Archive | October, 2011

Are we *that* family?

31 Oct

Today is Halloween. Each year we struggle with the same decision many other families struggle with. No, it’s not what to wear, the kids are pretty creative on that end. The question we struggle with: what to give out for our “treats.”

We get about 100 trick or treaters in our neighborhood, so whatever we give out, we have to stock up on quite a few of it. We knew right away we were not the “full sized treats” kind of house. We have to give out too many to be able to afford a full sized anything for anyone. We’ve done mini treats before, and last year I bought Dum Dum Lollipops and three boxes of tissues and the girls and I wrapped every lollipop in tissue, tied a ribbon and drew a face, making little ghosts.

This year earlier in October, I happened to be walking through Aldi’s, one of our local discount grocery stores (I *LOVE* Aldi’s by the way,) when I came across these and I knew I’d found this year’s treats:

Mmm.... Halloween Fruit Snacks...right?

I thought this would be the perfect treat, a little bit healthy and even better if there were treats left over, I wouldn’t want them myself the way I would a bowl of peanut M&Ms but I did think they’d be a perfect lunchbox snack for school for weeks to come. I was so proud of myself, I think I even gave myself a pat on the back.

Until…we watched a recent episode of one of the girls’ favorite shows: “Good Luck Charlie” on the Disney Channel. On this particular episode the family was getting ready for Halloween and Teddy, the oldest sister, had decided that this year her family was going to give out a healthy snack: carrot sticks.

“Oh, so you’re going to be *that* family,” her friend commented to her.

And that’s when it hit me: Were we going to be *that* family too? Is our treat fun enough, “cool” enough and healthy enough without being too healthy? All week I have been wondering. I mean it’s NOT carrot sticks (and no, I never even considered that,) but it’s not a full sized Twix bar either!!

So it made me wonder…what are YOU giving out for Halloween treats this year? Are you a full sized family, a ghost lollipop family, a popcorn ball family or a carrot stick family? Comment and let me know!

My love-hate relationship with The Bins

29 Oct

The Bins

Today’s the day. I knew it was coming as the season began to change this month. Three weeks ago, it was Columbus Day Weekend and it was almost 90 degrees; my kids were in bathing suits. Two nights ago I was putting away laundry and there were still shorts and t shirts in the piles of clothes I was putting away. But, I knew it was coming.

One of my aunts calls the fall and the spring “The Black Holes of Fashion” because you never know how to dress. It might be chilly in the morning and hot by afternoon or cold at night and warm all day. It’s a constant game of layering outfits when I get my kids dressed each day or even myself: short sleeves and sweatshirts or long sleeves and leggings but no jacket.

Usually I look for a long weekend to do my bins, to switch my closets over, but judging from last night’s weather forecast for this weekend prior to Halloween, I told my husband, “It’s time,” and up into the attic he went last night so that when I arrived home there were stacks of bins halfway to the ceiling, full of clothing.

I am grateful that we have three girls and lots of girl cousins because get lots of hand-me-downs and we hand everything down after we’re done, to pay it forward. I can’t even imagine having to buy all new clothes for a boy and a girl for example, every single year, as my mom must have had to do. When you have “one of each” you can’t hand anything down from one to the other. But, having three girls and so many hand-me-downs to store, presents an issue: where do you store all those clothes for years and years, and how?

Originally when we had one daughter and no idea who was going to be born next, we saved everything and we had one stack of bins in our garage. I stored them labeled with a Sharpie marker by size and by season since here in New England we are lucky enough to have all four seasons. I narrow it down to Winter and Summer, lumping spring and fall in there as well. As we had more and more daughters however, and acquired more and more clothes (the outfits seem to multiply like the proverbial rabbits) we had to come up with a better way to store it.

Our solution was to have someone come in and access our attic for us. We were unable to do a pull-down stairway method, so every spring and fall my husband brings in a ladder from outside, sets it up in our bedroom and up he goes to take down the bins. Then I sort through all of the clothes, sending off anything that we’ve grown out of for good to the next lucky girls, and then sending him back up into the attic with the bins re-labeled for next year’s season. It’s a whole weekend process at least.

Currently we have ten bins and three bags of assorted clothing ready to be sorted this weekend. It’s a grueling process, but I will say this: I have an odd attachment to their clothes. I get very sentimental as I put them away each year and I get a slight thrill each fall and spring as I take the clothes out of the bins. I find myself saying, “Oh I loved this outfit on your sister!” as I pass it down to the next daughter. I love to hear them be excited when a certain outfit is now theirs, something that they always admired on their older sister. Or, as I pass down the special occasion dresses, I remember the photos they took or an event they attended in a particular dress, and I do get somewhat misty-eyed, I must admit. In fact, when it came time to give away my baby clothes for good (only saving the dearest and most special pieces) I photographed every single one. I have a folder with 42 pictures of baby clothing in it on my Kodak Easyshare site.

So as much as I am dreading my task this weekend, I am thankful to have the abundance of clothing to pass down to my girls, thankful I only have my oldest daughter to outfit each season, and I am looking forward to seeing what clothing is going into the drawers this year that we’ll be oohing and aahhing over this time around.

I’m a Guest Blogger!

26 Oct

You can find me this week on the Good Parent Good Child Blog!

I’m so excited! This week I was asked to be a guest blogger on fellow author/blogger/mom Rebecca Jackson’s Good Parent Good Child Blog.

I was asked to talk about cooking for a large family with a variety of tastes. I provided her with five tips we’ve discovered along the way as well as one yummy recipe that my family loves.

I hope you’ll check it out! You can click on the underlined title above and go right to my post!!

What would your message be?

21 Oct

This was me, just before my presentation began.

This week I was asked to speak at our local community college to a writing class. A friend of mine from college works there and she asked me to come in and speak. I was very excited, I love public speaking even though so many people do not. I also love speaking to students, although this was my first time speaking to college-aged students. Usually I speak to upper level elementary students or to middle school students.

I was asked to speak to them about how writing has influenced my career, but the prompt really got me thinking. There was so much more I wanted to tell these students before they leave their college life behind and go out into the “real world.”  There was so much that I wanted to share, things I had already learned that I felt important to tell them.

My speech was about 20 minutes long, maybe a half hour. I had a power point presentation to go along with it, and I brought lots of samples of my writing with me as well, some hands-on things for them to look through.

The college years: once a writer and snacker, always a writer and snacker!

I talked all about my decision making process in college, trying to decide where I wanted to go in life, what I wanted to “do.” I told them about my days as a teacher and my desire to be home with my children once we started our family 12 years ago. I talked about running a home-based business for eleven years and about how I happened upon my job as a reporter and photographer at a school event three years ago next week. I talked about winning my journalism awards and how fantastic that was, about writing books and being an author and how fantastic that is as well.

However, I what I tried to  emphasize the most and what I hope they took away with them was this:

Don’t think you have to do just one thing in your lifetime.

Don’t be afraid to reinvent yourself over and over again, should the need or desire to try something new arise.

Doing what you love is so important.

In this day and age, with the economic times as they are, think out of the box. See what else you can do with your skills and your hobbies, even if it’s not exactly what you went to school for or what you thought you wanted to do for a career.

Don’t be afraid to say yes to something new, and to see where that takes you. Opportunities are around every corner.

Don’t be afraid to put your family first, if that is something that is a priority for you (as it was and still is, for me.)

And most importantly, writing is so important. If you can write and write well, even if you don’t love it the way I do, you can do anything.

I hope my message got through to them and I hope my presentation makes a difference for at least one of those students.

It makes me wonder though, if you were speaking to them, if this was your one chance to inspire this next generation, what would your message be?

Apple-Chocolate Chip Bars (formerly known as Apple-Raisin Bars)

19 Oct

Last week we went apple picking, and I’m nearing the end of my half-bushel of apples. I wanted to make a dessert to have tonight when my parents come for dinner. I wanted to make something new, so I decided to try this recipe that I found in the October 2011 issue of Family Circle.

It was fast and easy to make. I substituted chocolate chips instead of raisins because I like chocolate chips better. I liked that there was no white sugar in the recipe, but light brown instead. I’m sure that if you DID choose raisins rather than chocolate chips, it’d be even more healthy with the added fruit.

The recipe was quick and easy to prepare. I used my Kitchen Aid stand up mixer to do the prep. The house smelled delicious the entire time these were baking, and the batter, which I did taste despite having eggs in it, was delicious as well. You can always tell how good a recipe will be by how good the batter is!!

The recipe got rave reviews from my family and three thumbs up from the girls!

This weekend I still have one more apple recipe to try out before I’ve finished up with all of our handpicked apples; a recipe for apple bread from my friend Jenn, but for now, this one is up next!

Here is the recipe. Enjoy!

Apple Chocolate Chip Bars

Ingredients

2 cups all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 cups light packed brown sugar

2 eggs

1/2 cup (one stick) butter or margarine softened

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1  1 /2 cups diced Golden Delicious apple (this was about 4 medium apples for me)

1 cup chocolate chips (or you could do the original recipe:  3/4 cups raisins)

DIRECTIONS

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Liberally coat a 13x9x2 baking pan with nonstick cooking spray and set aside.

In a medium sized bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, cinnamon and salt and set aside.

In a large bowl, with an electric mixer on medium speed, blend together sugar, eggs, butter and vanilla for three minutes or until smooth.

Reduce speed to low and gradually add flour mixture; mix for two minutes or until just incorporated.

Stir in diced apples and raisins and spread into prepared pan.

Bake at 350 degrees for 35 minutes or until toothpick inserted into center comes out clean. Cool completely before cutting into bars and serving.

Spaghetti WHAT??

14 Oct

Very rarely do I get a meal where all three kids give it a thumbs up. This one got three thumbs up!

I love a good meal as much as the next person. Food is right up there on my list of favorite things. However, last year when I started seeing articles about, recipes for and photos of the newest food rage brought on by the iCarly TV show, I thought, “No way. I’d never eat that.” Well, last night, I did.

Last night we had Spaghetti Tacos for dinner. You know what? I liked them! I even had seconds. All the kids had seconds. It was the craziest thing, but it was good!

It all started last week when my brother-in-law Dave, announced on Facebook that they’d had Spaghetti Tacos for dinner. When I asked him more about it, he said they were good, and super easy to make. You just needed spaghetti, meatballs, sauce and cheese, plus taco shells.

Coincidentally I already had leftover spaghetti in the fridge. I had a bag of meatballs in the freezer, although not homemade, they’d do for this trial of a new recipe. I grabbed some taco shells at the store on my way home last night and we were set. I actually had to get both hard and soft tacos because my youngest daughter doesn’t love the hard ones. My husband cooked up the leftover spaghetti with extra sauce and the meatballs on the stove in a frying pan, questioning me the entire time about what it was that we were making, and why. He made a big Ceasar Salad to go with it, and we sat down to eat.

Elizabeth sat down and announced, "My two favorite meals: tacos and spaghetti, all in one!" and took a big bite.

Believe it or not, the Spaghetti Tacos were a big hit! All of my kids had two, I think Elizabeth actually had three. I had two. Alex liked hers in the soft taco shells, and Elizabeth had two hard and one soft, pronouncing all of them delicious.

The only naysayer was my husband Don, who refused to try any at all. He had a chicken Ceasar Salad with the leftover chicken from another night.

All in all, I’d say Spaghetti Tacos were fast, easy, delicious and a great way to use up a leftover pasta dinner.

According to Alex, soft tacos work just as well and taste just as good!

What’s the mystery?

11 Oct

For as long as I can remember, at least since my oldest was a preschooler, we have been taking the kids on Mystery Rides. I don’t even know how it started, I just know we’ve always done it.

A Mystery Ride is exactly what it sounds like. We are taking the kids somewhere and to them, it’s a mystery because we don’t tell them where they are going. We let them guess, but we never tell them if they’ve guessed correctly or not; they don’t know until we arrive at our final destination. As the kids have gotten older, they’ve gotten better at asking their questions when they are making their guesses: Is it inside or outside, is it a place we have gone before or not? Sometimes to throw them off we’ll make them bring a sweatshirt and wear socks and sneakers (as if we’re going to an outside destination) when really we might be going to a movie or a museum. We’ll let them throw in a movie in the van, usually reserved for rides of 45 minutes or more, when really we’re going indoor mini-golfing up the street. It’s as fun for us throwing them off as it is for them to guess.

For us, creating a sense of mystery for the kids makes what might be a somewhat ordinary activity (like a movie or out for ice cream) that much more exciting. It makes a mountain out of a mole hill, as they say, and for us that’s important since with a big family we often can’t afford to do some of the huge attractions we wish we could do. Going out to eat or to the movies is not something we do often, so the excitement in itself of actually going is made that much bigger by the mystery that surrounds it. Sometimes we laugh too, because their guesses are bigger than the actual destination, like the time my youngest daughter guessed that we were going to Disney when in actuality they were going to a baseball game with their dad. She was pretty sure it was a trip to Disney though, despite the fact that 1) I wasn’t going and 2) there was no luggage.

Some of the Mystery Rides we have done in the past include: movies, out for ice cream or out to eat, beach at night, letterboxing-which in itself is a mystery because you go to a different place each time, indoor mini golfing, Bass Pro Shops in Massachusetts, Old Sturbridge Village in Massachusetts, the drive in movies, museums like the Providence Children’s Museum, a show like Disney on Ice, a basketball game at a local college, etc.

One of the funniest Mystery Ride moments we had recently was when we took the kids to the pre-screening of A Dolphin Tale on a Tuesday night, a school night. We had stopped to pick up some out-of-state friends who were in town visiting, so that was the first part of the mystery. Then, we headed into the city, to a different theater than we would normally go to. We were nearing the place where all of the “on ice” shows tend to be. My second daughter started guessing, shouting from the back seat, “Toy Story On Ice, Princesses on Ice, Disney on Ice!” Each time, we’d say no, and finally she said, “Something On Ice, Anything at all On Ice??”  Despite the fact that nothing was on ice that night, they were so thrilled when we arrived at the IMAX theater, and they loved A Dolphin Tale, which was in 3D.

A Dolphin Tale was a great Mystery Ride!


Yesterday’s Mystery Ride was apple picking at Steere Orchards in Greenville, RI. We live about five minutes from a couple of local orchards but to be different we chose this one, about 20 minutes from away. We hadn’t been apple picking as a family in years. It was a warm day for October, almost 90 degrees and the orchard had advertised hay rides and free music along with samplings of their foods. We rounded everyone up and got them to get their sunglasses, sneakers and a bottle of water each. We told them it was outside and to a place none of us had ever been before. It was such a fun day, one we’ll remember for years to come. The added bit of mystery made it that much better!

We took the hay ride first before we picked our apples.

Daddy and his daughters

The girls and I loved the little store at the orchard and they loved the old-fashioned scale. I'm pretty sure though, that none of the bags of apples near it have the right amount of apples in them any more!

Me and my girls

Best Behavior.

6 Oct

Our girls this summer at the 35th annual Concert on the Beach in Narragansett, RI

In the past few posts, I’ve mentioned our three daughters a few different times. They’re great girls and there’s almost three year’s difference between each one. Right now they are six, nine and just three weeks shy of 12 years old. We take them with us everywhere, without a problem and they are very well behaved girls. I can’t even count how many people have come up to us in stores, restaurants, community events etc., complimenting us on their behavior and how surprisingly good they are.

When it first started happening, we were kind of surprised, caught off guard a little bit. We just assumed early on that everyone’s kids were good, at least in public, because don’t get me wrong, they’re not angels all the time; we have our moments at home for sure. As time went by though, it happened more and more where people would come up to us and compliment us on the girls and how well behaved they were and more and more we would see the difference between our kids’ behavior and other kids’ behaviors. We’ve actually had people come right out and ask us if we hit our kids to get them to behave (which, no, we don’t.) That shocked me. Then last week, we were at an event at an Assisted Living Community for my grandmother. It was a welcome event for new residents and it was mainly for adult family members of the residents but I went and I brought my kids. There was a semi-long speaking portion at the start, and then refreshments afterwards. Two of my kids were sharing one seat, but I thought nothing of it. I moved away from them to the other side of the table so that I could see and hear, but I kept an eye on them from across the table. There was no problem, as expected.

After the speaking portion ended, someone came up to me and said, “You know, you could write a book about how to raise well-behaved kids.” I laughed and smiled and he continued, “I’m serious, 99% of the kids I know would never have been that good, sat through that event two in a seat, for so long without a problem.”

I thanked him, and continued about the night, but it really got me thinking. What is it exactly that we do that must be so different than what other people do? I really have no way of knowing since I don’t live with any other people, so I don’t know what they do, but I do have insight as to the things we do that make it easy for us and for our kids. I thought I’d spend this post sharing just one tidbit that’s helped us a great deal.

For one thing, we have extremely high expectations for our kids and their behavior, and they know it and they’ve known it since they were little. The expectation is: they will be good or we will leave, no matter where we are or what it is. They know this because way back when they were little, we have indeed left. We’ve left stores, restaurants, parties, whatever it took. So not being good isn’t really a choice for them. They are to be good, and that’s all there is to it.

But, it’s not as simple as that. From early on, we have always prepped our kids for whatever situation they’re about to go into. We clearly don’t want to set them up for failure, we want them to be good as much as they want to be good, so we want them to have a clear understanding before we arrive at anything, anywhere. Before we arrive no matter where we are going, we remind them that we expect “Best Behavior.” When they were really little, we would actually go over with them what that behavior looked like (and it often depended where we were going, since best behavior in church is way different than best behavior at a birthday party, for example,) and have them repeat it back to us. As they aged, they could just tell us what we expected. Even older still, we only had to say the words “Best Behavior” and they knew what was expected. Now, we hardly have to remind them, it’s so ingrained in them. We have built a strong foundation, but it literally took years.

One of the pages in my book, Baby Notes: Practical wisdom from one mother to another (available at http://www.amazon.com) actually talks about being consistent because to us, it’s one of the most important things a good parent can do for their kids.

We made sure to be consistent with our kids as much as we could, and “Best Behavior” became one of our catch phrases. We’d say it every time we went somewhere. It might sound like this in our car on a given Saturday afternoon:

“Girls, we’re about to get to the birthday party. What do we expect from you?”

“Best Behavior!”

“What does that mean?”

“It means no running inside, no yelling and screaming, no jumping on the furniture, and stick together.”

“That’s right. You may see behavior here that isn’t good, but you know what we expect of you. If there’s a problem you come and get one of us.”

We would make sure they all heard us, and understood us, and then we’d add one more very important thing:

“And girls, when it’s time to go?”

“It’s time to go.”

“That’s right. If there’s a problem when it’s time to leave, then the next time there’s a party invitation, we don’t go.”

And they know…we mean it. One of our daughters actually missed an entire month of birthday parties due to poor behavior last year and she’s been an angel ever since. They know we mean business.

To us, consistency is important and follow-through is very important. Our kids’ behavior is a clear reflection of our ability to parent and we want to be proud of our kids and we want people to want to be with them, not to want to run the other way when they see us coming.

I hope this helps those who wonder whether or not it can be done. It can and it takes time and consistency. Good luck!

After school snack for a play date

5 Oct

Today my daughter is having a friend over after school. In the title of my post, I put the words “play date,” but with older kids, it’s really just “hanging out” now, not a play date.  I’m slow to change my ways I guess!

I always try to put out something for an after school snack every day, but when there’s a friend coming over, I try to make it extra good. I’m in the mood for something chocolatey (when am I not?) so I decided to make some Monkey Munch this afternoon before I head to pick everyone up. It’ll be a great surprise for my girls and their friend.

I first saw this recipe a long time ago when I used to watch (operative words here: used to watch) John and Kate Plus 8 on TV. Kate had made it as a snack for her kids and it looked positively delicious. Soon afterwards, I was at a friend’s house and she had the recipe so I copied it.

Here it is:

Monkey Munch

9 cups Chex cereal (sneak in wheat Chex, and that’s healthier! I did that a couple of times.)

1 cup semisweet chocolate chips

1/2 cup creamy peanut butter (yes, this recipe does use peanut butter so be sure to check for allergies!)

1/4 cup butter

1 tsp vanilla

1 1/2 cups confectioner’s sugar
DIRECTIONS:
In a large microwaveable bowl, combine peanut butter, chocolate chips and butter. Heat in microwave 1 minute. Take out, mix and return for another 30 seconds or until it can be mixes smooth.

Add in vanilla, stir.

If your bowl is large enough, you can put the dry cereal right in that bowl and mix until all cereal is coated. If not, put the cereal in a larger bowl and pour the chocolate mix right over it. Stir until completely coated.

Put into a large ziploc bag and add confectioner’s sugar. Zip sealed, and shake it all about (you do the hokey pokey) until the sugar coats everything.

Spread onto a large cookie sheet to cool.

Store in airtight container.

 

*Photo of chocolate chips taken from Google Images Editor at Large

Saying Goodbye to Summer

2 Oct

Today is October 1, and this week the weather is supposed to turn into typical fall weather. We’re in the midst of work and school routines with soccer, dance and Girl Scouts in there too. As I look around my house, I see the typical transitional things happening, like the basket of bathing suits in the hallway, leaving the bedroom closet to make way for cooler-weather wear and the laundry basket of tank tops and sleeveless dresses ready to go up into the attic.

I realized today though, it was time to take down our Summer Vacation sign. I hated to see it go.

Our Summer Vacation sign ended up being so much more than I originally intended it to be!

On the last day of school in June, my youngest daughter, Alex, was still a half-day kindergartener. I wanted her return home on the last day to be special, just like I do for her sisters at the end of the full day. I wracked my brain for something special for her to do while we waited for all of them to be together at the end of the day for the full-fledged celebration. I came up with an idea: I would write out a banner for her to color and we’d hang it up to surprise her sisters when they got home.

At first I just wrote out Happy Summer Vacation and left it at that. Then I decided that she and I would think of all the things we like to do over the summer and I’d write them all over the banner to fill it up a bit more. So that’s what we did and it was a nice way to spend the afternoon together.

We put the sign up on the wall and I kind of thought that once the other girls got home and the banner had been seen, that would be it. Little did I know how big a part the Summer Vacation banner would play into our summer and how sad I’d be today when I finally took it down.

We began marking the banner with little star stickers each time we did one of the things on there and it became a sort of bucket list. The girls would take turns placing the stars. They also began adding things that either I’d forgotten or things we were adding to our summer plans. People would see our sign and talk about it when they visited, the kids would share with them the different summer experiences they’d had. One cousin was so happy to see themselves listed on the banner since we visit them at the end of each summer, and our other cousins were thrilled to be on there as well, since they visit us each summer.

We found too, that even though there were things we thought we’d do, they didn’t all get done, but at the end of the summer we discussed how although we’d missed some of the things on our list, other things replaced them that were just as good, or better.

In the end, this was one of our best summers ever. Our kids are at great ages to be going places, doing things, and enjoying time together. In addition to all of the “usuals,” we got a dog, we went camping; we really did do some extra-special things this summer.

I’m so glad that I have this sign, which I’ll keep in our memory box, so that we can one day look back at our Summer Vacation 2011 banner and remember it all.

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