White Chocolate Candy Cane Donuts

Are you looking for a fun and festive breakfast idea this holiday season? One of my favorite holiday traditions is donuts on Christmas Eve morning. Some years we buy donuts but when I’m feeling ambitious the kids and I make homemade donuts.

Even though purchasing donuts is easier, I think homemade donuts taste SO MUCH BETTER! Plus, you can customize them to make your favorite flavors, and for additional fun (and maybe a little stress) have the kids help with make them.

These white chocolate candy cane donuts are SO pretty you almost don’t want to eat them!

white chocolate candy cane donuts

These white chocolate candy cane donuts use box cake mix and are fairly simple to make. They do require a donut pan. but pans are inexpensive last forever. (I’ve had mine for at least 10 years!)

If you like cake donuts (my favorite) then you will love the taste of these donuts.

In this donut recipe we used Krispy Kreme cake mix, but you can use any kind or flavor of cake mix in a baked donut recipe. One of my favorite cake donuts is the double chocolate (which could be made with chocolate cake mix and chocolate candy melts – yummm). But I digress.

Empty the cake mix into a mixing bowl and follow the directions on the box to prepare the donut batter.

I like to use a hand mixer when making cakes because if I use my stand mixer I tend to forget it is running and over mix the batter.

Mix the dry and wet ingredients according to the cake box directions. Don’t over mix. Did you know that if you over mix cake batter you get a more dense, chewy-er cake? Unless you like your donuts that way, make sure you follow the directions and don’t over mix. 

Spray your donut pan with nonstick spray.

Pour the batter into the donut pan, do not overfill. I pour my batter about 2/3 of the way full.

Bake the donuts for 12 minutes at 350 degrees.

While the donuts are baking crush your candy canes and begin to prepare your candy melts. Once the donuts are cooled, dip them in the melted chocolate and add the crushed candy canes to the top of the donuts.

   Ingredients

Directions

  • Mix together the cake mix, water, oil and eggs according to the cake mix box.
  • Spray the donut pan with cooking spray.
  • Pour the donut mix into a measuring cup for easy pouring. Pour the donut mix into the donut pan.
  • Bake for 12 minutes at 350 degrees.
  • Let cool.
  • Place the candy canes into a ziploc bag and crush with a rolling pan or the bottom of a glass cup.
  • Melt the white candy melts in microwave or with this Wilton Melting Pot.
  • Dip the top of the donuts in the white melts. Before the white melts harden, sprinkle the crushed candy canes on top.

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Teaching Textbooks: Curriculum Review

My husband discovered Teaching Textbooks at a homeschool convention many years ago. Frustrated with teaching math I saw it as a way out. Before Teaching Textbooks I had used Bob Jones, Abeka, Horizons, Miquon, Rod and Staff, Life of Fred (see Life of Fred review here), and Chalkdust, Saxon.

Some might call me a homeschool math expert since I’ve used most of the curriculum published for homeschoolers, but in reality I was desperate for something that worked for my family. Except for Saxon, which sent my kids into hysterics every single day, the other programs were all good and I liked them. But I had a problem. I was homeschooling four or five kids at the time and I needed to find a subject they could do on their own, Teaching Textbooks might be the answer to my math problem. 

Teaching textbooks math curriculum review

Before Teaching Textbooks, as my children progressed through the higher levels of math they would go through the book on their own and I would check their work. Inevitably they would come to a point (usually around lesson 75) where they didn’t understand the concept being taught and I would then spend two to three hours looking through all the previous lessons to help explain the current lesson they couldn’t understand. This was frustrating for my kids and for me!

When I heard about Teaching Textbooks it seemed too good to be true. The lessons were on CD’s and for some levels everything was automated including the grade book. I was finished teaching math FOREVER!!! Or so I thought.

Over the past four years I’ve used Math 3 Math 5Math 7, Algebra 1, Algebra 2, Geometry, and Pre-Calculus. If you are doing the math you’ll know that I’ve spent a lot of money on this curriculum.

Pros of Teaching Textbooks Math Curriculum 

Minimal Teacher Involvement: I think this is a positive because you can follow along with your child, but it is not necessary. In the four years I’ve been using this program I’ve probably spent less than 4 hours helping my kids with math. Since I was looking for a hands-off approach to math this definitely worked.

Teaching Textbook Lessons are Easy to Understand: The lessons are presented in an easy to understand way, especially at the younger levels. The teacher speaks slowly and the graphics are interesting but not overwhelming.

Favorite for Kids: My kids and many others love Teaching Textbooks. My younger boys ask to do math every day because they enjoy it. After years of crying through math lessons it is nice to have a program my kids actually like.

Computerized Grading: For all grades and math levels, Teaching Textbooks offers the entire program on CD rom and is totally automated, including automatic grading as soon as the child answers the question. The program tracks your child’s progress, lets you know which problems they missed, and even keeps a grade book. This makes record keeping for math very simple.

NonConsumable: There are no workbooks, so more than one child can use the curriculum. Even the computer programs can be reset so siblings can use them.

Excellent Customer Support: I haven’t needed customer support too often, but I’ve been impressed with their prompt responses and willingness to help.

They Sell Single Copies of the Cd’s: If you have a careless child who gets into a fight with his brother and in the process cracks a CD in half, you only need to replace one CD, not the whole set. I wouldn’t know this from experience, of course.

Cons of Teaching Textbooks Math Curriculum

Expensive: Teaching Textbooks Math 3 is $119 while Saxon Math 3 is around $60. The price goes up and in high school are close to $200, with Pre-Calculus selling for $185.00. Because Teaching Textbooks is such a popular program used sets are hard to find and the prices are still fairly high. (To their credit, the prices have stayed the same for over six years).

Fewer Review Problems: If you are familiar with Saxon (or Abeka to some extent) you know those programs incorporate a mind numbing amount of review problems. ? Teaching Textbooks offers significantly less in the way of review.

For a child who needs concepts reviewed thoroughly and drilled consistently this is problematic. This would be one of my biggest complaints about the program. All my kids who used Teaching Textbooks in the younger grades still struggle with their math facts. My children who used Saxon (which we learned to love in later years) have a more solid math foundation.

Minimal Teacher Involvement: This program was designed for kids to use on their own. If you want to be involved in your child’s math lessons this is probably not the best curriculum.

teaching textbooks math curriculum

Low Test Scores: This is my biggest problem with Teaching Textbooks. My daughter starting using this program since Algebra 1, after using several different curriculum from K-8. She scored high on all her Teaching Textbooks tests and has an A average for math over the past four years.

This year she took the ACT and the College Placement Test and scored poorly on the math sections of both tests. Now, part of the low score was because she did not prep for the test (my fault, she only had two weeks notice). But she aced the language sections of both tests, receiving a perfect on one of them. This tells me she knows how to take a standardized test.

The disconnect comes at this point. Why would a child who has made all A’s on the Teaching Textbook’s tests for four years score below average on standardized tests? I researched this a bit on the internet and it seems to be happening to more than a few kids who have used the high school level curriculum.

Part of the problem seems to be Teaching Textbook’s method of teaching, they aren’t teaching to the test, which to me is a good thing. But, when you have a child who needs good, above average test scores because they want to go to college, this is a bad thing.

After spending another 5 years teaching homeschool math (since writing this review) I’ve come to a another conclusion about why I believe Teaching Textbooks failed my daughter in regards to test prep and why I ultimately switched to Saxon math and used it for the last several years.

One of the benefits of homeschooling is that kids can work at their own pace. Teaching Textbooks is no different, it allows kids to go back and correct their answers and there isn’t much focus on math drills. During standardized tests, children are timed and must solve problems quickly, and math facts must be memorized in order to complete all the problems during the allotted time. For our family, Saxon had a better mix of review, timed tests, and general problems than any other curriculum we used.

I do not think Teaching Textbooks is a bad math curriculum, but because of the testing issue I did not use it for any of my other kids when they got to high school. Up to Pre-Algebra I think the lessons are adequate, but beginning in Algebra 1, this curriculum is probably not the best choice for our family. If you have your heart set on Teaching Textbooks, I would recommend a significant time investment in college test prep before taking any standardized test. For me, I would rather spend the money on a curriculum that builds that into the lessons. When you have a child taking 7 to 8 credit hours, working, and participating in extra-curricular activities, there isn’t much time left for frequent test prep.

So, while I loved Teaching Textbooks, I’m disappointed with the test scores. I’d love to hear your feedback on Teaching Textbooks at the high school grade levels. If you’ve used it, has your child scored well on the ACT/SAT/CPT or have their test scores contradicted the scores received on the Teaching Textbooks tests?

Editor’s note: Math is not my daughter’s strongest subject, but before using Teaching Textbooks she always scored above the 85 percentile in math on the standardized tests.

UPDATE: As you know, not every curriculum is perfect for every family.  While I explained above why I’m not 100% sold on this curriculum, my managing editor and friend, Linda, loves Teaching Textbooks and wrote a review here explaining her position.

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Best Budget Friendly Gifts for Gardeners

I’m a big believer in getting people gifts they will use and enjoy. If you have a gardener on your Christmas gift list we’ve compiled some of our favorite gardening gifts that we use and love.

All of these gifts are affordable (under $30) and most of them are available on Amazon with free Amazon prime shipping!

top 10 budget friendly gardening gifts

Circular Hoe Hand Garden Weeding Tool

I learned about this tool a few months ago. Drag at ground level to cut weeds at the roots. Bottom is sharp and sides are dull, so you can use it near important plants and only cut weeds.

circular garden hoe for gardeners

Newspaper Pot Maker for DIY Biodegradable Seedling Starter Pots

This is a great gift for your aspiring young gardener. Make pots for your seedlings with newspaper using this small tool. (Makes a great stocking stuffer!)

newspaper pot molder for seedlings

Seeding Square: Seed Spacer to Optimize and Organize Your Vegetable Garden

Do you have a small space gardener on your Christmas list? This seedling square is the perfect gift! The template gives the perfect amount of space to all seeds and seedlings when planting a vegetable garden – based off of Square Foot Gardening spacing techniques.

seedling square- gardening template for small space gardening

Stainless Steel Cape Cod Hand Weeder

This hand weeder has a stainless steel blade and neck. The classic design of cape cod weeder makes weeding by hand easy. 

Gardening Gloves 

I love these gloves because they are breathable (hello- Florida!) and they have touch screen tips so you can answer your phone or change your playlist while you are working without taking them off!

gardening gloves that are breathable and allow you to use your touch screen phone

Indoor / Outdoor Thermometer and Hygrometer

This thermometer is so pretty I might buy one for myself. I love that it shows the humidity too, although in Florida it will probably read 90% most days of the year!

indoor outdoor metal thermometer hygrometer

Foldable Garden Seat

I never understood why people used these until I started doing yard work! Good grief, my back hurts after a day in the yard. This seat includes two tool pouches so you can keep your gardening tools handy while you are working. Folds up small for storage!

foldable gardening seat so you don't have backaches after working in the yard

Gardeners Hand Scrub

This homemade gift idea is perfect for the gardener on your list. Give them this hand scrub which works well on dirt and will help their hands stay soft and clean.

The Organic Gardener’s Handbook of Natural Pest and Disease Control

This is a great reference book for any gardener. One year we had some over achieving bugs ruin our small backyard garden. I was hesitant to use pesticides because we had small children. This book will provide natural solutions for those pesky pests and keep a garden healthy and pesticide free.

natural gardening handbook

Spin Bin Composter 

This composter is a little more expensive than the other items on the gardener gift list, but if they need a composter that is easy on the back this is definitely a great gift! (If you want a less expensive option you can always give them a DIY compost bin for around $20)

spin bin composter easy on your back

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Best Black Friday Deals 2017

I’m excited to share with you some of the best Black Friday deals around the web this year. I enjoy shopping from the comfort of my own home in my pajamas instead of fighting the crowds (and the weather).

Keep checking back as I’m updating the page as I shop!

Essential Oil Diffuser Necklaces

If you like to use essential oils, check out these great deals on diffuser jewelry on Amazon.

Fashion diffuser necklace only $9.99 (reg. $14.99)

Leather diffuser wrap bracelet $10 (reg $19)

Amazon Echo Dot 

We love our Dot- now is the time to get one if you don’t have one yet!

amazon echo dot

Amazon Fire Stick   $24.99 (reg $39.99)

We ditched cable a while back and are using the Amazon Fire Stick to watch some of our favorite shows.

Amazon fire stick sale

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Why I Spend $9 a Month on Amazon Prime

If you’ve never taken the plunge and tried Amazon Prime the holidays are the BEST time to sign up for a free trial. When you sign up forAmazon Prime you get a free 30 day trial. After the 30 day trial you can cancel your membership and you won’t be charged. 

However, being a frugal shopper, I like to save money and it rubs me the wrong way to spend money on things we don’t really need.

When Amazon Prime was first introduced I was skeptical.

I’m going to pay how much per year for what? 

My brother, who is always first to find out about these kinds of things signed up right away. After a year of watching him order off Amazon and never pay for shipping, while I waited for free shipping deals, trying to get my order value up to get free shipping, or missing out on great deals (for things I needed) while he was able to order them and have it delivered to his house in two days I decided to try it.

I signed up for a Amazon Prime free trial and I was hooked. After I did the math I realized the $99 fee was only $9 a month, less than two trips to Starbucks. Could I justify the $9 a month? Did the savings add up?

It did, and here’s how.

I absolutely love Amazon Prime. Not only do I receive free shipping on almost every item I purchase at Amazon, I also have free music, movies, and Kindle books! It's totally worth the membership price.

Amazon Prime is FREE for 30 days.

Yes, this is a marketing tactic from Amazon, however you can use Amazon Prime for 30 days then cancel and be charged nothing at all, ever. So for the next 30 days you can enjoy all the Amazon Prime Day deals, free shipping, holiday playlists, free books on Kindle and movies for free.

You must cancel your membership at the 30 day mark if you try it and decide it isn’t for you.

This is how I started my membership and realized about 15 days in that I loved Prime and would be keeping my $99 yearly membership.

You can sign up for your trial membership here

Amazon Prime gives you Free Shipping on thousands of items every day.

I have six kids at home. It isn’t easy to load them up and take them on errands with me. Many of the items I purchase are available on Amazon for a competitive price.

If I can shop on Amazon instead of loading up the kids and taking two hours out of our day to shop it is worth it just for that.

Also, if something is only available online, I usually purchase it from Amazon because I know I get free shipping and the price is better (which it usually is).

I do most my Christmas shopping on Amazon.

For the last fifteen years we’ve lived away from our family and have not spent Christmas with them. This means mailing gifts every single year. With Amazon Prime I ALWAYS have free shipping, never have to wait in line at the post office (seriously that’s a nightmare at Christmas) and the gifts always arrived in two days!

Amazon carries so many products it is almost impossible not to find a gift for a loved one on the site.

Amazon Prime gives you FREE Kindle books through the lending library.

I love to read, and we love to go to the library. Sometimes the books I want to read are not available at my library and I’ve waited, weeks and months for books to come in. When you have Amazon Prime you are able to “borrow” books for 30 days to read on your Kindle.

This is an awesome way to read without spending money, worrying about library fines, or lost library books. They have over 500,000 titles available in the lending library so there’s probably a few books available you have on your list.

Amazon Prime gives you unlimited photo storage.

This is a new feature for Amazon Prime and probably the one I’m most excited about after free shipping. Since I pay $30 a year to a photo storage company and another $10 a month to Dropbox to store photos this feature pays for itself every year.

Cloud Drive offers secure online storage, automatic photo backup, and lets you access your photos anywhere: on your phone, computer, tablet, or any Fire device.

After losing 40,000 and three years with of photos this summer when my son dropped my computer (some where backed up, some weren’t). I’ve been uploading photos to the cloud. I don’t want to lose any more photos and when you take as many as I do you need unlimited photo storage!

Amazon Prime gives you thousands of free videos and television shows.

I don’t use this one often because I’m not much of a tv/ movie watcher, but it’s definitely a great savings.

You can instantly stream Prime Instant Video titles from your computer’s web browser, Fire phone, Fire TV, Fire Tablets, iOS devices, and hundreds of other Internet-connected TVs, Blu-ray players, set-top-boxes, and gaming consoles.

They have lots of kid’s shows available for free including Thomas, Veggie Tales, Angelina Ballerina, as well as lots of holiday movies.

Amazon Prime gives you free streaming music.

We’ve been paying $9 a month for Spotify for the past year. Now Amazon Prime gives you free streaming music. They have over a million titles including holiday music and playlists (yay! Love me some Christmas music!)

This is a new benefit for Prime members that I’m excited to try out. I’d love to cancel my Spotify account and save!

Amazon Prime gives you early access to Lightening Deals.

I love Lightning Deals around Christmas time and on Prime Day because the prices are really amazing. A Prime membership gives you access to these deals 30 minutes early, so if it is something you really want to buy it will be available early and you’ll be able to get it before it sells out.

Six Month Free Trial for Students!

If you have a child with a .edu email address they are eligible for a free six month Amazon Prime Student membership. The benefits are the same for a student membership but if you decide to continue with the program it is only $50 for the year instead of $99.

Sign up for the student membership here

For my family Amazon Prime adds up!

Amazon Prime yearly membership $139 or $10.99 a month.

Things I don’t need because I have an Amazon Prime membership:

  • Dropbox $10 a month
  • Spotify $10 a month
  • Netflix $8 a month
  • Photo hosting $30 a year

Total savings each year: $366 

If you don’t have an Amazon Prime membership this is the BEST time of year to start your free trial! If you don’t love it, cancel before your 30 days are up and you pay nothing.

I think it is worth the $9 a month that a membership costs because I use Prime almost weekly. I’ve purchased fixtures, fans, lightbulb, paint, even wallpaper scrapers from Amazon in the past year and I’ve never had to worry about waiting for an item to arrive or paying for shipping!

Do you have Amazon Prime? Do you think it is worth $99 a year? 

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Creamy Lemon Popsicles

By contributing writer Tessa

How about a frozen treat that is made with all wholesome ingredients and YOU get to control the sugar?! With loads of bright lemon flavor, some protein, and even tasteless supplements (like probiotics and vitamin D3) thrown in for good measure, these Creamy Lemon Popsicles are a frozen treat I am happy to feed my kids.

With bright lemon flavor, some protein, and even probiotics and vitamin D3, these Creamy Lemon Popsicles are a frozen treat I am happy to feed my kids.

Since summers are for frozen treats, I consider it my job to make all sorts of popsicles for my kiddos while still not loading them up with pounds of sugar and food dyes. These refreshing lemon popsicles are a real treat!

I have used the blender for quick mixing, but you can whisk all ingredients if you do not have a blender. I have also used popsicle molds to freeze the mixture, but it can be put into an ice cream maker, or frozen as is and thawed to scoop.

With bright lemon flavor, some protein, and even probiotics and vitamin D3, these Creamy Lemon Popsicles are a frozen treat I am happy to feed my kids.

Creamy Lemon Popsicles
Serves: 6
 
Ingredients
  • 1½ cups vanilla whole milk yogurt (could use plain or lemon too)
  • ½ cup heavy whipping cream or full fat coconut milk
  • 2 whole lemons, zested and then juiced for about ¼ cup lemon juice
  • Raw honey or stevia to taste (will vary based upon sweetness of yogurt used)
Instructions
  1. Place all ingredients in a blender and mix until smooth.
  2. Pour into popsicle molds (or an ice cream maker).
  3. Allow to freeze for several hours or follow manufacturer's ice cream maker instructions.

 

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