{Meal} Planning for a blizzard!

26 Jan
It's going to be a good one!

It’s going to be a good one!

We live in what I consider to be one of the most beautiful places in the United States. Clearly, I’m biased, but we love it here and we love it for the experience of every season. In the winter it snows, in the summer we have the ocean, in the spring we have rebirth and in the fall we have the splendor of autumn. For those who love nature and scenery, we can’t be beat.

That said, it definitely snows here and sometimes it snows a whole lot. In 1978, when I was a child, we had the Blizzard of ’78 (well named, right?) In 2013 we had Blizzard Nemo, my first really intense snowstorm with a family of my own and one of my kids’ all-time favorite memories so far. Tonight we are expecting a similar type of storm which should last through early Wednesday morning.
It’s very exciting stuff. I love the hype of a good storm and I love seeing all of the various predictions coming in, although I must say this time around they all pretty much match up to each other. They all say it’s going to snow a ton, two to three feet.

Today, I spent most of the day running around getting last minute supplies. I had picked up batteries and water yesterday and some food earlier in the weekend, but that food shopping was done before we’d gotten the newest data for the weather, showing just how bad the storm was going to be.

Last time we were out of power for several days. That meant no heat, but we did have hot water and the ability to use the top of our stove. Thankfully when it’s a blizzard (versus a summer or fall hurricane) it’s cold enough outside you can keep a lot of things out in the snow, so you don’t lose a lot of your perishables.

Knowing that, and having one of my strongest memories from that NEMO week being the moment I woke up in the middle of the night to the sound of my oldest daughter’s teeth chattering in her sleep (we all slept in the living room), here’s some of the planning I’ve done today, including some meal planning and prep.

Supplies:

Batteries in sizes C and D for flashlights and for the radio (we have several smaller lights that take AA and AAA batteries, and we’re well stocked in those two sizes already.)

Extra blankets brought in from the car, washed and dried

Gas in the car, filled up. Thankfully gas is so cheap now!

Prescription needed for midweek picked up

A case of water, (we already have two gallons of water also)

Two bottles of apple juice plus a case of Vitamin Water for the one who won’t drink apple juice

Extra gallon of milk, plenty of half and half for my coffee or to top off a hot chocolate made with water

Lots of bread (white, wheat, rolls, and cinnamon swirl)

Hamburger and hot dog rolls

Cans of tuna

Cans of soup

Cups of fruit (we do have fresh fruit also.)

Hot dogs and ground turkey for hamburgers

Plenty of packets of oatmeal and hot chocolate

Plenty of flour, sugar and eggs

Muffin mixes (to bake ahead for grab and go. Well really, for grab and stay put.)

A thermos for regular coffee

Hand/body/toe warmers (I got ten sets of each figuring five people times two days.)

 

Don't they say beauty comes with sacrifice? There's some prep involved in getting ready for a snowstorm.

Don’t they say beauty comes with sacrifice? There’s some prep involved in getting ready for a snowstorm.

For meals we can have:
Breakfasts: French toast , pancakes, oatmeal, eggs, cereal, grilled bagels (anything hot can be done on the stove top on a flat topped griddle, in a tea pot or in a cast iron pan)

Lunches: sandwiches such as tuna, peanut butter, jelly, lunch meat, grilled cheese

Dinners: Pasta with leftover sauce and pork from last night’s dinner and salad, hot dogs/hamburgers with steamed broccoli and cauliflower, leftover chicken and gravy over mashed potatoes, which will be left over from tonight’s dinner, and we could even do omelets if we need another stove-top meal, which I’m hoping we won’t.

To me, it’s very exciting preparing for and thinking about an impending storm. I like being in the stores, talking to people in line who are all doing the same thing I am, and chatting about the upcoming weather. It brings people together. In situations such as these, you can either choose to smile and be kind or you can choose to be miserable, and today I found most people have chosen to smile and be kind, even those who are working the cash registers and dealing with long lines of customers.

The most important thing is to be sure everyone is safe, warm and fed. The rest is just waiting it out, and with that comes lots of memories. I’m sure I’ll catch you on the flip side of this storm and let you know how it all played out, so watch your weather news over the next few days, and be thinking of us New Englanders!

 

 

 

 

Fun Friday: GoldieBlox Zipline

23 Jan
We love the Goldiblox toys! STEM at its best!

We love the Goldiblox toys! STEM at its best!

Every year at Thanksgiving it’s our tradition to watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade while we munch on homemade pumpkin bread. This year, while watching the parade one of my daughters noticed a new parade float whose description intrigued her: GoldieBlox.

When the parade was over, she asked me if I’d heard of GoldieBlox, and I realized that I thought I had heard of it, and that I could’ve sworn that she was a STEM toy created for girls by a woman who was originally from our own home state. Sure enough, we did our research, and I was right!  The fact that the creator was from our state made us even more excited about this new toy created especially for girls with interests in STEM. My kids have always loved STEM toys, and we have had our share of “boy toys” such as Hotwheels matchbox cars, building blocks, Lincoln Logs, and LEGOS over the years. This toy however, seemed to also combine an element of literacy with the STEM skills, because the toy kits often come with a

A couple of days after Christmas we suddenly had a zipline in the dining room, in the hallway, in the bedroom and outside in the backyard.

A couple of days after Christmas we suddenly had a zipline in the dining room, in the hallway, in the bedroom and outside in the backyard.

book, as well as the doll and the items needed to build the particular project in each kit.

My daughter had two specific GoldieBlox toys on her mind, and she was thrilled when she received the Zipline kit, which included the doll, for Christmas from a family member.

The kit came with all of the tools and instructions my daughter needed to create a zipline for GoldieBlox and came with a great deal of information to explain why the zipline had to be put together as it was, and what made it work. It was exciting as the girls got the pieces put together and Goldie took her first ride from the top of our sliding glass door down to the handle of the door next to it.

Before we knew it, Goldie was zipping all over the place, even outdoors. Thankfully we have had a relatively warm, snowless winter so far, and playing outside in the days after Christmas was definitely an option. Goldie zipped right off the deck and into the yard in the sunshine and fresh air.

Zipping off the top of the deck and right into the backyard!

Zipping off the top of the deck and right into the backyard!

Afterwards, my daughter played with the part of the toy that Goldie holds on to when she’s zipping, to see what else she could create with all the same pieces and materials. At one point Goldie was even on a scooter that my daughter created.

I like everything about this toy, all of the STEM parts to it, all of the reading and learning that goes with it, and the fact that it can come with a doll that’s a smart doll who’s into reading, building, math, science and engineering just like my girls always have been. I’m also always very proud when I can show my daughters a local person, especially if it’s a female who has done great things, and this latest opportunity made me especially happy.

I also like that GoldieBlox toys are reasonably priced. They range anywhere from about $25 for some of the simpler kits like the Zipline, to more expensive for more complicated kits like the one that replicates the Macy’s Parade float, and everywhere in between.

We have one more GoldieBlox toy here that I’ll talk about next week, but if you haven’t heard of GoldieBlox until now, I encourage you to check out their website and learn more about her! You can buy right on their site or find a store locally that sells her near you! There’s even an interactive game spot on the GoldieBlox site!

 

What’s for Dinner Wednesday: Breakfast for dinner

21 Jan
Sometimes breakfast for dinner just seems better, sounds better than dinner for dinner.

Sometimes breakfast for dinner just seems better, sounds better than dinner for dinner.

The other night we had a sleepover at our house. It was a Friday night and I decided that it was a great night to let each child pick a friend to stay overnight at our house.

I definitely subscribe to the theory of “What’s one more?” when I plan our playdates and sleepovers. It’s definitely easier for me to do it all in one fell swoop and let everyone invite a friend at once, rather than a friend a week for three weeks. Additionally, I find that everyone stays occupied that way. Each person has a friend, everyone’s happy.

On this night I thought about what to have for dinner and I decided I’d do breakfast for dinner: french toast and a ham and spinach puff pancake, where I would substitute broccoli for the spinach. It was all a huge hit. There was only one piece of the ham and broccoli puff left, and a couple of pieces of french toast remained at the end of the night.

When I was thinking this week about what dinner recipe to share with you, I thought of our breakfast for dinner night, but since I’d already done a blog post about the ham and spinach puff, I decided to share a breakfast casserole that we ate for brunch this past New Year’s Day, but would also work well as a breakfast for dinner recipe. It’s original intent was to be made as a breakfast pizza, and my sister-in-law who gave it to me has done it both ways–casserole style and pizza style. On New Year’s Day we did it casserole style.

The recipe is so old, I have it printed out in an email from Thursday, February 28, 2002. I only had one daughter at that time. But, I save that same sheet of paper in the overstuffed cookbook I’ve had since I was a teenager and I always know exactly where it is, what one sheet of paper to look for when I need it.

Because there are so many of us, we added a few extra eggs in and changed our method a tiny bit, so I’ll make some notes with the recipe below.

Thanks so much to Jessica for sharing her recipe with us in 2002. I was thrilled to send her a photo of the casserole and the original email she sent me on January 1, 2015.

Pizza style or casserole style, either way it's delicious!

Pizza style or casserole style, either way it’s delicious!

BREAKFAST PIZZA

INGREDIENTS:

Crust:

1 package (24 ounces) frozen shredded has brown patties, thawed and broken apart

1 egg, beaten

salt, pepper

Egg Topping:

7 Eggs (we did a whole dozen)

1/2 cup milk

optional salt and pepper to taste

1 cup chopped ham

1/2 cup sliced fresh mushrooms

1/4 cup green onion slices
1/4 cup chopped green bell pepper
*we didn’t add these two items in, but we did do sliced sausage links instead*

1 1/2 cups shredded cheddar cheese

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

If you are using a pizza stone, cover with parchment paper.

For crust, combine potatoes, egg, salt and pepper in a bowl, mix well.

Spread potato mixture onto pizza stone or into 9×13 casserole dish, (we used nonstick spray on ours) pat down with back of spoon.

Bake 20 minutes, remove from oven.

For egg topping, whisk eggs and milk and season as desired.

Microwave on high 3 minutes, stir. Microwave an additional 3 minutes, stir. **We scrambled our eggs on the stove top in our cast iron skillet.**

Spread cooked egg mixture evenly on top of potato crust; top with ham, mushrooms, green onion and bell pepper (if using).

Sprinkle with cheese.

Return to oven to bake, approximately 10 minutes.

Fun Friday: A surprising teachable moment

16 Jan
Freaky, yes. Educational? Who knew?

Freaky, yes. Educational? Who knew?

Have you seen them? Have you seen the Monster High dolls yet?

They are bizarre-looking, zombie-like dolls, about the size and shape of a Barbie doll, but clearly *not* a Barbie.

My younger kids love them. They have lots of them. The Monster High dolls room with their Ever After High dolls downstairs in the Barbie Dreamhouse, lounging by the pool together. The Monster High dolls have grey, green or blue skin colors (there might even be other skin colors, but these are the ones we have) and some really monster-ish features to them. They’re unique for sure, and we don’t discriminate on skin color at our house, no matter what color it is. That in itself is a good lesson.

But whatever, not everything can be a stellar STEM/STEAM learning toy, right?

Or can it?

Surprisingly, it can, and no one was more shocked by this fact than I was, believe me.

Now clearly, we don’t have any kind of toy rule or anything, where every toy we buy has to be educational in nature, or STEM/STEAM related. A toy can just be a toy, too, so I was shocked when it turned out that my daughter’s recent purchase of a Freaky Fusion Monster High doll, the newest in the Monster High collection, was found at Barnes and Noble Bookstore. Usually the bookstore sells, well…books. And devices, and learning toys. But a Monster High Freaky Fusion doll? That must’ve been a mistake.

We do have a toy rule with our kids that leading up to the holidays they are not to use their own money to make any frivolous purchases. They need to wait until after the holidays, see what they’ve received, see what old toys need to be given to someone who will make good use of them, and only then can they take their money they’ve saved as well as any money they received as a gift for Christmas and then they can make some spending choices.

Oh my goodness....

Oh my goodness….

The day after Christmas, my youngest wanted to purchase one of the things that was not brought by Santa, and not given to her from anyone else: a Freaky Fusion doll and a Recharge Chamber. This is when we say, “It’s your money, you saved it and if this is how you want to spend it, that’s up to you.” Sometimes we hope they’ll reconsider and think that it’s a silly way to blow twenty bucks, or in this case almost $50, but it doesn’t always happen that way. To me though, the true-er lesson is a week or two later when they have nothing left in their spending money and they see something they like, but now can’t buy because they own whatever it was they so desperately “needed” two weeks prior.  Financial responsibility…it’s a work in progress. They earn their money, they save it, they spend it, sometimes they’re happy they did, sometimes they wish they didn’t. It’s an on-going thing.

Anyway, I digress….

On December 27 we happened to be in Barnes and Noble looking for a different toy that was supposed to be educational for another daughter who desperately wanted it (and you’ll see that one on here next week). They didn’t have it, but lo and behold, there on the shelf was Frankie Stein and her Recharge Chamber. I just happened to have daughter #3’s money envelope in my pocketbook. We counted, we checked the price, and she had enough money. She didn’t want to shop around for a cheaper price or a better deal. She had the money, she wanted the doll, wanted the chamber and she got it.

Well now....wait a minute, what's that say?

Well now….wait a minute, what’s that say?

Imagine my surprise when I see the note on the box that talks about the fact that this toy employs the use of static electricity and then gives a spot on their website where the kids can go and watch some videos to learn more about static electricity! Well now…that’s kind of cool.

Did I make her go home and immediately find the link, watch it and learn about static?

No. By the time we got to the car, I was already on to the next thing, and I really didn’t care if this was a learning toy or not. That wasn’t my objective this time.

Did she do it on her own, unbeknownst to me?

Got Static?

Got Static?

Yes, and she actually learned something.

I know this because later on, on a different day when she was playing with the toy at the dining room table, holding her hand up to the doll’s hair as it flew out all over the place from the static, she told me about the Recharge Chamber, and how it worked and what static was, and why.

I must say, I was impressed, and surprised.

Shocked, you might say.

Get it? It’s a static electricity pun!

So…although this was not our goal, to buy a STEM doll of the Monster High Freaky Fusion sort, it turns out that we did. I say “we,” but really it was my daughter. She saved her money, chose what she wanted to buy, and chose an educational, unique toy and she was pretty happy with her choice.

Who knew?!

 

 

What’s for Dinner Wednesday: Two weeks of meals and the importance of eating together

14 Jan
Ready for another two weeks of dinners?

Ready for another two weeks of dinners?

Now that we’re back into our regular routines, we’re back to meal planning for the weeks ahead.

Over the holiday and vacation weeks we were eating out of the house so often, either at other people’s houses or at restaurants, that we had absolutely no meal plan at all, and practically nothing to even make a meal with. Once we got back into the routine, we had to sit down and start our preparations again.

One thing I had done over the vacation weeks however, was to keep a running list of the things the kids were asking for during the two weeks. When someone said, “Can we have Shepherd’s Pie for dinner tonight?” during those two weeks, for example, even though I’d have to say no because we were scheduled to eat wherever for whatever event, I’d go and write it down. Making our meal plan is tough because we have to come up with two full weeks of meals. Having a list of favorite requests made it that much easier the next week when we sat down. And, it was kind of nice that first week back to school (which felt as long as five weeks in a row, rather than just one), to announce at dinnertime whose special request produced that night’s dinner.

It’s also been nice to see the kids checking out the menu we post in the kitchen each week, looking forward to the dinner of choice for that night or a future night, especially when it’s something they requested. It makes me feel good to know that they like the routine of knowing what’s for dinner, and that even better, they look forward to certain nights of the week, just because it’s their favorite meal of the week. Our menus are nothing fancy, our meals are straightforward and our lists are posted on whatever piece of paper we have handy, and we cross off as we go, but it’s a routine we’ve established and it makes us all feel good….less stress, somewhat excited for dinner, and looking forward to eating together each night. That’s all good, and I’m glad we’re continuing to stay true to this routine of ours. I hope that in doing so, we ‘re creating good, healthy eating habits and family foundations for our family as we go so that once our kids are on their own, raising their own families,they’ve got a great foundation so that they can eat well and eat together.

I recently saw an article in the Washington Post about the importance of eating together as a family, and its many benefits. It definitely confirmed for us all that we already knew and believed about eating together as a family. If you’d like to read it, click here. We work incredibly hard to keep our schedules and meals consistent so that we can eat together as often as humanly possible, and although we’ve always seen the benefits, which far outweigh the effort it takes to pull it off, it’s nice to have our efforts validated every once in a while too! The article is well worth the read.

In the meantime, here’s two weeks of meals for you to get you started. I’ve even linked to a few of the recipes for you so that you don’t have to search the blog for them:

Sunday: Roasted Chicken Dinner

Monday: Shepherd’s Pie

Tuesday: Pulled pork sandwiches (crock pot meal)

Wednesday: Spaghetti tacos with meat sauce (could be eaten without taco shells or with)

Thursday: Paninis (we used the bbq pork leftovers in the paninis, SO delicious)

Friday: Homemade pizzas (we made three different kinds but here’s just one kind we’ve made before)

Saturday: leftovers

Sunday: Chili

Monday: Ravioli (some of us had butternut squash ravioli given to us by a friend, others of us had cheese ravioli)

Tuesday: Garlic chicken and wine

Wednesday: Chicken Pot Pie

Thursday: Fish Tacos

Friday: Breakfast for dinner

Saturday: Hamburgers and hot dogs

Sunday: Lasagna

 

 

Post-holiday review: 6 in 1 Solar Robotikits

12 Jan
There's nothing more rewarding than working on something mechanical and seeing it do what it's supposed to do!

There’s nothing more rewarding than working on something mechanical and seeing it do what it’s supposed to do!

As I’ve been mentioning over the past week or so during my post-holiday reviews, our over-arching theme for gifts this year was definitely a STEAM theme: Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math. Today’s review is for the Robotikits 6 in 1 Educational Solar Kit. I know that  we’ve often seen this kit in catalogs, especially the Mindwares catalog, and my kids have always thought it looked like a cool toy, but the kit we received from Santa this year was a less expensive kit, kind of an overstocks type of deal such as this one where you get the barebones supplies for a very low cost and your item is shipped to you just in a clear plastic bag with the supplies and directions enclosed. Not pretty in the packaging, but it’s very budget-friendly and you still have everything you need. I believe that this particular kit cost Santa less than $5.00.

This kit allows you to use one gear box and one solar panel and 21 plastic pieces to create six different solar powered machines: a windmill, a dog, a revolving plane, an airboat, a car and a plane. You can also use the pieces enclosed to try creating your own inventions.

The kit is for ages 10 and up, and our 9 year old was on the receiving end. It was definitely not something that she could do on her own yet, and we had to end up calling Dad to the rescue due to some initial confusion on my part. But, they worked on the project she chose to be her first one, a windmill, and then took it outside in the sunshine to give it a try. Seeing her face light up when it began spinning was priceless. You can catch a quick glimpse of it spinning in this short YouTube video. Even I was amazed, watching it go. It was fascinating watching it stop as you moved it out of the direct sunlight and then go again when you moved it back into the direct sunlight. You can hear my amazement and a little bit of our discussion about direct sunlight vs. indirect sunlight in this short video.

I think that projects that cause you to go outside of your comfort zone, that allow parents and kids to problem-solve together, and that produce a tangible result are great. This is one of those gifts. For now, our daughter’s windmill is proudly displayed in her bedroom, but she’ll eventually change it up and choose another solar powered machine to create. She may need some help with it, but she’s learning great hands-on lessons about the mechanics of solar power, and I think she’s really loving her gift.

I would definitely recommend this gift, and whether you choose to go with pretty packaging or bare bones, I think you’ll be pleased with the product itself. It’s been a great learning experience for all of our daughters.

Post-holiday review: Crayola Virtual Design Pro Fashion Collection

9 Jan
Art, technology and affordability all in one. More STEAM gifts for my kids this Christmas.

Art, technology and affordability all in one. More STEAM gifts for my kids this Christmas.

In my first holiday review post on Wednesday, I talked a bit about how my kids love both science and art, and how this year their Christmas gifts were a great combination of STEAM: Science, Technology, Engineering, ART and Math, not just the STEM area alone. Today’s product is a gift that is quite artistic and creative in nature, and yet uses technology as well.

The Crayola Virtual Design Pro Fashion Collection is something the kids saw on TV in a commercial prior to Christmas. It appealed to them immensely because for two years now, they have all three been students at Jerilyn’s Sewing School here in our city. It’s a sewing school primarily for kids, although it’s expanding now to include adults as well, since moving from Jerilyn’s basement out into an actual storefront facility, and it’s the only one in our state licensed to teach the Kids Can Sew and Fashion Design curriculum, which is a kid-friendly, step-by-step sewing curriculum. It’s a school I stumbled upon as part of my job when I was asked to cover their 2013 fashion show at the end of the school year. It’s an annual event that allows the kids to walk the runway, modeling all of the items they made during that school year. I was astounded as I saw dozens of kids of all ages from first grade through high school showing off items as simple as funky pillow cases, to as complicated as floor-length prom gowns for a senior prom. My kids had been asking to sew for years, but I don’t know how and I had no idea this even existed. I signed them all up the next month and it’s been an amazing experience, opening up a whole new creative avenue for them as well as a whole new option for a future career path in the fashion design and merchandising world, if they so desire.

As it is, sewing is a technical and mathematical skill but it’s also a creative, artistic skill. My most favorite thing of all, besides seeing their finished products, is watching them the day we go to the fabric store to pick out the fabrics for whatever their next project will be. I love watching their creative thought process play out in front of me as the compare fabrics and choose something that’s either “so me” or something that’s so unusual and out-of-the-box, that I can’t wait to see it come together in their next piece.

Designing on paper is only the first half of the fun!

Designing on paper is only the first half of the fun!

The Crayola Virtual Design Fashion Collection (which also has a car collection for boys) is a complete art set in a hard carrying case, which allows you to download an app so that once you have completed your designs on paper, you can see them on a model on the runway, virtually. We allowed the kids to download the app on one of our phones, since the younger ones don’t have their own phones until middle school. That piece is the technology piece and is consistent with real life. There’s an “app for that” for everything, including room design and fashion design, so seeing the virtual models walk the runway in the clothes they’ve designed is a great parallel to a real life experience in a career like fashion design.

Priced at less than $30, and with frequent coupons and sales dropping the price even lower leading up to the holidays, I think this makes a great, affordable gift for kids who are into design. With the advent of shows such as Threads and Project Runway, which make sewing “cool” and “trendy,” this gives kids a chance to do a little bit of what they see on some of the television shows, especially my own kids who not only can draw it on paper, and see it on the virtual runway, but also now have the skills to go in their room and create it for real, and even model it in a real fashion show through Jerilyn’s.

Virtual Design Pro 2

There’s an app for that!! See your designs walk down the runway, turning around to show both front and back, once your designs are complete!

As an added bonus at our house, our television has a Chromecast set up with it, allowing you to “cast” what’s on your phone screen (or other device such as a Nook for example) onto the big screen television. So not only do they see the virtual fashion show of model after model walking down the runway in all of their own designs, but they can see it here on the big screen. It was beyond exciting the first time we did it and saw it come to life on television.

Initially upon opening up the art portfolio, we thought that you could only use the types of media that were found in the case. However, my friend Gina, whose daughter also received this for Christmas, let me know that she tried glitter pens and metallic markers and those worked as well. The model shown here is modeling a dress which used a silver metallic marker and red glitter glue pens in the design, a perfect dress for the holidays!

The more designs you create, the more models that participate in your fashion show, encouraging kids to keep up the great work.

I’ve been so pleased with this gift, another A+ for Santa! I highly recommend it for girls interested in the world of fashion and design. It goes perfectly with our mission of keeping girls moving forward in the areas of Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math!

 

 

 

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