Archive | September, 2013

Monday Musings: What makes a “Highly Successful Family”?

30 Sep

????????????????????????????????????Interesting question, isn’t it?

I didn’t just come up with it on my own. I recently read an article entitled “The Habits of Highly Successful Families,” on the Huffington Post site, written by Rebecca Jackson.

The title alone got me thinking.

What *does* make a highly successful family? Are we a highly successful family? I guess it depends on the kind of day we have! Some days are certainly better than others!

As I read through the article, it discussed a learning habit survey that Jackson and her colleagues at Good Parent Inc., are sponsoring, in conjunction with the Brown University School of Medicine and the Children’s National Medical Center. In addition to the two medical centers, Jackson and her colleagues are also partnering with Huffington Post Parents, National PTA, WebMD, Parents Magazine to spread the word about this survey.

The goal is to have 50,000 parents of students in grades K-12 take the survey so that a comprehensive study of the data can take place, which will then be published in 2014; a guide, in a sense, for parents struggling with the things we struggle with every day.

According to a recent press release, “The information gathered by this study will be critical toward understanding the relationships between media use, grades, social interactions, and emotional learning,” says lead researcher Robert M. Pressman, Ph.D., ABPP, Director of Research at the New England Center for Pediatric Psychology. “Our goal is to provide parents, teachers and pediatricians information on which family routines and behaviors improve academic success, increase social skills, and contribute to emotional balance in children.”
I was intrigued, so I decided to take the survey myself. I’m a K-12 parent, times three. The study asks you to think of one of your children in particular as you answer the questions, which range from topics such as media usage, to rule setting, to sleep habits.

I answered each question as honestly as I could, but I found myself wondering, “Is this the right answer or the wrong answer? Is there even such a thing as one right or wrong answer? What would other parents say if they were answering this question?”

The exciting thing that I found out, was that at the end of the survey, you actually get some feedback as to how your answers compared to the answers of others who took the survey already.

I loved that!
One of the questions I’d wondered about; the answers were split practically right down the middle almost: 49% went one way, while 51% went the other.

It makes me somewhat excited to think that by answering the survey myself, by being one of the 50,000 or more parents who take the same survey, that I am helping to establish what currently constitutes learning habits in this day and age.

Each generation has their own issues to deal with and media usage is definitely a big one for our generation as parents, to deal with.

Are you curious? Do you wonder what the questions are and how you fall with your answers on some of them?

I encourage you to give the survey a try! It’s only available through October 31.

And the best news yet: By taking it you are automatically entered into a drawing for a $500 gift card. Imagine taking a survey and possibly winning $500 just for your time?

But wait, there’s more! There’s also a Pottery Barn gift pack valued at more than $100 that’s being given away as well, to one lucky survey-taker.

I encourage you to check out Jackson’s article, and take the survey yourself. It only takes a few minutes and who knows, you might be one of the lucky winners!

Fun Friday: Our new after school snack obsession: Flatbread Pizzas

27 Sep
My impulse purchase earlier this week has led to some fun after school snacks this week!

My impulse purchase earlier this week has led to some fun after school snacks this week!

It all started earlier this week when I went grocery shopping on an empty stomach.

That’s the worst.

In this case though, it benefited us in that it led to the greatest after school snack experimentation!

While I was at Aldi’s, I found flatbread in their “Fit and Active” line of healthier foods. I was intrigued. One was “original” and one was multigrain and contained flaxseed. Both were reasonably priced and I was pretty hungry so even plain flatbread sounded delicious.

Well, as I walked through the store, I saw some good-looking plum tomatoes and I put them into my carriage also. Seeing them, alongside my flatbread, reminded me of an old Pampered Chef pizza recipe we used to make that had ricotta cheese mixed with Parmesan cheese, topped with sliced plum tomatoes and mozzarella cheese.

I decided that with my new flatbread and tomatoes, along with the nonfat ricotta and mozzarella cheeses I had at home, I would make a variation of that for my lunch. And I did. I cut up two plum tomatoes, spread a little tomato sauce on my flatbread, and layered on my toppings. About 10 minutes under the broiler on low, and I had my lunch.

This was my lunch that day, and the leftovers were just as good!

This was my lunch that day, and the leftovers were just as good!

When the girls arrived home later on, they asked me what was mysteriously wrapped up in foil in the fridge. When I showed them my leftovers, they wanted a flatbread pizza for their after school snack. So I sliced up some more tomatoes, some olives and used the rest of my sauce and mozzarella cheese to make one for them.  The entire snack took less than 15 minutes to prep and broil and even less than that to eat.

They loved it!

The following day, my wheels were turning. I remembered a dessert pizza that I had at a restaurant a while back and I decided to make a dessert pizza for the kids based on another recipe I’d seen floating around Facebook lately.

With Elizabeth helping me, I took a flatbread,we  spread some peanut butter on it, layered sliced green apples on top of that, and drizzled caramel over them. A sprinkle of cinnamon-sugar over the whole thing, and under the broiler it went.

Our first dessert pizza of the week.

Our first dessert pizza of the week.

DELICIOUS.

Our creative juices were flowing. The next day I made them a peanut butter and Nutella pizza with sliced bananas on top.

As they were eating that one, they came up with the next one: S’Mores flatbread pizzas: Nutella and marshmallows. When I told my friend Gina, she suggested crushing up graham crackers and sprinkling them on the top. What a great idea! For dinner that night, her family was having chicken and broccoli flatbread pizzas.

I was adding that one to my list.

Elizabeth has already requested flatbread pizzas to be added to our lunchbox rotations. As quick as they are to make, I could easily make them up ahead of time and send them in for lunch. Obviously the dessert pizzas would not be our lunchbox pizzas, but they do have their place!

I’m excited for this newest snack option. It gives us some fun and some variety in our choices, and that’s always a good thing! I encourage you to see how many different variations you could come up with!

Another keeper!

Another keeper!

What’s For Dinner Wednesday: Asian Lettuce Wraps…in the crock pot

25 Sep
This was by far, one of my favorite crock pot meals from the first week. Every single one of us loved them.

This was by far, one of my favorite crock pot meals from the first week. Every single one of us loved them.

I’ve been keeping you all up to date with our ongoing crock pot meals experiment as the school year goes on.

I must say, so far so good.

The one I’m sharing today, however, was by far my personal favorite meal of all the ones we have tried thus far.

It is a recipe for Asian Lettuce Wraps and it’s the meat that you cook all day in the crock pot.

My house smelled absolutely amazing on this day, thanks in part to the sesame oil that is used in the recipe.

This was one I could not wait for even the next day, so that I could use the leftovers for my lunch. In a way, it was almost like our DIY taco night, but with an Asian flair instead.

Serving everything "on the side" allows people do customize their wraps, adding as much or as little of whatever the want to each of their wraps.

Serving everything “on the side” allows people do customize their wraps, adding as much or as little of whatever the want to each of their wraps.

I served everything a la carte, with Chinese Fried Rice as our side dish, and I let everyone build their own wraps. I wasn’t sure if everyone would try their food in the lettuce or not, but I encouraged them to at least give it a try. I ended up having to put out even more lettuce as each of us had two or three wraps that night.

The wrap that is pictured above (before being rolled up and eaten) actually has the rice on the bottom, followed by the meat and then the Chinese noodles, chopped cashews and the sauce.

DELICIOUS.

I saved the sauce as leftovers as well, and the next day I used it to make my leftover wraps for lunch, but the following day I just had the leftover rice and used the sauce on top of that. Perfect.

Although most of my crock pot recipes have been coming from the Who Needs a Cape website, this one actually didn’t. It was sent to me by my friend Gina, who is doing this crock pot recipe experiment along with me, far away in another state. But we’re trying out some of the same recipes and then some different ones, and letting each other know how they are. This is one she tried out first and loved it, passing it along to us. We loved it too. She found it at Today’s Creative Blog and I’ve linked to it above. The recipe is below, as well.

So today, I am passing it along to you as well. It was very different for a crock pot meal, and you’d never know it was made in the crock pot. It was fun and unique and tasty. I encourage you to try it out, and if you’re up for it, give the Chinese Fried Rice a try too. We use that as a side dish often and it always goes over well.

*In the recipe below, my modifications were: ground turkey instead of chicken, I used apple juice not wine, dried ginger not fresh, cumin instead of coriander, and cashews instead of peanuts. *

Crock Pot Asian Lettuce Wraps from Today’s Creative Blog

  • 2 chicken breasts – cut into really small pieces. (most recipes call for ground chicken or turkey)
  • 2 cloves garlic – chopped really small
  • 1/2 medium onion, chopped
  • 1/4 cup soy sauce
  • 1/4 cup white wine or apple juice – I used apple juice because I didn’t have wine
  • 1 teaspoon fresh grated ginger (you can also use what you have in your spice cabinet)
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar (same as rice vinegar)
  • 1 head Romaine lettuce,washed. Trim lettuce leaves to the size you want to use
  • Peanuts for garnish
  • Dipping Sauce
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/3 cup water
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons ketchup
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • 1/8 teaspoon sesame oil
  • 1 teaspoon red chile paste
The fried rice was great with the dipping sauce right on top, and some of the wraps had the rice right inside!

The fried rice was great with the dipping sauce right on top, and some of the wraps had the rice right inside!

Instructions

  1. Cut your chicken into very small pieces and place inside your crockpot.
  2. Combine all other ingredients into your crock and stir.
  3. Cover and cook on low for 6-8 hours or low for 4-6 hours.
  4. Prep your lettuce leaves by washing, patting dry and trimming. I used Romaine, but butter lettuce would also work. Place your chicken directly onto the lettuce.
  5. Dipping Sauce
  6. Combine all ingredients together before your chicken is done. I like to let mine sit a bit before serving.
  7. Drizzle a small amount onto your chicken filled lettuce, garnish with peanuts, wrap it together and enjoy!

Monday Musings: Will you “Go Orange” for No Kid Hungry?

23 Sep
September is No Kid Hungry month. There's lots you can do!

September is No Kid Hungry month. There’s lots you can do!

Unfortunately, we probably watch more TV than we should. I’m sure we’re not alone. However, on occasion, you catch something television that might be beneficial, and I’m not talking about your usual infomercials either.

Recently, our girls saw a commercial on TV that really caught their attention, a sad commercial, and they called me out of the kitchen to watch it as they ran it again. It was a commercial for No Kid Hungry, a nonprofit organization trying to fight childhood hunger.

“Isn’t that sad?” They said.

And it was sad.

Coincidentally though, in the way that fate works, I had just the day before sent Caroline a link to an essay contest sponsored by No Kid Hungry, for students ages 13 and up. I hadn’t actually looked into the contest much, but I saw the age range, and she fit right into it, so I sent it to her.

The television commercial was asking kids to “Go Orange” on Tuesday, September 24, to help in the fight against childhood hunger.

“We should do that!” my kids said.

“Go ahead,” I said.

And their wheels started turning. Between the three of them they attend two separate schools, but there are about 20 schools in total all over the city. They decided to speak to their own principals first and see if a “Go Orange” day could be held in their own schools, and then reach out to both the superintendent and mayor of our city to see if the anti-hunger campaign could be extended to as many schools in the city as possible, as well as to the offices in the city administration.

Both principals responded favorably, and a date of September 27 was decided on, a Friday, which is often a “dress down for charity” day for teachers and employees in the city anyway.

The girls decided that a donation of either $1 or one canned good would be the ticket to being able to “Go Orange” on the 27th at their two schools. All of the proceeds would benefit the local food bank in our city, so that our collections would go to help those in our own community who may be struggling.

The response from both the superintendent and the mayor were both a resounding “Yes,” and it was exciting have so many emails coming in, expressing support and asking questions so that schools could host their own “Go Orange” days on Friday.

Of course, a big part of “Going Orange” is having just the right clothes and accessories, and after a thorough inventory of all their wardrobes, it was determined that we have way more orange clothes than we thought we had. We could probably dress them in orange for a week.

Next up: Advertising.

They spent the next Friday evening creating some posters which would advertise the event in their own schools. Morning announcements were written and announced over the loud speaker at school, and it was being shared on Instagram and Twitter almost instantly.

We’ve participated in lots of food drives before, but we’ve never spearheaded one ourselves. It’ll be interesting to see how this one goes, what we’ll learn, and best of all, how much we can help others in our own city who are struggling. I am proud of the kids for taking this on themselves, for doing the legwork, and especially Caroline for reaching out beyond the schools.

I share this with you today, because you too can participate! You can host a “Go Orange” day at your place of business, in a scout troop, at your place of worship or you could make a donation to a local food pantry this month. There are even restaurants where you can eat, which support No Kid Hungry. Look online and see if there are any near you.

So what do you think? Will you “Go Orange” this month too?

Fun Friday: Is it a cupcake or a muffin? You decide!

20 Sep

Looks like a muffin, tastes like a cupcake. What was I serving my family for breakfast?

ORIGINALLY POSTED OCTOBER 26, 2012:

This summer, one thing I wanted to do was try out some of the recipes I’d pinned on Pinterest. Today’s recipe post is one of those. I figured that if it was good, I’d post it for one of my fall/pumpkin themed posts.

Which I am, today.

But I don’t know what it is.

A muffin maybe.

Or a cupcake possibly.

Pumpkin, for sure.

I’ve seen this recipe all over the internet and Pinterest, and it’s touted as being fast, easy, tasty and a good Weight Watchers snack even.

Two ingredients for today’s muffins. Cupcakes. Whatever they are.

This recipe has two ingredients:

Cake Mix
15 ounces of pumpkin

Mix, bake at 350 for 20-25 minutes.
Try them and let me know what you think! Are they a cupcake or a muffin? Are they truly healthy? No eggs, no oil or butter.

Do you sprinkle them with powdered sugar like a muffin or do you put frosting on them like a cupcake?

Muffin?

Cupcake?

Breakfast?

Or dessert?

You try them and let me know what you think!

What’s for Dinner Wednesday: The dinner that kept on giving

18 Sep
Chicken Tacos in the crock pot was one of our favorite meals last week!

Chicken Tacos in the crock pot was one of our favorite meals last week!

Just the other day I talked in my post about how I love meals that I can cook enough of to last more than one day or night.

Well, last Thursday’s dinner, a crock pot meal of Chicken Tacos was amazing in every department: It was fast and easy, delicious, everyone loved it, and I got four people’s lunches plus another whole dinner out of it.

“That’s amazing!” You must be saying.

“I wonder how she did that!!” You’re probably wondering.

Well here’s how it all went down:

As you know, we’ve been in need of some heavy duty crock pot cooking with the advent of the new school year. I figured that if I can do crock pot recipes four nights a week, we will be in good shape with our dinners. My friend Gina sent me this link with more than a dozen recipes for crock pot cooking. I talked about it last week in my What’s for Dinner Wednesday post as well.

So far we’re up to six crock pot meals and we’re pretty much six for six. Everyone’s liked everything.

I made due with what I had to make the fresh Pico de Gallo and it was amazing.

I made due with what I had to make the fresh Pico de Gallo and it was amazing.

Last Thursday I tried the Chicken Taco recipe, which you can find here. It called for Pico de Gallo, which I didn’t have but I had two large tomatoes and a regular onion so I adapted this recipe from Allrecipes.com to make my own, fresh batch, and I threw it on there.

Amazing.

We served it with a choice of hard or soft taco shells and we had toppings of nonfat refried beans, nonfat sour cream, lettuce, tomatoes, and shredded cheddar cheese.

Those toppings are an important detail.

The reason they matter is that forever, Elizabeth has been asking for a seven layer dip type of recipe that she saw in her lunchbox cookbook, as her lunch. I had actually seen something similar, called Burrito in a Jar on Skinnyms.com and I thought she’d like that. I kept saying that the next time we had tacos I’d do the dip for her lunch the next day.

The lunches following the Chicken Taco dinner were a big hit the next day!

The lunches following the Chicken Taco dinner were a big hit the next day!

Additionally, Alex had been asking for a Taco Salad ever since we had it at our annual Labor Day cookout. Someone brings it every year, and Alex declared it to be so fabulous that she wanted it for lunch asap. I had been giving her the same answer; next taco meal, she’d have Taco Salad for lunch.

Well, the leftovers for this meal provided all the fixings for both the dip and the salad. I prepped everything for everyone’s lunches as I cleaned up from dinner, basically using the leftover toppings from the tacos to make the dips and salad. I put some multigrain tortilla chips into ziploc bags and four lunches went into the fridge, all made for the next morning, when dinner was cleaned up. Done and done.

You’d think that there was no place else to go with this meal, that we’d used it and used it again, so it was done, but it wasn’t! I actually had not yet used the leftover chicken and Pico de Gallo that had cooked for the hot portion of the tacos. I’d only used the leftover toppings. So I saved them, on the advice of my friend Gina, who said that I should consider making Tortilla Soup with the leftovers, on another night. Coincidentally, my other friend, Paula, just happened to post a recipe for Tortilla Soup on her soup blog, My Soup For You, the very next day. Gotta love friends like that! They work together and don’t even know it. One’s in Florida, one’s in Maryland, and I’m here! But we all got my dinner for Monday night, prepped and planned!!

Tortilla soup preparation was fast and easy and it simmered in the crock pot all day long on Monday.

Tortilla soup preparation was fast and easy and it simmered in the crock pot all day long on Monday.

To make my own Tortilla soup, I used Paula’s recipe as a guide. I threw in the leftover chicken and pico, with a 32 oz. container of chicken broth plus two cups of water with two boullion cubes dissolved in it (I had run out of the containers of broth, but would’ve just used two if I had them.)

In addition, I threw in a can of black beans (rinsed), about a half bag of frozen corn, and at the last minute I decided to saute half a green and half a red pepper and throw that in near the end of the cooking time.

I served the soup with nonfat sour cream, nonfat shredded cheddar cheese, and tortilla chips that you could crush up and put into the soup if you wanted to.

It was amazing. I loved it, Liz loved it, Don loved it. Alex and Caroline did not love it. But they are the pickiest of the five of us, so I wasn’t surprised at all that it wasn’t up their alley.

I’d totally make it again.

And the best part…..there was leftover soup.

For my lunch for my lunch the next day.

This was by far the furthest I have ever stretched a meal of ours. It was inexpensive to make too. Nothing in it cost very much and every part of it was delicious.

If you’re looking to stretch your budget and your meals, I highly recommend you try this out!

I got two dinners and two lunches out of one crock pot meal!

I got two dinners and two lunches out of one crock pot meal!

Monday Musings: Remembering our summer

16 Sep
Even though it's not officially over, it's over.

Even though it’s not officially over, it’s over.

I know.

You’re going to say, “But it’s not over yet! It’s not over til it’s officially over!”

It’s over.

Finished. Done.

Gone, but luckily, not forgotten.

In fact, we spend lots of time thinking about, talking about and remembering all of the fun times we had this summer, thanks to a great new tradition that I started last summer: The Summer Time Line.

If you’re a longtime reader, you might remember when I wrote about last year’s summer time line. I wasn’t sure how it would work out, but it worked out great! And, even better, when we were all done reminiscing about our summer, we used all of the photos and labels to make a great summer scrapbook of memories. It was fantastic.

And we left room for this summer’s memories in that book!

So guess what?

This summer, starting on the last day of school, we began our summer time line for 2013.

On the last day in June, I put my plan back into action. While they were at school I ran out and got what I needed: a roll of doodle paper at Christmas Tree Shop, just like last year, and then I thought long and hard about how I’d utilized my labels last year for our scrapbook. I decided to go to our local learning store and pick up some bulletin board edging with all of their favorite colors to use for my actual line, and some name tags with peel-off backing for my labels. Those served two purposes: 1) they were prettier than the post-it note type of labels I did last year and 2) when it comes time to put them into the scrapbook we can just peel off the backing and stick them on the pages with the photos. Right now they are on the time line with tape. As an added bonus, the bulletin board edging is double-sided, so I can use strips of it from the same bag if I do it next year, just using the other design on the flip side.

Once again this summer, our time line is full of great memories.

Once again this summer, our time line is full of great memories.

When the kids walked in from school, they saw the blank canvas taped up on the wall, labeled Summer Memories 2013. I hadn’t told them I had planned to do it again this year and I wasn’t sure what their reaction would be.

“Oh yay! We’re doing that again,” one of them called out as they were halfway up the stairs.

I’d started the time line myself with one label: The Last Day of School. The last day kicks off our first day of summer.

And then it began. Every so often we would write up the labels, and when I could, a few times over the summer, I’d print out my wallet-sized photos. This year I was more liberal about printing out photos, knowing ahead of time that we were making a scrapbook. At one point I was kind of stuck because I didn’t have a printer for a short time. Once I got a new one, I was back on track.

Last year the time line stretched around the corner of the wall from the living room into the dining room. This year it went that same way and then by mid-August we were out of space again. So, we added a new strip of paper onto the opposite dining room wall with more bulletin board edging across it and printed out the rest of our photos from August and Labor Day weekend and week.

This year we spread onto a third wall with our summer memories.

This year we spread onto a third wall with our summer memories.

With that, our time line is done.

And now, as the air gets just a little crisper this week, and the sun sets just a little earlier each day, we look all around us at the memories we made this summer.

Soon, but not too soon, we’ll take the time line down and add the pages to our scrapbook from last year.

Maybe in the fall. Or before Thanksgiving.

Definitely before Christmas cards arrive.

But for now, we’re just content to remember what a great, great summer 2013 was and how lucky we are to have our memories.

The first two weeks of August filled one whole wall of our time line.

The first two weeks of August filled one whole wall of our time line.

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