Jon Graduated!!!

The title to this one has three exclamation marks because it is so exciting!  After 2 1/2 years of very long days, we are so thrilled that Jon graduated, passed the Texas bar, and has now finished everything he needs to do to be a Texas lawyer.  Of course, now that it has been two months the next big exclamation event will be an attorney job.  In the meantime, we are happy that he is working at an immigration law firm that he enjoys.  And we are so proud of the work he has done so far!

Here he is walking and getting hooded at the UH Law School Graduation:

And here are a few other fun pictures...Jon's graduation was like a big party!

Kaia's Kindergarten Graduation

Kaia's Kindergarten Graduation (in May) was a great chance to highlight a wonderful little girl who is growing so very fast!

We're homeschooling right now, so we did the kindergarten graduation with a large homeschooling group in our area.  There were about 20 kids graduating, and the ceremony was personal and friendly.

They started with a procession where the kids were escorted in:

Then her dad gave her the diploma while the announcer read a short bio:

The video's a little choppy, but here's what it said:

Kaia has had an exciting Kindergarten year!  She has learned to read, learned about birds, insects, plants, our bodies, and so much more! She has designed projects, planned science experiments, and written stories.  She loves music, writing songs, and even playing the piano. She is a great teacher and example for her younger siblings and friends.  She is a very smart girl, and we are so proud of her!

And here are a few snapshots of our big now-first-grader:

(Harry actually had a great time!)

More Dinner Ideas

I decided the hardest part of fixing dinner is deciding what to cook.  So, I'm listing tons of dinner ideas here. I often put a week or 2-week or 4-week menu on the fridge and leave it there indefinitely.  Today I'm cleaning the fridge off and putting all the meal ideas here!  I have two lists: crock pot and everything else.  The vast majority of the "everything else" meals can be cooked in under 20 minutes...I don't have time for much more than that!

Slow Cooker / Crock Pot:

Maple Pork Chops
pork chops
maple syrup

Chicken & Dumplings
Place in slow cooker:
4 chicken breasts
2 Tb butter
2 (10 ounce cans) cream of chicken soup
1 chopped onion

Add water to cover chicken.  Add lid & cook on high for about 6 hours

30 minutes before serving, break up 2 packs of refrigerated biscuit dough & place in cooker.

Everything Else:

Black Bean Quesadillas:
black beans
refried beans

Mix it up, put it in a tortilla, and grill it on the foreman (or melt it in the microwave or grill it in the oven or on a frying pan)!

Zucchini Pasta:
yellow squash


Romaine-Fruit Salad
Romaine lettuce
mandarin oranges
chopped apple
chopped green onion
canned red beans, drained
salad dressing

Chicken Salad Sandwiches
1-1/2 cups chicken
3 Tb onion
1/4 cup celery
1/3 cup mayo
salt & pepper

Mix and put on rolls!

Cabbage Rice Casserole
Grease a 9"x13" pan.

Just cover the bottom of the pan with spaghetti sauce.

Cover sauce with a head of shredded cabbage.

Add 1 cup uncooked rice.

Add 2 cups water.

Add 2 pounds cooked ground beef.

Add 1 (28-ounce) can of spaghetti sauce.

Cover with cheese.

Cover with tin foil.  Cook for 1-3/4 hours.  Remove foil & cook for 15 minutes.

Cacciatore Pasta
Cook 1 pound pasta.

Cook 1 pound beef and 1 bell pepper.  Drain.

Add 1 (14 ounce) can spaghetti sauce.

4-1/2 ounce mushrooms.

Mix & serve!

Sour Cream Chicken Enchiladas
Cook & shred chicken.

Add cooked rice, sour cream, red beans, and green enchilada sauce.

Roll in tortillas, cover with enchilada sauce and cheese.

Cook & serve!

Cheeseburger Rice
Cook & drain ground beef.

Add 1-3/4 c. water, 2/3 cup ketchup, 1 Tb mustard.  Stir well & boil.

Add 2 cups uncooked minute rice.

Sprinkle with cheese.

Cover, cook on low for 5 minutes.

Orange Chicken
Cook 4 chicken breasts.

Mix following:
3/4 cup orange juice
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 tsp ginger
2 Tb soy sauce

Mix with chicken & cook until warm in saucepan or microwave.

Eggplant Rice
Cook rice.

Cook hamburger, eggplant, broccoli.

Add salt, pepper, garlic, oregano.

Grilled Ham & Cheese Sandwiches

Oatmeal Wheat Pancakes
This recipe made enough pancakes for our family to have four meals.  We ate one and then froze the others!  It is adapted from here.

1- Mix these together (in a huge bowl) and let them sit while you prepare Step #2.

  • 8-1/2 cups buttermilk
  • 7-1/2 cups rolled oats

2- In another bowl, mix:

  • 7-1/2 cups whole wheat flour
  • 1-1/4 cups sugar
  • 1-1/2 Tablespoons baking powder
  • 2 Tablespoons baking soda
  • 2-1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 2-1/2 teaspoons cinnamon

3- Pour flour mixture into oat mixture.

4- Beat 10 eggs and them to batter.

5- Cook up your pancakes!  If the batter is too thick, add more milk.

Gymnastics (2012-2013)

Kaia's gymnastics class ended with the school year (in May), but I never did a proper post about it!  At the end of May they had a Mini Olympics where she got to show off her skills at each station.  Here are some snapshots from the night:

The bars are usually her favorites, though she really likes the tramp, balance beams, and floor routines too.  The also have a big pit filled with foam cubes that she loves playing in.  I love to see the confidence and healthy habits it gives her.  She creates stretching routines for us all the time (after we run), loves to talk about exercise, and does a fabulous front roll.  I also enjoy seeing her do backwards rolls, and stand upside down using a wall for support.  Of course, Harry copies these tricks too...

Harry has been a super supportive brother.  He attended all her practices and performance night with a happy, excited-to-be-here attitude.  Kaia took her first "class" when she was 3 1/2, so we will probably sign Harry up for fall classes.  Kaia's been very happy with this gym, and I expect we'll be back in a couple months.  We took the summer off for swim (and a general break from normal school year busy-ness).  ;)

One more picture... in her "ta-da!" pose with her ribbon:

Monthly Meal Plan (13 crock pot recipes)

I am still terribly behind in all the things I need to share on this blog, but I really want to record some of the meal plans I've done during the last few months so that I can re-use some of the recipes...and throw away some of the papers floating around my kitchen!  I'm starting with this month's menu...unfortunately I haven't tasted all of them so I can't tell you how wonderful they are.  But, the cooking process smelled amazing!

I started making a month's worth of dinners all on one day and freezing them about two months ago.  It worked wonderfully the first time (hopefully I post those recipes soon!), so I'm doing it again this month.  The summer heat has really set in, so I wanted to do more crock pot meals.

The plan is simple: In the morning, I pull the dinner bag out of the freezer and put it in the crockpot.  In the afternoon I may cook a pan of rice or veggies.  Then, voila!  Dinner is done!  I'm really, really excited!  There were a couple other recipes I wanted to try, though, so in addition to a ton of crock pot dinners there are two oven-baked dinners and a couple fresh vegetarian dinners.

I'll start with a list of the dinners, and then give the recipes I used:

July Menu

Chicken: Tortilla Soup, Southwest Chicken, Fajitas, Honey Garlic Chicken, Cheesy Broccoli Chicken, Chicken Orange Green Salad

Pork: Ranch Pork Chops, BBQ Pulled Pork Sandwiches, Potato Bacon Green Bean "Casserole," Breakfast Burritos, Sausage Pancake Dogs

Beef:  Beef Stew, Beef Stroganoff, Southwest Beef Nachos

Vegetarian: Black Bean Enchilada Casserole, Broccoli Salad, Spinach Lasagna, Spanish Rice, Pizza, "Musical Melodies"


1.  Tortilla Soup (adapted from

Place the following ingredients in freezer bag:

2-3 large boneless chicken breasts
2 (16-ounce) cans Italian diced tomatoes
1 (10-ounce) can mild enchilada sauce
1 chopped onion
1 (4 ounce) can green chiles
2 cloves garlic
2 cubes chicken bouillon
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp chile powder
salt & pepper

Write on bag:  add 4 cups water to crock pot.  Serve with sour cream, cheese, and tortilla chips.

UPDATE: This was amazing!!  Everyone loved it and we will be doing it again.  I did forget to put it in the crock pot, so I used a pot on the stove and it took about an hour to defrost, warm up, and cook.

2. Southwest Chicken   (adapted from

Place the following ingredients in freezer bag:

3-4 large boneless chicken breasts
1 can corn
2 cans drained black beans
1 (16 ounce) jar of salsa
1 (8 ounce) brick of cream cheese

Write on bag:  20 minutes before serving add shredded cheese.  Serve with rice and veggies.

3. Chicken Fajitas    (adapted from

Place the following ingredients in freezer bag:

1 pound chicken
1 chopped onion
1/2 cup salsa
2 Tb cilantro
2 Tb lime juice
2 cloves garlic
1 Tb chile powder
1 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp salt
2 bell peppers

Write on bag:  after meat cooks, shred the meat and stir the mixture together.  Roll in tortillas with fresh tomatoes, cheese, and sour cream.

UPDATES:  I used boneless chicken breasts.  After cooking for 1 hour, I used a knife and fork to separate the chicken breasts.  Everything was done cooking after a total of 6 hours.  Tasted delicious!!

4. Honey Garlic Chicken    (adapted from

Place the following ingredients in freezer bag:

10 chicken drumsticks
3/4 cup honey
3/4 cup soy sauce
3 Tb ketchup
2 garlic cloves
1 Tb ginger root
1 (20-ounce) can of pineapple pieces and its juice

Write on bag: add 1/4 cup water.  Serve with rice and veggies.

UPDATE: This was another hit!  I also separated the chicken pieces with a knife after about an hour in the crock pot.  It had tons of left-overs too, so we enjoyed lots of yummy chicken for a couple days!!  After the first night we also made chicken sandwiches and wraps.

5.  Cheesy Broccoli Chicken

Place the following ingredients in freezer bag:

16-ounce frozen broccoli bag
1 chopped onion
1 bell pepper
1 can corn
2-3 large chicken breasts
1-2 cups chopped celery
1 cup milk
1 cup cheese
1 can cream of mushroom soup

Write on bag:  Serve with rice!

6.  Chicken Orange Green Salad **Not crock pot meal!**

Start with a huge green salad.  Add chicken, mandarin oranges, chopped apples, cucumbers, and a dressing of your kids always like Ranch.

7.  Ranch Pork Chops   (adapted from

Place the following ingredients in freezer bag:

1 (10 ounce) package Ranch Dressing Powder
6 boneless pork chops about 1/2 inch thick
1 can cream of mushroom soup
1/2 cup milk

Write on bag: serve with mashed potatoes & broccoli.

UPDATE:  These were wonderful!!  Another huge hit with yummy left-overs!  Again, I separated the meat after about an hour in the crock pot and it took about 7 hours on high to defrost and cook up.

8.  BBQ Pulled Pork Sandwiches

Place the following ingredients in freezer bag:

3-pound pork butt
1 jar BBQ sauce

Write on bag: serve with coleslaw on potato rolls!

9.  Potato Bacon Green Bean "Casserole"

Place the following ingredients in freezer bag:

3 pounds chopped potatoes
1/2 package bacon (cooked and chopped)
1 can cream of mushroom soup

Write on bag:  add 4 cans green beans.  20 minutes before serving, add cheese to top of crock pot.

UPDATE:  Yummy and easy.  It took about 7 hours on high to cook and my kids put ketchup on theirs.  I added salt and pepper.  :)

10.  Breakfast Burritos **not a crock pot meal!**

Cook a pound of sausage.
Cook a dozen eggs.
Mix sausage and eggs together with about 2 cups of cheese.
Roll into 20 little burritos.
Place burritos in a freezer bag.

Defrost by placing individual burritos in microwave for about a minute.  I've done these several times--they're super easy!

UPDATE: Still love these things!

11.  Sausage Pancake Dogs **not a crock pot meal!**

My kids discovered these "corn dogs" in the freezer isle a few months ago.  They get them about once a month for a Friday Fun Day Party.  I serve them with syrup and loads of fruit.

12.  Beef Stew   (adapted from

Place the following ingredients in a freezer bag:

1-1/2 pounds beef
1 chopped onion
2 cubes beef buillon
1 can tomato sauce
3 cloves garlic
4 chopped potatoes
1 pound chopped carrots
about 2 cups chopped celery
salt & pepper

Write on bag: add 2 cups water.

13.  Beef Stroganoff   (adapted from

Place the following ingredients in a freezer bag:

1-2 pounds beef
1/4 cup flour
1/2 tsp salt
1 chopped onion
2-3 cloves garlic
2 beef bullion cubes
1 1/2 cups sour cream

Write on bag:  add 1 cup water.  Serve over pasta with veggies on side.

UPDATE: I added garlic, oregano, salt & pepper to stroganoff when it cooked.  This was another very popular meal.

14.  Southwest Beef Nachos  (adapted from M&M's Mommy)

Place the following ingredients in a freezer bag:

1 pound beef
1 (8 ounce) brick of cream cheese
2 cans black beans
1 can corn
1-1/2 cups salsa
2 Tablespoons taco seasoning

Write on bag: serve with guacamole over tortilla chips.

UPDATE:  These were amazing!! Seriously...this may be my new favorite nacho recipe!  It took about six hours on high in the crock pot.

15. Black Bean Enchilada Casserole  **not a crock pot meal**    (adapted from

Mix the following ingredients:

1/2 chopped onion
1/2 bell pepper
2 cans black beans
1 can corn
2 tsp chili powder
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp salt

Smear some salsa on the bottom of a 9"x13" pan.  Then repeat these layers in the pan:  tortillas, bean mixture, cheese, more tortillas, and more cheese.  Cover and freeze!

16.  Broccoli Salad  **not a crock pot meal**    (adapted from M&M's Mommy)

Mix the following:

2 huge heads fresh broccoli
1 red onion
1/2 package bacon, cooked and chopped
3/4 cup raisins
3/4 cup nuts or seeds

Make and chill dressing:

1 cup olive oil or mayonaise
1/2 cup sugar
2 Tb white vinegar

Mix it all together when you're ready to eat.

17.  Spinach Lasagna  **not a crock pot meal**

Mix the following:

2 (10-oz) frozen spinach bags
1 cup ricotta cheese
3/4 cup Parmesan cheese

Mix 1/2 cup water with 3 cups marinara sauce.

Smear the bottom of a 9"x13" pan with marinara sauce.  Then repeat these layers: lasagna noodles, spinach mixture, Mozzarella cheese.  Freeze!

UPDATE:  Everyone loved this except for Kaia.  She must have been sick that night or something.

18.  Spanish Rice

Put the following ingredients in a freezer bag:

1 chopped onion
1-1/2 cups uncooked rice
2 cups vegetable broth
1 cup salsa
cumin, salt, pepper

Write on bag:  Add 1/2-1 cup water!s

UPDATE:  I do not like the texture of cooked rice in a crock pot.  Maybe I'll give it one more try, but I was not happy with this one.  The flavor was fine, though, so I added it to some of our left-over meat and made burritos.

19.  Pizza  **not a crock pot meal**'s pizza.  We like to have a party meal on is just about perfect.  Serve with veggies!

20.  Musical Melodies  **not a crock pot meal**

Kaia found this in a cook book for kids.  It's a beautiful fruit tray with strawberry yogurt in the middle for dipping.  We also served it with Crock Pot Apple Cinnamon Bread (recipe below).

21.  Apple Cinnamon Bread  (adapted from

Peel and chop two large apples.  Set aside.

Place the following ingredients into your kitchen aid (in this order) and beat between each ingredient:

2 eggs
1/3 cup butter
3/4 cup brown sugar
two chopped apples (from earlier)
1-1/2 cup whole wheat flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons vanilla
1/4 cup cinnamon
1/2 cup raisins

Grease crock pot and pour batter into it.  Cook on high for about two hours.  I lifted the bread out of the crock pot with two spatulas.  If you let it cool, it holds together much better.  I liked it warm too!  This is not a dessert bread--if you want it really sweet, add more sugar.  I liked it best with a bit of butter on the top...mmm!

UPDATE:  I want to make more.


I'm sharing this post at Menu Plan Monday.