One of the things I missed most when I moved to West Africa was macaroni and cheese. I missed being able to cook it - it's so fast and easy, and it goes over so well with little ones - but I also missed being able to eat it. I love cheese in any form, and pasta of every kind, so the combination of the two is unbeatable. For me, it's the ultimate comfort food. As a child, we were allowed to choose a special meal for mom to fix on our birthday, and I always chose macaroni and cheese! :-)

Over time, I figured out how to do macaroni and cheese in Africa too. When we got a care package or a shipment from home, we always asked for cheese - specifically Velveeta cheese spread and instant cheese powder, since niether of them need refridgerated. Then I came up with a few different ways of making my favorite food. Perhaps this simple dish doesn't have quite the same appeal for everyone as it has for me - but I know when you're living overseas, anything "from home" tastes pretty good!

So today I'd like to share my two favorite recipes. The first is a delicious but simple one-dish oven recipe which I often served to American guests when we lived in West Africa. (It's so yummy I still make it here in America too!) The second is my "cheater's version", the closest thing I found to instant mac and cheese. I don't make it when Hubby is home, but when it's just me and the kiddos, it's so fast and easy!!

Baked Cheesy Noodles

3 T. margarine, oil or butter

8 oz egg noodles, or whatever pasta you have available

1/2 lb (or a little less) Velveeta cheese

1 tsp salt

1/4 tsp black pepper

4c. cold milk

Heat oven to 325. Place butter in 9"x11" pan in oven just until melted. Pour noodles in and stir until well coated. Lay sliced cheese over top of the noodles. Sprinkle with salt and pepper, and then pour milk over the whole thing. Do not stir. Bake uncovered for about 1.5 hours (my oven was hot and usually took just over an hour.). Golden, creamy, and oh! so yummy!

If you want a main dish instead of a side dish, mix a cup of cooked meat (sausage, ham, chicken, or ground beef) and 1/2 cup frozen or canned veggies (corn, peas, green beans) with the noodles before covering with cheese and milk.

Cheater's Mac n' Cheese

The measurements on this recipe are guesses - I never measure!

2 c. water

1 c. macaroni (or any pasta)

1/4 c. milk powder

1/4 c. cheese powder

2 Tbsp flour

salt & pepper to taste

Boil macaroni in water until soft. Do not drain, but you don't want too much water on the noodles, so pour off a little if the water is covering the noodles. While macaroni is cooking, mix remaining ingredients in about 1/2 c. water. It will be thick, but use a whisk to make it smooth. As soon as noodles are almost soft, add "cheese sauce" to pot. Simmer a few more minutes to thicken the sauce. It's now ready to serve!

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So there's my favorites! Do you have one to share? Is macaroni and cheese a "thing" for your family? How do you make it overseas?

Let's talk about homeschooling today! As I'm preparing to start K-4 with my oldest, I've been doing a lot of researching and exploring. I have the great advantage of being in the US right now, where I have access to a wonderful library and a teacher's resource store. But I still find myself doing lots of searching online for ideas and especially for free worksheets and lesson plans. If you have good internet access, there is so much available online!

Just typing in a Google search for "free worksheets" or "Kindergarten lesson plans" can be really overwhelming. Who has hours and hours to sort through all those links and websites? So today I want to share a few of the favorites I have found. These are mostly at a preschool/Kindergarten level, since that is where I'm at with my little ones. But if you have a favorite website, please share in the comments below. Let's help eachother out!

Free Homeschool Deals - this website is completely packed with great deals for all ages - lots of free or very cheap material, including Kindle books of all kinds, worksheets, lesson plans, organization ideas, and even Amazon Deals that are applicable to homeschoolers. Just this website alone can be overwhelming, but if you enter your email address in the box at the top of the home page, you'll get a daily email of current deals. I've downloaded many free worksheets and Kindle books through these daily emails!

Three Dinosaurs - this is a cute website full of great free worksheets for preschool through 2nd grade. Of all the free worksheet packs I have looked at, these are my favorite, and she thoroughly covers every subject area!

1+1+1=1 is another website packed with printables and ideas, for ages 2 and up. Only visit this site if you can be inspired (rather than intimidated or discouraged) by seeing how creative some moms are with their homeschooling!

Are We There Yet? - this is another website that collects freebies from all corners of the web, as well as offering some of her own free printables. She also has links for completely free curriculum that is available online! All ages are included here.

One more that I have to mention is the beautiful printables on Ann Voskamp's website. These are not specifically homeschool related, but her daily planner is very detailed and really helped me get organized at a time in my life (the birth of my second child!) when everything felt out of control. If you haven't been on her website, it's worth a look if you have good internet. It's VERY photo-intensive, so if you don't have good internet, you will be waiting all morning for each page to load!  At least check out the daily planner here.

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So there's a few of my favorite homeschool websites. What are yours? Do any of you ladies have websites to recommend for children older than 2nd grade? Please share your links below!

   

I’m not a cat person.

First of all, I’m allergic to them. They make me sneeze, and my eyes water, and my nose itch. Just looking at a cat makes me think of miserable nights that I couldn’t sleep because I couldn’t breathe because I was in a house FULL of cat hair.  It’s happened more than once.

So my husband had to do some real sweet-talking to convince me we needed to bring a kitten with us as we moved to our new house. He didn’t have to convince me the kitty was cute - I couldn’t deny that. And when he started reminding me of how over-run with mice our previous house was - how I couldn’t even keep my dishes in the cabinets because they would get covered with mouse droppings overnight - how we tried and tried and tried to trap them, sometimes getting two or three in a night but never, never getting them all - well, I started to cave.

I did cave. We kept the kitten.

He’s been a member of our family for a year now. He’s grown from a cute kitten to a beautiful cat. There is something luxurious about a sleek tomcat sunning himself in front of the living room window. But my husband has had to convince me over and over again that we should keep him - like, every time I wake up to the strong smell of tomcat urine and find that he marked his territory on my favorite throw rug.

“But we don’t have mice!” hubby says sweetly.

“I’d rather have mice than this stench!” I retort sharply.

“But remember how bad it was? How you couldn’t even keep dishes in the cabinets?” I sigh and shake my head and clean up the mess again.

But the cat stays.

Then there’s the way he scares our boys. The screams of terror from my three year old as the cat stalks him. Seriously, a stalking cat is creepy! And when he’s stalking your own child, it’s just not okay.

“But we don’t have mice!” my husband reminds me.

“I’d rather have mice - at least they don’t make my babies cry.”

But the cat stays.

And then . . . I found mouse droppings in a cabinet.

A day or two later, I heard a mouse scurrying away when I flipped on the kitchen light.

The next day, I actually saw the creature dash from counter to stove before disappearing.

And then, the final crowning insult, I stood in the kitchen doorway in broad daylight as a mouse crawled onto the stove, climbed into a dirty pot, and proceeded to eat his lunch from the scraps of our lunch while I watched.

And the cat slept.

I burst into my husband’s office, “That’s it! The cat is going! The only reason he’s still here is because he keeps the mice away. Now I have a mouse and a cat. This is not okay!”

I don’t remember what he responded. Maybe something like, “He just needs some time to catch it.”

But that night, after we put the boys in bed and the cat was rubbing around our ankles, arching his back and asking for attention, my husband looked at me sheepishly.

“I just like him,” he said.

And so the cat stays.

I’ll see if I can find mouse traps next time I go to market.

**This post was actually written almost a year ago, while we were still living in West Africa.**

Mice in the house is a common problem - even in parts of America! Do you have mice in your kitchen? What do you do about them? Share your advice (and funny stories!) in the comments!

Last week we talked about some keys for helping our young children deal with transition. You can view the whole post here, but I'll review the points briefly:

  1. Talk your children through what's happening and what's coming next.
  2. Give lots of grace but maintain healthy boundaries for security.
  3. Stay calm yourself - even very young children take cues from your emotions and reactions.

So moving on to the last key on my list, the topic of today's post -

   4. Establish routines as a family and stick to them as much as possible.

Little people thrive on routines. (Big people do too, actually!) I am not talking about schedule. Waking up at 6am sharp and having breakfast at 7:28 every day of the week works great for some people in certain situations, but certainly NOT in times of transition! A routine, on the other hand, is whether you wake up at 6am or 9am on any given morning, you have a certain order of events to follow after getting out of bed. Here are some examples of what I'm talking about:

  • While you're having your devotions, your little ones have "quiet time" on their own blanket looking at books or playing with quiet toys.
  • When a child wakes up, you have ten minutes of snuggle time on the couch before jumping into the morning chores.
  • Snack time is a time of reading books with mommy.
  • Immediately after lunch, children go straight to bed for naps, no matter whether lunch is at 11:30am or 1pm.

These are only examples of possible routines, not suggestions of what your routines should be. The point is to have certain "events" in your day that are done in basically the same way every time, day in and day out. So as much as possible, you establish your routines during stable, normal seasons of life, and then stick to them as closely as possible during transitions. If you always read a book during snack time, then pack a book in your carry-on to do snack time in the airport. If you always snuggle first thing in the morning, then make sure you wake everybody up early enough to have snuggle time in the motel room, too.

 A few more points about routines:

  • Be sure to consider the seasons of transition that don't actually involve moving or traveling. For example, adding a new sibling to the family is a big transition for everyone! Try as much as possible to maintain routines through those times as well.

  • Focus on one change at a time. Don't try to introduce several new routines at once, or change more than one routine at a time. The point is security and stability, so make changes slowly.

  • BEDTIME - we have found sleep to be the single biggest challenge in times of transition and travel. Strange places and new beds often make for traumatic bedtimes and frequent night wakings. One thing that has helped with this challenge (it's not the magic cure - if you've found that please let me know!) is a 'set in stone' bedtime routine. It doesn't matter where we are or how late it is, there are certain "rituals" that we go through before tucking the boys in bed - including family prayers and special songs. This seems to give them a security and a calm-down time that makes settled sleep come more easily - at least, most of the time! We also carry a whole tote-bag of "stuff" that's necessary for bedtime in strange places (and at home) including stuffed animals, blankets, and even our favorite nightlight!

  • Sometimes there's just no way to stick to routines, and our children do need to learn to be flexible. Don't be too hard on yourself - or on them - if you are unable to keep your normal routines. But I have found that picking them up again as soon as possible is helpful in keeping everybody happy and sane!

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So what can you add to this discussion? Any routines that have worked well for your family? Do you have tips to share for establishing or keeping routines? Please join us in the comments!