Thursday, May 28, 2015

When Kids Demean Your Struggling Learner

When Kids Demean Your Struggling Learner

There is probably nothing more difficult for a mother than seeing her child hurting, particularly when he is hurting because of something he cannot help.  And especially when the hurt has been caused by someone else.

Kids can be pretty tough on each other sometimes, and struggling learners are often an easy target.  As moms, we see and understand our children's learning struggles better than anyone.  We see how diligently they work, how hard they try, and any time their efforts or their progress is belittled or berated it is both devastating and infuriating.

Though every circumstance and every child is unique, there are some basic principles to keep in mind when you find that another child is demeaning your struggling learner:

Don't overreact

Seeing our child hurt brings out the "mama bear" in each of us, but it's important to realize that going ballistic on another kid for saying something mean is rarely appropriate or effective.  Doing so on the child's parents is usually even worse, though that's a subject I'll deal with more in a moment.  Unkind words can be very hurtful and in no way would I ever wish to minimize their effect, but learning not to be controlled by our emotions in dealing with them is very important to real conflict resolution.

So before you act, give yourself some time to calm down.  Certainly there may be situations in which the issue must be addressed immediately, but reacting in anger is rarely, if ever a good idea.  Give the situation some thought and prayer before acting, so you can be sure you're handling things in a reasonable and sensible manner.

Extend grace if at all possible

We have to remember that kids, even those we consider the mean ones, are just kids.  It's the nature of children to say and do foolish, uninformed things.  Sometimes, mamas, we are too sensitive and too quick to jump in and try to solve problems children could very possibly work out among themselves if only we would allow them the time and space to do so.

Now I don't mean to condone bad behavior on the part of any child, but I also realize my own kids are not sinless in this area.  Extending grace is always a good idea.  There's a constant power struggle that goes on between kids, (between adults, too!) and sometimes children belittle one another because they think it helps hide their own shortcomings.  That doesn't make it right, of course, but it might do us all good to remember that some of the most unkind children, (and adults,) are also some of the most emotionally insecure.

Don't immediately run to the offender's parents

You usually do nothing but look foolish when you take it upon yourself to "straighten out" another mom or dad for the actions of their children.  First of all, in many cases parents are just as mortified by the words of their children as you are, yet approaching them in an attacking, accusing manner will put even the most reasonable of parents on the defensive.

When bullying of this kind has become a recurrent problem, however, or the things being said are particularly cruel, going to the offender's parents may be necessary.  The attitude of your approach is likely to make all the difference, so always address the issue calmly and with respect, carefully considering how you would wish to be addressed if the tables were turned and it was your child saying the unkind things.

Don't share the offense with other moms and dads, either!

Some parents would never dream of taking their complaints about a child to his mom or dad, but they have no qualms whatsoever about taking them to every other mom and dad they know, as if in an effort to form some sort of alliance against the offender and his family.

Sorry, but that's wrong, wrong, WRONG!

I wish I could say I've never seen it happen, but it is possible to completely isolate a child and his/her parents by spreading around stories of a kid's offenses.  Doing so is entirely unfair, especially if the parents have never been told of the situation or were only told in a manner of disrespect and anger.  There are ways to handle hurtful comments from other children, but spreading slander, (and, yes, that's what it often is--slander,) is not the right way to do it.    

I realize there could be a situation in which parents are respectfully informed of unkind remarks and yet the demeaning continues.  In that case a teacher, group leader, or other adult directly involved with both children might need to be made aware of the problem for the sake of the struggling learner, so they can be on the lookout for potential abuse.  But certainly sharing your complaints with every mom in the homeschool co-op or in your child's Sunday school class is not acceptable and it's not necessary.   

Talk to your child

I saved this one for last, but it's really first in importance.  Our children need to know that they are fearfully and wonderfully made, (Ps 139:14). There are no mistakes in their makeup or in their function as human beings, and no matter their struggles with language or math or reading comprehension, they are just as wonderful and valuable and precious in the sight of God as their friends and family members who never battle learning difficulties.  

Kids need to know that, no matter what anyone says to them, they are not "dumb" just because they struggle to read or they can't memorize math facts or they are below grade-level in their learning.  They need to know that "smart kids" aren't somehow better just because learning comes easy to them. They need to understand that every human being has strengths and weaknesses, and every child has to grow and learn at their own pace in their own way.

Helping children to recognize their worth in the eyes of God is essential, I believe, to self-acceptance and self-confidence.  Kids can handle a lot if they really realize their worth, regardless what others say.

If we moms realize it, too, it's amazing how much better WE can handle another child demeaning our struggling learner.


Have you ever had to deal with another child belittling your struggling learner?  What did you find to be the best way to handle the situation?

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Thursday, May 21, 2015

My 4 Favorite Books About Homeschooling (Plus Some Honorable Mentions)

My 4 Favorite Books About Homeschooling

The moment I began considering homeschooling, I immediately started reading everything I could get my hands on on the subject.  I poured over homeschooling websites and blogs and read every single homeschooling book available at our local library.

I still love reading about homeschooling, though most of the info I'm looking for now I can find online or through social media.  But I've been asked before what books helped me most when I began homeschooling and which ones I recommend first to those who may be considering educating their children at home.  While I suggest people do as I did and read everything they can get their hands on, these four books are without question my favorites:

The Ultimate Guide to Homeschooling by Debra Bell

This 500+ page book by Debra Bell was a treasure to me when I began researching homeschooling.  I found it at our local library, read it nearly cover-to-cover, and then bought it from Amazon so I could have a copy of my own.  And I still refer to it from time to time!

This book covers everything, from why you should consider homeschooling to how to choose curriculum to organizing and planning for your homeschool.  It even includes a large section on preventing burnout, and another dealing specifically with homeschooling teens.  It's really a great reference tool for anyone interested in homeschooling or trying to find ways to improve their current homeschool.

It was really the first book I found that answered my most specific questions about homeschooling.  Any time people ask, this will likely be the very first book I recommend.  

Educating the Whole-Hearted Child by Clay Clarkson with Sally Clarkson

This book by Clay and Sally Clarkson is written specifically for Christian homeschoolers and offers a wealth of advice and encouragement when it comes to discipling and nurturing children in the Christian faith, as well as giving them the best education possible.  I love its emphasis on character building and value training, but there are also so many wonderful tips for boosting creativity, developing a love of learning in your children, and making your home an environment that encourages learning.  The book has a very Charlotte Mason flavor to it, which is probably part of the reason I like it so much.

Though Educating the Whole-Hearted Child is remarkably different from the first book I mentioned, it includes a lot of the same valuable information, presented in a very different way.  There are plenty of time management tips, ideas for organization, and advice for creating a working homeschooling routine.  There are some great resources in the back as well.  I love the book lists with great ideas for read alouds or age-appropriate personal reading, and the forms section, filled with examples of calendars and planners, task lists, and family chore charts.

A Charlotte Mason Companion by Karen Andreola

I'm not strictly a Charlotte Mason homeschooler, but I definitely lean CM, and this book by Karen Andreola answered so many questions about the whys and hows of educating in that style.  In the beginning I was intrigued by the gentle approach of a CM education, especially where my dyslexic/LPD child was concerned, but I had no idea how to implement it in my day-to-day school routine.  This book laid it all out for me very clearly.  Even someone who feels more drawn to a traditional or classical approach to homeschooling might benefit from a perusal of this book and the ideas it offers.

Home Sweet Homeschool by Sue Maakestad

This was actually one of the very first books I read on homeschooling and to this day it remains one of my favorites.  I brought it home from my local library expecting to find lots of information about things like curricula and scheduling and record-keeping.

What I found was something very different, and what's ironic is that, while this book wasn't what I was looking for, it was exactly what I needed at the time.  

Sue Maakestad
includes some very helpful advice about things like scheduling and managing family and housework while homeschooling, but her book is also a collection of "heart-gushings" about homeschooling.  She talks about both the good and the bad, about her own weakness and about God's sufficient grace for each day.  Struggling as I was early on with the decision to homeschool, having relented to do it, but not at all with a willing heart, I found myself weeping my way through this book.  

For me, it was a Godsend.  For a person who is discouraged in their homeschooling, or who feels inadequate and unequipped for the job, this is the book for you.  And if you don't want to homeschool, EVER, this may be just the book for you, too.  :)


And now a few of my honorable mentions.  While these books don't necessarily qualify as my absolute favorites about homeschooling, they were nonetheless influential to me and I highly recommend them:

Dumbing Us Down by John Taylor Gatto

This isn't a homeschooling book, per se, but it was very eye-opening for me and helped me let go of a lot of the public school thinking that caused so many hang-ups for me in my early homeschooling experience.  It's not written from a Christian perspective at all, (just a word of warning there,) but it exposes so many of the completely nonsensical practices we accept as a part of the educational process in traditional schools, whether those practices are really logical and effective or not, and how they do more to discourage learning and stunt creativity than they do to inspire it.

And for the skeptic thinking John Taylor Gatto must be some wacky, nut-fringe writer with no real experience in education, he was New York State Teacher of the Year once, New York City Teacher of the Year three times, and was a world-renown speaker on the issue of education reform.

Family Driven Faith by Voddie Baucham Jr.

Again, I'm not sure that this exactly qualifies as a book about homeschooling, and yet it is in that it urges Christian parents to take the lead in discipling their children, including taking responsibility for their education.  Voddie Baucham addresses homeschooling in some depth and gives some practical advice toward doing so successfully.  Some of his practical suggestions for teaching our kids those subjects we find difficult to handle ourselves, (like math!) have actually been very helpful to me.

The Well-Trained Mind by Susan Wise Bauer

I would not classify myself as a classical homeschooler at all.  In fact, I take issue with some aspects of the classical approach, and yet this book by Susan Wise Bauer was very helpful to me when I was in search of basic information about what I should be teaching my children and when, particularly when I was ready to move away from a boxed curriculum and to start putting together my own from various sources.  The "hows" of the classical process I didn't find very useful, partly because I'm mom to a child with a learning disability for whom things like rote memorization don't often work, and because I'm not convinced a rigorous education is always necessarily a good education.

But there were book and resource lists I found very helpful, and plenty of common sense advice I could apply to my homeschool, no matter the difference in my methods and theirs.


Did I leave out your favorite book?  What books about homeschooling would you recommend to new or veteran homeschoolers?

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Thursday, May 14, 2015

Easy Cheesy Slow-Cooker Cauliflower Soup

Easy Cheesy Slow-Cooker Cauliflower Soup

Easy cooking is not my strong point.  No, somehow I find a way to complicate even the simplest recipes, which usually means I am in the kitchen much longer than I would like to be.

But it doesn't help that we avoid processed foods like the plague, meaning I cook mostly from scratch.  And, honestly, no matter how many of them I try, we just don't like a lot of the quick-and-easy foods that appeal to other families.  Maybe that makes us food snobs, but it is what it is and unless we decide to burn off all our taste buds, it's not likely to change.

So when I come across an "easy" recipe, I'm immediately suspicious:  Either it's chock-full of processed junk or it's bland and tasteless.

But not so where this recipe is concerned!  This soup is delicious, and it's probably the easiest soup recipe I have ever come across.  My kids love it, so I often throw it together first thing in the morning and it's usually done by lunchtime with very little effort on my part.  They think it tastes like a cheesy potato soup, but it doesn't have all the starch and doesn't require all the potato chopping.  (Though this isn't a low-cal recipe.  Cheese and half-and-half creaminess ABOUNDS in this soup!)

It is SO simple:

Slice open a couple bags of frozen cauliflower and dump them in your slow cooker.

Add frozen carrots...

...A frozen pepper and onion blend...

...And a frozen mirepoix Cajun vegetable mix.

Then pour in 6 cups of chicken broth, some Worcestershire sauce, salt, and pepper.

Cook on low for 5 hours, or until the vegetables are tender.

Now here is the most complicated part of this recipe:  Process the soup in SMALL batches in a blender.  But be careful!  The hot liquid and veggies will explode out the top of your blender if you try to blend too much at once.  (Don't ask me how I know this!!)  You can skip this step completely if you don't mind larger chunks of vegetables in your soup, or you can use a potato masher to coarsely chop the veggies, so long as they're very soft.

You can process as much or as little as you like to get the consistency you prefer.  I like a chunkier soup, so I don't puree it.

Return the processed soup to the slow cooker and stir in shredded cheese and half-and-half.  (LOTS of shredded cheese, by the way.  Four cups of it, in fact.)

Cook for another 30 minutes on high and your soup is done!  We like to dress it up with chopped bacon, green onions, and more shredded cheese, just like we would potato soup.

And it is WONDERFUL.  

With some crusty bread, this stuff is amazing.  And easy-peasy, too!  

Delicious AND easy.  What could be better?  

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Thursday, May 7, 2015

What I Never Pictured Motherhood to Be

What I Never Pictured Motherhood to Be

Think back for just a moment, moms, back to the days before you had children.

Remember everything you envisioned motherhood to be?  You probably had a lovely little collection of mental snapshots all filed away in anticipation of the day you had children of your own.

If you were anything like me, your virtual photo album of motherhood probably contained photos like the following:

  • Gently rocking a peacefully sleeping baby.
  • Cuddling on the sofa with a brood of sweet and well-behaved, (and very, very clean,) children.
  • Calmly reading stacks of colorful story books every evening before bed.
  • Walking hand-in-hand through lush forests, seizing upon every possible learning opportunity  as we discuss various points of nature.
  • Planting kisses on scraped knees.
  • Imparting great spiritual wisdom in moments of distress and decision.
  • A spotless, beautifully decorated home.
  • A mom who is patient, loving, and ever-prayerful for her children.

And if you're anything like me, your photo album likely did not contain any photographs like these:

  • Pacing with a crying baby who refuses to sleep.  Night after night after night....
  • Finding your beautiful collection of children's books shredded and partially eaten by your toddler.
  • Crayon sketches everywhere but on paper.
  • Chocolate milk handprints all over a freshly mopped floor.
  • Returning from a trip to the park in tears because a journey into nature that took 2 hours to prepare for ended exactly 14 minutes later with one child falling headlong in the mud and another nearly wandering into traffic in the chaos of the cleanup, all while the baby lay screaming bloody murder in his stroller the entire time. 
  • Approximately 3,000,000 Legos in my house.  Everywhere.
  • Spending HOURS in immediate care center waiting rooms.
  • Plunging toilets.  Again.  And Again.  And again.  And again...
  • Suddenly realizing your 6 year old is on his third day in those Superman pajamas.  And not really caring much.
  • Helping with 5th grade word problems that fry your brain.
  • Ugly potty training experiences.
  • The joke-telling stage.
  • Laundry.
  • Laundry.
  • LAUNDRY!  So much of it you find yourself hearkening back to the good ol' Middle Ages where people wore the same clothes for weeks without washing them!  (Kind of like those Superman pajamas...)
  • Family heirlooms broken by flying action figures.
  • Two-hour searches for missing favorite toys.
  • DREADING the bedtime routine and wishing desperately they would all just collapse in place so you could carry them to bed and be done with it.
  • Hearing your name called 2000 times per day.  AT. LEAST.

I had no idea what I was getting myself into when I became a mother.  I had no clue how hard it would be or how tired I would feel at the end of every day.

But I also had no idea how blessed I would feel.  I had no clue it was even possible to love a little person so much, or to feel such joy in their every achievement.

I never knew hugs could be so warm and wonderful, or that, at day's end, something so simple as, "You're the bestest Mommy," could sound like music to ears weary of cries and complaints and requests.

I never knew a person could feel the kind of happiness I feel when I see my child delighted.  I never knew that being a mom could make me so complete.

There were a lot of things about motherhood I could never have anticipated or prepared for.  But it has been a beautiful journey.

More lovely than I ever could have pictured. 


Happy Mother's Day!

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Thursday, April 30, 2015

The Gender Identity Crisis I Never Knew I Had

The Gender Identity Crisis I Never Knew I Had

I wanted to be a boy.  I mean, I really wanted to be a boy.  In fact, though I was told again and again that God didn't make mistakes, I was pretty sure He had messed up by making me a girl.

I didn't like dolls.  I wasn't into princesses.  I hated wearing dresses and having my hair curled.

I wore a ball cap everywhere I went.  (Much to my mother's chagrin.)  I tried to outrun, out-jump, and out-fight the boys as often as I could.

I loved the outdoors and climbing trees and playing war games and building Hot Wheel tracks in the dirt.  I picked up frogs and I baited my own hook and I swung a baseball bat pretty well for a skinny girl.

I still have written evidence of my "when I grow up" ambitions and I didn't want to be a mother or a housewife or a teacher.  I wanted to be a baseball player or a cowboy.  For several years running.

Even when I played with other girls I pretended I was a boy.  Because boys were more interesting and did more exciting things, of course.

Boys grew up to be men, after all, and it was men who waged wars and won them.  It was men who explored lands and seas and ideas and made amazing discoveries through them all.

Men were brave and strong and smart.

And I knew I could be all three.

One year right before Easter I got hit in the face with a softball and had to wear my frilly purple Easter dress with an enormous purple eye.  My mom was devastated.  I was delighted.

A neighbor of my grandparents once mistook me for a boy, and while my poor mother was again mortified, I took pride in the mistake.  I knew it wasn't my clothes or my hair that had fooled him; mom wouldn't let me dress like a boy, (though she begrudgingly permitted the cap,) and my white-blonde hair was long enough to look girly.  But that only meant the neighbor had been duped solely by my keen ability to keep up with the boys, all my boy cousins, who were many on that side of the family.  It was something to be proud of for sure.

I was just as good as the boys.  And I was always out to prove it.

The fact I was surrounded by them only strengthened that desire.  I had an older brother, but no sisters.  All my cousins that I saw with any regularity were boys.  All of them.  And the neighborhood kids?  Boys, of course.  I was at least 8 or 9 before the first girl near my age moved in.

I wanted to be a boy.  And if anybody had given me a choice, that's exactly what I would have become.

Thank God I was never given that option.

The Gender Identity Crisis I Never Knew I Had

I've read articles lately -- multiple ones, in fact-- about parents allowing their children, some of them as young as five or six years old, to "transition" into the gender they prefer, the one they "identify with" most.  More and more "professionals" are encouraging it and parents who allow the change are viewed as free-thinking, uninhibiting, in-tune with their child's needs.

Children who make the change are called courageous and inspirational.  They are "brave" for becoming what they really are, for bucking the bonds of the gender they were "assigned" at birth.

I don't question the love these parents have for their children.  I truly believe they want more than anything to see their children healthy and happy. 

And yet all I can think about is the little girl I knew myself once.  The one who wanted to be a boy.  The one who thought she would be happier if God had made her differently.

Because I grew out of that desire with time, I'm sure there are "experts" who would see some contrast in my circumstances, some reason why my situation was different from theirs, though I'm curious how any of them would go about proving it.  I see remarkable similarities in the details of their stories and mine, but with vastly different parental response.  My mom and dad were always supportive of my individualism, but they were also careful to channel my energies and ideas and desires in a safe and healthy direction.  At 5 years old I didn't get to choose what I ate for supper, let alone what gender I wanted to be!  That was already decided, after all.

Like it or lump it, I was a girl.  Maybe I wasn't always happy about it, but that's the way it was, and there was no other choice but to accept it and learn to embrace it.

Because, though I didn't fully see it at 5 and 6 and 7 years old, being a girl was good.  Really good.  Girls are strong and smart and brave, too, just like the boys, though often revealing it in different, but equally valuable ways.  What I was was wonderful, even if it wasn't what I wanted to be.  And allowing me to transition into anything else, as if there was something inherently wrong with what I was, would have been destructive and demeaning to me as an individual.  I don't know at what point the negative effects would have shown themselves, but they would have appeared, and I can't imagine the long-term damage that would have done.

There is something cruelly ironic in the philosophy that says, "Be who you really are!" by then encouraging you to be what you are not.  

The Gender Identity Crisis I Never Knew I Had

Maybe it's an over-simplification of a much more complicated issue, but this controversy always takes me back to a classroom discussion in 8th grade English.  We were talking about dreams and goals and our teacher told us the difficulty she was often placed in when male students would come to her and share their desire to play professional football.  Not only were they usually those boys most awkward and unathletic, but also the smallest in size and stature.  Most of them would never even make junior varsity, let alone play on a college or pro team, and while it might seem like love to tell these boys to "pursue their dreams and they could be anything they wanted to be", it just wasn't true.  It sounded great and maybe even felt right at the time, but it was. not. true.  And greater love was displayed in honest celebration of the talents and gifts and abilities those young men did have, than in encouraging them in the ones they did not. 

Unfortunately, we're usually far more interested in people's happiness than in their reality.  In all our well-intentioned efforts to help people find satisfaction and fulfillment in life, we actually teach them discontent, in lieu of the fact contentment is probably the best-kept secret to true happiness.  Instead, we create a society that can't deal with disappointment, that doesn't know how to cope when dreams don't come true and gratification isn't immediate on every level.

It's not about crushing a child's spirit or inhibiting self-expression.  It's about honesty.  And reality.  And acceptance of who and what I am and seeing the beauty that lies in my potential.

I didn't face a gender identity crisis.  That wasn't what it was at all.  And thank heavens my tender five-year old heart wasn't plastered with some Gender Identity Disorder label to complicate and confuse my future from that point on.

Instead, I was taught to love what God had really made me to be.  And I did.  And I do.

And I couldn't be happier.  

(And I can still swing a baseball bat pretty good for a skinny girl.  Just in case you were wondering...) ;)

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Thursday, April 23, 2015

My 12 Favorite Products from Trader Joe's

If there is no Trader Joe's where you live, then let me begin with a sincere apology, not only because this post is totally irrelevant to you, but because my heart BLEEDS for you!

I LOVE Trader Joe's and I wish everyone could shop there.

Now I will confess part of it is nostalgia:  TJ's reminds me a lot of a small town grocery store I visited often with my mom when I was a kid.  Actually, Trader Joe's' small size is one of the things  I like best about it.  Sometimes I'm glad for the variety and selection available at the super-sized supermarkets, but who wants to walk four miles just to pick up a few odds and ends at the grocery store?  And, honestly, I don't always need so much selection.  Sometimes all I want is a bag of frozen broccoli and I don't want to sift through 52 different frozen vegetable blends to find it!

But the quality of the products I buy at Trader Joe's is the real reason I'm such a fan.  All TJ's products are free of the junk you find in a lot of supermarket fare, like artificial flavors and colors, preservatives, and GMOs.

So while the 25-mile distance means I don't usually get to visit Trader Joe's more often than once a month, there are certain items I'm looking to buy virtually every time I go.  Believe me, I could make my list of favorites eternally long, because I love the fresh flowers and the produce and the cheeses and everything else, but I'm limiting myself here to my family's absolute favorite items from TJ's.  And let me add that I try to buy something new nearly every time we go, so my favorites list just keeps growing!

But here are our family favs:

1.  Speculoos Cookie Butter

If you've never had it, then OH MY.  I'm seeing imitations pop up all over the place, but, believe me, Trader Joe's' is the best.  The original is fabulous stuff, kind of like a gingerbread/sugar cookie in spreadable form, but there are other varieties as well.  Our family has to keep a supply of ALL of them at all times.  My husband's favorite is the basic cookie butter, but my oldest daughter and I prefer the cocoa swirl.  Little Man adores the cookies and cream version.  Whichever variety you prefer, it's great on bread or crackers or a mildly sweet cookie, and it is AMAZING on fresh fruit.  We especially love it with bananas and strawberries and apple slices.

And just so you know, the internet is chock-full of recipes for cookie butter cookies, brownies, smoothies, and even ice cream.  I want to try them ALL.

2.  Pizza Dough

Every time I visit TJ's I stock up on packages of this refrigerated dough.  It's great for pizza, (obviously,) but I actually use it most often for dinner rolls or breadsticks.  It makes for a perfect quick bread, and it's hard to beat the $1.29 price tag.  The fact it is fresh dough means it has to be used quickly, usually within a day or two, but I've found it freezes very well, so I usually buy at least 6 or 8 packages at a time!

3.  Tamales

This is one of my more recent discoveries at Trader Joe's.  In fact, an employee told me TJ's used to carry these wonders only during the Christmas season, but they became so popular they're now carrying them year-round.  At $6.99/6, they're really a good deal, and perfect for nights when you're in need of a quick meal.  Served with fresh salsa or pico and cheese, they are fabulous.

And my Texas-raised husband insists these tamales are as good as the homemade ones his family used to buy from a local Latino church when they ran fundraisers.

4.  Naan Bread

It was at Trader Joe's that I first discovered this Indian flatbread, and though I've tried other versions from other places, none have impressed me so much as TJ's'.  Naan is delicious plain as an accompaniment to soups and stews, but my kids love it brushed with olive oil and fresh minced garlic, then topped with marinara sauce and cheese for quick and easy pizzas.

5.  Speculoos Cookie Butter Chocolate Bars

Imagine all that cookie butter goodness I mentioned above blanketed in decadent dark chocolate.  Oh. My. Goodness... 

6.  Tea Tree Oil

Hand down, this is one of my absolute favorite products from Trader Joe's.  The smell of tea tree oil, (also known as melaleuca,) is a little strong for some, but I love it and use it often as an antiseptic, in homemade cleaning supplies, and in an essential oils diffuser.  I've tried multiple brands of tea tree oil, (including some from the pricey essential oils companies,) but Trader Joe's' has a distinctive smell I consider the best.  And at $6.99 a bottle, it's very, very reasonably priced and lasts me a long time.

7.  Handmade Tortillas

As I found out years ago on my first visit to Texas, once you've had homemade tortillas, you can never look at those paper-thin sheets of flour and water most people know as "tortillas" the same way again.  These from Trader Joe's say "handmade" and I have to believe it!  The only thing that could make these better is if you could get them straight from the skillet, but they're still awfully good heated up in the oven or microwave.

8.  Green Tea Mints

I have to admit, the first time I tried these, I found the flavor combination a little...strange.  Sweet tea and mint never mixed in my house, but it is actually very, very good!  And these mints freshen your breath without kicking you in the teeth and setting your tongue on fire.  The most effective mints generally taste the worst as far as I'm concerned, but these taste great and freshen breath, too.  Perfect!

And the empty box makes a great container for safety pins!  (Had to add that!)

9.  Cookies

My kids will not allow me to leave Trader Joe's without at least one tub of cookies.  Our personal favorite is the oatmeal chocolate chip, but I have yet to try a cookie there I didn't like.

10.  Water crackers

Cheese and crackers is one of my favorite snacks.  And I'm a little persnickety about my crackers.  Water crackers are my favorite because they're very thin and light and won't overpower the flavor of a good cheese, but a single box will often run you over $4!  Trader Joe's sells the same thing for a mere $1.39 a box.

11.  Tea Tree Tingle Shampoo

I rarely use the same shampoo two days in a row, but this one is always part of the rotation!  It's light and deep cleansing, and it really does "tingle" on your scalp.  If you're one of those people who doesn't like the smell of tea tree oil, don't worry -- it's the peppermint and eucalyptus you smell most in this shampoo, while still being able to take advantage of the cleansing properties of tea tree oil.

12.  Marinara

I usually buy at least two jars of this every time I go to Trader Joe's.  We use it on pasta, of course, but just as often as a dip for bread and in place of pizza sauce on homemade pizza.  There are other sauce varieties including alfredo, but these are the cheapest and the ones I buy and use most frequently.  They're so good; real go-to ingredients I like to have in my cupboard.


So are you a fan of Trader Joe's?  If you have a favorite product from there that I haven't listed here, please share!  I hate to think what I might be missing out on...

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