Best Ever Sugar Free Oatmeal Raisin Cookies!

These are absolutely wonderful!  They're not too sweet and don't have any of the normal after-taste that Splenda sometimes leaves!  Of course, if you want super sweet sugary cookies, that's okay too.  This recipe probably isn't for you.  ;)  The recipe is adapted from

Place in Kitchen Aid:

2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup Smart Balance (or salted butter)
1/3 cup granulated Splenda
1/3 cup honey
3-4 teaspoons vanilla
1/3 cup coconut flour

Stir until well blended.


3 cups rolled oats
2 cups raisins
2 large eggs
1/3 cup almond milk

Stir until well blended.

Drop by large spoonfuls (about 2 tablespoons each) onto a greased cookie sheet.  Cook at 350 degrees for about 11 minutes.

Harry's Delicious Cheese Cake

Do you want to try something different?  Harry announced that he wanted to do "an experiment."  Then he pulled out a brick of cheese and a cheese grater.  I asked him what we were making and he told me:  "a cake."  Say, what?  I was dubious, but I went along with it!  I even made a suggestion: vanilla and almond extracts!  And guess what...his experimental cake turned out amazing!  Who would have thought?!

Add these ingredients, in this order, to a mixing bowl.  Combine thoroughly.  **Please note, all amounts are approximate!**  We only wrote it down so we could make it again later, but we didn't actually measure anything as we went along.  It was a 5-year old's combination...mostly, I just watched.

* 1 cup shredded cheese (we used sharp cheddar)
* 1/3 cup hot water
* 3 eggs
* 1 cup white flour
* 1/2 cup oatmeal
* 2-3 Tablespoons olive oil
* 3/4 cup Splenda
* 2-3 teaspoons vanilla extract
* 2-3 drops almond extract
* 1 teaspoon baking powder

Cook at 350 degrees for about 25 minutes, or until done!

You can frost it or leave it without frosting.  We actually enjoyed it with no frosting.

It is different than a normal cake, but we still enjoyed it...enough that we'd be happy to make it again.  Afterwards, Harry told me, "You guys doubted me, huh?  But I showed you!"  And he did!

Muddy Pigs Cake!!

Happy Birthday Jon!!

Our adventures with fun cakes began a couple years after we were married.  I asked Jon what kind of cake he wanted for his birthday.  I expected him to say something like "chocolate," but instead he said, "A Pirate Cake!"  I decided to go for it, and this was the result.  Almost every year since has brought new challenges, both from him and our kids!  This year, he wanted a "Muddy Pigs Cake!"  And this was the result:

We were inspired by this cake.  To make it safe for everyone in our home, we used a sugar-free chocolate cake mix and frosting...though they still tasted very much like "normal" cake and frosting!  The fence is from kit-kats with a green ribbon wrapped around them.  Hint: If you make a muddy pigs cake too, freeze the kit-kats before you unwrap them...they're a lot easier to work with!!

I made the pigs with a marshmallow fondant (yep, none for Ryleigh!):

Jon had lots of help blowing out the candles!

And the kids even made him his own birthday banner:

Happy birthday to the best man EVER!!!

No Sugar Brownies Recipe!

This is my new favorite treat: no sugar (and no flour!) brownies!!

Confession #1: I love chocolate.
Confession #2: I am now one of those weird no-sugar people.  

This is an awkward combination.  I have been trying to reconcile the two for almost a year now.  I tried making banana-sweetened brownies, stevia-sweetened brownies, and black bean brownies.  They were all edible, but not very popular here.  This recipe is different.  Everybody here liked them!  Kaia announced that they were way better "than the bean ones!"  It was so exciting that we made them two days in a row!  They are definitely for dark-chocolate lovers, but that is totally fine with us!

They are soft, chewy, light, and oh, so chocolate-y!!  And they are 100% guilt free!  In fact...(this is the secret)...they are entirely fruit-sweetened!!

So, here is my absolute favorite...

No-Sugar Brownies Recipe:


* 1 cup raisins soaked in 1/3 cup water for about 15 minutes. 
* 2/3 cup pure unsweetened cocoa
* 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
* 3 eggs
* 1/4 cup coconut oil
* 2 Tbsp vanilla extract
* 1/8 teaspoon almond extract
* 1/8 teaspoon maple extract
* 1/2 cup sugar free chocolate chips  (I used Lily's brand stevia-sweetened chips.)


Prep: Heat the oven to 350 degrees F.  Line an 8" pan with aluminum foil and spray the foil with non-stick cooking spray.  (I started lining my brownie pans with aluminum foil about 7 years ago and LOVE how much easier it makes cleaning them!)

1- Puree the raisins in a food processer.  (Alternatively, you could use 1 cup of dates.  I haven't tried this, but I think they may be sweeter.)

2- Add the rest of the ingredients (except the chocolate chips) and puree until smooth and creamy.

3- Remove the blades and fold in the chocolate chips.

4- Pour the batter into your prepared pan and bake until they are cooked through, about 30 minutes.

These are amazing plain, but I also want to try them with a little yogurt drizzled over the top (you know, like ice-cream...the other dessert I've missed since giving up sugar!).  The only problem is they haven't lasted long enough to try them that way yet!  I guess we'll just have to keep making them!

Let me know if you try our no-sugar brownies!!

These no sugar brownies were adapted from this recipe.  You should definitely pop over there and check out some of their other recipes too!

No Sugar Chocolate Chip Cookies Recipe!!

Seriously...this is my new favorite treat!  It's definitely different than a traditional sugary chocolate chip cookie, but it is SO yummy!!  AND it's even good for you!!  Yeah, I'm a little amazed myself.

I came across this recipe for a coconut chocolate chip cookie that is both sugar free and flour free.  I don't mind a little bit of wheat flour and I didn't have all the ingredients, soooo I made some adjustments to the recipe so I could make it with the ingredients I had at home!  SO, here is our

Sugar Free Chocolate Chip Cookie Recipe:

1- Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F.  Grease a cookie sheet.

2- In your kitchen aid, mix the following until it is well-blended.  Stop the mixer and scrape the edges 2-3 times to make sure it is all mixed in.

* 2/3 cup whole wheat flour
* 2 packets stevia (see notes below)
* 2 eggs
* 1 cup plain yogurt (see notes below)
* 3 tablespoons butter (I use Smart Balance)
* 1/4 teaspoon salt
* 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
* 1/4 teaspoon almond extract
* 2/3 teaspoon baking powder
* 1 Tablespoon coconut flour
* 2/3 cup sugar free chocolate chips (see notes below)

3- Once it is well-mixed, use a tablespoon to drop cookies onto a greased cookie sheet and cook for about 20 minutes, or until the edges are just starting to brown.



1--  Different brands of stevia use different fillers and have different flavors and strengths.  I used Sweet Leaf (powdered) packets.  I really dislike getting too much stevia, so whenever I try a new recipe, I save the eggs for last and use less stevia than I think I'll need.  It's easy to "test" the batter and add more stevia if I think I'll need it.  I like to err on the too-little side of stevia.  :)   When I'm happy with the amount of sweetness, I add the eggs and finish up.

2-- I use Greek Gods plain non-fat greek yogurt.  LOVE the stuff!

3-- I used Lilly's dark chocolate chips...they're sweetened with stevia instead of sugar.  :)

4-- Optionally, putting the dough in the fridge for about 10 minutes makes it easier to work with.

As I type this up, my husband and I are trying to decide if it is ethical for us to eat the entire batch, or if we should save some for the kids tomorrow...


Dinovember started today and it looks like the Dinos had a planning meeting!

Kaia thought the dinosaurs were horrible spellers.  Harry just thought they were trouble.

Kaia was the first to spot them, but soon everyone came running to check out what those dinosaurs were up to. 

The kids theorized about whether last year the Dinos also had a planning meeting after we explained what the word "annual" means.  It sure is fun seeing them make connections to last year and build on those memories.

  "I LOVE Dinovember!" 

Santa 2013

I know I'm going to be putting up pumpkin patches and fall pictures soon, but I came across these Santa pictures from last year and had to share them before Christmas came around again!

It's funny how one year can make such a big difference...Ryleigh actually has hair now!

And as long as I'm sharing, I might as well tell a story...

These pictures were taken at a church Christmas party, where Santa made an appearance after dinner.  About two hours before the party, we decided to do our weekly shopping trip at Wal-mart.

We managed to get through my list and take our two shopping carts up to the check out stand in one and a half hours.  Remember this was in December...the check out lines were insanely long.  The only lines without 6-8 people in them were the self-check out lines. So, we decided to check ourselves out...after all, it's not that hard!  (Famous last words...)

As we approached the check out counter, Jon offered to take the kids home and clean them up for the party.  I do not remember why we had two cars there, but it seemed like a great idea.  I started scanning our groceries.

It took me about 15 minutes to scan everything.  I checked the time, and was pleased that we managed to do our weekly shopping and still get to the party on time.  I scanned my debit card.

It was denied.

I was shocked.  I knew there was plenty of money in the account.  I had used it an hour earlier to buy Christmas presents at another shop.  I assumed there was a problem with the card reader.  The self-check-out helper lady tried it.  It didn't work.  She printed the receipt and we moved to her computer.  Denied again.  A manager tried.  Denied again.

The minutes were ticking by.

I texted Jon.  I didn't dare call him because my phone's battery was super low.  He suggested calling the bank.  The cashier said the same thing as I read his text.  I explained I couldn't call them because my phone was dying.  She handed me hers.  

By now, I was both late and horribly embarrased.  

I called the bank.  They were experiencing "longer than normal wait times."  Ack!

More minutes went by.  Jon was already at the party with the kids.  I was getting close to missing
Santa!  Finally, mortified and still on hold, I returned the phone and apologized for leaving an over-flowing shopping cart full of bagged groceries, but this mama was not going to miss Santa!

Once my phone was plugged in the car, I checked my email.  Less than an hour earlier I had received an email from our bank telling me that they had imposed an insanely low daily limit because I had used my card at Target during a two-week time frame when their security had been compromised.  My bank wanted to make sure that nobody stole my information and went on a spending rampage!

I was more than a little upset by the late notice.  I ended up cancelling the card and using Jon's card (since it was the same account) for the rest of the holiday season.  At the time it was incredibly annoying...though now it makes an entertaining story.  :)

And the happy part of this story:  I got to the party a good 15 minutes before Santa arrived!

Ryleigh was perfectly happy to look at him... from a distance!  The second I put her on his lap...well, you can see the pictures!  Kaia and Harry both loved their visits...and the candy he gave them, lol!

Time4Learning Review

As a homeschooling mom, I am constantly looking for lesson and curriculum solutions that are better and more user-friendly than what we currently use.  When we started "school" a month ago, we ran into a few scheduling and transition challenges, and I started looking for solutions.  Time4Learning seemed like it could be the answer for a lot of our issues, so I decided we would check it out.

Even better than their online sample lessons, Time4Learning has two options for people (like us!) who want to try it out and see if it will work for them:
  1- Sign up for the program with a 2-week 100% money back guarantee.  If you don't like it, cancel within two weeks and get your money back.  Nothing lost, knowledge gained!

  2- If you have a blog, you can share an honest, candid review in exchange for a 1-month subscription.  This is what we did...and here is our review!  I hope you enjoy it!

Time4Learning is an online curriculum with child-friendly animations and cartoons.  Core subjects are aligned to state standards.  They cover PreK through Highschool.  When you sign up, you choose an age range...we used PreK - 3rd grade since Kaia is in 2nd.  

Language Arts Curriculum:  I thought the Time4Learning language arts curriculum was the strongest suit of the entire program.  I love how it was laid out sequentially and included phonics, sight words, comprehension, vocabulary and spelling.  The stories I saw were unique and creative and held Kaia's interest.  The lessons involved a lot of repetition, which is essential for mastering certain concepts.  The only potential problem I saw was that it required a lot of reading.  Kaia reads above grade level, so it was fine for her, but if you had a child that struggled with reading you would need to either read the text to your child or move your child to a lower grade level.  

Math Curriculum:  The math curriculum used multimedia lessons to cover basic arithmetic, numbers, measurement, and early geometry and algebra skills.  The 2nd grade level also includes things like telling time and using money.  These lessons also use a lot of repetition, but (like the language arts lessons) it takes different forms: sometimes you answer worksheet-style questions, sometimes you play a game, sometimes you choose from available answers, etc.  The math lessons we did were actually very easy for Kaia, and if we were to continue using Time4Learning, I would probably move her up to the 3rd grade lessons very soon.  This is a useful aspect of Time4Learning: you can designate different grade levels for different subjects for your child...and if that intimidates you, you can call the lovely Time4Learning people and they will change it for you.  :)

Social Studies Curriculum:  The social studies curriculum for early grades is very scant.  A few lessons covered essential skills like maps, living in a community, doing chores, etc.  There was also a set of lessons on citizenship/American holidays.  I understand higher levels have a more intense social studies curriculum and that Time4Learning is expanding this curriculum for younger grades soon.

Science Curriculum:  The science curriculum has more substance than the social studies, but I felt like it still has a lot of room for improvement.  However, because I have a background in science education, I already have a lot of ideas about what science teaching should look like.  I would supplement any science curriculum (including Time4Learning) with a lot of hands on, exploratory experiences.  Also, for comparison sake, there are only 21 science activities and 210 language arts activities.  All that said, Kaia absolutely loved the Basic Needs of Animals and the Magnetism lessons!

Parent Extras:  A parent "behind the scenes" log in lets you set your child's grade level, choose which lessons are available for your child, set how much time your child can work, see which activities your child has completed, and see how your child has performed on quizzes and tests.  There is also a handbook for homeschoolers, a Getting Started guide, forums to interact with other parents, a great FAQ section, and really helpful helpers available on the phone.

Are you considering using Time4Learning for your homeschool day?  Do you need more information to consider?  Here are the biggest pros and cons I saw:


* Interactive online platform.  My kids love the computer, so this is a big bonus!
* Logical, sequential math and language arts lessons!
* Fun repetition!
* Children can do most work independently!  This is especially helpful if you're trying to balance more than one grade level or work from home.

* Low monthly cost!


* Social Studies and Science need to grow.  There are currently enough science activities to do one activity every one-and-a-half weeks in 2nd grade.

* There was a puppet cartoon in the math curriculum that really irritated Kaia.  Personally, I thought she was being a little too sensitive, but it was very frustrating for her.

In conclusion, I think Time4Learning is a fantastic program...especially for language arts and math!  I really appreciate the fun online interface.  In the end, though, we decided that (at least right now) we preferred doing our core subjects face to face, and not on a computer.  We may revisit this in the future, particularly because I'm so happy with the language arts format, but for right now we're going back doing core subjects as a small group.

Have you tried Time4Learning?  I'd love to know what you think!

Disclosure:  My opinion is entirely my own!  This content was not written by Time4Learning, but the writer was compensated with access to Time4Learning.

Disney World!!!

We just had our first official family vacation...the first time we picked a destination (yes, Disney World!), scheduled time off work a year in advance, made reservations more than six months in advance, and spent a whole week with just us and the kids.  And it was amazing!!!

We finally told the kids one week in advance...and then we did a "Countdown to Disney World" chain every day.  And then...the real fun began!  (Warning: prepare for about 10 million pictures...)

In the airport:

Outside Rainforest Cafe (at Animal Kingdom):

The giraffe that came up to our safari cart:

Checking out the view outside our room (Pop Century):

Lunch at the Crystal Palace (Magic Kingdom):

The Castle at the Magic Kingdom:

Street Dance/Parade:

Goofy at our resort:

At Epcot:

At Magic Kingdom's Hollywood and Vine Breakfast:

Meeting Cinderella (Magic Kingdom) -- a "dream come true!!"

Meeting other princesses too! 

At Epcot:

At Magical Kingdom:

The 7 Dwarves Mine Train:

At Hollywood Studios:

At Animal Kingdom:

Snow at Hollywood Studios:

Fantasmic at Hollywood Studios (with fun glow lanterns from Mickey!):

Every night Mickey and his friends magically left gifts and a special note for the kids!  It was amazing and totally helped meet their need for buying random Disney objects during the day! :)

Breakfast at Ohana at the Polynesian Resort:

Yikes!  How did we get in jail with the evil Emperor Zurg?!!

More Animal Kingdom fun...I *loved* their Dinoland, but we didn't get a ton of pictures there...

And finally, going home again...