Monday Musings: What exactly did we create?

17 Oct
Did we dream it or did we do it?

Did we dream it or did we do it?

Recently we had a conversation in our family that has really stuck with me. At the time, it left me a tiny bit unsettled, sad yet happy, longing yet not, and questioning a few things. I had been thinking on it and thinking on it, mulling it over in my mind for quite some time, and hesitating whether or not to publish a blog post about it or not. Last week I watched a video which confirmed that yes, I did want to publish this post. I encourage you to watch this video from beginning to end. It is well worth your time. Thank you to the Attleboro High School students who spent many hours of time on such an important topic.

In the meantime, here is my post.


It was summertime.

We were all together and we had the occasion to find ourselves in a warehouse. There was an event there and we were attending, but the event only used a small part of the available space. It was a big, open warehouse, a different experience than warehouse shopping, like at BJ’s or Costco or Sam’s Club. The walls were black, the floors were black, it was an exciting open space, big and empty: seemingly like a giant blank canvas.

As we walked through the space, we marveled at the vast openness of it; it almost encouraged you to run wild, to yell out loud to hear your voice echo in the space, but we didn’t do that. We walked and we talked.

“What if?” Some one of us said it. I truly don’t remember who.

But I do remember what followed next.

“What if we lived here?! What if this was our house?!”

“I’d want a big space to dance!”

“A huge kitchen for cooking!”

“An art studio!”

“A stage!”

“A room filled with books on all the walls!”

“A sewing room with tons of space for fabrics!”

“A place for a 3D printer and doing science experiments!”

“A music room for playing piano and instruments!”

“A photography studio!”

And on, and on and on.

We laughed and talked and called out ideas to each other as we designed our new home. In real life, we live in a regular-sized house, like regular people do, and sometimes (okay, many times) it seems too small for all of us, but we always pride ourselves in being creative with our space, always finding ways to make it fit our needs at the time of our lives that we’re in. We’re comfortable with making changes as our needs change, and that’s just what we’ve always done. We make it work for us.

But this, this imaginary blank canvas of a home, it was exciting to think about for a few minutes as we walked through it and out, out into the bright sunshine of the outdoors and towards our car.

Once we got in the car, the conversation was over and we moved on to the next thing, back to real life and back to summer and then eventually back to school and work.

I couldn’t stop thinking about it though. As two educators, we’d always imagined starting our own school. Hands-on, experiential learning is our thing. As parents we have fostered that passion in our kids too.

In my mind I pondered the conversation. What did we really imagine? Was it our imaginary house in a huge open space, or had we created the school of our dreams?

And really, the school of our kids’ dreams?

It made me a little bit sad. Sad at first, because most likely we won’t ever get to open up our own school in that warehouse with all of the hands-on learning experiences. Sad second, because in reality, so much of what our kids called out as the things they’d love to be surrounded by on a daily basis, is so much of what’s been removed from traditional public schools as the years go by. I am very thankful that our school district offers a stellar option for high school students through a regional career and technical school which is located on one of our city’s high school campuses, but I know that not everyone has that option everywhere, and that the guaranteed hands-on, engaging education that’s found in a career and tech program is only for high school students, at least in our neck of the woods. I’m also happy to see instrumental music education returning to our elementary schools here, after having been gone for so long thanks to budget woes which are not unique to just our area.

That said, so much of what I used to see in schools as I covered story after story, is no longer done as teachers have said that they have run out of time to do the types of things they used to do. As more testing and seat-work move in, more hands-on experiences and creativity move out. Sometimes, if schools specialize in the arts, they leave out the sciences. As they specialize in science and technology, they lose focus on the arts-things like theater, music, visual and performing arts. That makes me sad. Home economics, cooking, sewing and fashion, wood and textile design…don’t even get me started. In so many places, although not everywhere, these areas of study, these life and career skills that students need the minute they are out in the world on their own, are gone. It is so much so that on a recent college tour, we were even told of basic cooking classes that are offered to college students getting ready to live on their own who don’t possess those types of basic independent living skills.

But yet despite my sadness, I soon had an awesome realization, and ultimately it made me happy and it made me proud.

No, we didn’t open our school (at least not yet), we don’t have a giant home and we definitely don’t have a school-sized budget. But that said, all of those things that our kids dreamed of having in their space, they dream of because they have experienced them. As they’ve grown we’ve designed our open spaces in our home to be spaces that foster creative play, learning and hands-on experiences. Whether it was dress-up and school, arts and crafts, or library and kitchen imaginary play spaces in our basement when they were little, or lessons in things like sewing, dance, music, theater and art as they got older, they’ve been able to be exposed to so many things and have had the time and the opportunity to explore and experience them all. Books have always lived on shelves in every bedroom, under pillows with flashlights and book lights. Play-doh, paint, glue and glitter have always been regular staples in our craft supplies. We have had a garden in our backyard almost every summer since our kids were young. As they grew, the books, spaces and activities grew and changed with them, and the play kitchen space became cooking with us in the real kitchen space, a passion of ours that they all share.

When learning experiences were offered in our city or nearby cities and towns for free, we exposed them to them, while enrolling them in regular lessons for some of the things they loved whenever we were able to. They’ve always been exposed to things that interest them and spark their creativity: free workshops on 3D printing or stop-motion animation at the library, free reading events and encounters with famous authors at the State House, science experiments in our kitchen, lots of opportunities for great experiences through the Girl Scouts like photography lessons and outdoor camping trips, for example.

As teens and tweens they now have a sewing machine in every bedroom. We have paint and canvases, fabric, easels and musical instruments in our home, and so many books. We cook together and they cook independently. As I look around in this instant, there are sketch books sitting out right now, out in the open here in our living room, awaiting the next burst of inspiration, and there’s a draft of someone’s book on my laptop, a dress form with an almost-finished dress on it in a bedroom down the hall.

So as sad as I was that I know we probably won’t ever have our school, and sad for what many students won’t ever have because it’s lost from so many schools and out of reach for many family budgets, after much thought, I was ultimately happy and proud. I felt that if these were the things our kids wanted in their imaginary home, or maybe in their vision of the ultimate perfect school, and if we’d somehow managed to dedicate ourselves to being able to provide them all for them over the years in our own home, in their own real lives, then we’d done a good job of teaching in a hands-on, experiential way. We have succeeded in fostering a love of hands-on learning, of reading and of writing, a passion for the arts and for the sciences, and we’ve given them life-long skills they need to be successful when they are living independently. As we now tour colleges and see the hands-on experiential learning that is taking place there, we see too, that it is the desired outcome for secondary education over any standardized test, and we know we have prepared our kids well for this type of learning which will later transcend into the jobs of the future. Colleges look for students who have experienced true learning, not the one-sided delivery of a curriculum or the passing of a test or of dozens of tests. Employers look for a well-rounded problem solver and critical thinker with a wide variety of skills in their repertoire, not just someone who can ace a test.

Although my mulling over of this conversation was initially one tinged with sadness for what wasn’t or what will never be, it is ultimately one that makes me smile. We had a dream, we had a goal, and in essence we did it and we did it for those students who matter to us most of all: our own. We did it in a small space and on a tiny budget and we continue to do it each and every day. We have always sacrificed a lot, often, and in so many other areas, but we are our children’s first teachers, they are our ultimate legacy, and hopefully when they leave our nest, they’ll be able to continue to live a life filled with a passion for hands-on learning and experiencing life to its fullest.




Two weeks of meals and a new recipe for you

12 Oct
One of my favorite fall meals ever: Cranberry Chicken

One of my favorite fall meals ever: Cranberry Chicken

Happy Wednesday everyone!

There is a crisp feeling in the air these days and just the other night, I did it: I turned on the heat in the house.

With the change in season comes some meals on our bi-weekly menu that we don’t make really any other time of the year. We all get excited when we see the reappearance of those menu items.

Without further ado, here is our list for the current two weeks of meals. I hope that you’ll find something on this list that inspires you too!


Monday: Whole chicken (this was a carryover from last time, we never got to have it during that two week cycle.)

Tuesday: National Taco Day, so……tacos

Wednesday: Pasta de Peche (this is an old Italian egg drop soup kind of pasta recipe. It reminds me of my childhood but it’s actually a recipe my daughter brought home from her friend’s house and it is her grandmother’s recipe. It is so simple, so here it is as we make it for a family of four, and then we make smaller version for one gluten free:

16 oz. box of pasta, 4 scrambled eggs, 4 cubes of chicken bouillon, drizzle of olive oil

Boil the pasta as usual. When it is done, drain the water but do not take the pasta out of the pan. Leave a small amount of water in the bottom. Shut the heat off and add in beaten egg with a little olive oil. Stir into pasta. Add in (Herbox) bouillon. Stir until egg has cooked. Add a butter, salt and pepper to taste.    (For the gluten free version the box of pasta is 8.8 oz, so we use 2 eggs and 2 bouillon cubes.)

Thursday: Steaks

Friday: out to dinner

1Saturday: DIY tortilla pizzas (corn tortillas for gluten free)

Sunday: Pork Chops

Monday: Cranberry Chicken

Tuesday: Grilled chicken with melted cheese and avocado

Wednesday: Pasta with zucchini rounds parmesan (This is a new recipe, I will let you know how it goes!)

Thursday: Chicken wings and legs

Friday: Hamburgers, chicken burgers and hot dogs


One banana, two banana, three banana, four…..

6 Oct
I think we have at least one too many bananas!

I think we have at least one too many bananas!

At our house, we tend to go through a lot of bananas in a week. We use them by themselves, in shakes, cookies, muffins and breads and we even freeze them for future use. Even still, there’s a limit to just how many bananas one family can eat.

Last week we were out of bananas, so when my husband was in the grocery store, he bought two bunches. The next day as I was in a different grocery store, picking up the remainder of what we needed, I also grabbed a bunch of bananas because I hadn’t yet seen the ones he bought.

I hung my bunch up on the hook in the kitchen, only to have him bring his two bunches up later that day. Suddenly, we had *a lot* of bananas.

We’re already down one bunch since that day, but we have two bunches to go, so I’ve been gathering up some of my most banana-y recipes and putting them on the top of my list.

This week, I had one of my favorite lunches, but it’s one I can’t have every day because it’s not really stellar in the way of being very healthy. It’s got a banana in it though, so that’s good, and peanut butter, so that’s good too. If you decide to wash it down with a glass of milk, that’s a bonus.

I read about this sandwich online somewhere, and whenever I eat it, I imagine it’s the type of sandwich that would be featured on a show like “Diners, Drive-ins and Dives,” where you see amazing things made into a sandwich or piled on top of a waffle, or some other sort of unusual meal.

Ooey and goey, this sandwich is a twist on the old school lunchbox version.

Ooey and goey, this sandwich is a twist on the old school lunchbox version.

The Grilled Peanut Butter and Banana Sandwich is a twist on an old favorite lunchbox staple, the peanut butter and banana sandwich. The recipe I saw online actually had cream cheese and honey in it also, but that didn’t appeal to me as much. I have done this sandwich in three different varieties so far: peanut butter and banana, with peanut butter, honey and banana, and with peanut butter, Nutella and banana. I’ve eaten it for breakfast some days or for lunch other days. The added touch of the grilled bread makes the sandwich warm and gooey. I’m sure there are other varieties you could try, including the one with cream cheese and honey if you so desire.

Enjoy today’s banana recipe, and feel free to share with me some of your favorite banana recipes in the comments below!

Fun Friday: Homemade Chocolate Cornstarch Pudding

30 Sep
There is just something so delicious about homemade pudding!

There is just something so delicious about homemade pudding!

TGIF Everyone!

Today’s recipe is a fast, easy, fun and inexpensive treat to make!

I love pudding and I always have, even as a kid. I remember my mom making pudding on top of the stove and having me stir and stir and stir with the wooden spoon until it changed color and texture and we knew it was done. She still has the same little glass pedestal cups that she’d put the pudding in. I took these memories and carried them on for my own kids on occasion, but not often enough, in my opinion. It had been such a long time since I’d made a stove-top pudding.

Recently I saw a homemade pudding recipe that was quick, gluten free, and had just a few ingredients. The stirring on top of the stove is what takes the longest–that and waiting for it to chill if you only like it cold.

I love warm pudding and I love chilled pudding, and the last time we had it, we had company over and we debated: do we love the skin that forms on top or not? It was a mixed review. I don’t mind it, I actually love it, but some people didn’t like it at all.

A double recipe makes about six mugs of pudding.

A double recipe makes about six mugs of pudding.

I have found that for this recipe I need to at least double it for there to be enough for five of us, but when we have had company, I have even tripled it because there were eight of us in total.

I found the recipe for this Chocolate Cornstarch Pudding on, one of my favorite go-to recipe sites. It got 4.5 stars out of five, and I’d give it a whole five out of five if I were rating it!

Here is the recipe:

Chocolate Cornstarch Pudding

1/2 cup white sugar

3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder

1/4 cup cornstarch

1/8 tsp. salt

2 3/4 cups milk

2 tablespoons butter, room temperature

1 teaspoon vanilla extract


In a saucepan, stir together sugar, cocoa, cornstarch and salt. Place over medium heat, and stir in milk. Bring to a boil and cook, stirring constantly, until mixture thickens enough to coat the back of a metal spoon. Remove from heat, and stir in butter and vanilla. Let cool briefly, and serve warm, or chill in refrigerator until serving.


A Menu, A Recipe and A Warning

21 Sep
Ready for another two weeks of dinners?

Ready for another two weeks of dinners?


How I enjoy the little breaks that I get in September.

The start of school comes barreling in for weeks before that actual first day. They are filled with doctor appointments of all kinds-eyes, teeth, and school physicals, along with coaches’ practices for school sports teams, and whatever else we manage to squeeze in. We shop for clothes, shoes, notebooks and pencils. Those last two weeks of summer vacation fly by and then suddenly, the front door opens and closes a few times one morning, and by 7:30 am, everyone is gone. The house is incredibly silent. So much so that I sit and revel in the silence for a little while, sad, but yet relieved. We did it. We made it to the first day of school.


Because I am primarily a school news reporter, this early part of September is my down time, and I enjoy it very much. I still work, but the intensity of my job is lower at the start of the year and it gives me a few weeks to ease into the school routines before it really picks up and we fly into the fall and holiday season of writing, school and family commitments.

This is the time of year I can start to try out some recipes that I’ve been putting aside, sharing on Facebook so I don’t forget where to find them, looking through cookbooks and this is the time of year I have the most time to share them on The Whole Bag of Chips. I even have the time to look up and link up the recipes for any of the meals I’ve shared previously.

Since last year I hardly had any time at all, and since it’s September now, I am giving you a nice, full post today. It’s got our Two Weeks of Meals menu for this week and next, a new recipe we tried out last week and surprise….a safety warning to go along with it!

First off: Two Weeks of Meals

Sunday: Homemade Chili (and later, homemade chocolate pudding for dessert!)

Monday: Paninis

Tuesday: Baked potato soup (new recipe we’re trying out)

Wednesday: Ravioli with sauteed shrimp and grape tomatoes

Thursday: Grilled chicken caesar salad

Friday: Homemade pizza

Saturday: Kielbasa

Sunday: Baked chicken dinner

Monday: Meatloaf burgers

Tuesday: Chicken pot pie (made with the leftover chicken from Sunday)

Wednesday: Cauliflower/Broccoli/Chicken casserole

Thursday: Eggplant Parmesean and pasta

Friday: Leftovers


This was a gluten free, lowfat recipe we tried out recently and loved. Every single person gave it a thumbs up. Literally.

This was a gluten free, lowfat recipe we tried out recently and loved. Every single person gave it a thumbs up. Literally.

Next Up: A New Recipe for you to try out, and a warning to go along with it!

Our menu planning is challenging for us because we are trying to combine meals that work for our busy schedule with providing healthy eating options for our family and making it either a gluten free meal or providing almost the exact same option in a gluten free version, every night. Not to mention, we try not to make things we know people don’t like.


But doable.

So this recipe for the Skinnytaste Zucchini Lasagna is one that I saw on Facebook, and I shared it out so that I wouldn’t forget where it was. We really wanted to try it, so we added it to the last two-week menu cycle of meals. It was delicious. A little labor-intensive, so we scheduled it on a night we’d be eating later, with more time to cook. I’d be working that night and my husband would be able to come in a little earlier in the evening to help make it, and to help with all the nighttime pick-ups for the kids.

What’s that they say about the best laid plans?

This was a delicious meal, any leftovers disappeared within days, and we'd definitely make it again, just a little more carefully next time.

This was a delicious meal, any leftovers disappeared within days, and we’d definitely make it again, just a little more carefully next time.


Be sure to use ALL parts of your kitchen tools, especially the guards for the sharper ones!

Be sure to use ALL parts of your kitchen tools, especially the guards for the sharper ones!


And so, here is the final part of my post for you: the safety warning.

The warning goes like this:

If you are using a sharp kitchen tool, be sure that you are using all of the necessary parts and pieces that go with it. They are there for a reason! Zucchini is a slippery veggie and kitchen tools are very sharp. If you are not careful, you may end up heading out to the emergency room instead of heading to the dinner table!


Have a safe and  happy new school year, a happy fall season and a happy two weeks of meals!

Fun Friday: Homemade sidewalk chalk paint

9 Sep
Sidewalk chalk with a twist....paint!

Sidewalk chalk with a twist….paint!

In the summertime, I love the flexibility that my job gives me. I can create my own hours, and I can often work when my kids are asleep. However, some times, I just have to work when they’re up and we’re all home together. On those occasions, I try to get up very early and be done by noon, putting in five or six hours as early in the day as I can, or start late the night before and finish up early so that the best part of the day is not spent with me typing all day.

This summer, when I typed during the daytime hours, my kids always could occupy themselves if they were home. They’ve always had the desire to make and create, concoct and cook. They love DIY sites and Pinterest. My one blog post over the summer was for Oobleck, which they loved making, and today’s is another homemade concoction that they found.

Very few ingredients were needed for this and we had them all at home.

Very few ingredients were needed for this and we had them all at home.

Although we always have a ton of sidewalk chalk on hand (see my post from a few years back about our love for sidewalk chalk and all that it signifies to me) my kids found a DIY for homemade sidewalk chalk PAINT, and were immediately intrigued. What could be better than that? Nothing, apparently. So one Typing Tuesday morning, they asked me if they could make it. The ingredients were simple and we had them all on hand, as well as a bunch of sponge brushes that would be perfect for it, so I gave the okay. They made up a small batch of it and got to work painting outside on the cement. It was just a small amount to try it out, but they decided it was a great thing and would do it again in the future.

The ingredients they needed were:

2 Tablespoons Cornstarch

4 Tablespoons Water

6 to 8 drops of food coloring (they chose blue)

There are many sites online that give out this recipe, but here’s a site they found.

Wet, but drying.

Wet, but drying.

The paint was fine on our cement, and as it turns out, even on our wooden deck stairs (that was an “don’t ask permission first, but forgiveness later” situation) and it’s NOT the reason we repainted the deck at the end of this summer, I promise.

The neat thing was that the sidewalk chalk paint dries differently than it goes on, which was a cool changeover to watch and unique from just using regular already-dry sidewalk chalk. The “Hi” picture shows the changeover starting to happen, with the lighter part being the dry part and darker being the still wet part.

Neat, right?

And just as an aside, we had a large cookout over Labor Day weekend, and sure enough, one of the biggest hits of the day with adults and kids alike….you guessed it: Sidewalk chalk! Nothing was more fun than seeing grown men laying on the ground in all kinds of funny poses, being traced by their kids. Our sidewalks looked a bit like a crime scene forensics site afterwards!

Enjoy the weekend and have some fun!

New year, new system

7 Sep
By the week, or by the day, I can scroll through and see who has what, but better yet, all of us can see what's going on each day or night.

By the week, or by the day, I can scroll through and see who has what, but better yet, all of us can see what’s going on each day or night.

It’s September already! The summer flew by. It seems that each one seems to go faster and faster, and seems to end sooner and sooner! This summer was a good one though, good weather, good times, an overall good break from the stress of the school year.

With the start of each new school year, I try to be reflective on the past year and see if there is any way I can make my life and all of our lives, easier, flow more smoothly, have more balance, and be less chaotic. We spent the last couple of years really streamlining our meal planning and shopping patterns and we have found it to make a huge impact on our stress in that area. We always know what we’re eating for two weeks in a row, and we’re always stocked up on everything we need for those meals. We plan them to be healthy, budget friendly and most importantly, they coincide with nights that are busy when we have quick and easy meals and nights that we have more time to enjoy a meal with more prep time. It also allows us to coordinate our calendars and keep to the rule of always eating dinner together, as often as we possibly can, which ends up being most nights. Everyone has their thing, and the family dinner is one of our big things.

So now that we had that system down pat, I could look to other areas of our life to see what I could do in preparation for this upcoming school year because once it starts, it’s full speed ahead through June. No time to implement changes and upset the apple cart midyear.

Over the summer, our kids had a friend sleep over, and in the morning after they woke up, I invited her to stay a bit longer and accompany us on an errand, after which we’d drop her off at home, rather than her parents running out to pick her up. She grabbed her phone, opened up an app, took a look, and said, “Let me check my Cozi calendar. Yup, that should work, we don’t have any plans, let me call my mom and ask if it’s okay.”

I had a lightbulb moment right then. I suddenly remembered that years ago, before the days of smartphones and apps, I actually used Cozi briefly, housing it on my laptop computer. It had been recommended to me by my brother as an organizational tool, and although I tried it and liked it, not having a portable application for it, left all my organization at home and me on the road most of the week. Also at that time, none of our kids had smartphones, nor did we. So no one else could really utilize the app and after a while, I stopped using it and went back to carrying a paper planner; an 8 1/2 x 11 bound calendar book with long columns for each day, broken up by the hour. I was the keeper of the calendar. Anyone who needed anything had to ask me first or if they were home while I was home, go look it up in the book. That system seemed to work as best it could, for years.

My post-it note consumption has dropped off considerably with all of my lists housed in one place on my phone for anyone to add to, or to stop and pick up and then cross off from the list.

My post-it note consumption has dropped off considerably with all of my lists housed in one place on my phone for anyone to add to, or to stop and pick up and then cross off from the list.

After that lightbulb moment, believe it or not, I totally forgot about the Cozi app again. My memory isn’t what it used to be. We left that day for our errands, and my lightbulb went off. However, just a morning or two later, I was on a social media page and there in front of my eyes, popped up an ad for Cozi! It was like they knew I’d seen it in person just days before. (That’s a scary thought, but that is what it seemed like.) Right then and there, since I had some time, I opted to download the app onto my smartphone and start setting it up. Now that all our kids are out of elementary school, we finally have five phones so everyone could set up the app and access it from their phones.

As I set us up, I was able to give everyone a colored dot, even the dog, since she has semi-monthly groomer appointments and regularly scheduled veterinary appointments. I could make items repeat weekly, monthly or bi-weekly, and set up reminders for my family members days or hours before an appointment so they don’t forget that we have it. I could also make grocery lists for every store we go to, and to do lists for myself, a shared list, and individual lists, as well as lists for upcoming events. I started seeing many less post-it notes all over my desk and dining room table (which serves as my other, bigger desk). I noticed that if I had a few extra minutes to run into a store, I had the list right with me and didn’t have to search my failing memory for what it was I thought we needed.

My favorite thing though, is that all of our immediate family members have access to the calendar and to the lists. No one has to ask me if we have something scheduled on such and such a day or where someone is on any given night of the week. They can look at the calendar before asking permission to go somewhere. The kids actually start their sentences with, “I looked on Cozi, and the date is clear, can I schedule…..” which takes a lot of pressure off of me having to constantly manage everything for everyone. If someone runs out of something, they can add it to the list, and if they pick it up at the store on the way home, they can cross it off. It’s been great so far, and I think it’s going to really help us streamline our organization. We even added our two weeks of meals list to the list options so at any time anyone can see what’s for dinner tonight, if we need anything from the store for it, we can switch meals around on the fly if we need to because we have the whole list in front of us as well as the calendar, and I don’t have to answer that “What’s for dinner tonight,” question four times between 4pm and 6pm each day.

I often struggle with the ever-presence of technology in our lives, and I work very hard to try to keep balance in our family with phones, laptops and the like, as hard as it is. It’s not a perfect situation, but we’re always trying hard to keep at it. However, in this situation, I like the positive aspect of technology. I hope that throughout the year I continue to see the benefits of Cozi and that it will continue to eliminate some of the stress in our lives.