things are easier, but others are harder. Breastfeeding is easier and feels more natural than it did with my first child. Leaving the house is easier. I am just used to having lots of kids with me where ever I go and have learned a few things over the years to make outings as peaceful and productive as possible. (There are sibling fights and meltdowns on occasion, but for the most part, things run pretty smoothly on our outings.) I remember when I had my second child. I was so apprehensive about leaving the house alone with both children. But by the time I had my third son, it was no big deal.
I think the hardest thing about being a mother of four including a newborn is that I feel exhausted and stretched thin. I want and need to spend time with each child and try to on a regular basis, but it is exhausting. Thankfully, my husband is super involved and does a lot with our children. From boardgames to football in the backyard, he plays with them almost everyday and helps the older boys with their homework.
Then there are meals to prepare and tons of laundry. (Our lazyboy is currently home to a big pile of clean laundry.) I am not complaining, I think parenting is the most rewarding job in the world. But it is a sacrifice of time, energy and money so when a newborn comes along, I say take all the help you can get.
Check out my middle of the night selfies when I was up with my little man.
5 Tips for Surviving the First Weeks of Motherhood
1. Prepare ahead of time as much as possible. Stock up on things you know you will need such as diapers, wipes, laundry detergent, paper plates (make life easier), paper towels, toilet paper, feminine pads, breast pads (if nursing), etc. The last thing you want to do is run out of any necessities when you are home with a newborn.
2. Prepare or purchase some easy meals that can be frozen and heated later or are shelf stable easy mixes or kits. You probably won't have much time to deal with cooking after baby comes and that frozen lasagna will look real good when all you have to do is heat it up. Here are some simple recipes that can be prepared ahead and frozen.
Baked Penne Casserole
Frito Chili Pie (Cook then freeze Chili to warm up later)
Easy Enchiladas (Freeze, then thaw and bake later)
3. Take it all in stride. Your house will not be perfect or anything close to perfect for a long time. And that's ok, you have more important things to do right now. You will be late sometimes and that's ok too. There will be blow out diapers, you will be peed on or spit up on all right before you leave the house. Sometimes you will feel like you have everything under control and somehow you will still be late. In my experience, people are kind and give you a break when you have a newborn. They understand and know that you are doing your best.
4. Be prepared when leaving the house. Take a moment and check the diaper bag a few times a week. Make sure to have extra diapers, wipes, extra baby clothes that are appropriate for the weather conditions, nursing cover (if using), baby blanket, changing pad, bottles and formula or pumped milk (if using), pacifier, burp cloth, bag for wet soiled clothes or cloth diapers, snacks and activities/small toys for older children, and a few things for yourself. Taking care of and nursing an infant takes a lot of energy so Mom needs a few things too. Make sure to have water or another healthy hydrating beverage like Mother Nurture Enhanced Water. I find that when I am nursing, I am always thirsty and have to take drinks with me wherever I go. Take some of your favorite snacks too. Stash a few granola bars, an apple, banana, Mother Nurture Chocolate Truffles, etc. in your bag. You will get hungry too and will be glad to have something healthy and convenient with you.
5. Accept help. This can be hard to do, but realize that you can't do it all, plus you need to rest and bond with your baby as much as possible. Let your parents and in-laws camp out for a week or two. Their help is invaluable, especially if you have older children. Let them make dinner, do laundry, and take the kids to school. You need sleep and they are happy to help and spend time with their grandchildren. If your friends, church, or co-workers offer to give you a meal train, take it. You will find relief in knowing that a home-cooked meal is being delivered a few times a week for the duration of the meal train. We are receiving a meal train from church for a couple of months and it is a God send. It is such a relief knowing that I don't have to plan and prepare meals throughout the week. Some nights I am so busy with the baby that if it weren't for the meal train, we would be eating cereal or peanut butter sandwiches.
Here I am enjoying Mother Nurture Enhanced Water when up nursing in the middle of the night. Remember, you want to stay hydrated. I tried the tropical splash flavor which was deliciously refreshing. It is slightly sweet, but not too sweet with a delicate citrus flavor. I enjoyed Mother Nurture Enhanced Water and would love to try the other flavors. It also comes in pink grapefruit and mixed berry. Mother Nurture Enhanced Waters provide essential nutrients including Folic Acid, Calcium, Vitamin B12 and Choline that both moms and babies need.
It might be because I am nursing, but I find that I am always hungry and have to snack throughout the day. Nursing mothers do need an additional 500 calories and healthy snacks are a good way to make sure I am meeting this need. I love these delicious Mother Nurture Chocolate Truffles. I always crave chocolate and can feel better about eating these since they contain DHA, folic acid, calcium and protein. They come in two delicious flavors, milk chocolate and dark chocolate raspberry.
Please share your tips for surviving the first weeks of motherhood. We are all in this together!
I feel like I have been holding out on you, but it has not been on purpose. The fact is having a new baby in the house is exhausting, even and especially the 4th time around.
We are overjoyed to announce the birth of our son! He was born on September 30th weighing in at 7 pounds 7 ounces. I made it a policy not to use my children's names on my blog years ago to protect them so I have to leave that piece of information out.
Big brothers love their new baby brother and are so excited each time they get to hold him.
Snuggling up with Daddy.
First car ride (home from the hospital)
We have had two weeks with additional help from each set of grandparents and are on our own now. The help was wonderful and we loved spending time with family. It was awesome to share this joyous occasion with them. Babies are such a blessing and they grow up way too fast. I'm going to enjoy some baby snuggles this afternoon (in between napping) if I can keep my eyes open. :)
Linking up at Friendship Friday
I saw this today and thought I should enter my article "No More Perfect". When I started looking at other submissions, I saw my article and realized I must have submitted it already. We'll blame it on mommy brain. I guess that's what happens when you are very pregnant and have had a lot on your plate.
I know you all are busy but if you get a chance, please stop by The Today Parenting Team Challenge and vote for my article No More Perfect. You can scroll down to No More Perfect by Faith Still. Thank you! Love ya and I'll keep you posted on any baby news.
Since this Dr. Seuss birthday celebration costume post has been getting pinned on Pinterest like crazy for the past couple of weeks, I thought I would update it with a few more details. This post is from 4 years ago. Hard to believe my little GACK is now 8 years old and we still have this costume in the dress-up bin, although the antlers don't look like this anymore.
My son's preschool celebrated Dr. Seuss's birthday today by dressing up as their favorite characters. He was so excited. He decided he wanted to be a Gack from "One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish". We went to the store and he helped pick out the supplies. My very creative husband managed to create the headpiece out of sturdy floral wire and wrapped it with extra fabric. He used red duct tape on the ends to secure the fabric to the wire. The fabric is a short fur type of fabric that I found at Jo Ann's. The rings on the antler headpiece are cut from thin sheets of colored foam pages that kids use for crafting. The GACK shirt is really simple to make. I just stitched up the sides and cut out a neck hole. Then I cut red felt letters out and sewed them on by hand.
Our Cute Little Gack at Preschool
You received a text last night…no school today. Snow day !!! At least that’s how your kids saw it. You saw it more like snow day, right after the weekend!?! Ok you didn’t have to get the kids up early and get them off to school. But you think to yourself, what should we do on a cold day right after spending two days at home?
Hmm…Morning chores, kids make beds and pick up hundreds of lego pieces off their bedroom floor. You wonder how long the clean floor will last before you are stepping on lego landmines again. Boys start some crafting projects, craft for a while, then you think...what should we do next?
Boys are now running up and down the stairs and all around the house enjoying an adventurous game of chase. As much fun as this is for the kids, you would much rather enjoy some peace and quiet. Since the weather is keeping them inside, you decide a trip to Burger King playland might be relaxing for you and entertaining for the kids. New to the area, your older kids have not been to the playland before and you know it will be exciting and new to them. Also, you know you can bring your laptop and catch up on emails and blog work while the kids are happily playing which is a luxury since (new to the area) you don’t have internet yet.
So off you go, bundling up to face the cold on your trek to Burger King playland.
Upon arrival the kids settle in happily in the large enough, but cozy play room. Decked out with a Wii console, a climbing tube play structure, a tv playing one of the Minions movies and a roomy seating area, you know this is going to be a good day.
You order some food and the helpful employees bring it too you when it is ready. You know you are here for the long haul so no pressure to make the kids eat right away. You let them play and eat when they are hungry. You know they will eat everything you have ordered and they do, during play breaks while watching the Minions movie.
You open your lap top while casually eating french fries and begin to work. It has been three days since you have checked your email. It takes a while, but you get through it and even get some photo editing done. You waste some time on facebook, but seriously it has been three days!!!
You realize at one point that you have spent almost three hours at the Burger King playland and that you are now on a first name basis with a very friendly employee who may be a manager…you aren’t sure since you didn’t get a good look at her name tag. She actually recognized you from your first visit the week before when you first discovered this magical place where you could actually put two thoughts together and concentrate on something for more than five minutes.
Of course you can’t help but watch little bits and pieces of the Minions movie. The minions are adorable and your kids are having so much fun laughing with the movie during their play breaks. So you don’t get as much work done as you could, but you enjoy your time with your kids and accomplish more than you normally would. You think to yourself, I can handle this. Bring on the snow days!
You work hard, so enjoy it Mom, bask in the snow day paradise otherwise known as Burger King playland.
Experience the the magic of Christmas with your children by preparing for Santa's Reindeer. They will love helping to make reindeer food and sprinkling it on the ground outside.
All you need is some oats or oatmeal and glitter. If you have access to oats that you would feed to horses you can mix it with glitter otherwise oatmeal works too. Just mix the oats or uncooked oatmeal with glitter and put in a container or small bag. Then let your little ones sprinkle it outside on Christmas Eve. Younger children love this. I found a picture of my oldest sprinkling magic reindeer food seven years ago. Such great memories.
I made these as party favors for a Mom's group children's Christmas party several years ago so I attached labels with a little poem and tied a bell to each one.
The poem reads: On Christmas Eve, sprinkle the magic reindeer food on the lawn. The magic glitter sparkling in the moonlight and the smell of the oats will guide Rudolph right to your house.
I was not the creative thinker behind Magic Reindeer Food. My department made this as a favor to send home with children who attended a Christmas party we threw every year at my old school where I taught Family and Consumer Science.
Linking up at Friendship Friday
Since I have three boys, I thought I would share my thoughts on the best gifts for boys. Our boys ages range from 4 to 8 years old so this is where I will focus. This is an update on a post I wrote last year when our youngest was 3 so it is still relevant for 3 year olds too. I will share our most played with toys over the years and any additional thoughts I have. We really try to limit screen time in our day to day life, so I won't be sharing any videos or movies. I'm also not a huge fan of toys with lots of bells and whistles. Simple is good. I want toys that inspire imaginative play and creativity.
Also, gift giving does not have to be expensive. I have purchased lots of gifts over the years (especially for kids) at thrift stores, garage sales and consignment stores. I have even made a few homemade gifts too. I also keep my eye out for clearance deals and buy gifts all year long and store them away for Christmas and birthdays. These are some of our favorites.
Magna Tiles are by far the most played with toy in our house. We have had them for years and the boys still play with them. They are an investment, but one of the few toys that are worth their expensive price tag. My parents bought the boys a large set years ago for Christmas and they still play with them every day. If you can find them used, buy them. I found a bin of magna tiles at a yard sale for $1 and added to the collection. I have never seen them at a yard sale, thrift store, or consignment store since. I don't have much experience with Magformers (similar to Magna Tiles), but my nieces and nephews love them. They are pricey too, but a toy that will last and entertain for years to come.
Since Magna Tiles are our most played with toy, we are adding to our collection this year (thanks to generous grandparents). We are adding a Magna Tiles Grand Prix set which includes two wheeled chassis. The boys will love the new set. I found them at my local Target, but they are now on sale and the set I want is sold out at the moment so if you know where I can find the Grand Prix set, please let me know. As of this week, all the magna tile sets are on sale at Target.
A classic choice is Lego. Lego is always a favorite toy. We even had a Lego birthday party a couple of years ago. You can sometimes find used lego at Kids consignment shops for a fraction of the price new. Lego are usually pricey new, but look for sales and clearance. I have seen nice sets for half price (which is still expensive, but a nice gift). The younger kids love Duplo. Our boys, especially our 4 year old still play with our bin of Duplo which were mostly purchased at a church yard sale. Our 6 year old received a Star Wars Lego set for his birthday this fall and he thought it was the most exciting gift ever.
If you have boys, you probably have some dinosaurs, but they are always great gifts, especially for 3 to 5 year olds. As you can see they make great dinosaur prints in homemade play-dough too. Dinosaur books are also an excellent choice.
We received our first Switch & Go Dino from a review I wrote a year ago, and it is still a well loved toy. We actually bought a second one at a kids consignment shop for Christmas last year. One turns into a plane and the other turns into race car.
Transforming toys are much sought after in our house. The boys put Transformers on every birthday and Christmas wish list. They have several transformers who are consistently involved in elaborate battles with dinosaurs usually centered around this large castle.
One of the boys received this castle for his birthday a few years ago from some very generous friends. It is a large footprint, but a much used and entertaining toy. If you have the space, this is great backdrop for all kinds of imaginative play. I think it's made by Fisher Price.
This is more for the younger kids, but trains have been a big part of our lives for years. We have quite a collection of wooden trains and tracks. We have a mix of several different brands and they all seem compatible with each other. (I just realized the train in the picture is not a wooden one, there are great plastic trains too.) Wooden trains can get expensive, but if you check kids consignment stores they often have nice sets for a fraction of the price. We have a lot of wooden trains and tracks, but it is from years of birthday parties and thrift store finds. If you have the space for it, a train table is a good investment. Some friends gave us ours when they were done with it and it has been used for all kinds of play. Train tables are common in kids consignment shops too.
Boys love bugs, at least mine do. They spend their entire summer outside climbing trees, playing tag, and yes collecting bugs. We actually have a real wooden insect collection box that the boys were given by an entomology professor when their father took them to visit the entomology department at the University. They learned how to correctly preserve and label insects and their interest grew like crazy. These are some of the boys favorite things. They love collecting and identifying insects. If your child has any interest in science and nature, he will probably love insect related gifts.
Art supplies are always welcome in our house. I love consumable gifts because we all have too much stuff. Other great ideas are magazine subscriptions and fun activities. My son received golf camp for his birthday two summers from his grandparents. It was a great experience for him. There are a lot of great magazines for kids. We have received National Geographic Little Kids, Ranger Rick Jr., and Highlights.
Another idea is Origami. Our oldest is really into Origami right now. The boys learned it at Kung Fu camp two summers ago and make origami at least once a week. I found a box of origami books and paper at a thrift store a year ago and they have really used it. They still love origami and will be getting some special themed origami sets I found at a local kids consignment shop in their stockings this year.
A new favorite in our house are these Star Wars workbooks. The older boys received these as gifts this fall and we purchased some more for them because they love them so much. I love that they are learning and having fun at the same time. We need to get the preschool level books for our 4 year old who will be so excited to have his own. Our boys pretty much love anything Star Wars which is pretty easy to find right now with the new movie coming out.
If you are handy or crafty, homemade gifts are great too. When the boys were younger, they loved to play with geo boards at preschool. The older boys have sort of outgrown this, but it is great for younger kids. My husband made the boys a homemade geo board from supplies he already had in the garage.
My oldest got Travel Tangoes in his Christmas stocking a couple of years ago and he still carries it with him on trips. He loves this game. I need to find another one for my 5 year old's backpack.
Games are always great choices. As our boys get older, they are really getting into games. My husband is a huge board gamer too so he really encourages them by playing with them when he has free time. The two older boys are really into Tally Ho right now. They played for hours last weekend.
Other great games the boys love include Mastermind Jr., Labyrinth Jr., Zingo, and Whac-A-Mole (kind of silly, but fun). Another favorite game is King of Tokyo. My husband taught the boys to play and they could literally play for hours.
Last summer I walked into the living room to this scene. The boys had brought in a card table from the garage and were playing The Reef, all on their own. I was glad to see them getting along so well and playing happily together. My husband is the board game geek in our family and I am so glad he shares his love of gaming with the boys. It is a great way for them to bond and the boys learn a lot from playing board games.
Our 6 and 8 year old boys are really into Pokemon. They could spend hours looking at Pokemon cards and books. They have several friends who are also into Pokemon so it must be a popular thing in this age group. Pokemon cards are highly sought after and have been the reward of choice this year at Family Formation. They earn coins for learning their bible memory verses and get to spend them in the "store".
Other good ideas for boys are practical things like long underwear, pajamas, socks, gloves, hats. This doesn't have to be boring since there are lots of fun styles. Our boys love anything camouflage or Star Wars.
What are your favorite gifts for boys? Feel free to share.
Linking up at Share the Wealth, Best Mom Advice, Friendship Friday
Welcome to Home Ec @ Home
Hi, I'm Faith, a former Family and Consumer Science (Home Economics) Teacher turned work at home Mom, bringing you family friendly, homemade recipes and homemaking tips to simplify your life. Join me on my homemaking and mothering journey.
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