Cut-Your-Own Christmas Tree Farm Review

Christmas Tree Farms
A fun tradition of ours is hunting down the perfect Christmas tree at a North Carolina tree farm. Since our budget is tighter than usual this year, we decided to forgo the trip and shop at Lowes. But there is nothing quite like being out in the crisp mountain air amid the rows and rows of Christmas trees and coming upon the perfect one (like Chevy Chase in Christmas Vacation).

Most farms we’ve visited offer basically the same services – you hunt down your tree on your own and either cut it down yourself or wait for a helper to come cut it for you. They then haul it away, wrap it and tie it to your car. There are many within a few hours’ drive of Atlanta (our home base). Some are bare bones where you just find your tree and go, but others offer food, visits with Santa and more. Here are a few of the farms that my family has tried and enjoyed.

Boyd Mountain Christmas Tree Farm
www.boydmountainchristmastreefarm.com
Boyd Mountain Tree Farm offers a nice selection of trees and a fairly straight-forward operation. Though it was a long wait from cutting down our tree to being able to pick it up, our kiddos enjoyed the hot chocolate and visiting with Santa. Since it’s close to Waynesville, you can make a day of it by enjoying lunch in town before heading home.

Sandy Hollar Tree Farm
sandyhollarfarms.com
Sandy Hollar is a laid back operation and a little more rustic. You take a wagon ride through the farm up to the orchard and while they have some helpers to assist you in cutting your tree, most people use one of the provided hacksaws to avoid having to wait. They offer hot chocolate and snacks along with a small gift shop.

Tom Sawyer Tree Farm
http://www.tomsawyerchristmastreefarm.com/
Tom Sawyer has been our go-to for several years because it offers one of the most picturesque settings, as well as many activities. While the prices have increased in recent years, the kids have enjoyed the “Elf Village” where they can dress up as elves and enjoy face painting, crafts, stories, roasting marshmallows and a scavenger hunt ending with a personal visit with Santa. There is also a gift shop, snacks, horse-drawn carriage rides and more.

There are, of course, many more tree farms out there to try – visit http://www.ncchristmastrees.com/ for a comprehensive list. Some friends we know like to stick with the same one year after while other bounce from place to place. It’s an adventure no matter where you go, and where there are adventures, there are always memories to be made. Happy Christmas tree hunting!

Blessings!

Susan

(Mostly) Make-Ahead Thanksgiving Menu

mostlymakeaheadthanksgivingThanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays, but it can be stressful trying to get all those dishes prepared and on the table on time. So I put together an easy, (mostly) make-ahead menu to help you save time and stress less. And that’s something anyone can be thankful for!

Let’s dig in!

Make-Ahead Thanksgiving Dinner

Most of these dishes can be made in advance and some make use of a slow-cooker. If you don’t have one, consider borrowing one (or two) from a friend. Slow-cookers are indispensible for ensuring everything gets done on time and cutting down on stress.

Appetizer
I don’t put too much food out before the big meal, but offering a little something for guests to munch is always nice. Make the cheese portion of this Turkey Cheese Ball from Crafts a la Mode a day or two in advance and add crackers and pretzels the day of (a great job for the kiddos or guests that want to help). Pair with some olives and nuts and you’re guests can nosh while you get everything on the table.

turkey-cheese-ball

Turkey
Yes, you can go ahead and make your bird before the big day with this Make-ahead Turkey and Gravy from Taste of Home. Or if you’re determined to do your turkey the day of, I’m liking the looks of this Simple Garlic and Herb Roast Turkey from Neighborfoodblog.

roast turkey

Ham
I’m making this Crock-Pot Maple Brown Sugar Ham from Do you Smell That this week because is ham is on sale and it just sounds so darn tasty!

Stuffing
Here are two options: Mom’s Make-Ahead Classic Stuffing from eHow for a classic dish. Or if you have a spare crock pot (or can borrow one) I think this Slow-cooker Stuffing recipe from Nourishing Joy sounds amazing.

stuffing-slow-cooker

Side Dish
Carmen’s Crowd-Pleasing Crock Pot Mac-n-Cheese is fun to say as well as being a sure-fire crowd-pleaser.

Carmen’s Crowd-Pleasing Crock Pot Mac-n-Cheese

16 oz macaroni
12-oz can evaporated milk
2 1/4 cups whole milk
1/4 cup melted butter
1 tsp salt
Dash of pepper
2 large eggs, beaten
24-oz cheddar cheese (Carmen says to never buys pre-shredded, so grab a guest to help you grate or use your food processor)
Extra Cheese to sprinkle on top
Paprika

Coat inside of slow-cooker with cooking spray. Combine all ingredients (macaroni through cheese), except the extra cheese – save that for later. Cook on low heat for 3 hours and 15 minutes, stir, then top with extra cheese and cook an additional 15 minutes or until cheese is melted. Sprink;e with paprika.

Potatoes
Thanksgiving just isn’t complete without a sweet potato dish. I’m planning to try this make-ahead Sweet Potato Casserole from Melanie Makes.

make-ahead-sweet-potato-casserole-6-compressor

Veggie: Traditional green beans are kicked up a notch with Mom Advice’s make-ahead Green Bean Casserole

make_ahead_green_bean_casserole_header

Dessert: My friend Kim’s Pumpkin Trifle (recipe below). Make the day before to really let the flavors set. It’s amazing, different than you’re traditional pumpkin pie and absolutely delish!

Kim’s Pumpkin Trifle

14oz. can sweetened condensed milk
15 oz. can pumpkin puree
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 tsp. ground clove
1 tsp. ground ginger
5.1 oz. pkg. instant vanilla pudding mix
3 cups heavy cream
12 oz. box ginger snaps

In a medium mixing bowl, combine the sweetened condensed milk, pumpkin, spices, pudding mix, and a 1/4 cup water.  Using an electric mixer, beat everything together until smooth and thickened, about 2 minutes.  Set aside.

Whip the heavy cream with an electric mixer until stiff peaks form.  Gently fold the whipped cream into the pudding mixture until blended and no streaks of pudding remain.

To assemble, layer the cookies and pudding mixture in a serving dish in whatever fashion you like.  Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 2 hours.

Even if you cook your turkey the day of, having all of your side dishes, including your appetizer and dessert, either already made or bubbling away in a slow-cooker can only help you stress less and enjoy your time with loved ones. And isn’t that ultimately what Thanksgiving is all about?

Blessings to you and yours!

Susan

How I Got Our Homeschool Day Back On Track

 

how-i-got-ourhomeschool-day

There are all kinds of schools of thought when it comes to homeschooling – the classic model, the Charlotte Mason model, unschooling, etc. Some people follow a strict schedule and some people let their kids follow whatever whim they have and learn that way. And if that’s what works for you, by all means, keep at it! But when I started my home school journey I didn’t really know how to make it work and we had a lot of frustrating days and times when packing my kids up on a school bus didn’t sound like half a bad idea.

I have finally got it under control though (for the most part – this is real life, after all!) The one thing that helped make our home school experience a happy one is not a fancy school room (I did away with mine) or a specific curriculum (my kids attend a “home school school” a few days a week where the curriculum is provided). The thing that brought everything together for us was realizing and admitting that while I love the idea of the “free to be you and me” home school life where we’re baking bread together and frolicking in fields and creating lap books on outer space, my ultimate, utmost goal is to make sure my kids have a good solid education in the basics – the stuff they have to know to get into college or whatever vocation they choose and succeed in it.

So while having school in an outdoor classroom where everyone learns whatever they feel like learning that day is an awesome home school dream, I realized I had to have some structure to get all those basics in. But wait! Isn’t one of the benefits of homeschooling being in your pajamas all day and reading novels to your kids by firelight and building Lego skyscrapers and paper mache volcanoes? Yes, some of it is. But you also are responsible for your kids knowing and mastering what every other public and private school kid is learning, so you have to have a plan to make sure that gets done.

Let me just share with you what our days look like without structure… kids wake up at all different times and eat breakfast at different times, meaning we have some starting their school work while others are still getting out milk and boxes of cereal. And I’m in the mix, too, trying to make my breakfast or pack a lunch, along with the dog, the meowing cats and my husband who’s trying to get out the door to work. Then someone has to go to the bathroom which takes an inordinate amount of time on school days while another already needs a snack break (ie. second breakfast – my kids are part-Hobbit) and another decides to have wrestling match with the dog in the middle of the floor. And while I’m waiting on the one in the bathroom, I decide to try and fit in a workout, unload the dishwasher, answer a phone call while spouting out spelling words to the kid doing the wrestling and trying to get the snacker to clean up his mess. And then suddenly it’s half-way through the day and we’ve barely gotten anything done.

Enter “the schedule”. I resisted this, I honestly did. But my homeschooling guru at Confessions of a Homeschooler has a schedule that is a site to behold (as well as an amazing school room, her own curriculum and she has time to quilt!) And her kids seem to be thriving. She sticks to her schedule but it seems there is some give and take and I just love her attitude, not to mention her mad organizational skills. If you are struggling, please check out her site.

And while I am most certainly not one of those parents who stand over my kids with a ruler in hand ready to pop anyone who even looks up from a book, I realized by being too “loosey goosey” with my home school day, I wasn’t really helping my kids. Their papers and work were a disorganized mess, they weren’t prepared for tests or forgot things they needed for class and I was constantly forgetting things, too. So here’s the schedule I’ve implemented that has made a world of difference.

  1. First things first, we get up at a decent hour, usually around 7. That’s early for a lot of homeschoolers, but considering our public high school bus comes around at 6 am (!), I feel like we’re doing pretty good. Besides that, we have to – my kids attend their home school school on opposite days, so we are always taking someone to school. May as well all get up and around at the same time.
  2. We get dressed, me included. Why not let whoever is staying at home stay in their jammies? Because it doesn’t set the precedent that this is a school day and we have things we need to/have to get done. I got this tip from one of my son’s teachers – a home school day needs to be treated just like a school day except you are home. And you are still getting the benefits of being home (ie. one-on-one time with mom, the ability to take more time/less time on a subject, the ability to pee when the urge hits or pet the dog while you learn your math facts). Getting dressed just says that we are up and ready to get things done. It helps in other ways, too – my kids get a break mid-way through the morning and if they aren’t dressed, they spend half of their break changing clothes when they could be outside playing.
  3. Everyone eats breakfast at the same time. That way, when we’re ready to start school, we can all start together and there’s no “but I’m hungry” right as we’re sitting down. I’ll usually give them a break mid-morning and they can have a snack then if they can’t make it to lunch. And as a side note, I usually don’t cook a hot breakfast. My kids prefer cereal, milk, fruit or toast, so while I know it could be better nutritionally, it’s not the worst thing they could eat either.
  4. I make their work a priority and try not to get too wrapped up in my stuff (cleaning, blogging, realtor stuff). Home school has some downtime and for many people, myself included, it’s hard to just… sit there. And I’ll admit it… my name is Susan and I am a compulsive multi-tasker. So it’s hard to just sit when I’ve got stuff to do! But if my goal is first and foremost to make sure they are well-educated, then I’ve got to make that my focus. I can answer an email here, do a property search there, but for the most part, I am directing the school day.
  5. I put time limits on each subject. If I leave my kids unchecked and get busy with my own things, they will piddle the day away. We’ve had a single math page take 4 hours before. FOUR HOURS. So now I set time limits. I started this by using an actual timer and threatening to have the page graded when the time was up whether it was completed or not, but after a couple weeks, I didn’t need to. My kids liked trying to beat the clock and also being able to see the light at the end of the school day tunnel as they checked another subject off the list.
  6. While I’m making dinner, my kids do chores. It’s not much. They have 2-3 chores each, things like scoop the poop, feed the animals, unload/load the dishwasher. They earn tickets for each chore and we give them a little money based on how many tickets they earn. You can download the chore chart I use here. They love earning money and it helps me, as well – I know that all those chores that call to me to get done during the school day will get done, so I can relax and just be with my kids.

So that’s how I manage our day. I hope this helps you avoid the mistakes I made or at the very least, define your own home school goals so that you can mold your day in a way that best helps you achieve them. A schedule works for us because it ensures my kids get the best of both worlds – they are prepared for their school days and are getting the education they need, but it also allows them that precious time play and do the things that make home school such a positive experience for so many people. And some days, yes, we are in our jammies from sunup till sundown. But when you know you’re doing a pretty good job overall with this whole home school adventure, an occasional jammie day isn’t a detriment. It’s just the icing on the cake.

Blessings!

Susan

2 Cheap & Easy Halloween Costumes

 

2_cheap_and_easy_halloween_costumesNeed a costume quick and on the cheap? These two costumes cost less than $12 total and were pulled together in less than an hour. I’ll show you what to buy and how to get the look for two cute, fun and frugal Halloween costumes.

Costume #1: Super Fudge

Supplies:

  • A red or orange t-shirt, pullover or sweater
  • Yellow felt (dollar store)
  • Orange hairspray (Party City, Walmart)
  • dark eyeliner
  • glue stick

First, take the yellow piece of felt and cut out a yellow “f” about 6-8 inches tall. If you need a template to do this, you can just print one from your computer and trace it onto the felt before you cut it out. It doesn’t have to be perfect.

I used a glue stick to glue the “f” to the front of the red fleece pullover. I only needed it to last a day and wanted to be able to take it off easily. Once we were done with the costume, I pulled off the “f” and any remaining glue washed right out.

Fudge has really crazy, messy red hair. My youngest is blond, so we used orange hairspray and sprayed it all over while mussing it up, so that it stuck up all over. Fudge also always has a dirty face, so I took a brown eyeliner and dabbed his face here and there, then smudged it around to look like dirt.

We paired the red pullover with a pair of holey jeans (we always have plenty of those lying around!) and sneakers to complete the look. (And I apologize for the blown out pictures – photography is something I’m still working on!)

Cheap & Easy Halloween Costume

Total cost: $1 for the felt and $3 for the hairspray for a total of $4. So cheap and so fun!

Costume #2: Mad Scientist

  • a large white long-sleeved button down or lab coat (Goodwill or Amazon.com for the lab coat)
  • yellow rubber gloves (dollar store)
  • rubber boots or dark shoes
  • safety glasses (Lowe’s, Walmart or other hardware store)
  • white hairspray and hair gel

We had bought a white lab coat costume for a previous Halloween, so that was a cost savings, but you can easily find a cheap, large white button down at Goodwill that would also work with the sleeves rolled up a bit. Then you add the yellow gloves, some kakhi color pants (or any neutral color), dark shoes or boots and the safety glasses. The hair took a little more work. I whetted it down and added hair gel, then used a hair dryer to get it to stick up all over. I finished it by spraying the white hairspray all over. It came out more gray than white, but still gave him that mad scientist look he was going for.

Cheap & Easy Halloween Costume

Total cost: $2 shirt from Good Will, $2 for the safety goggles, $1 for the gloves, $3 for the hairspray for a total of $8 (cheaper if you already have any of the above).

So for $12 (or less) you can have two super cute, easy homemade costumes! We had so much fun trying to pull these together, too.

I hope this helps you or inspires you come up with your own last minute costume!

Blessings!

~ Susan

10 Musts For Fall

It’s finally fall here in Georgia! Summer seemed to last until  few days ago when, just in the nick of time, a cold front swept through and we got relief from the heat! Whew!

But October’s almost over and I’ve got to get in fall mode fast! So I headed to Pinterest to gather some fall “Pinspiration”. Here are 10 things I found that are sure to usher in that fall feelin’.

First, I started with some decor ideas for my house.

Love this simple, subtle mantel look from Home Stories A to Z.

And this gorgeous fall kitchen vignette from Stone Gable.

Beautiful lanterns for the front porch from SAS Interiors.

And a colorful fall wreath for the front door like this one from Our Sentiments.

Now, on to FOOD!

I’m not a big pumpkin spice fan, so you won’t find me making a list of a million things that taste like pumpkin pie, although I am dying to make these…

Pumpkin cream cheese streusel muffins from Creme de la Crumb.

After which I’ll be needing to lighten things up with…

Weight Watchers 1 Point Butternut Squash Soup from It All Started With Paint.

And when we go camping, some of this!

Hands down favorite chili recipe (and I’ve tried many) served over Fritos in their own little pouch from The Pioneer Woman.

And lastly, I’ll be putting away my flip flops and shorts and breaking out my fall wardrobe. Maybe I’ll add some of these pieces this year…

Cute denim and leggings look from The Tres Chic.

Or this gorgeous chunky sweater vest that The Teacher Diva is sporting this fall. Not your gramma’s sweater vest for sure!

I’ll also be be picking up a pair of cute booties and learning the right way to wear them from Babble.

I hope you’ve gotten some fall inspiration for your home, next fall meal and wardrobe and you’re out there enjoying a fantastic fall. Come find me on Pinterest for more fall ideas, holiday decor, recipes and more!

Happy fall y’all!