Tag Archives: kids

What’s for Dinner Wednesday: Taco Bake

4 Nov

This little “cookbook” is handmade from my college roommate, Karen, circa May 1993. I still cook from it!

ORIGINALLY POSTED MARCH 13, 2012

Last week during one of my posts I mentioned a cookbook that my college roommate, Karen had made me before we graduated URI back in 1993. Despite all our moves from state to state, apartments to house, that little booklet has traveled with me and several of our regular recipes have come from it. However, there’s so many in there that I haven’t made in years. Recently I pulled it out again, as I was specifically looking for a recipe for dinner that we hadn’t made in years, probably since before we had kids. It was a huge hit, so I thought I should share it here.

My family all likes Mexican food but I was getting a little tired of our alternating meals: tacos and quesadillas (even though they weren’t at all tired of them and could probably eat tacos and quesadillas day after day, I could not.) I decided to give Karen’s Taco Bake a try. It got four thumbs up. (And a thumbs down from Alex who said, “But I really liked the tomatoes Mom.”)

You don’t need a ton of ingredients for this recipe and I had everything on hand even though I hadn’t planned it in advance.

This recipe is all the things I like: quick and easy, one pan, and budget friendly. I had a pack of ground turkey in the fridge and everything else on hand in the house already.

KAREN’S TACO BAKE
INGREDIENTS

1 lb. Grd. Turkey or Beef

1 12 oz. jar of salsa (I had a 24 oz. jar, with about half left so I just dumped it all in.)

1 cup corn (drained if canned, mine is frozen)

1/2 cup mayo

1 Tbl. Chili Powder

2 cups crushed tortilla chips (I didn’t measure, but I put about half a bag into a ziploc and crushed them.)

2 cups Montery Jack Cheese (I used a block of cheddar)

I love how it first looks when you throw it all together.

DIRECTIONS

Brown and drain meat.

Stir in salsa, corn, mayo and chili powder.

Layer 1/2 meat, cheese and chips in a 2 qt casserole (I used a 11×7 baking dish)

Repeat so that cheese is on top of chips.

Bake 20-25 minutes until cheese is lightly crisp.

Top with shredded lettuce, tomato and sour cream.

My kids were so excited for this new meal, they couldn’t wait to try it out.

Now you could serve it on a plate as is, or as my kids like to do, you could throw it into a soft taco and wrap it up, with all the fixins’ and eat it that way. We had a little of both at our house; some on a plate and some in wraps. Either way….delicious.

So there you have it….another one of Karen’s famous recipes from my college years.

Enjoy!

Easter Sweet Bread

3 Apr

This recipe makes three “small” loaves of sweet bread for Easter. It’s wonderful when you grill it!

Originally posted April 4, 2012

This recipe is one that takes a while from start to finish- nine hours to be exact- but if you’re game, it’s SO worth it! It is, of course, from my mom. She received it from a woman she worked with. It’s dated April 1992.

My mom makes it every year and I have made it once or twice myself. Don’t let the number of steps scare you off. If you go step-by-step it’s not hard.

Colleen DeMoranville’s Sweet Bread

INGREDIENTS

1/2 cup melted butter (1 stick)

2/3 cup sugar

1 tsp. salt

2 and 1/4 cups hot milk

1 pkg. dry yeast (Fleishman’s Active Dry or Rapid Rise or Red Star)

1 egg- well beaten

1 tsp. vanilla extract (can also use almond if desired)

7 cups flour (start with between five and six and add more if needed)

one 15 ounce can sliced peaches, drained and sliced thinner

DIRECTIONS

1) Mix butter, sugar, salt an d hot milk in a large bowl.

2) Let cool to lukewarm.

3) Stir yeast into 1/4 cup warm water and let stand 5 minutes. (If using a thermometer it’s 110-115 degrees. Add 1/4 tsp sugar or whatever the package of yeast says to add.

4) Add dissolved yeast, egg, the extract and three cups of flour to the butter, sugar, salt and milk. Mix vigorously with flat wooden spoon.

5) Add three more cups of flour and then mix well.

6) If too sticky, add more flour. It almost always needs more, but not more than 7 cups. Too much flour will make the bread tough.

7) Turn out onto floured surface and knead it for one or two minutes, then let rest for 10 minutes. Add remaining flour only if sticky.

8) Knead more until elastic.

9) Put into large buttered bowl . Turn over once so it doesn’t dry out. Cover with a dishtowel or two and let it rise in a warm place until doubled. (Takes a few hours.)

10) Punch down and knead for another minute or two. Cut in half for two long loaves or in thirds for smaller loaves and divide each of those portions into three pieces (for a total of six or nine pieces.)

11) Stretch and roll each piece until long and uniform, about 12-18 inches if divided into two portions. Shorter if divided into three.

12) Use the three pieces to make a braid with each portion.

13) Pinch ends together.

14) Insert peach slices between braids.

15) Place each loaf on a buttered cookie sheet and cover with a towel. Let rise until doubled in bulk. (Takes about 2 hours.)

16) Brush each with one egg yolk that is mixed with 1 tsp. cold water.

17) Bake at 375 degrees for 25 minutes (check at about 20 minutes) if making 2 large loaves or less if making three smaller loaves (usually between 17 and 18 minutes)

18) Remove loaves to cooling racks.

19) Cool and then glaze with mixture of:

3 cups confectioner’s sugar

1 and 1/2 tsp. vanilla

5-6 tablespoons milk

Sprinkle with colored sprinkles or non-pareils.

This photo was taken a couple of years back when Elizabeth helped me make the bread. She was probably in first grade at the time. My point is: there’s lots of opportunity for kids to help out here. There’s measuring, kneading, braiding and more, that they can help out with.

NOTE: The whole process takes about nine hours. Start in the morning, end in the evening. Mixing and kneading takes about one hour. First rising takes about two hours. Braiding takes about a half hour. Second rising takes about two hours. Baking takes about a half for each loaf, then cool and glaze.

My mom stores hers in gift boxes (like from a department store) on waxed paper.

Happy St. Joseph’s Day!

19 Mar

Are you ready for some Zeppole?

ORIGINALLY POSTED ON MARCH 19, 2012

Are you wearing your red today? I am!

It’s March 19 and that means it’s one of my most favorite dessert holidays ever!

Happy St. Joseph’s Day to you!!

I’d personally skip right over St. Patrick’s Day and go right to St. Joseph’s Day because if it’s St. Joseph’s Day then it means……zeppole!!!

You might ask: What on earth is a zeppole??

My answer is: It’s the most wonderful cream filled, fried dough dessert in the world; kind of a cross between a donut and a cream puff I guess, although from what I understand, they have changed in nature over the years. However, the way you see them here is the way I’ve always known them to be and the way that I love, love, love them.

More than a decade ago, when we were first married, we lived in another state for a few years. That first year we were there,  St. Joseph’s Day rolled around. We went out that day, searching for a zeppole, and had the hardest time finding them. When we did, they weren’t even all that great. I was so disappointed. We’d only been there three months and I already knew we were going to have to come back. There was no way I was going to live in a place where there weren’t any good zeppole to be had.

Near us you can get a zeppole almost any time of the year, but we never, ever do, except on St. Joseph’s Day. It just wouldn’t be the same. It probably wouldn’t even TASTE the same!

I’m sure it’s no coincidence either, that my daughter Alex was due to be born on St. Joseph’s Day. She wasn’t, but still, there’s something significant in that, I just know it.

Being in city where there are just zillions of Italians, it means that there are also zillions of fantastic Italian bakeries in the area, so you can take your pick as to where you want to get your zeppole from. Everyone seems to have their favorite spot where they go each year.

Our family has gotten their St. Joseph’s Day zeppole at Solitro’s for decades and it thrills me to share this tradition with my kids.

To me it’s a really big deal to go and get them. I go to the same bakery where my family has gone forever and ever to get them. The first time I took my children there with me, I almost cried, I was so overwhelmed with the emotion I felt. I remember waiting with them in a line that stretched from the bakery counter to the door. I remember lifting them up so they could see into the back where the zeppole were being made; it looked like what I’d imagine Italy itself to look like. I remember pointing to the shelves that held trays upon trays upon trays of zeppole, all lined up in rows. It’s even magical to me how they put them into the white bakery box and tie it with string. There’s nothing like it. The zeppole taste wonderful, but the tradition and memories that go with it are such a big part of the day for me as well.

The case was full, both baked and fried zeppole, and this was only the day *before* St. Joseph’s Day.

And so, today I will again have my zeppole. My family doesn’t love them as much as I do, and I have to say, I’m glad. It means all the more for me.

I hope you’re able to get a zeppole today too! If not, I’ll be thinking of you all as I indulge.

Happy St. Joseph’s Day!

I hope you get your zeppole fix today too!

Monday Musings: What’s the objective?

9 Mar
Sometimes I assume everyone has a mental check list, but maybe it's just me?

Sometimes I assume everyone has a mental check list, but maybe it’s just me?

I had lunch with a friend a month or so ago, and we were talking about things in life, big and little, that we wanted to be sure we taught our kids while we had them here with us, life skills to impart on them before they venture out into the world as independent citizens.

The conversation reminded me of a blog post I’d read somewhere along the way where a mother was writing to her daughter at the “halfway point” of being about 10 years old. The writer talked about how so far, many of the things on her list of things to teach her daughter had been developmental, like how to tie her shoes, how to ride a bike, things like that, and how now that she was turning ten and beginning a new phase in her life, it was time to shift the list and be sure to teach her other important things.

It got me thinking of how I’m semi-obsessed with that concept myself. And, I say “semi,” but I might actually mean “totally and completely,” but take it as you will.

As a student teacher, we learned to write our lesson plans so that they always had an objective. As time went on, it became common practice to even post the student learning objectives in the classroom for each lesson, so that the students (and anyone visiting the room) knew what they should have learned by the end of the lesson: at the end of the lesson, all students will…..be able to write their first and last name…..be able to identify and sort the odd and even numbers…be able to understand and analyze the reasons for the American Revolution….. and so on and so forth. The student learning objectives change and get more difficult as the students move through their education. What they need to know gets harder and what they need to do with that learning in terms of studying and applying what they’ve learned to real life, gets harder too. Sometimes lessons are on-going and build on skills previously learned. They don’t learn it and leave it behind, they take what they’ve learned with them and use it for the next thing.

I think that life as a parent is just like that. Having objectives for your lessons gave you clarity in why you were doing what you were doing in the classroom, and I think that raising kids is the same way. I just naturally assume that everyone drives around and walks around thinking constantly about their objectives and whether or not they’ve been met, just as I do: at the end of 18 years, my children will know how to and understand the importance of:   choosing a healthy snack, utilizing appropriate portion sizes, making pancakes from scratch, creating a meal plan and grocery list, looking at unit prices to get the best deal, using coupons to extend their savings even further, sorting their own laundry and having a good system for how to put it away, doing dishes, budgeting their spending, having financial goals, making a hard decision (and having to say no to things they really want, at times, but feeling extra good when they’ve worked hard for something and can say yes), sacrificing something for the good of someone else, choosing a good fit for their spiritual community, volunteering their time for the good of the whole community…..and so on and so forth.

Sometimes our objectives are something minor and physical, like tying shoes, or making pancakes, and other times they’re really big, like some of the deep dinner table discussions we’ve had to have with our kids, the examples we try to set for them as role models, emphasizing for them our morals and values, but at the end, I always make a check mark on my mental list, as if to say, “Okay, she’s got that down. I’ve done my job, as parents we’ve done what we’re supposed to do by teaching this really hard lesson, by modeling this life skill. She’ll be okay when she’s on her own.”

And then I move on to the next thing. My list is ever-growing as life is ever-changing.

I’m constantly retrieving memories from the back of my brain as to things I had to know when I was on my own. I remember being the only one who knew how to make a ham and cheese omelet (thank you Grandpa Grello) and I remember not knowing that I had a flat tire, and driving all the way from home to work and getting that really angry phone call when I arrived there (sorry Dad), and I think in my head of all the wisdom both literal, practical, and the more big-picture, that we need to impart on our kids: Don’t be afraid to try something new, have good manners, love and respect the elderly, it’s okay to lose, always try again, you can do anything…and can they tell time on an analog clock, can they count back change, do they know to use different measuring cups for liquids and solids??

See what I mean? I’m constantly, constantly thinking and checking.

(And I still recently drove on a flat tire, having no idea it was flat, so I’m not sure how good a job I’m doing in teaching that skill to my kids.)

Recently our first-ever female governor announced an essay contest she was running, and only my middle daughter is eligible to enter it. She’s someone who’s always willing to put herself out there and take a risk. She enters things, tries for things, but doesn’t always see the success at the end that her other sisters who’ve entered and won various big deal things, have seen. At bedtime one night she said to me, “In the contest rules the governor wrote that she often tells her daughters that they can do anything, and that’s just like you always tell us.”

As I leaned over and kissed my middle girl goodnight, I made a mental check mark on my list.

Objective met.

 

 

Family Movie Night and Two Books: The Snowman, Some Snowflakes and a Craft

12 Dec
The Snowman movie based on the book

This movie is quick, 23 minutes long and is based on the book by Raymond Briggs

ORIGINALLY POSTED DECEMBER 16, 2011

Today is Friday, our wind-down night and often-times we have a Family Movie Night, as I said in last Friday’s post. Yesterday’s recipe was for Chocolate Crinkle Cookies, which I said make me think of snowflakes, even though they are chocolate based cookies. That thought of snowflakes leads me to today’s movie, book and craft for kids.

When I was an elementary teacher, the book, “The Snowman” by Raymond Briggs was one of my favorites to use as a wintertime activity with the kids. A wordless book, it had gorgeous illustrations, depicting a boy’s journey with a snowman. I used to love having the kids make their own version of the words to go along with the pictures.

That book is now a movie, and although I have not seen it, I wish I had it! According to the description on Amazon, it is based on live action flying footage. It sounds fantastic!

This is the same book that our family had for years until just last week.

The book that I used to have is now gone, donated just a couple of weeks ago, by my generous kids who each year have to make a big pile of books and toys for children who don’t have much, just before Christmas.

Clearly they couldn’t read my mind and know that I was going to use that very book in my blog post this week. When I heard it was gone, I almost went after it but my husband assured me they were putting the boxes on a truck as he was dropping them off, it was gone. So, instead, I am including the picture from Amazon. Sigh…I loved that book.

Speaking of books and snowflakes, when my daughter Caroline was in first grade, she checked out this very cool book about William Bently, a man who studied snowflakes. It includes really amazing photos of snowflakes and my kids were thoroughly intrigued by it. It truly shows that every snowflake is unique.

To me, nothing says winter crafts like paper snowflakes. One year I had my kids make snowflakes for all of the windows in the house (this was not an overwhelming task, we don’t have a ton of windows!) Each of their snowflakes was different and unique, just like real snowflakes. I loved the ones they put up on my bedroom windows so much that I never take them down. My side of the bed is the window side and I happen to sleep on my left side so I look out the window all the time when I’m laying there in the mornings just waking up. I love seeing those snowflakes.

Therefore, my craft for the day is just that: simple.paper.snowflakes.

Enjoy!

Paper snowflakes made by the kids

Every snowflake is different and unique, just like the children who make them!

Paper snowflakes made by our girls

I keep my paper snowflakes on my window all year long!

Monday Musings: Where’s the page in the books for *that*??

13 Oct
Don't bother looking it up, it's not going to be in there. Skip the Google search.

Don’t bother looking it up, it’s not going to be in there. Skip the Google search.

TABLE OF CONTENTS

Chapter 1:  How to decide whether or not to send your children to school during a targeted terror threat to their school……….. Page ????

Chapter 2: How to handle the fear and anxiety that has now consumed your household……Page ?????

*******************************************************************************************************

Did you ever just have one of those really bad days? The kind of day where nothing seems to go right, the kind of day that’s taking place in an already bad week?

I think we all have.

Last Tuesday was that day for me. I’ve been sick, we’ve all been fighting something as the season changes. I was tired, and it just seemed like it was one little thing after the next, all little inconveniences and annoyances all day long on my deadline day, exhausting me. I had a long night ahead too, as it was going to be a late night for my husband as well, due to a night time event at school.

It was our anniversary to boot, 19 years.

Earlier that week, I’d turned down an invitation to a home party at a friend’s for that night, stating at the time that I couldn’t attend because we have a rule here, given the fact that we both have night time obligations for our jobs: whenever one of us is out for work at night, the other of us is in, unless there’s an unusual exception, like a wake. One of us is always here to be “the one” running homework, dinner, showers, drop off and pick up at after school activities, sports and events. So since he’d be out on this night, I’d be in.

I’m incredibly glad we have that rule.

3:00 pm

That afternoon, I picked up my younger kids at school, and just before they exited the building, I received some very sad news. Another parent, the parent of one of my kids’ classmates, had passed away unexpectedly and tragically in an accident, just the day before. I was stunned, and I had a pit in my stomach knowing I’d have to tell my middle daughter, to tell all of them, when we got home before it got out on social media and she heard it from someone other than me.

I cried as I told her, but I was thankful that it was me telling her, thankful I was there after school to be “the one.”

“That was awful,” I thought to myself, as I drove her to her after school activity later on. My mind was overrun with thoughts of her friend’s mom, a mother of three boys, similar in ages to my three girls, and what she must be going through right then, reeling from the unexpected death of her husband. I was devastated for her.

I dropped my daughter off and ran to the store to pick up a couple of quick things: yogurt, some rice pudding cups (my guilty ‘processed food treat’ for those late nights of typing on a deadline) and juice. I’d only be gone from home about 30 minutes total and my oldest was there doing homework with my youngest at the dining room table, more than capable of holding down the fort while I ran out.

In line at the register, my phone rang. “Home” it said, as I was swiping my card. I picked up. “Let me call you right back, I’m paying,” I said quickly. “Um….okay,” I heard her say.

I wondered what was up. Homework issue, I figured.

I walked out of the store, my bag under my arm as I dialed again, calling her back.

“What’s up?” I asked.

“Something’s going on,” she said. “We got a call. I didn’t pick up but it played out loud on the machine. The superintendent of schools was on the line. I tried to cover Alex’s ears once I realized what they were saying, but it was too late.”

I was confused. This wasn’t what I’d been expecting her to say and I wasn’t processing all of of it. I heard her say things like threat, and danger and elementary schools, and name our city and the other two cities nearby, which are coincidentally two out of three cities in which I cover all of the school news for the city newspapers. I was trying not to panic as I tried to figure out what was going on.

For a split second, I felt that same fear I’d felt on 9/11 when I was far away from my daughter while at work, as the towers were hit, and I couldn’t get to her. I had that moment of panic come right back to me, a feeling I’d never wanted to feel again, and yet here it was, bubbling up inside of me. Luckily I was minutes away. I could be there almost instantly to see what was going on.

I quickly used my phone to get on the internet to see if I could make heads or tails of what had happened. Everyone was posting on social media that they’d gotten the same robo call. Panic was setting in everywhere, everyone was reacting to the news.

Essentially the news was this:

Someone had sent a letter to the police department of one of our neighboring cities threatening danger and harm at the elementary schools in that city, our city, and our other neighboring city sometime over the next three days. (That’s more than 25 elementary schools. There’s 17 in our city alone.) The police department had shared the letter with the authorities in the other two cities and the authorities had let the schools know, the school department was letting us know. We weren’t told exactly what the threat of harm was specifically, but it was enough of a “physical threat” that they were reacting big time and taking the threat quite seriously. Police would be dispatched to all of our schools in all three cities for the next three days. School would remain in session. You can click here to see the news.

4:30 pm

This was turning into a really, incredibly, very bad day.

I got home, my rice pudding had now exploded in my bag. Seeing that, I truly wanted to cry. I listened to the message on our answering machine myself, hearing all the things my daughter had told me, all the things I’d read online. Threat, physical harm, danger, police, security. Three days. The words all jumped out at me.

Social media was on over-drive. My oldest daughter, brand new this year to her open campus, five building high school, was getting messages, as was I.
“What do we do? Do we go to school tomorrow?” she asked me, panicked. “If something happens there, I don’t know what to do, where to go. We’ve only had one lock down drill in one class. I’d be all alone, while they would be together,” she said. By “they,” she meant her two sisters, together on the same hallway at their school.

“I don’t know,” I said.

There are no rules for situations like this. You're making them up as you go along.

There are no rules for situations like this. You’re making them up as you go along.

I messaged my husband, an elementary principal at a nearby school district not one of the three on the target list. “Please call me,” I said.

I gave him the low-down when he called. He had no idea yet that this was going on, but soon it’d be affecting his job in his school district as well, as fear began to set in across the state.

We spoke briefly, agreeing to wait to see how things transpired through the evening before deciding what to do about school the next day. By the time he was due home later on, we might know more.

I ran to get my daughter where I’d dropped her two hours earlier, shortly after giving her the terrible news about her classmate’s dad at 3pm. I knew I’d now have to tell her this news as well. Her sisters knew, it was all over social media, she’d get a message or text, I was sure of it.

And then it hit me, “WHERE in the parenting books is THIS page? Where does it tell you how to deal with THIS situation?”

I called my mother on the way to get my daughter.

“I’m having a really bad day,” I said, near tears.

6:00 pm

My daughter and I exited the building and got into the car. I thought of the best way to give her this news. At school that same day, she’d been stressed over the recent changes to the lunch and recess schedules which were new, due to incorporating hand washing and the dispensing of Purell before and after because of the recent deaths in our state and a nearby state due to the Enterovirus D68. They’d been hearing all about the Ebola outbreaks in the news. I’d just delivered some other tough news at 3:00 about her friend’s dad, I knew this could potentially put her over the edge.

When I told her, she gasped.

“Why? Why would someone do that? What kind of harm? What did they say they’re going to do? Where?” she said, grappling with the news.

“I don’t know,” was really all I could say.

For the next three hours, my head hurt as I tried to go about the normalcy of our day, making and serving dinner, answering homework questions, and cleaning up after dinner. I fielded questions to which I had no answers and tried to keep their panic at bay, all the while trying to think in my head what the best thing was to do for the next day as I waited for my husband to walk through the door so we could finally talk things through together.

Our phone rang. Had I heard the news? What was our family going to do? What did I think others should do?
“I don’t know,” I just kept saying, over and over.

I watched the hundreds of responses posting on Facebook as moms and dads were at their own houses struggling with the same issues: to tell their kids or not. How much to tell? Send them to school or not? If not, for how many days? This threat was spread over three days’ time. Do we keep them home for three days? How do you transition a kid back to school after an event like this has transpired? We heard from a mom in Newtown, CT., from Sandy Hook Elementary School, who passed along her compassion and empathy as a parent who knew exactly what we were going through, and then some.

And again I wondered, where is the instruction manual for things like this? What page in the dozens of parenting books I’d had as a new mom does this topic appear on?

It doesn’t.

We have a sign in our house over the front door. It’s the last thing you see as you step out, and it says, “Home is where your story begins.”  It’s a sign I’ve always loved because in my head, I picture all of the wonderful things we do as a family, the story we write as a family and all of the memories we make together before stepping out the door each day to write our own stories as individuals.

But today…today I think it has even more meaning than that. I think it’s more than just the happy, wonderful family memories that we create. I think our family’s story includes the pages we write together in our own rule book, our own parenting guide. It’s the things we encounter, conquer and the previously unwritten rules that we write as a family unit.

Last week, every family had to make their own decisions as to what was best for their kids, how to have these tough conversations and make these tough decisions. There was no right or wrong answer and no rule book or parenting manual to help us. We had to rely on what we knew for information and what we knew about our own children, in order to make the best decisions for them. We were told by our elementary principal that every decision made was the right one, and he was right.

We just had to come up with our decision.

9:00 pm

Finally, finally, finally, my husband arrived home. My middle daughter almost jumped out of her skin when our front door opened. I reassured her that it was okay, it was just her dad coming home. We talked it out and made our decision together.

Ultimately, we opted to keep them home for the day. Although statistically and logically we knew the chances of anything happening were probably slim, we didn’t have a ton of information or really any reassurances that all was safe and well, and at the time, we didn’t know what specifically had been threatened, although we do now. But, more than that, we looked at our kids and into their eyes. We saw the fear, the panic and the stress. We saw how they looked at us, begging and pleading not to make them go. We weighed out whether throwing them out there into an uncertain situation was worth the risk of traumatizing them further. It wasn’t. To have them be one of three kids in class that next day, or the only kids on the empty bus that next day, to make them struggle through a day of fear and anxiety while they watched movies and played games all day at school, just to prove a point (what point?) was not worth any added trauma and anxiety for them or for us. Instead, we opted to give them a day to take the edge off, to relax, to breathe a little easier knowing they were safe and secure at home with me.

I felt my middle daughter’s body shake as she cried herself to sleep that night as I lay next to her at her request, something I rarely have to do anymore, and I knew we’d made the right decision. On Friday, when I picked up my younger two girls at school, I saw the complete and utter exhaustion on the faces of the teachers, as the emotional strain of the week showed through, and even then, as I saw the effect of the past four  days on the adults, I again knew we had made the right decision for our children. My heart swelled with gratitude for those teachers who came to school for our kids every day last week, putting aside their own safety and the well-being of their own families in order to be there for our children because that’s what was best for our kids.

With no rule book to guide any of us, our family has written a new page in our family story. It wasn’t a page I ever wanted to write or a page I ever want to write again, but there it is.

I’ll be glad to be able to close the book on this chapter. I know our book will be full of good pages and bad, happy chapters and sad. This isn’t over, I know that, and these awful things are part of the world we live in, whether it’s a school, movie theater, mall, airport or restaurant. I get that too. I guess ultimately, as long as we’re all here writing our story together, I think that’s all that matters.

Our story, every page and every chapter, is written by us together.

Our story, every page and every chapter, is written by us as a family, together. It’s our own rule book and parenting guide.

 

 

 

Monday Musings: Watching it all fall into place

29 Sep
Our goal is always a simple one: to put our family first and have no regrets.

Our goal is always a simple one: to put our family first and have no regrets.

Someone posted this picture on Facebook a few weeks back, and I loved it then, so I saved it. It spoke to me in that it seemed to describe how we as parents try to live our lives. Like most parents, we put our children first and the decisions we make focus strictly on what’s best for them and for the way that we wish to mold them and the foundations we wish to give them.

We know that this time is limited and that it’s important. They’re only “ours” for a short time before we must set them free, off into the world to make their way, making life’s choices using all the tools we’ve given them in their tool-kits. As parents, we’ve taught them the importance of eating together around the table and talking things out. We’ve taught them how to solve problems and come out stronger in the end, how to do more on less, how to be frugal, how to appreciate the little things in life as well as what we believe the big things in life should be. We’ve passed on our strong morals and values and we’ve taught them to think of others before themselves.

And now, as our oldest has transitioned into the next phase of her life: high school, we’re watching it all fall into place. We’re watching all of our hard work, time and effort pay off.  As parents of a high school student, it’s our time now to step back a bit and watch our daughter use the tools in her tool-kit that we’ve helped her to stock over the years while we continue to help her fill it for the future.

It’s an amazing time, and yet it emphasizes the above quote to us even more. Our time with her in this capacity is short and we not only see the “light at the end of the tunnel,” but we actually see the end of the tunnel, we see our window of time together in this way, closing. As much as it saddens us to see her growing up, it thrills us to see her growing, maturing and becoming a confident, kind adult, the type of person we hoped we were raising and setting forth into the world.

It’s fulfilling to watch her make good choices (so far), to appreciate the things we’ve taught her to appreciate, to remember the talks around the dinner table and in the early after school hours as she makes some hard decisions, and to see her make good, solid, split decisions that put the needs of others before her own.

It’s nice to see it all coming together, to see the person we’ve molded, the foundation we’ve built coming into her own. We’re far from finished teaching her and our other children, that we know; our job’s not done, but it’s so nice to see the fruits of our labor coming to be and to see that it’s been worth all of the sacrifice, the time, effort and hard work that we’ve put into being parents, into raising and teaching our kids over anything else.

As the quote above says so well, we’ve found that time to be precious and to be a privilege, and we’re pleased to see that during this time of their lives, it’s precious and a privilege to our children as well, that they still look to us for the consistent advice and encouragement they’ve always relied on us for, and they still want to do the things together that we’ve always done as a family. They need us more now, as they’re getting older, than ever before.

It’ll be over in a blink and our nest will then be empty, but we’ll be able to be proud as we watch the adults we’ve raised from birth go into the world.

Fun Friday: Cook once, eat twice. After school snacks and breakfast

26 Sep
These were healthy and a huge hit. Definitely a keeper.

These were healthy and a huge hit. Definitely a keeper.

ORIGINALLY POSTED SEPTEMBER 13, 2013

Cook once, eat twice.

I love that old adage. You cook once, and live on the leftovers. Or, you make double, since you’re cooking anyway, and have twice as much.

Either way, I like it.

I’ve been living on that theme all week long.

I’ve been a cooking machine this week, in between my own work hours, trying to deal with our crazy school year schedules, and making sure that we maintain a healthy eating lifestyle at the same time.

Really, just making sure everyone’s got something to eat when it’s time to eat.

However, one thing I really enjoy doing is making great after school snacks for my kids whenever I can. Everyone has something that makes them happy, and I think I’ve inherited my grandparents’ genes. My dad always said that my grandmother was happiest when everyone was eating.

If everyone is eating, they’re happy, and that makes me happy.

To me, as a mom, there is nothing more special than the moment the kids walk in the door from school. They’re tired, they’re hungry, they’ve got more work to do or places to go, but the look on their faces when they smell a snack fresh out of the oven or see it on the table is priceless to me.

I feel like I have the ability to make their day, every day. Or almost every day. I do the best I can. Later on in life, I want their memories of their school years to include coming in from school, and finding me there with something tasty for them to snack on. Some days I’m not even there, my schedule is not always consistent, but I’ve left them a tasty snack and a note on my way out the door.

To me, it’s things like that which make all the difference.

Everyone loves these whether for breakfast or after school or a meal on the run.

Everyone loves these whether for breakfast or after school or a meal on the run.

Additionally, I try to think smarter these days. If I’m going to make an after school snack, I might as well make enough of it to last for more than just one afternoon. I have tried to make things that can be used either as lunchbox snacks or as breakfast the next day.

These little mini quiches, or however you’d describe them, make a great after school snack. They’re healthy and you can make all different varieties to satisfy even the pickiest of eaters. This time I did tomato/egg/cheese, spinach/egg/cheese and just plain egg/cheese. Fifteen eggs made 16 good-sized cups.

They were a snack and they’ve been breakfast or lunch throughout the week as well.

The pumpkin muffins, pictured above, I doubled the recipe to make twice as many. They served as an after school snack, breakfast the next day and a lunchbox snack the day after that.

If I’m going to work hard, I might as well get the mileage out of my efforts.

On that same afternoon this week as the pumpkin muffins, I also made a big batch of homemade applesauce. If I’m going to stand there and peel three pounds of apples, I might as well peel six pounds (although I have to stop there or my hand aches from all the peeling and slicing).

I used one batch in a recipe that night, froze two batches in my freezer for future use, and had some leftover to serve on the side with dinner as well. There’s nothing like homemade applesauce, especially in the fall in New England.

Today, I’m going to share with you the recipe I found for these delicious pumpkin muffins. Note that the recipe calls for mini chocolate chips. I don’t *do* mini chocolate chips. If I’m going, I’m going all the way so mine had regular-sized chips. Otherwise, the recipe I made was the same, just doubled.

This recipe is not my own. Thanks to Skinnytaste.com for posting such a wonderful snack and breakfast! It got all thumbs up at our house and we’d definitely make these again!

If I'm going to spend the time, might as well make it worth my while.

If I’m going to spend the time, might as well make it worth my while.

Skinny Mini Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Muffins
Skinnytaste.com
Servings: 14  • Size: 2 mini muffins  • Old Points: 3 pts • Weight Watcher Points+: 4 pt
Calories: 160 • Fat: 5 g • Carb: 27 g • Fiber: 2 g • Protein: 2 g • Sugar: 18 g
Sodium: 118 mg • Cholest: 0 mg

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup white whole wheat flour (King Arthur)
  • 3/4 cups unbleached all purpose flour (King Arthur)
  • 3/4 cup raw sugar
  • 3/4 tsp baking soda
  • 1 3/4 tsp pumpkin pie spice
  • 1/4 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 1/2 cups canned pumpkin puree (not pumpkin pie filling)
  • 2 tbsp virgin coconut oil (or canola)
  • 2 large egg whites
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • baking spray
  • 2/3 cup mini chocolate chips

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line a mini muffin tin with paper liners and lightly spray liners with oil for easy removal.

In a medium bowl, combine flours, sugar, baking soda, pumpkin spice, cinnamon, and salt with a wire whisk. Set aside.

In a large bowl mix pumpkin puree, oil, egg whites and vanilla; beat at medium speed until thick. Scrape down sides of the bowl.
Add flour mixture to the wet mixture, then blend at low speed until combined; do not over mix. Fold in chocolate chips.

Pour batter into prepared muffin tin and bake on the center rack for 22 to 24 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Let them cool at least 15 minutes before serving.

Makes 28 mini muffins or 14 regular sized muffins.

What We’re Doing for Fun This Summer: Letterboxing

30 Jun

Look, we found a letterbox!

ORIGINALLY POSTED JULY 30, 2012

Have you ever heard of letterboxing?

It’s so much fun, it’s free, and it’s great for a family activity during any season that’s not freezing cold. For us, that’s 3/4 of the year, but we really only get to do it in the summer for the most part because that’s when we have time to do things.

Things that aren’t school and work things.

Fun things.

Like letterboxing.

I first heard of letterboxing so long ago, I don’t even know if we had all three kids yet. I read about it in Family Fun Magazine. I don’t get that magazine any longer and I can only imagine all the amazing ideas I’ve missed, but I used to love it. I credit all our letterboxing fun to the article I read in Family Fun.

I remember reading the article and saying to Don, “When our kids are bigger, I want to do this,” and I never forgot it. In 2008 we began our letterboxing adventures. Alexandra, our youngest, was three.

You’re probably saying, “Get to the point! What IS letterboxing???” I take the long way around sometimes, when I tell a story.

Okay. Here’s what it is and here’s how you do it:

All around the world people are hiding, and finding letterboxes!

All around the world, literally, people are hiding these little boxes in secret places and uploading the clues to help you find them, online.

I kid you not.

It’s like a giant treasure hunt, really.

Here’s what you need to get started:

*A notebook of some kind (Mine is super fancy because I’m crafty and I actually have notebooks like this just hanging around in my office. However, it can be a simple composition book.)

*A pen

*A rubber stamp (some people make their own. I used a Stampin’ Up! stamp of a globe. I thought it appropriate.)

*An ink pad

*Something in which to store all those things. I used to use a gallon ziploc bag. Then I used a big manilla folder. Now they’re in an expandable file I found in my office. That’s the most durable thing I’ve used so far.

Now here’s what you have to do:

1) Visit this website for Letterboxing North America (assuming that’s where you live).

2) Click on the state you want to explore. Click on the area of the state. Ours is set up by counties.

3) Check out the list of letterboxes in that area and pick some to print out. I read the clues first to see if it says the last time the box was found or if it’s missing, or if the terrain is notable in any way, such as rough or rocky or easy.

4) Print out the clues for the boxes you want to look for. We started with boxes right in our own city to get the hang of it, and then expanded to nearby cities and now we do them even if we’re traveling on vacation and think we’ll have a chance to look for a letterbox.

Now you take your clues and go.

1) You park your car where they tell you to, and start following the clues until you reach the hiding spot where they say the box is. We told our kids right off the bat that sometimes the boxes are missing or we won’t find them, just so they wouldn’t be so disappointed if that happened, but it’s not been the norm for us.. Usually we find them.

2) When you get to the hiding place you find the box. It’s usually a tupperware type of plastic box. Open the box. Find their stamp, ink and notebook.

3) You stamp your stamp into their notebook and we like to leave a little note with the date and our last name, so they know at least when the most recent one was found. We sometimes will look back to see how long the boxes have been hidden in that spot.

4) Then you take their stamp and their ink (or use your ink if needbe) and stamp their stamp into your notebook. Put the date and where you are so that you too, can look back in the future and see all the places you’ve explored and found letterboxes, and how long you’ve been doing it.

5) Put all their stuff back in their box and REHIDE the box. Don’t just leave it out there in the open. Put it back where you found it and cover it back up as it was so that the next person can find it.

That’s it! Done! Fun times!!

We never even knew this spot existed until we followed the letterboxing clues. The box ended up not being there, but the stunning location we found instead made up for it.

We have not only found some neat letterboxes, but we’ve found some incredible spots, gorgeous places that we never knew existed in our own state. We’ve also explored some neat historic places both in our state and in other states, where we’ve found letterboxes.

Letterboxing makes a day trip double the fun.

Some state parks have a series of letterboxes in them, sometimes three or four of them. You can spend the day hiking through the park and finding them.

A few things to keep in mind:

Dress appropriately. Sneakers work better than flip flops, for example.

Sunscreen, snacks, water, tissues and band-aids are all good things to bring with you. You never know what you’ll need but those basics have served us well.

Next time you’re looking for a fun, active way to spend the day together with your family, give letterboxing a try!

Fun Friday: Baked Oatmeal: It’s not just for breakfast

6 Jun
100_3245

I’d eat this for breakfast, lunch or dinner!

ORIGINALLY POSTED MAY 10, 2013: The other day I came across a great new recipe for baked oatmeal. It was on Skinnytaste.com, a blog I follow on Facebook. I love all kinds of oatmeal from steel cut to overnight to baked.

This recipe also had a fruity combination that I love: strawberry and rhubarb. I didn’t have rhubarb, but I noticed that it had bananas in it, and strawberry and banana is another top favorite combination of mine so I decided to make it without the rhubarb.

Besides the fact that I skipped the rhubarb, the other thing about this recipe is that I made it as an after school snack, not for breakfast! It was so good, and everyone had seconds, everyone loved it and there was very little left over.

I would definitely make this recipe again and if I had rhubarb, I’d throw it in there, but it was also fine without!

Without further ado, here, from the Skinnytaste Blog
For the fruit filling:

  • 2 1/2 cups strawberries, hulled and quartered
  • 3/4 cup rhubarb, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 1 medium ripe banana, sliced thin
  • 1 tbsp cornstarch
  • 1/3 cup honey
This snack was quick to put together with simple ingredients.

This snack was quick to put together with simple ingredients.

For the Oats:

  • 1 cup uncooked quick oats (use GF oats if Gluten Free)
  • 1/3 cup slivered almonds
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • pinch of salt
  • 1 tbsp honey
  • 3/4 cup fat free milk (or any milk you desire)
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract

DIRECTIONS
Preheat the oven to 375° F.  Lightly spray a 9 x 9″ ceramic baking dish with cooking spray; place banana slices on the bottom of the baking dish and set aside.

Combine the strawberries and rhubarb in a large bowl. Add honey, sprinkle with cornstarch and toss until fruit is well coated and place in prepared baking dish over the bananas.

In a medium bowl, combine the oats, half of almonds, baking powder, cinnamon, and salt; stir together.  In a separate bowl, whisk together the remaining honey, milk, egg, and vanilla extract, then add to the oats.

Pour the oat mixture over the strawberries and rhubarb, making sure to distribute the mixture evenly.  Sprinkle the remaining almonds over the the top.

Bake the oatmeal for about 40 minutes, or until the top is golden brown and the oatmeal has set. Serve warm from the oven.