Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Raising the Next Generation

It seems that every time I turn on the news, I see a story about our children suffering.  Whether it be bullying, gun violence, abuse, neglect, or poorly educated, none of it is acceptable.  Sending your child out into the world is a scary time these days.  I know I felt very anxious about our son starting kindergarten for many reasons.  Outside of the danger of his allergy, I worry about how he will be treated by others.  It breaks my heart to hear him come home with stories about being hit or kicked or being left out.  I understand that there are many tough lessons that all of my kiddos will have to learn, but the reality of it all doesn't make it any easier.  While some incidences are "normal" childhood behavior, there are many that are not.  It is our job as parents to start turning this around.  We can be responsible for our kiddos and hope that they can lead by example.  These lessons start at home and who best to learn from than us?  Remember, it takes a village!

The "Golden Rule" at our house is to treat others as you wish to be treated.  Whenever one of our kiddos does something to hurt another, one of the first questions they are asked is, "How would that make you feel if ___ did that to you?"  Once they've answered, they are promptly sent to time-out to think about what they have done.  Once the timer goes off, they are to apologize to the offended person and most of the time a hug is involved, too (though that's voluntary!).  It seems simple enough, but it's a good life lesson and one that they will time and time again.  As they grow older, I hope that they will take the time to stop and think about how their actions will make others feel.

We also believe in using good manners.  Even before they can speak, our kids are taught "please" and "thank you" using baby sign language.  In our home, we expect our kiddos to be polite when asking for things, we also do the same for them.  While we are firm in our directions, they are usually prefaced with a please and if they have followed the direction, they will receive a thank you.  We work hard on these manners at the dinner table and hear a lot of, "You're welcomes" coming from the kiddos, too.  When they are done eating, they must ask to be excused from the table.  Even our little guy uses all of these manners.  It makes us proud as parents to hear compliments from others on how polite our kiddos are.  We feel that this is important and instills a sense of respect in them.

These skills seem easy to teach.  It involves repetition, capitalizing on teachable moments, and leading by example.  To truly make a change in this world, though, we need to teach our children to be compassionate and empathetic, to tolerate and accept others' differences, to think of and help others, and to simply be kind and generous people.  Helping our kids achieve these qualities will take a little more work!

Once again it seems that the best way to teach these skills is to be a role model yourself and to surround yourself with people who display these qualities.  If one of our kiddos is crying, we encourage the others to ask if they're okay.  Now it is a natural response when they are around other children their own age and they're crying.  It is very heartwarming to see them pause and go check on someone.

Holiday season is a wonderful time to teach children the importance of helping others.  There are always opportunities to provide food, gifts, and basic necessities for those in need.  Now that our kiddos are a bit older, I like to bring them along to help with the purchases and discuss what we're doing.  If you don't have extra money lying around for these causes, you can always donate your time.  By modeling the importance of these type of activities, we are truly teaching our children to be compassionate, kind, and helpful human beings.

I feel like one of the hardest issues to tackle is teaching our children to tolerate and accept others' differences.  In this day and age where bullying is so prevalent, we need to really work with our young children on this issue.  I know that I fear that our son will be bullied for his peanut allergy, as it is all too common now since there seems to be a "target" on his back.  For some reason many parents who don't have a child with a peanut or nut allergy view the precautions taken to keep children safe in such a negative way and this rubs off on their children.  Before you become angry because your child's school has adopted a peanut and nut-free policy, step back and think of the reason why these measures have been taken.  These children can die from ingesting the smallest bit of a nut.  This is a perfect example of teaching tolerance and acceptance and it starts with the parents.  Kids pick up on everything and their ears are always on.  If you are speaking poorly about others because of their differences, your children will adopt this mentality as well.  It's a hard habit to break, but take a step back and put yourself in someone else's shoes.  We all want our children to be treated with kindness and respect.  This starts in the confines of our home.  Do we as adults model this behavior?  Are we tolerant and accepting of others?  If not, it's time to get to work.

It seems like we live in the era of go, go, go.  We are always running from one activity to the next trying our best to make sure that our children have it all, but in the end is it worth it?  When I was young, this just wasn't the case.  We didn't even start playing sports until we were eight!  While I am all for my kiddos exploring their interests and trying new things, I do not want to spend our evenings and weekends running from activity to activity.  Together we will prioritize what is important to them at the present time and give that a try.  If they enjoy the activity, then we will continue it, but if they do not enjoy it, once the session is over we will be done.  At this age, I feel like it is much more important to sit down and have a meal together several nights a week, focus on schoolwork, and get a good night's rest than spend our time running around, eating in the car, and being tired and unprepared for school the next day.  I know not everyone will agree, but I feel that while our children our young, we should enjoy them and not be terribly stressed about where we are going and all that we have going on.  I want us to be able to spend time as a family and truly appreciate these moments that we have, because soon they will be gone.  Our kids are only kids once!  Maybe getting back to slowing things down and spending more time as a family unit will help our children in the future.

While I understand that not everyone will share the same values that I have, I hope that we can all agree that something needs to change for our children.  Growing up we all dealt with being picked on and made fun of, but it feels like kids these days have taken it to another level and it saddens me.  Life seemed much simpler back then.  I went to school, came home, played, did my homework, enjoyed a family meal, spent time with my family watching tv, reading, or playing a game, and went to bed.  I didn't feel like I was constantly on a clock rushing to complete everything.  This is what I want for my kiddos.  I want them to feel loved, appreciated, respected, and important.  Perhaps if they feel this way, they will be happy and able to overcome the hardships they will inevitably encounter.  It seems like a hefty challenge, but I am up for it!    


Sunday, September 23, 2012

"Souper" Sunday

It's a great day for soup!  Today I'm making the Vegetable Beef Soup I shared with you awhile back.  Can't wait to get some fresh bread and enjoy it for dinner!  I'd like to share another wonderful soup recipe called Tuscan Chicken Soup.  We love it and it's quite healthy as well!  My friend posted it on her blog Peanut Blossom around Super Bowl time last year and we gave it a shot.  It was a keeper!

Tuscan Chicken Soup
From Peanut Blossom

2 cups shredded rotisserie chicken
1 medium yellow onion (medium dice)
4 carrots (peeled, washed, and medium dice)
4 stalks celery (washed and medium dice)
2 zucchini (washed and medium dice)
3 cloves fresh garlic (chopped finely);  I cheat and substitute the jar kind!
1 t. dried oregano
1 t. basil
1/2 cup heavy cream (optional);  we omit
2 T. extra virgin olive oil
28 oz. can crushed tomatoes
6 cups chicken stock
Kosher salt to taste
Fresh ground black pepper to taste
1/2 c. Asini de pepe pasta

In a large pot, add 2 T. olive oil and saute, onions, celery, and carrots over medium high heat for 8-10 minutes.  Add zucchini and garlic.  Saute until tender about 4-6 minutes.

Add chicken stock, tomatoes, basil, oregano, chicken.  Simmer soup for 20 minutes, vegetables should be tender.  Add pasta and cook right into the soup for another 10 minutes.  Season with salt and pepper.  Add heavy cream if using and allow to simmer 6-8 minutes.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

A Different Take on Lasagna

Things are busy here today and with Dad out of town, I am thankful for a night of leftovers!  Today the little man and I spent the morning shopping.  Both of my older kids grew a considerable bit over the summer and I'm finding drawers filled with high-water pants and shirts that are not long enough!  I am happy to have found some great deals and feel better knowing that my oldest guy has a warm coat that fits.

One of our leftovers we are having tonight is Mexican Lasagna.  It has been a staple in our recipe rotation since we got married.  I am a Plain Jane and prefer to eat it as it is, but those of you that like "stuff" can jazz it up any way you like!

Mexican Lasagna

1 1/4 lb. ground beef
1 pkg. taco seasoning
chili powder/garlic powder (to taste)
1/2 c. rice (cooked)
1 can petite diced tomatoes
2 cups cottage cheese
1 beaten egg
1 cup grated Monterey Jack cheese
Large flour tortillas

Brown ground beef and add the taco seasoning, chili powder, and cooked rice.  Add tomatoes and a little grated cheese to the meat mixture.  Roll mixture up in large flour tortilla.  Place in greased 9x13 pan.  Combine cottage cheese, beaten egg, and grated cheese and put on top of tortillas.  Bake at 350 degrees for 30-45 minutes.  Top with more cheese, tomato, lettuce, salsa, etc.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Apple Fun: Kids Math Activities

When I was teaching, I always loved doing a unit on apples.  There are so many things you can do!  Today I am going to share some fun and easy math apple activities for you to do with your kiddos of all ages.  My own kiddos are enjoying our new apple projects each day and I hope yours do as well!

Apples lend themselves to math activities since there are three different colors.  For your youngest kids, you can simply work on matching the colored apples or stepping that up a notch and sorting them by color.  To make it really fun, use real apples!  This morning I had my little guy work on his colors by picking up the color of apple I asked for and then gluing it on a piece of paper to make an apple collage.

Practicing color recognition

For kids that are preschool-aged, you can practice patterning with two or three colors.  Today my daughter quickly made a pattern with two colors.  She loved creating it and using the glue (of course!) to put them on the paper.  Once she completed her pattern, I had her "read" it back to me and then count how many apples she used.  This, too, would be fun with real apples!  

A simple AB pattern project

If your children can recognize numbers, show them a number and have them count on that many apples.  You could also make a book, providing the number on the top of the page for them to trace and then draw that many apples.  It may look something like this:

Tracing and drawing book

To take this activity one step further, if your child is ready, you can print off the color word in addition to the number and have them create a book about apples.

Color word and number book

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Fall is Upon Us

The weather today definitely feels like fall and the ten-day forecast shows no 80 degree temperatures, so I think it's time to switch to fall mode.  While summer is truly my favorite season as I love warm weather, fall is okay, too.  I love to pull out the old sweatpants, whip up some yummy fall treats, and decorate the house for the upcoming holidays.  Fall also brings on football season, which goes hand-in-hand with yummy soup and appetizer recipes.  See, fall isn't so bad!

Yesterday I had my little kids make some stained glass apples to hang on our patio door.  It's so simple and a great craft for those little hands.  Simply print off an apple coloring page, cut the apple out, trace it on some construction paper, and carefully cut it out leaving an open space, while leaving the outside edges in tact, to put the tissue paper in.  Cover with contact paper (make sure the sticky side will face away from your tracing marks) and cut it out.  I pre-cut the tissue paper for my kiddos, but if they're a little bit older they can rip the pieces for some extra fine motor practice.  To go along with our project, we read a few stories about apples:  Apple Trouble by Ragnhild Scamell and The Biggest Apple Ever by Steven Kroll.

Look at those little fingers working!

Taking their time to make...

Beautiful apples!

Fall also means time to make some pumpkin recipes!  Today I thought I'd share with you a healthy (by my books!) pumpkin muffin recipe.

Pumpkin Muffins

 1 1/2 cups flour (whole grain works well or do half and half)
3/4 c. sugar
1 t. baking powder
1 t. baking soda
pinch of salt
1 t. cinnamon
1 regular size can of pumpkin
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 c. canola oil
1/3 c. greek yogurt (vanilla or plain; I prefer vanilla)

Combine dry ingredients.  Mix pumpkin, eggs, oil, and yogurt in separate bowl and add to dry ingredients.  Bake at 400 degrees for 8-10 minutes (may take longer, as original recipe was for mini muffins).

Monday, September 17, 2012

Crocking Monday!

Happy Monday!  I hope everyone had a fantastic weekend and you're ready for a new week.  I feel like I've been in a bit of a cooking rut lately, but I am hoping to share some old and new recipes with you soon.  I've bookmarked quite a few and am looking forward to some new dishes!  Today is "Crocking Monday" and I'd like to share a simple beef and mushroom recipe with you.  It's easy and doesn't contain too many ingredients!  Hope you enjoy!

Beef and Mushrooms

3 pounds stew meat, cubed
1 can cream of mushroom soup
2 cans mushrooms with liquid
1/2 cup apple juice
1 envelope dry onion soup mix

Combine all ingredients in greased 3 1/2 to 5-quart slow cooker.  Cover and cook on low heat 10 hours.  Makes 4-6 servings.  Serve over rice.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Changing Up Breakfast

Breakfast has always been an important meal in our house.  It's one of the best meals our kiddos will eat and they all wake up asking for it.  I do my best to keep our breakfasts as healthy as I can.  We limit their intake of "sugar cereals" like Fruit Loops and Apple Jacks to special occasions and have kicked frozen breakfast foods like Toaster Strudels and Eggo Waffles to the curb.  While they are very convenient to serve, I do my best to avoid frozen processed foods, as I prefer to not serve food filled with preservatives and words I cannot pronounce.

Now that the school year is in full swing, I really try to make sure our kindergartener gets a breakfast that will hold him over until his lunchtime at noon.  His personal favorite is simple:  Quaker Quick Cook Oats with a spoonful of brown sugar.  I feel like this is a pretty nutritious and filling choice (yes, I understand brown sugar is not in a "healthy" category, but it's a small spoonful!).  We have plenty of cereal days with our younger two and they prefer Multi-Grain Cheerios, Kix, or Rice Krispies.  We always have cereal in the house, though it has become such an expensive item to buy that I've begun to look for alternatives.

As you know, I enjoy baking and have come across a few healthy and filling muffins that I have added to the mix.  Muffins are great, because you can either eat them right away or pop them in the freezer and pull them out for a later date.  There also a pretty quick breakfast for those rushed mornings.  We also like to make homemade waffles, which can also be frozen and toasted later.  Any of these options paired with some fruit make for a good start to the day!  

Today I'd like to share with you a great muffin recipe (it includes a vegetable!) and our waffle recipe.  Next week I'll share a few more muffin recipes with you to enjoy!

Cooking Light Zucchini Muffins

1 scant cup whole wheat flour
2/3 cup all-purpose flour
1 t. cinnamon
1 1/4 t. baking powder
1/2 t. baking soda
1/4 t. salt
1 1/3 c. shredded zucchini
1/2 c. skim milk
2 T. Canola oil
2 T. honey
1 large egg
(Raisins may be added)

Preheat over to 400 degrees (375 degrees for a dark pan).  Combine dry ingredients (first 6).  Stir with whisk.  Combine zucchini, milk, oil, honey, and egg in small bowl. Blend.  Make a well in center of flour mixture; add egg mixture.  Stir just until moist.  Spoon mixture into 12 muffin cups.  Combine 1 T. sugar (or brown sugar) and 1/4 t. cinnamon.  Spoon mixture on top of muffins and bake for 15 minutes.

Zucchini Muffins


2 eggs
2 c. sour milk (to 1 c. milk add 1 T. lemon juice or vinegar; let stand 5 minutes)
1 t. soda
2 c. flour
2 t. baking powder
1/2 t. salt
6 T. soft butter

Beat eggs well.  Add rest of ingredients and beat until smooth.  Batter will be thin.  Make using a waffle iron.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Crocking Monday

My posts are brief and recipe-filled these days!  I have had sick kiddos for a week and it still continues. Waiting for some reprieve!  Since it's Monday, here's a crockpot recipe that we like to use when we have family functions, but it could definitely be used for everyday.  It makes a lot of food and if you have a crockpot that's large, it could be doubled!

Company Chicken Casserole

8 oz. egg noodles
3 c. cooked chicken, diced
1/2 c. celery, diced
1/2 c. green pepper, diced
1/2 c. onion, diced
4 oz. mushrooms, canned, drained
1/2 c. chicken broth
1/2 c. parmesan cheese
2 T. melted butter
1 c. sharp cheddar, grated
1/2 t. basil
1 1/2 c. small curd cottage cheese
1 can cream chicken soup

Cook noodles according to package directions until barely tender, drain and rinse.  In large bowl, combine the remaining ingredients with the noodles, making sure the noodles are separated and coated with liquid.  Pour mixture into a greased crockpot.  Cover and cook on low 6-10 hours.  Can cook on high 3-4 hours.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

"Souper" Sunday

With the official kick-off of NFL football this weekend, it's time to get into the fall mode of cooking up a delicious soup recipe on Sunday.  I have been looking forward to "soup season" and today have a nice pot of chili cooking away on the stove.  My chili is pretty boring.  I'm not really into spice, so it's very basic and my husband spices it up on his own with some Tabasco sauce, onions, and peppers.  Since it's pretty bland, I won't share that recipe with you (at least not today)!  Instead, I'd like to share with a rich and creamy baked potato soup that is sure to fill you up!

Baked Potato Soup

4 large baking potatoes
2/3 c. butter
2/3 c. flour
6 c. milk
3/4 t. salt
1/2 t. pepper
4 green onions
12 slices baken, cooked and crumbled
1 1/2 c. cheddar cheese, shredded
1 8 oz. carton sour cream

Bake potatoes and cube.  Melt butter over low heat.  Add flour, cook 1 minute.  Add 6 cups milk.  Cook over medium heat until thick and bubbly.  Add potatoes, salt, pepper, green onions, 1/2 c. bacon, and cheese.  Heat.  Stir in sour cream.  Simmer until hot and serve.

This recipe is great served with a side of fresh, warm bread.  Enjoy!

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Tailgate Treats!

Today is the big Hawkeye/Cyclone rivalry game and I am thrilled to be heading out to Iowa City this morning!  I am taking our oldest son to his first game (that he'll remember) and we are so excited to be heading west.  One of the best parts of going to the game is...TAILGATING!  I've had a few sick kiddos this week, but with a last-minute trip to the store and some cooperative cooking with Grandma, we have a good spread for the game.

We plan on having sloppy joes, bacon wrapped wienies, fruit with fruit dip, cheese and crackers, chips, and cookie bars.  Today I thought I'd share a few recipes with you in case you are in the mood to tailgate, too.  Go Hawkeyes!

Bacon Wrapped Wienies

1 package Little Smokies
1 lb. bacon
1 lb. light brown sugar

Line a jelly roll pan with parchment paper.  Cut entire slab of bacon into thirds.  Wrap wienies in bacon, secure bacon with toothpick, and sprinkle brown sugar on top.  Bake at 350 for about 35 minutes.  Enjoy!

Fruit Dip

1 jar (7 oz.) marshmallow fluff
1 package cream cheese (I use light)
1 T. orange juice

Beat cream cheese with a hand mixer, add marshmallow fluff and orange juice, mix until well blended. Serve with your favorite fruit.

Go Hawkeyes!

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Take Advantage of those Diaper Changes!

Yes, the title sounds a bit funny, but I have discovered that having three kids is (gasp) a challenge in many ways.  As you know, I suffer from extreme "mom-guilt" and one of those issues that I feel guilty about is the amount of time I spend with our youngest son working on little skills like counting, the alphabet, and singing those fun childhood songs.

Well, I've come up with a little solution to help relieve some of that guilt.  For quite some time now, I have taken the few minutes I have changing his diaper several times a day and turned it into fun learning time.  This also works as a great distraction for the wiggly, impatient toddler who does not want to have his diaper changed!

During this time we work on counting and I provide a prompt for the next number when needed.  He does great up to the teens and then needs some help.  Generally, I find that he'll repeat what I say and we count up to 20.  To work on counting, you could also add in some fun little rhymes like "One, Two Buckle My Shoe," "Five Little Monkeys Jumping on then Bed," "Five Green and Speckled Frogs," or make up a tune of your own.  Usually those made-up tunes are a big hit with the little crowd!

We also work on singing the alphabet and other fun songs that require some interaction and motions.  One of his favorites is "The Wheels on the Bus" and it can go on forever (works great for that change that's going to take awhile!).  He loves to fill in the action word once I give him the cue (i.e. "The mommy's on the bus go...").  Pausing and giving them the opportunity to fill in the blank is a great way to build on those cognitive skills.  You can also substitute the bus for something else they like (train, tractor, etc.).  Some of our other favorite diaper change songs are "The Itsy-Bitsy Spider," "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star," and "Take Me out to the Ballgame."

I know this isn't rocket science by any means, but if you find yourself rushed or have difficulty finding some uninterrupted time, this is a great way to steal a few minutes at a time to interact and have some fun with your kiddos.  Of course, you can always do these activities in the car as well.  A few minutes here and there can go a long way!

"Five Green and Speckled Frogs."

Five green and speckled frogs, sat on a speckled log, eating some most delicious bugs (rub tummy).  Yum, yum!  One jumped into the pool, where it was nice and cool, now there are four green speckled frogs.  (Continue through one).

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

"A Day in the Life Of..."

A few years ago I went to an organizational talk at my son's preschool.  I got some great ideas for organizing my "hub" and still use those ideas today.  One of the best suggestions I received at that brief workshop, though, was to create an informational folder in case were are unable to be around because of an emergency or (cringe) in case something happened to us.  It was a wonderful idea, but really common sense.  This is especially true when your kiddos are young and have their routines that must be followed!

Last fall, my husband and I took our first extended vacation just the two of us.  This was the perfect time to gather all of the information and put together my little folder that I affectionately called "The Directions."  While this was necessary for the grandmas to have while we were gone, it has become a wonderful safety net to pull out in case we are away.  

What do you include in this little folder?  Here's a quick rundown of the information I included.  My first page was titled "A Day in the Life of the (Insert Name) Kids."  I went through their daily routine from their typical wake-up time to bedtime.  I made sure to include things such as what special items are taken to bed, what songs are sung, diaper sizes, and approximate meal times.  I also included some of their favorite play activities and specific bedtime routines for each kiddo.  

My next section was titled "Odds and Ends."  This included school times and anything that needed to go to school with them, medicine dosages for each kid, and where medical items were located (i.e. thermometers, bandaids, medicine, etc.).  I also included our health care provider information (doctor, dentist, ER), our insurance information, and what pharmacy we used.  To conclude that page, there was a list of important phone numbers from relatives to neighbors to the school.

This may seem funny, but I included a detailed "TV Instruction" page.  Given the variety of cable choices and additional media sources other than the tv, this was imperative to include for the grandmas! It also worked well for the babysitters.  I included their favorite tv shows and movies, as well as what channels those shows could be found on.

The last section was titled "The Food Guide."  I broke it down by meals and included their favorite foods, as well as how much of certain items (like oatmeal) they typically eat.  I listed snack options, meal options, and a recipe on how to make homemade smoothies, since these are a staple in our home.  Food and kids can be tricky, so the more detailed you can be and more options you can provide for meals, the better.

This may sound like a lot of work or a little over-the-top, but I know how much my kids depend on their routine to get through the day as well as their little quirks that, if addressed, can prevent a major meltdown.  I keep this folder in my "hub" and have it handy to pull out if the need ever arises.  The supplies are simple:  a pocket folder with brads and your typed out instructions!

Monday, September 3, 2012

Happy Labor Day!

I know that Monday is usually reserved for "Crocking Monday," but in honor of Labor Day I thought I would share a quick and simple grill recipe that we always get compliments on at BBQ's.  The recipe is for grilled red potatoes and they are delicious!

Grilled Red Potatoes

Red Potatoes, washed and cut into chunks (leave skin on)
Olive Oil
Oregano and Basil (or All-Purpose Seasoning)
Onions, sliced (optional)

Prepare as many potatoes as you will need for your gathering (we use 3-4 for our family, but have done up to an entire bag for a larger BBQ).  Spray foil with nonstick cooking spray.  Place potatoes (and onions if using) on foil, pour olive oil onto potatoes, and sprinkle on oregano and basil (or all-purpose seasoning) to taste.  Wrap up tightly in foil and place on grill.  Cook 25-30 minutes.  Remove from foil and serve.

I hope everyone had a wonderful Labor Day.  We had a fun afternoon with neighbors and sufficiently wore all of the kiddos out!  "Crocking Monday" will return next week!