Embracing a Healthy Family

HORMEL GATHERINGS® Party Trays Perfect for All Gatherings

I received free product and a store gift card in exchange for my honest review. All opinions and content are my own.

I had my first experiencing serving HORMEL GATHERINGS® Party Trays to my guests this year at Thanksgiving and I couldn't be happier with the ease at preparing these plentiful trays full of cheese, crackers, hard salami and pepperoni.  As I planned for my all day event with family, all 15 people in attendance, I knew I had to be creative to ease the use of the kitchen and to alleviate some of my time as I'd be busy preparing the meal.  The HORMEL GATHERINGS® Party Trays are perfect as I chose to offer up one earlier in the day just on in the ready to use tray in the living-room as everyone gathered to watch games.  The second tray was served as an evening snack when everyone was ready to just snack. 

The HORMEL GATHERINGS® Party Trays I purchased had Hormel® Hard Salami, Hormel® Genoa Salami, Sargento® Pepper Jack Cheese, Sargento® Havarti Cheese, Round Crackers and Peloponnese Pitted Olives. 

The variety of tastes went well with my guest's tastes.  I had one who liked olives and the little ones ate the Havarti cheese and crackers alone.  All the adults loved the Pepperjack and Havarti cheeses with the salami.  I think given the quantity of items, it was worth the money even if it does cost a little more for convenience.  I ended up purchasing another one to take on a 12 hour road trip due to the convenience, taste and quality minus the olives due to mess. The other nice feature of the trays is that each item is individually packaged so you can decide not to place all of the items out at once.

Unfortunately, by the time the rest of my guests arrived, I was too busy preparing dinner to take a picture with them.  I'd say my step-son was a huge fan of the tray! For the price, quality and convenience, I would recommend HORMEL GATHERINGS® Party Trays.  The combined flavors were perfect, the cheeses had rich taste and the salami was different enough to give a subtle change in flavor but increased the pairing with crackers and the cheese.  My husband was probably the biggest fan as he loves cheese, salami and crackers but I'm not a big fan of the mess he makes on the floor!  

It was a great day of good food, fun times and more memories as it was our first co-family holiday at my house.

HORMEL GATHERINGS® Party Trays are also good for any gatherings, traveling, camping or just a lazy night watching movies.

Looking for more ideas or to be inspired?  Don't forget to check out Hormel Facebook, Hormel Pinterest or Hormel YouTube.

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Horse Riding Lessons as Part of a Homeschool Curriculum


We have been homeschooling for quite a few years and I am thankful for the opportunity to continue being able to shape my children's future directly every day in more than a typical parental way. I have come to love homeschooling due to the flexibility and this flexibility reaches across the subjects I teach, how I teach them, schedules of teaching and fun activities that supplement learning. I also have found, as many others state routinely, children learn best when doing something they love.  Albeit riding lessons will not cover every subject but it does cover science as they are learning with each lesson more about horse anatomy.  

When they arrive, they start out with grooming the horses and preparing them to ride. Before they do start riding, the instructor gives them lessons in the horses anatomy and other interesting facts they should know should they continue with their love of horses. We were pleasantly surprised to be invited to an event in a couple of days where a chiropractor will come in and provide a lesson on their care which will cover anatomy.  The instructor is a homeschool parent and understands how these extra learning events will benefit the homeschooled child.  We are so lucky to have find such an extraordinary place.

Here are just a couple of other pictures I took today:

Rogue One: Our Easy to Replicate Jyn Erso Costume

There are links to support a non-profit.

After searching for a suitable Jyn Erso costume for my middle child, we decided to put it together ourselves.  Either they were of poor quality or cost a bit more than I could justify. This year, we utilized the Rogue One's images to find a perfect ensemble straight from Amazon mostly because I was not wanting to sew.  We looked up what other people used and continued from there utilizing what we already had at home which consists of black riding pants or leggings would suffice and a pair of brown boots.

We purchased the Frogg Toggs Cascade Classic Vest, a Hanes black V-Neck women's shirt, the KMystic Infinity Loop Scarf and Jyn Erso Belt with Holster.  Although more expensive than I would have preferred, I figured spending a bit more for the belt and holster was okay since we were piecing together a costume that I had no idea how it would look.  You could purchase a more inexpensive holster at a fraction of the cost for the same effect.  The nice thing about this costume, my daughter can still wear it as it turned out to be very fashionable albeit without the holster.  

Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore Park is Next Best Thing to Florida for the Midwest

As the summer days swiftly departed, fall fought with summer to take hold. We enjoyed a few more late summer days at the beach a few days ago. I kept telling my children that we had to partake in the beautiful weather as the days were numbered until next year. As sure as I spoke, fall is upon us with cloudy skies and cooler temperatures. We were able to take one more bathing suit day at West Beach located at the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore Park and it was fun! The beautify about the Dunes is year round, there are activities and it's great outdoor adventure especially for the homeschooled family.

My kids are Florida lovers so even though we have not been able to relocate there yet, the trips to the sandy beaches affords them something to look forward to year round. On a clear day, the Chicago skyline is quite visible as well as the steel mill plants that once led the way to prosperity to many while allowing families a good income raising their families in yesteryear. Lake Michigan is truly a natural beauty to the sometimes ugly in appearance of northwest Indiana.  

Even though the weather is no longer hot, we will take advantage of what the park has to offer and have some fall and winter fun!

Additional information:

History & Heritage

The Potawatomi people were among the first to call Porter County home. In fact, a local archaeological dig has unearthed native artifacts from up to 9,000 years ago. The first non-native visitors to the area arrived in 1650: French fur traders who founded an industry that flourished for a couple hundred years and included trader Joseph Bailly. Bailly’s homestead is now part of Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore. What began with the fur traders continued as pioneering spirit and then the railroads brought immigrants from across Europe. Many of their stories and traditions continue to color our way of life. You’ll discover Swedish farms and churches, Victorian homes, Irish pubs, German choirs and more.

It happened here…

Did you know that entrepreneur Orville Redenbacher launched his first gourmet popcorn product from a farm near Valparaiso in 1971? Or that the Underground Railroad, a secret network of escape routes for 19th century fugitive slaves, is thought to have included a stop on the lakeshore of Porter County? How about the fact that The Indiana Dunes was the intended site of a macabre plan by Chicago counterfeiters to hide the remains of President Lincoln until they received a ransom of $200,000 and the release of their star engraver from prison? Have you heard that the historic Civil War-era Memorial Opera House in Valparaiso was said to be a favorite venue of “The March King,” conductor John Philip Sousa, who led a concert there in 1898? The Opera House also hosted the famous Marx Brothers vaudeville comedy trio in 1919.

#Homeschool Trip to an Indiana Meteor Crater 97 Million Years Old

On a trip back from visiting family, we happened upon a rather unique and surprising site to see hidden off away from a major highway near Kentland, Indiana (N 40° 45’ W 87° 24’).  The area, off Route 41 which used to be a busy traveling road until interstates took over the landscape, is home to what is referred to as Kentland Structure, Kentland Crater or the Kentland Disturbed Area or a working rock quarry.  Situated in Newton County, Indiana, it was discovered around 1880 by two farmers who began to quarry crushed rock.  Geologists determined due to the presence of shattered cones and deformed bedrock in the late 1960's that the structure is in a deeply eroded impact structure. 

The circular dome of the structure is about 4.5 miles in diameter that is buried in glacial debris.  They have estimated  it to be less than 97 million years old (cretaceous) and the center, Shakopee dolomite center is around 450 million years old.  The total disturbance area is 7.8 miles in diameter.  It's only been within the past 40 years or so that geologists have agreed it's an impact site.  The current rock quarry owners do allow for educational tours of the facilities.

More information can be found here at Indiana Meteor Crater.

Why Homeschooling Is On The Rise in the U.S.

Courtesy of Ben White Photography

Guest Post

Why Homeschooling Is On The Rise in the U.S.?

The number of children in the US who are homeschooled has grown dramatically over the past 30 years or so. In fact, figures from the National Home Education Research Institute, show that around 2.3 million children no longer learn in a formal classroom setting.

The reason for this increase? Well, there are many. But, for the most part, parents want a better education for their children than they think they get from their state schools.

Homeschooling works for many families

Homeschooling gives families the choice to live their lives the way they want to. In many places, it also gives parents the opportunity to teach their children topics, subjects, and curriculums that aren’t available at their local state school.
Of course, tests and formal qualifications are still important for homeschooled children – perhaps even more so. However, it also gives your children the chance to learn about a wider variety of things and pick up important life skills, they might not learn at their local school.

Practical skills
Even if your local school has an ok academic record, you might not be a big fan of the practical lessons or after-school clubs on offer. Homeschooling means you can include the practical lessons you feel are important, into your child’s learning curriculum. Perhaps running the family food budget is a skill you feel your children should have. It also fits with math and management, so is a good topic to cover and job for them to have at home.

Sewing is another useful practical skill for children to learn that is rarely taught in schools. Being able to sew, make and mend clothes, stitch badges on and create something from scratch is an amazing and useful skill to have. Sewing could easily be added to your home-schooling planning.
Or, perhaps gardening is an important practical subject you would like your kids to learn about. Give them a patch of garden to grow plants and flowers in. Then, let them harvest their produce and help you use it in a meal or meals for the family. Another great lesson that children and some adults, would benefit from.

Traveling and learning

If you enjoy traveling and visiting new places and want your children to experience that too, then home schooling allows you to do this. You can visit places that are relevant to the lessons you plan for your children.

Or, you can go somewhere new and turn it into a fun, but practical lesson for your kids. Travelling around your state, country, continent or the whole world doesn’t stop your children from learning.

Indeed, it teaches them a lot more about the real-life choices they could be faced with in the future. Or, it can help show them a completely different way of thinking and living which can help their brain develop new pathways and become brighter and mentally agile.

Homeschooling isn’t for everyone. But, if it’s your best option you can make it work well for your children and your family.

Enhancing Homeschool Lessons with Media

 *Disclosure: I did not receive any compensation for this post.

I'm a homeschooling mom who seeks new ways of learning and have tried curriculum after curriculum without settling on one that I exclusively use. I have found that there are a ton of resources available via media which I feel helps to break up the day. One of my fondest memories I have from school are the films we used to watch as they were a treat and broke up the boredom of traditional teacher/book boredom we experienced as kids. One of the things that I look for in enhancing my educational resources is movies or other type of programs where they are documentaries or stories based on actual events or lives. Currently, I have utilized Netflix and Amazon to add to my resources but just recently, I found out about Pure Flix.

Pure Flix has entertainment, ministry, blog and homeschool resources and the biggest draw for me was the content is family-friendly eliminating my fear of inappropriate content of nudity or bad language unlike the other two services I currently use.  Other pro's about Pure Flix include:

  • Access on many platforms to include Roku, iOS, Apple TV, Google Play, Chromecase, KindleFire and more.
  • Exclusive shows such as God's Not Dead 2, Do You Believe, The Book of Daniel and more.
  • Educational shows such as Popular Mechanics for Kids, Medal of Honor, The Ultimate Civil War Series and much more.
  • Kids choice.
  • Programming for all ages.

You can join free for a month and cancelling a subscription later is quick and easy without a hassling phone call with a customer service agent.

See the above infograph for more information.

#Homeschool Trip to Indiana Dunes Lakeshore Park

Educational opportunities are all around us and you don't require a formal classroom or educational setting to prove that. Some of the best learning opportunities that remain in our memories for years to come are the trips we take. The Indiana Dunes Lakeshore Park is educational but mostly fun to my children and grandchildren who love the beach. Although it is a grand time running through the smooth sand, chasing birds, building sandcastles or just hanging out in the water, there is learning to be found.  The Dunes are located in Porter, Indiana in the northwest region of Indiana. You can pay to enter and park or if it's off season or early in the day, you can secure a free parking spot and with a short jaunt, you will be basking in the sun, feeling the wind blowing in your hair or just enjoying the waves crashing if it's a high rip tide kind of day.  There is camping also available as well as an educational center.

Once you plan your trip, you can start out at the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore Visitor Center that is open daily and only closed on Christmas, New Year's Day and Thanksgiving. There are artist exhibits, an activity room, a short video and a bookstore. Grab a brochure to learn more about Porter County, the National Dunes or the State Park.

Your next step includes a stop at the Paul H. Douglas Center for Environmental Educational where you can hike the Miller Woods trail, interact with the exhibits or enjoy the Nature Play Zone.

There are many things to do when you arrive but the hardest thing to do is to figure out which one first or maybe only one!

  • 15 miles of beaches along the southern tip of Lake Michigan.
  • 50 miles of trails extending throughout the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore where you can hike, jog, bike, bird watch, cross-country ski, ski, snowshoe or ride your horse.
  • West Beach, my personal favorite growing up and including now, is the clear and open vista with large dunes. You can hike the Succession Trail to the top of the dune to see Lake Michigan and the Chicago skyline.
  • Heron Rookery has a beautiful display of flowers in the spring. It follows along a portion of the Little Calumet River.
  • Great Marsh is a popular feeding and resting area for migrating wetland birds.
  • Glenwood Dunes trails allows you to ride your horse or hike and even go cross-country skiing. There is even a warming hut in the winter.

More features of the area includes:
  • Bailly Homestead, National Historic Landmark, was once home to the independent fur trader, Joseph Bailly. The late 19th century architectural style also boasts an unusual family cemetery.
  • Chellberg Family Farmhouse was the house of a hard working Swedish immigrant family that lived and worked there for three generations.
  • The Portage Lakefront and Riverwalk is a 3,500 square foot public pavilion, trails and a fishing pier that takes you close to a lighthouse. 
There are many programs available at the Learning Center.

Here are some examples:

Frog in the Bog
Our highly-rated three day/two night hands-on program combines discovery, adventure, and fun with math, science and social studies. A variety of state and national curriculum requirements are met as students explore the natural and cultural history of the dunes, the interconnection of human and natural environments and the rich biological diversity found in the southern Lake Michigan region.
Tuition: $127 per student includes meals, lodging and activities, plus pre- and post-visit materials.
Age: Grades 4-6
Availability: September–November and March–May
Program Request Form >
Program Documents >
Winter Ecology in the Dunes
Students explore the fascinating winter adaptations of plants and animals found in the Indiana dunes during this immersive, two day residential program. Weather permitting, students have the opportunity to cross-country ski or snowshoe.
Tuition: $86 per student includes meals, lodging and activities, plus pre- and post-visit materials.
Age: Grades 4–9
Availability: December–March
Program Request Form >
Program Documents >
Middle School students engage in hands-on investigations of local ecosystems in this STEM and service-themed 2-day residential program. Participants learn and practice research procedures used by professional scientists such as quadrant surveys and chemical water monitoring to gather and analyze data and participate in stewardship activities within the park. Biodiversity, ecosystems, sustainability and human impacts on the environment are explored through real conservation and natural resource management experiences.
Tuition: Varies based on program design
Age: Grades 7–8
Program Request Form >
Program Documents >
High school students engage in higher level thinking about climate change and its effects on the Great Lakes region in this program that utilizes hands-on STEM based activities to enhance understanding of our changing planet and local ecosystems. Projects may include water and species monitoring, wetland/prairie restoration or other topics. Students develop a hypothesis, conduct an investigation and analyze data, providing real experience in the fields of conservation and natural resource management.
Tuition: Varies based on program design
Age: Grades 9–12
Program Request Form >
Program Documents >
Science Olympiad Team Training
Bring science to life while increasing student interest and competence with 2-days of hands-on science and team-building activities in a relaxed, safe and fun atmosphere! In a customized, one- or two-day intensive training session, teachers and team coaches work with Learning Center staff to help Science Olympiad teams excel in nature and environment related events, including an overall focus on team building.
Tuition: Varies based on program design
Age: Middle to High School
Availability: November–March
Program Request Form >
Program Planning Guide >

Bamboo Tree from Commercial Silk Int'l Review

Disclosure: I received this bamboo plant courtesy of CommercialSilk.com in exchange for this review.  The opinions are of my own and were not influenced by the sponsor.

We moved over the summer to a house that we could finally go outside and enjoy the beautiful summer sunshine.  With that move, I decided to purchase plants for the deck in trying to add the warmth of a Florida day since we are completely utterly in love with Florida.  The biggest problem with plants is me.  I am a known killer of anything green that grows so I fretted over purchasing live plants or choosing artificial ones as I can't harm those.  I did choose a few live plants and surprisingly, I haven't murdered them ... yet.  However, I confess that I truly prefer artificial plants due to the need to not care for them.  Artificial plants truly have come a long way from the years of past as now, they are beautiful and very realistic.  My husband and I really enjoy the look of bamboo which is why I chose the bamboo tree from CommercialSilk.com.

The bamboo arrived in a tall box that fit the size of the 4' tree and was protected to avoid any damage.  Once I "fluffed" out the branches, it was stunning!  My husband returned from work and stated how realistic it was.  He was in awe over how real it looked.  It is also nice in that it's not heavy which allows for changing my mind where I want to place it as I moved it at least four times trying to find the right spot for it.  It's now in a place where I can see it whenever I'm in the living room.  The bonus is it requires no water and just a quick dusting every now and then and it will look as good as new as time moves on. The leaves are vibrant, as you can see in the photo, and the trunk is just beautiful in its ornate design.  I would recommend this tree due to the size, the level of care needed (none), the beauty and realistic display it provides.

CommercialSilk.com also has many other products that will spruce up a home or business to include:

  • Artificial Trees
  • Artificial Plants
  • Artificial Flowers
  • Artificial Boxwood
  • Artificial Topiaries 
  • Artificial Floliage
  • Display and Other Specialty
  • Preserved Trees, Palms, Plants
  • Planters

As a large wholesale supplier of artificial trees, plants and decorative silk trees, they are a leading designer, manufacturer and wholesaler for both indoor and outdoor use.

Homeschool Trip Hueco Tanks State Park & Historic Site

Our homeschool adventure of the past took us to Hueco Tanks State Park and Historic Site in El Paso County in Texas.  Taking advantage of the site's beauty, we also utilized it for a photo op for our non-profit.  It was a beautiful site and for those that don't know, for thousands of years, people traveled to these rock hills in far west Texas. They also visited for the rainwater that pooled in the natural rock basins also called huecos (“whey-coes”). 

There are surprisingly many things to do but much attention is given to avoid disrupting and causing damage to the sacred grounds:

  • Study nature
  • Hike
  • Rock climb
  • Picnic
  • Bird watch
  • Star gaze
  • View pictographs and petroglyphs
  • Partake a guided tour
  • Self-guided tours - passes are available for up to 70 people a day to cross the North Mountain
  • Visit the interpretive center
  • Camp in the 20 available sites

There is also a Ranger program for those five and up.  To take advantage of other offerings, there is an activities page, an events page and a Junior Explorer Pack.

The girls enjoyed the park and learning about the vast number of people that would travel via coach and stop for water and rest was interesting.  

How to Plan a Multi-Generational Family Vacation


Multi-Generational family vacations are a great way to get everyone together in a single place. But organizing them can be a bit tough because you need to find a location that has enough activities to keep everyone busy throughout a day. 

If you are the one in charge, there are plenty of obstacles in front of you. You might feel stressed at one point but don't worry it’s possible to organize an amazing family vacation for all age groups without absolutely losing your mind. 

Don't wait and start planning right away

Early preparations are beneficial for several reasons. First of all, you might be able to find a great deal that can save you a ton of money. You will also have more options in terms of accommodation because hotels and resorts will have plenty of vacancies. Give yourself enough time to consult each member of your family and present them with the potential locations. 

Secondly, this is a multi-generational family vacation, so telling your parents or grandparents that you will be leaving in two weeks can lead to cancellation because they might not be able to get ready in time. 

Inform everyone at least a couple of months prior to the vacation and see when they are available. This is an excellent way to ensure everyone is included in your family trip. And finally, if you have a large family, you might even get a group discount at some locations. These are definitely worth looking into.

Don't go halfway across the globe

Far away countries are exciting and attractive but it might be safer to select a destination which does not include layovers and hopping from one plane to another. 

After all, you are traveling in a group and not everyone will be up for this. Spending hours and hours on an airport in an unfamiliar country can be stressful, especially for the youngsters.

This is very important if your family does not live in the same city, but you are all meeting in a single place. There will be fewer complications when it comes to transportation and the general mood should be more positive because everyone will arrive at your vacation spot fairly quickly. 
You will able to check in together and start off the family vacation with a lot of enthusiasm and excitement. 

Make sure everyone is having fun

Even though this might sound impossible, you can actually find all-inclusive resorts that have a wide range of classes and activities which are suitable for every member of your family regardless of the age. 

Do some research and read as much as you can about resorts of your choosing. They will have all the activities listed on the official website so select the one that fits your lifestyle the best. 

Each family is different of course, but everyone loves hanging out on a beach or by a pool. 

Outdoor activities and watersports are popular among all generations so check if a resort you have chosen has plenty of options for everyone before you book it. If you select an all-inclusive resort, see which classes or activities are included in a price because sometimes you need to pay extra for tours and hikes which take place outside of the resort. 

The Caribbean is a great place to look for family resorts. Just make sure that you pay close attention to whether it’s a family resort or an adults-only resort. That will matter a lot for the vibe you’re looking. Usually, this is pretty obvious just by looking at marketing materials or asking the question, but it’s common enough that it deserves to be mentioned. 

It’s okay to ask for help

Organizing a family trip can be overwhelming so if you make a decision to stay at a resort or a hotel, you can ask their concierge team to help you out. Don't hesitate call them or send an email. They have plenty of experience and will provide you with guidelines that will help you manage the activities for the whole family. 

Just make sure you contact them at least a couple of weeks before you arrive. The concierge team should also provide you with basic information about the country you are visiting and tell you the best route from an airport to their hotel or resort. After all, they know the area and their advice is quite valuable, especially if this is your first trip to that location.

Turn it into a tradition

If everyone enjoyed their vacation, you should definitely do it again. Once you arrive home, ask the members of your family about their thoughts and suggestions. Don't focus on the things they liked only, but accept the criticism as well. This will help you do better next time around. You should also take another location into consideration just to make it interesting.

You might even start thinking about exotic destinations. Keep in mind that they might require more organizational skills because you need to make sure everyone is on board with this idea. On the other hand, if your family insists on returning to the same place every single year, change your accommodation. This will make things more exciting and add new activities to your itineraries.