Tuesday, February 20, 2018

FREE Recipe Storage and Menu Planning Website/App

I am *SO* excited!  I get daily emails from a home organization website that helps me stay on top of decluttering and organizing my home one task at a time.  Each week has a special focus on an area of the house, and each day within that week has a more specific task assigned to it to complete that area more thoroughly.  In the email are helpful related links to free printables, ideas from other readers with photos, and articles with more detailed tips and helps.  I usually glance at the daily target area and briefly browse the links and articles to see if there is anything that might organize my home better than it already is.  The newsletter is a great way to keep things purged and neat and orderly.

Join the free Declutter 365 missions to get a plan for how to declutter your entire house over the course of the year, 15 minutes at a time. These missions deal with all rooms of your home, lots of types of common objects we all have, and even has missions for digital clutter! {on Home Storage Solutions 101} #Declutter365 #Decluttering #Declutter

Today’s task was recipe and menu planning organization.  Within that email, there was an article included with reviews on some websites and apps that have been recommended by readers to help them stay on top of this task.  I track my recipes and nutrition information/calories in My Fitness Pal, but I don’t really have a good way of planning my menus.  I’m currently following the menu plans set up in the Taste of Home Comfort Food Diet Cookbooks, which keep total daily calories at about 1,400.  I use that in conjunction with my daily workouts from Summer Body Club.  I kind of loosely follow the suggested meal plans, mostly using recipes from the cookbooks, but sometimes rearranging them or swapping some out based on what my family likes.  When I make changes like that, I’ve just had to mentally store that information, and then I’ve been forced to make manual shopping lists by combing those recipes myself.  I often overlook something or intend to see if I have something and don’t write it down.  You know how that goes!

Pepper Plate Home Page

So I decided to give some of these websites/apps a try and see if any of them worked for me.  A few were free, but most had fees associated with them either up front for the app or monthly for the online service.  Some had a free version that set up limits on how many recipes you could store or what features were available to you, or an upgraded version that you paid monthly for.  None of those were the right fit for me.  Then I discovered one that was totally FREE, AND it had all the features I wanted with NO LIMITATIONS!  That’s right…unlimited storage of recipes, the ability to create menu plans, scale recipes, and create shopping lists automatically…AND you can use it online as well as on the app so you can access your information from anywhere, even on the go!  I knew I was in love!

Menu Plan

So here it is…welcome to Pepper Plate!  Best service ever.  I spent a good portion of my day glued to my computer, importing my recipes for the rest of the month, creating my menu plans, and finishing off my shopping list.  Now I’m ready to go!  I was so excited that I made my husband sit with me and look at everything it could do as soon as he got home, and I knew I just had to blog about it so you all could try it out, as well!  This is a game-changer for me.  Smile

REVIEW: UltraKey Online Family Subscription by Bytes of Learning

We were all excited to try out our typing skills by reviewing the UltraKey Online Family Subscription by Bytes of Learning!


UltraKey Online Family Subscription is a web-based subscription service that allows your family of up to 3, 5, or 8 users to learn and practice typing skills for one year for just one low price:

  • up to 3 users = $29.95
  • up to 5 users = $39.95
  • up to 8 users = $49.95

A parent can access the family dashboard to set parameters and goals for each student user, adjust settings, and view progress.  The parent also gets a free parent account, which is not counted in the total number of users, in order to practice for themselves! 

The program includes warm-ups, lessons, skills checks, free-form typing, and even a variety of fun games that help you practice your skills!

It is compatible with browsers in Windows, Mac, Chromebook, and iPad.  It uses HTML5, and no plugins are required.


I’m a pretty good typist myself.  At one point in my professional working years, I know I typed about 95 wpm consistently.  I figured I’m probably a little rusty these days since I only type on my computer at home now.  On top of that, I got a serious injury to a finger on my right hand some years ago that permanently severed nerves, leaving numbness in that finger.  So I suspected that would also be a factor in my current speed.  So for myself, I thought I could probably use to hone my skills again.  In addition, my two youngest kids who are still homeschooled have never done any formal typing lessons.  I know…it’s so bad of me…because really, every kid should develop good typing skills to benefit them in their adult lives.  They are ages 10 and 13, so I really wanted them to try out this program, too.

Before beginning the program, it’s very important for the parent administrator to read through the instructions carefully.  There are lots of settings and controls that you can customize for each student user, and I really liked that aspect of the programFamily Dashboard.  For instance, I didn’t need to see the visual hands on the screen when I was typing, but I thought my kids probably would benefit from that.  Also, I set the transparency level of the hands differently for each of them, taking their age into consideration.  You could also choose different backgrounds and color schemes.  I did something peaceful and pretty for myself, but for my 4th grader who has ADHD, I went with a solid color background so he wouldn’t get distracted.  Those are important things to consider for each individual user.  You can also decide if you want each student to have to progress through the activities in order, or if you want them to have full access to jump around as they choose. 

I was also able to choose a goal for each child or have the program pre-test them and set a goal automatically based upon the results.  Another nice feature is that if you make a selection in the settings, and then the users begin the program and find something you’ve set up isn’t a good fit for them, you can easily log in to your parent dashboard and change the settings instantly.  For instance, my kids initially had the program set a goal for them.  But for one of myGoals Report kids, I switched to set the goal manually.  Because one student has ADHD, I didn’t want the goal set too high so that he might get easily frustrated when he didn’t pass a skills test.  For him, it’s important that he feel an immediate sense of achievement.  So his goal was a bit lower.  The cool thing is that once a student completes the lessons and meets his or her goal, you can have them start the program over again, setting a higher goal for themselves the next time.  In this way, they are constantly being challenged and gradually improving their results.  Also for that student, I opted to have the program give audible instructions and cues so he wouldn’t have to do a lot of on-screen reading.  It gave him one less place to get distracted, and it worked great for him that way.

Once I set everything up, I went ahead and tried my free parent account for myself.  I have to say that I found it a lot of fun!  I had a hard time making myself stop the lessons.  And I also tried out every one of the games for myself.  They were all so much fun for me that I played many of them multiple times!  It was a little bit addicting.  Smile

Next, we alternated between the 3 of us trying out the program.  I didn’t need the initial instruction on posture and hand position, but of course, my children did.  So they completed those video instructions first, which include a nice activity where they had to identify good and bad positioning in the user shown on the screen.  I thought that was a great way to evaluate whether or not they had adequately comprehended the need for posture and position.  Then they each began their individual lessons. 

Holden, who is 10, had a hard time not looking at his fingers, so I stood to the side to remind him every now and then.  I wanted his results to accurately reflect his progress.  I also started having him work on it in the evenings with the light off in the room so he really couldn’t see the letters on the keys even if he tried, and that really seemed to help him break the habit.  He got really excited when he would complete a lesson and do the skills check and find that he passed by meeting his goal!

After each lesson, you are encouraged to take the corresponding skills check to see if you grasped the newTyping Test Report keys and could meet your typing goal using those keys.  I really liked the detailed report that you could view at the end of that, showing exactly what you missed in the text, what your gross speed was, and what your net wpm speed was after subtracting for errors.  It was helpful for both me and my daughter to see where our mistakes were being made, and it really gave us encouragement to try again so we could improve the next time around.

Haylee, who is 13, found she was doing pretty well!  Her goal was to achieve about 35 wpm, and she seemed to be doing a good job of meeting that in her lessons.  Sometimes, she had to try again, but I think she got a sense of satisfaction by mastering the lesson before moving on.

All of us enjoyed the Game Zone, though I think I probably enjoyed it the most!  I really love word games, and they had a variety of different tyGame Zonepes of games from filling in missing letters to rhymes and spelling games to rearranging a group of words into a sentence.  All the while, you were getting typing practice as well as honing your language and writing skills, and it would make a tone if you typed something incorrectly.  You also achieved a rating while completing the games.  I made it up to “Wizard 2!”

Overall, I really like this program, and I think the creators put a lot of effort into making the parameters very flexible so the parent administrator can customize the settings and make it just right for each individual user.  That makes it ideal for homeschool families who have different types of learners, learning difficulties, etc. 

My biggest snag with success was that when I learned to type in high school, I was taught to double space after a period at the end of a sentence.  In this program, it uses only one space after a period, so it kept telling me I was making extra keystrokes, and that slowed down my score.  So for the purposes of this program, I had to break that habit of double-spacing, which was tough after 30 years of typing that way!  But other than that, I was meeting my goal of 93 wpm pretty consistently, and I have no doubt that this program will help me to improve my speed even higher over time. 

I really look forward to continuing to use this program to improve my family’s typing skills over the next year, and that’s plenty of time to really make a different for each one of us.  The opportunity to complete the program over and over again with gradually increasing goals is wonderful and ensures that it will continue to challenge us to do even better in the future!

None of us has fully completed the program as of yet, but I understand that you get a little certificate of achievement on your screen at the end!  I’m sure my kids will absolutely love that.  Give this program a try and see if it’s right for your family!

Check out what other Crew members have to say about this family subscription service by clicking the banner below.

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Our First Homeschool Event in Texas

The kids and I finally found a homeschool group to join here in Texas.  It’s the South Tarrant County group, and there was just a small annual membership fee.  It looked as though they set up field trips and park days regularly, so we decided to give it a try for this year.  We did our first homeschool event this week, and it was a Valentine’s Party!

We met up at a place in Burleson called Buffalo Nickels.  I’d never heard of it before, but it was pretty cool!  We paid $6.75 admission for the three of us to get in and have use of the party room for our group, so that wasn20180214_141022’t bad at all.  It was a potluck event, so I made a couple of different flavors of mini muffins to take, and we headed off to join the fun!  It was a pretty neat place.  We bought a $5 cup of nickels, and the arcade games were anywhere from 5-20 cents each on average.  They had ski ball, a basketball game, and lots of different games of chance.  They was also an air hockey table, and there was even an old-fashioned pinball machine, which I had blast on myself!  It cost me 15 cents to play, and I kept winning free games!  I finally got so hungry that I had Holden come over to play the last free game I had!  LOL. 

At last, we sat down to enjoy our lunch.  It was a lovely gathering!  There was a putt-putt course outside, as well, but it was pretty busy, so we decided we’d probably go back another day to play there.  There were about 90 people signed up for the event!  Before we left, the kids cashed in their tickets for some prizes, and they had fun picking those out, too.

The kids ha20180214_140918d lots of fun, and the weather was absolutely beautiful that day…a perfect day to be out and about!  We did some shopping out in that area afterwards and then headed home.  I had Valentine’s goody bags made up for the kids to enjoy when they got home, including one for Hayden to open when he got home from work.  What can I say…they’ll always be kids to me!

Next week, we’ll be joining the group again for a field trip to a museum out in Arlington, so I’ll write more about that next week.  We worked ahead with our school work so we’d be free to spend a leisurely afternoon out, and it was a really nice adventure! 

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Valentine’s FREE Printables for Kids

Valentine's Day coloring pages!If you have kids in the house, you may be looking for some fun and FREE printables they can use for Valentine’s Day.  I stumbled upon this site, which has printable crafts, cards, and coloring pages for kids of all ages to help them celebrate the holiday! 

Valentine’s FREEBIES


Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Getting Social Again

I absolutely *LOVE* my house here in TX.  I love it so much that I no longer feel as compelled to leave it…for anything!  So I spend a lot more time at home now than maybe I have in the past, and I’ve been totally fine with that.  But I do miss my friends in VA, and I do miss having events and things to look forward to.  So Image result for february 2018that’s all beginning to change pretty soon.

I’m finally about to start getting out of the nest again!  We’ve been here for 7 months now, and I really haven’t been out much, and I haven’t been out for anything social at all!

But starting this weekend, my February calendar is starting to get busy!  We just joined our neighborhood’s voluntary association.  They do a few dinners a year, including a chili cook-off at the end of the summer.  It’s only $15/year, and we figured it would be a good way to get involved in our community and meet some of the neighbors.  This Saturday, they are hosting a Winterfest Dinner catered by a local place called Cousin’s BBQ.  Sounds fun!  We’re actually kind of looking forward to it, and they always meet in a church building just up the road, right outside our neighborhood.  That’s my first social outing!

Next up is a spa day experience for Valentine’s at my Mary Kay consultant’s home!  She’ll be giving spa treatments and demonstrating products and having specials on certain items while pampering everyone with wine, chocolate cake, and other treats.  So I figured, why not?  She’s a super nice lady I met before Christmas when I ordered some items and she delivered them to my home.  We talked on the porch for a while…she loves dogs and asked about mine, and then we discovered that she used to live in Virginia Beach when she was in the Navy in Norfolk back in the day!  Pretty cool!  Small world.  So I’m looking forward to getting out and enjoying myself a bit.  Maybe I’ll make some new friends!

For the third weekend in February, a lady at church who happens to live about a block down from me in my neighborhood is hosting a Valentine’s Tea for the ladies and girls in the congregation.  Haylee and I are planning to attend in our best tea dresses and hats and take a goodie along to share!  We’re looking forward to mingling with some of the ladies we’ve gotten to know at church, and it should be fun for us girls! 

Lastly, I’ve signed us up for a homeschool field trip with a South Tarrant County homeschool group that we just joined.  I’ll be taking the kids to the C. R. Smith Aviation Museum in Arlington for a whole day of activities!  They’ll see a film, tour the museum, and participate in educational programs for their own age groups.

So that’s 4 weekends in a row that I have plans in February already!  Hard to believe after spending all these months at home with absolutely no social life.  It should be fun! 

And after that, Haylee and Holden will start playing soccer down in Burleson at the very beginning of March.  Time flies! 

Somewhere in all that busy-ness, I’ve got to fit in doing taxes.  Ugh!  It won’t be much fun this year, since things are so unusual for us this time around.  We have to add the VA house as a rental, we have to file taxes in two states, we have moving expenses, we had two months without health insurance, and we made withdrawals from both of our retirement funds to renovate the VA house, so we’ll have penalties to pay on that…the list goes on!  And that’s in addition to our usual rental income.  It will just be a bit complicated!  And I’ve got banking all over the place.  I sure hope I’ve received all the statements I’m gonna need!  I don’t want to overlook anything, so I’m a bit nervous.  Oh, and add that to the fact that Hayden became an adult and started working, so I’ll have to help him file taxes for the first time, too. 

Anyway, at least I’ll be busy for the next few weeks!

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Homeschooling: The Winding Down Years

We’ve been off school this week…our monthly week off (we school year-round).  I’ve been using the time not so much to rest (I’m still getting over being sick) as to take care of a growing to-do list of tasks that needed to be done.  I completed a bunch of paperwork and mailings and filing of documents and that sort of thing.  I returned/exchanged a deep freezer that died after only a few months.  I ran some errands.  I signed the kids up for soccer and selected a pediatrician under our new insurance.  You know…all that nuisance stuff that isn’t a big deal on its own but that adds up to blocks of time you don’t always have every day.

Now that the little but important things are mostly taken care of, I stayed up last night preparing school for the next few weeks, and finishing my copying for the remainder of the school year so I don’t have to do this every month.  Normally, I get the whole year ready before the school year starts, but with the move last year that happened right when I would have been getting that stuff ready, there just wasn’t time to get it all prepared before it all got packed up.

That led me to start thinking through the next school year, which starts in June for us, and making lists of what I’ll need to buy to complete the curriculum I’m planning to use for Holden.  You’ll notice I didn’t say “and Haylee.”  That’s because this is Haylee’s LAST year of homeschooling.  Pretty soon, I’ll be registering her for public school here, as she’ll be starting high school in the fall.  I believe very strongly in sending my kids to public high school.  I think it’s an important experience for them to have, not only to try out different subjects, clubs, and sports to find out what they are most interested in, but also to experience other people in the world who are different from them…not only diversity, but also different personalities and backgrounds…good and bad.  You see, I’d rather they experience that while still at home with me, where I can help guide them through the shock of it.  It’s territory that is all new to them. 

I remember when Hayden first went to public high school.  His was a charter school for kids in an advanced program called IB, so that was a nice transition for him…smaller classes, hand-picked teachers, advanced classes…and mentors assigned to each student.  But because the charter school was inside of a regular high school, he still got exposed to a lot.  I remember his tales of fights in the lunch room, lockdowns, guns on students, and public displays of things that shouldn’t be public.  But as a whole, it was a good experience for him, and he learned how to deal effectively with people and situations that were new to him.  That’s what I want for all of my kids.  We can’t shelter them forever.

But as I began planning the homeschool year for Holden, I realized that it will very soon be just the two of us doing school together!  It has not been that way for such a long, long time.  It reminds me of my early days of homeschooling only Hayden.  How strange that will be!  But in a way, it will also be kind of nice.  I hope to make the year more fun…to do some field trips and get some “extras” that will make learning fun again.  Because of his ADHD, he really needs the extra attention and the lack of distraction of another student in the house, so it will probably be a positive change for him in terms of his learning.  This is the period where it was most difficult with Hayden, too.  Post-puberty, the ADHD symptoms improve so much, but this is the crucial time where I need to adapt the approach and make it work for him so he establishes good work habits for the years to come.

I just have 4 more years of homeschooling to go before Holden heads off to public high school himself!  That seems so surreal to me.  I’ve been at this job for 15 years now!  So as I enter this transition stage of winding down from homeschooling, I realize it won’t be long before the next stage comes of not homeschooling at all, and soon after, perhaps being an empty nester!  Life is changing all too quickly now.  Where did the years go?  I shed a little tear for the changes to come…how I miss my babies in all their cuteness, learning and growing and discovering new things every day!  But alas, God tells us there is a season for all things, so I realize there are new things in store for us just around the corner!

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Driving and Cell Phone Use

How do you feel about people using cell phones while driving, be it talking or texting?  I don’t think there’s any doubt that it splits the driver’s attention and poses a risk to those around them.  In Virginia, it wasn’t illegal unless you were an under age driver, but it was certainly discouraged.  I can remember being annoyed with people on the highway who were talking away and driving 10-15 miles under the speed limit, or texting as they swerved all over their lane (and sometimes between two lanes). 

When we arrived in Texas last summer, I noticed right away all the signs in school zones noting big fines for using a cell phone in a flashing school zone.  But then in the fall, they passed new legislation making texting anywhere in TX illegal.  You can talk and use hands-free options, GPS navigation, etc., unless your city or county prohibits it.  You are allowed to use it at a stop light, but not while the vehicle is in motion, and big fines have been set up for any offenses of this no-texting-and-driving law.

Case in point, just tonight, my oldest son was riding around the neighborhood on his little brother’s brand new bike…the one he got for his 10th birthday just 3 weeks ago!  He’s 18, but he hasn’t gotten a bike since we moved last summer, and he wanted to catch up with my husband and daughter who were out running together.  As he crossed from one side of a neighborhood street to the other, a car came off the main road making a left turn and hit him!  He slid on the road and got some road rash, and his little brother’s bike sort of fell apart because the joints came loose.  My husband was able to tighten it back up, except that the street took two big chunks out of the seat.  Ugh!  So get this…the driver stopped and checked to see if Hayden was okay…he was an EMT still wearing his name tag and carrying his medical bag.  He checked him out and said he thought it was only road rash.  And then he left!  He didn’t call and report the accident, he didn’t offer his name or info, he didn’t offer to pay to fix the bike, and Hayden was so shaken up that he didn’t think to get the license plate or take any pictures.  So he called me while I was out grocery shopping and told me about it, and I could hardly believe it!  So here is the kicker…the guy told Hayden he was talking on his cell phone while making the left turn and didn’t see him!  This is *exactly* why cell phone use should probably be prohibited while driving altogether, for either talking or texting.

So what are your thoughts?  Is cell phone use while driving allowed, restricted, or prohibited in your state?